The replica frigate l’Hermione building at Rochefort

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    Tim Beattie

    I saw the utterly remarkable replica of the 1798 frigate l’Hermione this September. It sits in the 17th century dry dock in Louis XIV’s Rochefort naval arsenal and it will be launched next year. The intention is to sail her to America in memory of Lafayette’s voyage of 1780.
    The beauty and authenticity of her construction is wonderful and I wonder what the SNR or other organisations in Britain are doing in recognition of this fine project. It certainly deserves our support and appreciation.


    This is an important project from which much has been learned about construction techniques ofa large wooden-hulled sailing vessel.
    Currently the sails are being made, and the rigging will be completed next year, with the launch of the hull planned for late summer, followed by sea trials in 2013. Construction of this wonderful replica of l’Hermione can be followed on the website at:

    M.A. N

    I would also draw your attention to the Russian vessel Shtandart (, which I visited in Kristiansand. Very hospitable!
    Not an exact replica, of course, as current maritime regulations insist on an engine, amongst other features, but general construction and rigging are thought to be as accurate as possible.
    She regularly sails around the Baltic, usually with young crews, but is not a ‘training ship’ in the traditional sense.

    Editor’s note:
    The Shtandart is a replica of Peter the Great flagship, Imperial Russia’s first home-built square-rigged warship, launched in 1703.

    Andrew P

    Glad Tim was impressed with Hermione. I was working on the project for six months last summer, carrying out research into the ornamentation of the ship and having won the contract, carving the lion figurehead.
    The contract for the rigging of the ship has been awarded to JB Rigging as now under the leadership of Jens Langert who together with Bjorn Ahlander was responsible for the rigging of the Swedish replica ship Gotheborg (for which I also carried out the carving work).1
    Whilst this ship was under construction, the Shtandart visited our yard and we had the opportunity to sail on board, which was an amazing experience. She is a fast and extremely manoeuvrable vessel which has been constructed with the least amount of interference from modern regulations.

    Editor’s note:
    1. J B Riggers AB of Goteborg, who have an interesting website covering their work on Hermione and Gotheborg at:

    Nicholas Blake

    She’s just arrived in Gran Canaria. You can follow her progress to New York on Twitter, @LHERMIONE_SHIP

    Ryan K

    Is there any serious interest in England in building a functioning replica ship of similar era to L’Hermione? I’m surprised that there isn’t one already, apart from the Pickle, but a larger accurate sloop of war or frigate from this era that would serve as a sail training vessel. The steel ships of later eras are certainly superior in some ways but I know there are a lot of people like me in the modern sail training community, that would give anything to sail and run programs on a ship of this era. The Swedish have their East Indiaman, the French now have a beautiful frigate. The Australian’s have Endeavour. Surely there is enough interest and drive in a country with such Naval history. Would be cheaper to fit out the Trincomalee for sea but I would assume that would never happen to such a national treasure.


    Sam Willis

    Hi Ryan,

    There is an impressive movement under way in Deptford to build a replica 17thC warship – the Lenox. They have an impressive website and are gaining good momentum. I’m sure they would appreciate your support.

    Ryan K

    I had seen that but I wasn’t sure how well supported it was. To sail on a ship of the line! That would be something. I find people in my country (Canada) are much given to disregarding our Naval history and writing it off as purely British before a certain time period. There is little interest in Canada for keeping this period of naval history alive. Hopefully I can get a visa for England when the time comes. My career goal is to be a square rigger captain. Have been sailing replica ships for the past two and a half years full time.

    Michael Leek

    I think it highly unlikely that a sailing replica of a square-rigged sailing ship will ever be built in the UK. There simply is not the interest or the means to fund such a project. Since the demise of The Maritime Trust, under the excellent leadership of Vice-Admiral Sir Patrick Bayly, it would seem that the general public in the UK have turned their backs on the sea and their maritime heritage.

    Post 1945 there have been many proposals for a UK-registered and owned square-rigged sailing ship, but none have got beyond discussion stages with, in some cases, a lack of understanding of the financial implications, particularly, but not exclusively, regarding the running costs of such a ship. Some ill-informed schemes – on grand scales – have included a return to sailing condition of the City of Adelaide and even a new build replica of the Torrens. The hull of the City of Adelaide is now owned in Australia, whilst the Torrens project never got beyond the musings of a small discussion group in Sunderland!

