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calendar   Monday - September 08, 2014

Once More, Lafeyette, With Feeling

“So that freedom lives, men will always have to stand up and fight against indifference or resignation.”

Hermione Tastes The Waves

Nearly twenty years in the making, the 213 foot long replica French frigate went out for sea trials yesterday. Plans call for the oak square rigged 26 gun ship - a “fast light frigate” - to cross the Atlantic next spring to visit Canada and New England in time for Bastille Day.

The original Hermione was the ship that brought the Marquis of Lafayette over the aid George Washington, and she and her four sister ships carried several thousand troops, and stayed to harry the British and help the struggling colonists win the war of independence.

In those days crossing the Atlantic from Rochefort France by sail power alone took 38 days; the modern frigate sports a pair of hidden propulsor pods which could make the journey a bit faster.


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A reconstruction of the 213-foot (65-meter) frigate used by France’s Marquis de Lafayette to bring reinforcements to American revolutionaries in 1780 has tested the waters for the first time.

The test run at high tide Sunday was a key step in an ambitious 17-year project aimed at sending the ship next year across the Atlantic, retracing Lafayette’s journey and the foundation of French-American relations.

Maritime and history experts and aficionados have made rebuilding the Hermione a major project for the French port of Rochefort in southwest France.

Ship builders and researchers have painstakingly rebuilt the ship using the same construction materials and methods as those used to build the original, from the pulley systems to the massive oak hull.

After some delays, the boat set out at high tide early Sunday morning from the Rochefort docks toward the Ile d’Aix. It is meant to be the first in several test runs before the ship sets sail for Boston.


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To replicate the frigate exactly as it used to be, it was necessary to gather archive documents such as ‘L’Hermione’s log-book(s) and the blueprints of La Concorde, ‘L’Hermione’s sister-ship which had been drawn by the Royal Navy after she had been captured. To these documents, one had to add the informations delivered by the wreck of the original ‘L’Hermione’, which was discovered in 1992, off Le Croisic, where she had sunk in 1793.

Specializing in the restoration of historic monuments, the ASSELIN firm in Thouars was allotted the task of ‘L’Hermione’s timber-work. The association thus took advantage of the outstanding professional qualities and experience of carpenters’ fellows of the craft, as well as of the technical collaboration of Raymond Labbé, a naval architect from Saint-Malo and of the precious historical cooperation of Jean Thomas, a former student of Jean Boudriot, a renowned historian and a specialist in naval construction.

The undertaking of the project took place in conditions and circumstances as close as possible to those which had surrounded the building of the original ‘L’Hermione’, i.e. it took place in the double graving dock of the historical naval shipyard of Rochefort, “a modern city of the XVII th century”.

The construction of the frigate started in May 1977. On July 4th,1997, the American national day, after 3 years’ research and preparation, the ship’s keel was laid.


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The new Hermione – also known as the ‘La frégate de la liberté’ or ‘freedom frigate’ – is an incredible achievement, especially as funds have come via donations. The ship and her armaments contain a total of 400,000 different bits of wood and metal, and there are more than 1,000 pulleys alone to build and fit. To provide the wood around 4,000 oaks have been felled in forests around France, the trees chosen for their natural curves. The gun carriages for the iron cannon barrels were cast in a foundry in Angoulême and transported by barge down the River Charente. On top of all this the modern builders have had to contend with safety rules over seaworthiness that didn’t really constrain their forbears.

Fifteen years after the project was started, the Hermione was launched in 2012, 65,000 people gathering in Rochefort to see her float in the water – the River Charente – for the first time.  The following year the masts were erected, towering above the Arsenal. Next came the crows nest, followed by the rigging, the latter requiring about 25 kilometres of hemp ropes.

The final stage of construction was completed in spring 2014 – the installation of the 19 different sails, all 2137 square metres of them and made from traditional flax.  Although virtually identical to the original, the Hermione does have one or two modern touches including an engine on board for safety reasons as well as a power generator for the comfort of the crew.

Still, sailing in the Hermione will still be tough for Commandant Yann Cariou and his 69 crew members – only 15 are professional sailors; the rest are volunteers trained up to sail and who will work in shifts. All have to be fit enough to climb the rigging in all weather and be prepared to live life as it was on an 18th century boat – sleeping in hammocks in often cramped conditions.

In April and May 2014 the sails were put up and the frigate was made ready for the sea trials which will precede the final exciting phase of the project – retracing Lafayette’s voyage by taking the ship to North America.


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Posted by Drew458   United States  on 09/08/2014 at 07:13 PM   
Filed Under: • FRANCEFREEDOMHistoryplanes, trains, tanks, ships, machines, automobiles •  
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