In 1989, as part of commemoration of the bicentenary of the French Revolution, Patrick Herr of the French parliament had the idea to of gathering together many tall ships in the seaport of Rouen. Amongst those that came were Amerigo Vespucci (Italy), Sagrès II (Portugal), Druzhba (USSR) and Simon Bolivar (Venezuela). In all there were 23 tall ships, 32 escorts and countless different boats. Entrance was free and the number of visitors was estimated at 1,000,000 over the ten days. Since then, similar gatherings have been organised in 1994, 1999, 2003 and one will be held later this year in 2008.
In 1999 the sculptor Jean Marc de Pas accepted the challenge of creating a clay bust every day of the "Armada". This idea was a great success and the following busts were produced: Jean François de la Pérouse, Jacques Cartier, JAMES COOK, Amérigo Vespucci, Cavelier de la Salle, Jean de Béthencourt, Fernando Magellan, Christopher Columbus, Marco Polo and Vasco de Gama.
After so much success, the organisers thought that they should not stop there and lose them all. So they sought sponsors, one for each bust. A difficult task but, with perseverance, the funds were found. The busts were all remade in bronze and were presented at the Town Hall on 20 March 2003. The maritime city of Rouen proved itself worthy of all the effort and the organisers benefited from the construction of a bridge for cyclists and pedestrians. The busts have been raised up and protected by putting them on stands made of bamboo.
The site was opened on 1 December 2007. While waiting for the next Armada, these mariners can turn their gaze to the passing walkers. Seriously, though, soon the port will be busy again with tall ships, and all this activity will be under the watchful eyes of these famous explorers.
The bust of James Cook was financed by Ressorts Masselin, a major metallurgical enterprise in the region. The father of the Armada, Patrick Herr, financed the purchase of the busts, which cost 60,000 Euros, from parliamentary reserves.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 37, volume 31, number 2 (2008).
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