The Saba Islander

by Will Johnson

Archive for the month “November, 2018”





Captain Leo Chance Pier

A real harbour at last!

By; Will Johnson


An article from the Amigoe newspaper of December 9th, 1972 announcing the opening of the L.A.I. Chance pier.

It had long been a great desire of the people who lived on this tiny Caribbean island of Saba to have a practical and safe landing place.

Writers who would visit our once isolated island, in the articles they would write about Saba, would make fun of the fact that Saba had a Harbour Master but no harbour. And it was the truth. However, there was a need for an authority to check on incoming and outgoing vessels and to keep records, collect duties and so on. So even though there was no harbour as such, just landing places at Well’s Bay and Fort Bay there was a need to have someone in charge.

Be it as it may the longing to have a safe landing place was regularly brought up in meetings of the colonial council going back as far as we had such an institution as well as in correspondence with Commanders and later Lt. Governors to the authorities on Curacao.

In 1934 an attempt was made to make a landing place at the Fort Bay, And before that also at the Ladder Bay. I can remember seeing the metal poles at the Ladder Bay up until the nineteen sixties. They may be still lying somewhere in the sea where the hurricanes would have dragged them.


Memories of another day, forever gone but fondly remembered by those who experienced it.

The one at Fort Bay was done by the contractor Lionel Bernard Scot from St. Maarten. My father Daniel Johnson was his foreman. They built a ramp on the stones which were lined up together in a formation. They also tried to tie in the rock known as the ranging rock but with the primitive tools available to them at the time it proved impossible. Good thing too, because if they had succeeded the government on Curacao would have said it was good enough.

Hartog Collection - Saba - dept. Arubiana/Caribiana - Biblioteca Nacional Aruba

Someone made a sketch of how the pier would be tied into the Ranging Rock and carried a bit further.

In the nineteen fifties another attempt was made to build some sort of breakwater but once again it could not hold up against the high seas.

And so the desire for a real harbour continued unabated and in 1970 or so plans were made by a Dutch engineer to build a pier and tie it in to the large rock known as the hog’s thigh (or hogs stye).

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November 8th, 1972 Minister Leo Chance being congratulated by Sister Agatha.

By that time Mr. Leo Chance who was a Saban was a Minister in the government on Curacao. The local Government of Saba lobbied with him to try and get Holland to approve the building of the proposed pier, which he did. The project was approved and could start in 1971. The Saba Government Information Bulletin edited by another political stalwart William Carl Anslyn wrote extensively on the progress of the construction from which bulletin we will now quote.
March 5th, 1971. The preparation work for the construction of Saba’s pier is progressing at a satisfactory and rapid rate, so much so that it is amazing to see what has been done in the short time since the heavy equipment was landed. In the “gut” in front of the Esso installations a wide area has been leveled, and a large storage area erected. A wide road has been cut along the shore to The Hog’s Thigh, which has almost completely disappeared. The road passes around this point and goes on into the bay beyond, traversing the entire length of the bay. At the end of the bay, it climbs towards the center of the cliffs above where The Hog’s Thigh on that side. These two roads converging on the cliffs from two directions will allow the caterpillar D-8 to tumble the cliffs from above, which is the logical and safe way to do this work,

Leslie Johnson - Jul 1964

Leslie Johnson – Jul 1964 the Hog’s Stye in the distance from where the present pier was started and incorporated in the foundation.

The mass of fallen cliff which lay along the shore from the Fort Bay to the Tent Bay has been pushed aside by the D8, and a road has been made to the Tent Bay. This road, which has been paid for by the island Government as part of its plan to make the Tent Bay a recreation area and possible hotel site, is still in a rough state, and will remain this way until work on the bay has progressed to the point where it can be attended to. A large storage building has also been erected on the cleared off area next to the water collection tank.


The old situation with the government schooner the “Blue Peter” bringing mails and passengers from St. Maarten.

The Island Government, in having the road cut to the Tent Bay is planning for the future. With the completion of the pier the number of tourists visiting Saba is expected to increase sharply. Saba has but two beaches which can be reached by vehicle. Of these Fort Bay offers the least shade from the sun. When the Tent Bay is cleaned up the area under the large trees, there will be an ideal picnic or recreation area. This will be a most welcome improvement, not only to tourists, but to the people of the island as well.

April 5th, 1971.

The preparatory work for the construction of Saba’s pier continues at a rapid rate, to the credit of the Samco-Dumez personnel and employees, with a special word of praise for the drivers and operators of the heavy machinery being used. Machines being operated under difficult conditions, and in dangerous places.

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The porters in the nineteen thirties bringing up cargo and suitcases from The Fort Bay on the day when the S.S. “Baralt” was in port.

When a pier is to be built in other countries it is usually built out from level land where it is easily accessible. It is the exact opposite on Saba, where the first machine landed started working immediately to make landing room for the others which followed. Cliffs have had to be dynamited, and a road made to the point where the pier will begin. The Hog’s Thigh (or Hogs Stye) has completely disappeared, and the company owned vehicles now drive to the extreme end of the bay beyond, on a wide road. The machines are now attacking the center of the cliff above where the Hog’s Thigh (Stye) formerly stood. Persons remembering this area of towering cliffs will find it hard to believe that a mighty caterpillar D-2 is now working where goats seldom ventured in the past.


The caissons were built in Marigot St. Martin and towed to Saba to be put in place. One sunk close to Saba in deep water. Divers at the time claimed they had seen a pirate ship completely intact and after that many groups came to explore for it, but no one has seen it since. That’s if it was there in the first place.

