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.


Cindy barnard said...

WOW! That's all that comes to mind about everything in this blog. Just WOW. Everything is so cool! But....not nearly as cool as it will be in Newport tomorrow. Did I say that?
Back to the blog...I can't wait until you get back there and take more photos. Pretty spectacular.

Miles said...

You're supposed to actually finish reading the blog before you comment...
Looks like Costa Rican cloud forest. Seriously. Very nice. Go Ravens!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Kim said...

Maddie! I was there, and isn't it gorgeous?! I loved the photos! You look so at home on the chaise! Ha! Good for you. Everything looks SO STEEP! Be safe and happy. Love you.

clay said...

Regarding fishing,I have been told and have seen people having good luck with pink squid as lures.

Dana Greyson said...

If we had to do this again, we would make sure the boat is WELL attached to its mooring and stay at the Ecolodge on Mt Scenery for a few days instead of hiking up and down from the fort anchorage. We would have LOVED to have spent more time at Saba and it remains our favorite island to date.