I've been looking forward to 27 June 2015 ever since they published the itinerary for l'Hermione's historic voyage...the ship that I have been following online for the last 3 years of its construction. And following the weather very closely also, though nothing short of a hurricane was going to keep me away!
A storm was expected in the afternoon here in Philadelphia, so we got an early start and arrived at the Tall Ships Festival just as they opened at 9 a.m. with a light drizzle and grey skies. With 13 tall ships docked on both sides of the Delaware River, both Philadelphia and Camden, NJ shared the thousands of people coming to see these beauties with sails. Walking along the dockside to get our tickets to get in, I see in the distance in the corner of my eye the blue, white and red of the Tri-color flag and break into a huge smile...about 500 yards away and my first look through my eyes...l'Hermione !!
Our pace quickens, we get our tickets and head straight for her. We pass other ships docked and as we make the last turn around one of the buildings, it became immediately apparent that l'Hermione is the most popular ship in the festival and everyone wants to see her and go onboard...the waiting line was very long! My friend holds our place in the line and I go forward to take a few photos and to have my moment alone to say Hello to this gorgeous ship. Sitting majestically in the water, the details on her hull and rear transom are so beautiful and well done, you can tell the French craftsman and artists that built, rigged and painted her in Rochefort were some of the best in the world and built l'Hermione with pride in their hearts!
It took about 45 minutes of waiting in line but it went quickly and soon we were climbing the gangplank and then stepping onboard. As my foot hit the deck I had a quick thought...imagining Lafayette as he stepped aboard the original Hermione, wondering if he knew at that time in the 1700's, the historic nature of what he was doing by coming to help the American people in our Revolution...did he know that we would win only with the assistance of France and that he and his crew, along with the other 4 ships provided by France, that a friendship would be formed between our countries that has lasted for centuries.
Walking around the deck and taking in all the fantastic details...the rigging, the woodwork and carpentry, the cannons and metal-work....truly the work of very talented craftsman! I would have loved to have spent hours sitting on the deck and maybe seeing if they would allow me to explore below, but the waiting line for coming onboard continued to grow so with my hand on the railing I said 'à bientôt' to l'Hermione and walked down the gangplank to the dock.
We visited the tents on the dock...one for the history of Lafayette and l'Hermione with films on the history and building of the ship and another tent for the Poitou-Charentes region of France...both were very informative and the people manning the tents from France were so friendly and charming, clearly enjoying the voyage here and fiercely proud of the entire project and team...and deservedly so! I also made sure to visit the final tent...the one hosted by the Armor-Lux company which was selling a great variety of shirts for l'Hermione...make sure you visit this tent as purchasing a shirt supports the l'Hermione voyage and also the people of Bretagne where the company is located...I got a fantastic red l'Hermione crew t-shirt!
I am so happy that I finally got to see and go onboard this beautiful and historic ship...and to meet and talk with these great people from France. It was a day that will always be in my mind and make me smile!
Text & Photos by - Steve Wojtak
Lafayette’s Hermione Voyage 2015 – Yorktown
My journey with L’Hermione started in August 2014 while vacationing in Brittany, France. A news article in the local paper with a photo of L’Hermione in Rochefort where she was built caught my eyes. L’Hermione Voyage 2015 was the result of a seventeen year project in France at the end of which the French war ship replica would cross the Atlantic Ocean in the summer of 2015 like it did in 1780 with the Marquis de Lafayette on board. Back then, Lafayette said of L’Hermione that “she sails like a bird”. Lafayette was impatient to reach Boston to break the news to General George Washington that French naval support was on its way to help bring freedom to America. L’Hermione and Lafayette, America’s adopted hero, played a pivotal role in ending the Revolutionary War. Thanks to that article, I decided that I wanted to be a part of the journey 235 years later. I knew it would be a fabulous human adventure on both sides of the Atlantic. Back home in the Midwest, I found out that Yorktown, in Virginia, would be the first of several stops L’Hermione would make along the East Coast of North America. As a result, I headed to Yorktown and arrived there on Friday morning June 5th, 2015.
Upon my arrival at Yorktown I was excited to find myself a part of a large crowd of French and American enthusiasts like myself. I was surrounded by an array of both French and American flags flying everywhere, including a Gwenn-ha-du flag representing the people of Brittany. Included in the large crowd of fellow enthusiasts were re-enactors wearing the clothes from that period in 1780. One had the feeling of being thrown back in time and the emotion of the moment was overwhelming and one that I will never forget.
That morning of June 5th, L’Hermione made a triumphal arrival in Yorktown cutting through an early morning mist on the York River. She then engaged in a traditional canon salute which was responded to by the Americans from both land and ship to re-celebrate her arrival. Fireworks followed with loud excitement from the crowd. At 10:00 am, the official ceremony started with an opening from the President of the Hermione-Lafayette Association, followed by the Governor of Virginia and French Representative Segolene Royal who each made a speech about the significance of the event. The crowd was standing like one people, one culture celebrating the friendship, unbreakable, between the American and the French people.
Yorktown officials did a remarkable job making its downtown free from cars and full of history. The Heritage Village offered entertainment and educational programs around Lafayette, the Revolutionary War, and L’Hermione with re-enactors, performances, educators and food. Music of the 17th and 18th centuries could be heard. Local museums such as the Yorktown Victory Center, the Victory Monument or the Watermen’s Museum offered special exhibits or events. The Historic Main Street was occupied on Saturday and Sunday with Virginia’s Finest Fair. I had a chicken crepe, which was too sweet for my palate trained on the best crepes in the world – in Brittany. The York Hall had several events and book signings. I attended the Lecture on “The Marquis: Lafayette Reconsidered” and bought the book. I purposely asked the question to the author “what role did Lafayette’s mother played in his life”. I knew she was from Brittany and had worked to give Lafayette his wealth and social status in Paris, which the author expanded on. I have always liked that Lafayette’s ideals came from Brittany in addition to a provincial childhood in Auvergne.
On that same first day, Friday, June 5th, I went on board of L’Hermione. I discovered a gorgeous 145 foot long war ship made of native French oak, with 26 canons on board, and with a multitude of sails and three masts. Worth noting, the Captain Yann Cariou is a Breton and so were many of his crew. I wish I could have tasted the barrels of cognac they had on board. The crew, dressed in 1780 garb, met with the visitors and were answering questions or telling their story on board one the most beautiful symbolic French war ships ever re-built. Though I had to leave the ship eventually, I was fortunate enough to have a fantastic view of her from my hotel room’s large window and balcony, so I could go to sleep and wake up seeing L’Hermione laying gracefully in the water. The public tour was free and so were many of the events and lectures offered by the city of Yorktown.
My journey with L’Hermione started in August in 2014, continued on June 5th 2015 and I am convinced that for me this journey will never end. Next stop for L’Hermione is Mount Vernon where George Washington’s estate is located. L’Hermione will also make a stop in New York City during the July 4th weekend, independence. For Bastille Day, L’Hermione will be in Castine in Maine. I am a part of L’Hermione Voyage and thinking about planning my next trip so I can see her again, one step closer to Le Marquis de Lafayette.
Text & Photos : Valerie Le Borgne
is an organization established to create, facilitate, promote, and sponsor wide-ranging innovative and collaborative cultural and economic projects that strengthen and foster relations and cooperation between the United States of America and the region of Brittany, France.