The Saba Islander

by Will Johnson

Archive for the month “December, 2018”



By: Will Johnson


The Honorable Max Nicholson behind the controls with his good friend Clinton Cranston here visiting with him at The Voice of Saba.

When I first ran for office in 1969 for Senator of the Windward Islands, I could not get permission to use the radio station. The only one in these islands. was PJD-2 on St. Maarten.

After the elections I decided to apply for a license , for my own radio station. No money of course. Back then my salary was one hundred and ten dollars a month. After room and board payments I was left with around ten dollars a month. But I lived well and applied for the license.

When Minister Leo Chance became Minister I remember he and I walking on Front Street going to Risdon’s snack bar. He said to me: I have your petition. But I know you don’t have a cent to your name. I also have a petition from Max Nicholson, dated the same day as yours applying for a license. And I know he has the money. I was opposition to Max at the time, but I admitted to Mr. Chance that I was hoping someone from St. Croix would finance the station for me. But I agreed that it would be better to have such a station in local hands.

And so, the “Voice of Saba’ went on the air informally, with one thousand watts of power on Tuesday September 28th, 1971.

I did have my own newspaper though and the Editorial of Sunday October 24th, 1971, vol. 39 the Editorial reads as follows:



Mike Nicholson son of Max and Germaine here carrying on with the Voice of Saba after all these years.I do not have to ask but I know it must be a big financial struggle for the family as the market is limited for advertising on such a small island.

Earlier this month P.J.F.1, “The Voice of Saba” went on the air. Although the Editor of this paper had been involved in the discussions and plans towards this end from the very beginning, it came as a pleasant surprise to hear the good response from the neighbouring islands on the fact that little Saba could now boast its own broadcasting station. More so our Sabans abroad and those who in one way or the other have binding ties with Saba will be more than pleased with and feel proud of Saba’s first broadcasting station.

John Howard Payne (1791-1852) in a lyric from the Opera “The Maid of Milan” in the first and last stanzas said: Mid pleasures and places though we may roam, there’s no place like home; A charm from the sky seems to hallow us there, which seek through the world, is ne’er met with elsewhere;

Home, Home, sweet, sweet home. There’s no place like home! There’s no place like home! To thee I’ll return, overburdened with care. The heart’s dearest solace will smile on me there; No more from that cottage again will I roam; Be it ever so humble there’s no place like home. Home! Home! Sweet, sweet Home! There’s no place like Home.

We do not know if Payne’s lyric inspired Council Member Max Nicholson to return to his place of birth from Aruba in 1962, We do know that he has done well and contributed a rich portion of his life, to the people of Saba which many of us should respect and admire him for, Especially when we consider how very few responsible people with education are willing to throw themselves in public life to the whims and demands of the people.



Saba is very proud of its own radio station.

The crowning success of his years spent on Saba may not have been political, but “The Voice of Saba” can certainly be considered as his greatest contribution to his little island.

During his term as Commissioner of Saba, the “Saba Herald” has often been critical of his Administration (1963-1971), without becoming personal. To show Max in his true light, only the writer of this article can do him Justice. When the time came that the people wanted a two-party system, I called upon Max and told him: “Max the people want an opposition and they expect me to provide that opposition. Since it is so, I will fight to win and I expect you to do the same”. During the entire political campaign, we remained friends, and consider ourselves friends and have frank discussions pertaining to Saba, its people and its future.

When the station first went on the air, we sent him the following telegram: “I join the people of Saba in congratulating you with the Voice of Saba. I sincerely hope that it will serve as an instrument to assist in the further development of Saba and its people.”


1509187_820991641323231_8359496519459907580_nOctober 24th 1971. PJ-F1, Radio Saba on the air. On Tuesday September 28th, the voice of Saba, was heard for the first time, throughout the neighboring islands. This was made possible when Radio Station PJ-F1, owned and operated by Mr. Max Nicholson, former deputy of Saba, went on the air.

