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
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.