My father is a maritime history buff. He builds ship models, spends hours working on the rigging, collects ocean liner abstract cards, and is a walking encyclopedia of naval history in general. My childhood vocabulary included words like schooner, ship-of-the-line, frigate and Titanic long before they were popular conversation pieces. Last weekend when, in spite of the fog bank that had rolled in, I wanted to go out, a visit to the Etoile du Roy (The King’s Star) seemed like the perfect distraction. My apologies for the pictures; the fog makes everything seem a bit dreary.
Originally christened the Grand Turk, the frigate now calls Saint Malo its home port. It is moored near Intra-Muros and is easily accessible for those visiting the walled city. The ship was built-in Turkey to play the role of HMS Indefatigable in the British TV series Hornblower. The Etoile du Roy is a replica of a Nelson-era three-masted frigate. It was based on the HMS Blandford, a British frigate launched in February 1720. I used “Nelson” to denote the Etoile‘s time period as the ship is best known for its role in the Hornblower series, however, “Napoleonic” would be just as appropriate given its current home. The frigate was also in the French film Monsieur N. which deals with the (fictionalized) last years of Napoleon after his fall from power. Thanks to my father, I’ve actually read the Hornblower series which follow the rise of Horatio Hornblower an officer in the British fleet during the Napoleonic Wars. The books give you a nitty-gritty feel for 18th century naval life and I had them in the back of my head while we toured the ship.
At 47 metres, the Etoile is the second-largest traditional sailing ship in France. While she’s currently tied up at dock, the Etoile still sails regularly–the frigate participates in tall ship gatherings and occasionally offers tourists the chance to go out on a mini-cruise. The ship is a neat mix of traditional frigate and modern vessel. For example, while her wheel works, the ship can also be steered via a computer-controlled steering and navigation system hidden in her binnacle (the case that supports and protects a ship’s compass). The ship boasts 22 sails, correctly rigged for the period, which when fully deployed cover 800 square meters of canvas! The frigate can reach up to 10 knots under full sail! Should the winds fail, the Etoile also has two 450 horsepower Kelvin diesel engines neatly concealed aboard.
The ship is open to visitors during French school vacations as well as during the summer tourist season. Regular tickets cost 6€ for adults and 3€ for children; a family ticket (2 adults, 3 children) is also available for 15€. For an additional 2€, guided tours are also available. English is spoken for international visitors. I will admit that Anthony and I enjoyed the visit much more than the girls. They were very quickly bored with the ship and I would have spent more time on-board if they hadn’t been with us. This might seem obvious but the ship was not designed for toddlers! Older children can enjoy imagining life as a sailor, pirate, etc.–costumed crew help bring things alive even more. We were not the only family visiting the ship and the other children aboard seemed much more interested in the ship’s workings. The crew is well-informed about the ship’s history and were willing to answer our questions.
If you can’t make it to Saint Malo, check out this wonderful video visit I found on youtube from when the Etoile du Roy was visiting Lorient: