Monday, June 22, 2015


We stayed on the overnight moorings in Wells Bay, the only ones available

We checked out of the Capitanerie in Anse Marcel, St. Martin.  We were pleasantly surprised that the huge fire that we saw burning down the mountain when we were in Tintamarre didn't reach the marina, though the smoke smell was quite overwhelming.

We motored out of Anse Marcel and raised our mainsail just outside of the bay.  We unfurled our genoa too.  Our initial course was directly downwind, so Skeeter rigged up a preventer so on our mainsail to avoid an accidental jibe, and we back-winded the genoa to sail wing on wing.  This was our first real opportunity to sail on this cruising adventure, since our previous expeditions were all upwind.  When we were clear of the point just south of Marigot, we jibbed and set a straight course for Saba.

It was difficult to steer a straight course.  We were headed pretty much southwest, so we had somewhat following seas, 4-6 foot waves, and 15-20 knots of wind.  The boat really wanted to turn into the wind, so steering gave our arms a workout.  There are definitely times we wish we could afford an autopilot or a wind vane steering system.  Oh well, c'est la vie!  Maybe after we make some more money.

The Sahara dust was especially thick in the sky, so we lost sight of land quickly.  We should have been able to see Saba early on, but couldn't until we were within 10 nautical miles. 

What Saba would look like in the distance on a clear day
  As soon as we got close to the island of Saba, the wind turned into crazy overpowering gusts.  It would fluctuate between 0 and 50 knots of wind withing a matter of seconds!  Trying to drop our sails was intense and very stressful.  The furler got stuck.  The powerful and uneven gusts were catching us and overpowering us.  I had to carefully crawl out of the cockpit to unjam the furler and release the preventer that was holding the mainsail to one side.  

Being out there on the deck in those unpredictable and powerful gusts and now no preventer attached to the boom put me into a panic about Skeeter accidentally jibbing and I completely lost my brain.  I imagined the boom knocking me unconscious and overboard in the rough and wild conditions.  I yelled at Skeeter to sheet in the main.  He tried to argue with me, but I was extremely persistent so finally he obliged.  I was wrong, but was too panicked to realize it.  Although we are experienced mariners, we are still novice sailors.  

We weren't really close to jibbing, but with the unpredictable gusts I thought we were.  Now he couldn't turn into the wind safely, because the gusts were catching the sail, overpowering us, and pushing us over.  When Skeeter shouted out (and he had to shout because the wind was so damn loud), "The wind's got me!  I'm losing it, I'm losing it!" I somehow interpreted that as, "Oh shit, we're going over!" and in my wild panic I almost jumped over the side to abandon ship.  It's amazing how stupid panic can make people.  He finally managed to turn to face the wind so we could drop the mainsail.  

When the sail was down we had control again, but the conditions were still surprisingly rough.  With my heart still racing and my limbs shaking from adrenaline, I took the helm as Skeeter got ready to grab a mooring.  We had the dinghy pulled up alongside like always when we're maneuvering, to prevent it from getting caught in the propeller.  A strong gust of wind got under the dinghy and it was airborne.  Then the wind caught a solar panel and it almost went flying.  Yikes, what did we get ourselves into by coming to Saba???  

The wind channeled around that corner in powerful gusts

We tried to get some sleep after our extremely stressful day, but it was impossible.  Those crazy gusts of wind and the ripping current going in the opposite direction of the wind made our boat swing all over the place.  We'd spin around the mooring, and the mooring ball would bounce off the hull like Skeeter's college roommate who used to come home drunk and play the drums in the middle of the night.  On top of that, the wind and current would hold us beam to the waves (sideways), making our boat bob like an pendulum swinging back and forth.  Plus the wind would shift and we'd get whipped around and jerked like an abusive dog owner's pup.  Things would fall, bang, rattle, and roll no matter how well we secured everything.   

The boat swinging around and jerking
We got bounced around like balls in a pinball machine.  Simple things like walking, pulling your pants down to go to the bathroom, cooking, and not falling out of bed became Olympic-like challenges.  This was our constant, exhausting reality while in Saba.

The dramatic rocky coast rising straight up out of the water

Getting to shore was a bit of a nightmare, too.  We were obliterated from the exhaustion of not sleeping and our exhausting waking moments, and we were starting to get extremely grouchy.  We tried motoring around closer to Fort Bay, where you check in with customs and the only real place to get on land, but there were no moorings available and seas were even more scary rough there.  We didn't want to drop anchor because it was extremely deep (50+ feet) and the waves would surely yank up all of our chain and our anchor in those nasty conditions.  So we motored half way back around the island to Well's Bay where we started.  

