Wednesday morning we are up before it really is morning! Prepared sandwiches for our passage and picked up anchor at 5.30 am…. watching the sun come up over the hills of Guadeloupe as we headed out towards Montserrat.
We feel very lucky to be able to visit Montserrat on this occasion – you have to have the right sea / weather conditions as the anchorage can be untenable otherwise combined with little volcanic activity in the area. The conditions are right so we are finally on our way…. This is the first time we will have set foot on the island but we actually flew over Montserrat – on a helicopter trip – shortly after the eruptions and while the volcano was still spitting out ash and rock high into the sky. So this has always been a place we have wanted to visit properly.
Of course, the completely flat weather conditions mean also that we have little or no wind….. We started out sailing – then motor sailing – then just plain old motoring as the wind dropped to nothing! The passage was not the most comfortable one either as the sea kept on rolling us from side to side….. Oh well never mind – at least the sun is out and the skies are blue! Richard is fishing – again….. He has been dragging this lure around behind us for hundreds of miles but still no luck. I can’t even be bothered to watch for a bite now!
Coming towards Montserrat and the island reaches into the clouds…. and is obviously still generating a cloud of its own. The first signs of the ash flow which devastated Plymouth, the capital, and miles around are easy to see…. as is the steam still coming from the top of the mountain. Clearly it’s not finished blowing its top just yet… years on from the initial eruptions in 1995 and the major devastating eruptions in 1997.
Although we remained outside of the exclusion zone we headed in as close as we were allowed and spot a barge tied to an old dock and clouds of ash moving around. All very odd – it turns out it is trucks filling up the barge with sand and gravel, now the island’s major export.
Further along the coast and we spot some more steam….. huge billows of clouds high into the air…. Wasn’t expecting that there would be volcanic activity away from the mountain peaks so a bit surprised by this….. it turns out it is actually a pipe with scientists and engineers trying to tap into the geo-thermal power of this very active volcano….
Enjoying the sights and marvelling at the power of nature and – we have a bite!!!!!! OMG – Richard is rushing for the line while I slow the boat and get the gaff, the gloves and the rum. Rum???? Yes, really….. Apparently you can kill fish very quickly and easily with alcohol down their gills rather than bashing them over the head – and we have some particularly awful rum we purchased in Grenada that we have been saving for this moment……
The fish is fighting…. so Richard is getting excited…… Oh no… it is a barracuda! A decent sized one but not something we want to eat so after he has his photo opportunity we let him live to fight another day and release him back into the sea. But at least Richard has broken his duck. Next time we are looking for a tuna or a mahi mahi to fill up the freezer LOL !!!!
Excitement over and we are now pulling into Little Bay our intended anchorage. We make our required VHF call to the Port Authority requesting permission to anchor… He tells us ‘north of the large catamaran’. So we do as we are told and get ourselves cleaned up. Dropped dink off his davits and we head into the pier to do the formalities…. should be easy as we have done this on-line with the Sail Clear system. Arriving at the pier and we are told by the Port Authority that we need to move Morphie – we are, allegedly, impeding the ferry’s channel. Well – not going to argue with him – but seriously….??? We have anchored where we were told to….and, in our humble opinion, we are not in the way. Not a great welcome to be honest. But we agree – of course! – that we will move – but can we clear in to the country first please? That was agreed so we secure dink to the really dirty pier and head into customs. We loved the welcoming stork though!!!
Oh yes…and guess what…. the Sail Clear system has crashed. So we are given the forms – in triplicate with carbon – to complete manually. Oh well…. never mind! Forms filled in and the customs girl – who, to be fair was very helpful and charming – said she couldn’t clear us in and out at the same time because we wanted to stay until Saturday, which was beyond their 72 hour limit. Fine – we’ll come back to clear out then….which we’ll do late on Friday.
In the meantime another cruising couple, Phil and Karen, have asked us if we want to go on a tour tomorrow to share the costs – we say yes…but who is it with? They say Joe Phillip – who we have heard about and comes highly recommended – so agree to go for it. So our island tour is fixed for 10.00 am on Thursday. Bidding farewells we rush back to Morphie to pick up anchor…..
Picked up anchor and loads of other boats turn up simultaneously…. it’s all a bit of a bun fight as the anchorage isn’t particularly large but we all fit in eventually. And at least two boats are closer to the channel than we were originally but they don’t get asked to move – so figure that one out?!?
Securely anchored for the second time and we head back into Little Bay to have a wander around. About to leave the Port Authority gates and we get asked – have you filled in this form? What form????? This one???? Er – no – were we supposed to??? Yes apparently. So I take a seat and fill this one in too – luckily we hadn’t unpacked the rucksack so I still had all the boat papers that we needed with us, otherwise it would have been another trip back to Morphie! Filled it in – and then she asked us for the receipt for our clearance. What receipt we asked? For the money you paid she says. Er no….haven’t paid yet….got to pay on departure apparently…. That’s no good she says and rushes off to talk to the customs people. After a frustrating wait she returns and lets us go…..
Phew…..finally we are legal…..and we can go out of the complex. There really isn’t much here – although they are building heavily to attract people into the island with major construction going on along the waterfront. But we found a local bar called Mooses and had a few cold Caribs to smooth out the irritations…. Also got a very slow internet connection but at least we could tell people we were safe and sound.
We chatted to a few ex-pats and locals – including some Montserratians who had moved to the UK when they had lost everything in the original volcanic eruption. This island remains a British territory – rather than an ex-British island as so many of them are around here. And we got talking to a lady – who lives in Nottingham – who had come home for the St George’s school reunion. These people used to live in a village called St George’s in an area called Harris, which remains within the exclusion zone so have all relocated either on the island or to the UK. They were all dressed up in their matching shirts and were in good humour – so had a bit of a giggle and they kindly allowed me to take their photos….
Few more beers later and we head back to Morphie – via the immigration hut to get our passports stamped. This was a voluntary option… Again I’m asked to fill out forms and I wondered why we have volunteered for this???? Anyway….half way through….another immigration officer calls me back and says, tear up the forms, you don’t need them, I’ll just stamp your passport. This is mad!!!!
Montserrat use the Irish Shamrock here for their immigration stamp and call themselves the other Emerald Isle – which links back to the days of Irish settlers who arrived in the 1600s. Many of these Irish settlers were small farmers but as the economy changed with sugar becoming the main crop and the introduction of slaves a lot of them returned to Ireland. But their legacy and names remain…..
Back on board we enjoyed our first Montserrat sunset and had an early night…. We have a busy day ahead tomorrow (Thursday) with the island tour planned and are really looking forward to it.
I realise I’m a bit behind with the blog – because of poor internet speeds on Montserrat – so will update again soon. Watch out for the next instalment called Joe and the Volcano!
Bye for now