Stunning Tallship The Belem Completes VELUX 5 OCEANS Race Village

The BelemThousands flock to see historic three-masted tallship

IT was all go in the VELUX 5 OCEANS race village last night as crowds gathered to welcome the arrival in La Rochelle of the beautiful tallship the Belem, one of France's most famous boats. The majestic three-masted tallship entered the Bassin des Chalutiers at 7.30pm to cheers and applause from the thousands of people that had gathered for her arrival.

Once through the lock gate, the 51-metre long tallship was then expertly maneuvered to its berth right alongside the VELUX 5 OCEANS race village and the watching crowds. The Belem is one of the best known boats in France. She was built in 1896 to transport cocoa and sugar from Brazil and the West Indies to Nantes before being sold to the Duke of Westminster in 1914.

Six years later she was sold to famous Irish brewer Ernest Guinness. During the Second World War The Belem was laid up on the Isle of Wight in the UK before being sold to Italian foundation Cini as a training ship. Finally, in 1979, The Belem became a French boat once more.

The Belem will remain in the Bassin des Chalutiers until race day on Sunday when she will sail out of La Rochelle into the Pertuis Charentais to officially start the 30,000-mile solo round the world race at 4pm.

Prior to the Belem's arrival, race chairman Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the first person ever to sail solo non-stop around the world, introduced each of the skippers and their impressive Eco 60 ocean racing yachts to the crowds.

VELUX 5 OCEANS Skipper - Christophe BullensEarlier in the afternoon, four of the VELUX 5 OCEANS skippers went head to head in a battle of skill and wits, not on the water but in the kitchen. On one team there was British skipper Chris Stanmore-Major and American Brad Van Liew. On the other, Polish ocean racer Zbigniew ‘Gutek' Gutkowski and Belgian solo sailor Christophe Bullens.

Each team swapped their sailing clothing for aprons and both were presented with a basket of ingredients from which they had to produce an appetiser, entrée and dessert, all under the watchful eye of Gregory Michel, head chef at l'Entracte, owned by La Rochelle's famous Michelin-starred chef Gregory Coutanceau. After a tense time in front of the pots and pans and some interesting displays of culinary talents Christophe and Gutek were judged winners.

The VELUX 5 OCEANS race village is open 10am to 6pm each day until race start day on Sunday. Tomorrow the race village will host a winch grinding competition between the skippers and La Rochelle's top rugby club Atlantique Stade Rochelais at 5pm in the VELUX tent. There's plenty of activities going on throughout the day too such as dance and music performances, plus the chance to try sailing and stand-up paddleboarding in the marina.

The first ocean sprint of the VELUX 5 OCEANS is to Cape Town, South Africa. The race then stops in Wellington, Salvador and Charleston before returning to La Rochelle in June 2011.

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