Meet the Belem, the iconic three-masted barque and last 19th-century French trading ship still under sail!
I am a sea person and I love ships, boats and sailing in general. And yes, I can sail… not that I really have the chance to do so these days!
The Belem is probably my favourite barque and I saw it docked in Nantes a lot when I was a kid. It recently came back for the last trip and I couldn’t resist visiting it.
The Belem was built at Chantenay sur Loire, near Nantes, by the famous Dubigeon shipyard, and put to sea in 1896. As a merchant’s vessel, she crossed the Atlantic 33 times from 1896 to 1913. She was originally a cargo ship, transporting sugar from the West Indies, cocoa, and coffee from Brazil and French Guiana to Nantes, and then it was turned into a school ship. It is a living symbol of France’s naval history and Nantes’ industrial past.
The boat looks fairly small from the pontoon—it is “only” 58 metres long—but it feels huge once you step on the deck. Sure, it is a tiny boat compared to these giant cruise ships but it has several levels and still fits a kitchen, a machine room, a bathroom, a workshop, etc. Living on the boat for several weeks or months must be tough but I still envy those who sail it.