Armada Attracts Tens of Thousands to the Quays of Rouen

Photo: Rayauld Aubert/Armada Festival

Photo: Rayauld Aubert/Armada Festival

National French radio presenter Bruno Gilbert is used to dealing with all kinds of predicaments and as the voice of the Armada Festival currently underway in Normandy he is a reassuring figure for the tens of thousands of visitors currently gracing Rouen’s quays every day.

Cooped up in a prefab on the waterside under the William the Conqueror bridge, his deep voice is soothing and informative as he passes out important security information and keeps the crowds entertained.

If a child is lost, if some can’t find a family member, the voice of Bruno can be heard over the festival’s public address system. This year he has even been asked to put out an appeal for a woman who lost her dentures.

But most of the time he lets visitors know what is happening and where they can go to find some of the more interesting bits of information about the 45 ships from 12 different countries which are available to visit during the festival.

Organiser Patrick Herr, president of the Armada, confirmed that visitor figures are expected to be good as the weather has been fine. Some 10 million visitors were at the event in 2005 and as it is free it is hoped that the economic climate will not prevent just as many attending in 2013.

One ship that is likely to be popular this week is the three masted Belem, the last 19th century French trading ship still under sail. She was built at Chantenay sur Loire, near Nantes and put to sea in 1896 and celebrates her 117th birthday today.

As a merchant vessel she crossed the Atlantic 33 times from 1896 to 1913 carrying mainly cocoa from Brazil and rum and sugar from the French West Indies.

In 1914 the Belem was sold to the Duke of Westminster who turned into a private yacht after fitting engines and carrying out a complete refurbishment. She is now a training ship under the auspices of the Belem Foundation which promotes the knowledge and understanding of France’s maritime heritage.

The Belem is also regularly involved in the Tall Ships events as a living symbol of France’s naval history, since she carries the French colours, but also as a reminder of the other flags she flew in the course of her long career including the British flag for 38 years and the Italian for 27.

About Ray Clancy

Ray Clancy has 20 years experience in journalism including contributing articles to print and on-line publications such as, Property World Middle East and websites for estate agents. She has also written for the Daily Telegraph and Mail on Sunday.

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