In pictures: Lafayette's 'Hermione' returns to France
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A replica of the French frigate that transported General Lafayette to America in 1780 to rally US rebels battling for independence arrived back in France Monday, completing an historic four-month Atlantic voyage.
Powered only by its soaring sails and an international 80-strong crew of maritime aficionados, the Hermione sailed into Brest in northwestern France Monday afternoon, greeted by a crowd of spectators waiting on the dock and guided into port by a flotilla of 25 traditional boats and a modern navy frigate.
The frigate fired off six enormous blasts from its guns to signal the Hermione’s arrival and the completion of its epic journey, through which the crew had to endure choppy waters, high winds and even the tail-end of a hurricane.
The ship - 56 metres (185 feet) tall and 65 metres (215 feet) long - is a near-exact copy of the one that brought General Marquis de Lafayette from France to America in 1780 to help George Washington's troops fight the British.
It took almost two decades and $32 million (25 million euros) to build the exact replica of the three-masted tall ship, using only 18th century shipbuilding techniques.
The Hermione finally set sail in April, retracing Lafayette’s journey across the Atlantic from Rochefort in southwestern France to Yorktown, Virginia. It then called at more than a dozen stops along the eastern coast of the US and Canada before heading back to France.
It took part in July 4 celebrations in New York and earlier in a three-day celebration in Yorktown, where the original participated in the decisive 1781 victory over the British by Washington’s American and French forces.
Speaking to AFP at Yorktown in June, the ship’s captain, Yann Cariou, said: “She’s a great ship. She behaves perfectly all the time. She responded well to gusts of wind – as did the crew.”
Beside the French troops who joined the American rebels in the month-long battle at Yorktown, French ships helped blockade the port, leading to the British surrender.
Lafayette, who was born in 1757 to a noble family in south-central France, joined the American Revolution at the age of 19, inspired by the cause.
It took him 38 days to cross the Atlantic in 1780, a voyage that confirmed his renown as a military mastermind and a hero of the American Revolution.
Even today, Lafayette remains a constant presence across the country he helped transform from British colony into an independent nation.
At least 42 US counties and cities and hundreds of streets and squares – including the famed Lafayette Square opposite the White House – are named after him or after his ancestral home in France, La Grange.
Back in 1778, the original Hermione took a mere six months to build. The new replica took 17 years to construct, bringing together hundreds of craftspeople from around the world.
The project was financed by more than four million visitors to the shipyard in Rochefort where the Hermione was built, as well as through crowd-funding initiatives for specific parts of the ship.
The Hermione will stay in port at Brest until next Monday before heading back down the French coast, stopping in at Bordeaux before docking at its home at Rochefort.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP)