Ship Ahoy: 235 Years Later, La Fayette’s Hermione Once Again Sails into U.S. Ports

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Tall ship Hermione.

In 1780, Marquis de La Fayette sent the tall ship Hermione, the Frigate of Freedom, to General George Washington with full French aid. Their united forces are credited with having turned the tide of the American Revolutionary War.

At this moment an exact replica of La Fayette’s Hermione is en-route to the United States, sailing 3,819 nautical miles transatlantic to Yorktown, Virginia from Port-de-Barques at the mouth of the Charente River near Rochefort in the Poitou-Charentes region of France, where both frigates were built.  Manned by a crew of 72 volunteer men and women sailors, the voyage will take about 27 days, landing in Yorktown to a full salute on Friday, June 5.  From this historic Virginia port, three days later the tall ship will sail up the Atlantic coast to 11 additional iconic ports, accompanied by an unprecedented 2-month calendar of events.

Ports of call after Yorktown are Mount Vernon, Alexandria, Annapolis, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, Newport, Boston, Castine, Lunenburg in Nova Scotia. On June 25, the Tall Ships America will meet the Hermione as she approaches Philadelphia (for a stay through 28), and from thereon will accompany the frigate all the way to Castine, Maine;  during a New York City stay (July 1-4), the vessels will sail together during the July 4th celebrations on New York City waterways.

Visitors can join the festivities at any point along the route and enjoy tours on board or pier-side where activities are scheduled, including demonstrations of historic shipbuilding crafts, interactive conversations with the young volunteer sailors, and a lineup of cultural activities such as costumed performances by seasoned reenactors, concerts of period and contemporary music, and food and craft exhibitions. In Philadelphia, for example, the City Tavern will host a re-creation of the meal aboard the Hermione that the Continental Congress enjoyed with General Washington and the Marquis de La Fayette, and in all ports-of-call, visitors can view a photography exhibit covering the 17 years of the Hermione’s reconstruction.

When the frigate is anchored in Yorktown, Philadelphia, New York and Boston, the ship’s “hometown” region of Poitou Charentes will be manning a special tent/stand showcasing its glories, which perhaps to many of us is first and foremost: Cognac. But look beyond, for this is a bucolic region of outstanding Romanesque heritage, numerous lovely historic towns such as Poitiers and La Rochelle, quiet boating and birding excursions through the Marais Poitevin wetlands, and long sandy beaches with Ile-de-Re just offshore.

In authentically reconstructing Hermione, craftsmen almost entirely used 18th century ship-building methods: 2,000 oak trees had to be found for 400,000 hand-sculpted pieces for the hull; techniques had to be reinvented; forges re-kindled; and artisans from all over the world enlisted. When this writer visited Poitou Charentes some 15 years ago, shipbuilders were just laying the ribs of the hull of Hermione. Even then, one could see what a fabulous and dedicated undertaking this reproduction project would be. Definitely worth a detour if you or your clients are in the area.

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