Saturday, June 27, 2009

Where Ya Gonna Go When Da Volcano Blows?

You might imagine those words were written for the people of Montserrat. The song however, came before the eruption but it was a favorite tune played on the island as the Soufriere Hills Volcano erupted. Jimmy Buffet recorded the song in a recording studio on the island. A studio that recorded songs of serveral stars, including Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, Elton John, The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and Phil Collins to name a few.

So what happened here? And, where did all the people go?

We were curious and wanted to hear the local version so we decided to pay a visit to the island of Montserrat. We anchored in a beautiful small bay called Rendezvous Bay. Pelicans entertained us with their dive bomb technique of fishing.

Right around the corner is the new small town of Little Bay. This town is slated to be the new capital city. If plans come to fruition, it will have a cruise ship dock, royal yacht club, marina, hotels, boardwalks, hillside villas, etc. Right now, however, it is a sleepy small Caribbean town.

Looking over our shoulders we can easily spot Fine Line alone in Rendezvous Bay. This is a friendly island but we always lock up securely when leaving the boat.

Standing alone on the hillside is the beautiful new Cultural Centre. Why the four-leaf- clovers? Montserrat was once called the Emerald Isle of the Caribbean. The catholic Irish arrived in 1632 to escape persecution from Protestant rule on neighboring St. Kitts. The growing sugar cane trade soon surpassed the abiltity of the Irish workers and so in the middle of the 17th century slaves were brought to the island to work in the fields.

Inside the center you find a state of the art multipurpose facility.
We asked our guide what was the most common use for the center and he waffled a bit but it seems alot of people like to get married here. He eagerly showed us how easy it was to pick up and stack the chairs. You now have a big dance floor with a disco ball in the ceiling.

Outside there was lots of construction going on. Building a new town is not easy. Roads and utilities are first and require a skilled labor force and much equipment. Many of these needs are imported from other islands.

Our tour guide, Mr. Joe Phillips, grew up on Montserrat and proved to be a wonderful historian. He brought along his assistant, Shaker.

Our next stop was a local Methodist Church. It was built on the north side of the island, far away from the volcano. Did God know?

The church dates back to

Encouraged by Shaker, Steve did some breaking and entering.

It was worth the 10 least Anne thought so.

Our tour guide waited outside, keeping our ride nice and cool in the shade.

The island is very green and lush. The residents are very self sufficient. Homes are well tended and have gardens planted with all sorts of vegetables and fruits. Here is a terraced garden on a very steep mountainside.

The view and breezes from the mountains are great. Slowly we are beginning to make our way south towards the Exclusion Zone. Our tour guide is very animated as he tells us how the residents were forced to leave their homes and all their possessions behind when the volcano erupted. In the beginnning they hoped and prayed the volcano would calm and life could return to normal. But such was not the case. The volcano that had been dormant for 400 years erupted over the next two years. The capital city of Plymouth, the airport and surrounding areas were distroyed, coverd with thick gray mud.

Our tour guide now whips out a photo album and starts to show us photos of how life was before, during and after the volcano. He claims you cannot begin to understand the transformation this event has had on the island unless you can see the pictures for yourself. Here are local residents shopping as if nothing is going on while the volcano is spewing mud and lava in the background.

The Pyriclastic Flow reaching the water and changing the shape of the island.

Very close to the Exclusion Zone is the Montserrat Volcano Observatory. Here you can see the quiet volcano in the background with lush green hillsides.

Down the road a ways is the first sign of damage. This area is called the Belham Valley. There used to be a bridge 20 feet above a river. Now the bridge is buried in 30 ft. of mud.

Mr. Phillips carfully drives us across the hardpacked mud. It has rained recently and there are deep gauges and groves in the mud. He looks at us and asks if we are scared? Should we be? Hmm, no we sail on a boat and get hammered by big waves all the time. We are not scared of some mud!

We arrive at a buried house. This house belonged to a family. They can still come back and see the remains but most families have left the island. This being a British island, the residents come under the protection of the British government. With the constant eruption of the volcano, the British government felt is best to move all the islanders away. Monetary incentives were offered and many left. Approximately 4000 people refused to leave and they now call the northern half of the island home.

Mr. Phillips showing Anne how to eat a cashew fruit.

They are good but a bit tart.

The mud flow has completely covered the old river bed. This river bed is the official dividing line between the Exclusion Zone and the safe area. Unofficially you can visit some areas on the "other side". Our guide tells us he frequently goes to his old house in the hills below the volcano just to visit.

Cashew fruit with the cashew nut hanging on the bottom.

Another beautiful home buried in mud.

