112 years of the Miami-Nassau route (II)
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(13-07-2009)

112 years of the Miami-Nassau route (II)


Last week we wrote about Henry Flagler opening up the Miami-Nassau route in 1897 and the introduction of winter cruises on that route by the Clarke Steamship Co's New Northland in 1935 (whose berth capacity was increased to 177 in 1936).
Today we cover the introduction of year-round cruising from Miami in the 1950s and the expansion of these services into the 1960s. Next week we will look at the Bahamas today, including the Nassau cruise trade, the development of private islands, the new shipyard in Freeport and cruise ships under the Bahamian flag.


The War

When war broke out the New Northland was unable to take the Miami-Nassau route for the 1940 season as the United States was still neutral and US citizens were forbidden from travelling in a "belligerent ship." For the 1940 and 1941 seasons, therefore, American ships were used, only to be taken up for war duties after Pearl Harbor. In 1942 the Clarke Steamship Co returned with a smaller ship, the Jean Brillant, which would carry services personnel and their equipment for the next five seasons.
Nassau had by now become a centre for air crew training as well as a base for anti-submarine patrols. The little Jean Brillant's most famous passengers were the Duke and Duchess of Windsor when they left Nassau for Miami at the end of his time as wartime Governor of the Bahamas in May 1945, and she even carried a few cruisers in the 1946 season.


Seaway Line

When the New Northland returned in 1946, it was under the ownership of the Seaway Line, a company headed by Clarke's former passenger traffic manager. But rather than going back onto the Miami-Nassau run, the Seaway Line started cruising from Jacksonville to Nassau and the West Indies.

The "New York Times" reported on October 13, 1946: "News of a cruise every ten days comes from the Seaway Line, with the s.s. New Northland initiating service Dec 18 from Jacksonville, Fla. The itinerary includes Nassau, Haiti and Havana, three favorite havens for vacationists seeking an escape, if a short one, from northern winters... The present plan is to continue these cruises throughout 1947."

Seaway Line, being a Canadian-registered company, maintained the New Northland's registry in Quebec and hired a Canadian crew. Instead of cruising the Gulf of St Lawrence, she would now sail year-round from Jacksonville. Seaway Line kept the name New Northland, and even copied the old Clarke brochures right down to the photographs of lounges and cabins and the clauses in the small print.
They even appointed a former Clarke master and the same port agents.

On December 8, 1946, Nassau journalist Etienne Dupuch wrote in the "New York Times": "The Evangeline of Eastern Steamship Lines will sail from New York every Friday, beginning Dec 27, in a series of Nassau cruises, with stopover privileges. The Seaway Line has scheduled Nassau as the first port of call for the New Northland on her year-round cruise service from Jacksonville, Fla, to the Caribbean."

Seaway Line's first cruise left Jacksonville on December 18, 1946, with 157 passengers, close to a 90 per cent load, to begin the first year-round cruise program out of a Florida port. The New Northland was also the first cruise ship to return to service after the war and the first cruise of the Evangeline was delayed until May.

For a while in 1947, the New Northland also ran 10-day cruises calling at Nassau and the ports of Cardenas and Havana in Cuba, sailing from Jacksonville every ten days. In June 1947, however, the line replaced the unknown Cardenas with more exciting calls at Kingston, Jamaica, and Port au Prince, Haiti.

It was the first time any line had attempted a year-round service from Florida. But despite being heavily booked, there were underlying problems. Changes of route did not enamour cargo shippers to the ship, and she was plagued with post-war seamen's union problems. In early 1948, the Seaway Line went out of business and their ship was laid up.


The Eastern Shipping Corporation

In May 1948, the New Northland was sold to the Flota Mercante Dominicana, or Dominican Line, who announced they would run her between New York, Puerto Plata and Ciudad Trujillo, as Santo Domingo was known under the rule of Dominican dictator President Trujillo. She was renamed Nuevo Dominicano and crewed by the Dominican Navy.

For a year and a half she ran from New York, but not attracting enough passengers, she was replaced by cargo ships. This is where Frank Leslie Fraser came onto the scene. Fraser, whose family had started a banana shipping business from Jamaica in the 1930s, was the general administrator of the Flota Mercante Dominicana, president of Fraser Fruit & Shipping of Cuba, president of the Dominican Fruit & Steamship Co and managing director of the Maple Leaf Steamship Co of Montreal, through which he had purchased a number of coasters from Clarke and others when his own banana boats had been requisitioned during the war.

