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LA SPEZIA, Italy (Reuters Life!) - Italy's newest aircraft carrier is a pretty big baby. But the Cavour's captain sees his ship as exactly that: a son growing up before his eyes.
"I saw the ship growing day by day. So I feel it's like a son," Captain Gianluigi Reversi told Reuters in a recent interview aboard the 27,500 tonne ship.
The Cavour is docked at La Spezia while it undergoes maintenance following a year of tests, before it goes into full service probably some time in 2010.
Reversi became captain in 2005, when the ship started to be built, and will hand over to a successor next year.
"I have followed each step and I know every part, all the hidden angles," he said. He also had the 545 strong crew to train on the new ship.
"I will give the captain who follows me not only a body but a body with a heart and a brain," Reversi said.
Last week, that body was flexing its muscles to move journalists on board for the launch of Fiat's Punto Evo model.
The press conference was raised en bloc from the hangar to the 220 meter (yards) long runway deck by the massive lifting platform that normally hoists aircraft or helicopters.
The Punto Evos then showed off their turning circles on the deck, which is 34 meters wide, and came to a halt facing journalists with headlights on under a star-struck sky.
Dinner in a marquee pitched on the deck was followed by an overnight stay in one of the carrier's cabins, which usually sleep four crew but hosted just one reporter each.
The slimmed down staffing -- Italy's only other aircraft carrier, the 30-year-old Garibaldi, has up to 800 on board -- is made possible because of the advanced technology onboard.
"The Cavour can do the work of three or four different ships," Reversi said, in terms of the varying roles it can play. It can carry a maximum of 24 airplanes and helicopters.
The increased technology means even though the ship has a bridge with windows, the real business of running it takes place below deck.
"I spend most of my time in the combat information center, though the bridge is the place from which the ship is steered and where I am whenever needed," Reversi said.
There's also a state-of-the-art hospital on board, a gym and a library, along with televisions and computers.
The ship carries enough fresh provisions to allow it to go 45 days without entering port or cracking open tinned food and to sail for about 7,000 nautical miles at an average speed of 16 knots.
But so far, the longest voyages undertaken by the Cavour have been two weeks for testing and training personnel.
Reversi will steer the ship next year through its final testing and expected certificate for full operations before he hands over command. He doesn't know yet what comes after that.
"My wife says she will have a hard job trying to make me forget the ship," he said.
Editing by Paul Casciato