I am writing from Antigua – we made it back for my flight with 5 days to spare. ☺
Visiting Saba (pronounced Sayba) for just a day was well worth the trip as the tiny island is beautiful and everyone was very welcoming.
The sail there from Simpson Bay was an easy and fast passage with no dangers until you are within half a mile of the northern coast. From a distance the steep sided island has her summit in the clouds. We opted to take one of 2 yellow mooring buoys in Fort Bay so we could dinghy into the small harbour to clear in. There is a dinghy dock with good shelter behind the breakwater.
It was very rolly in the bay though, with waves coming head on in the south-easterly wind and it was difficult to launch the dinghy in the swell. It isn’t a long ride into the port but on the way back you are into the weather. In the event we wasted our time because Customs and Immigration was shut on a Sunday afternoon, despite this not being noted in the cruising guide. We managed to pay 20 US$ in harbour fees upstairs but were told to return again the next morning to clear in when the officials should be there. We had a very sleepless night. It felt like we were in a washing machine and neither of us would want to moor there again, except for a brief Customs stop.
By 0830 we were back at Customs but again, nobody in! We wanted to take a short tour of the island, having made the effort to get there and a taxi was duly called, without anyone worrying about us being ‘illegal’. George Wilson picked us up and took us all over Saba during the morning for 50 US$. The island is only about 5 miles by 5 miles, with 2 main towns, Bottom and Windwardside. Both are immaculately kept, with lovely buildings of white walls, green doors and windows and red roofs. The islanders decided themselves to keep to 1 colour scheme to make the island look better and only the churches are allowed to have brown windows and doors. The result is a picture postcard with a lovely atmosphere of calm and unity.
Before the Fort Bay harbour was built, the islanders had to land on the stony shore at Ladder Bay on the west coast and climb the steps to the top, an arduous task. You can just see the steep steps to the left of the yacht in the photos. They now have a ferry and a tiny airstrip, so small the pilots need special training. We watched a plane take off and it did look a bit scary, as it seemed to use up the entire runway before lifting off.
We took a walk at the airport down to a tidepool area, their only ‘beach’. A café is being rebuilt, having been destroyed by last year’s hurricane. The water is beautifully clear, the diving spectacular and there are many villas to rent for vacations. From nearly every viewpoint you can see the sea, as Saba rises up steeply with her summit in the clouds. Trails lead up the hillsides and there are restaurants, shops and a tourist office to serve the holidaymakers.
We asked George to take us to Jo’s bead shop, where she makes pretty jewellery from glass. She also makes replica ‘slave beads’ found on St Eustatius the neighbouring island. They were made in Holland, are deep blue and their purpose is a mixture of guesswork and old tales. The nicer suggestion is that a man had to collect enough beads to go around a woman’s waist, if he wanted to marry her. Another idea is that the slave women wore them to show their own value.
We then had an excellent lunch at Scout’s Place in Windwardside, seated on a balcony overlooking the sea. Afterwards we wandered through the pretty streets, to the museum and church.
Around 2000 people live on Saba, with several hundred being students at the Medical School. George told us he knows everyone and it seemed to us the police would have an easy job! We saw notices for lots of different activities around the island, so there is clearly a strong sense of community. A car went by with a sign saying it’s occupant was a visiting medic and the hospital and child care facilities looked to be very modern. The municipal buildings are painted in the same colours as the houses and everywhere was well maintained and clean. They believe tourists don’t want to see litter and junk in paradise. Pity some of the other Caribbean islands don’t have the same attitude as Saba.
Once we got back to the port we cleared in and out but the official left as soon as we did, so we were lucky to get cleared at all. Our passports weren’t stamped, so I guess it wouldn’t have mattered if we had just left again.
Getting the dinghy back up on the davits proved to be tricky as the swell was even worse by the time we returned to the boat and the dinghy started picking up momentum swinging from side to side on the pulleys. Gladly, we left Fort Bay and headed north up the west coast to Ladder Bay where it was far calmer and there are about 8 yellow buoys for visiting yachts. The others are for dive boats only.
After a peaceful night we were off again by 0615 to make the 31 miles to Ile Fourchue where we picked up a free mooring, swam and checked the hull for barnacles. We had a few tiny ones; soon scraped off but given we have been in the water for 5 months we are pleased with how the antifouling is holding up so far.
We had another good night’s rest and headed off again at dawn for Antigua, about 75 miles away. We hoped for some north in the wind to enable us to make the course but we had to put a long tack in, so our eventual mileage was 124! We bombed along doing an average of 7 knots in reasonably calm seas, so it was a great day’s sailing. At one point Rob told me if we continued on that course (our tack north-east) we would arrive in Iceland. Very helpful!
We got into Antigua after dark but fortunately have been here before and were comfortable with entering the harbour at night. The channel buoys are well lit with a flashing white to mark the start of the channel. There is a large anchorage just to the south of the channel in 3 metres and we know the sand holds well. So we are cleared in once again at Jolly Harbour for 10 pounds a month, caught up with friends, provisioned in the Epicurean Supermarket and will fill up the fuel and water tanks tomorrow before moving on Sunday to head along the south coast to Carlisle Bay for the night before bashing the few miles further east to Falmouth.
Yesterday was my birthday, so I’m glad we made it back to Antigua as Rob had a good selection of restaurants to choose from. We went to a family run establishment at the marina, called ‘Akropolis’, naturally serving the Greek cuisine that we both love. It was a really good night with delicious food, good wine and great service. Karen is one of the real assets of the Caribbean being the best waitress we have met in the entire chain of islands, refreshingly focussed on customer service with a genuine smile and attentiveness. Later they brought out a large slice of passion fruit cheesecake decorated with a candle, put on a disco ‘Happy Birthday’ number and it was dancing time. All great fun. I also got a big hug from the owner and the Customs man ☺