SABA & SAINT KITTS
Wrecks and reefs in the Leeward Islands
Season: Year-round diving
Water Temperature: 26-29°C/79-84°F
Diving: Wrecks, sharks, walls, sea mounts, coral gardens
Willing to share option
Can be combined with Dominica or Saint Lucia
Non-diving activities include island tours of Saba, St Kitts and St Maarten
According to historians, Christopher Columbus first sighted Saint Martin and Saba on Saint Martin’s Day, November 11th, 1493 and it is thought that the island of Saint Martin was thus named in honour of the saint. The beautiful green and mountainous island, encircled by white coral sands and peeping from an azure sea, must have been a wonderful sight! A unique agreement between the Dutch and the French resulted in the island being divided into two: the French control the northern half of the island, known as Saint Martin, French West Indies, and the Dutch control the southern section, known as Sint Maarten, Netherlands Antilles. This amazing combination of nationalities results in at least one good thing - a truly excellent choice of dining opportunities! Saint Martin has a good choice of hotels, quite an active nightlife and is your starting point for a dive cruise on Caribbean Explorer II. This new boat came into service in 2003, replacing the original Caribbean Explorer I that for many years gave pleasure to Divequest clients.
Caribbean Explorer II gives you the opportunity to dive around Saba and St Kitts, two islands in the northeast corner of the Caribbean. The islands are steeped in history and offer superb diving on pinnacles, spur and groove reefs, rocks and wrecks encrusted with corals and sponges and inhabited by Black-tip Reef Sharks, Nurse Sharks, Nassau Groupers, Spotted Eagle Rays, Southern Stingrays, and a host of colourful reef fish and invertebrates. With a scheduled five dives a day, including regular night dives, Caribbean Explorer II still fits in optional tours of each of the islands.
The small but verdant and mountainous island of Saba, the smallest of the Netherlands Antilles, lies only 26 miles south-west of Saint Martin and rises sharply from the sea. The inhabitants of Saba are immensely proud of their immaculately clean villages and beautiful island, known as the ‘Unspoiled Queen of the Caribbean’. Throughout the centuries, the Spanish, British, French and Dutch all took turns in ruling the five square miles of volcanic hills until in 1826 the island came under the permanent rule of the Netherlands. After docking in the harbour at Fort Bay, you have the option of either staying aboard for one of the day’s scheduled dives or stepping ashore to explore the island. The island’s three picturesque townships are nestled against the steep rocky slopes connected by ‘The Road’. A local inhabitant, after having been told by Dutch engineers that building a road around the island’s sheer hillsides would be impossible, built one using local labour and not much else. ‘The Road’ climbs up to the island’s capital, The Bottom (which despite it’s name is at such an elevation that you need to be aware of pre-tour dive profiles!), then snakes even further upwards to Windwardside before zigzagging down the hills through Hellside and around the impossible cliff faces to the tiny airport set alongside the sea. The red-roofed gingerbread houses, painted white with green shutters and a lacy green trim, stand out in the brilliant sun against the blue sky and verdant backcloth of the island.
The Saba Marine Park encircles the island and is zoned for specific purposes. Fishing and anchoring are prohibited in the park’s recreational diving areas and permanent moorings are set in place to prevent damage by boat anchors.
Ladder Labyrinth is a reef at 15 metres made up of spur and groove formations (finger-like ridges of hard coral with grey larval sand in between). Gorgonian sea whips thrive in profusion, flamingo tongues cling to the many large sea fans, and turtles and Nurse Sharks are often found resting in the sandy areas. Along the reef you might find speckled moray eels, graysbies, conies, butterflyfish, blue tangs and White-spotted Filefish. Your dive guide will encourage you to bury your hands in the small patches of yellow-stained sand, warm to the touch, which are an indication of Saba’s on-going volcanic activity.
Torren’s Point, a maze of coral and rock formations, features Southern Stingrays, Nurse Sharks and turtles amongst the frequent sightings. Silversides and Glassy Sweepers inhabit the small tunnel leading through the rock face.
