After a journey that has taken thousands of miles and spanned years of planning, the momentous moment finally arrived this morning as the L’Hermione, the centerpiece of the Tall Ships 2015 festival, sailed majestically into Greenport’s harbor.
Captain Yann Cariou, a 30-year veteran of the French Navy, along with a crew of 78, were joined by Bertrand Lortholary, consul general of France, Bernard Faro, consul general adjoint deputy counsel general, and other dignitaries for a welcome ceremony in Mitchell Park.
Also in attendance was the Herve Blanche, the mayor of Rochefort, France, where the Hermione was painstakingly recreated with remarkable attention to detail, as well as Miles Young, president of the Friends of Hermione Lafayette.
Waving French flags, the crowd was exuberant during the festivities, which highlighted the longtime relationship between the United States and France.
The Hermione, a replica of the 18th century frigate that brought the Marquis de Lafayette to America to fight alongside George Washington in the Revolutionary War in 1780, was rebuilt over a period of years beginning in 1997, and began its historic voyage across the Atlantic Ocean in April; the vessel will sail home to France in August.
Master of ceremonies David Berson began by welcoming all present and thanking everyone in the village who worked tirelessly to bring the event to fruition.
“This has not been an act of magic,” he said. Next, he read a passage in French, welcoming the dignitaries to Greenport, bringing the crowd to laughter with references to etouffee, croissant, the Statue of Liberty and Bridget Bardot interspersed throughout.
The event featured the singing of the French national anthem, as well as the Pledge of Allegiance led by Anabelle Odell.
Greenport Mayor George Hubbard introduced Lorthoraly, who said that two centuries later, “The French/American relationship is a strong as it was during Lafayette’s time.” The ship has also served to education new generations, he said. “Long live the United States. Viva la France. And long live the French/American friendship,” he said.
Mayor Blanche said it felt good to arrive in Greenport. “It’s wonderful here.”
The project, he said, has brought four million visitors to his municipality during restoration efforts and has breathed new life into the area.
The four-day Tall Ships festival, Hubbard said, has “gone off without a hitch,” bringing thousands of visitors into the village of only 2,200 residents who’ve enjoyed the magnificent ships, including the Picton Castle, Sagres, Lynx, AJ Meerwald and Kalmar Nyckel.
The ships in the harbor, Hubbard said, are “a beautiful sight.” The festival has not only opened the eyes of visitors to all Greenport has to offer, but also, to locals, many of whom went out on the docks for the very first time, including the mayor’s own grandson.
Berson introduced Greenport Business Improvement District President Peter Clarke, who, he said, is like Babe Ruth, hitting the ball out of the park while collecting sponsorships.
“This festival was, for me, a labor of love,” Clarke said. His mother, he said, had Creole blood and was from Lousiana; a relative in his bloodline, Jean Batiste Bordelon, was a quartermaster in the French Navy and one of the first settlers in Louisiana.
Capt. Cariou addressed the large crowd. “It’s a great day to be here,” he said, describing how the Hermione not only brought Lafayette but was also in America for two years, under orders from Congress, protecting the East Coast from the British, including during the historic battle with the Iris, a fierce 18-minute skirmish in which both sides declared themselves the winner.
That battle, he said, took place close to home, right off the coast of Long Island.
The trip to Greenport, where he saw many of the places where the original Hermione had set sail, was filled with emotion, Cariou said. “It was a a great honor and a a reminder of our common history,” he said.
The East End Seaport Museum and Marine Foundation has worked in the months preceding the Hermione’s arrival to educate the public about the vessel’s rich history.
A brand-new Tall Ships exhibit, coordinated by Museum Trustee Lynn Summers and her husband George includes nine educational panels illustrating the construction of the L’Hermione reproduction and the life of General Lafayatte. The ninth panel, illustrating the L’Hermione’s Long Island history, was delivered recently.
Summers said she grew up in Philadelphia, where the Continental Congress met upon the L’Hermione in 1781, so the voyage has great meaning.
The Marquis de Lafayette sailed in the French frigate “Hermione” on march 19, 1780 and after a 38-day passage, arrived in Boston, then reporting to Washington and Philadelphia. He later worked with George Washington and victory was achieved on October 19, 1781 against the British. Lafayette was honored for his devotion to the American cause. He was a dynamic man who was “adored,” Summers said.
His motto, “Cur non,” or “Why not?” is “the village of Greenport should adopt,” she added.
Today, as she saw the Hermione in Greenport, Summers said, “I’m ready to cry.”
Hubbard struck a bell to announce the official start of the second half of the Tall Ships festival, then two French traditional bagpipe players led Captain Cariou and a VIP group to tour the Hermione.
Onboard, members of the Third NY Regiment, a reenactment group, were attired in traditional garb. Deborah Berger, coordinator for Friends of the Hermione-Lafayette in America, explained facets of how much work was poured into recreating the vessel, including ropes dipped in tar and oak trees that needed to be bent to create the boards, which were treated with linseed oil. One woman, she said, sewed every eyelet by hand herself.
A forge had to be recreated in France and a rope factory was reopened in Rochefort, as rebuilding the Hermione helped to bring new crowds of tourists to the area.
During its voyage, the Hermione has also served as an educational vessel, and has been the scene of scientific studies in coordination with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, including buoys dropped into the water to determine how much plastic was found, Berger said. Climate studies are also being performed, she said. The voyage from France to Yorktown, Virginia in the United States totaled 3,819 miles, she said.
One third of the Hermione’s crew are under the age of 29, Berger said, with many women, and all have given up a year of their lives to head off on the exciting adventure; all were trained in advance of the voyage, but some had never set foot on a ship before.
The crew, she said, sleep in hammocks, and work four hours, are on call for four hours, and rest for four hours, like clockwork.
While crossing the Atlantic was a smooth ride, the captain reported stormy seas in the Chesapeake Bay, she said.
The tour was followed by a reception at Aldo’s, where residents and crew mingled. Magda Michaud of Southold said the event symbolized the great connection between the United States and France, in history and tradition.
Clarke thanked BID member Linda Kessler for her tremendous efforts, raising over $20,000 for the event.
He added that the Hermione’s arrival was the “pinnacle” of the four day event.