Saba: Pound for Pound a Great Destination

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Sports enthusiasts are always debating on whom the best athletes are of all time. Basketball has their great stars such as Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Shaquille O’Neal. Boxing enthusiasts have their favorite fighters Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, and Floyd Mayweather. Even more complex are baseball arguments attempting to compare greats players of today vs. the athletes prior to the “steroid era.” Often arguments are flawed when comparisons are made from athlete to athlete, simply because they played their sports in different eras, different positions, or under different rules. However, greatness can never be ignored, and champions are remembered throughout time. Diving is not much different. We have our greats, our legendary dive locations, top live a boards vessels, one of a kind wrecks, and still we debate over where the best diving is in the world. After diving many places around the globe, Saba is pound for pound the best dive island in the Caribbean.

Saba is a small five-square mile volcanic island comprised of four small villages with inhabitants maxing out around 1800 people during the high season. This island is host to a flurry of diving, and outdoor activities. Many experienced divers have kept this small-unknown island a secret. Diving professionals come here to escape the over inundated resorts of other dive destinations. A traveler will not be forced to dish out “no thank you’s” to pushy locals selling various assortments of novelty gifts upon arrival. A traveler will be greeted with awe, and inspiration after touching down on the world’s smallest commercial runway, or arriving by boat from St. Maarten. Even non-divers come to Saba to escape the busyness of many travel destinations. Writers, artists, scientists, and professional of the “real world” hide away in the neatly tucked villages of the island’s hillsides. Saba does not have the shopping malls, discount diamond liquidators, movie theaters, “EVERYTHING MUST GO!” electronic stores, or even large scale grocery stores. What they do have are ocean views at nearly every resort, world- class hiking trails, excellent cuisine, eccentric boutique owners; oh, and the diving is out of this world.

Diver Passes Underneath Iconic Hanging Basket of Babylon
Diver Passes Underneath Iconic Hanging Basket of Babylon

Local history dictates that the first scuba divers came to Saba in 1982. Two men named Bunker and McQueen sailed about 20 miles from St. Maarten, anchored in Ladder Bay, and plunged into the pristine blue waters of Saba. They set their eyes upon a true gem, untouched, undove, and undisturbed coral reefs. Reporting their find to others, Saba became but a whisper among the “in crowd” of divers. This whisper grew over time drawing a few groups of adventurers to chart out, and discover sites completely out of science fiction. Over the next few years’ early divers quickly discovered, and charted approximately 30 dive sites around this tiny island, including 5 just offshore of the island. With such exquisite reefs early divers, like Biologist Tom VanOff, were instrumental in aiding in the establishment of a Marine Park to keep Saba in the same shape to which the island was discovered. This well-established, and easily manageable sized marine reserve is what keeps divers, hikers, and other adventures coming back year after year. Saba’s diving has something for everyone.

"The Needle" Saba's Famous Pinnacle
“The Needle” Saba’s Famous Pinnacle

For the seasoned diver, offshore lies a deep and out of this world pinnacle system that contains sites like Third Encounter, Twilight Zone, and Shark Shoals. Much like we use a gas station to service our vehicles fish use this seamount system to have a tune up as well. Fish like horse-eyed jacks, creole wrasses, and bar jacks swim around these beacons of marine life. These fish, as well as, many others can be seen feeding, and being cleaned of parasites throughout every dive. Plunging up from the depths, well beyond recreational limits, these sites reach a minimum depth of 80 feet. Geologist, Jennifer Rahn explained that, “Seamounts are the most common geological feature on earth, but also one of the least studied parts of the ocean.” They represent an essential part of the oceanic system of fish health and behavior. On very rare occasions, even pelagic fish like Manta Rays, and Whale Sharks have been spotted at these sites. Most dives at these sites boast Caribbean Reef Sharks, Large Green Moray Eels, and sea turtles swimming around the peaks of the complex.


