Saba

Saba (pronounced "SAY-ba") is the smallest island of the Netherlands Antilles, located at at 17°38′N, 63°14′W. It consists largely of the dormant volcano, Mount Scenery (888 m), the highest point of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Saba has a land area of 13 km² (5 sq. miles). At the 2001 Netherlands Antilles census, the population was 1,349 inhabitants, which means a population density of 104 inhabitants per km². In 2004 the population was estimated at 1,424 inhabitants.

Its current major settlements include The Bottom, Windwardside, Hell's Gate and St. Johns. Despite the island's Dutch affiliation, English is the principal language spoken on the island and has been used in its school system since 1986. As of 2010, the official currency is the U.S. dollar.

This island has 2 means of access: A ferry, which can be a daunting experience, or a small airplane ride, which can also be a daunting experience. In 1963 the island had built a 400 metre landing strip for easier trips to the island by flight: Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport. It is the shortest commercial runway in the world, and as such, only three models of airplane are approved for landing. The planes seem to use approximately 401 meters of runway as there is this noticeable loss of altitude as the plane takes off (or actually falls off the edge).

Background

We recently completed our second trip to Saba - the first being in April 2007, and the most recent being in March 2011. On both trips we were quickly enamored with the small town, the people, and the diving, as well as semi-remote feel of the island. The island has a large ex-pat community that augments the locals with their craft offerings in a couple of shops. We enjoyed chatting with store owners, some of whom had lived on the island their entire life and some of whom were passing through for 5-10 years for a change of pace. We purchased molas (hand-stitched quilt-like designs that are imported), as well as a handmade fish mobile that features local sea glass.

During our March 2011 trip, the weather felt cooler than we anticipated. Almost every day the low was ~72F and the high was ~80F with some cloud cover throughout the day. Many nights we heard heavy rainstorms as we slept, and there were some scattered showers in the morning. But during the day it was generally dry. Much to our delight, there were virtually no bugs to be found! We slept with open windows and a ceiling fan, which made it very comfortable.

Of special note are the incredibly friendly and reliable taxi drivers who keep everything running on schedule. Peddy and Garvis were our drivers throughout the week, both when going to/from the airport, as well as getting to/from Fort Bay for our daily dives. They always seem to know where they need to be when, and they both happily share island sagas and family history with passengers.

Accommodations

In 2007 we stayed at Flossie's Cottage, which is part of Julianna's in the town of Windwardside. Flossie's is a two-bedroom traditional Saban-style cottage with all the basics along with a hot tub on the back deck.

In 2011 we rented Eve-Marie's cottage, also managed by Julianna's. Eve-Marie's cottage is just a few minutes walk to the rest of Julianna's, and each morning we wandered over there for breakfast and a quick Internet fix. Eve-Marie's is a clean one-bedroom, very spacious cottage with all the appointments you can think of, including a washer & dryer and full kitchen and cable tv. Unlike at Flossie's, we were not able to get free wifi access at Eve-Marie's.

Food

For our daily breakfast, we ordered from the menu at Tropics Cafe at Julianna's, and this was included in our dive/accommodations package. The fresh fruit with homemade yogurt and granola was delicious, and the pancakes were fluffy. Wim and Johanna, who run Julianna's, are always friendly and aiming to please. The view from the restaurant overlooked the pool, and beyond that was the Caribbean and the dramatic Saban hills.

Each day we had lunch in our cottage after our two-tank morning dives. This was the best way to keep the cost and calorie count in check, and it suited our schedule.

For dinner we ate at one of the local restaurants, all of which were tasty but generally more expensive than what we expected for such a small island. Brigadoon's is directly across the street from Eve-Marie's cottage, and we loved their grilled sushi-grade tuna over fresh greens. The hummous was yummy as well. The felafel was too fried for our tastes. Scout's had a surprisingly tasty chicken dish, and their wahoo was good, too. At Tropics we had their grill night dinner (wahoo one night; mahi mahi the other night), and the portions were substantial -- enough for luncheon leftovers for the next day. On Friday nights Tropics does a casual movie & burger (chicken, beef, or veggie) night, all for $12/person. Saba Treasure offered a yummy shrimp Creole dish, and their Greek salad was fine.

We frequented the two local grocery stores for our daily chocolate rations, as well as other staples. Produce was passable, but since everything is imported, it's not surprising that prices were rather high and selection was limited.

Diving

We booked our diving for both trips through Sea Saba. Lynn was hugely accommodating, not only on the dive front but also in booking nightly dinner reservations for all who were interested. Sea Saba has a well stocked dive shop in Windwardside, with teeshirts galore and essential diving supplies in stock for purchase.

The first (and only unpleasant) surprise was the water temperature. In mid-March we saw underwater temps ranging from 75-79F, which led us to wear a second wet suit on top of our 5-mil suits. The second (pleasing) surprise was that no one tried to impose bottom time or depth limits on any of our dives. Each day we did two-tank morning dives that headed out around 9:30 a.m. and returned around 2 p.m. Our boat was consistently populated with 10 divers -- a very amicable and responsible group.

The sites we visited ranged from pinnacles jutting up out of the water to coral gardens to walls. The dive depths ranged from ~80-120 feet and generally lasted ~1 hour. Among the sea life we saw were turtles, sharks, rays (a giant Southern Stingray), puffers, trunk fish, several varieties of grouper, file fish, scrawled cow fish, jaw fish, cleaner shrimp, lobster, and much, much more.

Overall the dive masters were delightful and competent. We especially liked Steve, a NH native, who was knowledgeable and still allowed us full diving freedom.

The dive boats met most of the basic requirements: camera tank, shoe bin, mask tank, refuge from sun, sufficient space for all divers. However, there was no marine head, no between-dive snacks (though beverages were provided), and we had to leave all gear on the boats from day-to-day, which prevented daily fresh water rinsing and drying. This arrangement was due to the limited dive shop facility at Fort Bay, where all the dives originated.