The French Naval Schooners Etoile and Belle Poule, translated “The Star” and “The Pretty Hen,” made their first stop on a tour of the East Coast right here in Fernandina. We took a free tour April 28.
Don’t worry if you missed it: they’ll be participating in Savannah’s Tall Ships Challenge May 3-7. That event features more than a dozen tall ships, and many of them will be offering free tours.
If you go, make sure all in your party can climb aboard: no room for strollers there. Also, make preparations for standing in line in the sun for a little while; our wait in Fernandina was about 15 minutes, but it could be considerably longer in the bigger cities.
Once you’re on board, you’re largely on your own… it’s mostly a self-guided tour of the upper deck (although, of course, my little man found a way to drag one sailor away from his work for a battery of questions). They gave us an informational booklet with background about the ships, and they had no problem with young explorers posing for pics all over the place.
They came to the First Coast to help us celebrate the 450th anniversary of the area’s discovery. Exactly 450 years ago, Jean Ribault landed on Amelia Island and named it “Isle de Mai.”
After the schooners were here in Fernandina, they went to Mayport late Sunday and then docked in Jacksonville Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
Jacksonville welcomedthe ships in style, with a cannon salute as they pass Ft. Caroline and crowds waving them in along the riverfront, among other welcoming gestures. They offered free tours on board Monday through Wednesday near Jacksonville Landing downtown.
The First Coast’s 450th is a major source of pride for our region, which was discovered 45 years before Jamestown and over 58 years before the Mayflower arrived. To learn more about our history and the events surrounding the 450th, visit Fernandina’s website by clicking here and Jacksonville’s website here.
The ships, used as training vessels, were built in 1932.
After their stay in Jacksonville, they made their way north to Savannah to participate in the Tall Ships Challenge through May 7. More than a dozen tall ships lined Savannah’s riverfront for the festival. Learn more about the challenge at http://www.savannahtallshipschallenge.com.