For Ignacio Garcia Du Quesne and Philippe H. Despointes, this year's Tall Ships Festival isn't just a celebration of maritime splendors - it's a chance for them to reconnect with their Revolutionary War roots.
Both men trace their family lines back to crew of the French warship Hermione, which in 1780 carried the Marquis de Lafayette and his forces to join the Americans in their nascent revolution.
A replica of the historical warship - built using its sister ship's original plans, and tools, techniques, and materials of the era - will be at Penn's Landing for the Tall Ships Festival, which starts Thursday and ends Sunday. The list of the crew members was published as part of the project.
"We are privileged to have an ancestry that has very interesting stories," said Garcia Du Quesne, 74, a Miami resident who decided to come to Philadelphia after learning of his ancestor's service on the Hermione. "We have no credit to it except that we are recipients of that history and we have to respect it."
Despointes, who hails from the French Caribbean island of Martinique, called the Hermione's rebirth "a marvelous venture."
"In this world we live in, [driven by] images, if we're really interested in things, we should be interested in facts and in reality," said Despointes, 66.
It took more than two decades of planning, fund-raising, and construction in Rochefort, a port in southwestern France, before the handcrafted three-masted warship was finally able to set sail in April.
" 'Why not!' was [Lafayette's] family motto, and he just believed that if you're determined, you can achieve anything, and I think that is a lesson to everybody," said Judi Kilachand, executive director of Friends of Hermione-Lafayette in America. "It's to make up your mind and achieve something, and that's exactly what he did."
She said the rich history of the Hermione can inspire Americans today, and recall foreign relations critical to the nation's right to self-governance.
After stops in Yorktown, Va.; Annapolis, Md.; and Baltimore, among others, this June, Hermione the younger will dock at Penn's Landing on Thursday for the start of the Tall Ships Festival. The annual spectacle this year will feature 13 sailing vessels, foreign and domestic, coming up the Delaware for their stay at Penn's Landing. This year, the procession will include a 61-foot rubber duck.
Through Sunday, celebrations of the Hermione's significance include numerous reenactments. Visitors can experience an 18th-century-inspired dinner at City Tavern (although this event is sold out); rope-making; 18th-century medicine demonstrations; and portrayals of notable people from the Revolutionary War, including Ned Hestor, an African American who fought at the Battle of Brandywine, and Americans from the Oneida nation who also battled the British.
Marc Jensen, maritime director for the Hermione's crew, said he tells the ship's visitors to imagine its 18th-century passengers on a trans-Atlantic journey. He did it himself this year, albeit with modern amenities.
"We no longer really have an environment in our daily lives where we live that way," Jensen said. "This ship, that space, was their entire world."