Travel to the Enchanting Island of Saba

Trip Start Dec 09, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Netherlands Antilles  , Saba,
Sunday, February 19, 2012

Friends Bob and Beckie arrived as planned on February 19th. Since our SSB failure we had been able to visit the local McDonald's ashore where we could take advantage of their strong wifi connection to communicate with them via email (McMail as we call it).   They hopped on the dollar bus just outside the airport to the St. Maarten Yacht Club where we were waiting for them, not too far from our anchorage in Simpson Bay.  Before returning to the boat we stopped into St. Maarten customs/immigration and cleared out as the weather was good for our planned trip to Saba, 25 miles south, on the following day.

We had been looking forward to their visit, having cruised with them and their daughters in the Bahamas during our first winter cruise in 2009–10.  They are owners of a nearly identical Catana 471, Our White Magic, on which retired Bob is currently performing several significant maintenance tasks, while Becky continues employment.  We had extended an invitation to them to visit sometime which they were able to take advantage of during Becky’s vacation from work.

We very much enjoyed our own visit to Saba last winter, and since Bob and Beckie had never been there we jumped at the chance to share this unique gumdrop of an island with some friends.  Being only a few hours sailing time from St. Maarten, it was a no-brainer easy destination for a few days before we would need to return for the first regatta back in St. Maarten.  We departed Simpson Bay around 0830 on February 20 on E winds at 10-15.  This made for a pleasant sail and good fishing conditions, but we had no fishing action.
Seen from sea, the extinct volcano Saba is an impressive but seemingly inhospitable, big round rock, about five square miles in area.  No natural harbors and no beaches as we know them--just sheer cliffs rising vertically out of the sea.  It is not necessarily an easy place to visit but is well favored by adventurers, eco-tourists and divers.  The silhouette of Saba is seen in the original King Kong, as Skull Island – home of Kong.  You might not expect to find anyone living there - but there is a surprisingly thriving population who take some pride in being hard to reach, as depicted in the first stanza of Saba’s National Anthem:

Saba, you rise from the ocean,
with mountains and hillside so steep,
How can we reach you to greet you,
Isle of the sea, rough and deep,

Come, let us look to the rowers,
with faces so placid and calm,
Guide us now safe through the breakers,
Take us ashore without harm.

The island’s "unappealing" characteristics may be its biggest asset – it has been spared overwhelming tourist development.  No beach, no resort as we think of them—but an intimate “eco-lodge”.  As a result, Saba has retained a very quaint and welcoming charm to the few visitors who are curious enough to stop.

We arrived on the south side of the island around 1130 where the man-made harbor is located – the only safe place to get to shore on the entire island.  Cruising boats can pick up a mooring ball just outside Fort Bay Harbor and dinghy in.  The harbor is too small for even small cruising boats to enter and is reserved for small ferries and day charter boats picking up and dropping off passengers and small fishing boats offloading their catch of the day.  After clearing in through customs and immigration we hiked up the famed and steep “road that couldn’t be built” to the village called “The Bottom”.  Dave was quick to joke that it was psychological torture calling anything the “bottom” after such an uphill climb.  But worth the climb it is.  The Bottom is one of several charming and quaint villages with friendly, multi-cultural residents.  After walking about its few roadways, we walked back down the hill, returned to the boat, and motored around to the exotic west side of the island with its sheer cliffs and tropic birds.  Located here is the mooring field at Ladder Bay for vessels wishing to remain overnight.

The following day, February 21, we returned to the Fort Bay Harbor mooring, dinghied in, and took a taxi to the village of Windwardside – higher up still more hills from The Bottom.  We visited the island’s history museum, bought some tasty locally baked bread, and headed for the trailhead marking the challenging 90-minute hike to the summit of Mt. Scenery at 2877 feet elevation up 1064 steps, known as the Mt. Scenery Stairwell.  We had climbed this trail last year and promised Bob and Beckie the views at the top were well worth the climb. 

Unfortunately, as it turned out, the summit was engulfed in a cloud this day.  The stair steps can be quite tall so it proved a good workout, especially for people with short legs (like Donna).  Take it from us after climbing it for the second time - it's WAY up there.  Even experienced and adventurous hikers Bob and Beckie commented on the hardy aerobic workout as we ventured through secondary rain forest to the Elfin Forest at Mt. Scenery’s peak.  Unfortunately they weren’t able to be even further rewarded with what is (on a clear day) an absolutely fabulous view at the summit. 

Regardless, the day wasn’t over yet and we hiked down the summit until that trail branched with another trail known as the Crispeen Track which we then followed all the way back to The Bottom.  There, our snacks finally stopped sustaining us and Bob herded us into a Chinese restaurant for a late lunch.  Our comic relief came when we quite literally inhaled four full plates of quite good Chinese food as fast as the waiter could bring them out.  After this short break we continued on foot all the way down “the road that couldn’t be built” to sea level.  Thus we walked the entire vertical elevation from summit to sea, not to mention hiking up the 1064 steps to the summit to start the day.  Our muscles spoke to us for days thereafter….

After spending another night at the Ladder Bay mooring, Bob and Dave took the dinghy to the harbor to clear out of Saba on the morning of February 22.  The weather would be taking a turn for the worse later that evening.  We all took a dinghy ride to Torrens Point at the northwest corner of the island for some snorkeling before sailing back to St. Maarten. 

Saba remains high on our list of recommended destinations, despite the extra effort it may take to reach its many attractions.  We would not hesitate to return again to introduce more friends to this enchanting island—and even climb those 1064 steps again. We’ll just be sure to pick a clear day next time!
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