The Belem started life in France in 1896, making her the ripe old age of 126 years old - starting as a cargo ship, transporting sugar from the West Indies and cocoa and coffee from Brazil. In 1902 she narrowly escaped the eruption of Mount Peele in Saint-Pierre Martinique on the 8th of May, managing to escape the disaster as there was nowhere for them to anchor when they reached Martinique. Reluctantly they anchored a few miles away off a beach, which provided shelter from the volcano. We had the opportunity to go on the Belem to be shown around - onboard they have a damaged plate left over from the eruption on display.
In 1914 she started the next stage of her life and was sold to Hugh Grosvenor, 2nd Duke of Westminster – where she was converted into his own private luxury yacht. She stayed with the Duke until 1922 when she was then sold to Sir Ernest Guinness of the Guinness family, who renamed her Fantome II. Guinness left with his three daughters onboard and they sailed the seven seas together. During her approach to Yokohama harbour, she managed to escape another natural disaster – an earthquake which destroyed the harbour and parts of Yokohama city.
When Guinness died in 1949 the ship was moored into Cowes, Isle of Wight, before being sold in 1951 to politician Vittorio Cini, who renamed her the Giorgio Cini after his son who had died in a plane crash.
She was then rigged to a barquentine and used as a sail training vessel until 1965, where she was then considered too old to be used anymore and was moored at the Island of San Giorgio, in Maggiore Venice.
Moving on to 1972, part of the Italian armed forces attempted to restore her to her original barque rig – which proved to be too expensive, causing her to become property of the shipyard. Finally, in January 1979 she returned to her home port as the Belem under tow by the French, where she was restored to her original condition and began her new career as a sail training ship.
Today she has 22 sails, weighs 406 tons, is 58 metres in length and 29 metres high. She can reach a maximum speed with the engine on a flat calm sea of 8 to 9 knots, and her maximum speed with sails is 11 to 12 knots. She is still used a sail training vessel but is also used for private expeditions.