Saba and St. Eustatius, aka Statia, are two large rocks passing as islands in the Netherlands Antilles. Sandwiched between St Martin & St. Kitts, many bypass these island because of their questionable and often times rolly anchorages, both of which have a decidedly “industrial” feel. However, don’t judge a book by its cover should be the motto of these Dutch islands – and we would hate to see them not get their share of cruisers because of the marginal anchorages and homely surroundings that greet you. Sounds great doesn’t it 😉 But I (Mary) got a bee in my bonnet that we had to go to them because we’d read the scuba diving was some of the best in the Caribbean. So we waited and waited and finally got calm weather to visit these Dutch delights and we are thankful we did.
OK landlubbers, the next couple paragraphs are for our fellow cruisers to help them enjoy a stop in these islands. You see, the anchorages are exposed to ocean swell that wraps around the island (remember they are essentially just rocks in the ocean) and can make boats at anchor or mooring roll gunwale to gunwale. While we were at Statia we saw two monohulls come in only to spend one miserable night and leave at first light, not getting to explore the cute little island. It doesn’t have to be like that. We spent three days in Statia and another three in Saba and it was not bad at all. You just have to RIG YOUR GROUND TACKLE TO PUT THE BOAT’S BOW INTO THE SWELL.
There are two ways you can do this: First, like us – put a bridle on your anchor. It works just as well on the moorings in the harbor. Put one line to the bow and another to the stern. Adjust the lines so the wind catches you broadsides and the swell comes at your bow. It makes for more windage but you should have ground tackle that can handle it. The other method is to pick out a mooring and motor out in the direction the swell is coming from. Drop your anchor and back down and the wind will push you seaward from the mooring. Take a line from your stern to the mooring and adjust to hold your bow into the swell. This method has the benefit of keeping you in this attitude even if the wind dies. But either way, COME ON PEOPLE, give it a try. In Saba, you also have the option of going to another side of the island to avoid the swell. It’s got anchorages and moorings on the west and south side, so you can pick the location with the least swell.
A little more work than just tossing the hook as we all are accustomed to, but it is worth it. Both islands have excellent diving. On Statia, we went on dives with Golden Rock Dive Center to two wreck sites. One consisted of two trading ships that went down in the harbor in the 1700’s, leaving today only two giant anchors and a line of coral where the ships once lay. The other could not have been more different. The Chien Tong sunk in 2004 and is largely intact. It was eery to swim in and around it and see how the ocean life is slowly taking it over. We hiked up the picture perfect volcano cone – it looks like they could have filmed King Kong here. We inspected the ruins of warehouses and offices and other dockside structures built in the 18th century when Statia was a leading trading island, hosting dozens of ships at a time in its rolly anchorage.
On land, Statia offers a charming and sleepy town with historic fort, hikes and some of the most literate goats we’ve met. These guys were hanging out on the steps to the library waiting for it to open.
To help you on your next appearance on Jeopardy (you’ll have to split your winnings with us), note that Statia’s was the first government to officially recognize the United States as an independent nation by firing a signal cannon to recognize a ship from the newly declared republic entering its harbor.
The other nearby Dutch island is Saba. We were there during one of the rare calm spells, so we didn’t have to employ any special anchoring techniques, but the diving on Saba was just as unique. The water is clear as … well, water and the sea life abundant and not afraid of divers. There were more living huge corals than we’d seen in a long time. Ben and Kato at Saba Divers run a great shop, and are highly recommended.
Saba’s two main towns are called “Bottom” (its at the bottom of a hill) and “Windwardside” (its on the windward side of the island). Saba’s pioneers were apparently very literal people, or perhaps they didn’t have time to dream up fanciful names for their towns. But what the towns lack in naming creativity, they make up in abundance in cuteness. Imagine winding little stone paths, with gingerbread cottages and knee high white picket fences. There was even a tame neighborhood rabbit living in the well-tended cemetery. The red roof ordinance was in effect here, as most of the buildings sported clean red roofs, lending the town an appealing uniformity.
Luckily Sabans moved their customs house to the more easily accessible Fort Bay. Until the 1940s everyone and everything entered Saba up “The Ladder”. Walking waist deep in the breaking waves, up 800 steep steps to the customs house perched high above the rough seas. Royals, commoners, medicine, furniture, food, etc. all used this route. Think about that next time you are complaining about the wait at customs and immigrations.
The road up from the harbor is a twisty set of hair-raising switchbacks leaning over the cliff, with a tiny stone guard rail that wouldn’t stop a runaway ten speed.
Mrs. Lollipop, our cab driver said they were all safe drivers on the island, but when Mary pressed she would not confirm that no locals had a drink before setting out on the road. Indeed, when she picked us up after our dinner, she popped out of a bar to hop in her car. The drive down was safe and slow, though, as she told us about her kids all scattered across the islands and America. It was just as well, because a big swell was due the next day which would make our location uncomfortable. So we battened down the hatches and set off on a quick overnight trip to the British Virgin Islands, and our planned meetup with friends.