For many people, diving on Saba is defined by the volcanic pinnacles that support fabulous populations of reef fish and encrusting sponges. Saba’s signature dive is Third Encounter, also known as the Eye of the Needle. Fly in the blue across a deep plateau to the towering perpendicular-sided pinnacle that rises from 60 metres to within 10 metres of the sea’s surface. Only 15 metres in diameter, it is a fantasy of nature with yellow tube sponges, orange elephant ear sponges, huge sea fans, anemones, and hard and soft corals festooning its sheer sides. Black-tip Sharks are often found here, as are pelagics, turtles, Nassau groupers, jacks and huge schools of Creole Wrasse and Southern Sennets.
The twin pinnacles of Diamond Rock break the surface and drop 25 metres to a sandy seabed. The white, guano-covered rock (home to many resting and nesting seabirds) projects out of the water for about 10 metres, but below the water line its vertical sides are covered in coral and sponges. Yellow tube sponges and enormous Caribbean anemones of all shapes and sizes add to the kaleidoscope of colours that cover the volcanic rock. In between the pinnacles, schools of squirrelfish and Big-eye Snappers hang motionless in the open and even a turtle may swim by.
A visit to the Brimstone Hill Fortress will be well rewarded. Built by the British during the 18th century, it was successfully besieged by the French in 1782. A year later it was returned to the British and additional fortification continued until 1794. In 1852 the British troops left the island and the fortress was abandoned. Its restoration was carried out during the 1960s and completed in 1973. It stands in a commanding position at the north end of the island and on a clear day the island of St Eustatius can be seen on the horizon.
The hull of the 60-metre freighter River Taw, sunk by an earlier hurricane, finally broke into two sections in 1985 as a result of Hurricane Claus. The two sections are a short swim apart over a sandy eel-grass seabed and other wreckage from the freighter is strewn around. The vessel is encrusted with corals and is a refuge for juvenile reef fish of many species. Night diving on this wreck is a fantastic experience.
Several dives will be made on the spur and groove reefs of Paradise Reef, at sites such as Anchors Away, and at reefs close by. In the 17th and early 18th centuries, many ships anchored just outside range of the cannons mounted at Forts Brimstone and Charles. Two hundred French, English and Dutch ships are reported to have sunk in this area! Caribbean Explorer II divers continue to find more lost anchors and occasionally cannons and musket balls from these mighty ships. Some cannons are nearly 4 metres in length and protrude from the reef, while others are encrusted with star corals and sponges. (Please note: divers who find artefacts must leave them where they find them in order to comply with Caribbean Explorer II’s permit for conducting dive operations in Statia and St Kitts waters). Barrel and vase sponges, growing up to 2 metes in diameter in this area, support their own miniature ecosystems and Flying Gurnards and elegant black and white Spotted Drums are common. A night dive here is usually scheduled and proves exceptionally popular with underwater photographers because of the excellent opportunities for unusual photographs.
Caribbean Explorer II operates 7 nights cruises in Saba, St Eustatius and St Kitts from October to March, departing every Saturday and alternating its itineraries each week; one week departing out of St Maarten (Bobby’s Marina in Philipsburg) and ending at St. Kitts, and the alternative week departing out of St Kitts (Port Zante in downtown Basseterre) and ending at St Maarten. Some sites on the itinerary are repeated during the week, often dived in different directions.
On the departures from St Maarten a land tour on St Kitts can be made on the Friday afternoon, by which time the diving programme has ended. Land tours on St Kitts on departures from St Kitts are only possible as an alternative to a scheduled dive. On Saba a land excursion can be made as an alternative to a scheduled dive. As there are opportunities to land on both islands, so you are not at sea for the entire week, Caribbean Explorer II is an ideal choice for those who want to try out a liveaboard for the first time.
COMBINATIONS: Why not combine a week of liveaboard diving on Caribbean Explorer II with some diving on Dominica or Saint Lucia? There are daily flights between St Martin or Saint Kitts and Dominica and Saint Lucia. Talk to us about the possibilities.
FLIGHTS: Prices from about $599 return from Miami to St Maarten and back from St Kitts, or vice versa.