The adventures of the Belem, the historic French sailing ship bringing the Olympic flame to France

The mission of transporting the Olympic flame on the first leg of its journey to the opening ceremony in Paris was given to one of the France’s most venerable sailing ships, the Belem, built in 1896.

Between April 26 and May 8, the ship will sail the Mediterranean to bring the flame from Greece to Marseille, the start of the Olympic torch relay on French soil.

It’s fair to say that the task of conveying the flame to France is only the latest of the ship’s adventures over the past 128 years. The Belem escaped disaster in 1902 during a massive volcanic eruption while at anchor off Saint Pierre, Martinique. While approaching the port of Yokohama, Japan, in 1923, the ship again avoided the worst when an earthquake destroyed much of the city.

The Belem is a three-masted barque 58 metres long and 8.8 metres wide and carries 22 sails, the heaviest weighing 800 kg. Her main mast measures 34 metres above sea level. Maximum speed is 9.2 knots, or 17 km/h.

The ship is currently crewed by 16 professional sailors from the merchant navy and up to 48 trainees – a blend of youth and experience.

Ship's captain Aymeric Gibet will supervise the 20 or so young people who will be making the voyage to bring the flame to France.

The Belem was transformed into a luxury yacht by the Duke of Winchester Hugh Grosvenor in 1914, and was acquired by the Irish brewer Arthur Guinness in 1921.

Read more on FRANCE 24 English

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