Olympic flame sets sail for France on historic ship

The Olympic flame set sail from Athens on Saturday on its voyage to France on board the Belem – a historic 19th-century three masted ship. It's a key stage of the Torch Relay which will travel to French overseas territories before reaching its climax at the Paris Games opening ceremony along the river Seine on 26 July.

"The feelings are so exceptional. It's such an emotion for me", Tony Estanguet, Paris Olympics chief organiser, told reporters before the departure of the ship from Piraeus, outside Athens.

He hailed the "great coincidence" how the Belem was launched just weeks after the first modern Olympic Games were held in Athens in 1896.

The Belem set sail on a calm sea but under cloudy skies, accompanied off the port of Piraeus by the trireme Olympias of the Greek Navy and 25 sailing boats.

Captain Aymeric Gibet told France Télévisions he was a little stressed before the departure, knowing how important the symbol of the Olympic flame is.

However, he emphaised that the torch would be well looked after on board, thanks to the 16 professional sailors and 16 apprentices selected to participate in the trip.

Moving occasion

"We came here so that the children understand that the Olympic ideal was born in Greece. I'm really moved," Giorgos Kontopoulos, who watched the ship starting its voyage with his two children, told French news agency AFP.

On Sunday, the ship will pass from the Corinth Canal – a feat of 19th century engineering constructed with the contribution of French banks and engineers.

(with AFP)

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