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Saturday, May 25th, 2002
Visit to Saba with Gus
Saint Maarten, Netherlands Antilles

As we packed the boat the next morning, I think it was Curt who posed the question of whether or not we really wanted to go back to St. Maarten. However it happened, we ended up headed for Saba instead of our home dock. We had heard from number of folks not to try to sail to Saba- "it's best to just hop the ferry over or take a little plane" (yeah right- like I'm getting on a plane!). Not that the voyage there is so hairy, it's that the anchorage is known to be uncomfortable and rolly. But, obviously we're here for the adventure, so off we went.

From Saint Maarten you can see a faded silhouette of Saba climbing straight out of the sea, but that's about it. The guidebooks describe it as a magical type of place, but I had no idea what that really meant until we sailed up to this volcanic island. Somehow the air and sea seemed different- I couldn't put my finger on it… heavier, and quiet. The seas seemed bigger and the swells longer. We had a following sea coming in (the swells coming from behind us, pushing the boat along), and Curt had Force Five sailing the huge swells. I'd look back at him behind the helm to see a swell standing as high as his head, pushing us along, as if it were going to break right into the cockpit. But they were gentle and rolling… and quiet.

Saba is actually a volcano, so there are no beaches and it just shoots straight up out of the sea with these steep cliffs and caves where the land meets the ocean. A fog of clouds wrap around the top, so you can't even see the pinnacle… like those illustrations of Jack and the Bean Stalk in your story books as a kid. And the first signs of any civilization are so high, and therefore so small, it also reminded me of Never Neverland. The whole island is a nature preserve, with some of the best diving in the world. There's only one small spot to anchor, but they've got free moorings they encourage you to use in order to help preserve the coral and other underwater wildlife. We picked one up, but we all remarked that we felt a bit exposed so far off the shore. And right off the bat we knew what everyone meant when they said it was rolly. It felt almost as if we were anchored in the middle of the sea.

We debated whether or not to attempt checking into customs that afternoon. We had heard it was more of a gesture than a necessity. But I was really excited to see the town, and it seemed to make sense. So the three of us hopped in the dinghy to make our way around the edge of the island to Fort Bay where we could dock our dinghy, check-in, and walk up to Bottom, the lowest town on the island.

From the start, things were not looking so good. While the sea really rolled our anchored boat, the sea absolutely bludgeoned our dinghy and the three of us in it. The first swell that hit us had us soaked from our ears to our toes. Gus let out an, "Uh geehz." I think that was what set me off, because as cold and miserable as it was being smacked by the swells, with each wave that hit us, I was cackling so hard I had tears running down my cheeks and I couldn't breath. Gus and Curt looked like they were going to throw me overboard. Gus had put his nice shirt on to go into town, and Curt was just trying keep us alive on our wild ride. You could see the waves coming, but there wasn't a thing you could do about it. I was sitting backwards facing Curt at the tiller, and Gus faced forwards, but I always knew when a big swell was coming because Gus'd let out another, "Uh geehz." And then I'd start cackling again just before we'd all get smacked with another swell. It didn't help that my view was of Curt facing forward into the waves- it reminded me of that Gilligans Island episode where they put on a play of a storm and they're throwing buckets of water at Gilligan to simulate the raging seas. And the more Gus wanted to strangle me, the more I couldn't stop laughing. And so went the dinghy ride with three wet rats bobbing around in the huge sea.

Perhaps it all would've been worth it if someone were actually at the customs office. Or if the walk up to Bottom wasn't straight up for a mile and we weren't dripping wet in our clothes with flip-flops instead of walking shoes. Or it weren't so late in the afternoon that we would've had to turn back shortly to get back before dusk anyway. Or it might've been okay if we didn't have to make our way back to the boat in the same swells. In the end, Gus decided to hoof it by land back over the point and have us pick him up when he got there, and Curt and I took the dinghy back to the boat. Headed the same direction as the seas this time we stayed mostly dry and it wasn't nearly as eventful as the way in, which was fine because my stomach hurt so badly from laughing going the other direction. And with that we decided we'd stay an extra day in order to explore the land side of Saba the next morning.

Gus and Curt took the dinghy over to Rum Cay the next morning to do a little snorkeling. They reported back that it was amazing- it looked like an aquarium. They saw a sea turtle, trumpet fish, the whole nine yards. Afterwards we packed up the dinghy (much better prepared this time) and headed for shore and the steps at Ladder Bay that lead up the hill to Bottom. Here, we beached our dinghy on the rocks and began the climb up Saba.

Holy mackerel if that isn't a steep island! Apparently they used to defend their home by piling rocks up behind barricades, and if they were attacked, they'd just let the rocks go tumbling down the hill! The main road on the island is actually called the, "Road the Couldn't Be Built." You have to see it to understand why. We thought we were okay once we got up the stairs only to find you just keep hiking up a hill. And once you get to the little town of Bottom, you don't have much flat before you have start climbing again. No small task in the Caribbean heat I tell you! But it was well worth it. The little villages were just as sweet and fairy tale like as the island appeared from a distance.

We walked from Bottom around, and up to, the island to Windwardside, which is another village just about where those clouds sit that shroud the top of the volcano. There are sweet little shops selling dive gear, novelties, and handmade lace from island natives. They also sell homemade "Saba Spice," a tasty little liqueur that'll knock your socks off. Many of the stores and restaurants are difficult to distinguish from people's homes. And the people were so nice, we couldn't get over it. Everyone actually hitchhikes and it's perfectly safe and expected. And good looking! Whew! Though the island only has 1,300 or so residents, a large part of that is a medical school (go figure), so we're guessing that's what drew all the beautiful people. We had lunch, tooled around some and hitched a roller coaster ride back down to Ladder Bay where we were anchored (the guy that gave us a ride apologized if he gave us a fright by driving so fast!).

The sail home the next day was beautiful and relaxed. We dropped Gus off in Phillipsburg where he (literally) jumped ship and swam for shore. Curt and I had some time before the bridge opened to let us into the lagoon, so he gave me a nice little sailing lesson in the light winds. Slowly but surely, I'm learning.

Seeing Gus off the next day, we were sad to see him go. Much as I love Curt, I think we both enjoyed the distraction. He was an ideal guest, and it was great to see an old face from home. I was both flattered and grateful he actually made it down here to see us.

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