Looking at Ladder Bay from Well's Bay
Winds were still blasting, and both the wind and waves change direction as soon as you round the corner.  This is because the wind and waves wrap around the island.  Around the corner you have to head into the wind and waves, and the island no longer blocks the waves.  The waves are even taller there than in open ocean because of the wrap around effect.  

Arial view of Saba. Photo Credit: "Saba World Wind" by NASA World Wind

I was scared to get into our little 8ft 8hp dinghy to go check into customs.  It was 2 torturous miles.  I imagined our dinghy going airborne with us in it and we'd flip over and end up lost at sea.  Saba is so remote that you could easily drift out to sea unnoticed.  I cried and told Skeeter I didn't want to die.  A little melodramatic, I know, but I was more tired than I had ever been in my entire life and I have a very vivid imagination.  

He calmed me down, and I said I'd go if we brought a handheld VHF radio, smoke signals, an air horn, and a change of clothes in our dry bag.  I really wish we had bought oars for our dinghy.  All we had was a crappy emergency paddle that wouldn't even keep you from getting blown away in those conditions.  Oh well, we hadn't had any dinghy problems lately so we should be fine, right?  I put up our "Q" flag to acknowledge that we still needed to check into customs, changed into swim clothes, and readied our emergency bag.
Putting up our "Q" (Quarentine) flag
Getting the dinghy ready

We made it safely to shore, though it was scary.  We were soaked from head to toe; there wasn't a dry spot on us.  We tried to drip dry for a few minutes and were going to try to find a place to change but we were ushered into the customs & immigration office, still dripping wet.  There was a puddle at my feet.  The customs official surprisingly didn't say anything...I guess it wasn't the first time someone walked into his government office like that.  We paid $20 for customs/immigration, found a bathroom to change our of our soaking wet clothes, and then went to the Marine Park office to paid our $12 mooring fee.  

Saba Marine Park Office

Dahlia at the Marine Park was very nice and helpful, and even hooked us up with a ride up the mountain with her friend Lazlo, who was about to head up anyway.  We drove up "the road" (Saba's only road) through the lowest town, "The Bottom," at almost 1000 feet elevation, and to Windward side at about 1500 feet.  Skeeter rode in the back of the truck enjoying the steep scenic ride up and I rode in the cab with Lazlo, getting a lesson in Saba history and culture and he pointed out landmarks along the way.  

Skeeter's view from the back of the truck
A one-of-a-kind island

We went to a restaurant called "Scout's Place" for lunch.  It was our 5 year anniversary, so we treated ourselves to a meal out and an unbelievable view.  We were surprised that what was a violent gusting wind at sea level was but a light breeze in town.  After that tasty meal we were cheering up and coming out of our zombie hazes.  We strolled around the little town of Windwardside, then decided to put out our thumbs and hitch down the mountain to The Bottom.  
The view from Scout's Place, 1500 ft down to the sea
A flatbed work truck with a lifting crane in the back stopped for us and told us to jump in the back.  He said we could stand and hold onto the crane.  It was the most exhilarating experience ever!  Skeeter and I were both grinning from ear to ear.  We both agreed that it even beat the time in the Philippines when we got to ride on the roof of the jeepny bus.  It was like a roller coaster ride!  The view was a thing of dreams and nightmares combined in one.  

Looking down at The Bottom
Photo credit: Simon Wong
Wind was blowing through our hair while we looked over the edge of sheer cliffs dropping down 1500 feet to the sea, and looking down hundreds of feet to The Bottom, where the houses and people looked like ants.

Goats roaming around town
A cute Saban church
Skeeter in front of the one and only Police Station
We walked around The Bottom and enjoyed the postcard perfect town.  The buildings mostly all painted white with green trim and red roofs.  The streets were all clean and paved, surrounded by stone walls.  Even though the island was experiencing a drought, it was still lush and green, with explosively colorful flowers.  

A street corner in Saba
Skeeter with a Flamboyant tree along "the road"
After exploring, we picked up a few groceries (peanut butter chocolate Oreos for our anniversary dessert), and then decided to walk down "the road" from 1000 feet down to sea level. 

