Friday, July 10, 2015


Our sail to Montserrat was wonderful!  It was our first stress-free sail.  We were very excited to check out this natural wonder, home to the Caribbean’s most active volcano.  

By Godot13 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
The Soufriere volcano on Montserrat
We departed Nevis at 8am, hoisted our mizzen sail for the first time, and sailed “jib and jigger,” meaning that we used our genoa (forward sail) and mizzen (aft sail), but not the main.   

Sailing "jib & jigger"
This configuration beautifully balanced the boat.  We were actually able to relax, since the boat practically steered itself.  We hardly had to touch the helm.   

I wish sailing were always this easy!

 There was a lot of Saragassum seaweed along the way, but with a full keel, it is usually diverted to the sides and does not get caught in our propeller very easily.  When we are under sail and the motor is off, we put the transmission in reverse so the propeller doesn't spin.  This makes our chances of catching lots of seaweed less, and is better for our transmission.  Underneath all of this seaweed is an entire thriving ecosystem.  It would be quite possible to find baby sea turtles, mahi mahi, crab, shrimp, and lots of other creatures taking refuge under these floating islands.

A huge patch of Saragassum seaweed

Our last couple of miles was directly into the wind, so we took in the sails and motored the last bit. 

Approaching Montserrat

 The anchorage in Montserrat was not very protected, but it sure was pretty. The choices of where to anchor were very limited due to the bay being small, needing to leave a path to the dock for the big ferry boats and huge cargo ships, the swirly changing winds, the shallow coral reef, and the steep drop off.  We needed to pick a spot that would allow for us to swing in any direction without ending up aground, in the channel, or on top of another boat.  We had to let out a lot of scope (amount of anchor chain in relation to the water depth) so we would have good holding (7:1 scope is typically a good amount for overnight stays, meaning if the water where you drop your anchor is 25 feet deep, you should let out 7 times that amount of chain, or 25 x 7 = 175 feet).  We are very happy to have bought our 65lb. MANTUS anchor. 

We're so happy with our Mantus anchor!

 It digs in very well and has never dragged on us yet.  Some may say a 65lb anchor is overkill, since most people with our size boat usually have a 40-50 pound anchor.  But we decided to get an over-sized anchor so we can sleep well at night and not worry about dragging and ending up in a bad situation.

Skeeter and Momo setting the anchor

Unfortunately we didn’t sleep well at night, but that wasn’t our anchor’s fault.  The swells (waves) came into the bay from a different direction than the wind, leaving us sitting beam to the swell (sideways) and bobbing hard from side to side.  We only stayed in Montserrat for 2 nights though, so it was doable for that short period of time.  

We didn’t even bother to put the dinghy motor back on the dinghy.  We had removed it for the trip from Nevis – we learned the hard way that towing the dinghy and motor behind us put unnecessary wear on the motor and we risked losing it to Davy Jones’ locker. 

Its better to have no motor on our dinghy on passages
We used our SUP (stand up paddleboard) paddles in the dinghy and paddled ourselves to shore the next morning to check into customs & immigration, which only cost us $35EC ($13 US), and they checked us in and out at the same time.

As we were walking out of the port area, we were approached by a friendly guy.  It ended up being Joe Phillip, who we had read all about in our guide book.  Chris Doyle described him as, “fearless, entertaining, and knowledgeable.”  He did not disappoint.  Even though we told him we wouldn’t be able to do a tour this visit, he still was very generous with his stories, his very well thought out island information pamphlet, and pictures on his I-pad to accompany his stories.  As a former teacher, I was very impressed with his ability to make everything he said intriguing through the use of visual aids and personal stories.  He was so charismatic and personable.  We learned all about Montserrat, the devastating volcanic eruptions, and how the land and the people were affected by these events.  We talked with him for well over an hour.  We were sad that our budget didn’t allow for us to take a tour ($150), but both of us agreed that we would like to save up and do a tour with the one and only Joe Phillip next time we visited.  And maybe we could get some other people together to split the cost, since he could take 6 people on a tour for the same price.  We were convinced that no one could be as dedicated to making his tour the absolute best, and no one had the caliber of stories and first hand experiences as this man.  

 I would highly recommend a tour with Joe.  He’s a popular guy, though, so you should set it up in advance through his email:, phone: 1-664-492-1565, or by contacting him on VHF channel 08, call sign Avalon, when you arrive in port.

Because we are on a limited budget and we enjoy walking to better absorb our surroundings, we decided to hoof it in the general direction of the Volcano Observatory, 7 miles away.  We wandered along the main road through various quiet rural mountain towns, and alongside windy lush green jungle between towns.  The island was truly the most beautiful one we had seen so far.  The natural beauty of the dramatic mountains, green foliage, bright flowering trees, and ocean views was stunning. 

