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 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/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.
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: email@example.com, 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.
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.
The old airport was covered too.
|"Montserrat Exclusion Zone - Old Airport" by Pat Hawks - Own work. Via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Montserrat_Exclusion_Zone_-_Old_Airport.jpg#/media/File:Montserrat_Exclusion_Zone_-_Old_Airport.jpg|
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!