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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Adversity vs. Rewards: Saba… It Ain’t Easy, But It’s Awesome

Small but mighty, Saba rises steeply up, its classic
volcanic profile still evident.

We're in St. Croix now, and catching up on internet access.  This is the 1st of 3 posts where we last were, in the small, rarely visited gem known as Saba.  It was ~ an 88 mile passage, our longest yet and first night passage.  More on that in a future post.


There’s lots of reasons not to go to Saba, a place most folks have never heard of, anyway. 
  1.  It’s just a little Caribbean island, about 2 miles East to West and about the same North to South, 5 square miles total.  Its population’s a scant 2,500.
  2.  It’s often a difficult sailing passage, across a channel ½ mile deep, which often gets big swells and strong, gusty winds.
  3. There’s only a few moorings (we saw far less then the 11 our guidebook indicated on the West side) and even less anchorages, which are usually not viable, and there’s no marina.
  4.   Anchoring or mooring, even in good conditions, it’s often uncomfortably rolly.  An hour before we left, a local dive boat hailed us (while I was taking my cockpit shower – gotta love their timing) to let us know the mooring we tied off to for two days wasn’t connected to anything anymore.
  5. If you fly, it’s a harrowing flight, as your Dash 8 drops into a postage-stamp sized field.
  6.  If you ferry, it’s a bit expensive, $75 / person on a ferry from Sint Maarten.  We observed a small, low-slung ferry pounding its way through the swell from Saba.  It was fast, but we’re guessing not the smoothest ferry ride.
  7. There are no beaches, but steep cliffs and rocky shores.
  8.  It’s a long dinghy ride from moorings and anchorages to where you check-in, sometimes, after that sail, undo-able.
  9.  It’s a long walk from check-in to town.  It took us ½ hour to get to “Bottoms” the closest town. The other town, Windward, and hiking trails are further still.
  10. If you do drive, the roads are quite steep and curvy.  Taxis are an option, for about $40, but ever cheap, we decided to hoof it.
  11. The usual Caribbean beers are noticeably absent; Heineken, Amsted Light and the occasional Coors Light           

Other than the shark, this is very much what I saw on my snorkel.
Why bother?
Saba’s unique; a very different place than what cruise ship passengers – or most of us – will ever experience.  There is a robust and justifiably proud culture, friendly locals (watch for a future post on some of the friendly folks we met on Saba), lush, mountainous tropical forest (watch for a future post on our hike to Mount Scenic’s summit) on land and bounty of sea life below the surface teeming with life.  More specifically…

  1. Saba itself is inspiring; the local’s resourcefulness in carving out a good life for themselves against all odds is truly worth seeing firsthand.  See “the ladder” up close that used to provide the only means of getting goods onto the island.  Travel along the road connecting Bottom and Windward that the Dutch engineers said couldn’t be built.  Check out the exhilarating airport that Dutch engineers also deemed impossible; sadly, we didn’t have enough time to check out the airport.
  2. Twenty-six dive sites! We didn’t dive, though our guidebooks noted Saba’s diving among the best in the Caribbean.
  3. Superb snorkeling. In my leisurely snorkel off our mooring between Ladder Bay, approaching Wells Bay, I saw 1 small Hawksbill turtle, 1 puffer fish, 1 lobster, and 11 stingrays, including 1 spotted eagle ray.  There were numerous clusters of vibrant yellow tube sponges, large open barrel sponges, sea fans, sea feathers and a foot long angel fish shaped fish, but with a kaleidoscope of color spatters, as well as the usual swimmers… tangs, parrotfish, sergeants.
  4.  It’s easy to explore on your own.  With only 5 square miles, you can cover a lot of ground in a short time, on two feet or via four wheels, taxi or rental car.  Driving is on the right side of the road.  No special permits or guides are required.  Trails are well maintained and marked.  If asked, locals are happy to point you in the right direction if you’re on the road and a bit unsure of how to get where you want to go.
  5.  Mount Scenery came by its name honestly-- the summit view is fantastic!  Even if you don’t make it to the top, the trail itself is a hand built marvel through a verdant natural tropical garden.
  6. Quaint architecture.  Red roofs, clean white buildings with crisp green trim and several small, picturesque churches.  It smelled as clean as it looked; unlike every other Caribbean island we’ve visited so far, it doesn’t stink, literally.  Every other place we've been so far in the Caribbean islands we've visited ooze  a distinct odor of effluent.  It's not nice, especially for someone with as keen a sense of smell as I am cursed (and blessed) with.
  7. Escape from the herds.  There were only 4 cruising boats, there, including ours, moored or anchored.  There are no cruse ships.  The biggest plane that can land there is a Dash 8.  Even the ferry there is pretty small.  

We waited over a week to catch the right weather window to make it to Saba, and almost didn’t go at all.  Now, I wonder, when will we return?  Next time, I’d love to linger there longer.