The Hermione Returns to America

Hermione
A replica of the French navy frigate L'Hermione (background) is seen as guests drink wine prior to the gala dinner in the honor of the L'Hermione at Mount Vernon, Virginia June 9, 2015. A replica of the French navy frigate L'Hermione (background) is seen as guests drink wine prior to the gala dinner in the honor of the L'Hermione at Mount Vernon, Virginia June 9, 2015.

With a salutary blast of cannon fire, the wooden frigate, the Hermione, sailed triumphantly into New York on Thursday, in a scene reminiscent of the Revolutionary War. The Hermione is an exact replica of the vessel that in 1780 carried the "French founding father," General Marquis de Lafayette, and a detachment of French troops to help aid the American struggle for independence.

The ambitious project was originally conceived in 1993, when a small group of enthusiasts, living by Lafayette's favorite adage cur non? (why not?), were inspired to build the Hermione using materials and methods "religiously authentic" to the original design. From its conception, the project took 23 years until its realization in 2015; a testament to the many challenges of the enterprise.

"The first challenge was material," explained Miles Young, president of Friends of Hermione-Lafayette in America, on the difficulties of accumulating the authentic building material needed to construct the frigate, "It had to be French oak." This is more difficult than it would seem. The special oak trees, bent so that they fit the hull of the ship, are rarely grown anymore, and forests across France contributed the wood needed for the ship.

Similarly, a vast quantity of metal had to be produced for the frigate, as the rigging alone required 1,500 blocks, tackles and pins to hold it up. A massive operation was arranged to provide this metal in what the Friends of Hermione-Lafayette say was the largest traditional forging process to have been seen for centuries. As with the rigging, cast iron was provided for the ship's many cannons, each weighing 1.6 tons, though in 2015, it is unlikely they will be firing upon any British shipping.

The ship is crewed by a team of volunteers who have had to brave the harsh conditions of pre-modern transatlantic travel in a trip that has taken them from Rochefort, France, all the way to the American coast, tracing the steps of the original Hermione's epic voyage. Unlike their revolutionary-era counterparts, the volunteers have been allowed the small but vital concessions of a modern navigation system and toilets.

At the time of the ship's departure, French president Francois Hollande, said the Hermione was France's best answer to those who thought it "futile to dream."

The project is ultimately a celebration of Franco-US relations. In many ways, France was America's first ally and the Hermione was a major French contribution to helping the Americans free themselves of the British yoke. Its key passenger, Lafayette, was an advocate of the revolutionary cause, for which he fought and was injured for in the Battle of Brandywine in 1777.

John Adams, second President and a founding father of the United States of America described Lafayette as "the invariable and indefatigable friend of America, in all times, places and occasions."

Young believes that Franco-American relations are as strong as they were during the American Revolution, but says that continued education on the two nations' shared history is important: "What does need to be constantly reminded, is the role of France played in the foundation of the United States."

The frigate will sail as part of the New York July 4th flotilla, where it will serve as a poignant reminder of the alliance that was central to the United States.