Montserrat ~ 5th to 7th April
We left Guadeloupe with Petit Goustan at 6am, an early start for us!!
We wanted to cover the 40 nautical miles with plenty of daylight to spare and because we weren’t sure that the winds would be as predicted! We also had to negotiate, due to the Soufrière Hills Volcano, the exclusion zone at the southern half of Montserrat which extends well out into the sea, right into our path!
The Exclusion Zone
This was imposed because of the size of the existing volcanic dome and thus the potential for pyroclastic activity – more about which we were destined to discover the next day!! The contours of the island were indeed dramatic as we sailed closer and could see the path of the pyroclastic flows! We were also assailed by the smell of sulphur from the permanently smoking volcano ~ yuk!!
All was going very well until the wind decided to ‘get up’ and we needed to reef the headsail! Basically we couldn’t because the furling line had somehow got caught in the drum?! There was nothing for it but to drop the sail onto the deck, not an easy thing to do in the conditions but we managed and Alan made a sterling job of tying it down to the guard rails so that it couldn’t break loose and fall into the sea! With the sail secure we put out the Staysail and all was well from then on to our arrival at Little Bay!!
The immediate impression of this little enclave at the northwest of the island was one of beauty and of time stood still! It was enchanting, a little sandy bay and a backdrop of green mountains!
However, on going ashore the first thing we came across was this sign? The warning on this sign turned out to be the least of the islands worries, we discovered the following day!!
Be Tsunami Smart ~ Eek!!
We walked through to the beach area with restaurants and bars where we had a refreshing Pina Colada for me and a beer for Alan!
Montserrat ~ The Island!
Montserrat is a mountainous Caribbean island in the Leeward island archipelago and part of the Lesser Antilles chain in the West Indies.
The Flag of Montserrat!
The island is an internally self-governing British Overseas Territory whose Chief of State is our Queen Elizabeth who is represented by an appointed Governor! The Governor’s flag (below) was introduced in 1958 when Montserrat became a separate colonial state.
Montserrat is nicknamed ‘The Emerald Isle” of the Caribbean partly because of it’s coastling resembling the coast of Ireland and partly because of the Irish ancestry of many of the island’s inhabitants. The coat of arms on the flag which was adopted in 1909 represents all things Irish, the lady in green represents Erin the female personification of Ireland and she is holding a golden harp, also a symbol of Ireland! The cross she embraces symbolises Christianity!
Very Irish I would say!!
6th April ~ A tour of the Soufrière Hills Volcano and Plymouth!
The previous evening, no sooner than we had set our anchor we received a radio call from ‘Avalon’, alias Joe Phillips, offering us a volcano tour! We jumped at the chance to do this, seeing it as the best way to see the island!
Up until 1995 Montserrat was a small tourist destination in the Caribbean but then the lives of the approximately 11,000 population were turned upside down when the Soufrière Hills Volcano came to life, it had been quiet since the 17th century!
Thousands of the population lived in the direct path of the pyroclastic flows, cascades of rock and hot gases! These flows consumed everything in their path and the capital city of Plymouth together with 20 other settlements were completely destroyed, buried under 12 metres of mud!
The volcano continued to erupt during the 1990’s and into the 2000’s but has been relatively quiet since early in 2010! The south of the island is deemed uninhabitable and is an exclusion zone and remains so today! Tourists are not allowed to visit unless with a guide who has to radio his location at all positions along the tour.
We noticed that the jetty at Plymouth, although badly damaged, was in use and loading lorry fulls of fine sand onto a cargo ship moored there? This sand is the new economy, extracted from the volcanic tide and exported as building material. ‘Ash for Cash’ as the island’s government calls it!
A cargo ship moored to the damaged jetty!
Plymouth currently remains the capital of Montserrat in name only while Brades is the administrative capital. Little Bay where we were moored is being developed into the future capital of Montserrat.
We arrived back at Little Bay with our heads buzzing, processing all that we had seen! It was an interesting, if somewhat shocking day which Joe had choreographed excellently for us as he explained the recent history of Montserrat!
Montserrat Idol 2019 ~ Saturday 6th April!
Joe also talked about George Martin and his association with the island…..! He opened the AIR Studios Montserrat in 1979 which resulted in musical acts such as Dire Straits, Elton John, Paul McCartney to name a few, visiting the island to record albums there!
Disaster struck the island when in 1989 a Catergory 4 Hurricane, Hurricane Hugo hit Montserrat and destroyed more than 90% of the island’s buildings including the AIR studios! George Martin held fund raising events to raise money to give to Montserrat, one in particular at the Royal Albert Hall in London with many of the artists who had recorded at the AIR studios performing. The proceeds of this event were given to the islanders as relief aid in the aftermath of this terrible disaster! The new Cultural Centre in Little Bay was built by and given to the people of Montserrat as a gift from George Martin in 2006!
During the day with Joe we had learned that that evening in the Cultural Centre the final of Montserrat Idol 2019 was going to take place! We all decided that this was an event not to be missed! And so it turned out!! There were some incredible performances and some truly awful ones and there was some unbelievably dreadful comments by the panel of judges?!
Chanzzy came into the final as favourite although I for one couldn’t think why? Our favourite of the night was Bimshaw who was both entertaining and had a lovely singing voice but was never going to win, sadly!! It was all very entertaining and unusual, a fun thing for us to do on our last night on Montserrat!
7th April ~ Time to leave!
We had really enjoyed our short stay on this island which had proved to be both fascinating and surprising! We, along with our French friends were really pleased to have made somewhat of a detour from our route north to visit Montserrat!
It really is a lovely island and despite the natural but cataclysmic events the people of the island have had to endure, they are smiley and happy with their ‘lot’ similar to the people of Dominica!
Leaving Little Bay for Antigua!
It would be nice to revisit another day! However, for now we needed to keep heading north….
Little Bay anchorage from the shore!
** In order to know exactly where Musetta and crew are currently, please check the Yellow Brick Tracker page on the website!**