Saba, a visit to a big rock in the ocean

Last time I wrote, we were just about to decide whether the beautiful Anguilla should be the most Northerly point of our journey in the Caribbean. We have had a wonderful trip going north from the Leeward Island to the Windwards, and even though BVI is a special place, it must be saved for the next time – when we are back from our circumnavigation.

So quickly our attention was moved from the BVI’s towards the less travelled Islands to the west of us, and the first of those were just arising from the sea, right in front of us. Saba, an island most people have not heard about. A very well protected place with high cliffs all around and no harbour to visit for protection. Not only geographically, Saba is far away from the more well known islands in the Caribbean, but it also the lacks the beaches and bays. The first impression is a large inhospitable rock in the middle of the ocean – and that is very wrong.

The view from our approach to Saba
Our very good Australien friends on a mooring just west of us

We were lucky or well planned when we arrived just in time for a few days of relative calm seas and we could use one of the five mooring buoys on the North westerly coast. 

The staircase to heaven from the coast line

In the old days there were a small landing platform right here on the coast where you could land with a small rowing boat, having the larger vessel on anchor in safe distance from the cliffs. From the landing platform the staircase led you 396 steps up and over the massive rocks, into the village. And this were the access to the island for everything.Even  when Queen Victoria visited the island she was carried into shore and walked the staircase, together with a few cars and everything else the island could consume. Today they have build a very small peer on the South westerly coast with an access road, so a car can do the transportation. But it can still only be used, when the weather cooperates, and it is like the weather all over the world, hard to predict. So often boats will be waiting for days, before they are able to offload and the ferry will be cancelled – so there will be very few options off getting in or out of the island.

Pictures from the local museum, showing the “good” old days

Anyway, we hooked up to the mooring, which were fastened to a concrete block 20 meters below North Star, so we could only inspect it if we geared up to dive. We agreed to take the chance and believe in the chain, we could not see. The journey to the access peer was about 30 minute in our dinghy, in rather large swells. When we arrived it was a fantastic contrast to the image you have of this island at arrival – the check in procedure was very welcoming and friendly and just outside the Harbour office a young man was sitting in his truck, as we asked for direction. He offered to take us and ended up touring us around on the island, and guiding us for about an hour. And everybody we came into contact with, was exactly like this.

A street view from Saba

The island of today has very few tourist, but a daily ferry connection and a flight comes in from Antigua. There is a few hotels, so for someone who just want to drop out of the speed of the current world, this is a marvellous place.

The view of the town with the dirt airstrip in the back

But that said, we also had a very serious conversation, with the local policeman whom gave us a story of an island fighting alcohol’s and drug addiction, high unemployment and the related crimes. Unfortunately, all very unfortunate side effects of our current lifestyle, when it does not work well. 

We had a wonderful stay on the island and enjoyed to see a small local community which in spite of the isolation, manage and live. The combination of the very speciel geography and the friendliness we met, made this a memorable visite.

Just plain beautiful evening at Saba

Another goodbye on our journey, as the weather was changing and the big swells were moving in from a storm on the North American coastline.

Local house on Saba seen from our hiking

Further North to St. Barth and St. Martens

The weather has been unsteady this season in the Caribbean, very windy and with changing and surprising direction. It is maybe so, but for us it has meant winds in the twenties and waves most often against, and so it was a very nice change when we left Barbuda going downwind to St. Barth. We arrived into the

bay in front of St. Barth capital, Gustavia. It is uncomplicated going around the island and anchor either south or north in the bay in 10-15 meter of water. The bay has a reputation for being rolly, especially when the wind is coming from north and as we approached the forecast during the next 24 hours said that the wind would go into north even north west. That meant that a strong depression in the North
Atlantic would create 3-6 meters of swell in the bay!! At least that was the forecast, so we hurried into Gustavia to enjoy this wonderful little half swedish, french and english island.
Today it reminds you about a small swedish town on the west coast of Sweden, with houses and street names to match. But fortunately the bakeries and restaurants has long been occupied by the french, not to insult Marie, who flags out of Stockholm. But, fresh bread and croissants was in the waiting!

We spend a wonderful day walking the town, seeing the old houses and wondering why all the super yachts which St. Barth are renown for, was leaving one by one. The harbourmaster was very direct with us – when the wind goes into NNW, no one wants to be in this bay, it is dangerous.

Ok, we assume he knows what he is talking about, so the following morning we left going to the northerly bay of Colombier, which is very nice. Buoys are laid out for boats up to 20 ton ( and they did hold our 23 ). I dived on it as usual, and it looked really great, but we did reinforced with a rope directly into the concrete on the bottom. We then enjoyed the turtles and stingrays, the hike to town and the refreshing swim in the sea. It is a very beautiful bay to visit.

We could see St. Marten only 12 nm away and we had to run to hide as the blow along the US East coast had developed into a storm. The forecast was a NNW swell 3-6 meters. During the winter season Caribbean is usually blessed with winds from NE to SE and a-lash leaving a very well protected westerly coast of the Island. But when the swell decides to change, it is time to find cover – and we did in the St.Marten lagoon.

We reached the entrance to the lagoon around 1730 and were just in time for the bridge to open to let us into our reserved slip in the Island Waterworld marina. Unfortunately hurricane Irma had scattered most yachts and marinas in the lagoon, so as we slowly glided into the calm water there were masts sticking out of the water and damaged wrecks spread across. We grounded three times on our entrance into the reserved slip and decided it was enough and ended up in a slip in the superyacht marina. Yes for a price, they take really good care of you and your boat and we stayed nearly a week, before the swells had quiet down and it was time to continue North.

