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After nearly 18 years on Saba, each week we still hear a new bit of lore or connect another branch of a Saban family tree.  Sea Saba's crew continues to hike, explore and learn from our local population...below are a few bits of information we thought you might find interesting. 

The Dutch say “Sah bah” but the Sabans say “Say Bah”.   This dormant volcano was attractive to travelers even of long ago.  Receiving more than 100 cm of annual rainfall, Arawak and Carib Indians were lured to Saba as a source for fresh water and rich volcanic soil.   Until the Summer of 2001, it was believed that Saba's first settlers were Carib Indians around 700 A.D.  

Was Palmetto Point a Place for Pirates?
Dutch Dig Team Unearth 3300 BP Campsite    Saba's Sea Captains    The World's Smallest Runway     Who Discovered Saba's Diving?

Although Saba is one of 5 Dutch Caribbean islands, its unique culture strongly reflects the original British settlers with the Dutch influence appearing later.  In the early 1600’s, the first European settlers of this 5-square mile island were from Scotland and Ireland.  They brought their lilting accents and rich heritage with strong religious beliefs and interesting architectural styles.  The Dutch officially proclaimed St. Maarten, Statia and Saba in 1816; however, the first official Dutch government was not installed on Saba until almost 60 years later.  Today these origins are still evident as you listen to a Saban story or look in any direction. 

Saban Pride...An archeological dig conducted in 1990 uncovered Carib Indian artifacts in Spring Bay.  Spring Bay, so named for the source of fresh water, is where European settlers fought Caribs over the rights to water usage.  The once shipwrecked Scotish-Irish constructed a proper well which is no longer used but is once again functional.   The 40' (13m) well has been restored (Jan 2001) by the Saba Conservation Foundation with funding help from The Princess Bernard Fund.  Stop by the Saba Trail Shop or talk to our crew to get your landmarks in Windwardside to start this trek.

The Dutch Archaeological Team that conducted work in the late 80's and throughout the 90's returned to Saba in 2001 after a 5-year break.  Their work continues with bi-annual visits now focused on the in tact campsite known as Plum Piece.  This archeological site is significant as it proves occupation on Saba during "preceramic times" or 3300 BP!  According to the archeologists, Plum Piece is the oldest site known in the Lesser Antilles and therefore very significant.  A few days before finishing a dig in January 2006, the Dutch team found another campsite--this one closer to the sea. Team Leaders Corinne Hofman and Menno Hoogland of the Caribbean Research Center of Leiden University in Holland trek to the Plum Piece dig area each day.  The team's theory is that a seasonal tribe of Indians were on Saba to build their dugout canoes, using the campsite as a working area.  The team believes they visited in the spring eating land crabs and shearwater birds which are found on Saba early in the year.  To read more about the findings, visit the Local News page of this website.  To read more about the work done at Plum Point, go to:  To find out more about the team, their Caribbean work or even volunteering to assist a next dig, go to:

Historical walks within steps of your hotel...Just across the street from Lambee's Place (home to Sea Saba's office, My Kitchen Restaurant, El Momo Folk Art and The Peanut Art Gallery), the Saba Trail Shop awaits.  Meet Evette or Suzanne and pick up your marine park tag, arrange your hike with Crocodile James, order a cappuccino or latte, or relax and watch a film made by True Magazine on Saba in 1937. Saba's newest and shortest trail takes you from The Trail Shop to The Saba Museum.  This restored Saban home complete with original hearth, holds Indian artifacts, interesting furnishings and loads of information to read or just ask Sherry, your host. 

Saba and the Sea...From the time of Saba's Golden Age in the 1800's, most Saban families were headed by Sea Captains who passed their sea-going skills down from generation to generation through the early 1900's.

Since its settlement in the 1600's as a safe haven for the families of pirates, Sabans have been famous throughout the Caribbean and the World for their seamanship skills. Simon Bolivar made several stops in Saba to recruit sailors in his fight for South American independence. A statue of Bolivar now stands outside the museum in Windwardside - a gift from the government of Venezuela.  In 1997, (to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Captain's Quarters Hotel which has since closed), the owners asked Saba's historian - then Senator Will Johnson (now Commissioner Will Johnson) to compile biographies of Saba's most famous sea captains.   Will Johnson is also the author of Saban Lore, an interesting compilation of old Saba tales.  Click here to read a few stories or to view the complete book online.

Saba's growth rings can be traced from the first settling of Europeans, the visits by foreign trading ships and the adventurous local ship captains who returned home from far and exotic ports.  The next significant change to Saba came with the building of the road (1935-1965) which lead to the first plane landing on Saba in the 1960's.  In December 2002, the new Airport Building officially opened when the original building was destroyed by Hurrican Georges in 1998.   

