Heir to a great nautical tradition, the Amerigo Vespucci is an illustrious ambassador on the sea of Italian ingenuity and industriousness.

Published on 22 Feb 2021
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Referred to as the most beautiful ship in the world by many nautical experts and important newspapers, from the Daily Mail to the Irish Times, the Amerigo Vespucci is the oldest sailing ship of the Italian Navy still in service, as well as its main symbol.

The soling ship Amerigo Vespucci, 1963
The soling ship Amerigo Vespucci, 1963 (Credit to Maurice Jarnoux)

Over the decades it has reached the main ports of all continents, where it has been admired for its timeless elegance. And it has been the protagonist of numerous vintage ship meetings and international events. Among these, the majestic parade in New York to celebrate the 500th anniversary from the discovery of America and the 2003 America’s Cup in New Zealand.

The sailing ship, which owes its name to the famous Florentine navigator, has been guided since 1978 by the motto “not who begins but who perseveres“, attributed to the great inventor Leonardo Da Vinci. Unequivocal exhortation not to give up in the face of difficulties.

The launch and the coronation

The decision to build a training ship for the advanced training of new cadets, destined to take on the position of officials, dates back to 1925. At the instigation of the admiral and minister Giuseppe Sirianni, the General Staff agreed: to equip the Navy with a sailing ship that allows the new generation to develop a deep knowledge of the nautical world and, at the same time, gives prestige to the Italian naval tradition.

The construction of the hull begins at the Royal Shipyard of Castellamare di Stabia, the oldest shipbuilding complex in Italy, currently in the orbit of the colossus Fincantieri. At the head of the project is placed the lieutenant colonel of the Naval Engineers Francesco Rotundi, who is inspired by the magnificent flagship of the Bourbon fleet, the Monarca sailing ship, and the workers work at a fast pace for 5 years.

When the Amerigo Vespucci begins to sail the seas, on 22 February 1931, already belongs to tradition: it’s the son of the wind, in an era where steel battleships are already widespread.

Under the command of admiral Cavagnari, the Amerigo Vespucci joins his twin Cristoforo Colombo, with whom he makes up the Ships-School Division. When the Colombo leaves the scene in 1945, sold to the USSR to compensate for war damage, it will be up to Vespucci to carry on a centuries-old naval tradition.

And then the coronation in 1962.

Prince Charles and Lady Diana visiting the Amerigo Vespucci in La Spezia during their trip to Italy, 1985.
Prince Charles and Lady Diana visiting the Amerigo Vespucci in La Spezia during their trip to Italy, 1985 (Credit to John Shelley)

The officers of the USS Independence of the United States Navy, during an expedition in the Mediterranean sea, notice the approach of a boat on the radar. As per protocol, a light signal is emitted and the usual question “Who are you?”

“Amerigo Vespucci training ship, Italian Navy”.

The mighty aircraft carrier shuts down the engines momentarily and, while the siren sounds 3 times, the message “You are the most beautiful ship in the world” is sent.

The qualities of the most beautiful ship in the world

With an extension of 101 meters and a weight of over 4,300 tons fully loaded, the Amerigo Vespucci leaves its mark not only for its magnificence, but also for its construction qualities.

The bow of the Amerigo Vespucci with the figurehead covered with gold leaves
The bow of the Amerigo Vespucci with the figurehead covered with gold leaves (Credit to bimbiagiro)

The bow and stern are enriched with friezes covered with pure gold leaf, and under the bulwarks leave room for the unmistakable white strips, which seem to simulate 2 lines of cannons. The iconic effigy of the navigator of the same name is chosen as the figurehead.

In addition to miles of meters of ropes, the 27 sails of the Amerigo Vespucci occupy an area of ​​approximately 2,800 square meters. The masts are 3, connected to the bowsprit. In particular, the lowest flagpole of the mainmast, with its height of 54 meters, holds the largest sail (345 square meters). To unfurl it the coordination of 30 sailors is required.

A total of 162 cadets carry out the orders of 44 officers: together, in a few minutes, they are able to unfurl the entire sail area. Showing that cooperation is fundamental in the research and consolidation of an excellence such as Amerigo Vespucci. The same, mutatis mutandi, applies to other illustrious names in Italian shipbuilding, such as the prestigious Riva company.

Among the masts and shrouds of the Amerigo Vespucci the temperament of future officers is forged, who are accustomed to both the ancient rhythm of sailing and the use of the most modern navigation technologies. This is not an anachronistic habit: they have to learn to know and master the winds, to make long crossings, to get used to a continuous and forced coexistence, and above all to transform the modern theory of navigation into experience.

Already at the end of the first year of the course, the ancient Pillars of Hercules are passed and the transatlantic crossing begins: a formative and exciting experience like few others, which will inevitably mark their career in the service of Italy.

The ship Amerigo Vespucci to the inauguration of the new bridge San Giorgio in Genoa.
The ship Amerigo Vespucci to the inauguration of the new bridge San Giorgio in Genoa (Credit to malta.it)

There is a great sense of respect in each of us, there is a feeling of pride, of awareness of the history that this ship represents for Italy“.

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