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Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Our gites near La Rochelle

Inside the Pigeonnier

Hermione, Rochefort, Charente Maritime

L'Hermione boat built by hand in Rochefort, you can take a walk around the boat and watch the craftsmen at work.

In December 1665, Rochefort was chosen by Jean-Baptiste Colbert as a place of "refuge, defense and supply" for the French navy because of its positioning along the Charente estuary, away from the sea. Its military harbour was fortified by King Louis XIV's commissary of fortifications Sebastien Le Prestre Vauban who was the foremost military engineer of France. Between 1666-1669 the king had the "Corderie Royale" (then the longest building in Europe) constructed to make cordage for French ships of war. The making of cordage ceased in 1867, and in 1926 the arsenal of Rochefort was closed. The Corderie Royale and the frigate l'Hermione (Reconstruction started in 1997) are both open for visitors.

Hermione was originally built in 1778 in eleven months at Rochefort, by the shipwright Henri Chevillard as a light frigate, fast and manoeuvrable. Between May and December 1779 she underwent successful sea trials in the Gulf of Gascony under the command of Lieutenant De La Touche.
During the American war of Independence General La Fayette embarked at Rochefort on 11 March 1780 and arrived in Boston on 28 April carrying the then-secret news that he had secured French reinforcements (5,500 men and 5 frigates) for General Washington. She got underway again on 2 June and suffered serious damage in the fierce but indecisive battle on the 7th June 1780 against the 32-gun HMS Iris, under James Hawker.
Hermione received the American Congress on board in May 1781. She fought several times in company with the Astrée, commanded by Lapérouse, especially at the Battle of Louisbourg on 21 July 1781.
After the end of the American war Hermione returned to France in February 1782. She then formed part of a squadron sent to India to help Suffren against the British. However peace was declared and the ship returned to Rochefort in April 1784.

 Again in service against the British, on 20 September 1793, she ran aground off Croisic and was then wrecked by heavy seas. The court-martial consecutive to the wreck found her pilot, Guillaume Guillemin du Conquet, responsible for her loss; her commanding officer, Captain Martin was honourably acquitted.