Sunday, May 21, 2006

Montserrat Blows Up While We Travel to Gualeloupe via Antigua

Saturday, May 20 was an interesting day. We left Nevis after a sudden downpour about 8 AM and motor sailed through the Narrows, between St. Kitts and Nevis. The wind was gusty and unexpectedly from the south as we turned the corner and headed upwind. We were able to keep our main in the center of the boat to stabilize it in the rough seas. Diesel Duck was a half hour behind us and Dreamtime went around the other side of Nevis. September Song and Emmanuel were planning to leave late that afternoon and sail overnight. We were the only one going to Montserrat - the others were heading for Guadeloupe. Scott had called the volcano observatory there on Friday and they'd given him an enthusiastic OK to anchor in the north of the island. Tourism has been a bit difficult for this country since half of it was buried in ash in 1995, including the capital Plymouth.

Following this eruption two thirds of the population left the island. Midway between is the island nation of Redonda, an uninhabited island that nevertheless has a reigning monarch - King Robert (Bob the Bald, this is a great story to look up. The first king, Filipe I, was crowned in 1880.). As we approached this windswept mini peak a call came in over the VHF from a boat six miles ahead of us to another single handed fellow behind him. He was experiencing intense suphuric fumes and falling ash. He had a satellite phone and wanted to call the observatory but didn't have the number. Scott called back and gave it to him and let him know our location if he needed help. We were starting to get a whiff of the fumes ourselves. Minutes later he called back - Montserrat was erupting and the observatory recommended turning around immediately. Since the wind was unexpectedly from the south everything was headed straight towards us.

Scott and I looked at our charts and made a sharp 90 degree turn and headed for Antigua - 32 miles away and not on our original itinerary. As soon as we settled into our new course a squall overtook us and the wind clocked around to the East; again, right on the nose. All visibility was lost and we battened down all the hatches. One consolation - the fumes and ash were now headed away from us. The two single handed men ahead of us and Emmanuel made the same choice but Diesel Duck decided to make continue on around Montserrat but way off and to windward. We talked to Dreamtime and they turned around and went back to Nevis. They don't bash into the wind and waves as well as some of us and they were way behind. It was a wise choice - they had a much better trip the next day and joined us in Antigua. That night September Song sailed by Montserrat, well off, and saw the glow of the lava flowing down to the sea. We found out the next day that 90 million cubic yards of material, the whole new dome, blew off the top.

Antigua is very English and caters to the boating and racing crowd. The three top images are of centuries old English Harbor, Jolly Harbour on the other hand is a very protected recently built
anchorage and huge marina/condo and home development. It looks a bit like Florida with canals and docks at each residence. We anchored off a lovely beach just outside the entrance to the enclosed harbour with only a few other boats. Scott and I took local buses over to Falmouth and English Harbours on the south end of the island where the restored Nelson Docks are a big attraction. This fort and repair works, completed in 1745, are now used by a new breed of yachts. The anchorage is very snug and it's mangrove dense
sections are excellent hurricane holes. The old walls and buildings are still in use and integrated nicely with the more modern sections. Jolly Harbour Marina was a good place to reprovision, do laundry and a few boat repairs. When Dreamtime showed up, we were both invited over to Emmanuel for "sundowners" - a cruising tradition.

.We had a pleasant brisk sail down to Guadeloupe - averaging seven knots over most of the fifty miles. After losing our wind in the lee of the island we had some difficult moments with the engine, but Scott resolved them. The harbor and fishing village at Deshaies is very charming with red roofed homes, restaurants and a lovely church steeple framing the semi circle beach and of course above, the steep mountains. That's the town, in these shots starting with the view coming in from the sea. French bread and brie was a revelation for us - this is our first French island!

These are the tallest in the islands in the Caribbean outside of the Dominican Republic and at over 7000 feet taller than anything on the U.S. East Coast. We so enjoyed walking around the small very French town and had an early morning breakfast at the cafe of excellent French coffee, croissants and pan de chocolats. Restaurants lined the beach at the head of the harbor. Diesel Duck was there waiting for us with a lovely dinner that night (that's them with Scott above). After two nights of peace we headed south again, anchoring not far away at the Cousteau Underwater Park Reserve at Pigeon Island.This was marvelous snorkeling and we went back for a second half day after Dreamtime joined us. This was the first time we'd seen such a dramatic drop off from the reef. We were enjoying the coral and fish and then suddenly ahead the color of the water changed dramatically and we looked straight down into the "abyss".
Scuba divers, many with instructors, were at various points down on the wall. Curtains of bubbles, many shaped like frisbees rose up as they passed us. It was magnificent. Scott so wants to learn to dive and although I'm reluctant, perhaps I'll try it too. On the way back in our dinghies a downpour overtook us that was so heavy we couldn't see ahead. Benno and Marlene put on their snorkeling gear and standing up holding on to the bow
bridle they made a very funny but efficient sight. That night we had a wonderful potluck supper on our boat.

The next morning we motored down to Basse Terre at the south end of the island and anchored outside the Marina Riviere Sens entrance. The marina appeared heavily damaged by a hurricane - we visited customs to clear out of the country and then walked downtown to look around. We had hoped to rent a mini van and do some sight seeing around the island but nothing was open on the weekend.
The marketplace was bustling with activity and I took lots of pictures (pictures here show the array of bottles, seafood selection and one of many vegetable/fruit vendors) while Scott tested many flavors of fruit infused rum. We bought a five fruit rum combination, lots of tomatoes, bananas, eggplant, christophenes, zucchinis and seasoning peppers (small red and green mild peppers).