Montserrat: The Emerald Isle Of The Caribbean, And A Modern-Day Pompeii

We left Dominica and headed back to Iles des Saintes for a few days, until the winds calmed a bit more for us to continue on. Once again, we took a mooring ball off of Ile Cabrit.

After a quick trip into town, to stock up on veggies and baguettes (for Le Capitaine), we headed back to Sea Life to relax.

While unloading our groceries, we noticed a young goat along the waterline of Ile Cabrit, playing with a coconut; quite an amusing site.

We spent our St. Patrick’s Day moored off of Ile Cabrit, sulking on board. Our frustration at not being able to make Montserrat’s celebration was amplified even more, when we spied these cruisers going by on their dinghy. Arrggh!!

A day later, we left the mooring field, and Iles des Saintes. We were headed for Anguilla…by way of a Montserrat drive-by.

If you’re unfamiliar, pear-shaped Montserrat is quite an interesting little island. It’s is known as the Emerald Isle of the Caribbean, both for its resemblance to coastal Ireland, and the Irish ancestry of many of its people. The island is also referred to as a modern-day Pompeii, after a massive volcano eruption in 1997.

First…St.Patrick’s Day: Montserrat is the only country outside of Ireland where St. Patrick’s Day is a public holiday (come on, U.S.A., join in!). When clearing in, your passport is stamped with a shamrock! If that doesn’t say come visit for St. Patricks’ Day, I don’t know what does!

Ireland and Montserrat go way back. Ireland was invaded and defeated by the forces of the English Parliament, led by Oliver Cromwell, during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, which caused many of the Irish people to be expelled from their homeland.

Catholics knew they would be murdered if they stayed in Ireland, and were desperate to escape. Many who could not afford the fare across the Atlantic made a deal to work as indentured servants in the Caribbean, and worked among the African slaves. By 1678, a census showed that nearly 60% of the island’s people were Irish.

In the 1630s, Irish Catholics sailed to Montserrat from St. Kitts and Nevis, to escape religious tensions there, bringing their own slaves with them, and by 1768, African slaves outnumbered the Irish Catholics (including the indentured) by three to one.

On March 17, 1768, a slave rebellion was planned, to coincide with the annual Saint Patrick’s Day celebration. While the British governed the island, Saint Patrick’s Day was observed, due to the large Irish population, and it was anticipated that the British and Irish would be distracted by the Saint Patrick’s Day feast and festivities (I sure would be). It is said that an Irish woman overhead a planning session, and the rebellion was discovered and squashed. Nine slaves were executed, and more than thirty were imprisoned, and eventually banished from the island.

Today, the people of Montserrat are a mix of African slaves, Irish indentured workers and a bit of English Protestant blood, and the celebration of St Patrick’s Day has a different meaning than in Ireland: “It is both sad and happy, and there is a lot of eating going on.”

March 17th became an officially designated national holiday in 1985, and since 1995 has become a week-long festival that includes a parade in national dress, a road race called “the slave run”, dinners, fashion shows, beauty contests, dancing and pub crawls. While in Antigua, we could pick up Montserrat radio stations, and there was much talk of the upcoming celebration. 2018 marked the 200th anniversary of the slave uprising…..Dammit!, this is what we missed! (obviously online photos, since we weren’t there.):

Next, the volcano: I’d never heard of Montserrat, until my sister spent six weeks on the island in 1997, helping them build a website. Sally had never heard of the island either, and was unaware that the massive eruption had occurred just a year before. Needless to say, “island” life during her stay on Montserrat was much different than she expected.

Montserrat’s Soufrière Hills is an active volcano, with many lava domes forming its summit (I’ve learned that many volcanoes in the Caribbean are named Soufrière, which is French, for “sulphur outlet”). After being dormant for 350, the volcano came back into life in 1995, and started to build a new lava dome. When pyroclastic and mudflows began occurring regularly, the capital city of Plymouth was evacuated.

A few weeks later, on July 18th, 1997, a massive pyroclastic flow buried Plymouth in more than 39 ft of mud, destroying the city, causing widespread evacuations and rendering more than half of the island uninhabitable. Here are some amazing, online images:

Between 1995 and 2000, two-thirds of the island’s population was forced to flee, primarily to the United Kingdom, leaving fewer than 1,200 people on the island as of 1997. Because of the size of the existing volcanic dome, and the resulting potential for pyroclastic activity, an exclusion zone was established, extending from the south coast to north parts of the island.