    And what hope is there when we see the Cutty Sark renovated for public display in a way that is more akin to Disney World than a serious attempt to educate and inform younger generations of Britain’s rich maritime history?

    More significantly – and tellingly – is the UK’s attitude to sail training compared to other countries, many of whom had and have much smaller merchant navies, yet they have continued a tradition that the British gave up many decades ago. The history of sail training since 1900 is a sad reflection of the decline of interest and appreciation in Britain’s maritime history.

    Michael Leek

    Frank Scott

    I am slightly perplexed by Michael Leek’s posting.
    Modern sail training takes many forms, and while it is true that Britain has not operated any square rigged sail training vessels for professional seafarers since the jackass-barquentine St George was laid up in 1921, it is very much involved in sail training. Over the years since 1971 Britain has operated quite a number of civilian square riggers in the sail training role, ranging from brigs and brigantines to barques (from 80 to 500 gross tonnes), some with wooden masts and spars, and very traditional rigging, while others are more modern. Although none of these appear to meet with his approval, I am glad to say that all of them take women, and two were specially designed to ensure that this experience could be extended to those of mixed physical ability. Indeed one of these, the barque STS Lord Nelson, recently completed a highly successful circumnavigation via Cape Horn. The vessel that kicked off the square rig revival in the UK, the brig TS Royalist, retired at the end of 2014, after 43 years of service, having taken some 35,000 Sea Cadets to sea (both male & female), many of whom took up careers in the Royal Navy or the Merchant Service. She has been replaced by a new brig.
    As a young cadet in 1968 I trained in the full-rigger SSS Sørlandet, and thus experienced at first-hand the rigorous Norwegian schoolship regime, where cadets were known by number not name. Glad though I am to have had that formative professional experience, I would never disparage the excellent work that is done by the much more numerous fleet of civilian sail training ships around the world, whether square rigged or fore & aft.
    I would like to quote what Flottillenadmiral Horst-Helmut Wind wrote to me back in 1991, bearing in mind that he was the Chief Officer of the four-masted barque Passat for her last commercial voyages as a cargo-carrying training ship:
    ‘I did serve in commercial deep-water sail, but as a former Captain of Gorch Fock I am very much aware that sail training cannot justify itself through mere sentiment. It does provide an excellent platform for basic seamanship training, but in both the naval and civilian worlds its main value in this modern machine age lies in its unique ability to foster the somewhat old-fashioned character virtues of courage, comradeship, and endurance – irrespective of race, creed, colour, or gender. We have been fortunate to see a real renaissance in sail training, and continued success demands the highest professional standards, modern outlook, and attention to detail.’
    As to replicas, it must be acknowledged that all of them have to compromise to some extent in how ‘true’ they are to the original. At the very least electricity is required for lighting (both internal and navigation), and the galley and food storage areas have to meet modern hygiene standards, as must the heads and bathrooms. L’Hermione certainly looks great, and must be fun to sail, but the absence of a battery of full weight cannons, and the addition of propellers will have an obvious impact on how she handles compared to the original. I am sure that there will be other issues.
    As for other well known recent replicas of comparable size, their actual sailing record is patchy. The Australian replica of Cook’s Endeavour is highly regarded, both for her authenticity, and for the amount of sailing that she did in her first ten years. However, even with her there are significant compromises, and she does little sailing nowadays. The Götheborg III only made one long voyage, from Sweden to China & back (2005-7), and since then has been restricted to a very short Baltic season of barely two months, hopping between festivals and barely sailing. While the Batavia did make it out to Australia for the 2000 Olympics, she only did so by going as deck cargo, and is now a static attraction, having done only brief day sailing trials in benign weather, and no sea passages.
    In many ways, I find reconstructed – or resurrected – vessels much more interesting than any of the so-called replicas. I have particular affection for three medium-sized iron barques, all built in Britain: the James Craig (ex Clan Macleod) (Sunderland, 1874), now of Sydney, Australia; the Elissa (Aberdeen, 1877), now of Galveston Texas; and the Star of India (ex Euterpe) (Ramsey, Isle of Man, 1863), now of San Diego, California. However, even they have had to make modifications to allow them to operate in the twenty-first century.
    On that note it is worth observing that the Sørlandet that I first knew back in 1968 would very much fail to meet modern safety and living standards. Indeed, with the exception of radar and a very weak engine, in 1968 very little had changed onboard since she had entered service in 1927. Since then things have moved on apace, and even by 1980, when I went back as 3/O, she had ‘gained’ liferafts, safety harnesses, back-wires, proper fire pumps, bunk beds, modern heads and bathrooms, along with an engine that could do more than enable her to manoeuvre in harbour in a flat calm. In the subsequent decades a whole mass of further modifications and additions have been required.
    Sentiment at sea can be a dangerous thing, as was show by the tragic loss of the two seafarers when the 1960 Bounty replica sank in October 2012. US NTSB, Marine Accident Brief 14-03: Sinking of Tall Ship Bounty (Washington, 2014) covers this in depressing detail.

