Wild and Friendly Saba

Saba (say-bah) has been on my bucket list to visit since I first became aware of this special place, and after committing to sailing our modest vessel Fayaway to the Caribbean a couple years ago. Saba, part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, is nestled west of St Eustatious and South of St Maarten. (An area known also as the Caribbean Leward Islands, or the Lesser Antilles, and more specifically the Netherlands Antilles.)

I love to sail forbidden seas, and land on barbarous coasts!

Herman Melville, Moby Dick

Similar to Montserrat, you will find no tourist agencies offering it as a preferable destination with white-sand beaches, nor a destination in any respect. Saba’s lack of beaches, somewhat limited media coverage, its fewer, lesser-traveled roads, and richly-cultured (mainly Irish and Dutch) heritage, yet rugged residents are what makes Saba most attractive to us!

With reefed sails on a broad reach we approach the wild island of Saba for the first time.

Saba’s only real port, Fort Bay, at the southern end of the island, is not especially inviting to approach – not visually, nor practical for the comfort-minded cruiser. Firstly, it’s not really a “bay” at all, nor is there a fort.

Fort Bay from our Park mooring on a calm day

After waiting and watching for a weather window in Sint Maarten, we bolted south amidst a speedy port broad reach, averaging almost seven knots, arriving to Fort Bay at 1400 hours. Conditions were reasonably clear on the south side upon arrival but with a significant six foot swell and wind-driven chop (as weather guru Chris PARKER would say). Wind remained easterly at about 20 knots, gusting higher – pretty much the challenge we expected. Upon first arrival, our guide book says to “grab one of the yellow Marine Park buoys just outside the breaker wall, and dinghy around to clear-in”. Ok, that would seem easy-enough to do; maybe a bit tricky to wrestle the outboard motor onto Korykory, but seems doable.

But became more of a challenge than that. Accordingly, where were all the Park moorings?? A quick call on the VHF confirmed they had been removed to be serviced, and the Port Authority man says he’s “very sorry about that.” Oh oh… He further explained that to clear into the country we’d need to go back around to the west side Ladder Bay (again, not a bay by any reasonable description), grab one of those yellow/blue Park mooring balls, and then take our dinghy back to Fort Bay with our clearance papers. Turns out the swell was a touch lighter at Ladder Bay, so was more conducive for motor/dinghy launching, and off we motored Korykory south, about a half hour back to Fort Bay.

From our mooring the first day at Ladder Bay, west side of Saba

So we enjoyed our two days of very salty dinghy trips back to Fort Bay, and in peaceful comfort at a recently-serviced mooring. Lack of any ambient lighting allows a clear view of St Martin (26 miles to the North), a faint glow of St Croix (further to the northwest) and a stunning panoramic view of celestial bodies in the glorious, truly-milky way. At least this was true when not being pounded by gusty squalls emanating from high above Saba’s mountain to our East. Maybe this is what Patagonia feels like?

Facing north from the base of The Ladder at Ladder Bay. Can you imagine landing here on a longboat?

A tidbit about Saba’s history now. The island, now a territory of the Netherlands, has a rich seafaring heritage. Since men were always out fishing, it was known as the “Island of Women”. The famous Saban pirate Hiram Brakes, is quoted saying, “Dead men tell no tales.” Before the breakwaters were built at Fort Bay, all goods were landed and carried up the steep steps at Ladder Bay. Industrious and resourceful people here have built steep roads and a cliffside airport, where they had been told it was impossible to do so. Daily flights to and from Sint Maarten are now the norm. (And quite a thrill we’ve been told). Established in 1987, The Saba National Marine Park now completely surrounds Saba’s shores to protect the abundance of undisturbed coral. Anchoring is prohibited in almost all locations. Diving businesses flourish as the majority source of tourism dollars.

Cliffside ladder at Ladder Bay once used to visit old Customs building and to bring all goods into the country.

Back to our initial arrival… After the formalities were completed, we planned a few activities. We impatiently wanted to tour the island, seek out prime snorkeling spots and hike to “the highest point in the Netherlands”. In between, we’ll consume what (not so) cold food is left aboard (yup, fridge died again. Ugh), and then visit some of the acclaimed fine dining ashore. Etc.

Rock and roll with the swells, while attempting to fix our fridge. Barnacles in the pump aren’t the only issue!

The first day after clearing in, we hiked up to The Bottom, roamed around this pretty little town, visited a “museum”, and sat down for a delicious lunch at Island Flavors. We met a dock worker called Lumpy, a woman named Marie of Saba, who makes jewelry out of native seeds, and many others throughout the day’s wandering.

On our second day, we visited another town, Windward Side, via taxi,  purchased post cards, had another delicious lunch, and got a ride back to Fort Bay by Lollipop. We were lucky to be dropped off just before major squalls pummeled the little island. Water gushed down the only road, as Islanders patiently awaited an opportunity to drive up. We waited and watched under Alphonso’s relatively dry but leaking roof at his open restaurant El Propio, enjoying a cold Presidenté. Of course, we were already soaked before the salty ride back out to Fayaway.

Lollipop has a restaurant, taxi and a B&B
No, this is not supposed to be a waterfall; it’s the only road from Fort Bay just after a squall. Behind the pickup, road is shared as an aquaduct.

Day 3: Taxied back to Windward Side, mailed postcards to family, and began a lengthy hike to visit Mount Pleasant, the highest point in the Dutch Empire. We ate on the trail – cheese, crackers, fruit and trail mix. Dinner was chicken and fries by our friend, Alphonso, back at El Propio.

View as reward from climbing a muddy rope to the tippy top of Pleasant Mountain. Airport in distance. That’s also my thumb clinging for life at the top!

Chris Parker had for several days been forecasting strong northerly swells beginning later in the week: 9 feet. Yuck. We were exposed at our western Ladder Bay mooring, so we inquired at the Marine Park Office for a location back to the South side. After confirming our weather information with Jelle, he offered to add a new mooring at Fort Bay… just for Fayaway! A proverbial red carpet by our welcoming hosts. We would be better protected at Fort Bay once the weather turned.

Sidebar. More comfortable at Fort Bay? Not the first night! Mooring ball banging on the hull, smoke from nearby waste facility, rolling from remaining wraparound swell, pesky flies, cabin creeking – due to rolling in swell. Oh my! Weather does things to these islands that we still can’t seem to predict: A passing cold front overnight caused the East trade winds to die, inviting nuisance flies and trash smoke wafting around us (instead of away). Lack of wind also caused Fayaway to ride up onto our mooring ball, in combination with swell, creating a monotonous LOUD knock on the hull at 0200 hours. Tonight will be better!

And here we are, on our fourth day, taking a leisurely morning aboard before seeking out new snorkeling locations. Kelly is catching up on some laundry and I’m writing this post. Tonight we’ll watch another episode of Game of Thrones on the laptop while sipping our evening tea. (We’ll just stare at that warm beer 🙂 We plan to head back to Sint Maarten in another couple days, where we can fix our dead fridge. In the meantime we have a bit more exploring to do here on this tranquil yet wild island filled with friendly people. We hope that you too are having a good day, and thanks for reading about our adventures on Saba.

Laundry Day!

Bonus Material: Enjoy!

Soon after a squall, road becomes an aquaduct down from The Bottom. (Yes, that’s the name of the town- you climb up to it).

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