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SS Leonardo da Vinci

SS Leonardo da Vinci

In Service:             1960-1977 (Trans-Atlantic service)

                                1977-1978 (Cruise service)

Line:                       Italian Line

Builder:                  Ansaldo Shipyards, Genoa, Italy

Launched:             December 7, 1958

Tonnage:               33,340 GRT

Length:                  763 feet

Beam:                     92 feet

Draught:                 31 feet

Speed:                   23 knots (26 mph)

                                Maximum 29 knots (33 mph)

Capacity:                1326 passengers

                        First Class:  413

                        Cabin Class:  342

                        Tourist Class:  571

                                Cruise Service:  984

                                Crew: 580

Fate:                       Laid up in 1978, the ship caught fire and capsized in 1980, and was scrapped in 1982

The Italian Line:


The Italian Line was the result of a merger of three smaller lines in 1932, and produced some of the country’s finest ships.  But the history of Italian ships goes back to 1818 in Naples and Trieste.   In the latter part of the 19th and early part of the 20th centuries the country saw the migration of almost 29 million people primarily by ship.  As the United States reduced allowable immigration, the Italian lines changed direction to trans-Atlantic travel and Mediterranean cruising.  Combined with the post WWI attraction of European travel for Americans this helped create the modern ‘cruise’ ship with amenities on board for passenger entertainment and comfort.

SS Leonardo da Vinci

After an abrupt decline in the number of emigrants allowed to enter the United States, a new Tourist Class took the place of the old Third Class, catering for the growing American middle class and those who could not afford a First Class ticket but wanted to travel as tourists to the Europe. The Italian liners, passing through the Straits of Gibraltar, inevitably covered many more nautical miles than their rivals in the trans-Atlantic trade but their “Sunny Southern Route” gave them the advantage of the milder climate thanks to the Gulf Stream. The voyage became a holiday rather than a mere necessity. Open-air lidos and swimming pools, cabins with open verandahs, air conditioning, talkies, thermal areas, gymnasiums and uncluttered sun and games decks and many other amenities enabled passengers to enjoy travel by sea.

At the outbreak of WWII the Italian Line had a fleet of passenger and merchant ships in regular service between Italy and North and South America, Australia and South Africa.  Some were used in the war to ferry Italian soldiers and supplies to North Africa, but many were seized by the Allies and by war’s end less than half of the fleet remained, and post-war restrictions on ship building limited recovery until the 1950’s.

SS Leonardo da Vinci at Port Everglades 1975

Docked at Port Everglades.  1975

Family photos of Infrogmation

Rebuilding the Fleet:

The Italian Line was given the right to build two new liners for the express route between Genoa and New York which finally re-established the Italian Line’s high class service on this prestigious international route: they were the Andrea Doria and her sister ship Cristoforo Colombo, launched in 1952 and 1954 respectively.  The ill-fated flagship of the Italian Line fleet, the Andrea Doria was considered the height of fashionable trans-Atlantic cruising.  However, in 1956 the ship was rammed by the Stockholm in a dense fog off of Nantucket and sank.  Eager to recover the cachet of its lost flagship, the Italian Line commissioned the building of the Leonardo da Vinci, which was launched in 1960.

In order to save time in constructing the new vessel, the plans of the Andrea Doria were used but adapted to a somewhat larger design. Several innovations and new safety features were introduced including extended watertight bulkheads, lifeboat davits capable of launching lifeboats against a 25 degree list, motorized lifeboats, and separation of the engine rooms into two compartments, with each engine driving its own propeller and capable of powering the ship independently from the other.  Most unique was the ability to eventually convert the ship to run on nuclear power, but due to passenger fears that was never implemented.

Upgrading the Experience:

Unique to the newer designs of the Italian Lines was an expanded middle tier of passenger accommodations called ‘Cabin Class,’ which featured private bathrooms and more amenities than the lowest level of service called ‘Tourist Class.’  Cabin Class passengers could take advantage of the swimming pool, exercise room, cinema, and expanded meal services not available to Tourist Class passengers.  Marketed to the American middle class seeking to see Europe the Cabin Class proved to be very popular, and was used extensively when the ship was put into cruising service during its later years.

Pool Side on the SS Leonardo da Vinci

Pool Side

Italian Line Brochure

Additional luxury features introduced on the Leonardo da Vinci were infrared-heated swimming pools in first class, retractable stabilizer wings, full air-conditioning, and private bathrooms in all cabins in first and cabin class, as well as in 80% of tourist-class cabins.

Taking advantage of the growing American tourist trade the Italian Line commissioned both the Raffaello and Michelangelo, simultaneously launched in 1965.  The last of the Italian superliners they were withdrawn from service less than ten years after being launched.

SS Leonardo da Vinci travel brochure

The End of an Era:

Since the hull design of the Andrea Doria and Cristoforo Colombo was adopted and extended by 20 meters for the Leonardo da Vinci, not surprisingly it also proved to be unstable in rough weather. But the Leonardo da Vinci's stability problem was greater because of its larger size, and as a result 3000 metric tons of iron were fitted along the keel to improve stability. This made the ship excessively heavy for the power of its engines and led to extremely high fuel expenses.   The high operating costs combined with the advent of air service across the Atlantic essentially spelled the end of the Italian Line’s trans-Atlantic passenger service.  The Leonardo da Vinci had the distinction of being the last Italian Line vessel in trans-Atlantic service.  But, after a brief stint of cruising the Mediterranean and the Caribbean, the Leonardo da Vinci was laid up and eventually scrapped.

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