Mail and Passenger Service SIX and final
MAIL SERVICE (six)
By; Will Johnson
In 1932, His Excellency the Governor proposed to have a bi-monthly steamship service to the Windward Islands and in a letter to the K.N.S.M. he suggested that if they wanted an increase on their subsidy then they would have to provide a bi-weekly service to the Windward Islands instead of a monthly one.
Sabans were still interested in the so-called “mail-contract”, as is evident from this letter dated, May 27, 1932, to His Excellency the Governor of Curacao.
I am in a position to obtain a steam vessel suitable for a trade through the islands. But before investing the money in the vessel I would like to have the assurance of some kind of trade for her. Being that I have always had the desire to operate a steam vessel between the islands I will make you an offer to take care of the mail contract through the islands. For the sum of one thousand eight hundred dollars ($1.800.–) per month with free port charges in the Dutch islands, I will give you the service according to the attached schedule with a suitable steam vessel, as soon as you would desire the service.
My father Samuel Augustus Simmons was in the government service, and I was born and raised on the island of Saba and have had the interest of the island at heart and would like to give the islands a regular and steady mail service. A letter of assurance from you that the mail contract could be obtained upon my arrival at Curacao with a suitable ship would be greatly appreciated and I would have the vessel there as soon as you desired. Thanking you in advance for your prompt reply. Very obediently yours.
Cameron Dudley Simmons.
Colonial policy at the time was such that the interests of K.N.S.M. (Royal Dutch Steamship Company) came first.
In the Vice Lt. Governor’s report for 1934 he stated that the b-weekly service of the “S.S. Baralt” of the K.N.S.M. was functioning well. The following number of motor/steam ships was listed as calling at Saba in 1934: 56 the same as in 1933 and 55 sailing vessels as compared to 53 in 1933.
In the Colonial Councils sessions of 1932 – 1933 in a provisional report on the budget for the colony Curacao and dependencies for the year 1932 questions were raised concerning the steamship service to the Windward Islands, as to dependability, the need for such a service and the costs involved.
This was in relation to an increase requested by the K.N.S.M., for providing this service. His Excellency the Governor reported that the steamship service to the Windward Islands with the K.N.S.M. had existed since November 11th, 1930, and the following route was being followed: Curacao – St.Maarten – San Pedro de Macoris – Santo Domingo City- Curacao.
This was a monthly service until December 1st, 1931. After that it was changed to: Curacao-St.Thomas-St.Maarten-Saba-St.Eustatius-St.Kitts-St.Eustatius-Saba-St.Maarten-Curacao.
In March of 1932 the K.N.S.M. decided to have a bi-weekly service, whereby Bonaire was also included in the schedule.
The results of this service from December 1st 1931 to 22 June 1932 were as follows:
A total of 596 first class passengers and 862 deck passengers were transported. Between St. Eustatius and Curacao alone a total of 651 collies were transported and from Saba to various ports 4500 collie’s.
In the trade St.Eustatius-Curacao, St.Maarten-Curacao and Saba-Curacao, cattle transported were 108, 105 and 14. In total from St. Eustatius 2318 bags of sweet potatoes were shipped (an average of 200 bags per trip). A total of 1886 bags of mail were transported in the same period.
This service was maintained by the “Atlas”, a name soon transformed by Windward Islanders to “AT LAST”, and the “S.S. MIDAS”.
The Governor further reported that on a recent inspection trip to these ilands he had experienced first hand how much this link between the Windward Islands and Curacao was appreciated by the islands up here.
While all of this was taking place there were still much private commercial activities taking place between the islands. The Sabans living on Barbados had more than twenty large schooners registered in their names. They traded throughout the West Indies. Besides those schooners, in 1932 the following vessels were registered on Saba according to a report dated 19th January, 1932.
“Dutch Princess”, schooner 202.38m3
“Diamond M. Ruby”, schooner 146.30 m3
“E.J.S.”, coaster 23.84 “
“Esther Anita”, schooner 185.09 “
“Holetown”, “ 95.97 “
“Manuata”, “ 210.39 “
“Roseita”, “ 207.25 “
“Vivian P. Smith”, “ 181.08 “
No less than seven schooners were registered on Saba in 1932.
