The Saba Islander

by Will Johnson

Death of the “Mona Marie”.

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Capt. Laurie Hassell behind the wheel of the “Mona Marie” with friends on a race around Barbados

Death of the Mona Marie

By; Will Johnson


Formerly people matured earlier it seems. Nowadays you see big men hanging around street corners calling themselves the youth. They could be somewhere doing useful work instead. The person I am highlighting here at the age of 19 was already captain of an inter island trading schooner.

The first part of this article is taken from the Barbados Advocate and written by Tom M.Knowles, after which the captain will tell his own story.

“While in my early teens, inter-island commerce was mainly handled by the schooner-owning fraternity. Many of these old sea-dogs had originally hailed from Saba, a tiny 5.1 square mile Island in the Dutch Antilles.

Men like the Vanterpools, the Johnsons, the Hassells and the Everys were synonymous with the schooner trade. They had to work hard to make a living and were highly respected by the mercantile community.

“Capt. Ben Hassell was one of the leading figures in this marine trade. He and his wife Mary Love, came to Barbados from Saba over 70 years ago. They had 8 children – Herbert, Johnnie, and Ida who became Mrs. Bruce Goddard.

The next five were all born in Barbados and included Carl (now in Victoria), Laurie (now a retired tug captain from our port), Lloyd, (killed in the Dieppe raid), Ben, now living in Michigan and Alfred who had the dreadful experience of seeing his brother, Lloyd, killed in Dieppe.

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The “Mona Marie” in the Bocas off Trinidad. Capt. Laurie’s brother Ben was a radio operator on one of the Canadian passengers boats took this photo.

Laurie and Lloyd’s father Ben, owned more than 20 schooners during his lifetime. Amongst these were the ‘Mona Marie’, the ‘Maisie Hassell’, the ‘Dutch Princess’, the ‘Lena’, the ‘Rhode Island’ and the ‘Mary C.Santos.’

After leaving college Laurie tried to get a job in Aruba, but after three fruitless months, he went to Curacao and joined the ‘Rhode Island’ serving nine months before the mast. His father had sent him a sextant and urged him to learn navigation.

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The “Mona Marie” with Capt. Laurie Hassell leaving the island of Aruba with a load of gasoline for Barbados.

After completing his service he joined the ‘Rhode Island’ signing on as Mate, from Barbados.

Eventually Laurie became captain of the ‘Mona Marie’ a fast two master which his father had bought for the prince sum of Bds$5,000! He skippered this schooner through the Windward and Leeward Islands, going as far North as Turks and Caicos Islands on occasion. On one of these runs from Turks island to Barbados, he established a record crossing of 6 days less 3 hours.

This lovely schooner met a tragic end. On Sunday, June 28, 1942, she was about 50 miles South West of Barbados heading for Trinidad, with a cargo of empty oil drums.”


The following letter I received from ‘Laurelton’, Lower Black Rocks, St.Michael, Barbados, dated June 13th, 1996.

Dear Will,

Received your letter of the 19th May and was very glad to hear from you.

I was born in Barbados on the 21st December 1913, was married on the 17/8/1936, which is the same date that my Father and Mother were married in Saba (but not the same year).

My Father wrote me while I was with Aldrich Dowling on the schooner ‘Rhode Island’ in Trinidad to come home as he had bought a Nova Scotia vessel called the ‘Mona Marie’ which had gone to Opporto Spain with codfish and on its way back to Canada she broke some of the wheel gear and put in to Barbados.

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Capt. Ben and his brother Tommy on board of their schooner “The Maisie”.

The ‘Mona Marie’ as I remember was 142ft overall and 26ft beam. No Bowsprit. She was termed as a “Knock About’. She had two masts and a quarter deck beam. In other words she was not a flush deck. Two hatches and she could carry 230 tons.

I was made master on the 7th April 1933 (aged 19). We left for Demerara (British Guiana), had two days over and left on Easter Monday of that year for Home.

The old man suffered from diabetes and he picked a pimple on his nose and it turned septic. We arrived in Barbados on the Tuesday evening and he died the next day.

I was on my own at the age of 19 years and 4 months. I made trips to Puerto Colombia, Haiti, Curacao, Bonaire and Aruba. We used to carry cotton seed, salt and transhipment cargo from England to the islands.

Now some experiences in port and at sea. In 1934 I carried my future wife and her sister and another friend for a trip to Guiana. On my way in I went to see that the anchors were ready. As I got up by the forecastle, a young boy that I had as a deck boy was standing by the forecastle companion way and not helping. So I ordered him to help the others with the chain and anchors. He told me “Captain, I so tired I could sleep with the dead now.”

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Capt. Laurie in the back closest to the sail leaving Aruba with a cargo of gasoline for Barbados.

After we anchored and while lowering the main sail he fell overboard and I heard one of the crew say “ O God the boy overboard.”

The tide was falling so I jumped over and managed to hold him and told him to keep quiet and we could hold on to the anchor chain of another vessel that was anchored just astern of us, but he tried to get on top of me and on the second time I went under I knew I was drowning. I managed to get his hands off of me and he disappeared. It was 3 Am.

The Mate jumped with the board that we put the boom in when the mainsail was lowered and sail made up.

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The “Mona Marie” was one of the four Saban owned schooners competing in the first race around the island of Barbados.

The crew then launched the boat and picked up the mate and I. I reported the matter to the authorities. On the Thursday morning the police came and told me they had found the body but it was in very bad condition and if I did not want to go and see it I could send someone else. But I went with them to the mortuary and as I removed the covering there was only three notches of the back bone and pelvis and the shanks all the other parts of the body were missing. All the flesh was eaten off by the sharks.

