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
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
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
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.