The Principessa Jolanda - a forewarning

The Principessa Jolanda about to be launched

Principessa Jolanda - ship of ill omen

The Principessa Mafalda was one of a pair, the other ship being the Principessa Jolanda (named for King Umberto's other daughter) . If one wishes to search for technical explanations for the subsequent sad history of the Mafalda one need look no further than the Jolanda. This ship was built at the same yard. Upon its launch (22 September 1907), the ship went down the slipway and promptly capsized.

The Journal of the American Society of Naval Engineers explained the events of the day:

"A feeling akin to consternation has been spread through Italian shipping circles owing to the mishap in launching the biggest passenger steamer yet constructed in Italy. The building yard is situated at Riva Trigoso, a small place about halfway between Genoa and Soezia. It was started in 1889, and has gradually increased until now it has an area of 40,000 square meters, and three building slips of masonry, capable of taking vessels of 150 meters (492 feet) in length. These slips are served by seven radial electric cranes capable of lifting a weight of 2 tons to a height of 25 meters, writh a radius of 20 meters, which were described in one of the papers read at the last session of the Institution of Naval Architects.

The size of the vessels constructed has gone on increasing, until the last to be laid down were the biggest yet constructed in Italy. These two vessels, to be known as the Principessa Jolanda and Principessa Mafalda, were for the South American service of the Societa Lloyd Italiano. They are 149 meters long (489 feet), with a beam of 17 meters (56 feet), and were to have a displacement of 12,000 tons. They have twinscrew quadruple-expansion engines of 10,000 horsepower, which were to give the vessel a speed of 18 1/2 knots. The first of these two vessels—the Principessa Jolanda—was finished complete, with engines and boilers, and was to be launched on September 22nd, whilst the second vessel is well advanced, all her framing being completed.

The day fixed for the launch was a typical Italian day - bright sunshine, a cloudless sky, and delightful temperature. The trains from both directions of the Riviera took hundreds of eager spectators to the place, and many steamers, large and small, took other visitors down from Genoa, and the sea being quite smooth, these were largely patronized.

Shortly after midday the naming took place in due form, and the bottle of sparking asti, decorated with flowers and the Italian colors, was broken in the traditional manner. Twenty minutes afterwards the signal was given that all was clear, and the vessel gradually began to move, quickly increasing her rate of speed, and amidst the cheering of thousands, the hoarse tones of the whistles, and the shrieking of syrens, the launch was quickly and triumphantly completed.

But no sooner was the vessel fairly afloat than she was seen to keel over in an alarming manner; the cheering ceased in an instant, and a dead silence followed; the effect of this and the huge mass of the vessel slowly going over was so horrifying to the spectators that they started to flee from the spot.

The tugs had at once got hold of the vessel, and she was pulled round parallel to the shore. The inclination was to port, and by this time the water had reached the port-holes of the main deck, some ot which had been left open, and the cabins quickly filled. She was soon on her beam ends, her funnels being about 2 meters clear of the water, and parallel with its surface, and in that position she gradually subsided until all that was to be seen of that great steamer was a portion of her side, looking like the back of a whale, about a meter and a half above the surface at its highest point.

The effect on the spectators was intense. The shipyard is so situated in the corner of the bay that the vessel seemed to dominate everything. That she should have entirely disappeared in such a fashion was horrifying to the onlookers; it seemed as if some terrible nightmare had got hold of them, and they could hardly speak. The officials who had been responsible for the construction stood there as if turned to stone, and remained gazing at the spot as if they could hardly believe their eyes, whilst the workmen who had built her, and who, with their families, had almost cheered themselves hoarse a few minutes ago, now were weeping and hugging one another in a state bordering on delirium.

Bad as the disaster was, it was not rendered still worse by loss of life, for the disappearance was so gradual that all on board were got off before the hull went under".

Such was the state of the vessel, that it was not completed and was instead scrapped. One may well ask whether the structural problems of the Jolanda were also reflected in the Mafalda. Pre-dating the Titanic the ship may have suffered from some of the same design faults. 

The sorry aftermath