Since the devastating event in 1995, the volcano has continued to erupt, and is one of the most active and closely monitored volcanoes in the world. It’s activity includes periods of lava dome growth, followed by brief episodes of dome collapse, causing pyroclastic flows, ash venting, and explosive eruption. As recently as February 2010, a partial collapse of the lava dome sent large ash clouds over sections of several nearby islands, including Guadeloupe and Antigua.

Before its lower two thirds became devastated, Montserrat was a carefree, island paradise (also the birthplace of Alphonsus Cassell, creator of the soca hit “Hot, Hot, Hot”). In 1979, Beatles producer, Sir George Martin, built AIR Studios Montserrat, and for more than a decade, it played host to recording sessions by musicians including Dire Straits, Elton John, Michael Jackson, Eric Clapton, Sting and The Rolling Stones.

For my Buffett fans, Jimmy recorded the album, Volcano, and hit song by the same name, in May of 1979 at Air Studios. The album and song were named for the then-dormant Soufriere Hills volcano. Sadly, Hurricane Hugo destroyed the studios in 1989.

Two decades later, this modern-day “Pompeii” is slowly recovering. The population is growing, and sand mining and geothermal energy provide new sources of income. The northern part of Montserrat remains lush and green, largely unaffected by volcanic activity, and a new town, port and government center have developed on the northwest coast.

Tourists are slowly trickling back to the island, mostly for volcano-related day trips. The volcano is always a wild card, but all in all, Montserrat is a safe place to visit, offering great hiking, bird watching, and a slow pace of life.

We may have missed the St. Patrick’s Day festivities, but didn’t want to pass up a chance to see the island, and the volcano’s effects, up close. It was a beautiful day, with clear visibility as we approached from the south.

And Lady Soufriere was smokin’ away.

As we got closer, the wide avenues of hardened lava flow extended all the way down to, an into, the water, creating new sections of coastline.

We followed along the island’s west side, where vegetation had again taken hold, and the still-active volcano smoldered in the distance.



Further along, at Plymouth, what was once the island’s capital city, the views were more creepy and ominous. Abandoned homes, ravaged by the eruption, had been encroached by twenty years of vegetation growth.

A photo of houses after the eruption:

And what we saw twenty years later:

In other areas, only shells of buildings remained, virtually buried in hardened mud and sand, from the massive pyroclastic flow.



We moved away from the coast, and continued on our course to Anguilla. Despite the catastrophe of Soufriere’s eruption, the Emerald Isle of Montserrat is still intriging, and its St. Patrick’s Day celebration is still on our bucket list….we will be back!

Here are many more photos from our drive-by of Montserrat.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”





Iles des Saintes

Forgive the delay in posting, we’ve been off grid for the past few weeks……

With unfavorable weather predicted for heading north, we’d decided to make our way south instead. Our next destination was Ile des Saintes, a small group of islands off of mainland Guadeloupe, encircled by shallow reefs. We’d heard endless raves about “the Saints,” from every cruiser who’d visited, so it was a must-stop on our list.

Instead of making an overnight run, we opted to break up the journey and make a return stop at Deshaise, Guadeloupe for the night. Even in the “more favorable” direction from Antigua, our seven hour run was unnervingly lumpy (paravanes are the best invention ever), making us glad we’d decided not to travel north, and into the wind.

Despite the sea state, we enjoyed traveling along the scenic coast of Guadeloupe. I caught sight of a large, above-ground cemetery, crammed with graves of all shapes and sizes. There can’t be many more vacancies available.

As we approached Deshaise, Howard perused the coast. However, having no more patience for lumpy travel, and ready to just drop the anchor already, he soon tired of the view.

We dropped anchor in the harbor, went to shore for the easy-peasy clear in at a gift shop in town, stocked up on Scott’s French staples…baguettes and Orangina, and then made our way back to the boat.

The next morning we continued on, and caught sight of our friends Rob and Lindy (s/v Sea Shak) further down the coast, traveling off of our starboard side. We’d met them during our last days in Jolly Harbour, and were both headed in the same direction. We had a quick radio chat, before they tacked away from us and continued on. After a much less lumpy ride, we arrived at Ile des Saintes. The forecast for the coming week predicted strong northeast winds, so we planned to settle in.

The islands have been French since shortly after they were colonized, with a small community that used to rely almost entirely on fishing. Unlike most Caribbean islands, the Saints were never agricultural, and therefore no slaves were ever imported. As a result, residents of African descent arrived and live on the islands by choice.

There are many mooring balls available at affordable rates. However, demand far exceeds the supply, and you have to be quick and crafty to get one. A cruiser referred to the challenge as mooring ball “Hunger Games,” and he’s not far off.

