The Saba Islander

by Will Johnson


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Legendary sailor Peter Every. After he left the sea he retired to Saba and worked as a house painter.

Peter Every

The late Peter Every was born in Windwardside. In Julia Crane’s book “Saba Silhouettes” he describes his life as a young boy and his desire to go to sea. That was the custom back then. At the age of 13 you were considered old enough to go to sea as a cabin boy.

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Capt. Ben Hassell in black with whom Peter Every went to sea.

In an interview he said: “Well, you know, when I was a boy growing up, I used to be with those people there Under the Hill. Mr. Carl (Hassell) and their family lived Under the Hill, you know. We used to be around there with them, making messages and doing from one thing to the other for them. And Mr. Carl’s brother was captain of a schooner; he was captain of a schooner. In fact, he had must’ve been two or three of his own sailing vessels, you know. And every couple of weeks he’d be in here and any of the young boys who want to go to sea would go down and ask him to take them away, and he’d carry them. So I says to him one day, he was in, I said, “Captain Ben, I’d like to go aboard the vessel.” He said, “Go aboard the vessel for what? I said, “Well, I don’t know. Everybody got to go to learn.” He said, “Well, if you want to go to learn,” he says, “I’ll carry you.” And he says, “ Well, we’s going away Thursday, so go up and tell your mother to get your clothes ready and go aboard.” So I went home and I told my old lady. I said, “Well, I’m asked Captain Ben to carry me with him on the vessel, and he’s told me to get ready. He’s going back a Thursday.” She said, “My boy, you’s too small.” “Oh,” I said, “why that ain’t nothing,’ You got to grow.”

Well, anyhow, I decided to go. And I went aboard, and there was two other young boys there besides myself, and they said,” Peter, you think you’s goin’ make it?” “Well, I agoin’ try it.”

Peter goes on to describe his first trip at sea. “And we left here and we went down to the Virgin Islands, Tortola. Went down there for a load of livestock – horses and mules and donkeys and cattle. A whole pile of livestock we went down there for. Down in the hold, they had a whole bunch of them down in the hold, and they had a deck load, all livestock. And when they took ‘em in, he turned to we. He says,”Every morning you got to go between and pull out all that old dry grass and throw it overboard, so as that the water can run out. So I turned to one of the boys. I said, “Why wait, we got to go in between them bad horses and cattle and things, to take out all that dry grass, to throw o’erboard that the water can run out through the scuttle.”

He said, “Yes that we got to do.” I said, “Suppose one of them horses catch you in the back?” These bad horses,” I said, “is bad, you know, they’ll bite you in the back.” Anyhow, we went down, we took in the animals and we left to come back up.

We left to come back up, and we passes back in to Saba on the way up; and we went o’er to St.Eustatius, and we took in some more cattle there. And we sailed from there; we went to St.Kitts and took cotton seed from St.Kitts. And he said, “Well the last port is Montserrat.” We go to Montserrat. We went to Montserrat to take cotton seed oil to carry to Guadeloupe. And the vessel was properly loaded. Then we sailed out from Montserrat and we went back to Barbados, discharged all of this thing we had aboard there, cattle and cargo and everything else.

“You know, you don’t feel too good (when you first go to sea) because you miss all of those that you leave back behind. And, you know, especially for the first couple of days, you out there gettin’ wet with rain and sea and everything, and nowhere to hide. You all the time wishin’ that you was back home in the kitchen or somewhere around the house that you could hide.


Peter Every was inspired to go to sea because his “heavy portly looking fellows” his uncles who sailed on these large schooners. This is a painting of the “Margaret Truph” which I have at home and the captains from Saba were Capt. Lockland Heyliger and Capt. Arthur Wallace Simmons of The Bottom Saba.

Going to sea, I tell you, is all right as long as you meets it working all right. But when you gets in bad weather and wartime, it’s awful out there. Oh yeah, yeah. My first trip on the sailin’ vessels from here, I was fourteen years old. I was fourteen years old. And I been sailin’ from then up to 1950, I quit.’

What motivated Peter to go to sea partly was his “big fat” uncles which he considered an asset.

