Skipper and First Mate Millard (Big Bear and Pepe)
Sat 26 Feb 2011 22:53
The Unique Saba and Her Extraordinary People
As soon as we stepped ashore we knew Saba was something very different - nothing could prepare us for just how unique this island really is. Until the 1940's Saba was almost inaccessible. Everything had to come and go via Ladder Bay. This amazing landing on the leeward shore provided scant shelter from ocean swells. Some eight hundred steps are cut in the rock. The steepness of the steps and their elevation can only be appreciated from the sea by looking at the old customs house, which is only half way up (seen as a small white dot on the tree line an inch or so toward centre from the yacht). We took this picture as we were leaving to go to St Croix, a yacht (bottom left) had just come in for the night and makes for a good measure of perspective - looks so tiny.
Boats could only land when the sea was calm and even then men had to stand waist deep in water to handle the cargo. Everything from the outside had to be carried up, including, at different times a piano and a bishop. The Sabans were able to prevent invasions by keeping piles of boulders behind wooden supports that were cut down when attackers were half way up the hill.
Schooner 'The Mayflower' anchored at Fort Bay in 1928
The original steps
The 'modern steps' from the shore half way up to the old customs house
Some of the original roads still in good repair
A road was built to Fort Bay in 1943, but with no port to shelter the bay, the island was still impossible to reach much of the time. Up until the 1950's the only way to get between the villages was to walk along a steep mountain track. Engineers came out from Holland and said the steep terrain made road building impossible. So Joseph Hassel, born in 1906, took a correspondence course in road building and the Saban people hand-built their road. It took them several years and was finished in 1958.
We thought Grenada knew the meaning of the word steep - here they invented the word steep
The road from Bottom to Windwardside is known as "the road that couldn't be built", some pepole call it "the road that shouldn't have been built", so steep few will attempt it and occasionally closed due to landslides. We made use of the free buoy - letter D. Still a little rolly but at least we managed to stay put on our bed, unlike the washing machine on rinse cycle we had at Fort Bay the night before.
Dutch engineers were similarly unsupportive of an airport. The Sabans called in Remy de Haenen, a pilot from St Barts ( the airport we featured in a blog, over a mountain, line up quick and if you cannot stop, get wet). He looked over their one flat topped rock and said landing may be a possibility. The Sabans flattened out the area as much as possible by hand, removing big rocks and filling in holes. Remy landed, proving his theory. To land here is described as "exactly like landing on an aircraft carrier".
So we saw first hand the steps, the road and the airport.
ALL IN ALL PROVES THE POWER OF TEAMWORK - ASTONISHING