In the mid 20’s of the 20th century, the Italian Navy tackled the problem of the ships modernization for the training of the Naval Academy Cadets. It was considered that the best impact with the marine environment was to live aboard a sail ship, which requires the widest knowledge of the natural elements.
The School Ship “Amerigo Vespucci” was built and fitted out in the Royal Shipyard of Castellammare di Stabia according to a design by Lt. Colonel of the Naval Engineers Francesco Rotundi. Laid down on 12 May 1930, launched on 22 February 1931, the ship was commissioned as School Ship the next 6 June, joining her sister ship Cristoforo Colombo.
In July of the same year she started her first training cruise in North Europe. Afterwards, she was extensively refitted in the years 1951, 1958, 1964, 1971, 1984, 1990, 1997 and in the year 2000 when the spaces for the female personnel were created.
Name and Character
Amerigo Vespucci was born in Florence on 9 march 1454 of noble and rich family, his father, Nastagio, was a notary. After a commercial work experience, he went into the service of the Medici family, who sent him to Spain in the late 1491, first to Cadiz and then to Seville, where they had an agency for the fitting out of ships. Here he met Christopher Columbus and they became friends. Vespucci was attracted by the voyages of discovery which at that time opened the Atlantic Ocean ways to the seafarers of the Iberian Peninsula.
The number of the voyages made by Vespucci is unknown and several historical controversies have arisen in the course of time. The most recent studies fix in four the real number. The first two voyages were carried out for the Spain, the last two for the King of Portugal.
During his first voyage, 1497-1498, Vespucci visited the Gulf of Mexico and sailed up the Atlantic coast of the United States. In his second voyage, 1499-1500, he left Central America and sailing to South he discovered the mouth of Rio de las Amazonas and descended up to Cape Sao Agostinho.
During his third voyage, 1501-1502, after a call at the Cape Verde Islands, he explored the Atlantic coasts of South America from Guaiana to Patagonia, discovering, in January 1502, the Rio de Janeiro bay. That voyage aroused a great deal of interest and convinced Vespucci himself that the extremely long coast he had explored was not part of Asia but a “New World”. For this reason Martin Waldseemuller, when republishing the “Quatuor Americi Navigationes” in 1507, suggested that the newly discovered world be named America. The fourth voyage had to follow the same route, but the adverse weather conditions obliged the explorer to come back when he was still on the Brazil coasts. Amerigo Vespucci died in Siville on 22 February 1522.
The Ship and her characteristics
The Amerigo Vespucci is the oldest ship in commission in the Italian Navy and her Leonardesque motto is “Non chi comincia ma quel che persevera”. From a technical-structural point of view, the Vespucci is a sailing ship with auxiliary power plant. As concerns the sail rigging, she is a square-rigged ship, with three masts, firesail, main and mizzen (all equipped with yards and square sails) plus the bowsprit, in every respect, the fourth mast. The ship has also fore-and-aft sails, jibs on the bowsprit, stays between the masts and the spanker.
The hull is of the three main decks type (deck, battery and tween decks) with quarter-deck and poop deck which are two superstructures rising on the main deck. Her typical black and white colour underlines the reference to the past: the white bands along the battery and tween decks are meant to reproduce the two cannon decks of the 19th century vessel that had given inspiration to the designer.
The plating consists of steel plates, having various thickness, joined by riveting, an operation that must be workmanlike performed to assure the tightness of the ship. The figure-head, placed forward, shows Amerigo Vespucci and is realized in golden bronze. The typical prow decorations and the poop arabesque are in wood covered with pure gold foil.
Other parts of the ship are in wood which differs according to the required characteristics: teak for the main deck and steering compartment; mahogany, teak and holy wood for the nautical fittings; oak, mahogany and walnut for the interior furnishing and the Council Chamber. The ship’s waterline length is 70 metres and the maximum length at bowsprit is 101.
The hull’s full breadth is about 15 metres, but it can reach 21 metres if we include the volume of the boats overhanging from the ship’s side and 28 metres between the extremities of the highest yard of the main mast. The maximum draught is 7.30 metres.
The ship is fitted with 11 boats: two speed-boats, two motor-boats, two fire-boats and four ship’s boats (oar- and sail- driven), employed for the training of the Cadets. Finally, astern, there is the typical “whaler” reserved for the Commanding Officer. Her full load displacement is 4100 tons.
The propulsion is of the diesel-electric type: the ship is provided with two diesel engines connected to two electricity generating dynamos that supply a propelled electric motor. The two motors are FIAT eight-cylinder in-line diesel engines developing 3000 HP.
The Marelli electric motor can develop a speed of about 12 knots. There is one four-blade propeller. Under full sails, the ship can reach considerable speeds, at least in relation to her weight: the record is 14.6 knots. The total sail surface, 24 sails, is about 2800 square metres. The sails are of hemp (sail canvas) made by sewing strips of cloth called “bolts”.
The handling of the sails is carried out by means of cables, of different diameters, for a total length of about 20 km.
Since she entered service the ship has carried out training cruises every year, except for 1940, because of the war events, and for the years 1964, 1973 and 1997 for the works. The training activity is carried out mainly for the Naval Academy Cadets, but also for the Students of the Military Naval School “Francesco Morosini”, Helmsmen as well as youth members of Sailing Associations such as the Italian Naval League and the Italian Sail Training Association.
Besides several short cruises in the Mediterranean, mostly made in spring and autumn, from 1931 to 2006 the Amerigo Vespucci performed 74 training cruises for the 1st Class Cadets of the Naval Academy: 40 in North Europe, 21 in the Mediterranean, 4 in the East Atlantic, 7 in North America and 1 in South America within the only circumnavigation of the globe carried out between May 2002 and September 2003. On this occasion, the ship was involved in the activities relevant to the New Zealand America’s Cup.
The summer training cruises have a medium length of about three months. As concerns the formative-training aspect, the Cadets extend their basic knowledge of navigation and life at sea, included the use of the sextant to fix the ship’s position. Therefore, the Amerigo Vespucci can be considered a “ school of life” and an indispensable training instrument for the future Naval Officers.
The crew, the real “motor” of the Amerigo Vespucci, consists of 278 men, including 16 Officers, 72 Petty Officers and 190 Chief Petty Officers and Ratings, subdivided in the various Departments and Services. During the training Cruise, the crew is integrated by the Cadets and support personnel of the Naval Academy, for a total of 480 men.