After our swing through the BVIs, it was back to St. John to wait for weather. There is a gap between the dense clump of Virgin Islands and the rest of the Caribbean island chain. Since it was also to the east, into the prevailing tradewinds, it was going to be an overnight beat into the wind.
But, after a bit of a wait, some good wind did show up and we were off. For once, the weather predictions actually held in our favor, and we made the whole run in one tack. In a way, it was too good. Instead of requiring an overnight to get to Saba, we made such good time we arrived in the middle of the night. Moorings are provided for boats to use on the west side of the island, as the water is very deep and much of the area around Saba is a protected marine park. However, trying to first spot, and then catch from deck with our boathook, a tiny white mooring ball floating in the pitch black ocean at midnight is not an easy task. We were all exhausted, the wind was whipping over the mountain throwing the bow off course whenever we slowed down to catch the ball, and add in the distraction of fish just going mad all around us as schools as flying fish were flung into a frenzy being chased by larger fish leaping into the air right after them, and you get some idea of the scene (one of the fish actually smashed Danica in the thigh!) But anyway, after much yelling and three failed attempts, we had our mooring and could sleep.
And the next morning, we awoke to the startling view of Saba: little more than a sheer cliff thrust up from the sea, the coast flat and absent of any sort of harbor or habitation. If we didn’t know better, you would believe this was just another unpopulated rock. The fact that people did manage to settle here is just amazing, and this is part of the main attraction of a visit to Saba.
We took our dingy around to the south side of the island, where there is a small port with a man-made breakwater. From there, roads wind straight up the mountainside. This is “the road that could not be built,” according to professional engineer’s survey’s, but was built anyway by a native Sabians in the 1930s, led by a man who took a civil engineering correspondence course. The two main villages are both well above sea level, on the slightly flatter areas above the cliffs. Prior to the road, Sabians used to hand carry everything (including a piano and a visiting cardinal) up a 400-step stone staircase now called The Ladder.
Other than just tour the island, our other main goal was to do some hiking. Scott, Molly, Danica, and I hiked up Mt. Scenery, where at the top a sign announces that it is the highest point in the Netherlands. Unfortunately, the peak was covered in cloud and didn’t have much view. But there was a very pleasant walk through what might have been a mahogany orchard near the bottom. We also got a cool glass-making demonstration by a jewelrymaker on Saba.
Next up was Statia, the nickname for St. Eustatius, another small Dutch island about a day’s sail east of Saba. The sail over opened with a gust of wind coming over the mountain on Saba just as we finished raising sails, heeling us way over and dumping water through the open portholes. Ug. But, once we got away from the island, it wasn’t too bad and we pulled into Statia before sunset. To my surprise, despite being a small island with little development, there were tons of huge fuel tankers anchored all around. Apparently it is used as a major fuel depot for the Caribbean region.
Ashore, a single road runs through a thin strip of flat land along the coast, lined by near-vertical cliffs. This is ‘Lower Town.’ To reach the top, where the main town of Oranjestad spreads out, we walked a steep cobblestone path called the Old Slave Road, so named because it is was once used to lead slaves up from ships.
Oranjestad spread out on the plateau above. At the top of the Old Slave Road, we overlooked terraces lined with potted plants being grazed by goats. What was the story on this? We don’t know. There was no explanation available, as overall Statia seemed to be not at all designed for tourist visits. We wandered around the streets, passing occasional small restaurants and bars, some corner markets (but no tourist shops), and many residential houses, all of which seemed to have at least one dog, and most with more. Actually, one dog joined our wanderings for the day and barked in our defense at any other dogs we passed. Eventually, with little to do, we returned to the boat.
It seemed that the only thing to do on the island was to hike up The Quill, the name of the collapsed volcano dome just about a mile outside of town. On the way up, it was a unremarkable forest walk, other than the countless large “solider crabs” everywhere. But when we reached the crater rim, it became something completely unique. Ropes were strung up along trees and boulders to aid in the steep, rocky descent. When we reached the base, we found ourselves in a thick jungle, sealed off from the outside world and ringed on all sides by the crater, like the sort of place you might find a small band of surviving dinosaurs. Many simply gargantuan trees filled the crater. After visiting many of them, we scrambled back up with the help of the ropes and went back to the boat. Next up, St. Kitts!