PARIS — A reconstruction of the 213-foot (65-meter) frigate used by France's Marquis de Lafayette to bring reinforcements to American revolutionaries in 1780 has tested the waters for the first time.
The test run at high tide Sunday was a key step in an ambitious 17-year project aimed at sending the ship next year across the Atlantic, retracing Lafayette's journey and the foundation of French-American relations.
Maritime and history experts and aficionados have made rebuilding the Hermione a major project for the French port of Rochefort in southwest France.
Ship builders and researchers have painstakingly rebuilt the ship using the same construction materials and methods as those used to build the original, from the pulley systems to the massive oak hull.
After some delays, the boat set out at high tide early Sunday morning from the Rochefort docks toward the Ile d'Aix. It is meant to be the first in several test runs before the ship sets sail for Boston.
Lafayette persuaded French King Louis XVI to provide military and financial support to George Washington's troops, and set off on March 21, 1780 from Rochefort, according to the Hermione project historians. He arrived in Boston 38 days later, and Lafayette played an important role in the revolutionary victory against England.
Laurent Da Rold, director of the construction project, overseen by the Yacht Concept company, said, "We didn't even know if it would be possible" to find the same construction materials and replicate the exact construction methods used in the 18th century to rebuild the Hermione.
Speaking from the deck of the ship, he said, "I'm standing here, and there is nothing modern that is visible. That's unique in the world."
Bruno Gravellier, superintendent of the ship and a former naval officer who spent 11 years working for the U.S. consulate in nearby Bordeaux, says a succession of U.S. officials have followed the progress of the project.
Many volunteers and supporters of the project cheered on the frigate as it left the dockyard.
Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report.