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Thursday, October 18, 2012

THE UNKNOWN GREAT WHITE FLEET

Talk about the “Great White Fleet” and chances are that the listener/reader will think of Teddy Roosevelt’s famous deterrent gesture a century ago when he sent the entire U.S. Navy’s armada on a world cruise. The voyage was intended to drive home a message to Japan that we were usually a peace-loving nation but if goaded into action, we were a force to be reckoned with. The ships, normally battle-gray, were painted white on that occasion because it presented a more snappy appearance.


There was, however, another “Great White Fleet” that received the self-same moniker even earlier than the time - 1907 - 1909 - when its Naval namesake set sail. These were the United Fruit Company’s (UFC) cargo-liners that are known today as the “banana boats” and were instrumental in helping to establish what is popularly known today as the Banana Republics (not to be confused with the trendy apparel chain). There were numerous ships sailing for UFC under a variety of flags and fleets. To describe all of these would involve a lengthy, unsystematic account. I would like to concentrate here on what I consider to be the most notable and important ships that ever sailed for United Fruit - the baker’s dozen ships in the Atenas-class
5,000-tonnes of the first decade of the 20th century - the ships built expressly for UFC’s requirements. But first, it’s necessary to look at the evolution of the fruit carrier industry of Central American and the Caribbean.

PART I

PART II