We sailed north along St Kitts on Monday the 16th April with a 15 knot south -easterly breeze, enjoying the views of Gunpowder Fort and the attractive peaks which run E – W along the island. Our track north from St Kitts took us past two Dutch islands, first St Eustacia (Stacia) where we spent a night rolling in the anchorage below the capital, Oranjestad, and then mountainous Saba.
St Eustacia from the South
Stacia has a history of lucrative trading and has attracted the interest of warring factions from time to time, with Admiral Rodney causing considerable damage. The Anglo – Dutch disputes along with occasional earthquakes and tsunami has left most of the lower town in ruins. Regrettably one of the commodities traded was slaves, and a great many captives were brought here and sold to plantation-owners up and down the Caribbean. The steep Bay Path climbs the cliff to the upper town, said to be the route from the ships to the slave pens and markets above. When we visited it was fenced off, no doubt because of the crumbling cliffs.
Stacia’s modern harbour
Today the island specialises in oil, with huge tanks and refineries tucked into a valley to the north of Stacia. Huge offshore moorings and pipelines take the oil ashore and provide a bunkering service to ships. The harbour was quite busy and working vessels were moving about well into the evening. There is a concrete dinghy dock inside the harbour and a bar above which is open long hours – we ate substantial American -style ribs there and used the wifi in the evening.
An excavation in progress
Ruins in Lower Town, Oranjestad
More ruins – with a view of Ambition II
A view along the shore, oil terminal in the distance
Stacia has an active Red-Billed Tropicbird colony. We could hear the birds calling from the anchorage and there were usually several tropicbirds wheeling around the cliff to the left in the picture above. In addition to the ubiquitous chickens, there were well -kempt goats foraging in the churchyard and along the shore, and also a small herd of cows grazing the coast.
The upper town is now very neat with cobbled streets and small well-kept houses in the Dutch style– although quite a few houses are abandoned and in ruins. We explored the town and stocked up at the supermarket – two storeys with ‘department store’ above. We also found a bakery selling fresh bread in the evening, which was very welcome. Renovation work is being carried out on the fort and some other historic sites. We were unable to return to Upper Town to take photos in the morning because we had to wait for Immigration (aka the police). A Customs RIB called at Ambition II while we were ashore and advised SN that they would like to return and search the boat. Fortunately, we had to set off for Saba before they returned.
Goats grazing amongst the ruins
Steering carefully between the oil jetty and ship moorings, we motored on towards Saba. The wind picked up from the SE and there was a bit of sea running by the time we approached the island and called up the harbourmaster on the VHF. We were told to go on to the West side of the island and look for moorings with yellow and blue buoys. This we did, but then wondered how we could check in to Customs, back at the harbour.
Saba harbour and the road to Bottom
There was nothing for it but to tackle The Ladder, a formidable set of 800 steps that climbs steeply from the shore, then up through dry forest to the town of Bottom. Having ascended this between several pauses for recovery, R & SN found the island’s taxi and school bus driver, Gloria, who took us down to the harbour to see Customs. This road is one of the many ‘impossible’ feats undertaken by the islanders. It was apparently built entirely by hand, starting in the 1960s and taking 20 years. Previously the only access to the island was up the Ladder. Their next feat was to build an airport which is one of the world’s most spectacular!
Our mooring seen from part way up the ladder
Don’t look down…
Snakes and Ladders?
Bungalows in Bottom
The houses are uniformly white with red roofs and green paintwork – everywhere neat and tidy. R and SN only had time to visit one of the two main villages during our brief calm weather -window to visit Saba. J eschewed the vertiginous paths and roads, staying on Ambition II to watch the Red-Billed Tropicbirds patrolling the cliffs. Saba and Stacia together host the largest breeding populations of these majestic birds in the Caribbean, although there is currently concern that nesting success is under threat from rats and feral cats.
… and the Church
R and SN had missed immigration by 5 minutes on Tuesday afternoon, so the next morning R had to return by rubber dinghy to the harbour. This was a challenging 1.5 nautical miles in a SE swell with white horses to add to the excitement – a large RIB is recommended for visits to Saba!
The wind had sent occasional gusts round the mountain and down on to our secure mooring. It was due to gradually increase, so we only stayed one night in Saba, but it was well worth the effort. Before we left, J and R dinghied to Well’s Bay to swim and look at the fish among the boulders and grey volcanic sand on the bottom. There is an occasional sandy landing place here for the steep road up to Bottom (yet another ‘impossible’ road used by the villagers) but the summer beach was not yet in evidence.
Cloud blanketed the mountain above and the rain came in to give us a good send off. We motored out past Diamond Rock and picked up a good 15-20 knot wind to take us towards our last 2 islands: Anguilla for a relaxing beach stay and St Martin to prepare for our voyage to the Azores.