The Belem Foundation was set up by the Caisses d’Epargne in 1980 following the purchase of the Belem three-master to enable the ship to continue sailing. Recognized as being in the general public interest, the Foundation’s purpose is to promote France’s maritime history and to keep the last-remaining major 19th-century French sailing ship – recognized as an historic monument in 1984 – among the nation’s cultural assets.
After a year without sailing owing to the health crisis (2020), the Belem Foundation managed to save the end of the ship's sailing season in 2021, welcoming 639 sailors on 16 sailings, staged between July 28 in La Rochelle and September 30, 2021 in Brest, for an occupancy rate of 83%. It was hoped that the COVID-19 vaccine would allow sailings to resume in 2021, but the very progressive staggering of its accessibility forced the Belem Foundation to postpone the start of its season, leading to the cancellation of the first nine sailings and the issue of new cancellation vouchers. The aim was to give the crews and sailors enough time to be vaccinated.
Finally, in view of the very large number of 2020 voucher holders, sailing was prioritized over the opening of the museum. Only the visits to Cannes, La Rochelle and Le Havre, where the ship was welcomed for wintering as of October 2021, were kept during the season. This break in Le Havre made it possible to welcome the general public and schoolchildren onboard the ship and to have the three-master take part in the Transat Jacques Vabres for the very first time.
The Caisse d'Epargne, a long-standing sponsor of the Belem Foundation, finances one half of the institution’s patronage budget.