L’Hermione Est Arrivé!
A little over two weeks ago, a project I have been watching for the last 5 years finally came to fruition: the French tall ship l’Hermione sailed into Alexandria, Virginia. The ship, a French frigate that took 20 years to build using only historical techniques (including over 5,000 handsewn eyelets on the sails!), is a replica of Lafayette’s flagship that was completed only last year. She is in the middle of a grand tour of the east coast of the USA after having crossed the Atlantic over from Rochefort, France, and her second stop in Virginia was Alexandria, where I used to live and still work.
As many of you know, I work two days a week as a deckhand for a company down there that runs ferries, water taxis, etc. We were also in charge of the logistics for l’Hermione’s visit and helped her to dock. I wasn’t working that evening, but I was there anyway to see the ship arrive around midnight. I started off on top of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, beneath which she had to pass. As soon as she was past the bridge she was greeted by the Cherry Blossom, my company’s flagship boat. The two “chatted” with eachother via a series of rather adorable horn blasts, which elicited wild cheering from other spectators on shore. I even heard a fifer playing at one point, and someone singing La Marseillaise. Shortly after she was past us, I high-tailed it back down to my car and sped toward our dock just in time to see her pulling up.
My fellow deckhands were on hand to help get her properly tied up, and we all stood around cheering the ship’s crew on as everything got set up. By around 2:30am the other locals had left and gone to bed, but me and several fellow deckhands and even some of the French crew stood around the dock, chatting. It was a good time, and reminded me of the receptions I witnessed when I used to work on similar ships myself, back in the day. Nostalgia for all!
One thing that really struck me as I stood there watching this all happen for a few hours was how universal sailors are, in my experience. Tall ship sailors aren’t that different from sailors on container ships, or on ferries. The maritime life seems to both pull from a particular section of society while also molding us into further uniformity. When I saw these guys, I had this overwhelming feeling of kinship. They looked and acted just like every other tall ship sailor I’ve ever worked with, and good many of the modern sailors I work with now as well. There’s something about being in close, uncomfortable quarters day in day out, overworked, overtired, sunburned, seeing the smallest slight as a reason for upset, all together that gives a universality to sailors that you don’t see in too many professions anymore. There’s also a certain sense of wonder and adventure that unites us. I mean, look at these guys – I’ve made the very same expression – a mix between excitement and awe – upon coming into port.
I was also greatly amused when a group of about eight sailors jumped off the ship and sprinted toward the nearest bar (Chadwicks, my fellow deckhands informed them, pointing them in the general direction) to make it in time for last call, only moments after the mooring lines had been secured. I haven’t worked on a tall ship since I could drink, but I’ve done similar things in the pursuit of ice cream and food that didn’t come from a can or a bag.
The whole thing left me feeling nostalgic and proud – all the deckhands that I work with on a daily basis were wicked impressed with the ship, and though they all know that my maritime background is on similar ships, seeing one in person changed their opinion of me, I think. More than one gave me a high five that evening.
Without further ado, here’s the photos I took that night of her arrival. I’ll be posting other photos of her soon as well, from the rest of her visit to the port of Alexandria, so keep a lookout for them!