Miami Cruise Industry Mourns Lewis A Fraser, Son Of Miami Cruise Pioneer And Himself A Cruise Catering Pioneer

https://i2.wp.com/ak-cache.legacy.net/legacy/images/Cobrands/Herald/Photos/photo_023002_C0A8015418a3231F6CNMG4120BDE_2_aec2e4a5991234688264481ea2514563_20141023.jpgThe cruise industry in Miami is mourning the passing of Lewis ‘Lew’ A Fraser, whose catering concessions once provided the food, beverages, chefs, cooks and waiters for Royal Caribbean, Costa, Regency and Premier Cruise Lines. Fraser died on Wednesday, October 8. He was 75. For the full Seatrade obituary please go here.

Lew was one of six children of Frank Leslie Fraser, who was heavily involved in the banana shipping business from Jamaica, Cuba and the Dominican Republic. In 1950, when Lew was 10, his father founded the Eastern Shipping Corporation. Eastern in turn chartered the 3,445-ton Nuevo Dominicano, a ship that could carry 177 cruise passengers, from the Flota Mercante Dominicana. This ship had first cruised from Miami as the Clarke Steamship Company’s New Northland in the winter of 1926-27. With her, Fraser introduced the first year-round cruises from Miami. The number of cruise passengers handled at Miami in 1950 rose to 61,000, helped by the new year-round cruise service..

css Nuevo Dominicano stbd side

Lew’s father, Jamaican-born F Leslie Fraser, started cruising from Miami with the Eastern Shipping Corporation in 1950. Chartering the 177-passenger Nuevo Dominicano, she was the first to offer year-round cruises from Miami, then a winter port.

During the 1950s, Fraser added new ships to his fleet, starting with the 5,002-ton Yarmouth and Evangeline in 1954, followed by the 7,114-ton Bahama Star in 1959 and the 6,644-ton Ariadne in 1960. During this period, Fraser brought in as a partner William R Lovett of Jacksonville, who owned the Winn-Dixie supermarket chain, and to whom Fraser had been shipping bananas for many years. Lovett had shipping interests of his own and in May 1961, Fraser sold out to Lovett, who renamed the company Eastern Steamship Corporation. Fraser finally turned over full control just a few months before he died in June 1962. Six years later, in 1968, Lovett added the largest Miami ship yet, the 9,914-ton New Bahama Star.

In 1970, Lovett sold out to the Norwegian Gotaas-Larsen Corporation, one of the intial shareholders in Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd, which was building three new ships, the Nordic Prince, Song of Norway and Sun Viking. Any conflict of interest was avoided by Eastern sticking to the 3- and 4-night Bahamas trade while Royal Caribbean concentrated on 7- and 14-night Caribbean cruises. By then, the numbers of Miami cruise passengers had risen ten times in twenty years, to 610,000. In 1972, Gotaas-Larsen added the 24,351-ton Emerald Seas to the Eastern fleet, again the largest ship to cruise from Miami.

The company, by now trading as Eastern Cruise Lines, merged with its own affiliate Western Cruise Lines and Stan McDonald’s Stardance Cruises, forming Admiral Cruises in 1986. By this time the Port of Miami was handling 3,000,000 passengers a year. Admiral Cruises became Royal Admiral Cruises and was absorbed into Royal Caribbean in 1992. The last project undertaken by Admiral was a ship called the “Future Seas,” which entered service in 1990 as the 48,563-ton Nordic Empress. Trading today as the Empress for Pullmantur Cruises, this ship was the last and the largest to be purpose-built for the 3- and 4-night Bahamas cruise trade from Miami.

css Farnorth

F Leslie Fraser acquired the Farnorth in Canada in 1937, renaming her Southern Lady. Selling her in 1942, he bought her back again in 1952 and renamed her Lewis Fraser after his son.