On our approach, we perused the mooring field off of town with binoculars. Seeing nothing available, we slowly snaked our way through, hoping to catch sight of someone up on a bow, ready to slip their lines and leave. While scanning the mooring field, we also had to keep an eye out for other boats coming in, looking for available balls as well. It was a race of eyesight, as boats tried to beat each other to the punch. Boats already on moorings will call friends on the radio, to let them know a ball is coming open. They then speed over to the ball by dinghy, essentially claiming the spot until the boat arrives to tie on.

With all this rigmarole going on, there was no chance of getting a mooring closer to shore, and town. We moved over to the outer edge, and managed to find an open ball..hurray! Not long after Scott grabbed it and secured us, we realized why the ball had been available. It was on the outer edge of the harbor, with an almost entirely open exposure to the ever increasing winds.

We rolled like crazy, even with the flopper-stoppers in place. Winds were predicted to blow like mad over the next week, and there was no way we could stand seven days of bobbing and rolling, so the next morning, we did another pass through the balls closer to shore, and after no luck, headed over to nearby Ile Cabrit. It had just a few mooring balls, but as we approached almost half were open; but,at least two sailboats were making their way over as well. Not having to slow and bring in sails gave us the jump, and we quickly chose a ball and tied on. Mission accomplished!

Later that afternoon, we happened to notice Lindy tied to a ball near us…sitting on  her stand up paddle board.

Apparently Rob had seen the open ball through binoculars, and quickly ferried her over in the dinghy to claim it. She floated there for almost an hour, while Rob made his way back to their boat, raised anchor and brought it over….amusing! We were happy to have them so close by.

The smaller, unpopulated Ile Cabrit was a popular weekend spot for boats of all sizes. Locals would anchor or take a ball, and then head to shore for picnics and fun. A small pavilion and several picnic tables with grills were scattered in the trees, and people lounged on the beach, enjoying the water. The water surrounding the Saintes was deep, but the clarity was terrific. Snorkeling in the area was very good, and Scott even heard whale songs while underwater!

We made the short hike up to the remains of Fort Josephine, which sits atop Ile Cabrit. The woods that line the shore are home to a huge flock of roosters and chickens. They share space with several cats, who are regularly chased by the bossy birds (I’d run if something with a pointy beak was chasing me too!), and an occasional goat. As we walked along the lower path, Scott was like the Pied Piper, with roosters, chickens and cats in tow.

A cement path made for an easy hike up to the hill, and we were met at the ruins of the fort by resident goats, who didn’t really seem to care that we had arrived.


From here, we had a great view of the anchorage below, and of some poor boats making their way out in the white capped water.

The view over to the main island of Terre d’en Haut was gorgeous, with the town of Bourg des Saintes nestled in the hills, and Fort Napolean on the island’s north side.


We wandered what was left of the fort, and then headed back, noticing nearby Guadeloupe on the horizon as we made our way down.


The winds were sustained in the upper 20 knots, and the water between Isle Cabrit and town was a washing machine, riddled with white caps. We were protected from the brunt of the wind, but insanely strong gusts would come down the hill at us often, lurching the boat sideways and sending anything not held down inside the boat sailing through the air.

After several days, Scott felt comfortable running the gauntlet over to town, and managed to convince me that we wouldn’t flip over and drown on the way. We donned our raincoats, which were useless. The waves slapped at us from all sides, sending water into my hood and down inside my coat. Scott was too stubborn to use his hood, and water drenched his head and face. Sunglasses kept water out of our eyes for about a minute…of the ten minute ride, so Scott steered blind most of the way.

Once at the town dock, it was work to drag our soggy selves up onto the rolling, pitching pier and brace against the strong wind gusts. We were so wet, and it looked more like we’d swam over, rather than taken a dinghy.

First things first…we needed to clear in. As I’ve mentioned before, the French islands make this so easy: enter your info. into a computer, usually found in a gift shop or cafe, have your form printed out, pay four or five Euros and go on your way! In the Saints, there was a marine office of sorts, with air conditioning, wifi, laundry service and cold beer…we were becoming big fans of the French! We both enjoyed a beer, while Scott filled out the online clearance forms and I caught up on emails. With jobs complete, it was off to walk through town and find some groceries.

Bourg des Saintes was picturesque and quaint. Buildings were bright, clean and colorful, and the streets spotlessly clean. Neighbors chatted with each other, and people sped by us on scooters, their baskets full of baguettes. We felt like we were in coastal France, instead of the Caribbean.


