Tuesday, January 29, 2013


Last Thursday we finally pulled up the anchor and got out of the lagoon. We took the early bridge out the French side, anchored to wait out a big passing squall and set sail for Saba. Clearing in and out of the French side in St. Martin is a do-it-yourself affair which Skip tends to while I hang out with the dog on the dock outside.

The captain acts official
He looks guilty of something
Why do dogs ALWAYS lay on your feet?
We had a great sail to Saba though once again we had zero luck catching fish. We've been looking at the island in the distance for weeks from St. Martin and didn't quite realize how dramatic it would be close up. Mount Scenery, at the peak, is just under 3000 feet high and is often in the clouds.

Approaching Saba

No houses on this tough bit of real estate
We hopped in the dinghy shortly after we arrived, thinking we'd make it to customs in time to clear in. Not so, but here's a shot of Saralane that I took from the dinghy on our way. It's hard to tell the scale of the land until you see buildings on the hillside. Just to the right of the top of the mast there are three houses along the ridgeline. Three more are nestled into the hill farther to the right and the building just above the bare hillside is the old customs house.

It doesn't look too dramatic until you see a closer shot of the old customs house building... with 800 steps leading up to it! Called "The Ladder", this used to be the only way to access the island. It wasn't until the mid 1950's that a road was built. The airport, with it's mini runway - only 1300 feet long - was built in the 1960's.

If you need more dramatic visual aids...  here's a view from the dinghy as we rounded the island heading towards Fort Bay, where the current customs building is. See the boats? Saralane is the second mast from the land. The mast all the way on the left is the 153 foot long super yacht Roxane. She doesn't look so big here.... and certainly neither does Saralane. 

Super yacht Roxane - with two crew members on deck
The customs guy wasn't in so we didn't clear in until the next morning but we got our Saba courtesy flag on the halyard and ready to fly.

Saba has no real sheltered place to anchor and it drops off as steeply underwater as it rises above water. There are mooring balls in about 60 feet of water on the leeward side of the island but it's still pretty open to the ocean and very susceptible to the north swells that come in the winter. We knew a swell was on the way so we planned to stay for only two nights this first visit and leave before the swell arrived.

The customs house on the right....and the unfinished "Welcome!" mural wall
There's still a little painting to be done under the hammerhead shark on the right
Captain Skip signs us in
A long view of the pier
The less scenic end of the pier houses the power plant
We didn't have any set idea of what we wanted to do here and when we talked to people we met when we arrived we found out that there are great hiking trails crisscrossing the island. Saba is only five square miles but the trails use every bit of those 3000 feet of elevation. We joined a cab full of visitors from an arriving ferry and taxied up past the lower town, named Bottom, (though it's anything but at the bottom), to the upper town, called Windwardside, and walked around for a bit stopping in a few little shops along the way.

Marie, owner of The Little Green Shop in Windwardside
Giving us a quick tutorial on local seeds she uses in her crafts
The taxi took us the rest of the way to the trailhead for the Sandy Cruz trail and we were on our way. The trail started out steep, and then got steeper taking us up into the rainforest where everything grows extra BIG. It was, in a word, fantastic..... I'll let the photos do the talking here.

The little flat spot of dirt.... is the airport

Even the rats are big!
The views were incredible and the size of everything growing here was amazing. The trail took us only few hours and we came back out to the road near the Queens' Garden, an elegant hotel situated about 1200 feet up with killer views of the sea. We took advantage of the very comfy seating and had a bite to eat and a couple gallons of water to drink.

Spring rolls, ala the Queens' Garden
More cushions please!

View from my comfy seat
Before we got too spoiled at the Queen's Garden.... we got back on our feet and hiked over to The Ladder to view Saralane from the old customs house. There are at least as many stairs involved in getting down to the building from the ridge line as there are getting from the building down to the water. (Check back at the top of this blog post for a quickie visual reminder of those 800 steps!)

There's Saralane on the left.... the dark ketch in the center is the super yacht Roxane.

