TUCKED in alongside HMS Illustrious, Amerigo Vespucci couldn’t be in more contrast to the grey hulls of the Royal Navy that surround her.
With 24 sails, miles of rigging and gleaming brass finery at every turn, the spectacular tall ship bears a closer resemblance to HMS Warrior and HMS Victory.
But she is very much still in service with the Italian navy as a training ship for its next generation of officers.
Big crowds are expected when the 81-year-old vessel opens to the public for free at the naval base this weekend.
The News was invited for a sneak preview yesterday.
The ship’s commanding officer Captain Domenico La Faia said: ‘We look forward to seeing everyone.
‘Portsmouth is such an important city for us to visit because it has such a prestigious naval history.’
As sailors bustled about the decks, it felt more like being on a film set than a real ship.
The Vespucci has a regular crew of 270, plus 100 young officer cadets at the start of their naval careers.
Capt La Faia said: ‘I served on operations in prime line warships for 20 years, but here is a jump into the past.
‘It’s a wonderful ship because you learn to appreciate the sea and wind. You feel like a real sailor on this ship.’
Cadet Luca Lirani, 21, said life on board is tough.
‘You are fully integrated with the crew and have to do watches, clean the ship and we have to climb the mast which is really high,’ he said.
‘It’s a bit scary at first but you just have to be brave.’
Space is at a premium and the cadets sleep on hammocks suspended above the dining mess tables below deck.
Despite the archaic sleeping arrangements, Jessica De Gasperis, 21, said she always gets a good night’s rest.
‘You are so tired from the day that you fall straight asleep,’ she said.
It is the 10th time the Vespucci has stopped in Portsmouth since her first visit for the Queen’s Coronation Fleet Review in 1953.
The ship is open from 10am to 4pm today and tomorrow, with an hour’s break for lunch at 12.30pm.