These coasters he had used to serve the Dominican Republic. But most important, he was president of the Eastern Shipping Corporation, who would now charter the Nuevo Dominicano to cruise out of Miami.

While visiting Kingston in his native Jamaica, he told the "Gleaner" that the Nuevo Dominicano would make fortnightly trips to Jamaica, with stops at Kingston and Montego Bay as well as Ciudad Trujillo on a 12-day cruise. By arrangement with the Bahamian Government, she would call at Nassau on Thursdays, leave on Friday morning and be in Miami by Saturday morning.

It was Fraser's idea to bring the Nuevo Dominicano back to Miami, where she had operated successfully in the past. Under his direction, she was readied for cruising out of Miami once more. Despite her renaming, Eastern still used the old name in brackets, with the new Eastern Shipping Corp brochure exclaiming: "An exciting life will be yours aboard the s.s. Nuevo Dominicano (formerly known as the s.s. New Northland) with luxury accommodations for 177 passengers, completely refitted from stem to stern to provide all cruise comforts, modern services and delicious cuisine.

Attractively and comfortably furnished staterooms make this a giant, floating hotel for your enjoyment. You will delight in the spacious decks for sports or promenading, comfortable lounges, sunbathing and swimming in the ship's swimming pool."

The new swimming pool had been installed where her forward hatch had been.

The Bahamians were busy however and on April 16, 1950, the "New York Times" reported that the Nuevo Dominicano would offer more Nassau voyages: "The Nuevo Dominicano, which made two Miami-Nassau cruises each month during the winter, has inaugurated a spring and summer schedule which includes six stops at Nassau each month. The vessel will visit Nassau twice on her nine-day cruises, one to Ciudad Trujillo, the other to Kingston, Jamaica, stopping at Nassau on both outward and homeward legs.

The vessel also will make two Miami-Nassau cruises each month, with a two-day stop in Nassau."


The ship's most famous passenger during this period was actor Clark Gable who with his wife travelled to Nassau for a golfing holiday in December 1950.

Although the Eastern Shipping Corporation was successfully in inaugurating year-round cruises from Miami, at the end of three years it decided to end its charter on the Nuevo Dominicano. For three years, all had gone well for the Nuevo Dominicano, but with a capacity of only 177 passengers, there was not much room for profit. Fraser's absence would only be temporary, however.


The Dominican Republic Steamship Line

To replace Eastern, the Dominicans formed the Dominican Republic Steamship Line in 1953. Unwisely, the naval personnel were withdrawn and a mixed crew took over the deck and engine departments. Standards began to drop. The ship no longer called at Jamaica, but ran 11-day winter cruises on alternate Mondays from Miami to Nassau, Ciudad Trujillo and Port-au-Prince, and 3-night Friday weekend cruises from Miami to Nassau.
The 11-day cruises also offered a short one-way passage from Miami to Nassau.

Every Monday and Friday from July through September she ran 3-day cruises from Miami to Nassau. This was the opposite of what had been introduced by the New Northland in 1935 as these were summer cruises and not winter ones. The standard of the ship's operation without Fraser can be judged by a post card sent by one passenger: "Dear Lou & Irv, Don't book anyone on the s.s. Nuevo Dominicano. The ship is infested with rats, ants, and cockroaches, and the food is plain lousy and in very short variety. The Dominicans are not yet ready for the Americans."

The new management not only failed in passenger service, but the ship also suffered continual breakdowns. That August, she had to be towed into Miami by the US Coast Guard, and again in September by a salvage tug. At this point, the US Coast Guard suspended her passenger certificate and required a general refit of the safety equipment.

She left Miami on October 9, 1953, for a refit in the Dominican Republic and within twenty-four hours was reported aground off Nuevitas, Cuba. On October 17, she ran aground again, on Punta Guarico, near Baracoa. On November 26, she was refloated and anchored in semi-protected waters but she suddenly went down.

Her end was reported in the "New York Times" on November 26, 1953, under the heading "Jinxed Liner Sinks at Anchor in Cuba": "After a successful salvage operation, the empty passenger liner Nuevo Dominicano rolled over and 'died' in southern waters on Thursday night, it was reported here yesterday. No one was injured."