On the windward side of the island, a diver will be enveloped within the biological reefs of Greer Gut, Big Rock Market, and Core Gut where sea fans, coral whips, and loads of marine life buzz around a healthy reef. Different then other sites around the island these biological sites were formed over an extensive amount of time. Much like citiesIMG_7404 grow upon themselves, so do the biological reefs of the world. Corals continue to grow on top of each other giving shape to this metropolis of sea life. On many occasions’, eagle rays can be seen passing overhead searching out their next meal of queen conch, which litter the streets of this reef. Many parrotfish find these biological reefs as an excellent source of food for which they use their beak-like teeth to munch on filamentous algae. As a by-product, these fish consume small portions of reef, which they then bypass through their bodies. Some scientists estimate that a single parrotfish can generate approximately one ton of sand every year. Looking at a pristine white beach may feel a little different after realizing how the sand is made.

Divers weave around larger sponge encrusted bolders

Right outside of the Saban Harbor, there is Tent Reef, which is a favorite amongst many of the dive crews.  Tent is a special place where any day a diver can find almost anything.  Just this past year, dive crews have spotted a number of Frogfish, Hawksbill and Green Sea Turtles, tiny Mantis Shrimp, Cherubs, Squat Anemone Shrimp, and even a number of sharks, which can be spotted swimming just off the reef on most days. Truly this area of the island is a fantastic dive at any experience level. Deep down there is a coral garden that has many old growth sponges and corals, which have been protected by their depth. At a shallow depth of 45 feet, a relief ledge, which has many dive-boat sized rocks scattered near by generate a great area to dive for an open water diver. This ledge has a great swim-through that has black coral surrounding the perimeter, and orange cup corals perched on the underside of the ledge, that come alive after dark. Many fish such as Nassau Groupers, IMG_7501School Masters, and Yellow Tailed Jacks are spotted leisurely swimming around this reef. As this ledge winds through the Tent Reef system, the ledge soon becomes a steep wall that drops down to about 120 feet. For Macro enthusiasts, Small critters like wire coral shrimp can be spotted here on every dive. Larger fish often are seen passing by when a diver looks seaward. Sometimes dive instructors have even spotted hammerhead sharks during one of their guided tours swimming out in the blue.

Wire Coral Shrimp are a common site on Tent Wall

The list of dive sites does not end here. Ladder Bay is host to multiple sites such as Babylon, Ladder Labyrinth, and Hot Springs. Each site shows that Saba is still an active volcano, as well as, evidence of the island’s volcanic past. Compacted ash fingers from the last major eruption, some 5,000 years ago, laid finger like tracks stretching across this underwater reefscape. This is the area of the island where a diver can plunge their hands into patches of yellowish sand to feel the warmth of the geothermal activity that is still present on the island. In between the compacted ash fingers, there are sand channels where nurse sharks like to patrol in search of their next meal.

A Nurse Shark searches the reef for tasty crustaceans
A Nurse Shark searches the reef for tasty crustaceans

Going on a night dive is an excellent way to see these sharks in action.  Using their sensory organ, the ampullae of lorenzini, sharks, skates, and rays are able to sense electromagnetic pulses emitted from the heartbeats of reef creatures.  When the sun sets, the docile nature of a nurse shark also fades away. These fish become active hunters on the reef, nudging their noses into any hole or crack that may hide a resting fish. Also, due to lack of coastal development on Saba, a rare display of bioluminescence can be seen by the ostracods on a calm moonless night.

_MG_6432With the list of world class sites scattered around the island’s perimeter, two sites make their way onto many diver’s must dive list; Diamond Rock and Man O’ War Shoals. These dives, which are located just off of a favorite snorkeling site known as Torrents Point, are not true pinnacles, nor are they the typical near shore reefs. Like small oasis’s, these coral encrusted structures host a magnitude of fish life. Many planktovoric species of Blue and Brown Chromis swirl around these structures, picking minute forms of life from the open water. Closer to the surfaces of these sites, Rock Beauty’s, Queen Angels, and French Angels chomp on sponges, as they make their daily rounds. Both Diamond Rock, and Man O’ War Shoals sit in 75 feet of water, but their mountain-like structures tower up towards the surface. Diamond Rock extends well beyond the surface allowing the birds, such as the Brown Booby, to rest. Man O’ War Shoals rises to 20 feet below the ocean’s surface, allowing a diver to enjoy an active safety stop while searching the sponges for an elusive frogfish.

