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Dive Review of Sea Saba/Iris House in

February, 2005, an Instant Reader Report by Scott Vickers and Mark Waddell, CO, USA
Report Number 1706
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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

sunny, rainy  
choppy, noCurrents  
Water Temp
65   to 68    Fahrenheit  
Wetsuit Thickness
Water Visibility
35   to 75    Feet  
Dive Policy
Dive own profile
Enforced diving restrictions  
During "pinnacle" dives, dive group followed the bow line down
and up and stayed together.  
Nitrox Available?
What I saw
Whale Sharks
> 2 
Ratings 1 (worst)- 5 (best):
  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  
Sea Saba's boats had no camera facilities except a small plastic bucket,
and no platforms for changing film or other operations.
Ratings and Overall Comments  1 (worst)- 5 (best):
5 stars
5 stars
Service and Attitude
5 stars
Environmental Sensitivity  
Dive Operation
5 stars  
Shore Diving  
1 stars  

Overall Rating

Value for $$
3 stars   
3 stars    
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]).
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