Building the Hermione in Rochefort – history in the making
The Hermione is the famous ship that took the Marquis de La Fayette to America in 1780 to fight in the War of Independence against the British. Today in Rochefort in the Charente-Maritime there is a chance for visitors to share a little of that well-known 18th century episode with a visit to see a near-perfect replica of the 210-feet long three-masted oak ship.
The project began back in July 1997, when the Hermione-La Fayette association embarked on an ambitious challenge – to recreate in detail the vessel that has forever linked the French and France with American independence. Their choice of location to build the Hermione was obvious; in the naval town of Rochefort, on the banks of the River Charente close to where it flows into the sea, and where work on the first Hermione began in 1778.
It has certainly not been easy or quick and the scheduled finishing date in 2008 was pushed back several years (the original build took 11 months but they did have lots of manpower…). The ship and its 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 2,000 oaks have been felled in forests around France (from renewable sources). On top of all this the modern builders have had to contend with safety rules over seaworthiness that didn’t really constrain their forbears…
However, the association’s logistical headaches have proved a bonus for visitors; giving more and more people the chance to walk around and see this complex project at first hand. The construction is taking place next to the Corderie Royale, the now restored centrepiece of what was the town’s Arsenal (and which is itself well worth a visit – it’s where they used to make ropes).
The new Hermione – also known as the ‘La frégate de la liberté’ or ‘freedom frigate’ – will be virtually identical to the original, though there are one or two modern touches. For while the 19 different sails themselves– all 23,000 square feet of them – have been made from traditional flax, there will also be an engine on board for safety reasons as well as a power generator for the comfort of the crew.
Once the Hermione is completed – the sails were put up in April and My 2014 – and the sea trials are complete, the next exciting phase of the project will begin, retracing Lafayette’s voyage by taking the ship to North America. All being well the Hermione will be ready to set sail from the River Charente for the New World in April 2015. The trans-Atlantic voyage to Yorktown, Virginia, on the east coast of America is expected to take about four weeks.