On February 27 we published a letter from Mr. LaFrance to “those responsible” about the assumed unreliable state of Saba’s moorings.
Saba Park Manager, Kai Wulf, has responded to Mr. LaFrances concerns by email. He has authorized us to publish this response on Saba News as well, so that the message can reach the wider community of sailors.
Dear Mr. LaFrance,
With great interest I read your recent letter addressed to one of our Saba Bank Management Unit officers, who is not responsible for yachting-related issues. As the person accountable, in the following I will attempt to address your concerns:
Saba’s yacht mooring system was refurbished about a year and a half ago, with funding from the Island Government and technical assistance from the Dutch Navy. On September 11th, 2013, The Daily Herald reported on the placing of 11 new, 4-ton mooring blocks, rigged with heavy chain, by the Dutch Navy vessel ZMs. Pelikaan. The Saba Marine Park then also purchased a new hydraulic tool and materials to install helical anchors in areas with sand over 8 feet depth, and staff and volunteers were trained in the use of the equipment.
Apparently, many sailors are not aware of that project and our ongoing activities. Because the cruising sector is generally quite dispersed, it is difficult to disseminate information efficiently. Chris Doyle, the author of the very popular Caribbean Cruising Guides, just visited Saba in January, as he does every two years, to update the section on Saba. As usual, he was apprised of the recent developments and stated that he will return the next time on his vessel, Helios, to have more time to explore the island. Although some cruisers find it more convenient and less expensive to travel from St. Maarten to the island by ferry for a day trip to hike or scuba dive, we do have lots of examples of yachters returning to Saba on their boat for a longer stay, because of those good experiences.
At the Saba Marine Park, the servicing of the moorings is one among many tasks of the Marine Park Ranger, who relies on the help of volunteers. The small Mooring Fee of US $3.00 per person a week and the Nature Fee of US $1.00 per night, are not sufficient to pay for the upkeep of the moorings, so we must rely on external support.
To address our most urgent issues, a proposal was submitted to the Dutch branch of the World Wildlife Fund, who approved the funding of an additional Marine Park Ranger for a period of 3 years. This new staff member, who has specific commercial diving experience, started in June 2014, with a special focus on mooring maintenance.
Of course, we are aware that charter companies do not advise their customers to sail to Saba, but not because of bad mooring maintenance. Anchoring around Saba can be tricky. Winds often blow in the opposite direction of waves or currents and conditions can change quickly. Some less experienced captains may have difficulties dealing with these situations and mooring lines sometimes get entangled in the boat’s propeller, which can lead to the failure of the system. Thus, it is important that the mooring is not just being checked upon arrival, as a common practice, but also regularly monitored during the stay on the mooring. As a precaution, some skippers set an additional anchor when leaving the vessel for land excursions.
Unfortunately, there are not yet any cell phone services or VHF communication at the main anchorage between Ladder Bay and Well’s Bay. Given Saba’s rugged terrain, the only safe landing location is Fort Bay, which is a 15 to 20 minute dinghy ride away from the mooring area. This is sometimes a deterring factor and a reason for some to stay on board.
Especially during periods of bad sea weather, as we had during the winter months in the past years, the Saba Marine Park was operating at a loss and other parts of Saba’s tourism industry were also affected by fewer yacht arrivals.
The two incidents referred to in your letter were not related to the neglect of mooring maintenance. In the first case, the vessel entered our waters illegally, did not check in with the Marine Park, picked up a buoy that was not a yacht mooring and cut the line while maneuvering. In the second case mentioned, the mooring line was also cut by a boat propeller, which is the number one cause of anchor failure and can happen even with a brand new mooring. However, such incidents are rare and we find that any bad reputation that the Saba Marine Park might have among cruisers in the Caribbean is unfair and undeserved.
On the contrary, though not perfect, we are of the opinion that we have one of the better-maintained anchorages in the region and are working hard to improve our services to the yachting sector. However, our rangers can’t be omnipresent and we rely on damage reports by others, which will then be addressed ASAP. Maintenance activities are recorded in a log for all moorings.
It is planned to simplify check-in procedures at the harbor later this year (one form for all authorities), as well as to construct a VHF repeater in a suitable location, possibly Mt. Scenery. We are also in the midst of dialogues with the cellular service providers to increase their coverage around Saba, and the Dutch government has installed a new AIS receiver with a much greater range than the one at the Saba Marine Park. The Park AIS has been operating since 2007, for the monitoring of AIS equipped vessels around Saba, including the Saba Bank. Furthermore, discussions with local entrepreneurs are pending, to provide water-taxi services from and to the anchorages.
Therefore, we would very much appreciate your assistance in spreading the word among cruisers that Saba is not just one of the most beautiful, but also one of the safest (both, on land and on water) and unspoiled yachting destinations in the region.
Saba Conservation Foundation.