The voice of Saba has an output of 1000 watts, and a frequency of 14.43 kilocycles in the medium wave band. This radio station will carry a variety of programs, commercial, educational, request programs of both popular and religious songs, and we are sure that Mr. Nicholson will gladly carry public service announcements when necessary. The Saba Herald wishes Mr. Nicholson success with his new undertaking, and we are sure it will be an asset to Saba. All radio dials are already tuned to 210 meters.


Three of Saba’s Commissioners who also acted as Lt. Governor’s. From right John Godfrey Woods, Maximiliaan W. Nicholson and Will Johnson.

In the December 1971 edition of the ‘Saba Herald” we read the following letter to the Editor.

Dear. Mr. Editor.

Kindly insert the following in your newspaper. Once again Saba made another Historical step forward by this by the inauguration of a broadcasting station situated in the lovely town of The Bottom. The opening took place on Thursday night at seven o’clock, directed by the founder Max Nicholson, and was attended by several hundred people among whom were the Lieutenant Governor of the Netherland Windward Islands, the Minister of Transportation of the Netherlands Antilles and the Prime Minister of St. Kitts. The following poem was therefore presented to the Voice of Saba Pj-F1.

“As the clock struck seven Thursday night

Dignitaries from North and East

Paid respect on this historical night

During prayers by our Reverend priest.


By the mike stood founder Max

To welcome one and all

Without a chance to relax

Here and foreign lands to call.


When the National Anthem began to play

The crowd in silence stood

Thinking of this happy day

For the Voice of Saba was on its way.


It is for us who can promote

The dignity of our land

Which is our greatest hope

Therefore, lets march forward hand in hand.

Harry L. Johnson


Saba Day December 1985 the day on which our new flag was presented to the world. I gave a check from Chester Wathey to the organization of my choice and since Max and his wife had just established to Coralita Foundation for the handicapped I thought they should get a head start.

On November 25th, 1971 Minister Leo Chance made a speech at another ceremony. This time the granting of the license to operate the station.

Honourable Lt. Governor, Members of Parliament, Island Council Members of Saba, Mr. Administrator,

Ladies and Gentlemen.

It is with great pleasure and satisfaction that I comply today with the request Mr. Max Nicholson has made to me to open this radio broadcasting station. You may wonder what are the reasons for so much pleasure and satisfaction. These are two-fold; in the first place the fact that someone from this island has taken the initiative to construct, install and run this radio station on Saba. Too often we must experience that we have to ask for outside help to accomplish our plans. To many times also we have to see that the financial burden of new plans is placed entirely on the government. Mr. Nicholson, however, has proved that private enterprise can also accomplish something.

In the second place as a Saban and in my capacity of Minister of Communitions, I am happy to inaugurate to-day on this small island where I was born, the “Voice of Saba”. From this day many listeners, will through this station, get acquainted with the name of our island. Their attention will thereby be directed on Saba and they may sometime pay a visit to this lovely island of ours.


This one is from when Max Nicholson was Commissioner and he is pictured here with Police Chief Mr. Bakker and telephone operator Mr. Hilton Whitfield.

Ladies and gentlemen, a radio station has a far more responsible task than many of you may believe. A radio station has the duty among other things to help educate its listeners with its balanced programs. Herein, Mr. Nicholson, lies a great responsibility for the “Voice of Saba.”

Mr. Nicholson, as I said before today, you have assumed a great responsibility, the Government of the Netherlands Antilles has given you the tools by granting you by Government Decree of 10th September, 1970, no. 13 the necessary license to operate the radio broadcasting station.

Now it is up to you to do the job, and you will no doubt succeed.

Knowing your zeal, I am sure that you will devote your energy to make the ‘Voice of Saba” one of the best in the Netherlands Antilles,

May I avail myself of this opportunity to congratulate you on behalf of the Government of the Netherlands Antilles and myself on this occasion. You may rest assured that you can count on my cooperation at all times. Finally, I want to wish you, Mr. Nicholson and the “Voice of Saba” the best of success for the future.

