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belem’s history

1914-1921. The yacht of the Duke of Westminster.

The Belem was going to live years of champagne and mahogany… Finished her humble vocation of a merchant sailboat, place to a luxury sailing yacht for the aristocrats. This new fate changed the boat considerablely with profound alterations more or less happy. Be that as it may, it was this new use that save the boat, a chance none of her French colleagues had.

The boat was sold to the duke of Westminster, lord Hugh Richard Arthur, on February 11th, 1914 for the sum 3 000 pounds sterling, with the intervention of the broker Arthur Bellingham. It was chosen for the beauty of her lines, her dimensions and her state of accurate maintenance which one owed to her captain, Julien Chauvelon.

On February 17th, the Belem left Nantes with the captain Chauvelon and her usual crew. She took the direction of Southampton. The future British captain of the Belem was also on board for commissioning.

Having redden out a violent storm in the Channel, the boat arrived on February 23th, 1914. In quay, the French pavilion was brought and replaced by the Union Jack. Imagine the big emotion felt by Julien Chauvelon and her faithful crew at this moment there. Expressing his thanks, the duke of Westminster offered the captain a golden watch.

The boat returned to the shipbuiding yards for transformation.

On June 28th, the archduke heir of Austria-Hungary’s throne, François Ferdinand, and his wife, were murdered in Sarajevo by Gavrilo Prinzip. On August 3rd, Germany declared the war in France, and the next day United Kingdom entered in turn to war. At 35-year-old, the duke embarked on a vessel of Royal Navy and will be decorated in 1916 with the Distinguished Service Order.

In spite of these events, the works continued on board. The least visible but the most essential of all alterations will be the motorization of the sailboat (two Swedish engines Bollinder of 250 horses each).

Document : Plans des aménagements du duc de Westminster.

The following works were also done:

  • The wooden lower masts are replaced by the others in steel.
  • The mizzenmast sheltered a gas vent.
  • The poop height was increased by about fifty centimeters.
  • The guard rail of the poop was replaced by massive wooden balusters.
  • A kitchen was installed in the deck house.
  • A deckhouse was built in front of the mainmast to shelter a lounge/smoking room.
  • A lower deck was created in the hold to accommodate luxurious cabins served by a two-flight stair.

Le Belem à l'époque du duc de Westminster.

The Belem during her Westminster’s years.

It was only at the end of the First World War that the Belem could began her career of luxurious yacht. The first voyage had lead her to Saint-Nazaire, Arcachon, Biarritz, Nice, Cannes… The beginning of a fashionable, mainly summer life, on European shores.

Le duc de Westminster sur la dunette du Belem.

The duke of Westminster with the captain and the chief officier. Please note to the right the telegraph to the engine room (chadburn).

Entered in the Royal Yacht Squadron, she rose the White Ensign reserved for the members and for the vessels of the Royal Navy.

Le Belem à l'époque du duc de Westminster.

As for the captain Chauvelon, he took command of steamers : the Ravitailleur torpedoed in 1915, then the Transporteur, the Perronne and finally the Chardonneret in 1919 on which he completed his career at sea in 1924. On ground, he will become an inspector of the navigation, and later an expert captain with the Comité des assurances maritimes and with the Tribunal de commerce de Nantes.

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