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Anderlecht youth build replica 17th-century warship

10:35 16/04/2019

A group of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds in Brussels' Canal Zone have spent the past year building an impressive seaworthy replica of a 17th-century French warship - and it is ready to set sail next week.

La Licorne (the unicorn) is a joint project between L'Atelier Marin and COOP, a renovated canalside flour mill that features a training shipyard. The unusual project has been made possible after it won the annual €24,000 Bruocsella Prize, which is awarded by Promethea, a group of businesses that fund projects contributing to urban renewal in Brussels.

Atelier Marin's purpose is to involve Anderlecht’s disadvantaged youth by teaching them craftsmanship - in this case boat construction - and also giving them access to the experience of sailing and learning the skills of sailing and rowing. With the three previous boats they have built, they have been able to offer more than 7,500 man days of sailing.

"We are building something totally exceptional, the Grand Vaisseau de Versailles," says Nicolas Joshko, president of Atelier Marin. "We are doing it here with Brussels youngsters from the canal zone, also with people who have minor psychiatric disabilities. We want to go sailing with all these people in Versailles, where it belongs."

He explains the ship's history: "The story is that in 1669, Colbert, who was the lord chancellor of Louis XIV, wanted to interest the young king in the navy. Louis loved ballet, he loved hunting, he loved building castles, but the navy was not his cup of tea.

"So Colbert, who was a bright guy, and who had a strategic vision to develop a huge navy, to develop also an economic empire, ordered from the arsenal of Le Havre, a quarter-scale ship but a real warship, a man o'war, with cannons and everything, and it was put into the water at Versailles.

"This ship was followed afterwards by two others of the same kind. There was also a galley, there were gondolas which were given by the Venetian Republic, a British yacht and a Dutch Statenjacht. There were more or less 60 boats at a certain moment at Versailles and there was even a small arsenal."

La Licorne is one of hundreds of new projects, big and small, aimed at revitalising the Canal Zone - 14km of waterway slicing north to south through Molenbeek, Brussels and Anderlecht.

Two-thirds of the cash from the Bruocsella Prize went to Atelier Marin for materials to finish the hull. COOP director Jose Menendez explains: "The remaining third went to COOP to do the outreach to attract the young people to provide them with a social activity, skills and the satisfaction of being part of the creation of this beautiful boat. It's with lots of emotion that we see this project take shape."

Written by Richard Harris