In 1935 the “Baralt” was still providing the service between the islands. In 1941 it was the “Liberator.” The foregoing was all taken from the official archives on Curacao. What follows is from research done on the island and in interviews conducted with some of our older citizens like Mr. James Anthony Simmons (94) who not only remembers the days of the “mail-service” but who also sailed on the Saban owned schooners that provided this service.
The “Baralt” came in fortnightly, usually on Thursday, and then it would go to Statia and St.Kitts and then return to Saba on Saturday. People who worked at the Post office had to go down to the Fort bay at 4am to receive the mail.
The Second World War brought a return of schooners to the trade. In 1943 mention is made of a sail ship the “Fedalma” and also in 1946 this schooner was chartered by the government.
In 1945 an agreement was made between the Government of Curacao and Mr. Frederico M. Arends of Aruba to rent the schooner “Carmania” for fls. 1.500.—per trip fro a once a month trip from Aruba, via Curacao to St.Maarten, Saba and St.Eustatius and back to Curacao. This agreement was approved on December 3rd, 1945 by His Excellency Governor Piet Kasteel.
On November 28th, 1946 an agreement was made with the owner of the sloop “Astrea” to have a weekly service between the Windward Islands for fls. 65.—per trip, because the motor schooner “Trixie” which maintained the regular service was defect and was out of service. Owner of the “Astrea”, a sloop was Capt. Matthew Levenstone.
In 1946 a telegram from Curacao stating that the “Fedelma” had left Curacao with freight for Saba.
According to a letter of 13th January 1947 from Prospero Baiz & co. to the Vice Lt. Governor of Saba, they informed him that the M.V. “Kralendijk” had started its service on the 24th of December 1946. On October 3rd, 1948 the Vice Lt. Governor received a letter that the “Kralendijk” on the Saturday before that date had sunk to the North of Bonaire but that the passengers and crew were safe.
Among the passengers were Pastor Ivan and the late Mrs. Gertrude Berkel of St.Eustatius and if I am not mistaken Mrs. Mary da Silva –Conner told me once that she was on board and had lost her suitcases which also contained many old photo’s of St.Maarten..
On December 18th, 1948 a contract was signed with Prospero Baiz & Co. for the “M.V. Willemstad” to maintain the service between Curacao and the Windward Islands. The cost of a first class passage was f.65.—and second class was f. 50.–. Basically it had remained unchanged for eighty years. The “Willemstad” had a wooden hull and was built in England in 1943 and was 455.57 registered net tons. The ship had room for 37 cabin passengers and 21 deck passengers.
On journeys between the Windward Islands the government allowed 37 cabin and 70 deck passengers and between the Windward Islands and the Leeward Islands it was 37 and 39 respectively. In order to avoid confusion on each island the agent was instructed to sell no more than 9 cabin passages and 10 deck passages and the Vice Lt. Governor was instructed not to issue a clearance to the ship if the agent acted contrary to these instructions.
During World War II, the “Libertador” of the KNSM was in service until 1942. In that year H.S. Johnson was appointed agent of the schooner “CAMIA” and another schooner named the “MARIA” and a sloop called the “Energy”. Also the schooner “Esther Anita” was still referred to as carrying cargo in 1943. On December 12th, 1942 under Capt. T.C. Barnes the “Esther Anita” was taking on cargo at Curacao for Saba. In that same year Herman Hassell (Hassell & Co.) was appointed agent for the “CAMIA” and the “S.S.ENO”.
On August 27th, 1947 in a release the Vice Lt. Governor of Saba the honourable Mr.Max Huith issued the following notice to the public;
The undersigned brings to the knowledge of the general public that the regular boat communication between the islands St.Maarten, Saba and St. Eustatius and St. Kitts by the Government motor schooner “BLUE PETER” will begin present year and will be as follows:
St.Maarten 6AM St. Eustatius 11 AM
St.Eustatius 12 noon Saba 3PM
Saba 4PM St.Maarten 8PM
Departure 6am to St.Kitts via Saba and St.Eustatius
Whole day at St. Kitts
Departure St. Kitts 6am – to St. Maarten via St. Eustatius and Saba. Passages ranged from fls. 5.—first class Saba-St.Eustatius to fls. 12.50 St.Maarten – St.Eustatius.
