May 16, 2006 Tuesday Little Bay, Montserrat
We were finally were able to sail. Until today, the wind had been almost on our nose and we had to motor sail. The movement of the boat is different when sailing than when motoring. Plus sailing is quieter and you don’t have the diesel smell from the engine exhaust. Sailing is much, much nicer.
We wanted to visit Montserrat because we had been here about 20 years ago. Those of you reading this travelogue who have visited our old home might have seen a photo of Bill standing beneath a waterfall. The photo was in the hall bathroom. That waterfall was at the end of a rainforest that we hiked through back in 1986. It was blown to smithereens when the Mt. Soufriere volcano on the southern end of the island erupted in 1995, then again in 1997, 2003 and 2004. The volcano is still active and constantly spews ash that drifts westward for miles in the prevailing trade winds. For this reason, vessels must either pass Montserrat at least 10 miles to the west or they must pass on the eastern side. We would pass on the eastern (Atlantic) side. Bill spoke with another cruiser in St. Kitts who had passed Montserrat at the 10 mile limit on the western side, and he said that their boat was still coated with the fine ash everywhere. It even finds its way inside sealed hatches and ports which are waterproof.
The initial eruption covered Plymouth, the main city on the island. The population of the island was approximately 12,000, most of whom resided in Plymouth. The residents fled to the northern end of the island, and are in the process of building commercial and residential structures where none previously existed. The total island population dwindled to only 3,000 but has now increased back up to 5,000. We are not sure that the island will be able to sustain itself in its current condition.
Montserrat used to have a thriving tourist industry, a Sea Island Cotton production facility, and a recording facility. The song by Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder entitled “Ebony and Ivory” was mixed at the recording studio in Montserrat. McCartney did his recording in London and Stevie did his recording in LA, and both recordings were mixed at the studio in Montserrat. The Sea Island cotton that was produced here was of the finest quality available anywhere in the world. It was superior to long-staple Egyptian cotton. What a shame this is all gone.
We did our part for the local economy during this visit. We took a taxi tour of the island – at a cost of $100 US, which was a steep price in our opinions. But the taxi driver was parked down at the immigration office waiting for any boat that might arrive and doing his best to get our business, so we felt that he should get rewarded for his efforts to work. Far better than the younger guys who were just sitting on the sides of the road doing nothing. At least this taxi driver was trying to earn a living. Hard to do when there aren’t any businesses on the island and virtually no tourists. We were one of only four boats visiting the island.
The taxi tour took us well into the exclusion zone, fairly close to the volcano. It was amazing to see Plymouth under about 20 feet of volcanic ash. Only the roofs of most buildings were visible.
Paul McCartney still has a home on the island. Seems like with all his money and connections that he could get some interest back in the UK to establish some form of industry on the northern end of the island. If something isn’t done, the island will have an extremely difficult economic recovery. Very sad to see the condition in which the people are living; especially when we remember when it was so vibrant.
We mailed a post card from the Volcano Observatory to our grandson Zachary. We tried to write a message that a 5-yr-old would be able to read. Also asked him to share the card with his cousin BeBe because we didn’t have her address with us. Curious to see how long it takes for that postcard to reach Houston from Montserrat.