In 1925, the Regia Marina ordered two school ships to be built following a design by Lieutenant Colonel Francesco Rotundi of the Italian Navy Engineering Corps, inspired by the style of large late 18th century 74-cannon ships of the line. The first of these two ships, the Cristoforo Colombo, was put into service in 1928 and was used by the Italian Navy until 1943. After World War II, this ship was handed over to the USSR as part of the war reparations and was shortly afterwards decommissioned.
The second ship of the design was the Amerigo Vespucci. The ship was built in 1930 at the (formerly Royal) Naval Shipyard of Castellammare di Stabia (Naples). She was launched on February 22, 1931, and was put into service in July of that year.
The vessel is a full rigged three masted steel hull 82.4 m (270.34 ft) long, with an overall length of 101 m (331 ft) including the bowsprit and a maximum width of 15.5 m (51 ft). She has a draught of about 7 metres (23 ft) and a displacement at full load of 4146 tons. Under auxiliary engine power, the Amerigo Vespucci reaches a top speed of 10 knots and has an autonomy of 5450 nm (at 6.5 knots).
The three steel masts are 50, 54, and 43 metres high, respectively, and carry sails that total 2824 m² (30400 ft²) In total, the Amerigo Vespucci has 26 sails — square sails, staysails, and jibs: all are traditional canvas sails. The rig, some 30 km of rope, entirely uses traditional hemp ropes, too. Only the mooring lines are synthetic in order to comply with port regulations. As of 2004, she is the only existing three decked square rigger.
The hull is painted black with two white stripes in reference to the two gun decks of the original ships the design is based on, but of course she carries no guns. The deck planks are of teak wood and need to be replaced every three years. Bow and stern are decorated with intricate ornaments; she has a life-size figurehead of Amerigo Vespucci. The stern gallery is accessible only through the Captain's salon.
The standard crew of the Amerigo Vespucci comprises 16 officers, 70 non-commissioned officers, and 200 sailors. In summer, when she embarks the midshipmen of the Naval Academy (Accademia Navale), there's a total crew of about 450 persons aboard.
The ship has two diesel electric auxiliary engines, which together produce about 1471 kW (2000 hp), and a twin steering. When carrying cadets, she is usually steered at the manual stern rudder station, which is operated by four steering wheels with two men each. At other times, the hydraulically assisted steering on the bridge is used. Except for the anchor winch, the winches aboard are man-powered. The bridge is equipped with sophisticated modern electronic navigation instruments.
Except for the time during the second World War, the Amerigo Vespucci has been continually active. Most of her training cruises are in European waters, but she has also sailed to North and South America, and navigated the Pacific, too. In 2002, she undertook a voyage around the world.
The Amerigo Vespucci often participates in sailing parades and Tall Ships' Races, where she is in amicable rivalry with the Gorch Fock. When she is berthed in a port, public tours of the vessel are usually offered.
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