Mon 18 Jan 2010 12:30
Being Geographers both Jennifer and I were really excited about getting the chance to go and see Montserrat. The capital city, Plymouth was destroyed by several eruptions in 1996/7. The result is that all of the southern half of the island has been left deserted and is in a no go zone; unfortunately it was this part which was the fertile and good land, leaving the island with pretty much nothing in the way of natural resources. Of particular interest at the moment is that for the first time in quite a while the volcano had been showing increased signs of potential activity since the start of January, with the result that the no go zone had been increased and people had been moved out of their houses.
The no go zone extends 2 miles offshore, but our navigation was rather 'out' and we managed to creep into within a mile of the deserted capital city of Plymouth. As you can see from below, it looked rather like a scene from Afghanistan rather than a Caribbean island.
Just as we were passing Plymouth and going through the lee of the volcano we were hit by a massive squall, sending the wind from 10 knots to 30 knots in a matter of seconds. More to the point, we received a very heavy shower; the rain had picked up and brought down with it large amounts of volcanic ash, and so the whole boat was covered in a coat of ash!
Luckily the rain cleared shortly afterwards, and you can see the smoke coming off the volcano:
On arrival we decided to go for a walk, and on reaching the tourist agency, and asking about where the centre of town is, we were told that we were at it. There was no town, just a few very basic shops; I guess that this is what happens when you lose your capital city.
The following day we arranged a tour of the island which took us to the volcanic centre, and over to the old airport which has been semi swept away by volcanic ash flows. The volcano is not your standard runny basaltic version which you see in say Hawaii, but made up of andesite, which is much thicker; the result is the pressure builds up and the volcano explodes, sending lots of ash and molten boulders down the slope.
Having had a tour of the island and spoken to a few locals, we actually came away feeling rather depressed about life on the island. There is still no real port  nearly 15 years after their main port was closed - we were anchored in the bay where they bring all of the islands supplies in, and the bay was horrendously rolly and waves were almost breaking onto the small pier in which they hand unloaded all their supplies. They have set up a new landfill site, but it is already polluting the sea beneath it, and well, the islanders just seemed rather un-entrepreneurial. In addition to the above, it would seem that despite it being an British dependency, it would appear that the management of the island and the control of funding for it is very poor.
After the second extremely rolly and rather sleepless night, we decided to head off to Antigua. Long story but we have to get a US visa to be able to sail into the US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and of course the east coast of the US, and for this, we need to fly to Barbados which is the nearest US embassy, and the easiest way to get to Barbados is from Antigua. As we rounded the top end of the island, we saw a huge plume of ash start to emerge from the Volcano. After which we were treated to nearly 2 hours of continuous eruption - the largest of its kind in many months. The photos below don't really do justice to the very impressive site of a volcano erupting - but it was amazingly exciting and perhaps the highlight of our trip so far; we were very glad that we had not decided to head through the western end of the island in the lee of the volcano!

This e-mail has been scanned for all viruses by Star. The
service is powered by MessageLabs. For more information on a proactive
anti-virus service working around the clock, around the globe, visit: