NAVY LEAGUE NEWS
In March 1780, as the Revolutionary War raged, the French Concorde-class frigate Hermione set sail for
America carrying young General Gilbert du Motier de
Lafayette, more commonly known as Marquis de
Lafayette, who bore news of French support and troops
for the war effort. For the Continental Army, led by
Lafayette’s friend and mentor GEN George Washington,
that was struggling to hold its own against the British, it
was welcome aid, and has been pegged by historians as
a turning point in the war.
Two hundred thirty-five years later, the ship — or
rather a faithful reproduction — will sail for America
once again. In mid-April, Hermione is scheduled to
leave France on a journey that not only will celebrate
Lafayette’s voyage and its significance, but provide a
living history lesson highlighting the French contribution to the American Revolution during its 11 port
calls along the U.S. East Coast from early June to mid-July. The ship will make a final stop in Nova Scotia,
Canada, before its return trip to France.
It is fitting that Hermione will mark both American
Independence Day on July 4 — in New York City —
and the French Bastille Day on July 14 — in Castine,
Maine — during the trip.
“I think this kind of event invites us to acknowledge
the relationship the two countries have had ever since
the friendship of Lafayette and Washington,” said Marc
Jensen, director of maritime operations with Friends of
Hermione-Lafayette in America, who is one of two
Americans that will be part of the Hermione crew.
“There are several factors that were the turning point
in the Revolutionary War and one of them was the
father-son relationship between Washington and
Lafayette and the trust that that entailed.
“I’m hoping people who visit the ship, look beyond
the ship,” he said. “The ship is an amazing accomplish-
ment by a small group of people, but the visit of the ship
has a tremendous amount of symbolism toward the
importance of trust and international relationships.”
The voyage is the culmination of an almost 20-year
effort to bring the ship to life, said Judi Kilachand, exec-
utive director of Friends of Hermione-Lafayette in
America, a New York-based nonprofit group that is sup-
porting the voyage and partnering with local heritage
and maritime-oriented groups — including the Navy
League’s New York Council — educators from grade
school through the university level, cultural organiza-
tions and museums for special events at each stop.
The original Hermione is long gone, its life on the
high seas cut short when it ran aground and wrecked
at Croisic, France, on Sept. 20, 1793. But its history
and memory have continued to resonate on both sides
of the Atlantic for two centuries.
True to Lafayette’s motto “Cur Non?” — or “Why
Not?” — the construction of an authentic replica of
Hermione was conceived in the early 1990s by French
author Erik Orsenna and Benedict Donnelly, a co-founder
of the Association Hermione-Lafayette in France. The 210-
foot-long three-masted oak ship took 17 years to build.
Construction began in 1997 and was completed last
year in Rochefort, France, where work was done on the
first Hermione. Artisanal craftsmen used 18th-century
shipbuilding techniques almost entirely during the
project, according to a release from Friends of
Hermione-Lafayette in America.
Some modern conventions did have to be included
in order to meet international maritime safety regula-
tions, such as a pair of motors, modern navigational
equipment and sanitary living conditions for the crew.
But a French marine historian was engaged to check
and verify the restoration plans and the site was open
to the public as construction proceeded, with admis-
sion fees helping fund the project.
Hermione was launched in 2012. Captain Yann
Cariou, a 30-year veteran of the French Navy, and his
second, Charlene Giquel, a former Navy lieutenant, will
command the ship during its trans-Atlantic voyage and
subsequent journey up the East Coast. They have been
training the 70-some-member crew — many of them
volunteers — for a year in old-world sailing practices,
according to Friends of Hermione-Lafayette in America.
“I had been following the ship since 2001, and got
deeper and deeper into the workings,” said Jensen,
who learned how to sail on Long Island Sound as a
child. “In 2003, I asked the question, ‘If I wanted to be
a part of the crew for the crossing — at that point they
were talking about 2008 — how can I do that? Do I
make a donation, go for some training?’ And they basi-
cally said it was going to be a professional crew.
“That evolved in the past year or year and half, realizing that the expense of a professional crew was going
to be enormous, especially for that length of time. And,
Hermione Voyage Will Provide
Living Maritime History Lesson
By PETER ATKINSON, Deputy Editor
WWW.SEAPOWERMAGAZINE.ORG 84 SEAPOWER / APRIL 2015