The largest and “most authentically built” tall ship in the last 150 years blew through the Chesapeake Bay this summer on her way from France to the Eastern Seaboard of the U.S. The Hermione is a replica of General Lafayette’s 18th century ship that was part of the Revolutionary War. But there are other Tall Ships coming and several are based in the Chesapeake Bay.
She was completed last year and finished sea trials in the fall. The 210-foot wooden frigate is now spending the summer sailing U.S. Eastern seaboard.The journey started in April from the mouth of the River Charente, in Port des Barques, where Lafayette boarded on March 10th, 1780. L’Hermione visited Yorktown, Virginia at the beginning of June and is working her way up the Chesapeake Bay for the next couple weeks, before going through the channel to the Delaware Bay and out to the coast.
The Marquis de Lafayette once served under General George Washington in the Revolutionary War. He first came to the colonies against the wishes the French government and met Gen. Washington in 1777. Lafayette convinced the general to make him an officer in the colonial army. He was age 19.
Lafayette was wounded and returned to France the next year. The newly built frigate Hermione was assigned to Lafayette in 1780 and he sailed it to Boston, then to Philadelphia where the Continental Congress was meeting. Congress commissioned the light-frigate to join the war on the U.S. side and Lafayette blockaded the Chesapeake Bay in the Yorktown-area, which helped convince the British to surrender.
The new Hermione is stopping at assorted ports in the Chesapeake Bay and East Coast for a range of pier-side activities, including a traveling exhibition and a heritage village.
Here’s a video of L’Hermione leaving France for her voyage to the U.S.
L’Hermione is one of several tall ships visiting the Chesapeake Bay this summer.
At the same time Hermione was docked in Yorktown, the annual Norfolk Harborfest® was in full swing at Town Point Park in Norfolk, less than an hour away.
For three days in early June 5-7, Norfolk’s waterfront becomes a festival of tall ships with the Parade of Sail, Virginia craft food, wine and beer experiences, 32 performing artists on three stages, and the largest fireworks display on the East Coast, reports Casey Higgins with the Virginia Travel Blog. Harborfest® is the largest, longest-running, free maritime festival in the United States.
The annual Tall Ships at Cape Charles Festival kicks off mid-June at Cape Charles Town Harbor, on the Eastern Shore across from Newport News, Virginia. See the 179-foot Barque Picton Castle of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia along with a fleet of several other tall ships and vessels. Tall ships are available for free public deck tours, and kids’ pirate sails aboard the Schooner Serenity will be offered daily for a fee of $35 (reservations required).
But if you miss these ships, you still have Downrigging Weekend (Oct. 29-Nov.1) in Chestertown, Maryland, a tall ship and wooden boat festival in “America’s best preserved colonial seaport.” Now in its 15th year, the Chestertown waterfront will be packed with tall ships, schooners and smaller wooden boats.
And if you’re interested in historic ships docked throughout the Chesapeake Bay during the rest of the summer:
- Chestertown is home port of the Sultana, a replica of the 1768 schooner Sultana, the smallest schooner ever in the British Royal Navy. The original SULTANA patrolled the coastline of colonial North America from 1768 to 1772 enforcing Tea Taxes. The schooner Sultana is open for public sails throughout the summer.
- Baltimore has two large tall ships — The Pride of Baltimore II, a 157-foot reproduction of a 1812-era clipper, and the USS Constellation, the original sloop-of-war built in 1854. She’s been decommissioned by the U.S. Navy and is now available for tours in Baltimore Harbor. The Pride is often out sailing to other ports for events.
- The state of Maryland maintains a tall ship in Historic St. Mary’s City called the Maryland Dove, a 76-foot long replica of a 17th century Chesapeake Bay trading vessel. A ship like it accompanied Lord Baltimore’s original expedition to Maryland. Check the calendar before you visit, because she often does outreach to other ports.
- The Nathan of Dorchester Skipjack is based in Cambridge, Maryland. The skipjack is the Maryland state boat and was used by watermen throughout the Chesapeake Bay before motor engines came into being.
- Tilghman Island also has an historic skipjack, the Rebecca R. Ruark, that’s available for public cruises. She’s still a working skipjack, owned and operated by Capt. Wade Murphy, Jr., who’s been known to let you help hoist the mainsail or take the helm (under his watch).
- And on Saturday, September 26, the Nathan and the Ruark race. Old wooden skipjacks from across the Bay give it a go at the Choptank Heritage Skipjack Race. Last year, Capt. Wade came in first on the Ruark.
Here are Virginia Sailing Experiences (courtesy of virginia.org):
- Day Sail Charters, Chincoteague Island – custom three-hour tours
- Sail Away Charters, Deltaville – available for half-day, sunset, full-day, multi-day, and overnight sails
- Norton Sailboat Charters, Deltaville – custom charters
- Let’s Go Sail, Gloucester and Yorktown – three-hour semi-private, private and family cruises; all limited to six people
- American Rover, Norfolk – 125-foot schooner giving harbor cruises, including sunset cruises
- Sailing School, Weems – custom learning for adults, family or corporate team building
- Alliance Tall Ship Day Sails, Yorktown – 105-foot schooner available for two-hour tours three times per day
- Schooner Serenity Pirate Cruises, Yorktown – great experience for kids!