Snow Leopard
Sat 2 Jan 2010 02:58

The New Year – Onwards and upwards


St. Barts

After the debacle of Roman’s Christmas Party (the invites must have gone astray) we decided to quit the high life and decamped to a quieter bay, Anse de Colombie and watch the turtles. There are definitely more turtles around the Caribbean than we have seen before so the various conservation programmes in the Islands are obviously having some good effect. Next day we took the short sail over to St Maarten, waited for the swing bridge to open and anchored up in Simpson Lagoon, a totally landlocked lagoon giving complete shelter. What we didn’t realise for half an hour or so was that it is also at the end of the runway for St. Maarten’s international airport. We definitely knew by the time the first 747 had taken off above us. Luckily the airport is not too busy although the large jets and the local inter-island planes appeared to just skirt the top of our mast.


St. Maarten

It’s not a very big island, but it’s divided between two countries, half French and half Dutch. Even within the lagoon you could choose whether to anchor in Holland or France. One half uses the US Dollar (although the official currency is the Dutch Antilles Guilder, but we never saw any) and the other half the Euro. The French half is very French and the Dutch half very American. We stayed in the Dutch half as that is where most of the boat services are and our first priority was to get the Code 0 sail repaired. We found a sail loft and after initial examination it was decided that it was bad, but not that bad and it could be repaired. It was going to take a few days which enabled us to also get our GPS repaired (which failed as we approached St. Maarten – only a faulty cable – phew), and also to take a bit of a rest and catch up on e-mails, shopping etc.


Some people wonder what we do all day when just ‘lazing around on a boat’, but just living takes up a lot of time. Shopping, boat maintenance, correspondence, dealing with local officialdom and the odd siesta (it is hot after all) seem to fill the time completely.


We did however manage to take a day trip to the tiny island of Saba. We were considering sailing there but the island is almost inaccessible, especially if there is a large swell, so the ferry seemed an interesting option. About 40 of us piled onto a strange catamaran ferry that sped across to Saba, under the cool, cool control of Captain Mikie in just over an hour. We disembarked at the one tiny dock and then commandeered a taxi to show us around. This is an island where you don’t want to walk to far as most of it is vertical! Some of our fellow passengers chose to hike to the highest point on the island, Mount Scenery. We chose to take the taxi to the highest place he could drop us off and then walked down to the principal ‘town’ named ‘Windwardside’ (the only other town is called ‘the Bottom’). I use the term town advisedly as the whole population of the island is only 1200 people.


Mikie, skipper of the Saba ferry, complete with ‘cutlass’ toothpick



Saba, The Bottom


We stopped for lunch at a bar with a fantastic view over the sea. Whilst there, two parties came in who had climbed Mount Scenery. They were soaked in sweat (and that was after the descent) and swore they never wanted to climb another step! (the path to the top is over 3000ft high and includes over 1000 steps. If you have climbed to the top of Mount Scenery you are given a certificate stating the you have been to the highest point in the Netherlands (part of Holland again). We got our certificate by chatting up the lovely lady in the conservation society shop!


Saba, lunch stop, Windwardside



Saba, Mount Scenery



Until the 1940s Saba was almost inaccessible. There was no dock and everything that island required had to be unloaded in waist-deep water and then carried up an impossibly steep track up 800 steps. There was no road on the island until 1958, but since then the locals have even managed to build an airport on a tiny, nearly-flat promontory. It has the shortest runway of any commercial airport and by all reports taking off and landing is akin to flying on and off an aircraft carrier. Definitely not for the faint-hearted.




Saba, the ‘Ladder’. Everything had to be carried up 800 steps. The building is the old Customs House, halfway up to the Bottom


We loved Saba. It is beautifully clean, the Sabans are very friendly and helpful and the scenery is at all times beautiful and dramatic. Although only 30 miles from other Caribbean islands it feel completely remote. Wonderful!


On New Year’s eve we got our repaired sail back (excellent job and not as expensive as I had feared) and decided to leave the lagoon and anchor outside as we were to start early for the 90 mile sail to the British Virgin Islands.


We had a fantastic sail, covering the 90 miles in just 7 hours, averaging about 12 knots. That’s what Snow Leopard is all about – speed AND comfort.