"The road" going from The Bottom down to the water
We changed back into our soaking wet clothes and got into our dinghy to head back to our miserably bobbing boat.  We were almost out of the protected dinghy dock area when our motor died.  We were about to get pulled out into the huge windy wavy seas, but I grabbed our emergency paddle and started paddling like a maniac and Skeeter tried to get the engine to start.  My eyes started to fill with tears.  The sun was almost setting and we could be lost at sea for our 5 year anniversary.  Fantastic.  We finally managed to get tied up to the dock again.  Skeeter struggled with figuring out what was wrong with our motor (maybe salt water got into the fuel on our rough ride over?) and I just sat there thinking about our limited options.  
Fort Bay - we were almost in open water when our dinghy died
Finally I caught the attention of a kind Saban who must have felt sorry for us.  He offered his engine troubleshooting ideas to no avail, and then suckered two other guys who were working on their boat into giving us a tow back to our boat.  I could tell the captain was not thrilled.  It was a Friday evening and he was ready for the weekend, not wanting to tow some stupid sailors back to their boat half way around the island.  But he did anyway.  And I was extremely grateful.  He warmed up to us by the end of the tow, especially after I gave him a generous thank you tip and told him he might have just saved our lives and that it was our 5 year anniversary.  Thank goodness for those guys.

Getting towed back to Salt Whistle

Trying to remain positive as we celebrate our anniversary with our Funny Pop "Champagne"

Unfortunately that night, and all other nights while on Saba, were sleepless ones.  The next day we just vegged around, unable to move from exhaustion.  It was very sad and disappointing, because we had wanted to hike Mt. Scenery, Saba's tallest point.  But there was no way we had the steam to make it up that mountain in our state, and our dinghy wasn't working anyway so we couldn't even get to shore.

So many cool hikes on Saba - Photo credit: Richie Diesterhef
The following day, Skeeter fixed the dinghy (there was an air leak in the fuel pump) and we went back ashore to clear out of customs.  

Skeeter troubleshooting & fixing the dinghy

We didn't bring much of anything with us except for our passports, since we just planned on checking out and then coming back to the boat.  No dry clothes, no phone or camera, no water bottle.  But alas, the customs agent just left and wouldn't be back for another 3 hours.  No way were we going to go back to the boat.  The ride over was long and treacherous.  I was near tears again.  I just wanted to collapse.  It was a Sunday so the island was like a total ghost town.  There wasn't even anywhere to sit down, since Fort Bay is a dusty dirty mining area.  I seriously considered just laying down to rest in the street.  I didn't know what to do.  

Luckily, after many attempts, Skeeter managed to convince me to conjure up my remaining nuggets of energy and make the most of the 3 hours we had.  So we bought water at the Dominican bar in Fort Bay, hiked 1000 feet up "the road" to The Bottom, and strolled around town.  It was a real shame we didn't even have our phones to try to get internet to check the marine weather forecast, but nowhere had open wifi in Saba anyway and everything was closed because it was a Sunday anyway.  Then we hiked down the path to the historic old customs house at Ladder Bay.  

Looking up at the "ladder" and old customs house from the boat
I thought my legs were going to give out from under me I was so drained, but they didn't.  We walked back through The Bottom and down "the road" to Fort Bay in perfect time to check out of customs.  The dinghy worked this time, and brought us safely (though very wet) back to our boat.


We hadn't even been able to enjoy the beautiful underwater world that Saba offers due to lack of money to pay for diving (it's required to go with a dive shop), rough seas, lack of a working dinghy, and lack of energy.  We whipped up our last bits of energy and went for a snorkel at Well's Bay.  The underwater topography was stunning and dramatic, the corals healthy, and the fish were plentiful.  We swam through a tunnel carved through the rocks, and free-dived down to get close to the fish and look under ledges. 

Well's Bay - Photo credit: Eveline de Vree
We saw a turtle, a ray, and lots of fish - Clark Anderson/Aquaimages
Our free-diving skills are to the point that we can almost see just as much as we can scuba diving anyway.  We just can't stay down quite as long ;)  The only downfall of the experience was the abundant jellyfish, and my skin is highly sensitive to their stings.  I could care less about the initial pain of the stings, as intense as it can be, it's the excruciating itching that I get for days afterwards that I cannot stand.  
Current spun us beam to waves as the sun set on Saba
Back at the boat we got tossed around as usual, and then had another sleepless night.  At least we'd be leaving first thing in the morning!  We couldn't wait to get to calmer waters.  

Momo was scared of the powerful gusts of wind
Even Momo didn't like being on the boat in Saba.  The gusts were too much for him.  We didn't want him to get blown away (I think this was a legitimate concern, seeing how our dinghy literally flew), so we never let him outside without close supervision.  He'd get scared of the wind and run back into the cockpit or inside anyway, and outside on deck is usually his favorite spot.  
Ferry goes between Saba & St. Martin
If we could do it over we would never have brought Salt Whistle to Saba.  Instead, we would take a ferry from St. Martin and visit for a day, or stay on land if we wanted to visit for a couple of days.  Then we would have only positive things to say about Saba, and could enjoy it for the nature paradise that it is.  It's just NOT a place for cruisers unless the seas are completely flat and there is no wind, in my very bruised and exhausted opinion.

No comments:

Post a Comment