The first of Compagnie de Ponant’s two superyachts was lowered into the building dock on May 6 at the Ficantieri shipyard in Ancone (Italy). All the staff from the shipyard were present for the traditional “laying of the keel” ceremony.

“Laying of the keel is always a very solemn moment. It is an act which recognises the existence of the ship,” confides Bertrand Leblond, Technical Director at French flag cruise company Compagnie du Ponant, who is responsible for monitoring the project to build the two, 132-cabin sister-ships. On May 6 at 11am, Le Boréal was born. The first 30 metre-long by 18 metre-wide block (about 1/16th of the ship) was lowered into the building dock in the presence of the owner, management and all the staff at the shipyard. It was a very formal ceremony: “The ship was blessed by a priest, it is all part of the tradition in Italy,” explains Bertrand Leblond.

One “piece of the puzzle” weighing 300 tonnes

The block, which is nearly 8 metres high and weighs 300 tonnes, forms the lower central section of the ship just above the keel and below the second deck. The fore and aft sections will be built either side of it. More than just sheet metal, it is already fitted with technical equipment, such as most of the mechanical engineering equipment, propulsion machinery, fans, pipes, etc, all of which has been tested in the factory.

The “pre-finished” blocks will now be joined together in the building dock, a technique which Bertrand Leblond compares to a puzzle: “The shipyard will put the blocks together piece by piece, making all the necessary joins. It avoids having to transport large items of equipment.”

After the assembly phase, the whole structure will be independent and metal floorings at the engine level installed. Putting the ship into the water is scheduled for the third week of September 2009, after the various preliminary tests have been completed. Like the blocks, the cabins will be prefabricated and progressively installed. All that will remain will be to add the finishing touches – curtains, lamps and so on - before the ship is launched.

Sophisticated and intimate

It is a painstaking process, because everything has to be perfect. Le Boréal, like the others in Compagnie du Ponant’s fleet, will offer a sophisticated and intimate setting for passengers. An elegant, yet welcoming, contemporary style, favouring natural materials has been chosen for the cabins and communal spaces (reception, lounges, restaurants, theatre, pool, etc).

Those eager to discover new horizons on board Le Boréal will have to be patient - until May 2010!