In 1951 the KNSM had a monthly service with the “ M.V. CLIO” and the “M.V. ENO” from Curacao.
In a report from the Administrator of Saba to the Lt. Governor of the Windward Islands in 1952, he gave an idea of the sea traffic into Saba for the following years:
Motor and Sail 160
Yachts 23 Total: 214
Motor vessels 33
Motor and sail 144
Sailing vessels 119
Yachts 24 Total: 310
That was the only traffic as Saba did not have an airport until 1963.
In his report the Administrator also stated that the schooner “Blue Peter” maintained a regular scheduled weekly service to Saba. The “Blue Peter” had been purchased on Curacao after the war from an American couple who used it as a private yacht.
In 1952 the “M.V. Willemstad” came to the Windward Islands once a month from Curacao while the “INO” belonging to KNSM also called at the Windward Islands once a month.
The traffic in to Saba in 1952 was as follows:
Motor vessels 30
Motor and sail 141
Sailing vessels 107
Yachts 18 Total 299
After World War II the islands had airports. The airport on St.Maarten was built in 1943, the one on St.Eustatius in the early nineteen fifties and the one on Saba in 1963. The need for transportation by sea became less and less. As St.Maarten grew in the tourism trade all the imports of food came directly from the USA.
The government maintained the service with the “Antilia” until the mid nineteen seventies after which she was sold. The “Blue Peter” was sold on Curacao to someone from Bonaire and she was later lost between those islands with a number of passengers and crew.Her masts were removed and she was renamed the “Isidel.” The Wathey brothers (Chester and Claude) for a while operated the motor yacht the “Puppet” and the M.V. “Hertha” between the Windward Islands but the service did not last long as it was not profitable. Capt. Randolph Dunkin and Capt. Matthew Levenstone had several sloops over the years up until the end of the nineteen eighties. The brothers Capt. Eddie and Al Hassell used to run the cargo service for a number of years with the “Briane C.” and then the “Lindsay Moran”. After they decided to go into other businesses, the trade between Saba and St. Maarten was maintained by boats from that island and also from Anguilla. There is hardly any trade with St. Kitts by boat and none at all with Curacao since the M.V.”Antilia” was sold. The L.A.I. Chance pier which was opened for maritime traffic on November 8th, 1972 made a significant difference to Saba in terms of boat traffic.
The bringing ashore of passengers and cargo by boat which had been in place since the sixteen hundreds came to a complete halt. The islanders were able to buy large fishing boats and also the dive tourism took off with a number of large boats serving visitors who come to Saba specifically to dive. There is also a regular ferry service from St. Maarten with a high speed boat capable of carrying fifty passengers namely “The Edge” and this service provides a good alternative for residents especially in times when the plane cannot land. Craig Buchanan started a reverse service with his “Dawn II” which departs from Saba with passengers and returns in the evening from St. Maarten with freight and passengers. The harbour is always busy with fishing boats and dive boats going and coming as well as with barges coming to carry sand and gravel to other islands, small container boats and other boats bringing in cargo and passengers. Much has changed on Saba over the years. The hardworking schooner owners of the past, their crews and the longshoremen who brought goods and passengers safely to shore are a thing of the past. Like a tale that is told are the days when Saba produced a great number of captains and their children who became learned men and women in other countries. The local population as such has either gone to live elsewhere or are gradually dying out and being replaced by new immigrants coming in from all over the world. What little we had of culture has disappeared and has been replaced by borrowed culture from other islands and countries. The once thriving agricultural society has been replaced with a dependency on government employment and as one visitor described it “make believe jobs”. On the other hand the yearly losses of lives at sea has largely disappeared. As one man told a National Geographic reporter who asked him why he had abandoned the sea for a job in the Post Office:” At least I will not drown in the Post Office.” And so we leave you with a thought from Shakespeare “Now would I give a thousand furlongs of sea for an acre of barren ground.” And to those we lost at sea Shakespeare gives the following food for thought:” Full fathom five thy father lies; Of his bones are coral made: Those are pearls that were his eyes: Nothing of him that doth fade, But doth suffer a sea change, into something rich and strange.” The Tempest.