13 February 2020

Spectacular Saba

Saba is stunning and unique. When asked about our favorite places, Saba is always included in the response. Bob wrote a really nice blog back in 2017 after our initial introduction to this Dutch island. Below are some highlights from our most recent visit.
Disclaimer: We cheated this time and traveled by air.

Captain Linda Perry Riera


Getting There

Everyone seems to know of St. Martin - half French, half Dutch vacation destination and considered the shopping mall of the Caribbean, especially for boat parts and services. Surprisingly, though only a mere 30 miles south/southwest from St. Martin, with its profile easily seen from the southern Dutch side of St. Martin, most people have never even heard of Saba and it is rare that we meet someone that has visited it. This volcanic island is only 5 square miles but rises swiftly to heights of 3,000 feet with its main peak often encircled by clouds nourishing the rain forests of Mount Scenery. Saba's modest population of less than 2,000 is organized mostly across pristine, quaint towns: Windward and The Bottom along with a few in Zion's Hill and St. Johns.

Saba has a sordid reputation with cruisers... its perimeter is rocky cliffs with no protected harbors. Even Columbus passed on Saba. The steep cliffs above the water continue below the crystal clear ocean with depths dropping quickly providing for precarious at best anchoring. In fact, it is rare to hear of a vessel anchoring off Saba at all; instead there are moorings set off the west coast at Wells and Ladder Bays and the south coast at Fort Bay (a modest breakwater providing a weak semblance of a harbor). It is impossible to snorkel on the moorings to inspect for integrity (as one normally would in the Caribbean) due to the depths (60+ feet).

Back in 2017 after some researching we picked a good weather window, sailed to Saba, and enjoyed some exploring on land during the day. Bob was nursing a recently broken collar bone limiting our hiking options and when on land we were always worried about Argon as we had read about vessels sometimes breaking away from their moorings off the exposed coast susceptible to even slight worsening of weather.

Fast forward three years and we happily find ourselves with another opportunity to visit Saba. This time we were eager to spend more time exploring the unique island on foot. To avoid fretting over conditions or safety of Argon, we decided to look in to alternatives. There is a daily ferry from Philipsburg, St Martin which seems to be a popular way get there. However, more thrilling, are one of the regular 20 minute Win Air flights from SXM airport on St. Martin to the world's shortest commercial runway on the northeast coast of Saba. We booked a flight for a long weekend.

This is no normal runway... it is a 400 meter strip on a heavily excavated patch on the eastern coast flanked on one side by high steep hills, and cliffs dropping in to the sea at both ends. Only STOL (short take off and landing) planes such as the DHC-6 Twin Otter are allowed to land and pilots need a special certification. The trip to and from the island was as fantastic as our on land exploration.


Picture from our first visit in 2017 when we moored off the west coast. Majestic. But also unprotected from any amount of swell from the north or south.



This trip we decided to fly to Saba instead of sail. This is a view of the jagged north coast of Saba as we approach the truncated runway.








Arial view of the small runway strip and the winding road up the steep mountainside.

Exploring

We indulged ourselves with three nights on land at the Selera Dunia Hotel with spectacular views and a short but challenging (steep!) walk to one of the two main towns. We enjoyed walking around the town of Windward, chatting with locals, visiting the small number of shops and a couple restaurants. As much as I felt like a cheat for not sailing to Saba, it was wonderful to know that Argon was safe and secure at a marina back in St. Martin and we were able to explore and relax like typical vacationers; and enjoy hot showers.

In addition to Windward, there is an equally lovely town in a lower valley near Fort Bay - The Bottom has government functions, a school, library and health center, and a medical school nestled here.

Saba is not a place to go to chill on sandy beaches... there are no beaches around its ragged perimeter except for a tiny one that periodically forms in Well's Bay when the surf is just right, only to be washed away again. The two most popular activities on Saba seem to be SCUBA diving and hiking. Mount Scenery is the most popular hike rising up to the top of the volcano usually encircled by clouds. We explored the base of this trail but opted to instead tackle the Sandy Cruz and Ladder Bay hikes.


View of Windward from our hotel.


Getting a bit of work done from our balcony before exploring.


Marie and her jewelry shop in Windward.


Lots of hiking options!
Dutch influence seen in both overt and subtle ways.
  
Front end of our long Sandy Cruz Trail hike.

Lots of lush foliage along the rain forest part of the trail.


View of The Bottom, in the lower valley, at the end of the Sandy Cruz Trail.
 

The beginning of the many steps (about 800) down towards Ladder Bay. Before Fort Bay and the main road was built, this is how supplies got on to the island. After just trying to walk it, I cannot imagine the effort it took to haul goods up this way.
 
More steps down to Ladder Bay.

View of the final couple hundred steps down to Ladder Bay. We did not quite make it to the base. This is where boats would land on the raw shore to unload and haul goods. Conditions were quite calm on this day but often there is quite a surf here.


Resting on our way back up from Ladder Bay.


Our Saba excursion was a perfect brief detour from cruising life. It was time, however, to get back to Argon and make the most of the remaining few days in a marina. Boat project list awaits!





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