Saturday, June 6, 2009


We finally made it to Montserrat. We’ve sailed by twice before and were fascinated by the combination of beauty and the destruction that we knew the volcano had caused. We wanted to stop and see the island up close

Montserrat is known as the Emerald Isle of the Caribbean because of the lush green hillsides and because it became a haven for Irish Catholics fleeing persecution. Montserrat is the only country apart from Ireland that observes St. Patrick’s Day with a holiday and a week long celebration.

Montserrat is probably best known for two things, the rich and famous that used to visit and own homes here and the Soufriere Hills volcano that drove many of them away. First, a little about the rich and famous.

In 1978 Sir George Martin, best known as the producer for the Beatles, opened AIR Studios in Montserrat. Many world famous singers and bands recorded here. They included Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Buffet, The Police, Duran Duran, Elton John, The Rolling Stones, Sting, Phil Collins and many more. Then September 17, 1989 Hurricane Hugo struck the island damaging 95% of the buildings on Montserrat. The recording studio was never re-opened.
The islanders rebuilt and then on July 18, 1995 the volcanic activity began. Over the next few years Montserrat would be racked by irruptions. The beautiful capital city of Plymouth was buried in ash. Montserrat was once an island of more than 11,000 residents but now only about 4000 remain. We took a tour of the island with guide Joe Phillip.

The Montserrat Cultural Centre.

Joe showing us around the cultural centre. We toured with the Aussie's from S/V Bristol Rose. They were lots of fun.

Checking to see how my hands match up to Paul McCartney's.
(Better not tell him my maiden name is Mills!)

View of the Little Bay anchorage from the cultural centre.

You can see by the map that more than half of the island falls within the “Exclusion Zone.” This area is usually off-limits, depending on the level of volcanic activity that is occurring. Because of that, we didn’t get to see the ash-covered town of Plymouth, once the capital of Montserrat. But we did get to see it via a film that we viewed at the observatory. Imagine a church that is buried so deep in ash that only the steeple is visible!

Joe often stopped to show us “before pictures” so we could get a perspective of then and now. The changes are amazing! What's really amazing about this picture is that there is an irruption happening and no one is paying any attention! I guess when there were more than 2 a day, they just got used to them!

This is a view of the mud flow down the island that buried many homes and a bridge.
There are homes all along the side of the volcano. They fall within the exclusion zone and are no longer inhabited.

Rain turned the ash to mud. The mud flowed down the mountain to the sea, burying everything in it's path.

A rock from the volcano. It weighs next to nothing.

Joe is showing us a before picture. This was the intersection of several roads, a river and a bridge. it's now all buried under 30 feet of mud.

Here's a before picture of a beautiful 3 story home......

...and here's the after. Only the top part is visible.

An interior shot, the room is buried in mud.

This picture shows mud up as high as the archway between the 2 buildings.

That's Joe's van and the roof of a house.

Ash flow on the east side of the island.

In contrast, the remaining part of the island is very beautiful. A new capital is being built in Little Bay on the northwest coast. The people of Montserrat continue to make a good life for themselves.

We left Montserrat on Tuesday, May 26th for the sail to Antigua. By going to Montserrat first we had a much better point of sail to Antigua. We arrived in Jolly Harbor on the west coast where we cleared customs (quick and easy which is contrary to what we had heard about Antigua) and spent the next two days doing the usual provisioning, re-fueling and filling water tanks. Then it was on to Barbuda, a long-awaited destination for both of us. We’ll explore Antigua on our way back south. Stay tuned for Barbuda!

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