Sailing the Caribbean? Don’t miss Montserrat!

When we were planning our route through the Caribbean, someone told me not to bother visiting Montserrat. “There’s nothing to see there”. Her comment intrigued me. She was a seasoned cruiser. She said our boat might get covered in ash. But, I was undeterred. Turns out, she was partly right  (about the ash) but she was mostly wrong. When I look back at our trip through the Caribbean islands, Montserrat is a standout, yet it falls short of the typical touristy place. Perhaps that’s why I loved it so.

It is important to mention that while we were in Antigua, our daughter, Betty (11) wrote a flat-out fantastic report about the history of Montserrat. Betty explored the affects of the volcanic activity on the people and economy. The report also allowed Betty to learn about some writing conventions like footnotes and a bibliography. Betty’s report cited a variety of sources. In short, she researched, planned her work, wrote a draft and rewrote, creating a stunning final paper.

I would have loved to have put Betty’s report on my blog. She is an amazing writer and an avid reader. Unfortunately, one of our computers crashed, and Betty’s final report may be irrecoverable.

Suffice it to say, Betty had invested a lot of effort in her paper. We could not bypass Montserrat. Consequently, Betty made us a courtesy flag and we set off on a short sail from Antigua to Montserrat.

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Betty with her hand-drawn Montserrat flag. Later, she laminated the flag and we flew it on our boat with pride.

It turns out Montserrat was an amazing opportunity for our entire family.

After checking in at customs, we splurged and took a tour to the Montserrat Volcano Observatory. The tour included a local man (our driver), our family of six and a lone Swede. The latter happened to be a family doctor, and seemed to be having some existential musings while he sailed solo on a sabbatical. You can see a picture of him along with our driver later, if you are interested.

Here is a picture that I took of the Soufriere volcano at our first stop on our tour when we were at the observatory.

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View of the Soufriere volcano from the Montserrat Volcano Observatory

At the observatory, we watched a short video about the Soufriere volcano that erupted in 1995. The volcano destroyed a large part of the island including the one-time capital city of Plymouth. In the video we saw scientists tracking the volcano as it erupted in the very room that we were watching the video. Rick and I thought this was very interesting; but, our kids got a little restless. Their interest level changed when we got close to the Soufriere volcano and they could explore an area just outside the Montserrat “exclusion zone”.

Some of you might recall that a large portion of Montserrat was decimated by a volcanic eruption in 1995. To this day, an exclusion zone is in effect – meaning that people cannot visit the southern part of the island without special permits. The exclusion zone includes land as well as sea. The volcano left deposits on the seabed, wiping out safe anchorages in the process.

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Montserrat – we anchored north of the exclusion zone in Little Bay.

The volcano displaced approximately two-thirds of the population between 1995 and 2000. Montserrat once had a population of 12,000. But, that figure rests around 5,000 people today.

Our driver took us close to the exclusion zone. We passed homes that looked post-apocalyptic with trees and plants growing within the walls.

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Abandoned house near the exclusion zone, Montserrat

We stopped and visited a former five-star hotel. It too had become overgrown and covered with thick ash. I will include a variety of photos of the hotel and the surrounding environs to give you a sense of the desolation. The pictures also include a picture of our driver and the aforementioned Swede.

Our shoes became covered in ash. And, we walked across the swimming pool without realizing it. The pool had filled with ash.

Soon it was time to go. Too soon. I would have loved to have stayed longer if only I had had the foresight to arrange for a permit to enter the exclusion zone. Still, it is pretty incredible to be as close as we were to the volcano and see the devastation first hand. Previously, it had been something I had only heard about in the news and read about in history books.

We spent one night in the Little Bay anchorage. Sailing by the southern half of Montserrat our boat did get dusted with ash. But, by the first rainfall Aphrodite was clean again.

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Betty in front of the Soufriere volcano in Montserrat – lots of ash wound up on our catamaran, Aphrodite

The smell of sulphur is overpowering as Henry demonstrates in the photo below.

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Henry (6) hams it up as we sail past the Soufriere volcano

I value the input of other cruisers very much, but this time I’m glad I ignored the suggestion to bypass Montserrat. It is a unique place.

We are now in Grenada. I am catching up on blog posts. There are some amazing things in the Caribbean. We now have better access to WIFI and I’m looking forward to sharing some more of our adventures and pictures.

5 comments

  1. Thank you so much Lorraine for sharing your adventure, some of the history of your visits , Betty’s accomplishment and the lovely pictures. I miss you all. Love Marthe xx

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  2. So glad you posted this. We had to skip Montserrat on the way down because we were running out of tome to get to Grenada before hurricane season started. We planned to stop on our way north this year. More so now that it looks like the upper islands will need time to recover. Our cruising will probably stop near Guadeloupe this year.

    Believe it or not, we actually had another cruiser tell us to just skip the entire BVI. He said it was nothing but charter boats and expensive mooring buoys. Sometimes when I meet someone with this type of attitude I wonder why they bother to get up in the morning.

    Mark and Cindy
    sv Cream Puff

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