In 1952, when he was 12, Lew had a ship named after him (right). When his father purchased the 1,712-ton Ciudad Trujillo from the Flota Mercante Dominicana, from whom he had been chartering the Nuevo Dominicano, he renamed her Lewis Fraser. This was actually the second time the Frasers had owned this ship, as they had first purchased her in Canada in 1937, when she was trading between Boston and the Atlantic Provinces of Canada as the Farnorth. Renamed Southern Lady, she traded for Fraser in the Caribbean until he sold her in 1942 to Cayman Islands owners. As the Lewis Fraser, she was used in the Cuba trade until the eve of the Cuban Revolution under Fidel Castro. Almost fifty years old by then, she was finally sold for scrapping at Baltimore in 1957.

In an interview with Seatrade Cruise Review in March 1996, Lew recounted to Anne Kalosh an interesting story about his own beginnings in the cruise industry – and the name Royal Caribbean:

F Leslie Fraser had run Eastern Shipping Corp, selling the company before his death in 1962. Lewis and a brother created a firm called Royal Caribbean to handle the estate. Their office at the old Port of Miami was one floor above the Yarmouth Steamship Co, managed by Edwin Stephan…

But it wasn’t long before this fourth generation shipping man was drawn back to the sea. He looked up Ed Stephan, now general manager of Commodore, who was introducing Boheme in 1968.

As Fraser tells it, “Ed was looking for a caterer and I was looking to get back into the cruise business. I asked Ed if he’d consider me. He said, “Lew, what do you know about catering?” I said “Nothing, but I do know how to put together an organisation and I like the cruise business.” He got the job.

It was a rough start. But gradually Fraser had things running so smoothly that when Stephan went on to launch his own cruise line, Fraser not only nabbed the catering contract, he also lent the name: Royal Caribbean.

It is forgotten by most now that Lew and his brother Frank L Fraser Jr formed Pan American Cruise Lines, of which Lew was president, in 1965, and chartered an Israeli ship, the Nili, to cruise from Miami. On hearing of the owner’s financial condition, however, Pan American ended the charter and a company called Arison Shipping stepped in and took over, but ended up with no ship. This led to the charter of another ship called the Sunward, but that’s another story. The passing of Lew Fraser closes an interesting chapter in the cruising history of Miami.

For those interested in knowing more about the Fraser days in the 1950s and 60s, there is further information here:

Excerpt from St Lawrence Saga: The Clarke Steamship Story

Some Early Royal Caribbean History: The Beginnings of the Eastern Shipping Corporation and the s.s. Nuevo Dominicano

s.s. Nuevo Dominicano in Miami 1953

The 3,445-ton Nuevo Dominicano, formerly the Clarke Steamship Company’s New Northland, seen here at Miami in 1953. This ship pioneered cruising from Miami during the 1920s and 1930s, and again in the early 1950s

The Beginnings of the Eastern Shipping Corporation

In May 1948, the former Canadian cruise ship New Northland, a vessel that had cruised from Montreal in the summer time and from Miami by winter before the war, was purchased by the Flota Mercante Dominicana, or the Dominican Line, which placed her into service 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, and for a year and a half ran from New York. But not attracting enough passengers to fill her 177 berths, she was soon replaced by cargo ships.

This is where Frank Leslie Fraser comes 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 in Canada when his own banana boats had been requisitioned during the war. These coasters he had used to serve the Dominican Republic.

But most importantly, Fraser was president of the Eastern Shipping Corporation, which would now charter the Nuevo Dominicano to cruise out of Miami.

While visiting Kingston in his native Jamaica, Fraser 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-night cruise. By arrangement with the Bahamian Government, she would also 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 was installed where her forward cargo hatch had been.

The Bahamians were busy behind the scenes 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 successfully inaugurated 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.

Nuevo Dominicano cruise brochures

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.

So9on, however, 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.”