Photo of the same house before the eruption

The muddy river covering what was a beautiful golf course.

We really enjoyed the tour of Montserrat. Hearing the story of Montserrat from a local inhabitant made us realize how drastic life has changed for these islanders. Being onboard a boat, we have willingly walked away from our normal way of life but these islanders have been chased and threatened for years not only by the volcano but also but the lure of offers for a new life in a new country. Those that have stayed behind are slowly but surely getting their lives back in order but when will the volcano roar again? The last eruption was in December of 2008. The residents in the north were not affected but could easily see the 40,000 foot ash explosion.

Back on board we go for a swim and Steve finds an alien fish....Flying Gurnard.

It is great having your own private beach.

Next stop Guadalupe.

See you there.

Anne and Steve
S/V Fine Line

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Spoiled in St. Kitts

We have a boat, two boats if you count our dinghy. We do not have a car. When we are visiting an island we do a lot of walking, ride the local bus, ride in a taxi or on occasion we rent a car.
On St. Kitts we have friends and our friends have a car. What a luxury. Mike and Renee, from the catamaran Jacumba, are calling St. Kitts home for the time being. Mike is working for a development company building a beautiful new resort called Christophe Harbour. Mike and Renee showed us some of their favorite sites on St.Kitts.

Mike and Renee at the Ship Wreck Bar and Grill

The scenery is great and the Green Monkeys come visit the guests.
The Green or Vervet Monkeys were brought to St. Kitts approximately 400 years ago. They were brought by French settlers from East Africa during the slave trade, intended as pets. Today their numbers exceed the human population on the island by almost 3:1. They are cute but also a nuisance. They eat the local crops one bite at a time. They are a bit skittish but not too difficult to see if you know where to look.

Christophe Harbour is in the early stages of development. Mike took us four wheeling on the soon to be golf course

Building on a Caribbean Island can be tricky. The political environment can be fickle and many times projects are never completed. Many islands have “battle scars” of an abandoned developer’s dream.

Included in the Christophe development are small bungalows on Sand Bank Bay. Facing the east, the beach is cooled by steady trade winds and the water is crystal clear. The beach is generally empty


St. Kitts is also known for it’s many beautiful plantations. Ottley plantation was built in the 19th century as a sugar plantation. Today it is a grand inn.

You can find hints of the past in the lush landscape.

Beautiful colors everywhere.

Small cottages are hidden in the mango trees.

The pool is a contrast of old and new .

Turtle Beach lies at the southern end of St. Kitts. Renee introduced us to one of her favorite beach hang-outs, Spice Mill. We can see the attraction, the lounging is great. Small restaurants and bars sit along the beachfront and in the background you can see the island of Nevis, a mere 2 miles away.

Back on board Fine Line we are happily anchored next to Jacumba in White House Bay.

We haven’t mentioned our trip from the Virgin Islands to St. Eustatius. We would rather not talk about the 15 hours of motoring into the wind and arriving in St. Eustatius to find the only anchorage rocking and rolling from side to side. A 3 hour nap was all we could stand before heading further south to St. Kitts. Fortunately there is only 24 miles between the two islands and so we continued into the wind, salty and tired. A few days in the Port Zante Marina and we were good as new.

From St. Kitts we are heading to the volcanic island of Montserrat.

Anne and Steve
S/V Fine Line

Monday, June 08, 2009

Into The Wind

In the Eastern Caribbean, starting in May, the winds tend to come from the east to the south east. That's the way we are heading. We have to re-think this travel plan so the wind is not always blowing us in the face.

The best we can do is wait for the winds to calm down, somewhere below 15 knots and hope the seas are less than 6 feet. And so we wait for those conditions.

And fix our broken windlass

Hike around St. Thomas. Lots of hills with old stairs. This is called the 99 steps (yes there are 99)

The view from the top is great. There are alot of old buildings here. Some are being restored and some are not .

Before leaving we get a chance to visit with our friends Nancy and Bob. Nancy and Anne have been friends since 1976...that's 33 years.

Here is their beautiful boat SunLuver. They are heading home to Key West, Florida via the Bahamas. They are heading the right direction and will have great sailing weather for their trip.

Nancy makes a great Bloody Cesears. The secret is Clamato juice. Very very good.

Nancy and Bob. They definantly look like cruisers.

We are leaving at sunset. We are down to the last details....some pizza for lunch.

Checking email and weather

The moon is a day past full so it should be a spectaular night of sailing/motoring. It will take us somewhere between 14-17 hours to travel the approximate 110 miles to our next port on the island of St. Eustatius (Statia). See you there.

Anne and Steve

S/V Fine Line