Mystic at the end of a Deshaies rainbow
We left Deshaies soon after dawn and had a pleasant day-sail north to Montserrat, making our way up the east coast, outside the two mile exclusion zone, and around the top of the 9 mile long island. The wind and seas were moderate and the northwest-going current made it a fast and easy passage. As we made our way along the coast we had good views of the infamous volcano in the south and the vast flows of ash that have changed the landscape since the late 1990s, engulfing the airport and settlements, creating new areas of coastline.
Montserrat east coast, from two miles off
Little Bay in the northwest of the island is now the main port, with a jetty for ferries from Antigua and small ships. Nearby is a small stretch of beach and a low-key resort. It's not a particularly good anchorage and the swell makes it uncomfortable, sometimes untenable when the winds are in the north. However, at this time of the year the winds tend to be in the east and being in a catamaran swell is not such a problem for us.
The 'resort' at Little bay beach . . .
. . . and the adjoining port
When we arrived in the late afternoon there were a few yachts anchored off in deeper water but it was easy to get in close to the beach. The water is crystal clear so we could see the sandy bottom and check the anchor was dug in nicely.
View from the beach, looking north towards the 'Kingdom of Redonda' (Redonda Island)
The following morning we got up early and saw a cruise ship anchored off. We launched our dinghy and rushed ashore afraid that we'd get caught up in the queues for customs and immigration checks. In fact they are well organised and have a separate arrangement for cruise ships. We were directed to the port office where after paying a small fee and filling in a few forms our clearance was soon completed. At the security gate we were asked to fill in another form by Yvette, who enquired whether we were planning a tour of the island. As we left the port area her partner, Lawrence, approached us to offer his services as a guide.
The government has high hopes of developing the Little Bay area but for the time being there are just a few small shops, bars and restaurants. There is also a small museum within walking distance featuring information about archaeological finds - including some evidence of human inhabitants almost 5000 years ago - and more recent economic and social activity, notably the sugar plantations and slavery.
Hurricanes are a regular occurrence in Montserrat and in 1989 the island was devastated by the strongest ever recorded there, Hurricane Hugo. With help they recovered but then in the late 1990s the Soufriere volcano erupted. It had been dormant for 300 years. The capital, Plymouth, was destroyed and two-thirds of the island's population, about 7000 people, were evacuated, losing everything. Some people hoped to return to their homes once the volcano settled down but it erupted again more recently and now, two decades later, few people have any hope of returning.
Lawrence took us on a tour of the island, including paying to get through the police check point and go a little way into the restricted area. The northern end is like other mountainous Caribbean islands with lush green valleys dotted with coconut palm, banana plants, mango trees and much more. The coastal areas are drier with dramatic cliffs and wonderful views. Driving south beyond the central hills the scenery changes. The south is a scene of devastation with vast areas of ash and derelict buildings. In the early years after the eruption the buildings in the centre of Plymouth were still identifiable but every time it rains more ash is washed down the hillsides and now just about all except the church are totally covered. Homes on the higher ground away from the centre are still visible, but it's impossible to imagine how they could ever be lived in again. It must be a horrific sight for anyone who once lived there.
Old Road Bay, just outside (north of) the exclusion zone, as we sailed down the west coast, two miles offshore
Plymouth - the devastated town on the south west side of the volcano