17° 38′ 44″ N, 63° 13′ 14″ W (published January 2013)
The weather window did not open as predicted, and 75 miles due east of St. Croix, Saba jutted out of the Caribbean like a beacon, offering a rest and adventure before we continued our passage south. We accepted the offer and were rewarded with one of our favorite island experiences.
Saba, part of the Netherland Antilles, is a four-square-mile rock with steep cliffs along its shore culminating in a cloud forest 3000 feet high. The harbor itself can be untenable, making the safest option the Marine Park moorings on the west side; the charge for these moorings is nominal and is included in the fee for entering the country. Immigration is efficient and friendly, offering to clear us in and out at the same time since our stay was only a few days.
Taking a dinghy to shore along this coast is risky: the beach consists of precariously balanced, cantaloupe-sized rocks that the surf has polished smooth. From the black rock beach, 800 winding stairs cut into the cliff-side lead up to a road. Until the 1970s, everything that was brought onto the island was carried up those stairs. The former customs office is a small building a third of the way up this cliff. On our walk toward town, a man greeted us in English with a West Indian lilt and asked if we had climbed the stairs. When we assured him that our legs were screaming, our hearts pounding, and we could hardly breathe, so yes, we must have, he chuckled. He was in his 70s, and until five years earlier he was the customs officer stationed on the cliff. That had been his morning and evening commute for decades.
One of only two towns on Saba, The Bottom resembled a fairytale land. Whether done voluntarily or because of some building code, every house had the same color scheme: white building with red or green shutters and a red roof. We wound our way through town, climbing higher until we reached a trailhead. Along the trail we met a man cutting tall grass to feed to his sheep. He called us over, speaking English with a Dutch accent, and asked if we were visiting on a boat. Before we continued on our way, he gave us his phone number, invited us to a party and made us promise to come see him again.
By the end of the afternoon we reached Saba’s cloud forest. The ferns and trees made us feel like we were in a Jurassic Park movie; some plants had leaves the size of a small car. Little David and I rushed ahead to the top. I looked back to encourage Dave to follow us but was so stunned by what I saw that no words came out. I stared slack-jawed as a cloud swept by and surrounded him, making him invisible from the knees up before it continued westward. At the summit the clouds were too thick to see the ocean when we leaned over the edge of the 2000-foot drop. The island was giving us an excuse to return. Saba has become one of our favorite stops on the way up or down the island chain: a place where even strangers treat us like old friends.