With these words I declare the “Voice of Saba” open and “on the air.”

In another item in the same edition of the paper we read the following.

“On November 25th, 1971 the “Voice of Saba’ officially opened. It was opened by His Excellency Minister Chance who granted the necessary permission to Mr. Nicholson to operate the radio station. Speakers were, Minister Chance, Premier Llewlyn Bradshaw from the islands of St. Kitts, Nevis. The Lt. Governor R.O. van Delden, Mr. Austin Johnson, Mr. Floyd Every, Island Council Member Jocelyn Arndell, Deputy Clifton Berkel from St. Eustatius, Mr. Leslie Cannegieter Chief of the Governments Radio Stations in the Windward Islands, Mr. Carl Anslyn and Island Council Member Mr. Matthew Levenstone.

Premier Bradshaw in his speech said that the last time he visited Saba was for the opening of the airport (1963) and that if his work would allow him to take a vacation, Saba would be the place.

Mr. Van Delden said that on his many voyages past Saba the first thing you would hear people say was ‘look Saba’, but now they will have to add ‘hear Saba.’

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Saba Day, December 7th, 1975. Even though Max and I were politically opposition to each other, I did not have to ask.Max was there with his broadcasting equipment to transmit all of the activities live on this historic day.

“We at the ‘Saba Herald’ are convinced that the “Voice of Saba” is and will continue to be an asset to Saba. We know at the beginning it is not expected that everything will be perfect. The people of these islands have been looking forward to a radio-station where they can have nice songs played for their friends and relatives. The “Voice of Saba” has provided this opportunity, so let everybody support it in whatever way they can, as it takes money to operate a radio-station. To Mr. Nicholson, Mr. Simmons and to all who assisted in bringing PJF1 to Saba, along with the ones who tune in to PJF1 “Long May the “Voice of Saba” be on the Air.

In the Saba Herald of that same month we have the following news item. On Thursday December 2nd from 8pm on Mr. Carlyle Granger and his boys (The Occasional’s)  were the guests of a large majority of the population of the neighboring islands via the “Voice of Saba”. Mr. Granger and his talking banjo was just socking it away. The surrounding islands were surprised to hear that such a banjo player was in this area and on the island of Saba.

Mr. Granger and his boys will be back on the “Voice of Saba” on Christmas Day bringing a rendition of Christmas songs.”



The radio station has its own Facebook site and I ‘borrowed’ some photo’s from them without asking. I wanted this article to be a surprise for them. Sometimes when you are serving the public you feel that you have been forgotten.

Last night December 20th 2018 I was driving to the airport to deliver a car. I had the radio-station on full blast and they were playing nice Papiamento songs and it brought back a flood of memories to me. Austin who used to love his Dutch songs liked to tune in to Max when he was at the controls as Max also liked the old Dutch songs and had a whole collection of them. I had been working on this article for some time already but as usual got stuck with other duties. I was reminded to finish this article which I had started some time back. Max’ favorite song was “I did it my way”. He has since departed the earthly scene but lovingly remembered by his family and friends for his many contributions to Saba, the greatest of which is “The Voice of Saba” and in ending I would like to repeat that which I wrote in the December 1971 issue of the “Saba Herald” that my continued wish is that long may “The Voice of Saba” be on the air. And I congratulate and at the same time thank the Nicholson family for carrying on the radio station for so many years.



By; Will Johnson


The Palm Tree in all its glory all alone up in the clouds.

My brother Thomas Eric gave me a palm slip after I built my house. He said that he had gotten it from former Administrator Gerard van der Wal. Eric said that he understood that it was a prickly palm. And so, it remained a mystery to me for some years. No one whom I asked seemed to be able to tell me what kind of tree it was.

One morning as I came out of my front door on my way to work, the street sweepers were standing there looking at and discussing the palm tree. I thought all three of them were strictly island men who had stuck close to home. To me it seemed that the era of island owned large schooners and famous captains of yore were long gone.

