Capt. Leo Chance Pier: Saba’s lifeline for 50 years

The 50th anniversary of the Captain Leo A.I. Chance Pier was celebrated on Sunday, November 13 with a community event. Speakers at the official part of the program, former Commissioner and local historian Will Johnson and current Commissioner of Infrastructure Bruce Zagers, addressed the major role that the pier has as Saba’s lifeline.

Will Johnson, who also spoke at the inauguration of the pier on November 8, 1972, looked back at the history of the pier, the developments prior to its construction and how the pier became one of the three important past projects for Saba.

Will Johnson was one of the speakers during the official part of the 50th anniversary Capt. Leo A.I. Chance Pier community event on Sunday, November 13.

Long-time wish

The construction of a real harbor with a pier was a long-time wish of the Saba people, who in the past had to land cargo on row boats. Earlier attempts, including the construction of a sort of wall to offer some protection by Lionel Bernard Scott in 1935 and the construction of a landing place by hand in the 1950’ies, all washed away with the high seas.

In September 1970, the contract to build the current pier was signed, and then Minister Leo Chance moved the project forward at “top speed,” said Johnson. “He deserves the full credit for this.” Considering his crucial role in the project, the Executive Council decided to name the pier after Chance. Chance inaugurated the pier and personally moored the MV Antilia, the cargo vessel of the Netherlands Antilles government, at the new pier. November 8, 1972 was also the day of Chance’s 40th birthday.

Quality of life

The Capt. Leo A.I. Chance Pier was one of the three important projects that were accomplished within 15 years. The other two were the opening of the Juancho Yrausquin Airport in 1963 and the establishment of 24-hour electricity in 1970. Three projects had a positive influence on Saba’s development. “These projects contributed to the quality of life that we take for granted today,” said Johnson, who praised Commissioner Zagers for his efforts to build a new harbor at Black Rocks. “That too will be done,” he said.

Commissioner Zagers recognized everyone who played a role in the Fort Bay Harbor. “Whether it be during construction and the development of this harbor, or as a former or current harbor employee, or as a fisherman, or as dive shop operator, or just as a general harbor user, thank you for making this happen. Thank you for not shying away and for staying committed to making this Fort Bay Harbor such a crucial part of our daily lives” he said.

Special place

“The Fort Bay holds a special place in my heart. Not only as a boat owner who loves fishing, but also because I worked as a harbor master before I became Commissioner responsible for Harbor Affairs in 2007. I know that our harbor doesn’t come without challenges. From even before there was a plan to build this harbor when cargo was being landed on row boats, the resilience of our people was tested but as always, our Saba people rose to the occasion, they didn’t make excuses and they made it happen,” said Zagers.

Captain Leo Chance was instrumental in securing the necessary funding to make the pier, and ultimately the harbor, possible. Not only did this investment change the landscape at Fort Bay, but it also positively facilitated economic growth for Saba. The Fort Bay is where the majority of food, building supplies, household items, ferries, and pleasure crafts come in, and where the local fishery and dive industry take place, said Zagers.

Elevate facilities

“Since becoming a commissioner in 2007, I have been actively lobbying for funding to expand our harbor facilities and operations. Over the years, as vessels continue to get bigger and as stakeholders want improved facilities, it became clear that we needed to elevate our harbor facilities and expand what we offer to the everyday users.”

The large damage caused by hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, allowed Saba to establish its main argument that Saba needed a hurricane-resilient, future-proof harbor. Since then, Saba was able to secure over 40 million dollars for the harbor project.

Black Rocks

Based on studies and tests, the Black Rocks area was found to be more suitable for an expanded, future-proof and hurricane-resilient harbor. Recently, a contract was signed with the engineering firm Witte Veen+Bos from the Netherlands to start writing the tender documents. The process to secure the necessary building permits is taking place. The properties have been secured and a dirt road to the location has been built.

Plans were developed to ensure that the Fort Bay Harbor will continue to play a fundamental role as it will become the main cargo port. In January 2023, the surface of Capt. Leo Chance Pier will be resurfaced and new bollards will be installed. There are also plans to widen the Ro-Ro ramp to accommodate larger cargo ships, the harbor basin will be dredged, a cargo warehouse will be built and the container storage yard will be expanded, said Zagers.

Award of Recognition

After his speech, Zagers presented an award of recognition to former harbor master Alva Hassell “for his exceptional dedication and years of service to Fort Bay Harbor and to the Capt. Leo A.I. Chance Pier.” Alva Hassell’s daughter, Christina Hassell, accepted the award on his behalf.

Commissioner Bruce Zagers (right) presented an award of recognition to Christina Hassell for her father, former harbor master Alva Hassell.

MC for the official program on Sunday was Jordan Every. Father Simon did the prayer. A short video message from Leo Chance was shown in which he thanked the Saba people and wished them all the best. A new sign was unveiled, welcoming people to Saba and to the Capt. Leo A.I. Chance Pier. After the official part, the public enjoyed food, drinks and entertainment to celebrate the 50th anniversary. Leo Chance was honored with a visionary award on Tuesday, November 8 on his 90th birthday. Will Johnson receive the award on Chance’s behalf.

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