About 4 miles in it began raining, and a really nice woman named Maritz pulled over and offered us a ride.  She was headed to the town of Salem, which was close to the volcano observatory.  She had been living on the island for 30 years or so, and was there for all of the volcanic destruction that began in 1995.  Maritz had seen a lot of changes in Montserrat, and said that the island was really suffering since nearly two thirds of the population fled the island.  The former bustling capital of Plymouth is gone; even its tallest buildings are buried beneath tons and tons of pyroclastic flows.  What the island needs, she said, is people; people to come back; people to invest here and strengthen the economy.  There are still plenty of safe areas on this island paradise, physically unaffected by the volcano.  How long Montserrat takes to bounce back will depend on people.  She sadly lost the restaurant she owned to a fire back in December, so she said she’d be happy to take us all the way up to the observatory because she had nothing else to do. 

The volcano observatory & research center

This helipad is regularly used by scientists studying the vocano

The Soufriere volcano in the distance

At the observatory we took in the impressive views, looked at samples of rocks from the volcanoes and things recovered from the wreckage, then watched an intriguing video about the Soufriere volcano.  It is very different to the Hawaiian volcanoes that people are most familiar with, due to the type of lava that comes from it.  Hawaiian volcanoes have basalt lava, which is very fluid.  The Soufriere volcano in Montserrat has andesite lava, which is a million times thicker than basalt.  Instead of rivers of glowing red lava pouring down a volcano, andesite based volcanoes have explosive eruptions and pyroclastic flows.  A pyroclastic flow is basically a super hot and super fast landslide that destroys everything in its path.  

"Volcanic Debris (5809856144)" by David Stanley from Nanaimo, Canada - Volcanic DebrisUploaded by russavia. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

It was crazy to look across at the active volcano, seeing steam rising up off of it. 


It was even crazier to look down toward the former capital of Plymouth and see it completely erased.   

"Montserrat Golf Course (5809291829)" by David Stanley from Nanaimo, Canada - Montserrat Golf CourseUploaded by russavia. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

The old airport was covered too.  
"Montserrat Exclusion Zone - Old Airport" by Pat Hawks - Own work. Via Wikimedia Commons -
Looking at before and after images was bone chilling.  The volcano itself had changed shape and size dramatically over the years.  The island grew and the bays shrunk.  There is an extensive exclusion zone, decided upon by some the world’s top volcano scientists who are constantly observing and studying the volcano.  There hasn’t been any major activity since 2010 when the dome of the volcano collapsed, but more activity is expected.  

It is impressive to see how resilient the local people are who lived through the devastation.  Those people who lived in the area that is now the exclusion zone were set up with emergency housing in public buildings such as schools and churches, living in close quarters with no privacy.  Joe Phillip was one of the many people who lost his home.  He lived in a high school classroom for 2 years before he was able to move to another place.

Many people lived in this high school after the big eruption

After our visit to the observatory we walked back down the mountain to Salem.  We got lost on the way, ending up in a little neighborhood called Hope.  It was a very rural area with fruit trees and goats everywhere.  When we realized we were going the wrong way, we turned back and were approached by a drunk man.  His name was Mickey.  We stopped and talked to him for a half an hour, discussing everything from the volcano to Jesus to good and evil to different kinds of people.  Before continuing on our way, I asked if I could take a picture with him and his goat-herder friend, David.  And I asked David if I could take a picture of his goat herd.

With our new friends Mickey and David in Montserrat
David's goat herd

We walked for about 3 miles, then we decided to catch a bus the rest of the way.  Sometimes I wonder how many miles we have hiked in these flip-flops so far…at least a hundred miles, without a doubt.  A few repairs gluing the soles together, and a few shoe laces strung through when a strap breaks, will get you countless miles out of a good pair of flip-flops!  Thanks to my friend Jim, who repaired my flip flops the first time by drilling two holes through the sole and stringing a string through!

Jim can fix anything.  He's a genius!

It was a wonderful day.  We met lots of locals, enjoyed the natural wonders of the island, and learned tons about maybe the most interesting island in the Caribbean.  We almost skipped Montserrat, what a bad decision that would have been!  It is filled with resilient, kind-hearted people, is breathtakingly beautiful, and so incredibly interesting with its volcanic past and present.  We are very eager to return and experience it in more depth.  Montserrat, we love you! 

Monday, July 6, 2015


Photo by: Aaron Vos, via WikiCommons
We hesitated to come over here because the island was very round, and we didn't think it could possibly be a comfortable anchorage in the rough sea conditions that we were having.  

But we were wrong!  Nevis was one of our most pleasant surprises so far!  Christopher Columbus named the island after "Nuestra Senora de las nieves," meaning our Lady of the Snows.  For short, Nevis.  Nevis is a dramatically tall volcanic mountain that goes up into the clouds so high that you can often see clouds rolling down the sides of the mountain like snow.  It has a ring of flatter land around the base of the mountain, making it kind of look like a sombrero from some angles.   

The moorings were laid out neatly in front of the miles long Pinney Beach, about a mile from town.  The water was surprisingly calm, and the scenery was breathtaking.  We took our dinghy over to the town dock (Charleston, the one and only port in Nevis) and checked in with customs and the port authority.  Even though we had already check into the federation in St. Kitts, it was the norm to let customs know you were there, and to pay the mooring and environment fees with the port authority.  Their offices were located in a cute stone building called the Cotton Ginnery.  The island was the most charming place we had seen so far. 

