The French warship Hermione, which was completed in 1779, is famous for transporting French aristocrat Marquis de Lafayette to the U.S. in 1780 to fight with the Americans in the American Revolutionary War.
Though the frigate was eventually destroyed due to heavy seas in 1793, today's generation is offered the opportunity to see how the historic Hermione looked like with the creation of its life-sized replica.
For the first time on Sunday, the 65-meter replica of the 18th century ship has tested waters in what is seen to be a crucial step in the ambitious project that aims to set the ship on sail across the Atlantic to retrace the journey made by Lafayette to bring reinforcements to American revolutionaries fighting for independence.
The maiden voyage also marks a major milestone for a group of restoration enthusiasts who 17 years ago started the challenging task of recreating the historic vessel in Rochefort, France using the shipbuilding techniques of the eighteenth century.
The construction project, which started in 1997 after the creation of the Hermione-Lafayette Association, has since attracted artisan craftsmen from different countries from France, Germany, Spain, UK and Sweden. The association has now also grown to be comprised of some 8,000 members.
"It is an important step to sail Hermione at sea, which no one has ever done," said Hermione-Lafayette Association president Benedict Donnelly. "There is real pride in the collective force behind this project. There have been tense moments, but we remained united."
The $32 million project was helped financed by visitors to the shipyard and crowd-funding efforts have raised funds for some parts of the ship. Laurent Da Rold, the construction project's director, said they initially thought it was impossible to find the same construction materials and use the exact methods employed in the 18 century to create the ship.
"I'm standing here, and there is nothing modern that is visible," Da Rold said while in the ship's deck. "That's unique in the world."
After departing the commercial port of Rochefort, the wooden replica will proceed to the Atlantic Ocean to spend weeks of sea trials while based in the island of Aix. Once it completes the sea trials, the ship will be displayed in Bordeaux in October before it will head back again to Rochefort to make the final preparations for its journey overseas.
The 65-meter ship is scheduled to sail to the U.S. in April next year following Lafayette's route from Rochefort to Boston to take part in the American Revolutionary War.