A breakwater, presently approximately sixty to eighty feet long, and about twelve to fourteen feet wide, is being built straight out from where the Hog’s Thigh (Stye) stood. This breakwater is to allow the crane, which has an extremely long boom, to scoop sand from the sea bottom, to be used in the construction work.

Thousands of bags of cement brought in by small steamers, have already been stored in a warehouse, and concrete mixers etc. Are already in place. Should the work proceed in future at the rapid rate it has in the past, the time needed for the completion of the pier will be much less than originally estimated. (To the present it has not been possible to determine if the name of the place mentioned above was Hog’s Thigh or Hog’s Stye). Opinions differ on this).

May 5th, 1971.


This photo is from before the fishermen’s wharf was built.

Work on the pier project continues without let-up. A stone crusher has been brought in, and will be located at the Tent Bay since the area cleared on the Fort Bay does not have sufficient room to accommodate the crusher on the Fort Bay does not have sufficient room to accommodate the crusher which would have to be located up-wind of the project and would cause too much inconvenience with dust. The Tent Bay is being made ready, and a large area has been cleared and levelled to accommodate the machine. The area behind the Hog’s Thigh (Stye) will be used for the stockpiling of the three different sizes of stones needed for the construction of the pier itself.

The road to the Tent Bay has been made much wider and graded better to accommodate the heavy trucks which will be moving back and forth when the crusher is in operation,

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Some of the equipment being used by Saco-Dumez during the construction phase in 1971-1972.

The pier itself will start from a point slightly West of the Hog’s Thigh (Sty) and will extend seaward for approximately forty meters. At this point it will extend in a westerly direction at an angle of sixty degrees, for a distance of 80 meters. The total length will be approximately 120 meters. The base of the pier will be built of bags filled with concrete. These bags will not be the usual burlap bags but will be special bags for this purpose. For the first 40 meters this base will extend from the bottom to sea-level. From the bend to the end of the pier the base will be a considerable depth below the surface as on top of it will be placed caissons nine meters long, 10 meters wide, and varying from 6.20 to 7.60 meters in height. These will be made in St. Martin (Marigot) by Dumez and will be towed to Saba and sunk in place. From the beginning of the pier to its end will be a reinforced concrete slab 2 meters high and 6.5 meters wide. The sea-ward side of the pier will be sloping, with a stone protection barrier, while the shore-side will be vertical, with mooring and landing facilities.


A recent photo of the harbour. Another big harbour project will soon be started. After hurricane Lenny when the pier was severely damaged a company from Trinidad won the contract to do the repairs. Everyone in the know agrees that the company did a tremendous job.

From the shore to the end of the pier (across the basin formed) will be 100 meters. The lower layer of stones used for filling-in will be stones of approximately 500 kilograms weight, and the middle layer will be approximately 500 to 4000 kilograms, and the top layer will be approximately 4000 to 7000 kilograms (2 to 3.5 tons). The basin formed by the pier will be cleaned up, and all large stones etc. Will be removed. It is hoped the sand will accumulate on this enclosed part of the shore, and that for the first time in its history Saba will have a sand beach which will not disappear with the first heavy seas. A parking lot will be made close to the pier, and a road built to the existing road. The entire project will cost approximately fls. 2.600.000.

June 5th, 1971.

To many it would appear that work on the pier project has slowed down in recent weeks, but having grown accustomed to observing the weekly progress made by the bulldozer etc. In levelling land and in clearing away dynamited cliffs, we may fail to realize that most of the spectacular feats in connection with this work have already been performed, and from here on the work done on the construction of the pier itself may be less visible than we have been accustomed to, since this work will be below sea-level,

Arrival of Man-o-War with Princess.jpeg

On the left you can see yet another attempt by the local government in the nineteen fifties to build a sort of landing place at Fort Bay.

To the present a section of the base of the pier has been laid, and barring break-down in equipment, work should continue as planned.

The stone-crusher, a giant of its kind, has been made ready for operation and by the time this bulletin is distributed, should be delivering crushed stone.

The Tent Bay is now hardly recognizable, since a large area has been cleared and filled in, resembling a site for a very large building, or a future ball field.

Dynamiting of the cliffs above the Hog’s Stye (or Thigh!) former site continues. And already the shore below is lined with tremendous boulders which, following the depressions on both sides of the cliff, have crashed down from above. These will be used for filling the caissons when they are sunk in place.

July 5th, 1971.

Fort Bay, Saba 1915..jpeg

The Fort Bay in 1915 with a sloop pulled up in the rocks for repairs.

On July 1st, another section of Saba’s pier was completed, making the total length now finished 22.60 meters. The part already laid down now reaches to the point where it will turn in a westerly direction at an angle of 60 degrees. The finished part consists of a concrete slab 2 meters thick and 6.5 meters wide, which rests on a base of concrete-filled bags. From here on, because of the depth of the water, caissons will be sunk to rest on the base. These will reach to the surface of the water and will be filled with stones. The concrete slab will continue on top of these to the end of the pier.”

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The new pier created a wealth of possibilities for our people. Those who have work in their souls make use of these possibilities to make a decent living.

There is much more but for this article I will suffice with writing that on October 2nd, Administrator Eugenius Johnson issued a program of the ceremonies for the opening of the Captain L.A.I. CHANCE PIER” which was opened on his 40th birthday on November 8th, 1972. This was a momentous day in the history of Saba. The pier has been damaged and restored several times with hurricanes and repaired each time. Soon another project will be started up at the Fort Bay to improve the harbour facilities which will be reported as time goes on. Scan0261

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