Near Saba’s Airport Splash Pools are host to a unique ecosystem or corals and fish.

On Saba, there is also a load of things to do besides diving. For active people, one can find themselves trekking through the many trails of the island’s hillside. At only a 90- minute hike up through the cloud forest, that surrounds the peak of Mt. Scenery, a person can see a panoramic view of the nearby islands of St. Maarten, St. Kitts, Eustastia, Nevis, and Mount Surratt. An artistic person may enjoy a class in Venetian glass art with Jo’ Bean, where a customer is taught how to properly shape glass beads, and construct a treasure to take home. Someone needing to unwind can lay leisurely by the pool enjoying a great book, and a cool breeze. To enjoy a breath-taking sunset, one could spend happy hour at 2,000 feet above sea level, relaxing poolside at the Shearwater Resort, or socialize at Tropic’s Cafe for the local Tapas every Sunday afternoon. For those of us with a thirst for knowledge, a person can take part in October’s Sea and Learn event, where scientists from around the world come to present their research, and lead hands-on excursions of emersion into their scientific work. A 2012 presenter, Dr. Edith Widder, explained how bioluminescence works at night, and at great depth. Her work in bioluminescence was an essential part of obtaining live footage of the giant squid, which was broadcasted globally in January of 2013. Come to Carnival in July and party with the locals as they celebrate the essence of Caribbean life through song and dance. Any time is a great time to experience this powerhouse island. Just contact a local dive shop, and they will assist in planning from the high-end five star VIP treatment, or an eco-friendly, budget-friendly adventure.

IMG_7810Every diver experiences Saba differently because all divers have specific goals, and ambitions when it comes to a dive destination. Some have just began to enjoy this sport for the first time, where others have a lifetime of underwater adventures extending well over 1,000 dives. Much like other activities such as sports, music, and literature a person will have their favorites. They will happily tell you why their favorite is the “best.” The field of comparison is great no matter the subject hen searching for a “Number 1”. Diving is no different since we all experience this activity in our own way. Scuba enthusiasts can debate diving much like sports enthusiast debate athletes, but for this diver, Saba is pound for pound the best fighter in the ring.Weighing in at a mere, 5 square miles of island, from hiking through the cloud forest, to diving the deep pinnacles off shore, Saba truly has something for everyone. For me, I found this place as my fortress of solitude, IMG_7844where I could escape the real world, and envelop myself in an eclectic place with a pace of life that I could easily adjust to. Quality definitely outweighs quantity, when comparing this small Caribbean island to the giants in the dive industry. Where the concentration of activities, and the quality of dive sites, on this five-square mile island, makes Saba truly one of the greats in the dive industry.


Come Dive Saba with Raak Bottom Imaging October 8th – 14th 2017 – Click Here to Sign Up Today

See the Daily Reports from the RBI 2015 Trip to Saba by clicking the following YouTube links:

Raak Bottom Imaging Reports Saba the Unspoiled Queen (Day 1)

Raak Bottom Imaging Reports Saba the Unspoiled Queen (Day 2)

Raak Bottom Imaging Reports Saba the Unspoiled Queen (Day 3)

Raak Bottom Imaging Reports Saba the Unspoiled Queen (Day 4)

Raak Bottom Imaging Reports Saba the Unspoiled Queen (Day 5)

Raak Bottom Imaging Reports Saba the Unspoiled Queen (Day 6)

Raak Bottom Imaging Reports Saba the Unspoiled Queen (Day 7)