Saba (pronounced sabre, like the sword) is the first of 2 small Dutch islands we visited after St Maarten, which I’m sure most people have never heard of (we certainly hadn’t until recently). It is a steep volcanic peak described as a mini Eden by one of the guide books with a population of about 1500. It’s not an easy landfall for yachts because it has no sheltered harbours and the seas around it tend to be choppy and rolly most of the time. However the whole coastline is a marine park and the authorities have installed some mooring buoys which makes visiting a possibility. We picked up one of these after a 5 hour sail and motor from St Martin. We had expected a faster passage but the winds let us down and on went the engine part way across. The mooring was outside the tiny man-made port of Fort Bay which now allows ferries to berth and dinghies to tie up in shelter.
Saba in the distance, with the clouds that define the upper forest:
The dinghy ride into this port was pretty bumpy after the challenge of launching the dinghy and securing the outboard in the choppy seas. On our first afternoon we stretched our legs with a hot walk up the very steep road to the island’s little capital with the delightful name of “The Bottom”. It’s a picture postcard village really with dolls house-sized, immaculate white houses with red roofs and green shutters and the peaceful lanes and gardens were balm to the soul after the noise and commercialism of St Maarten. We passed a glossy leaved tree laden with large green fruit and had to ask what they were. “Mangoes” we were told and felt a bit foolish that we didn’t know! We walked along the road leading to the start of the original route up from the coast before the road and port were constructed less than 70 years ago. This was a vertiginous flight of 800 steps called “the ladder” which the early settlers hacked out of the rock and up which everything had to carried from boats beached precariously on the shingle below. The other great tribute to the islanders’ strength and determination was the road they built by hand between The Bottom and the other main community further up the volcano called Windwardside. The Dutch said it couldn’t be done, but one of the locals took a correspondence course in engineering and then constructed it with the aid of the local farmers over a 21 year period starting in the early 1950s.
Looking down on The Bottom and a typical Saban house:
A picturesque local church and a colourful local beast!
We took a taxi along that road on our second day and admired the incredible effort that must have gone into it as well as the wonderful sea views. In Windwardside we took the path that leads up to the summit of the volcano, Mount Scenery by name. It was a very steep climb with 1064 steps and changes of vegetation as we went higher until we eventually reached the cloud forest layer. Unfortunately that also meant the cloud obscured any anticipated views from the top but at least it cooled things off briefly and allowed our sweat soaked shirts to dry a bit! It would have been good to have an expert on the flora with us to tell us the names of the giant plants and ferns etc that we passed. The only fauna we saw were some free range hens and very handsome cocks. The path down was also challenging because slippery and we wished we had remembered our walking poles which are on the boat somewhere. The 2 hours’ exertion left us gasping for a cold beer or 2 and after that we found a spot for lunch perched on the side of the hill with wonderful views down to the sea again. In the afternoon we admired the local “Sistine Chapel” – a painted altar in a Catholic Church combining biblical themes with Saban jungle scenes. By the time we had walked down the road to the port in the still very hot late afternoon sun, we were pretty weary. Back on board we were in a bit of a daze for the rest of the evening and realised we were probably a bit dehydrated. Must drink more next time we climb a mountain!
Mount Scenery forest scenes:
The following day we took our dinghy over to a prominent dive and snorkelling spot on the rocky coast. Saba is very popular with divers because of its pristine and protected waters. We had an enjoyable snorkel and saw lots of the smaller and very colourful tropical fish before heading off towards our next little island.