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belem’s history

From 1980 to now. A new adventure under a French pavilion.

After its triumphant arrival to Brest on September 17th, 1979, Belem was dragged in the heart of the Penfeld looking forward to her new fate.

To assure the future of the boat, a foundation is created in March, 1980. It was chaired by Jérôme Pichard, delegate general of the Union nationale des Caisses d’Épargne of France (UNCEF). Its administrators were recruited among the various bodies ready to contribute to the protection of the boat (UNCEF, Ministries, Navy, etc.).

The UNCEF donated the sailboat bought back in Venice to the new Foundation.

The Navy, which had sent a technical mission in Venice and which had assured the return of the boat in Brest, would have liked completing its fleet of old sailboats (two schooners l’Étoile and the Belle Poule, one cutter the Mutin) by a prestigious unit as the Belem. The sailboat would have been then let during summer months to the Caisses d’Épargne to welcome civil trainees. But the first calculations of the works to be foreseen, about 6 million francs, exceed by far what it had planned to invest. Without giving up its participation in the Foundation, the French Navy had to accept to occupy a more modest role. (It will participate for a long period in the constitution of her crew by allocating two sailors from the National Service. The end of the mandatory military service had terminated this practice.)

The Foundation makes the brave choice to make navigate again the Belem rather than to transform her into amuseum ship definitively in quay, risky and expensive choice on which everybody congratulates them today.

A long work of expertise begun and ended only in February, 1981 when the program of the works to be realized was finalized.

Le Belem en radoub.

The French Navy gave a graving dock in the Arsenal. The first works Began on May 5th, 1981, supervised by Jean Randier, the famous French tall ship specialist with a team from the Ateliers de La Perrière.

They proceeded to dimasting, to replace steel sheets, to change the ballast (3 800 pigs of cast iron and thirty tons of concrete in the bow for which was necessary to use pneumatic drills).

Coque du Belem.

After 4 months, it was decided to transfer the boat in Paris where the rehabilitation program would be pursued. It was a communication program that was intended to increase awareness the general public and especially the public authorities which could free the capital necessary for the completion of the project.

It was so on September 8th, 1981 that the Belem, dragged by the Efficace, began her travel towards the capital. She moored quai de Suffren, at feet of the tour Eiffel, on September 14th. Masts had arrived a short time later, by train.

It was immediately a success, the press was part of it and the Parisians were crowding weekends to discover the Belem. During weekdays, it was the tourists and the school classes.

A small museum was fitted out in the tween deck. And the works continued in this site opened to the public: subdivision and watertight doors, water circuit for the fire, the revision of the rigging, the caulking, etc. It was necessary that the ship answered the safety standards required by the French Merchant Navy and the Veritas’ office to be able to navigate again.

The ship stayed in Paris four years and welcomed almost half-million guests. Fascinated volunteers, as a taxi driver (of whom one will speak again) for example, help during the works.

Descents towards the tween deck were created at both edge.

An unaesthetic but indispensable cockpit was built on the poop (it replaced the Italian cockpit of the spardeck dating from the time the ship was rigged as a barkentine, cockpit destroyed by the Venitian shipyard during the restoring of the rigging to a three-master barque). It had been necessary for it to move towards back the skylight with its two benches, one of the rare witnesses on the bridge of the original state of the ship in 1896.

Pose d'une vergue.

In 1985, the Belem joined her port of registry, Nantes.

In 1986, the ship could finally make a great voyage: crossing the Atlantic Ocean towards the city of New York, she will participate to the celebrations around the centenary of the Statue of the Liberty and the demonstrations of Op’ Sail.

1987 was her first season of exploitation as training ship.

Since, the boat welcomes nine months a year trainees curious to discover manoeuvers of this linen cathedral and the life aboard a tall ship. And she also gives the occasion to a wide audience to dream a little.

The management of the crew and supplies are entrusted under control of the Foundation to the Société Morbihanaise and Nantaise de Navigation.

In 1990, she participates in the Voiles de la Liberté (Liberty Sails) in Rouen.

In 1996, the Belem celebrated her centenary.

In 2002, the Belem is going back to her first destination of 1896, the city of Brazil which gave her her name, Belém (“L’Odyssée Atlantique”). It will be its second transatlantic voyage (after New York) since her return in France.


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