Sea Fever

Ocean liners have right of way wherever they go except when they meet the most beautiful woman on the high seas. They then turn off their engines and as a sign of respect and adoration they give three blasts on their horn.

This stunning woman (for all ships are feminine ‘she’) has been a recurring theme in my life ever since I met her while still at infant school. It was a time when Italy was still considered by many ignorant brits a country of spaghetti eaters and mandolin players, a country accused of cowardice which reputedly built tanks with one forward and three reverse gears, a country of aye-ties and poor emigrants. When the gorgeous lines of Italy’s true flagship first entered the Thames estuary and sailed into London she was instrumental in changing rudely stereotyped perceptions of Italy. Italy could stand proud and erect with her ‘Amerigo Vespucci’ as ambassador to its ‘bel paese’ throughout the world.

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(Regrettably a negative attitude between Italy and the UK still occasionally happens today. For example in yesterday’s news I heard that UK schools have been asked to distinguish between Neapolitan, other Italian and Sicilian-origin schoolchildren in their registers! The Italian ambassador in London, with true English sarcasm, reminded UK’s education secretary that Italy has been one country since 1861. See https://www.thelocal.it/20161012/english-schools-criticized-for-differentiating-between-italians-sicilians-and-neapolitans )

To get back on-board. The triple-mast ‘Amerigo Vespucci’ was built at Castellamare di Stabia and launched in 1931 as a twin Italian navy training ship to the ‘Cristoforo Colombo’. Her dimensions are as follows:  length‎ 331 ft. (including bowsprit) and height‎ 177.2 ft. Her top speed‎ with ‎sails is 10 knots and with engine, 12 knots. There are 26 sails and fully unfurled they cover an area of 30400 square feet. The total crew is 450 men (and now women too).

What happened to her sister ship? War reparations forced Italy to give the ‘Cristoforo Colombo’ to Russia who promptly demoted her to a tramp merchant vessel, painted her a dirty grey colour and finally (accidentally?) caused her demise in a fire on board which completely destroyed her.

Together with my wife the ‘Amerigo Vespucci’ sailing ship remains one of the two most beautiful women I have ever met.

Here are some photographs taken of Sandra with an officer of the ‘Amerigo Vespucci’ one year after our marriage.

And here is this wonderful ship in London again in 1985:

And in 1987.

Then I did not see her for a long time and was truly missing her. In 2014 I did manage to catch a sight of her in the Darsena of La Spezia during a special open day (see my post at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2014/03/23/a-top-secret-establishment/). She’d gone in there for a complete overhaul and looked vulnerable and a little sorry for herself stripped into her nakedness:

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When I heard that ‘Amerigo Vespucci’ had been re-launched this year and would be moored for a few days at Livorno I truly had an attack of fever, sea fever. I had to see her and be with her again. Fortunately some friends were also interested and in uncertain weather we motored to Livorno.

There was already an umbrellaed queue waiting at the Medicean port gates in the driving rain. On board we were able to visit the main deck and the steering cabin where we met the commandant Curzio Pacifici (what an appropriate surname!).

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Suddenly the rain accelerated into a storm precipitating with violence on the ship and on the horizon I could see a tornado brewing. What must it have been like to be on a ship like this rounding Cape Horn, I wondered. Truly, the wind, the rain and the louring clouds, ink-black, added to the dramatic effect. It was unforgettable. Imagine having to reef the sails climbing up the masts in this sort of weather in the high seas!

It was difficult to leave this gorgeous ship. I really must have got that sea fever badly. As John Masefield wrote:

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,

And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;

And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,

And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.

 

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide

Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;

And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,

And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

 

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,

To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;

And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,

And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

 

 

 

PS If you read Italian there’s an interesting web page on the ‘Amerigo Vespucci’ at

http://www.mondovespucci.com/ITAL/PAGINE/miapassi.html

 

 

 

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