I challenged the men to tell me what kind of palm tree it was. Melford Gordon and Julius Hassell were well known Saba huggers. They had not done much travelling. Delmar Barrington Johnson “Ton”, said right away and very authoritatively, “Why, that’s a date palm.” Laughing I said to him, “Where did you ever see a date palm Ton?” Without hesitation he said “Oh man, I’ve seen millions of them up in Shatt-Al-Arab waterway.”

With that I started questioning him as to when and how he had ever managed to travel to Shatt-Al-Arab waterway.

When no politics were going on, I tried to interview as many interesting people as I could. So, I made an appointment with him to pass by his house in the center of Windward Side. I published the interview I had with him in the Saba Herald of Thursday, September 24th, 1987.

I had so many positive comments on the article which I recently wrote for the Daily Herald about Ralph Hassell, that I decided to update the interesting interview which I had with ‘Ton.’

Although our young Sabans still follow the calling of the sea they do this closer to home now. Saba has a sizeable fishing fleet which supplies neighboring islands with fish and lobsters. The men of Ton’s generation have nearly all died out. Ton was one of a vanishing breed of sailors when I interviewed him over thirty years ago. They had to leave their homes in order to make a living and in the process, they discovered other worlds.

He was born on Saba on January 2nd 1919 and would have made one hundred years in a couple of weeks from when I am writing this article.


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The brothers Captain Tommy Hassell behind the wheel and Captain William Benjamin Hassell on the schooner the ‘Maisie’.

His first introduction to the sea was on the schooner the “Maisie Hassell”, as a cabin boy with Captain Tommy Hassell to St. Kitts. He also remembers going with Captain William Benjamin Hassel (“Captain Ben”) on a schooner to Barbados once.

As a young man he was a member of the boy scouts under the leadership of a Dutch Police Officer Van der Marel. “Ton” was one of the six young men from Saba selected to attend the World Jamboree in 1937. Carl Anslijn was also one of the young men who went. Then like now the world was very tense. Hitler had come to power in Germany and was gearing up for war which cost the lives of nearly seventy million people. Russia alone lost at least twenty-seven million of its people.



1937. The boys Scout’s group on their way to Holland for the World Jamboree.

Ton stayed several months in Holland and then stopped off at Aruba on the way back. The journey to Europe was by boat in those days and the ship stopped at several ports to and from Europe, it is from that trip that “Ton” got the bug to travel.

After working for several years on ships around the Caribbean and the United States on oil tankers out of Aruba, “Ton” decided to come to Saba to ride out World War II. Many other Sabans came back home during the years of depression before the war and they survived from agriculture and fishing. “Ton” loved to fish. I can remember him back in the nineteen sixties always going to the Spring Bay and Coeur Gut and fishing from the cliffs here. Once while visiting here from St. Maarten where I lived at the time, I remember passing him in English Quarter with a huge “Green Knight” fish on his head. He had to leave the head behind and the fish weighed ninety pounds still. Those fish seem to have disappeared from around Saba.


Ernest Hassell and Delmar Barrington Johnson.jpeg

Delmar Barrington Johnson with his co-worker Ernest Hassell here sweeping the road.

After the Great Patriotic War as the Russians call it, he returned to Aruba and started sailing on the oil tankers of the ESSO company with names like the “Sea Pearl” and the “Sea Clover”, and the SHELL tanker the “Paladina.”

Sometimes he sailed with other Sabans like Frank Riley of The Bottom, and Eddie Hassell of Hell’s Gate. But mostly he sailed with Norwegians and people of other nationalities who all treated him well.

In his years of roaming the high seas, Ton has visited the pyramids of Egypt, rode an elephant in West Africa and also in India. He has a tattoo on his right arm which was done in Calcutta (India). He has also visited Bombay and the island of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). He has sailed up and down the Tigris river, slept in Jerusalem, Beirut, Damascus, Istanbul, Kuwait and many other exotic ports.

