In 1970, the Mexican Navy acquired funds to have a ship built for training the cadets of the Mexican Naval Academy. Unlike the expensive ships of the American fleet and others, several countries purchased lower cost "windjammers" to give their future naval officers an understanding and feel of wind-and-sail against the open sea. The designer and shipbuilder chosen was Astilleros Celaya S.A. of Bilbao, Spain who had already constructed tall ships for other South American navies - the Gloria (1968) for Columbia, the Guayas (1977) for Equator and the Simon Bolivar (1980) for Venezuela. The Mexican government commissioned the Spanish firm for their three-masted ARM Cuauhtemoc (BE01) barque which was finally commissioned on July 29th, 1982.
The Cuauhtemoc (meaning "Swooping Eagle") was named after the last Aztec emperor who fought against the Spanish conquistador Herman Cortes and drove them out of the ancient city of Tenochtitlan - now Mexico City - on June 30th, 1520. Cortez regrouped and later retook the city, executing Cuauhtemoc in 1525. The ship's figurehead became an homage to the last great Aztec emperor, his headpiece a jade-colored eagle and his body covered in golden leaf while holding a weapon in his right hand, fire coming from his feet.
The Mexican barque was 220 feet, 4 inches (67.2 meters) long, having a beam (or width) of 39 feet, 4 inches (12.1 meters), her draught (or depth) in the water being 17 feet, 7 inches (5.4 meters). She proved a 1,800 ton (standard) vessel and was constructed with two modes of transportation - sail power and diesel. Under mechanical power, the engine made 1,125 horsepower output to one shaft, allowing for speeds of up to 10 knots. She carried 220 tons of diesel fuel and 110 tons of fresh water in a tank below deck, her hold being too small for a true water purification system. Food and fresh water supplies were the limiting factor that drew her to port for resupply.
The Cuauhtemoc became a steel-hulled, three-masted barque. Her sail plan started at the bowsprit, a pole or spar that extended out from the bow of the ship forward from the prow. The bowsprit provided an anchor for lines of the staysails and allowed the foremast to be mounted as forward in the design as possible. The main mast was 124 feet, 8 inches (38 meters) rising above the deck and the sail plan arranged using traditional barque-rigging which was itself more intricate than rigs used on modern day tall ships. The foremast was the first mast closest to the bow and the second tallest. This fitting was followed y the mainmast fitted at the middle and the tallest of the three masts. The third, and most aft mast on the ship, was the shortest of the three and called the mizzenmast. All of the masts were square-rigged with sails fore and aft. Her masts and yards were made using steel and aluminum which allowed for taller, lightweight masts leading to less sail area to provide maximum propulsion. About her three masts she carried 25,498 square feet (2,368 meters) of sail and 296.9 feet (90.5 meters) of aluminum spar/yard length.
The crew of the Cuauhtemoc changed in number as required, most often depending on the mission. Some cruises took on 35 officers and 120 sailors plus 80 cadets while others had as few as 10 officers, 70 cadets, 37 sailors, 3 Marines, 10 civilians and, at times, even its own band members aboard. While her primary mission was in training naval academy cadets, this proved the perfect vehicle for allowing the Cuauhtemoc to become a Mexican ambassador to the world while showing the national flag.
To that end, the Cuauhtemoc has served as a training ship for 27 total cadet classes to date, managing 28 cruises to over 147 ports of call in 94 countries worldwide. She has circumnavigated the globe three times and sailed a total of 532,796 miles. She was present at Fleet Week 2012 in a visit to New York City.
All images courtesy JR Potts, AUS 173d AB.