"How do you say her name?"
Of all the questions there are to ask about the visiting tall ship L' Hermione, that is the one the crew says it hears most often.
The imposing frigate, a replica of the 18th-century ship that brought the Marquis de Lafayette to America in 1780 with news that the French would support its revolution with money and troops, is docked at the Inner Harbor until Tuesday morning and visitors, wishing to be polite, don't want to insult her by mispronouncing her name.
"Hair-me-OWN" explained Second Mate Antoine Favre, in command on Sunday, as Capt. Yann Cariou was away from the ship. He raked his fingers through his sun-bleached hair and smiled. "That is what everyone wants to know."
L' Hermione arrived in Baltimore Friday, escorted past Fort McHenry and into its berth by Baltimore Pride II. It is the fifth stop on a 12-city tour that began in Yorktown, Va., where the original L' Hermione joined the blockade against the British that secured the surrender of Gen. Charles Cornwallis in 1781 and ended the Revolutionary War.
"She was there at the beginning and at the end," said Robert Selig, a historical consultant who has worked to create the Washington Rochambeau Revolutionary Route, a national park dedicated to the partnership between the American and French generals that was so critical to the war.
In Baltimore from his home in Grand Rapids, Mich., to tour L' Hermione with his daughter who lives here, he said Yorktown received the frigate with an impressive display of community pride and welcoming. Not only did the Virginia community arrange an elegant captain's dinner among many colorful events, but locals were picking up the restaurant tabs for the crew, which had just completed a 40-day sail from the River Charente, where Lafayette departed France 235 years ago.
"The warmth of the welcome of the Americans has been huge," said Favre, who is in charge of navigation. Uncertain what the response of Americans would be, he said the crew has been astonished by the reception. The line of those waiting to tour the ship stretched back to the Pratt Street Pavilion.
"We have many ideas from movies and television series," he said. But popular culture apparently does not convey the affection of Americans not for only allies, but also for history.
"The first time we showed the ship on the American coast, I could feel how the people felt."
Free tours for the public wrapped up Sunday. The ship sails Tuesday morning for Philadelphia and New York City. The tour ends in Nova Scotia.
Melanie Le Floch, 26, has a job in France but took a chance when she saw that the project, 17 years in the making, was asking for volunteers to crew.
"I am not very [athletic]," said Le Floch, slight with sandy-colored hair. "The first time [I climbed the rigging], it was very scary. Now it is a pleasure. Why not climb to the top sails? This ship is amazing."
Though she and the other members of the roughly 80-person crew — a third of whom are women — do their jobs the old-fashioned way on the deck, below deck there are engines and computers. At 17 stories tall, this is the largest tall ship built in 150 years, and at a cost of more than $30 million, according to ship project organizers.
On the lawn of the Baltimore Visitors Center, an encampment demonstrated life in a Revolutionary War camp such as those used by Lafayette and his troops. Visitors were also able to learn what civilian life was like during the war.
When in port, many of the crew scatter through the city to explore, said Adam Hodges-LeClaire, the self-described token American on board. "Or find a bar or go to a concert."
Hodges-LeClaire, 22, a history graduate from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, joined the crew "to put my studies into practice." But language was a problem. "So much of sailing is so technical," he said. "And it is all in French."
He plays the role of Lafayette on most stops, but today he was playing a pipe for the crowds and explaining the clothing he was wearing, much of it stained with tar from the ropes and the rigging.
Alicia Massey, 27, a maritime archaeologist from Annapolis, found that to be particularly rewarding.
Most tall ship reconstructions don't bother with the tar, Massey said. It's a sticky mess and it gets everywhere.
"I was looking for modern influences," she said. But she didn't find many. She could see that the ropes were hand-braided and the sails were repaired by hand.
"They have done a fantastic job, and we have been on a lot of tall ships," Massey said. Her husband, David Massey, is a naval architect.
Doreen Christian of Fairfax, Va., has a Facebook friend in France who had been updating her regularly on the ship's progress, so she had to see it in person.
"I love it," she said. "It is wonderful to see something built to such specifications. I knew the rigging would be complex, but not this complex."
On the dock nearby, a Baltimore city fire marshal was supervising a cannon demonstration and, in a scene unlikley in any real war, waving off the Urban Pirates kid cruise ship so the canon could fire safely. There was no live ammunition — just gunpowder, noise and smoke.
Hector Diaz, a Baltimore-based re-enactor, assumed the role of an artillery colonel with the Royal Spanish Artillery in Louisiana. The southern colony was Spanish property at the time of the Revolutionary War, but Diaz recounted for his audience the money, men and arms that the Spanish provided the American revolutionaries.
Under other circumstances, the canon his soldiers were loading in a tightly choreographed safety regime could have blasted a cannon ball through the hull of one of mega yachts across the Inner Harbor.
But on this Sunday beside L'Hermione, it was waiting for the water taxis to move safely out of the way.
"This would not be the way in war," Diaz said, smiling.