Eastern Acquires the Yarmouth and Evangeline

The loss of the Nuevo Dominicano produced an opportunity for Fraser. His Eastern Shipping Corporation decided to look for a ship to fill the gap left by her loss and in May 1954, he bought Eastern Steamship Lines' Yarmouth for $500,000, registering her to the McCormick Shipping Corporation of Panama.

Eastern was Fraser's operating company and McCormick was the vehicle he used to own ships and hotels. On June 18, 1954, his new ship began a series of 9-day Miami, Jamaica and Haiti cruises that alternated with 4-day Miami, Nassau and Havana cruises.

However, at the request of the Bahamian Government, which no longer had the services of the Nuevo Dominicano, he soon renamed his ship Queen of Nassau and put her into a two-year contract running between Miami and Nassau. Following the same schedule as the Nuevo Dominicano, the Queen of Nassau left Miami for Nassau every Monday and Friday at 6 pm. If Fraser had not been able to make money with the Nuevo Dominicano's 177 berths, he could certainly do so with the 500-passenger Queen of Nassau.

At the end of 1954, Fraser reunited the two sister ships by acquiring the Evangeline after she closed out Eastern Steamship Lines' last season on the Boston and Yarmouth run. The Evangeline did longer cruises but she made it to Nassau every second weekend. The purchase of these two ships spelt the end for Boston's old Eastern Steamship Lines as Fraser's Eastern Shipping Corporation now took them over to operate out of Miami.

Fraser continued to build his business. In 1959, he acquired the Bahama Star at auction for $512,000 and promptly began advertising her as the largest cruise ship sailing from Miami. Late in 1960, he bought the Ariadne. These two ships at first offered longer cruises, then moved to the 3- and 4-day cycle, out of Miami and Port Everglades respectively, serving both Nassau and Freeport.

The only real competition was the old Peninsular & Occidental Steamship Co, which moved its Florida from the Miami-Havana route to Miami-Nassau after Castro came to power. The Cuban revolution had forced P&O to leave the Havana trade altogether. Refitted and re-flagged in Liberia, the Florida switched to the Miami-Nassau run at the end of 1957, replacing the Queen of Nassau in the contract service. It had been thirty-two years since P&O's first Miami had come off the same run at the end of 1925.


The Eastern Steamship Corporation

On May 27, 1961, the "New York Times" reported a change in Eastern's ownership: "The Eastern Shipping Corporation, formerly controlled by the McCormick Shipping Corporation of Panama, has been acquired by W R Lovett of Jacksonville, Fla. Mr Lovett reported yesterday that the corporate name had been changed to Eastern Steamship Corporation. The company is general agent for the cruise ships Evangeline, Yarmouth, Bahama Star and Ariadne, which operate between Miami and the West Indies."

Lovett was the owner of the Winn-Dixie supermarket chain and had first met Fraser when the latter shipped him bananas. By January 1962, Fraser had passed full control to William Lovett. Lovett was also now experienced in running banana boats of his own after acquiring one or two from Fraser. Unfortunately, however, Fraser died on July 22, 1962, at the young age of 57, only a few months after the sale.

Eastern kept the larger Bahama Star and Ariadne, and in 1968 acquired the New Bahama Star to replace the Bahama Star. She had been operating under charter by the Peninsular & Occidental Steamship Co, where, as the Miami (ii), she had replaced the Florida, and had become the largest cruise ship sailing from Miami. Her purchase by Eastern effectively meant the end of P&O, whose first Miami had been introduced back in 1898.


Eastern Steamship Lines and Eastern Cruise Lines

After a few years, the operating name was once more changed to Eastern Steamship Lines, a revival of the old Boston company's name. In 1970, however, Lovett sold out to Gotaas-Larsen Corporation of Norway, one-third owner of Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, which had been established in 1968. Royal Caribbean had introduced three new ships to the Miami market in 1970-71.

In 1972, Eastern's new Norwegian owners introduced their largest ship yet, the 24,458-ton Emerald Seas, acquired from Chandris, partly in exchange for the smaller Ariadne. Gotaas-Larsen was involved in both Royal Caribbean and Eastern, but any conflict of interest was avoided by Royal Caribbean handling the longer-duration cruises while Eastern looked after the 3- and 4-day market, now under its fourth name as Eastern Cruise Lines.


Part III ... to be continued next week

(Source: By Mark Tré - Cybercruises.com)


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