Visiting Montserrat

Long Weekend sailing to Montserrat - 03 - 05.June

Having watched Montserrat with it's volcano slowly puff away in the distance for some time we decided it was about time we paid a visit. So we set sail for Montserrat 28 miles away with Chaz and Chay, two friends of Camilla and Colin.

Montserrats used to be a wealthy island. Large houses where built in the capital Plymouth and they had a famous recording studio. This was until one day the volcano decided to wake up and cause havoc. It erupted in 1995 and again in 1997 completely destroying the capital and 2/3 of the island was covered in ashes. This part is still inhabitable as the volcano is still active and keep puffing smoke and ashes. Montserrat used to have 11 000 inhabitants. Today there is app 2500 left.

About two weeks ago it had another major eruption. The ashes where thrown 40 000 feet up into the air. Airplanes could not fly over it! The ashes spread to an area of app. 40 nautical miles.  A small tsunami was formed as debris crashed into the sea and the pyroclastic flow reached the sea. The wave that flushed into English Harbour was app 1 meter. A friend of us was by the dock and took to the hills when he saw the water suddenly flow out of the harbour. He had seen this before.

The sail was pleasantly uneventful and as the only yacht we anchored outside the only harbour, Little Bay, after 5 hours. The thing in Montserrat is to have a look at the volcano. So we hired a local taxi driver with a 4x4 too take us around for a guided trip. Driving into the exclusion zone from the green north was a chilling experience. Ash everywhere covering everything. It looked like a snow storm had just passed. But the snow was grey and hot, not white and cold. The villages we drove through was all ghost towns. Houses and cars left to erode in the sulphurous ash. Furniture left behind, books, curtains, everything as the inhabitants fled to the safe north. It was spooky, like something out of a Hollywood movie, except this one was for real! The whole experience was rather overwhelming.

The green north part of the island.

Lesley and the kids with Plymouth in the background.

Furniture left behind.

At one stage we where driving across what used to be a river with a bridge. 6 meters under us was the riverbed. What we drove on was pure ash from the volcano. A two story house was partly buried in the ashes only the top floor was visible. But here and there life would find its way through the ash like in the picture of the chair I found inside someone's house. A couple of cows left behind inside the exclusion zone seemed to do well enough grazing on whatever they could find. Standing on the viewpoint looking down on the modern Pompeii, Plymouth, the wind turned slightly and sulphurous ash started stinging our skin. it was time to get out.

Our taxi driver was an interesting character. As a parting present he picked some bananas in his garden and gave us. His house was well into the safe zone, but he still had to wash his cars twice a day to keep the ash off it. The car was issued with filter masks for everyone in case of need.

We ended our visit with a dinner at a restaurant overlooking Little Bay. It was run buy a Jamaican. It turns out that several Jamaicans had moved down here after the eruption. Some to clean ash and some just to get away from Jamaica and find a new future here at the foot of the active volcano. One local lady I spoke to was not so optimistic. It was very hard to sleep at night she said.

Back on the boat we washed off with a swim in the crystal clear water. Looking at the green hills of the north we took out the bananas we where awarded. They where all covered by a thin layer of grey ash.

Next day we set off east to Antigua very early in the morning. The anchor went up at 0430. The idea was to keep the kids sleeping while we did some of the miles towards Antigua as this can be a tedious upwind slog. Camilla and Colin being used to sleeping while we sailed slept soundly. Poor Chas and Chay woke and spent a long morning sailing up to Deep Bay Antigua. The hook went down 4 hours later and we spent the morning exploring the wreck of an old sailing ship before we sailed to Jolly Harbour for the night and onwards to Falmouth Harbour the next day. Just in time for the finals in the Antiguan Sportfishing Competition where a 300 pound Marlin was the largest fish this year.