Sailors recall the girls they have met around the world. “Ton” remembers his share as well. From a winsome eyed “Boer” schoolteacher in Durban to a Guyanese woman of Portuguese descent at a bar in the “Hotel-de-Paris” in Port-of-Spain, to the girls of Alexandria.

Once he was kidnapped in Senegal, in the then French West Africa. Taxi number 4711, pretending to take him back to his ship, took him out into the jungle instead. The taxi-driver also had a friend with him. Realizing what was happening “Ton” said he took a bite out of the friend’s ear, and a German shepherd dog which was also in the car went berserk, causing a panic, and in the confusion, Ton escaped into the jungle. He could hear the two men trying to find him. But with his Saba experience of wandering around the Mountain he was able to climb up into a tree in the dark and his would-be captors gave up and returned to the car and took off.

Several hours later when morning broke, he ventured from his hiding place and some friendly natives dressed in tribal costumes secured him a lift back to the city some sixty miles away. Just in time to catch his ship. The police were able to quickly apprehend the Taxi driver and his friend, later on, due to “Ton’s” alertness in remembering the license plate number. Forty years later he remembers the incident and the taxi-number as if it had all occurred just yesterday.

Sabans have had many adventures on the high sea. Many of the hundreds of sailors from Saba over the years will have had similar stories about the ports which they visited and in which they frolicked with the locals.


Senator Ray Hassell reminded me that ‘Ton’ also had another nickname ‘Buckey’.  He had pets of all sorts from cats to iguana’s.

Ton returned home, worked for the government as a street cleaner and did some farming. As mentioned earlier in this article he loved to fish around the rocks, and he can tell you many stories about that too. He never got married and cherished his life as a bachelor. He says that if he were younger, he would like to go sailing again. He said he was surprised to see how many young men were content to sit on the walls and waste their life away. According to “Ton” there is a whole world out there to see and to experience.

He had a problem or two in his later years. He had a pet iguana named Pablo, which would climb on his shoulder and go all around with him. Being an old sailor, he liked his booze of course. One night in September 1973 he must have overturned a kerosene lamp in the beautiful old home of his parents and it burned to the ground. His sister Joanna Martin-Johnson came to his rescue and built a concrete house in its place and allowed him to live there until he passed away. He still liked the ladies and had a slight altercation with a lady from the Republic for which the Judge gave him a sentence beyond what was necessary.


The Palm Tree with new post Irma hurricane arch mid 2018.

He was a good friend of the detective Victor Monsanto. When Victor came to Saba and saw the distress his friend was in Victor sent him home and told him to wait and see what would happen. “Ton” is perhaps still waiting in the great beyond to see if anyone is coming to pick him up to send him to Curacao.

I learned a great lesson from that day when Ton identified my palm tree as a date palm. A street sweeper had roamed the world and had experienced all of the exotic places I had only read about in books. While I fancied, I knew all about Jerusalem from books how could I argue with a man who had actually been there. Istanbul, Calcutta, Durban, Shanghai that I dreamed of, these and many more are places which were all familiar to ‘Ton.’ He was also known as “Buckey” and after a relatively short illness he passed away in 1994.

It will be Christmas soon. Ton spent one Christmas in Port Said, Egypt. He caught a shark from the back of the ship. When the Arab stevedores cut open the shark, seven young ones came out of the bowels. The Arabs all excited jumped about exclaiming “Praise be to Allah,” and saw this as some kind of omen. One of them afterwards said to ‘Ton’. It is Christmas. You are far away from your family, your country. Come with me into Port Said and be my guest. And a most delightful Christmas he spent in a land with people mostly of another religion, and he still remembers the Arab friends he met in Port Said. In retrospect the gentleman could have been a Coptic Christian. Allah is the Arabic name for God. The Christians in Egypt also call the Christian God Allah. Happy Christmas to all and praise be to Allah.


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