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 has been 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. The sails – all 16,000 square feet of them – will be made of synthetic material. This will make them lighter and so able to be handled by fewer crew than on the first ship. 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 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 then be ready to set sail for the New World in 2014.
Heart of the Hermione
The best way to see the work at close hand is the guided tour 'Au coeur de l'Hermione' or 'At the heart of the Hermione'. This 75-minute tour takes you right into the bowels of the vessel as it takes form, giving you a chance to get up close and personal with the sturdy oak timbers from which the ship is made. However you should be aware that there are a few safety restrictions. Hard hats have to be worn at all times, children under six are not allowed on the tour and nor is it suitable for people with reduced mobility. If you wear high-heels or tong-style open footwear you'll need a pair of more practical shoes for the tour itself. Places on these tours are limited and you have to reserve in advance – it's a good idea to do this well ahead of your planned visit. You can make a reservation via the Hermione website.
Visit the Hermione construction site in Rochefort:
The construction is taking place at the Arsenal maritime in Place Amiral Dupont in Rochefort and is open all year round except January.
It is open February and March and from October to December from 10am to 12.30pm and 2pm to 6pm.
From April to June and in September it is open from 10am to 7pm.
In July and August it is open from 9am to 7pm.
July 6-8. 2012 sees three days of festivities, celebrating the Hermione taking to the water, into the River Charente, for the first time. See What's On.
For the basic visit to the site the cost is:
Free for under-6s
Free for members
€4 for children aged 6 to 15
€8 full adult rate
There is also a shop where you can buy CDs, books, replica models and other souvenirs.
Telephone: 05 46 82 07 07
The history of the Hermione and Lafayette
Visit the town of Rochefort
Remi Jouan, Wikipedia