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(Wo)man Overboard – Off Saba

We had always wanted to sail to Saba,
always, that is, since we first heard of it, at the age of 55 or so.
Saba isn’t easy to get to by boat. On five different
occasions on which we had chartered in the Leeward Islands,
conditions had never been right, according to the charter company. The sixth
time was the charm. They said we could go there, after we signed a waiver.

We left
St. Martin early on a Tuesday morning, that is, as early
as an easy-going skipper could drive a middle-aged crew that had sampled the
delights of Philipsburg the night before. We were Bob and Patty, Tauno (it’s Finnish) and Pam, and my wife Anne and I. All
the men and Anne had considerable sailing experience.

On
Monday, on the short trip around from Oyster Pond, and on shore before that, I
had done my usual indoctrination lecture. Can I help it if I used to be a
teacher? The most important part of the lecture deals with man overboard. Rule
1: Nobody falls overboard. No way, never. But if the
impossible happens, the first person fixes his eyes on the head of the swimmer.
Someone else throws the life ring or horseshoe. And so on; I’m sure you know
the drill.

No one
fell overboard; someone jumped. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

With a
moderate wind out of the east-northeast, we reached Saba
around noon after a pleasant sail. For those who don’t know, it is nearly
impossible to anchor off Saba, and totally
impossible to go into the tiny small boat harbor. The government has placed sturdy
moorings along the west and south sides of the island, which is just about
totally steep-to. With the usual prevailing wind, a current runs south along
the west side and west along the south side, meeting at the corner in a
confused swell that must be awesome in a heavy wind.

After
picking up a west-side mooring, we tried to reach the harbormaster by radio.
Since there was a mountain between us, we had no luck. With advice from a good Samaritan moored nearby, I had Bob take me around the
corner in the dinghy. The best plan we could make was that he would pick me up
at the tiny Well’s Bay beach in a couple of hours.

I met
wonderfully helpful people at the Marine
Park office and the
harbormaster’s. Unfortunately, they advised me that, even in the current
moderate conditions, the swells at the Well’s Bay beach would make a dinghy
landing tricky. The Marine
Park officer did one
great thing for us; she put me in touch with taxi driver Manny. She also said
the ranger’s boat was about to leave for the area where my boat was, and I
could send a message by it. My message was, "Don’t try to land if the
swells are too high."

Saba, once you get there, is a paradise. It’s the kind of
place where nobody locks his house or his car. Manny took us everywhere, to the
church, interesting buildings, the jail, up roads that can’t be believed even
when you’re seeing them. In the Black Hills of South Dakota, I have driven
roads that "pigtail," that is, the road goes under itself through a
tunnel. Saba’s roads are steeper, much
steeper. In places, all that is between you and a several-hundred-foot drop is
a stone wall a foot high.

We asked
Manny why Saba needed a jail. He said,
"Bar fights." We asked how many drunk drivers go over the cliffs in a
year. He said, "None."

"How
could that be?"

"If
you’re drunk, somebody takes away your car keys. A friend,
the bartender, anybody. Nobody lets anybody drive drunk."

After
bringing the boat around to a mooring on the south side, near the small boat
harbor, we elected to sleep ashore, since several members of the crew couldn’t
stand the very heavy motion caused by the swells. We slept in a house owned by
Manny, after we ate in a splendid restaurant he took us to. The next morning he
took us back to the harbor. Asked how much we owed him for everything, he said,
"Pay me what you think it’s worth." We did.

Oh, the
woman overboard incident? I skipped a bit. Since no one got hurt, it was a
total comedy of errors. While Bob and Tauno were off
in the dinghy to get me, my wife, of all people, decided to go for a swim,
finding quite soon that she couldn’t swim back against the current. Pat and Pam
decided against throwing her the horseshoe. Guess why. For all
my lecture, they thought it had to be fastened to the boat with a long rope,
and it, of course, wasn’t. It goes to show you never make everything totally
clear.

Anne was
actually drifting fairly rapidly down-current toward boats moored behind us,
but it wasn’t fun. Now the ranger boat came to our vessel, which had only Pam
and Pat aboard. It delivered a somewhat garbled message: "Don’t try to
land at Wells
Bay under any circumstances." The
ladies quickly indicated: "Pick up that woman in the water." The
ranger did, and then came to Wells
Bay to watch a surf
landing that would have done credit to any Hawaiian or Australian.

The
smartest thing I did was give the folder containing our passports and boat
papers, along with my wallet, to Manny before trying to get into the dinghy.
The dumbest thing I did was not to tell the boys, "Stay out beyond the
surf and I’ll swim out to you, clothes and all." Anyway, we made it.

My man
overboard lecture now includes demonstrating that the life ring has no rope
tied to it and isn’t supposed to, and a rule that no one swims off the boat if
the dinghy is away. But I’m sure that somebody, sometime, will find something
else I’ve left out.

If you
ever get the chance, sail to Saba. When you
do, be sure to ask for Manny.

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