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Any Day When You’re Not Eaten by Sharks is a Good Day

Snorkeling in the waters around Saba

sunny 86 °F

I signed up for an afternoon snorkeling trip with Sea Saba on my third day on the island

My friends and regular readers know that I am deathly afraid of sharks. We are talking nightmares of Great White jaws clamping down on me scared of sharks. Yet when I decided to visit Saba, I knew full well it was know for its excellent scuba diving. I don’t scuba, but Sea Saba assured me that snorkelers are not an afterthought on their excursions. So, going hiking during my stay but not getting in the waters is missing out on an essential lure of the island. So, I planned to do a snorkeling trip while on the island. And today was the day.

Killing time before the snorkeling, I visited Windwardside’s Methodist church

There was the question of would the sea conditions be good enough for us to go out? Sea Saba’s trips are scuba trips primarily, and divers can deal with rougher currents and choppier waters because they’re under the water. Or at least that is how I understand it. So, when I called to check in the morning and again at noon to see if conditions were favorable for snorkeling (as instructed), Sea Saba gave me the thumbs up. The question is....would I actually be able to force myself into the water? You see, in the videos I watched about Saba’s diving one thing became abundantly clear. There are a LOT of sharks in the waters surrounding Saba. Yes, I saw that they are mostly black-tip reef sharks that are not known to attack humans. And yes, yes, I realize my chances are greater of being struck by lightning than being devoured by a shark. Phobias are not reasonable, though. And I wasn’t 100% sure I would be able to force myself to jump in.

Saba’s harbor, where snorkeling trips and the ferry to St. Maarten leave from

Our snorkeling trip didn’t leave till about 1pm, so we had the morning to kill while waiting. A trip to the supermarket and a stop by Sea Saba’s offices to sign our waiver form (“I promise not to sue if Jaws decides to take an important chunk out of me...”) took up a little time. We tried to go to the historical museum in town, but it was closed. So, it was basically killing (wrong word) time until it was time to go. We did make plans for Tuesday. Our favorite taxi driver Garvis was going to take us on a tour of Saba’s tidal pools in the morning. Apparently, they are quite the sight, and you can see sea urchins and other sea life in the incredibly clear water. So read tomorrow’s blog about them, too. That is, of course, if I don’t get eaten today on my snorkeling trip. Losing a leg and hopping across the rocks to tide pools could be challenging!

Ladder Bay us named after “the ladder” - the 800 step path from the harbor to the still standing Customs House

Zero hour arrived eventually and we walked the 5 minutes through Windwardside to the office. I played with the owner’s dogs until our taxi driver, who I will call Not Garvis, arrived to take us to the harbor. Driving along Saba’s one road is a breathtakingly beautiful experience. The 5-square mile island is incredibly mountainous and the views are stupendous. There was a short hiccup as we had to return to the office to pick up two German girls who showed up late. And another hiccup as, once we disembarked from the van, we were directed to three different boats or piers. Soon enough, though, we found our boat and they told us to chill in the harbor side bar for a few moments while they offloaded the last group, reprovisioned the boat, and got ready for us. I told myself not to think negative thoughts. These fine people may later being pulling me from the mouth of a shark, later. So no negative waves, Moriarty!

It was cool to see Saba’s rugged and beautiful coastline from the water

A short time later, four snorkelers and two scuba divers were on board with the two crew and heading out to sea. We circled around the island close to Ladder Bay. This was the historic anchorage of ships pulling into Saba. The “ladder” is a series of stairs carved into the solid rock leading to the Customs House. Porters would carry everything brought to the island on their backs up the 800 steps all the way up until a road was constructed about 50 years ago. Our boat moored up to one of the buoys and the skipper helped us four snorkelers into our gear. I chose to use a flotation device - think airline life jacket - because I was worried about the current. I have snorkeled numerous times but not often enough to consider myself a strong, experienced snorkeler. Nor am I a strong swimmer. Not a weak or tentative one. Just not strong.

