The Belem's 110th anniversary seems to have been one of the features of the sailing season along the Atlantic coast of France this summer. Admirers of the elegant three masted barque – of whom there is evidently a massive number ! – went out of their way to organise all sorts of events to show their affection for her and their appreciation at the manner in which she symbolises France's naval heritage.
In Cherbourg, she received an enthusiastic welcome from crowds of people who queued up in their hundreds to come and visit her along with another ship anchored nearby : the French Navy patrol boat Flamant. A rather awesome twosome, much to the delight of the Normans...
In Noirmoutier, she was, indirectly, the star of a...fashion show. A very original one since 40 designers had been given the task of making up costumes representing 40 different French sailing ships – the Belem costume, made out of one of her old sails, looked most trendy and the show will be present at the Paris Nautical Exhibition in December...
The basque port of Bayonne also gave her a resounding welcome, with thousands of people lining the banks, boats sounding their horns and spouting sprays of water that soaked anyone within reach...
In Lorient, a more formal party included the Australian ambassador to France and her husband, honoured guests of the President of the Belem Foundation. The Belem arrived in Lorient, as she regularly does, in time for the Interceltic Music Festival of which, this year, Australia was the star guest.
Whether is was due to her anniversary or not, the Belem has had overall an extremely successful season in terms of attendance. The summer voyages have all been fully booked, with no less than 95% of new trainees. The novelty this year has been the opening of the ship to public visits during the training season in Port Vendres, Cherbourg, Bayonne, Brest and Dunkirk, with a total of 6500 visitors coming aboard. A third of those were under 14s.
And there are more to come : the Belem is open to the public on September 17th in Fécamp on the occasion of France's National Heritage week-end.
Finally, she will be in Nantes from October 12th to 15th and open to the public during four days, the last days of a long and fruitful sailing season started in March on the Mediterranean.
In the wake of the summer season, autumn will have a literary flavour : the first Belem Book Prize, rewarding a recent publication representing the values of adventure and commitment taught by life and traditions at sea will be attributed by the eminent body of the “Ecrivains de Marine” (Maritime Writers).
And in November, an album on the life and adventures of the Belem written and illustrated by cartoonist Jean-Yves Delitte will make its appearance in the bookshops of France.