St. Marten is a destroyed island, it is sad to see and I believe the pictures speaks for itself. These sights of the island and our delaying re-rigging project, made us decide to drop the BVIs and turn to a southernly course, after visiting our next island Anguilla. We still really want to go to the BVIs, as it is one of most beautiful cruising grounds in the Caribbeans, but it will have to wait.

This opened another option, to experience the least travelled islands of Saba, St.Kitts and St. Nevis.

But before that adventure, we drifted a few miles further North to Anguilla, and did nothing for two days, except being alone, in love, enjoying the lonely anchorage and the beautiful quiet scenery.

Antigua and Barbuda

Here we are! At 0640 in the miserable harbour of St. John, it is windy and cold ( below 23 degrees ) and trying to find an officiel immigrations officer who will check us out of Antigua, before we head north towards Barbuda and St. Barth.We are sailing together with Greyhound, our german friends, which we have tacked along with for nearly four months by now.

We sailed bow in and Marie jumped of nearly two hours ago in an attempt to track down the authorities. She is looking for the port authorities, custom and immigrations. They are placed in three different parts of the town and you never really know, which to visit first! So do not say that cruising is all about sundowners and beaches!

But this follows a fantastic nearly three weeks stay in Antigua, which is the nicest and most civilised place in the Caribbean, we have been visiting until now.

Finally new sails, made ready on the grass in Nelsons Harbour

Firstly, a celebration – we have now received and mounted our new sails. They came into English Harbour in Antigua, only three days late and with the fantastic service of A&F rigging, we got them mounted on North Star. After looking at our delaminated three years old EPEX laminat sails for eight weeks it was fantastic to say hallo to the new radial-cut hydranet and spectra reinforced sails – reinforced in all the right places under the advice of John Neal from Mahina Tiara. Together with Amanda, they run a sailing expedition school in a HR 46 and sails 10-15000 nm every year. So I guess, that is what is called experience.

Even though it is very disappointing that a very expensive EPEX sail, rated to 7-10 years of life and 30000 nm, break after only three years and 6000 nm, Elvstrøm did their best to get us new sails, which was perfectly fitted from day one. All the sailmakers we have been speaking with on five Caribbean islands have said to us, that laminated sails is not the way to go, in this humid and warm climate. Ours certainly proved that.

J-Boat from the 1930 ies – just beautiful
View from Sandy Hills over English and Falmouth Harbour

Antigua is an old British colony. Admiral Nelson spend a long time fighting wars against the French and discovered some of the best hurricane protected harbours in all of Caribbean. He build a few forts and harbours here, to be able to defend the island against the French and was very succesful. The island was at the center of the war between England and Spain and France for several hundred years, and certainly have much history to show.

The old sail loft

We did spend some time in English Harbour, mostly constructed by Nelson and his crew, hiding for strong winds. has been spectacular to be among the historic buildings and enjoy the same facilities as the many super yachts, which spends a lot of time in Antigua. We visited many of the beautiful beaches on the island. Pigeon Beach in Falmouth harbour is one and you should have lunch at Catherines cafe, Halfmoon Bay, where we got some of the best mahi hamburgers, in the shack on the beach. We saw the capital, St. John which is not a lot, but still a small local town with a great supermarket – Euperian.

When it is best!

Finally we found the real Caribbean, as we sailed up to anchor inside the reef at Green Island, where you snorkel with turtles and reef fish and the water is crystal clear. You are either looking out on the Atlantic thundering in on the reef right in front of you or you seek a bit protection for the wind and hide behind one of the small islands in the lagoon. I am mean, what not to like? You can also learn to kite surf, as Lisa and Johan, two swedish sailors, set up a kite school five years ago and they are still here! It is really good fun, so try it. Henrik and I went for it during three hours! I got hooked, but even my dear wife don’t believe me, when I say that I nearly got out of the water!

Marie is rowing and training for the next Tallisker Race
Home coming after 47 days on the sea

We also experienced the finish line of The Tallisker whisky rowing race across the Atlantic, which finish in English Harbour. Especially a young 19 year old guy who finished as number two, after he had been rowing for 44 days alone, comes to mind. He had capsized mid ocean 7 times and had been in two gales and 5-7 meters of waves. Yes, I thought we were crazy, but this beats everything. None of the participants I spoke with, would ever repeat this fantastic ordeal.

Marie is training for next years version of row boat across the Atlantic

On a more spectacular note, we sailed a day with one of the super yachts which later competed in the Antigua superyacht race. Big boats and big crews, but even if we had the offer we would not exchange our double handed experience.

Super yacht we sailed on for a day
Henrik took great care of North Star

We had great visits from Denmark, where Henrik a sailing friend of ours, were on board for two weeks. Unfortunately we did not sail a lot as we first awaited our sails and then the weather prohibited us leaving the harbour. After Henrik left, Bettina and Søren visited us for a few days and again we enjoyed their company, fresh news and spareparts from Denmark.
We also met with Peter and Rosie, a sailing couple which we first met during the ARC Baltic. They run a super yacht and spend five months a year in and around Antigua. A big thank you to them for their valuable advice on what to do and see on this island.

But now it is time to move again and we were succesfull checking out and are now on our way to the most devastated island over here, after the two hurricanes in September. But even so, we want to visit Barbuda in order to support the island and see one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.
We arrived early afternoon to the most beautiful beach and the cleanest clearest water we have ever seen. The arriving bay is immense and the water was behaving.

The beach at Barbuda

When you come ashore you understand why people have left the island and it will take sometime before it become inhabited again. But look at the pictures below, it speaks better than our words.

This is how everything looks at Barbuda – devastation