National Geographic : 1940 Nov
Saba, Crater Treasure of the Indies BY CHARLES W. HERBERT With Illustrations from Photographsby the Author WITH the dawn came the light and with the light a background to distin guish that cone-shaped speck of land, Saba, standing proudly apart from the other islands on the long bow of the Caribbean chain (map, page 621). Saba is apart and different. Its sheer, steep rock walls, lashed by waves from all sides, discourage casual visitors and limit commerce to providing bare necessities for modern Sabans.* Steamers plying two major lanes and planes of the Pan American Airways and of the U. S. Navy's neutrality patrol pass Saba almost daily. Their passengers look across sky and water and see clusters of doll-like houses hanging tenaciously to rocky ledges. The real thrill of navigation comes when, after you have laid down a course from the map, followed it for an extended time, you see your goal dead ahead at the figured time. This thrill is heightened when the course has carried you across a choppy cross sea, fanned with a stiff northeastern breeze, through the long night. We left St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands at five in the afternoon aboard the Hardtack, a 35-foot ocean-going cruiser owned and cap tained by Larry Pond of Norwalk, Connect icut. Saba is 100 miles southeast of the U. S. Virgin Islands and we dropped anchor at nine in the morning off Fort Bay Landing. Within a half hour, the harbor master, customs officer, boatmen, and porters had made their way down to the landing to receive us. Attracted to Saba by an article I had read in the NA TIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE,t I had come to make a documentary film. After clearance formalities are over and you have received the official welcome, it's time to be all set for the dash ashore. Luggage and supplies (in my case 24 boxes of film and equipment) were loaded from the Hardtack into a sturdy Saba surfboat (Color Plates II, III). There is no wharf on Saba only a ragged, rock-bound coast that is con tinually buffeted by the mighty waves rolling in from the open sea all around. There is a way in, and only the Saba men know it. They point their bow to a 20-foot opening between two treacherous rocks. The ease with which they maneuver through the billowing waves allays fears as you see the foaming water rise and recede around the rocks. You think you are going in for a landing, but quickly the key man in the boat swings her broadside into the trough of the waves with scant clearance from the right-hand rock. At this point the boat surges back and forth with each succeeding wave, but never comes too near the rock, as sure hands steady her. "Let's Go! Now!" You wonder what to expect next. The skipper has his hands on the tiller oar and his eye on the sea. You think you are there for the rest of the day until suddenly he lets forth an excited jabbering which, condensed, means "Let's go! Now!" Things really begin to happen. The two seamen in the bow pull with powerful strokes and the skipper himself works his short oar double quick as he swings the nose shore ward, bellowing commands to the men at the same time. The little boat now has a decided tilt forward. There's a big wave crowding close behind it and you are riding the crest. The crew is still pulling like mad and you are passing the rocks with a narrow margin. Suddenly the boat strikes hard bottom with a grind. You look up to see what the seamen will do, but they are already waist-deep in the surf, steadying the boat and tugging away shoreward as thunderous waves break behind (page 600). Willing hands from the shore now join in, and with several synchronized "heave ho's" the little boat is high and dry, with a big adventure swallowed up in the pounding surf just behind. You are glad to set your feet on solid ground and glad, too, that you are among the few outsiders who make this short but adventurous trip each year. *Note: Saba retains its status as a part of the Netherlands West Indies under the Act of Havana, 1940, which also provides: "That when islands or regions in the Americas now under the possession of non-American nations are in danger of becoming the subject of barter of territory or change of sov ereignty, the American nations, taking into account the imperative need of continental security and the desires of the inhabitants of the said islands or regions, may set up a regime of provisional ad ministration." t See "Skypaths Through Latin America," NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, January, 1931, and "South ward Ho! in the Alice," March, 1938.