Capt. Frank Hassell of the schooner Edward VIIth was over there at the time and when he came to Barbados he told the harbour master Commander Wynne that he would not jump in the Demerara River for his mother.

On my return back to Barbados the Harbour Master told me he was going to recommend me for a medal attempting to save a life. I told him not to worry as if I had saved him no one would know. I do have a medal and certificate signed by King Edward VIIth when he was Duke of York.

The sinking of the schooner ‘Mona Marie’.

I left Barbados on the 28th of June 1942 at 11 o’clock for Trinidad having arrived here a few days earlier with some wallaba wood from Guyana for a bakery.

At about 5.30 pm I was aft with a friend of mine who was going back to Trinidad and then to Venezuela where he was working.

As I looked around I saw a submarine coming from the horizon on my starboard side so I immediately called the crew and told them what to do if we were attacked

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Capt. Laurie, son of Capt. Ben, pictured here sitting on the railing of the “Mona Mare” of which he was the Captain at the age of 19.


I went below in the cabin and got the Union Jack which was the flag we used to fly as the flag was registered in Canada and some ships papers. I gave them to Stanny Hendricks to put in the boat which had a motor. We had put in an extra tank of gas earlier.

As the crew got the boat ready to lower, the submarine came up and started to shoot at us with the machine guns. One of my crew got shot in the arm and another in the back, but not too serious. As it was getting dark you could see the tracer bullets passing through the sails and some even passed over me a few feet as I was lying on the deck. As the shooting stopped I got up and found out that Stanny on his way back aft had fallen overboard, so I threw him a life ring to hold on to it until we got back to him.

We got in the life boat and cast off as the vessel was hove to but still had slight movement forward. The sub came up and I came alongside just aft of the cannon tower and we climbed aboard the sub as the bullets had bored holes in the boat and it was sinking.

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The “Mona Marie” in the Bocas off the island of Trinidad.

We were met by two men on the deck of the sub. One spoke perfect English and the other you could understand. They ordered us to go forward right by the big gun. The Commander of the sub told them what to ask me and then they relayed it to him in German.

As Stanny was dressed in white the fellow thought he was the captain, but Stanny pointed to me. They wanted the name of the ship, the cargo and where we were bound. I told them. Then they asked me if I had any wheat or coffee, so I knew they were short of grub.

By then the lifeboat had sunk so I asked the fellow to ask the commander to put me back aboard to get my other boat. He replied that the captain would put us back aboard and give us five minutes to cut away the sails. I said we could not do it in five minutes give us ten minutes. He turned back and said the captain says five minutes and then we shoot.

They then sent us right to the front of the submarine and the fellow went with us to give the captain the distance but every time he stopped him short. So then Stanny said to me the captain getting vex (he Stanny could speak Portuguese, French, Spanish and English so he could understand a little German as well).

So I told the fellow to tell the captain to let the submarine drop astern and let us get up over the stern.

He did it and eventually we got aboard and lowered the boat. I stayed to cut away the sails then jumped overboard and swam to the boat.

They then started shooting with the big gun trying to sink the vessel but as she had in empty drums she just listed to starboard. They fired ten shells and then turned towards us and shot five shots at us which dropped in the water a few feet away. It seemed that they would hit us. That is the only time I was scared. They then turned fired ten more at the vessel. By then I had altered my course and they fired three shots where they had seen me go the first time but by then I was in a much different place.

We pulled all night and the next evening we saw St. Vincent and eventually landed the Tuesday morning on the Island of Mustique at about 1.30 am. (June 30th, 1942)

No I do not have a copy of the ‘Tales from my Grandmother’s Pipe’, but I would like 2 copies. Thanking you in advance, I remain,

Laurie Hassell. “

The Barbados Advocate states further: “Here they landed in a calm little bay, hauled up their lifeboat and Laurie and Hendricks tried to shelter under it while his men went for help.

Mosquito’s were voracious and everyone was happy to be welcomed by Mr. Oliver in his home in the hills. Here they had coffee (there was no milk), sugar and biscuits and they went to bed.

Next morning the sea was raging in their little bay and Mr. Oliver assured them that no one in St.Vincent would believe they had landed safely there last night.

On Wednesday morning, they went by sailboat to St. Vincent arriving at 3 pm and met by Supt. Cozier of the Colonial Police Force. “Massa Fred” Hazel ( Hassell) looked after their welfare until they left for Barbados by schooner. In the meantime, the two wounded crew-members had been satisfactorily treated at the St. Vincent hospital.

So perished the “Mona Marie” but in a subsequent article I hope to tell you about her happier days.”

Capt. Laurie died some years after this letter to me. After his death I received a letter with drawings and photo’s from the real “Mona Marie” in Nova Scotia after whom the schooner had been named. I would have loved to have shared that information with him as his love for that vessel was like the love of a man for a beautiful woman. And, talking about beautiful women, Captain Laurie must have been a charmer when he was young. He showed me some photographs of his wife and she must have been the real “Pride of Barbados” when he met her.

Another 19 year old captain from Saba was a cousin of my mother. He was Capt. Will Simmons. At the age of 19 (around 1900) he was Captain of a large four master schooner the “Andrew Adams” and used to sail around the world. His entire crew was from Saba Rupert Hassell (Chief Mate), Rudolph Simmons (Second Mate), Dory Heyliger (Engineer), Peter Hassell (Sailor) Ronald Hassell (Steward), Peter Every (Sailor) and Carl Hassell (Cabin Boy).

To all teenagers I say look at the lives of these old timers and remind yourselves “Yes we can.”

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