Hermione, freedom’s frigate, redefining past and future
In 1778, the Corderie Royale in Rochefort, France, undertook the 11-month construction of a 26 cannon light frigate measuring 210 feet from stern to bow. Part of a group of four (along with the Concorde, the Courageuse and the Fée), the Hermione was built according to plans by Chevillard Aîné and commanded by major general La Fayette who boarded the ship on March 21, 1780 to meet General Washington in Boston and give help to American insurgents.
In 1997, the Hermione-La Fayette Association undertook the daunting project of a 17-year construction of a replica of the 18th century Concorde class frigate, Hermione, at the restored arsenal the Corderie Royale in Rochefort, France.
American born and raised, married to a Frenchman passionate about frigates and naval engineering, the Hermione reconstruction project and ambitious plan to retrace the steps of General La Fayette by sailing to America was of great interest to us. My husband and I planned a trip to Rochefort in 2009 to visit the construction site.
We were amazed by this courageous endeavor to rebuild a warship that existed more than 200 years previously in it’s identical form and structure. While my husband is well versed in model ship building, this 26-cannon tall ship being built to scale 1:1 was a site to see! In 2009, they had not advanced far enough to use the three-tiered dry dock which was impressive in itself.
Years later, we followed the Hermione’s baptism (September 2014) and her symbolic journey to the United States, in La Fayette’s long expired wake. She arrived in Bodie Island, North Carolina on May 31, 2015 and has since made many voyages, stopping in ports such as the Old Port of Marseille in April 2018 where I happened to be visiting with friends.
An early morning departure to the Island of Frioul found me well-positioned on a neighboring boat for some great shots of the Hermione docked in the Old Port of Marseille!
This year, 2019, marks the 75th Anniversary of D-Day, one of the highlights during the “Normandy Liberty” voyage organized by the Hermione-La Fayette Association to complete the ship’s visit of the Ports of France. In early May, the Hermione stayed at the Port of Cherbourg and I was able to see her again in the “flesh” and take a few shots with my large format pinhole camera.
Currently, the Hermione has joined other tall ships to commemorate the 30th Anniversary of the Rouen Armada and next weekend I will be strategically positioned along the banks of the Seine to witness these ships in full sail.
In the same year that we traveled to Rochefort to visit the Hermoine under construction, my husband purchased a wooden boat kit designed by naval architect François Vivier called the Youkou-Lili. This sail and oar boat is inspired by the Norwegian Faering (pointed end) and the American Swamscott dory (flat bottomed) and is a perfect boat for rowing in the sea.
After many years of making model boats, my husband was finally able to invest in a mid-scale project to produce a vessel that he could actually put in the sea! Dreaming of the larger scale Hermione, he spend many long weekends in Normandy sawing, gluing and hammering inside a makeshift greenhouse, the construction site of the Youkou-Lili… but that is another story.
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