    Sam Willis

    It is worth nothing that one of the most recent success stories in British waters in terms of building a traditional sailing vessel is the excellent Grayhound lugger, built in Plymouth 2010-2. The entire story can be followed on their website with videos of the construction. The Grayhound is now making its own living carrying passengers and cargo to and from France – it is, in fact, Britain’s first registered vessel to provide a cross-channel delivery service under sail. She has also captured the public’s imagination and is a particularly fine example that we have not ‘turned our back on our maritime heritage’.

    It is also worth adding that I have been involved in several tours of Greenwich, including the Cutty Sark, and although there are divergent views on the method of her presentation, it is certainly a highly effective tool for education and the visitor experience is first class.

    Michael Leek

    Frank Scott is perplexed by my post; yet there is nothing to be perplexed about! The original post, by Tim B, was about a replica. My response, albeit a very personal take on the subject, was directly related to this, reinforced, for example, by mentioning some of the proposals to restore to sailing condition the hulls of former square-rigged sailing ships. It is only in my final paragraph that I make an observation about the attitude of Britain to sail training and the sea, in the widest sense (and as this post was originally about a replica, to go into the history of sail training in Britain post-1945 is not really relevant to the questions raised by others).

    Whilst Frank Scott is undoubtedly correct in his summary of what has taken place in respect of sail training in Britain in the twentieth century, I believe he has missed the point of my post, which was not only in direct response to Tim B, but also to the question raised by Ryan K; Is there any serious interest in England in building a functioning replica ship of similar era to L’Hermione?

    Michael Leek

    Frank Scott

    I thought that in my comments on the limitations of so-called replicas I made my feelings clear. Those that are built in wood are very expensive to build, and both difficult and expensive to maintain to an acceptable standard. Moreover, the compromises that are inevitably forced upon them by twenty-first century regulations, and operational practicality, tend to make them more like representations than replicas. At the smaller end of the market these issues tend to be less intrusive, but once at frigate size they are very serious. As a extreme example, the Grand Turk, (now under the French flag, and renamed Étoile du Roy) which was built for a TV series, reputedly on the lines of the 20-gun HMS Blandford (1741), shows what happens when modern compromises totally outweigh attempts at historical accuracy. I may also say that under sail she handles every bit as badly as one would expect.
    With suitable commercial backers to underwrite the project, it would certainly be possible to build something comparable to L’Hermione in Britain. However, the likelihood is that those backers would withdraw once the initial glare of publicity had faded, and like most of the large replicas her sailing life would be comparatively short, and offer little return for all the effort. For those interested in sailing in replicas, there are quite a number around, varying in era and size, and there is good reason not to restrict oneself to your national flag. Indeed, a decade ago my wife went out to the Great Lakes for a season sailing in the American brig Niagara.
    May I finish by saying that I have to agree with Sam Willis in being impressed with the new way of displaying the Cutty Sark. I particularly enjoy the ability to appreciate her wonderful underwater profile, and my only regret is that there is not a high viewing point to allow you to admire the sweep of her above-water lines from ahead, something that I hope will be rectified in due course. Clearly it is novel, and it has upset some people, but it is serious, rather than Disney. Moreover it has overcome many of the previous site limitations, and the careful restoration of the hull has made up for years of underinvestment and slow decay.

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