“So when I made thirteen I was thinking about going to sea. You see I had two uncles used to sail onto these big American schooners; and every couple of months they’d pass in here, see. Every couple of months they would pass in here and remain here sometimes for two days. And I would see these big heavy, portly-looking fellas you know, and I always used to tell my mother that I’d like to go on a vessel to get big and fat like my uncle and they. Yeah, that always attract my nerves, you know, to see these sailors comin’ up in these big vessels, and big and fat and heavy-lookin’ men.

“My older brother, he went away when he was thirteen years old, went on a sailing schooner when he was thirteen years old. He never came back neither. He sailed around Barbados for must’ve been ten or twelve years, something like that; and then he shipped onto a schooner, American schooner in Barbados, that went to the States. And he never came back. He died over there though, three four years ago. He got knocked down on the sidewalk. A car knocked him off the sidewalk.

The late Harry L. Johnson interviewed him for my book “Tales from My Grandmother’s Pipe” and he told him of two adventures he had at sea.

The first episode took place in 1921. He could not remember the exact date. During the year in question he was sailing on a two-master schooner by the name of “Margie Turner”. At the time the vessel was under the command of David Hassell from Saba. The ship’s complement consisted for the most part of men from Saba, namely David Hassell, Peter Every, Phoebius Hassell, and Clifford Johnson.

Schooner Ina Vanterpool

Many Saban owned schooners were lost at sea sometimes with their entire crews. This is the “Ina Vanterpool” going ashore in Statia in the hurricane of 1928.

Peter stated that the “Margie Turner’ left Saba bound for Curacao under a fair breeze all the way. It was about forty-eight hours after their departure one afternoon that Captain David took a longitude sight and told them that towards midnight they would see the lighthouse in Bonaire. Exactly when eight bells were striking there was a thunderous crash and the ‘Margie Turner’ was ashore on a reef sixty miles to the West of Bonaire. (A sailor, who was striking the bell at the time of the incident, went head first down below into the cabin.)

The Captain immediately ordered the lifeboat over the side, and the crew headed for what turned out to be a barren reef about thirty miles long. There was neither water nor food on the place.

The following day the Captain, the mate and the cook left with the lifeboat and started to row for the island of Bonaire, sixty miles away.

As the dawn of each succeeding day broke over the heads of those left behind, their hunger and thirst became unbearable. They drank sea water which merely increased their thirst, and the only thing they could find to eat were the raw whelks picked from the reef.

One day they saw a schooner passing very close, and they tied a white piece of cloth on a stick to attract attention. But the schooner did not stop. Later it was learned that it was Captain Lawrence Johnson from Saba, on his way from Curacao to Barbados.

After seven horrible days on the reef a fishing boat from Bonaire came to their rescue when the disaster had been reported by the Captain. The fishing boat then took them to Bonaire.

Peter Every lived to survive yet another tragedy in World War II.


On the left Fred Hassel, and in dark shirt Peter Every and his wife Lean.

He told us:” It was a sunny yet windy Saturday in mid-April 1943, when the ship I was sailing on eased from the oil docks of the ESSO refinery at Aruba, bound for Panama. Our ship “Valera”, one of the lake tanker fleet that plied between Lake Maracaibo and Aruba, was deeply loaded with heavy fuel oil. The skipper, Captain Russell, and the other officers were British while the other crew members were from the Dutch Antilles. Also on board was a Norwegian passenger as a sailor. The next day, Sunday, the weather worsened and our ship began taking waves over the bow. Sunday night at eight bells (midnight), I went to the bridge to relieve the quarter master at the wheel, who was also a Saban named Walter Woods. Shortly after Woods left to go aft, where the crew’s sleeping quarters were located, there was a sudden thunderous explosion. The ship felt as if she had been lifted out of the sea by a tremendous force while the men on the bridge were flung to the deck.