The world's smallest international runway...In a cleared area, but not yet paved, Rémy de Haenen landed on Flat Point in 1959 after Council member Mathew Levenstone went to St. Barts to convince him to take on the adventure. It was to be his only landing on Saba.  Four years later, Jose Dormoy, Winair's first pilot, took over the controls, and made more than 20,000 landings on Saba before he retired. Jose was called “Pipe” because of his smoking habit.

Skipping ahead to the 1980's...Scuba Diving Begins on Saba...Like all gems, Saba's demeanor belies her birth: violent geophysical upheavals were her attendants.  Eons later, her emerald forests, punctuated by the ruby roofs of her trim cottages, are ringed by her sapphire blue seas.

For centuries, only local fisherman and sailors knew Saba's waters.  It wasn't until 1981 that American businessmen Del Bunker and Wilson McQueen brought scuba cylinders to Saba.  From the first dive it was obvious that Saba offered something truly special.  A dive shop was established.

Dive tourism began slowly.  In the early days, most of the visitors came for a one-day visit from St. Maarten.  But as word of Saba's underwater riches spread, the number of tourists increased.  The pioneering dives shops (a second had been established) had already reached a mutual understanding with local fishermen to avoid fishing on the favored diving reefs.  For their part, the shops had begun practicing some environmental procedures to protect the reefs before any damage occurred by establishing moorings made from blocks or large abandoned anchors.  These developments did not go unnoticed by the Saban government.  After all, in 1981, sister Antillean island Bonaire had officially designated her marine park.  (The concept of a marine park often strikes non-divers as odd.  No parking lots, roller coasters or hot dog stands here!  A marine park is a specific area in which regulations and zoning have been established to protect and enhance marine resources).  Today, there are many marine parks and they have become an industry standard.

Marine biologist Tom van t'Hof, who had been a key player in the development of the Bonaire Marine Park, was hired by Saba's government to conduct an official survey.  His report was submitted in 1983 and approved by the government in early 1984.  The Prince Bernard Fund and the World Wildlife Fund provided initial funding.  Although the park was not officially declared  until 1987, much was accomplished in the interim period, including drilling permanent moorings, establishing mapping, purchasing a truck and a boat, as well as publishing education literature.  In addition to the two dive shops, a live aboard also began to pay regular visits.  By 1987, two additional live boards were issued licenses.  Diving became another sparkling facet of the Saban jewel.

Although Saba's underwater attractions include spectacular (and shallower) reefs and walls, it is for her pinnacles that she has acquired a reputation as a "must go destination" among seasoned divers.  The pinnacles are actually the summits of underwater mountains, beginning at around 85 feet and extending to the abyss.  They are awesomely impressive, not only to divers, but apparently also to the larger fish and pelagics that are frequent visitors.  

Saba's Marine Park is different.  The design of the park and its zoning were a collaborative effort between the dive shops, the government and Sabans, including her fishermen.  Unlike other marine parks that were founded after diving tourism was already having an impact on the underwater environment, Saba's reefs were protected before any damage occurred.  Her reefs are pristine.  Annual scientific surveys indicate that fish density, variety and size are increasing and the growing number of shark sightings hears this out--see our Nature News page for regular updates.  

The next level of recognition and safety was reached when Dr. John "Jack" Buchanan coordinated with the Dutch Navy and the Saban government to bring a hyperbaric chamber to Saba.  Saba's chamber is now the official sport diving chamber and only recognized D.A.N. chamber for a territory ranging from Puerto Rico to Barbados.  It is owned and operated by the Saba Marine Park but is closely allied with The Saba School of Medicine, who now (2005) have their own chamber used primarily for hyperbaric research.  The SSOM has a hyperbaric master's program  for its medical students which adds to the pool of local volunteers to treat diving accidents and conduct research.

As the "second child", Saba benefited from experience gained from the development of the Bonaire park.  Both parks have received numerous environmental awards and have been the subject of many studies.  Saba's park was actually the first to be fully self-funding through user fees and donations.  The fees are used to maintain facilities and to support a staff of three professionals.  The Netherlands Antilles governments have enthusiastically embraced the marine park concept.

Saba now boasts three land-based dive shops and is visited year-round by one live-aboard and seasonally by another.  The Saba Conservation Foundation, with grant funding from the Dutch government, has produced seven brochures to assist visitors.  Brochures titled The History of the Park, Guidelines for Visiting Yachts, and Hiking Saba are informative brochures available at Sea Saba as well as the Saba Tourist Office, the Trail Shop or the Visitor's Center for the Saba Marine Park at the Fort Bay Harbor.  

This page last updated on 12/20/08 from our Windwardside office

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