L’Hermione was a French Frigate that became famous in 1780 when she ferried General Lafayette from Rochefort, France to the United States where he fought on the American side in the American Revolution.
Now I am not into frigates, maritime history, or even war history. Which is why no one was more surprised than I that I found inspiration in a war ship that is more than 200 years old!
But then it’s not every day that a 200-year-old war ship comes back to life again either, but that is exactly what is being done in Rochefort. Since 1997, a group of committed citizens and artisans have sought to rebuild L’Hermione, not using modern technology but building it as similar as to how it was built in the 18th century:
“The ambition of the Hermione-La Fayette Association is to reconstruct the original frigate a ship more than 200ft long, carrying three masts and a sail surface of 16,000 square feet, with a hull entirely made of oak as authentically as possible, while taking into account modern statutory constraints concerning seaworthiness.”
I watched Anne, one of the few traditional sail makers left in France as she tarred the ropes, one by one, all by hand. It’s tedious but important work that’s critical to the voyage’s success. The ropes must be waterproof or they will rot. She also stitches the ship’s huge and many sails – all by hand. I see a cat scatter across the sails strewn on the floor and ask if the cat will be making the voyage. Anne shrugs her shoulders and says “maybe.”
The only person confirmed on the highly anticipated voyage, scheduled for March 2015 is Ludwig, who is in charge of the entire project. I ask Anne if she would also like to go on the inaugural voyage to Boston. Her eyes fill with excitement and anticipation, “Of course” she responds as she crosses her fingers on both hands. I’m rooting for both her and the cat to go!
But despite her dedication and obvious passion for the project she doesn’t know yet, but still she continues on with the dirty job of tarring L’hermione’s ropes.
It’s this dedication that I find incredibly inspiring. Don’t get me wrong, after bumping my head on the low ceiling beams in the ship and seeing the crowded hammocks where the 200+ crew will sleep together in one room, minus the captain and a few other crew members, I have no desire to actually be on that voyage, but the dedication and committment to bringing Rochefort’s marine heritage back to life is beyond inspiring.
I’m challenged to think of a time when I was THAT committed to any project. One which would take years of back-breaking work to complete. One that was that ambitious and that meaningful. One that I was so passionate about that I would devote years to it, in-spite of the many inevitable setbacks. I was stumped. I couldn’t think of anything. I work hard, and I work in a field that I really enjoy, but if a project gets too difficult or too tedious, I pack it in and move on to another one. Nobody would certainly ever call me patient.
But perhaps that was the problem. Perhaps I had never searched for anything that I was SO passionate about that NOTHING could deter me. I’ve been thinking about it for several months now since my visit to L’Hermione and I know my project will have something to do with primates. I have been passionate about primates for years, hold a degree in Primatology and have worked with gorillas in a zoo and volunteered with rescued chimps in Spain. I don’t have an exact project in mind yet, but I’ve learned from L’Hermione Project, that sometimes the best laid plans take years to implement…and require a bit of patience.
Visit L’Hermione in Rochefort:
- You can visit L’Hermione in Rochefort, France in the open construction site/museum. So far it is attracting more than 250,000 visitors a year.
- Visits are self-guided, but guided tours can also be arranged with advance notice.
- L’Hermione will return to Rochefort after its sail to Boston and other stops along the U.S. coast where it will be on permanent display.
- You can support L’Hermione Project by becoming a member of the association that manages L’Hermione Project.
- Visit the Hermione Official Website for more info on the project and opening hours.
- See more photos of the building of Hermione, French frigate