On Friday the 13th, around 6:30 a.m., we released our mooring lines just off Pinneys Beach and began our day’s journey from Nevis to the mountainous island of Montserrat. The six hour, thirty-four nautical mile, passage was both uninspiring and uncomfortable. On a gray, overcast morning, we were jostled and pounded by motorsailing into four-foot waves with a short period and fifteen knots of wind. I mistakenly thought that we were through with all of this bashing to windward when we reached the Virgin Islands. I failed to take into account the fact that the trade winds shift to a more southeasterly direction in the spring. Since a journey southward through the leeward islands means southeastward passages, it means that we have still been on a most uncomfortable point of sail. How I dream of downwind sailing! Ah… Someday!
The only excitement on the passage (other than things falling off shelves and breaking inside) was a fish on the line. Less than half an hour after our departure, a dolphinfish hit the starboard fishing line. But, alas, while reeling him in, he leapt into the air, freeing himself from captivity. When we arrived at Little Bay, the only port of entry in Montserrat, we began to lower our mainsail in preparation for anchoring. The only thing was — it did not budge when released. The halyard had jumped off the sheave in the block and jammed. Much to my consternation, this would require me going up the mast to try to remedy the situation. I usually use the main halyard to be pulled up the mast, but since that was now unavailable, I had to use the topping lift. With my life in her hands, Cindy did a great job hoisting and lowering me up and down the mast. The task was a little difficult, 65 feet in the air, at the top of a mast which was swaying back and forth in a gusty breeze exacerbated by the roll caused by the wakes of passing boats. Eventually, I was able to use the gennaker halyard to take some tension off the main halyard and free the line from its entrapment beside the sheave.
With that little bit of excitement past, we dinghied into the town dock to clear in. We first paid our fees at the port authority. Then, we completed the paper work and received clearance at customs (which was in the same building). Lastly, we had to walk next door to clear with port security. The whole process was pretty easy. We then walked a few hundred feet more to sit down at the Time Out Bar and Grill for a light lunch and wifi.
On Saturday morning, we donned our swimsuits and took Dalí over to the north side of the anchorage which is bordered by a cliff and fallen rocks. We dropped anchor and I hopped into the warm, clear water for a morning snorkel. It was a wonderful spot. There was no current or waves. Beneath me were numerous large boulders which had fallen from the cliff face. Swimming in and around these were a variety of reef fish and a cute turtle. Cindy sunned on our dinghy while I snorkeled. She wasn’t quite ready to try to get back into Dalí with her recently replaced knee. In the afternoon, we had arranged for an island tour with Joe Phillips, a taxi driver/tour guide recommended in the cruisers guide book. For four hours, we were driven around the island viewing the sights. The primary tourist attraction on the island for the past few years is the active volcano that wiped out most of the island a few years ago.
The Soufriere Hills Volcano had lain dormant for over 100 years before erupting again in 1995. Since then there have been several eruptions sending pyroclastic flows (a mixture of hot gasses and rock) and mudflows down its slopes and into nearby towns. The capital, Plymouth, was buried beneath several meters of ash and rock. More than half the island has been rendered uninhabitable and two-thirds of the population has left the island since 1995. Joe, our guide, took us into abandoned towns, including his own hometown, Cork Hill, to see how once thriving areas are now overgrown by forest. We could not go into Plymouth or some of the other places in the area which were completely destroyed by the volcano. The last major explosion of the volcano occurred in 2010. At this point, the mountain is a smoking, steaming monster awaiting its next opportunity to wreak havoc on the nice people of Montserrat.
After our tour, we had dinner on the waterfront while being treated to a brilliantly gorgeous sunset out over Little Bay. Our visit to Montserrat was short but memorable. On Sunday, we would be moving on.