We finally – finally! – pulled out of Simpson Bay in St. Maarten in early February 2020, after over a month there making boat repairs and upgrades. What a joy it was to sail again! We had 15 knot winds on the beam (hitting our sail at a right angle, which propels the boat nicely) as we made our way from St. Maarten to Saba, a five-square-mile rock in the middle of the Caribbean. It took us about 4 hours to get to Fort Bay, which were uneventful… until we got to the harbor.
Fort Bay is the only harbor on the island, located on the southwestern end. The preferable mooring area is around the corner, between Ladder Bay and Wells Bay – but you have to anchor or moor at Fort Bay to check in to the country. As we pulled around the western edge of the island to approach Fort Bay, the ocean waves began to kick up significantly. It took us several attempts to pull up the mooring ball and attach our lines, and that turned out to be the easy part. Once Gratitude was secured, then we had to lower the dinghy into a violently rocking 8-foot swell – not pretty. Imagine riding one of those bucking bronco machines and trying to get on or off it while it’s in motion. That’s what it’s like to get in or out of the dinghy in high seas.
As we were preparing to do so, we got a call on the radio from a monohull moored next to us. We could see their vessel bobbing like a cork, so when the captain told us he could not lower their dinghy and asked us for a ride to shore, of course we agreed. I took the dinghy to pick him up and take care of our check-in, and Andy stayed with Gratitude just in case the mooring failed. (You never know, in surf this rough.)
On the way to shore, I learned that Kristof (from Germany) was sailing with his wife (from Mexico City) and their adorable little girl. They had come from the Mediterranean, crossed the Atlantic to Barbados, and were working their way north so that they could turn west from Puerto Rico and cross the Gulf for Panama. They plan to go through the canal and then cross the Pacific. Very hardy souls.
Once we finished filling out forms for customs, we learned that we’d have to return in 2 hours to clear immigration, when officers came back on duty. Sigh… We used the time to move Gratitude to a calmer area and then went back for Kristof and his family. While we waited at immigration, Kristof told us that they had caught a tuna that morning, and invited us to PLEASE take some off his hands, as they had more than they could eat. Um, YEAH! Thank you, new friends! They owed us nothing, of course – all cruisers help each other. We’ve needed a tow or a ride more than once. But it was a pleasant surprise to get to share the fishing bounty, because caught-that-day tuna is one of sailing’s great pleasures. So that night we enjoyed tuna tataki and sesame rice, courtesy of S.V. Orisaba.
The other nice surprise came when we walked up the hill from the harbor to the only bar-and-grill that doesn’t require a taxi ride. We got our customary new-arrival drinks and started chatting with the bartender. She and her family own the place, and they recently relocated there from… Canton, GA (she had worked at Williamson Bro’s BBQ)! We traded stories about living and raising kids in Georgia, and it was a real treat to engage with someone of like mind. We ended up visiting that restaurant every day during our stay. (If you go, it’s The Deep End. It’s on the top floor of the old Saba Deep dive shop, on the road into town. You can’t miss it. Tell Shay we sent you. 😎)
The next day we packed our gear and dinghied back to Fort Bay to catch the dive boat with Sea Saba. One of our main reasons for visiting this tiny island was that we’d heard amazing stories of the marine life. It did not disappoint! (Although I think Andy is becoming slightly jaded – he’s noted that everywhere we go the diving is touted as “spectacular,” but we haven’t seen anything new in a while. I disagreed – I’d put Saba way up there. Not the best we’ve seen – but in the top five, for sure.)
We did two deep dives – one down over 100 feet and the other down about 75 feet to an underwater hot spring. The water’s not actually bubbling… but you can dig your hand down into the sand and feel the volcanic heat. It’s warm enough to convince you that Saba is indeed still geologically active. Along the way we saw a shark, lots of turtles, some peacock flounder, spotted drums, and the usual assortment of Caribbean fish. I was most satisfied, however, with how comfortable diving is becoming for both of us. Mentally and physically, I can tell that our skills are ever improving.
The next day was a reminder that you pay a price for paradise. Andy went below to change a filter on the water maker and cracked the filter housing in the process. (AC’s note – relieve the water pressure first and then remove the housing!) As we were brainstorming solutions (which included conserving water until St. Thomas), I tried to plug in the Food Saver (vacuum bag sealer) and it kept tripping the outlet. Which led us to discover that the ice maker (on the same circuit) was overheating and causing the whole circuit to shut down. So I bagged up as much ice as I could to transfer to the freezer, and Andy pulled the whole unit out to troubleshoot it. Poor Andy couldn’t catch a break! It was really getting to him. I appreciated his diligence in trying to solve it all… but suggested we go ashore for a just a few hours and give him a chance to recenter.
And you know what? It worked. We took a taxi to town and ate lunch. Then we visited some of the little stores and the Trail Shop. Saba has several excellent hikes, including one up to Mt. Scenery. (There’s a t-shirt for those who finish it – it’s quite a steep climb.) Since we had only a couple of hours, the ranger in the shop showed us a route that we could finish before sunset.
Our hike was up rocks and past farms through a misty, green, and surprisingly cool (as in not-tropically-hot) rain forest. We got our exercise, breathed fresh air, and enjoyed gorgeous views of the town, the coast, and the ocean. By the time we finished, our boat stress had subsided. Mission accomplished!
One more new experience to report from our time ashore: We hitchhiked for the first time ever! Once we finished our hike in The Bottom (yes, that’s the name of the town), we stopped to buy a bottle of water and ask about getting a taxi back to the harbor. We were advised just to start walking and stick out a thumb – there’s practically zero crime on Saba, because everyone knows everyone (and their mama!). So we tried it, and got picked up by a very nice Dutch family. It was a friendly end to our land adventure in Saba.
From Saba we sailed overnight to St. Croix (15 hours) and spent a few days hanging out. Then we sailed to St. Thomas (about 5 hours) and left the boat at the American Yacht Harbor in Red Hook so we could fly home to see our kids and go skiing with them. We left 80-degree breezes for 9-degree snow squalls! It was actually a nice change of pace, but we are happy to be back on Gratitude now and preparing for some leisurely island-hopping in the Virgin Islands.