There's a lot of water out there

We passed this yogi on a roof top near the Ladder
The roof of the old customs house.... check that picture in the beginning again for perspective!
By this time we'd been hiking for hours and decided we probably should have forgone the second hike of the day. We'd been lazing around in the lagoon in St. Martin for weeks and not getting our usual dose of exercise.... which is a round about way of saying our legs felt like jello. Luckily I had the camera, so the only photos taken at this point are of Skip looking sweaty and tired!

Little goats hopped on and off the walls and kept us entertained on the last leg of the walk down to Fort Bay
When we finally made it back to Fort Bay and the dinghy dock we stopped into the only open cafe for a celebratory drink. The bartender asked us how we liked Saba and when we gave it the thumbs up, he lit up and told us he'd moved there two years ago from Columbia and loved everything about the island. We like everything about it too.... everything that is... except for the anchorage. We knew to expect to roll like mad along the open shoreline and roll we did. It felt more like we were out sailing than attached to a mooring ball and getting ready to tuck in for the night.

Our flag didn't hold up very well but that had more to do with the wind than the waves. Did I mention it was windy too?! Cripes. Unless you're staying on land here you really, really have to want to see this place to withstand the uncomfortable nights on the boat. I'm not one to say "Hey, let's spend a few really nasty rolly nights out in an open anchorage!" but I'd do it again to spend more time here.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Venus Flytrap of the Caribbean

We're still here in St. Martin - but really truly we do have plans to leave at some point. We'd planned to leave a few times, but the winds.... the swells.... the easy living..... have kept us firmly anchored. Hearing that we haven't budged from our spot in the lagoon, our friend George on s/v Sophie said via email "Of course you're still in St. Martin, it's the Venus fly trap of the Caribbean." Well said George, well said. 

We wander ashore fairly often and have found a few new spots we love for sitting and connecting with the outside world. Layla's, facing Marigot is our first pick for wifi connections. There are cats and dogs wandering around, cushy chairs facing the beach, a playground for all the wild kids whose parents come to relax here and the wifi connection is great. What's not to love?

Our view at Layla's - our favorite spot for wifi.
This little group was washing back and forth at the water's edge where we pulled the dingy up to go ashore.

We wander around town when we go in to run errands, get gas for the dinghy, go to the market or visit with friends. There are always things that catch my eye....

Wall art (even the doors and windows are painted on) in Marigot

Escale des Iles is a gallery right in Marigot with a good showing of local artists
No, I did not buy one of these, but it did catch my eye. 
There were a few weeks of really high winds that have backed off a bit, but squalls have been coming through lately and we've been happy to see them. They fill our water tanks and clean off the boat. Here's our neighbor's boat, Absaroque, during and just after a squall the other day.

And a nice double rainbow as the squall move on....

Having some time on our hands, we've been playing too... I got a bunch of Dremel drill bits at the marine flea market here and tried my hand at drilling seaglass, stones and whatever else I could get my hands on.

We played in the galley - I made spring rolls...

 Skip baked bread...

Transferring the risen loaf to the baking pan

It was also (waaaaaaaaaay past) time for a haircut! This is one time a photo is worth a thousand words. Make that two photos.... 

While I had the scissors out, I worked on our Saba flag. Like I said - we really do intend to leave here at some point and we'd like to see Saba which is about 25 miles from here. 

Though a bunch of our friends have moved on (we miss you s/v Chill!) we've made a lot of friends here, including Ed and Elizabeth and their puppy Luna on Skylark. She's a sweetheart of a dog and though the rules and regs regarding where you can take a dog in the islands make it tricky to travel with her, we can see why they wouldn't have it any other way. They headed off to meet up with family visiting in the Virgins but we really hope to see them again farther south if they turn around and come back this way.

Luna hangs out in the companionway on Skylark
Though we haven't traveled by boat much in the past few weeks, we'll be traveling by plane soon - back to the states to tend to some things that need tending to in person. It'll be a quick trip but we're hoping some family might come to see us while we're in Rhode Island. Hint hint.....

And of course we can't overlook the biggest even of the year that happened early this week.... no, not the inauguration (that I watched on my Ipod while Skip skypes....) 

My mini view of the inauguration!
It was my niece Carly's 16th birthday!!! Happy birthday Carly! I can't believe you're sixteen years old. Cripes. I'm glad your party was a big hit and I'm even more glad that your mom didn't make all your friends listen to the story of the day you were born!