A crew of 80 sailors prepare the life-size replica of 18th century French naval frigate L'Hermione for a trip across the Atlantic. (Reuters)

In 1780, the Marquis de Lafayette sailed across the Atlantic Ocean with a message that would change this nation’s destiny: France was sending critically needed soldiers and ships to support the American cause against the British.

In April, more than two centuries later, a replica of the tall ship that brought him here set sail for America, and on Friday, it will arrive in Yorktown, Va. to a grand welcome that includes a 21-gun salute, fireworks, period music and performances by costumed re-enactors. Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and the French Ambassador to the United States are expected to attend.

The ship — which took 17 years and nearly $30 million to build — is among the most authentic replicas in the world, and its voyage is a source of immense national pride in France, where President Francois Hollande personally bid it bon voyage.

“As we pay tribute to the extraordinary efforts made by General Lafayette and the French people to advance the Revolutionary cause, we reflect on the partnership that has made France our Nation’s oldest ally,” President Obama wrote in a letter to honoring the trip. “By continuing to renew and deepen our alliance in our time, we ensure generations to come can carry it forward proudly.”

Its trip along the East Coast will include stops in Mt. Vernon, Alexandria, Annapolis, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York City and Boston.

The USS Mitscher (DDG 57), right, welcomes the French tall ship replica the Hermione near the Battle of Virginia Capes off the east coast of the United States. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Michael Sandberg/Released)