Aymeric Gibet commander of the Belem ©Valérie Joncheray

Interview with the captain of the Belem, a few days before the arrival of the Flame

As the official textile manufacturer and distributor for the Belem Foundation, Dalmard Marine went to meet the captain, Aymeric Gibet, just a few days before the arrival of the Olympic Flame in Marseille on 8 May 2024. He talks to us about his career, his job, the future crossing from Athens to Marseille with the Olympic Flame on board...

Hi Aymeric Gibet, could you introduce yourself?

"Born in Nantes like the Belem, I'll soon be 44.I've always been interested in all forms of navigation, no doubt a family heritage.I've worked on all types of boat, cruising as well as ferries.Before coming on board the Belem, I was an engine mate with Brittany Ferries, on the Pont Aven, which had just come out of the shipyard.

I boarded the Belem for the first time in 2004 at the end of the season in Marseille's old port.At the time, we were leaving for Barcelona without a trainee to celebrate the bicentenary of Ferdinand de Lesseps (the man behind the Suez Canal and Panama).Although the ship didn't sail, I was already amazed by it.After that, I sailed alternately: summers on the Belem and winters on the Ponant cruise ships, where I met my wife!At the same time, I returned to Marseille to complete my training course in 2006.At the end of 2007 and 2008, I was back on the Belem as a lieutenant, where I took part in the transatlantic race to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the founding of Quebec City.In the winter of 2008, I became Second Captain at La Seyne-sur-Mer until 2011.Then I decided to take a break and went to work on the Orange Marine cable-layers as a multi-skilled officer until November 2014.I then did a bit of yachting before returning as second-in-command on the Belem the following year and finally becoming commander in May 2016.This is a position I hold in tandem with a second in command, Mathieu Combot, with whom we alternate throughout the season."

What does your job involve?

"I'm the leader of the maritime expedition.So I have full responsibility for the ship.As such, I'm the one who validates the ship's route, what sails we're going to set and what activities will be carried out on board.I dock and undock the ship during its ports of call.I also represent the shipowner, the Belem Caisse d'Epargne Foundation.

We have the unique opportunity to explain our job and our passion to all the people who come on board.It's an exceptional and very rewarding experience.We meet so many different people over the course of a season, and what they all have in common is that they're interested in what we do.It's an adventure in itself.The responsibility of commanding this three-masted schooner is immense, but it also offers great freedom of action."

Can you tell us what the crossing from Athens to Marseilles will be like with the Olympic Flame on board?

"To take on board a passenger as prestigious as this Flame housed in a lantern, the Caisse d'Epargne, sponsor of the Relai de Flamme and patron of the three-masted schooner, has called on young French people: there will be 16 young scouts, representing all the regions of France as well as the cities of Marseille and Athens, for this Mediterranean, Olympian, non-stop navigation.From Piraeus to Marseilles, the ship will pass through the narrow and spectacular Corinth Canal linking the Aegean Sea to the Ionian Sea.Then it will pass through the Strait of Messina, separating the Italian peninsula from Sicily, to reach the Tyrrhenian Sea.Finally, the Belem will approach the French coast, cutting through the Bouches de Bonifacio between Corsica and Sardinia".

How are you going to keep the Flame burning?

"The guardians of the flame, chosen and trained by Paris 2024, will be responsible for keeping the flame on board, which must not be extinguished.It will be kept in a lantern resembling a miner's lantern".

What makes this crossing different from the others?

"This crossing is a real symbol.It's the first time that the flame will be travelling by any means other than by plane to reach the host country of the Olympic Games.The fact that we'll be able to give the 16 young people on board an incredible opportunity, and also the fact that we'll be sailing for longer than usual.I can't wait!"

How is the Olympic flame going to be passed on to Marseille?

"The arrival of the flame in Marseilles on 8 May will launch the Olympic movement in France.Paris 2024 promises the people of Marseilles, France and television viewers around the world a magical, emotionally-charged event, carried by the majesty of the three-masted ship.A thousand boats will follow her in a grand parade in the harbour of Marseille.It is from her deck that the Flame will be disembarked, carried by an illustrious person whose identity is kept secret, and it is also she who will serve as the backdrop for the great concert that will rock Marseille.The Belem will open its decks to visitors free of charge from 9 to 12 May 2024."

What are you expecting from this flamboyant year as captain?

"I'm sure there will be some great and unique moments.I'm keen to fulfil my mission as captain of the Belem by taking the three-masted ship to the old port.This maritime relay of the flame will give us a new dimension, a rare one, a true ambassador for France.All eyes will be on the boat, and we're aware that we're writing a new page in the legend of the Belem.There is an incredible alignment of the planets.1896, the first Olympics, and the birth of the Belem!"