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Dive Review of Sea Saba/Iris House in

Sea Saba/Iris House, Feb, 2005,

by Scott Vickers and Mark Waddell, CO, USA . Report 1706.

No photos available at this time

Ratings and Overall Comments 1 (worst) - 5 (best):

Accommodations 5 stars Food 5 stars
Service and Attitude 5 stars Environmental Sensitivity N/A
Dive Operation 5 stars Shore Diving 1 stars
Snorkeling N/A
Value for $$ N/A
Beginners 3 stars
Advanced 3 stars
Comments Saba is a very beautiful, remote, small volcanic island (only 5 square miles) that has no beaches, no casinos, and thus no cruise ships. There are 3 small villages: Hell's Gate (due to its location near an abandoned sulpher mine); Windwardside, where we and most everyone else stayed; and The Bottom, where the medical school is located, along with some homes and a large hotel (Queen's Garden) that was curiously low on clientele.
Mt. Scenery, at almost 3,000 feet, rises above Windwardside, which is at 1,400 feet. It was three days before we saw the top of Mt. Scenery due to the clouds that cling to it, and are in part formed by it. Windwardside is the "Marin County of the Caribbean" because of its precipitous roads and foggy/sunny climate. One day we got up and could only see 20 feet out the door. We were in a cloud. When we got down to the wharf, it was sunny and warm, and the boats were waiting.
Friendly people abound all over Saba, mostly Dutch or other expats, and you don't have to lock your doors (really!). Everyone speaks English (plus a few other languages, probably), and many local folks have small businesses or just hang out in the spectacular scenery.
Restaurant food was uniformly excellent, with prices ranging from $10 for BBQ chicken and ribs with potato salad, beans to $130 for dinner, dessert, and a bottle of wine at the French restaurant in Hell's Gate (the Gate House). Taxi rides to restaurants outside the parameters of Windwardside, where most tourists stay, are usually free with the meal. The Swinging Door, where the BBQ is served, is a hoot--their official T-shirt reads: "The world's largest outdoor asylum: We're all here because we're not all there." This is indeed a place where the disgruntled can regain their peace of mind.
Groceries are not as abundant as, say, in Bonaire--meat and seafood (except lobster) is frozen, but there is a hydroponic lettuce business on the island, so good salads were plentiful, and we did have excellent meat and regular dairy as well.
Other good eating-out bets are the Brigadoon (Michael, the owner, is a great cook!), Saba's Treasure (specialty pizzas, sandwiches), the Rainforest Restaurant (located at the Ecolodge at 1,800 ft.; excellent salads and shrimp dishes), Tropics at Juliana's Hotel (great cheeseburger and club sandwich), or an evening at the spectacular Queen's Garden restaurant (lobster and other specials daily).
The "Saban Cottage" (such as Iris House) is the architecture of choice--well-built pitched-roof wooden houses that are all painted white with green shutters and red metal or tile roofs (there must be a covenant about house colors!). Iris House, Cat's Eye Cottage, and numerous other cottages are available for rent on a weekly basis at rates comparable to room rates at hotels.
The weather was a little too chilly for us this time of year. Residents said is was "cooler than usual," and we wore long pants and jackets to dinner at night. The town of Windwardside got its name for a reason--winds blew pretty strong at night, but this would be an excellent feature in warmer weather when you'd appreciate the cool trade winds. We didn't see hardly anyplace with air-conditioning, although there are a few rooms in the larger hotels that have it. We would have settled for a cozy fire or hot tub on a couple of nights!
We compare Saba to Bonaire thusly: you go to Bonaire mainly for the diving as the island doesn't have as much variety above water, while in Saba the island is extremely beautiful and the diving is not quite as good as Bonaire, but still has its considerable merits. Hiking and ecotourism is plentiful--1,000+ "steps" go to the top of Mt. Scenery from Windwardside, and there are about 10 miles more of hiking trails between Mt. Scenery and The Bottom.
The key diving attractions are the pinnacles, which are the tops of other volcanic mountains that peak under the ocean, most at around 90 feet. All sites have mooring lines, and at the pinnacles you jump in the water and can't see anything beneath you, but you swim to the line and then follow it down until suddenly you see a reefy plateau looming up at you. Most of the pinnacles were deep, so you don't get much bottom time (20-30 minutes), but it was a unique experience. The draw of the pinnacles is to see big stuff like sharks, etc., and supposedly the week before we got there porpoises were swimming and the week after whales were to be seen. We saw large jacks, groupers, and spadefish.
The reefs are healthy and there is plenty of fish life--even some flying gunards on a muck dive close to the harbor. Lots of turtles, eels, and coneys, and the usual array of other fabulous critters.
We highly recommend the dive operation Sea Saba. They have the best boats, and the dive masters are knowledgeable, fun, and friendly. Their taxis pick you up at the airport, and from your residence every morning for the ride down to the dock and back (all part of the package). They offer "concierge service" and mean it. Sea Saba's office staff had some basic foodstuffs we asked for delivered from the grocery into our cottage (at no additional charge) when we got there, and made dinner reservations every night if you wanted. They can also fix most gear and rent the latest in computers and other stuff if you need it. Nitrox is encouraged (and cheap!) because of the climb in altitude after diving. The island has its own decompression chamber and hyperbaric doctors at the small medical school in The Bottom, just in case.
Best bets for getting a total package tailored to your specifications: Lynn at Sea Saba ([ link]) or Beth Jansen at Dive Saba ([ link]).

Reporter and Travel

Dive Experience 251-500 dives
Where else diving Cozumel, Grand Turk, Bonaire, Belize, Roatan, the Caymans
Closest Airport Getting There

Dive Conditions

Weather sunny, rainy Seas choppy, noCurrents
Water Temp 65-68°F / 18-20°C Wetsuit Thickness 3
Water Visibility 35-75 Ft/ 11-23 M

Dive Policy

Dive own profile yes
Enforced diving restrictions During "pinnacle" dives, dive group followed the bow line down and up and stayed together.
Liveaboard? no Nitrox Available? N/A

What I Saw

Sharks None Mantas None
Dolphins None Whale Sharks None
Turtles > 2 Whales None
Corals 3 stars Tropical Fish 3 stars
Small Critters 3 stars Large Fish 3 stars
Large Pelagics 2 stars

Underwater Photography 1 (worst) - 5 (best):

Subject Matter 4 stars Boat Facilities 2 stars
Overall rating for UWP's 3 stars Shore Facilities N/A
UW Photo Comments Sea Saba's boats had no camera facilities except a small plastic bucket, and no platforms for changing film or other operations.
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Note: The information here was reported by the author above, but has NOT been reviewed nor edited by Undercurrent prior to posting on our website. Please report any major problems by writing to us and referencing the report number above.

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