It must have been a brutal winter in Ontario, because by early February we were starting to get a lot of emails from friends and family asking questions like “So what are your plans for the next few weeks?”
So February and March was a time for visits from family. Mel’s mom came to meet us in Guadeloupe in early February, then we all sailed back to Antigua to drop her off and pick up David’s daughter, who joined us on the boat for her Reading Week. We were pinned down in Jolly Harbour for a while, so we explored every beach in the vicinity, then as soon as the wind eased up the three of us sailed down to Falmouth Harbour, partied like rockstars at the RORC 600 closing party, hiked around Nelson’s Dockyard, then put Rachael back on a plane. 10 days later, David’s parents came to Antigua to stay at an all-inclusive in Jolly Harbour. They were quite happy to hang out on the beach while we finished installing our new fridge and hot water heater (yay!) but we did manage to do some touristy stuff too, including a visit to Devil’s Bridge. By the time they left again, it was already mid-March, and we were ready to move on from Antigua.
Fore view: Rainbow in Jolly Harbour after a bit of rain
Aft view – rain
Rachael practices driving on the left during a Salty Dogs ATV tour
RORC party in Falmouth Harbour
View of the Caribbean Sea from fort in English Harbour
Anchorage in English Harbour
Rachael takes a fort selfie
David admires the newly installed fridge!
Mel and Sharon at Devil’s Bridge
David and Bill at Devil’s Bridge
On March 16, we cleared out of Antigua and sailed the 25 nautical miles to Montserrat in less than 5 hours. We arrived just in time to clear in before the hefty weekend overtime fees were charged. We returned to the boat for sundowners and had a quiet night in, knowing that the next day would be a long one.
First view of Montserrat
First sunset in Montserrat
View of our rolly anchorage in Little Bay
The next day we dinghied ashore and hired a taxi to show us around the island. George was our guide for the day, and his taxi named Cream of the Crop, our steed.
The Leeward Islands, ranging from Anguilla to Dominica, are a volcanic island chain. Montserrat is one of the younger islands, famous for being home to an active volcano: the Soufrière Hills, the top of which is constantly engulfed in clouds. In the last 25 years it has erupted at least four times, culminating in the biggest eruption on February 11, 2010. As a result, the southern half of the island is now considered an “exclusion zone” where it is no longer safe to live, and the population has dropped by nearly two thirds, from 11,000 to 4,000.
In the 1997 eruption, the capital of Plymouth was evacuated and completely destroyed. We stopped during our tour and got out of the taxi at the edge of town, the strong smell of sulphur hitting us like a ton of bricks, and were able to see what was left of the capital. At first glance it looks perfectly normal, like a grassy hill scattered with bungalows, but when you look closer you notice that there are no roads and the first storey of every single building is actually buried in ash. It stands as a great reminder of nature’s power.
View of Plymouth under ash
One of our stops for a great view of the volcano was the Vue Point Hotel, where we met owner Carol Osborne. She explained that after the 1997 eruption, they spent millions getting the ash removed from their property and were ready to open again in 2005. Unfortunately the 2010 eruption brought it all crashing down, and they have had to start over. She explained that the corrosive force of the sulphuric ash erodes away the nails holding down the shingles, so in addition to removing 2,500 truckloads of ash, they have had to re-roof every single cottage (which serve as guest rooms) on the property. At the moment, they have managed to open three cottages, and the bar and restaurant open on weekends. Each booking allows them to invest in rebuilding a new cottage roof. It is slow-going when the threat of the smoking volcano looms large.
View of the volcano from Vue Point
We also stopped at the Montserrat Springs Hotel, which was completely destroyed and abandoned. The ground-level rooms are stuffed with ash, but we were able to see what was left of the second-floor rooms. They stand bare, their furniture taken by looters, their floors covered in inches of ash. Anything metallic has corroded, any glass is broken. The pool, the biggest on the island, is now a fertile garden with an outstanding view of the Caribbean Sea.
George contemplates the destruction in the lobby
David stands on a pile of ash covering the first few feet of the doorway to the dining room
A pool is a great way to keep your garden contained
Montserrat Springs Hotel price list from 1994-1995, casually lying at front desk
Hotels were obviously not the only businesses hit. In 1993, a huge deepwater port opened to bring in cruise ships to the island, but the 1995 eruption made short work of it, extending the shoreline significantly, so that the dock is now barely in the water. There was also a large airport built on the southeast side of Montserrat, but the 2010 eruption took care of that. There is now only a small airstrip that can accommodate helicopters and small twin otters from neighbouring islands.
One positive effect of the eruption has been the creation of an abundance of ash/sand, which is now dredged, sifted, screened then exported to other countries. Volcanic soil is also incredibly fertile, and vegetation starts growing back almost immediately. The island is very green, with all sorts of trees and flowers, including mango, guava and coconut trees.
Once our tour of the island was complete, George dropped us off in Salem for the big St. Patrick’s Day party. Though Montserrat’s first settlers were Irish, the big celebration actually commemorates the 1768 slave revolt. We donned our green, tasted some local grub, drank a Guinness, and settled in to watch the Carnaval-like parade. Just like in St. Kitts, the parade opened with dancers in clown-like garb holding whips, an interesting post-colonial spin on the former slave owners.
St. Patrick’s Day parade in Salem
We had a great weekend in Montserrat and hope to be back!
Last sunset in Montserrat
Fill ‘er up! That way we’ll be sure to return.
Where the wind takes us next: The Saintes, in Guadeloupe, en route to Dominica!