The volcanic slopes of Saba provide perfect conditions for the growth of coral and the abundance of sea life

I often joke that when I am swimming in the ocean I always insist someone else be near me. “That way,” I deadpan, “there’s at least a 50/50 chance the shark will go after them. My fellow snorkelers were all fiddling with their equipment, and I was ready. Inwardly, I sighed. Of course. I tossed first one leg over the side, then the second. Looking back at my companions I slid into the water - and immediately my mask filled with water. I surfaced, cleared it, and tried again. Same thing. The skipper asked if I was okay and I explained my problem. He tightened the mask, but it still filled with water. I hung on to the side of the boat while he fetched a new mask and got it ready. My fellow snorkelers all watched me wide eyed. The new mask worked like a charm and I cast off from the side into the blue.

Saba’s settlement known as The Bottom looms above the harbor, while its high peaks rise behind

The first thing noticed was that the sun’s rays were beautiful as they penetrated into the deep beneath me. I also saw no fish. The skipper had warned my to stay about 30 yards from the boat, and that it was better to go inshore rather than out to sea away from the boat. I began to paddle slowly, circling around the stern of the boat. Finally, I began to see fish - and my fellow snorkelers enter the water. I guessed they lived by the same philosophy as me and wanted to make sure I didn’t get eaten before they entered! It was interesting watching the divers enter the water, then slowly descend toward the bottom. Our two divers were on their final training dive with an instructor. They left a trail of bubbles heading to the surface as they disappeared into the blue gloom beneath me.

Windwardside’s cemetery with centuries of islanders laid to rest in close quarters

As I continued circling the boat, soon found myself immersed in a school of silver and blue fish. They darted this way and that in perfect unison - just like in the nature videos. Of course, paranoid me immediately wondered what they were darting AWAY from! No sinister dark shapes appeared, though. I switched from the silvery fish school to the dark black with two white stripes on their fins school. As you can tell, I am no marine biologist and was unable to identify most of the fish that I saw. I did see colorful purple, yellow, and blue parrotfish, though. As I made my way further away from the boat and closer to the rocky shore, the coral bottom rose up to meet me. I found myself in a school of black and white striped fished. I saw sponges, fans, and coral of different shapes.

A bust of Simon Bolivar donated to Saba by Venezuela - I will have to look up his connection to the island!

Every once in awhile a little water would get in my snorkel and I got better and better at expelling it back out. Same with the occasional leakage into my mask. I figured out how to hold onto the mask and blow air from my nose to force the water out. The most uncomfortable thing was the life vest, which was very uncomfortable and kept pulling up near my neck. I had to tug it down, or sometimes just hold onto it to keep it away from my throat. I even attempted to let a little air out of the vest and loosen its straps. Still, it remained uncomfortable. Yet it let me float effortlessly, moving only by paddling my feet or breast stroking with my arms.

The Little Z and her crew got me safely to my snorkeling spot and home

Finally, I decided it was time for a break. I paddled back to the boat, forcing myself to realize it would take awhile and not panic. Honestly, I feel that halftime battle of snorkeling is keeping yourself from panicking. Other than the initial snafu with the mask, I felt I did well at that. And as I clambered aboard, I realized that I had also achieved my number one goal. No, I had not seen any turtles or rays like many divers did that day in Saba. But I - Mr. Sharkaphobia had managed to enter Neptune’s realm once again and NOT get eaten. Woo-hoo! Let’s hear it for not losing a limb or dying!!

Where would I rank my snorkeling experience in Saba? It did not have as stunning as coral as Apo Island in the Philippines. Nor did it have as much vibrant sea life as Curaçao (where I saw turtles and an octopus). Still, it was fun and a very interesting day. Obviously, I knew I had to be a diver to see Saba’s waters at their best. The crew at Sea Saba did a good job of providing a fascinating experience, though. So, if my stories about Saba’s scenery and hiking have intrigued you, chock snorkeling here as yet another reason to visit this gorgeous island!

Posted by world_wide_mike 00:07 Archived in Caribbean Netherlands

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