This ship had been a true pioneer of cruising from Miami – as the New Northland she had operated the first weekly cruises from that port, in January 1927, the first all-inclusive cruises (as opposed to overnight steamship service) between Miami and the Bahamas, in 1935, and as the Nuevo Dominicano had become Miami’s first year-round cruise ship, in 1950.

The Eastern Story

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. 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 completed her last season on the Boston to Yarmouth run. The Evangeline did longer cruises but she made it to Nassau every second weekend.

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.

Fraser Sells Eastern

Meanwhile, on May 27, 1961, an item in the “New York Times” recorded a change in the ownership of the Eastern Shipping Corporation: –

“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.”

Three days after this announcement, Rafael Trujillo was assassinated in the Dominican Republic, bringing to an end a dictatorship that had lasted for thirty-one years.And by January 1962, Fraser had passed full control to William Lovett, a 71-year-old financier who was experienced in running banana boats himself, as founder of the Winn-Dixie supermarket chain..

When Eastern changed hands the letter “F” for Fraser on the ships’ funnels was replaced by “L” for Lovett. But unfortunately, Fraser died on July 22, 1962, only a few months after the sale, at the age of 57. And by 1965, Lovett would rename the company once more, this time as Eastern Steamship Lines

Meanwhile, in 1963, the Yarmouth had been sold to another Miami company, Yarmouth Cruises Inc, and was soon joined by the Evangeline, which was renamed Yarmouth Castle to fit in with the Yarmouth Cruise Lines theme. These veterans were placed onto a new run that served Freeport as well as Nassau, on a schedule of four sailings a week. The Yarmouth Castle, of course, is best known now for the loss of eighty-seven lives in a fire off the Bahamas on the night of November 13, 1965.

Eastern Steamship Lines had kept the larger Bahama Star and Ariadne, but in 1968 it acquired the even larger New Bahama Star, formerly the Peninsular & Occidental Steamship Co’s Miami. The New Bahama Star in turn became the largest cruise ship to sail from Miami, and its purchase by Eastern effectively meant the end of a competitor, a company that had introduced the first Miami to the Miami-Nassau route seventy years earlier, in 1898.

Gotaas-Larsen Corporation

Passenger numbers leaving Miami reached 188,000 in 1967 and 246,000 in 1968. In 1970, Lovett, now 79, sold out to Gotaas-Larsen Corporation of Norway, one-third owner of Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, which had been formed in 1968. By then, the number of Miami passengers was 610,000 and growing. Royal Caribbean was introducing three new ships to the Miami market in 1970-71 and others had also come onto the scene.

In 1972, Eastern’s new Norwegian owners introduced its largest ship, the 24,458-ton Emerald Seas, acquired from Chandris Lines, partly in exchange for the smaller Ariadne. Although Gotaas-Larsen was involved in both Royal Caribbean and Eastern, any conflict of interest was avoided by Royal Caribbean handling the longer-duration 7- and 14-night cruises while Eastern looked after the 3- and 4-day market, now under its fourth name as Eastern Cruise Lines.

Miami passenger numbers exceeded the million mark in 1977. Ultimately, a merger of Eastern Cruise Lines, its West Coast affiliate Western Cruise Lines and Stardance Cruises led to another new firm, Admiral Cruises, in 1986. By then, Miami was hosting three million passengers a year.

Admiral Cruises was taken over in early 1992 by Royal Caribbean, which decided to sell its older ships and to complete its “Future Seas” newbuilding project as the 48,563-ton Nordic Empress. This was the first ship to be designed and built specifically for the Florida-Nassau short cruise market since Henry Flagler’s Miami of 1898, the trade having been served traditionally by second-hand, seasonal or chartered tonnage.

For further details on how to book a cruise please call The Cruise People Ltd in London on 020 7723 2450 or e-mail cruise@cruisepeople.co.uk.

Article by the late Capt Carl Netherland Brown and Kevin Griffin

Illustrations courtesy of Michael L Grace’s “Cruising the Past.”