Prinzessin Victoria Luise
Prinzessin Victoria Luise was a passenger ship of the Hamburg-America Line of some 4,409 gross register tons (GRT). She is credited with having been the first purpose-built cruise ship. Launched on June 29, 1900 she served with HAPAG until December 16, 1906 after being accidentally grounded off Jamaica.
In 1866, Albert Ballin joined HAPAG (Hamburg-Amerikanische-Packetfahrt-Actien-Gesellschaft ) as manager of its passage department. Two years later, he became Managing Director. It was during this term that he realized his company’s largest and flagship vessel, the Augusta Victoria, lay largely unused during the winter season. Due to inclement weather, travelers largely stayed away from the North Atlantic route. It was then that Ballin, despite criticism from his fellow directors at HAPAG and other steamship companies, planned to send the Augusta Victoria on a 58-day “pleasure voyage” from Cuxhaven, Germany to the Mediterranean and Orient. This extended cruise would include well-planned excursions ashore to ports-of-call along the route and Ballin would be a passenger himself. The voyage was a success and similar ones were planned.
Despite their increasing success, these early cruises, called “excursions”, were difficult to plan with existing ships. Constructed as ocean liners, they did not meet the requirements of the pleasure-seeking market. They offered few amenities aboard. This became apparent during long stretches at sea. Furthermore their construction as multi-class vessels also proved a hindrance as such vessels provided restricted access to deck space. Whatever deck space there was, was mostly sheltered, and designed to accommodate the rigors of the North Atlantic instead of the seas of more southern climes. Ballin believed that only a vessel specifically designed for cruising would be appropriate. Furthermore, such a vessel could spend the entire year doing so.
In 1899, Ballin became director at HAPAG and months later, in 1900, commissioned Blohm & Voss to construct such a ship, to be named after Kaiser Wilhelm II's daughter. The ship was launched on June 29, 1900 and christened Prinzessin Victoria Luise.
A revolutionary ship
With cruises targeted toward wealthy travelers, the Victoria Luise was designed to look more like a private yacht than any of her commercial counterparts. She had a trim hull 52.2 feet wide by 407.5 feet long. She was painted all white with two masts, one fore and aft, and two tall, slim funnels amidships. She had a rounded stern and a richly decorated clipper bow, with bowsprit, ending in a figurehead of the German princess.
Onboard, she also did not look like other commercial vessels of the time. She contained 120 cabins, all first class. All staterooms were luxuriously appointed. Reportedly, Ballin instituted some interior modifications recommended by the Emperor. There was also a library, a gymnasium, and a darkroom for the development of film by amateur photographers. Pushing all this at a steady 15 knots (28 km/h) were quadruple expansion steam engines. After fitting out, the Kaiser formally inspected the vessel and was unhappy that it was slightly longer than the royal yacht Hohenzollern.
Prinzessin Victoria Luise left on her maiden voyage on January 5, 1901 from Hamburg, stopping at Boulogne, Plymouth, and finally reaching New York on January 17. She would depart New York on the 26th to the West Indies for her first cruise. Her second cruise, to the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, commenced from New York on March 9. Other cruises would take the ship to the Baltic. She would be used almost exclusively for cruising as she had limited cargo or mail capacity. Yet, she would be diverted from cruising on six occasions to make complete transatlantic crossings.
Almost five years after her debut, her illustrious career came to an end while on a West Indian cruise. On the night of December 16 the ship departed Kingston when her commander Captain Brunswig mistook the lighthouse at Plumb Point for that at the westernmost point of Port Royal. Heading north at 14 knots, the ship hit and climbed onto the rocks bow first at about 9 o’clock in the evening. In an attempt to dislodge the ship, the engines where put full astern to no avail.
The crew quickly calmed panicked passengers who were safely disembarked the following morning. The captain remained on the vessel after the evacuation, retreated to his cabin, and shot himself. A German Admiralty court found him negligent in May of the following year.
Salvage operations commenced immediately after the grounding. Within days, continued buffeting by waves and a storm pushed the ship broadside of the shore with a sharp list to port. Inspection revealed major structural damage to her frame and keel plates. Her engines had been displaced during impact and her port side was filled with 16 feet of water. She was declared a total loss on December 19.