Sailing down to Montserrat proved to be slightly annoying. Having announced that we should have at the worst a close reach, we ended up being close hauled all the way down as the wind wandered into the ESE for our crossing. The saving grace were the seas running in from the ENE so we made pretty good time and went over the waves rather than into them.
We realised that we were downwind of the volcano only after a typical Henderson argument on who hadn’t owned up to dropping one. We were 15 miles offshore and the sulphurous stink was strong!
Sailing up the island, the damage caused by the latest round of volcanic eruptions which started in 1997 is painfully obvious. Plymouth the old capital city was laid waste and is largely covered by the ash. A few buildings poke out here and there. The only part of the city which is still in operation is the jetty at the port which, ironically is used to load the ships taking away the island only export, the ash, for building and agricultural use.
We anchored at Little Bay at the N end of the island. This is where the new capital city is planned although there is little evidence of it other than a posh new administration building sitting by itself up a one way street. Having booked in, an easy process, we met a wonderful lady acting as the security guard for the port. We asked her about car hire on the island (yet again taxi prices here being very expensive) and she spent an hour phoning around before finding us a car. Great service!
We drove down to the Montserrat Volcano Observatory and lucked out. It was both open and one of resident volcanologist’s was there. Small world moment – he turned out to be from Haddington – a whole 5 miles from where my folks live now – which led to us getting a longer chat from him than I think most would get. The 40mins video they show at the MVO was informative but could do with a refresh. A bit washed out.
We left the MVO with directions to hill top sites which gets you closest to the volcano. Montserrat still has a large exclusion zone with a line dividing the island about 1/2 of the way down, the southern half being out of bounds. Montserrat’s saving grace is the trade winds run SE-NW and it is very rare that any fallout would ever hit the N end of the island.
With no road signs, we had a bit of an explore to find our first hill top and drove aimlessly around, occasionally coming up to signs with “Forbidden Zone” on them. Thankfully a local felt sorry for us and kindly led us to the start of the hill across what was an 8m deep ash river – not surprised our map was inaccurate.
Garibaldi Hill gave us a good view over Plymouth. The size of some of the boulders thrown miles from the crater were staggering. They were bigger than good sized houses. We drove around to the other side of the island to where the old airport had been and on to Jack Boy Hill. We had a wander up the nature trail there but quickly realised that we didn’t have the time or water to do even a small part of it.
We kept the van and revisited the route we did on day one with Almost There who arrived 24hrs after us. We also stopped at the road side café recommended to make the best Goat Water, the Montserrat national dish. We ate in front of a colourful building. Kingsley’s look of horror when she read exactly what the building was for was priceless.
We also enlivened our trip by finding what we thought was a posh hotel (shown on the map as a historic building) which turned out to be a private house of a very annoyed and gobby American who threatened to turn the dogs lose on us. We departed swiftly.
On Jack Boy Hill, we met a very tired looking Matthew Paris finishing the trail we had looked at the day before. We had a quick chat in passing. He was there to recover from the election campaign. Not sure if had envisioned hacking up and down parts of a volcano in 90 degrees of heat as part of his recovery plan!
Two days in Montserrat was enough for us. There is little to do there other than the activities around the volcano and for all of them you need a car which, even at the knock down rate of $40 a day soon adds up. Saying that, remembering what the volcanologist told us, whilst the traditional markers for an eruption aren’t been seen although the top of the current volcano is larger than the 1995 height, perhaps soon someone will work out why the SO2 output of the volcano is currently running at 200 times its normal…..
On to Guadeloupe.