Patrice Franceschi with La Bordeuse
at Sihanoukville, poised for an epic voyage
One hundred and thirty years after its first historic global journey, the French
ship La Bordeuse is poised to depart Cambodian waters on another epic voyage.
The original La Bordeuse set sail from Marseille in 1866, carrying French explorer
Louis Antoine Bougainville on a three-year globe-spanning odyssey that predated the
better known voyage of England's Captain Cook.
The latest incarnation of La Bordeuse is a 30 meter Chinese junk packed with state-of-the-art
navigation and computer equipment that Captain Bougainville, servant of King Louis
XV, would have found incomprehensible.
"This expedition is an alliance between science and adventure, exploration and
literature," Patrice Franceschi, the leader and driving force behind the expedition,
explained. "If this was strictly a scientific expedition we could use any boat."
Franceschi has christened his expedition "The Spirit of Bougainville" to
commemorate Bougainville's achievement in being the first French citizen to circumnavigate
Bougainville was later immortalized by his ship's botanist by having one of the expedition's
flora specimens - the bougainvillea - named in his honor.
Acknowledging that Bougain-ville left big boots to fill, Franceschi is determined
to do things in style.
Rather than investing in a sleek but soulless modern vessel, Franceschi has outfitted
a striking black Chinese junk, complete with carved dragons on its sides and shocking
red sails, as a modern counterpart to the craft piloted by Bougainville.
"A Chinese junk is much more historically and aesthetically in accord with the
area than an iron ship," Franceschi said of his choice of craft.
The idea of a one-year ocean voyage in a vessel more commonly associated with extortionary
tourist junkets around Hong Kong harbor isn't surprising in light of Franceschi's
The Vice-President of the French Society for Exploration, Franceschi is already in
the record books in his native France for successfully circumnavigating the globe
in an ultra-light aircraft in 1987.
The junk was sourced from a Vietnam-based French company which had built two such
vessels in the late eighties for a short-lived Mekong River charter cruise business.
"The ships were based on the design of 19th century Chinese battle junks,"
Franchesci explained. "The other junk is now a bar/disco beside the side of
the river in Paris."
Last March Franceschi bought the remaining junk, which had been languishing in storage
in Sihanoukville Port for several years, and began an extensive 18 months overhaul
of the vessel.
"The sails were the biggest challenge," Franceschi admitted. "They
had to be of the most modern design, but in accordance with the style of sail found
on a real junk."
Over the next 12 months, Franceschi's 16 research/mariners will be joined by numerous
other researchers to undertake six separate scientific expeditions.
The expeditions run the gamut of scientific inquiry, from ethnographic surveys in
the Moluccan Islands of Indonesia and speleo-logy (cave exploration) in Kali-mantan
to underwater archeology east of the Philippine island of Palewan.
"Each expedition will last between two and three months," Franchesci said.
"La Bordeuse will land each expedition team and then continue on to the next
Franceschi will use Bougain-ville's original ship's log and navigation charts to
find three containers buried by Bougainville on islands he landed on during his voyage.
"Inside each container was written the date, the name of the [French] king and
those of the ship's officers," Franceschi said. "Six out of nine containers
have already been found so we want to find the remaining three."
Although Franchesci has funded the cost of the expedition out of his own pocket,
extensive media marketing of the voyage will help to recoup his costs.
"We have contracts with Italian, Swiss, French and Belgian television to make
documentaries about the voyage," Franchesci explained. "There will also
be six books produced, one for each [scientific] expedition, as well as six picture
albums as well."
In a final nod to Captain Bougainville, Franceschi plans to end the one-year expedition
on Bougainville Island in the Solomon Islands.
"That will be a suitably symbolic way to end the trip."