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Sailing in the wake of Bougainville

sailing.jpg
sailing.jpg

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

the globe.

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

background.

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

location."

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."

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