LADDER BAY: Eater of Yachts!

30 Mar

RM 1350 in slings

Late-breaking news from the W’Indies! Not one but two yachts have broken off moorings on the west coast of Saba in the past several days and both have ground ashore in Ladder Bay, a most inhospitable shore. The first was a sailboat, a French RM 1350, which reportedly was left on a mooring unattended while the family crew went ashore for a three-day holiday. The boat was refloated and towed to St. Martin, where it was hauled for repairs (see photo up top). An ugly bit of damage for sure.

Here’s a video showing the salvage operation. Note first all the swell coming in, on this the leeward side of the island. I’ve been here, and I can assure you this place barely qualifies as an open roadstead. I was nervous leaving my boat unattended on a mooring for a few hours, never mind days.

This reportedly was the third attempt to pull the boat off. What happened to the mooring, we’re told, is the line wrapped the keels (you’ll note there are two) or the rudder and chafed through. Watch the whole thing and you’ll see how quickly the boat wants to sink once it is free. I’m sure it took some fast work to keep it on the surface.

Stern damage

The rudder we see is all gone now. I think that thing that looks like a prop shaft is actually the remains of the rudderstock. The hull material, in case you’re wondering, is plywood.

A little over a week later a much larger 112-foot motoryacht went aground in the same place after breaking off another mooring.

Personally, if I had a 112-foot motoryacht I would never leave it on a strange mooring. According to the comments under the local news report, the crew was told they could use the mooring, but still I’d have taken that with a boulder-sized grain of salt if I were them. I’m also wondering if there was anyone aboard at the time.

Elsa aground

You can just see in this photo that the bowsprit was left on the mooring (upper right), which does suggest it was the boat rather than the mooring that failed. Unfortunately, there is now a god-awful diesel spill in the area that has fouled most of the west shore of the island.

The vessel itself, Elsa, is evidently registered as a research/survey vessel, flagged in Bermuda, but to me it sure looks like a yacht.

Saba map

As you can see on the map here, Ladder Bay is not really a bay. It is barely a dent in the shoreline. It’s called Ladder Bay because before they built the quay at Fort Bay on the southern tip of the island this was where everything came ashore, up a very steep set of stairs. The island is incredibly steep. Everywhere. Dutch engineers came out and told the inhabitants it was too steep for roads, but the locals went ahead and built roads anyway. Same thing with the airport, which I hear is a very exciting place to land.

Great place to visit, but parking is definitely a problem!

This article was syndicated from Wavetrain


  1. Jon Strydom

    I spent many days and nights at Saba. As ship’s Engineer my job was to dive, inspect and ensure the moorings were in good condition for our vessel. Ladder Bay, Diamond Rock and Tent Bay are fantastic diving. But a good deck watch is necessary at all times. Very unforgiving coastline.

  2. dave tuna

    sad to see. luckily there was no serious injuries. I spent the last seven years working on a liveaboard down there…..we spend three nights per week moored and diving on saba. When the weather turns, and you get that long north swell, none of us got much sleep. On our boat which is just under 100ft, we would get the mooring wrapping down the side of the boat, and i was up many times at 2 or 3am to pull the boat around with my hands, to free up the mooring ball from banging on the side of the boat….over the years we have had all sorts of mooring mishaps, broken lines, broken pins etc, par for the course i guess, thats why you have a anchor watch or set your GPS and radar alarms………………they do have anchorage, and i was surprised to see that a 350 ton boat was tied up on a mooring, rather than dropping the hook in a better area…………….hopefully the SCF will improve communication and information, in order that there are no more ‘unfortunate’ incidents……………….

    For anyone who dives, yes definitely get back down there, the diving is great, you will be glad that you returned.



  3. Captain Linda Perry Riera

    It is a shame that so many have had negative experiences at Saba – it is a lovely and unique island. One should, of course, only visit there in extremely settled conditions whether moored by the port to the south or in Ladder Bay to the West. I had a fantastic two night stay there just this past January on my 40′ Tartan and found the moorings appearing in excellent condition (although the Ladder Bay moorings are too deep to see the tackle at the bottom). I felt safe to spend an afternoon on shore when moored by the port (winds were very low and seas were flat; would not have otherwise) but stayed aboard when moored in Ladder Bay even though conditions were still mild. The moorings in Ladder Bay, in particular, have extremely long pennants / rhode to understandably accomodate frequent huge swells but an obvious fouling risk if the boat wanders in light winds. I would not have felt comfortable leaving the boat unattended in Ladder Bay for a day, yet alone three. In summary, the publicity of these very sad accidents will unfortunately (and somewhat unfairly), prevent many from experiencing this beautiful island.

  4. peter Shearer

    We asked to stay over o ne night in SABA but we were recommended not to do so. It is well known that the harbor is not well protected. Wave action can occur in any mooring or achor field. Of course that puts extra stress on the mooring or anchor. In one of these cases it is obvious that the toe-rail or chock “sawed” through the dock-line. That can be a hazard anywhere. Certainly some routine checks on the line or a shift-style watch is in order when in wavy conditions. We wound up not staying in SABA . Statia was not much better. Certainly choosing Fort Bay may have saved the day. Leaving the boat un-atte3nded for so long is clealry a bad dec;ision.

    Peter S

  5. Gus Schempp

    We bare boated yearly for over 20 years in the Windwards and Leewards, mostly split between The Moorings and Sunsail. They will not permit you to anchor at Saba because they lost boats drifting toward Mexico! (Fortunately not into the shore.) Reason: #1 unattended, #2 most sailors are not aware that it is imperative to leave an extra length of mooring line in the great swells, otherwise the mooring will be lifted and dragged, Of course, if you leave too long a line, no wonder it can wrap. Experience is all, and it can be costly to learn. Still would like to dive at Saba, but may have to “risk” flying in?

  6. Rod Sellers

    We also have experience at Saba, after a rough sail all day in heavy weather on a 50′ cat we went to the Lee side , which really does not exist on Saba.
    We were chased off our first mooring by a very rude dive boat.
    And tied to a second mooring at ladder bay (bay? No just a spot off shore). We kept a watch all night and actually sleep very well with someone on watch all the time. In reviewing our gps track for the night we had circled the mooring many times through the night. With it still very rough the next day we just headed for St Kitts and friendlier weather and locals.
    Too bad because we as avid divers wanted to experience the reported great diving there, but between the weather and ornery dive boat dude , well life’s too short .

  7. Alan Silverman

    Several years ago we spent the night on a mooring at Fort Bay. Never slept a wink as the wave action literally tossed me above my bunk. Planned to leave the next day but the dive shop owner promised he would get us a space at the commercial dock by 6pm. Unfortunately, there was a constant lineup of freights waiting to unload with more waiting at 8pm. The dive shop owner graciously invited us to spend the night at his home. We left the boat on the mooring, dinghyed to the dock and enjoyed a full night’s sleep in a real bed. Thanks to a gracious dive shop owner.

    PS That road is aptly named “the Impossible Road.” All turns are “K” style turns. The town at the top is named “Top” and the one at the bottom, “Bottom.”

  8. Rockland Bazemore

    The same thing happened to us early last year. Around 6:30am while trying to pry ourselves out of the berth to dinghy over the to the island we heard a minor thud. The captain literally shot out of the head screaming all hands! He knew his 50′ Oceanis very well. We were swiflty drifting SW towards a super yacht and he quickly brought the engine to life. We could have easily been hiking one of the streneous trails already as we had done the day prior.
    The winds coming off the steep cliffs were gusting ~40kts that morning.
    I’ve had a different opinion on moorings since.

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