L’Hermione: A French Frigate Provides Unlikely Inspiration

L'Hermione French frigate, Rochefort, France 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!
cannons on the L'Hermione French frigate in Rochefort, France 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.”
Sails are sewn by hand on L'Hermione French frigate in Rochefort, France 
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.”
Ludwig working on the L'Hermione French frigate in Rochefort, FranceThe 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.
Sails upon sails for the L'Hermione French frigate in Rochefort, France 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.

Construction on the L'Hermione French frigate in Rochefort, FranceI’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

 

Comments

  1. says

    I have developed a passion for photography and could spend days on photography tours and reading about it. I had no idea I would become so enthralled with it. Now it’s about making the time so I can do it but I feel very fortunate to have discovered something that really speaks to me on another level. Now I can’t imagine making a sail or tarring a rope but that’s pretty cool that it speaks to someone else and that they are willing to devote years to accomplish that task.

    • says

      @Leigh – So glad to hear that you’ve found a passion (I definitely enjoy your photography). I can’t imagine making a sail by hand or tarring ropes either, but love meeting people who have found something that they are so passionate about.

  2. says

    I grew up by a major shipyard centre in France and I love old boats. The Trois-Mats Belem, one of the “classic” French boat was often stationed in Nantes and I visited it a lot. Amazing that it crossed the Atlantic… looks so small and old when you step in!

    • says

      @Zhu – Very cool. I haven’t heard of the Trois-Mats Belem, but I’m not very up on my boats. L’Hermione was much smaller than I expected as well, especially for over 200 people.

  3. says

    200+ crew members in the same room? I hope they’re making a couple of other allowances for some modern amenities…like maybe some Febreeze?
    The work and dedication required for a project like this is impressive. I look forward to reading about their success in a few years.

  4. says

    What an inspiring project! I had the opportunity to visit a Viking ship in Iceland that was built from inspiration of the Gokstad. A crew sailed it, as the Vikings would have, from Iceland to America a few years back.

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