We each bought a Caribbean patte and a locally made fruit punch and took a stroll around exploring the town.  The people were so incredibly nice, we were blown away.  Walking down the street everyone would greet and smile.  Most of the Caribbean says, "Good morning" and "Good afternoon," but the people of Nevis were very relaxed and would often just say, "Hi" or "Hello."  We even passed a couple of teenage boys who looked like the cool kids in school and expected them to just walk by and ignore us, but instead they both flashed us genuinely kind smiles and said "hi."  

A sign saying "No Noise"
The bright flashy fire engine
The island had a surprising number of barber shops and beauty salons and quite a bit of diversity.  English is the main language spoken in Nevis, since it was a former British colony, but we also heard quite a bit of Spanish and Patua.  We stopped by the outdoor market and bought produce grown locally from a woman, her mother, and her little girl.  They lived in Nevis, but were of Indian descent.    
"A table with vegetables for sale outside the Market in Charlestown, Nevis, West Indies, up against a cut-stone wall" by Invertzoo - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

At night, we were shocked to see fireworks in the sky for the 4th of July!  They appeared to be coming from Cockleshell Beach on St. Kitts, across the water.  It was a lovely surprise.  It must be to cater to the American tourists in St. Kitts.

4th of July fireworks in the Federation of St. Kitts & Nevis!
The following day we got some exciting news...Skeeter's sister Amity gave birth to our niece, Lizelle!  We are very excited and happy, and look forward to meeting the new member of our family!  I made breakfast, one enormous pancake to split, and then we took a long exploratory walk along the beach.  

The beach was beautiful.  On one side we had the crystal clear and sparkling ocean and the rolling green hills of St. Kitts in the background, and on the other side we had the dramatically tall volcanic mountain and colorful flowering trees.  

Fishing boats & St. Kitts in the background

We walked through the ultra ritzy Four Seasons Resort, hoping they would think we were guests and offer us some of their fresh squeezed ice cold lemonade or macaroons, but I guess it was obvious we weren't guests.  I can't imagine why!  For miles we walked along soft (but sometimes scorching hot!) sand and past many resorts that looked like they were once very nice but currently abandoned.  We weren't sure if it was just for the low season, or maybe there was a zombie apocalypse there or something.  It was strange to see some really expensive beach chairs and cushions just left out in the elements to be destroyed.     

Zombie apocalypse???
During our walk we came across a friendly local man wearing an apron.  I started chatting with him, and next thing we knew he was having us follow him back into a wooded area to a tented area to try his chicken and homemade barbeque sauce.  I wasn't quite sure if he was trying to sell us his chicken or just have us try it, so I made sure to ask because we weren't carrying much of anything on us.  Then he said, "I wouldn't charge you!  No worries!"  We were taken off guard by his kindness.  He was just a genuinely nice guy.  His name is Clifford, and he works for some charter boats that were about to bring guest to the beach.  He just had some time to kill.  He started piling about ten pieces of chicken on a plate for us to try, and I had to politely tell him that one piece each would be more than enough.  It hadn't been long since we'd eaten but we did want to try it.  

We shared stories about times at sea while we enjoyed the chicken, and shared some good laughs.  He had worked on the ferry boat for twenty-two years and loves the sea.  He told us some crazy stories, including riding out hurricane Hugo in 1989 (a MAJOR one, went down in history) amongst other stories.  Clifford also had us try his coconut-slaw, which I had never heard of.  Basically, it's coleslaw using coconut shreds instead of cabbage.  

I'm so glad we have made it a point to give everyone a chance rather than being those stereotypical rude tourists who run away or give the cold shoulder when a stranger approaches, assuming that they want to sell you something or are crazy.  This openness has really helped us to meet some interesting people,  connect with different cultures, and have some experiences that we could have easily missed out on.  Plus, we have both been on the other side of things when we worked in the tourist industry and had to try to sell or promote something, and it's not fun to be treated with disdain.  Besides, even if someone is trying to sell you something you don't have to buy it.  And even if they are crazy it doesn't necessarily mean that they are dangerous.  Experiences only come to those who are open to them.

One of the charter boats from St. Kitts coming in...we got a free sneak peek of their lunch!
We finished off our 6 mile walk over sand and climbing over boulders with a refreshing swim in the crystal clear waters of Pinney's beach.  

We dinghied back to the boat, and then spent the rest of the evening hanging out on deck with Momo.  We watched pelicans and laughing gulls land on our bow and Momo slither on his belly in the hunting position to try to sneak up on them. 

They flew away just in time and flew in circles high above the water, dramatically diving in head first to catch one of the silversides shimmering in the water.  Momo was also enthralled with watching schools of hundred of these silversides jump simultaneously when a bigger fish, usually a bar jack, was chasing after them.  Shockingly he didn't end up falling in the water, even though we were sure that all of this excitement would inevitably end with a wet cat.

We finished off the wonderful day with a night sky filled with stars.  There isn't much light pollution in Nevis, since it is a sparsely populated island.  The bad weather was finally breaking, and we could make a move to our next destination, Montserrat.  We were sad to leave Nevis and probably the calmest anchorage to date, but decided that it was one of our favorites and we would be back.