We all knew at that moment that we had been torpedoed. The “Valera” now lay dead in the water, and took a heavy list to port as oil from her ruptured tanks poured overboard. Captain Russell ordered the life rafts thrown overboard and to abandon ship. There was a sound of tortured metal as the ship, her back broken, parted in two. As the two halves drifted apart, we could see the men on the stern section lowering the lifeboats. The Captain and I were the last two left on the bridge, the others haven taken to the rafts, which were still alongside. The Captain ordered me to the raft, saying: “The Captain is the last to leave.” I tried to persuade him to come with me, but he refused to do so. The bow section of the ship was now so much listed, that it was necessary for me to climb down a pipe in order to gain the deck which at times was buried under water. I clung to the rail, waiting for a chance to jump in the raft, when I heard the Captain yell’ “Look out Every!” Thinking it was something about to fall on me from aloft, I glanced up. I felt a terrific blow against my thigh, my hands were torn away from the rail, and I was flung over board, landing a sprawl on the raft. The men on the raft, realizing that I was injured tried to make me as comfortable as possible. Captain Russell was now clinging to the wing of the bridge and was in danger of falling. We called to him to jump. Unfortunately, when he did, he fell in the oil that was still pouring out of the ship. He went down under and never surfaced again. There were now five on the raft: the first and second mate, the chief steward, the Norwegian sailor and myself. The bow section of the “Valera” sank shortly afterward, but we could see the stern section still afloat in the distance. Just after daybreak, a huge wave struck the raft, washing me overboard. I surfaced partly under the raft and might have drowned. Luckily the Norwegian sailor saw me. He hauled me out and lifted me back on the raft. I am very thankful to that young giant who saved my life.

About midday a huge hammerhead shark bore down on the raft. For a moment it seemed that he was actually going to attack us on the raft, but at the last moment he died under us. For hours afterwards the monster circled the raft while we watched and held on to the ropes, in terror of being washed overboard to be eaten by the creature. Suddenly the shark changed direction and headed for the raft and again dived underneath us, but this time he got stuck when halfway underneath. Our raft began to shake and heave, as the beast struggled frenzied to free himself. For hours this continued, until eventually his movements lessened and then ceased entirely. Our raft how had a man-eating shark as passenger down there.

On the morning of the second day, the stern end of the ship disappeared, and neither raft nor lifeboats could be seen. The first mate rationed the food and water, saying it might be days or weeks before we could be rescued. Then on Saturday morning, seven days after our ship was sunk, a Catalina flying boat appeared, circled above us and dropped a flare, indicating that help was on the way. Sure enough, three hours later and American cruiser came up with a bone in her teeth and stopped near us. A landing net was put over the side, by which means our men climbed on board with the assistance of sailors. Because my hip was broken I had to be taken on board on a stretcher. One of the warship officers asked:” What is that thing under your raft?” The first mate replied: “That thing is a hammerhead shark that has scared the hell out of us.”

A couple of minutes later there was a sound of rapid gunfire and shark and raft were chopped in pieces.

I was taken to Panama, where I was hospitalized for six months, and then sent to Aruba, where I learned that two others of our crew had suffered broken bones. Our Captain, a fine man and a good seaman, was the only casualty.

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Captains Quarters Hotel when it was under construction.

Peter retired to Saba and became a house painter. He spent his last years on his native Saba and this is what he had to say about the island:

“I heard one tourist speaking down there, by Captains Quarters, that he said the onliest thing that this place wants is a beach. But different to that, he said, the climate is the whole thing. Fresh air and everything, he said. When you stand to look at the hills, he said, the green trees and everything, the climate is the whole of it. Nice fresh breeze and everything. St.Maarten, he said, between the heat and the sand flies….Yeah, they really like here. Yeah, they really like here. The onliest trouble with here is there’s no beach, you see.

“I’m all right here, comfortable here, oh yeah. I always said that if I had to live anywhere different to here, I would live in Nevis. That’s something like here, quiet and nice. It’s one-road traffic, you know. Only one main road all the way around the island and it’s a nice li’l quiet place.

“Well the best place, I believe, in the whole atmosphere is right here. Yeah, oh yeah. It’s a nice li’l place to live. No one trouble you, you almost do as you like. Yeah, almost do as you like. No man says anything to you. You troubles nobody and you lives very good here.”Old sailor Peter Every

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