We couldn’t completely understand the menu boards posted out front of the many cafes and restaurants, but delicious smells invited us to come sit and eat. Souvenir and gift shops were awash in color, with items displayed outside, hoping to lure passing customers inside.

Several ferries arrived from Guadeloupe each day, making mornings in town very busy. By noon, they had departed back to the mainland, or nearby islands, and most businesses closed several hours for lunch. The grocery stores closed during the day as well, but each at different times. During most of our travels, we often need to visit two or three stores to find essential items on our list, so it was a bit challenging to get our shopping done. As we wandered past a specialty food shop, (closed for lunch), we noticed that humans weren’t the only ones in Bourg des Saintes who took a lunch break.

As we walked the streets, passing people and scooters loaded down with baguettes, Scott became nervous about the town’s supply. I assured him that of course there would be plenty of baguettes in the stores when we got was a French island after all. We arrived at the first store to find the many baguette baskets empty….oops. Scott went into a panic.

I assured him that we were fine, there were two more grocery stores in town. The second store was closed when we arrived, and wouldn’t be reopening again for three hours…..double oops. I could now feel Scott’s panic (not to mention, he was venting loudly at me). We continued on to the discount store, and arrived to find their baskets full of baguettes….thank God. I could feel Scott’s blood pressure drop, as he grabbed an armful of long, crusty loaves.

I purchased some trash bags at one of the stores, to wrap our bags in and keep our food dry. Back at the pier, we stopped at a spot out of the wind, and covered our bags, backpacks and most importantly, the baguettes. We were going with the wind on our return ride, making it a bit less soggy. Nevertheless, I was glad for the trash bags, soggy baguettes would have put Scott over the edge!

We returned to the main island for a walk up to Fort Napoleon, which stands on a hill north of town. This time, I was ready for the soggy slog. In addition to cinching my hood so tight against my face that it left a mark, I cut holes in some large, black trash bags, and wore them as rain pants (think MC Hammer). I made Scott do the same, and we headed to town. The winds had died, and our ride wasn’t as brutal, but I was still glad for my homemade pants; Scott vowed never to wear his again.

We followed the main road out of town, and up to the fort, admiring the town below. At the last turn, we stopped to take in the postcard view.



The fort had been well restored, and the grounds were one, big botanical garden, dedicated to local succulent planes and iguanas.

In the trees along the north side of the fort, we spotted several iguanas. We’ve since learned that there are both indigenous and invasive iguanas in the Lesser Antilles Islands. The Lesser Antillean Iguana is pictured below, bright green, and more solid in color. They are considered endangered, and are rarely seen on  many islands.

The invasive Green iguana is larger, and out competes the Lesser Antillean for food. They have also interbred, causing a hybrid species. We saw both the Green Iguana, and a hybrid type as well, in the trees at the fort.

Here is an invasive, Green Iguana.



And here is they hybrid iguana, keeping the bright green of the Lesser Antillean.

Notice how long his tail is! Look closely, it goes all the way up the branch behind him!


We walked the perimeter of the wall, for more  views of town and the bays below us.


We strolled past the forts massive, thick walls, and headed back to town. On the way, we noticed many colorful fishing boats moored in the harbor below, and passed a small hotel with an inviting bar!


Having our friends Rob and Lindy just a few mooring balls away was great. Knowing Scott’s cravings for baguettes, they often returned from town with one in tow for him, and were also nice enough to deliver wine!

We introduced them to Mexican Train dominoes, and spent several nights playing on board Sea Life. One evening during a game, I felt Howard’s wet tail on my leg. I assumed, as usual, he’d dipped his tail in the water while watching fish from the swim platform. I turned to find a completely soaked cat, who’d obviously gotten too excited while watching Tarpon chase Needlefish. I went for a towel, and some wipes, to help dry him and get most of the salt from his fur. If you’re keeping track, this brings Howard’s “swim” count to seven, in five countries (thank goodness we’ve taken to securing a towel off of the swim platform, to help Howard “Phelps” get back on board)!!

The four of us decided to take advantage of the picnic areas on Ile Cabrit, and headed to shore with food and drink in tow. We grilled some food over the fire pit, and the chickens helped themselves to the scraps.




When they dispersed for the evening, Lindy and I fed the cats (impossible to do while the chickens were still around). If I thought Howard would share his boat….or more importantly, his food, I’d have quickly scooped up this little guy.

We had loads of fun, and hung out well after sunset, snapping fun, silly selfies.

One morning, Scott noticed our friends on s/v Chill coming in to take a nearby mooring. Dan and Jackie are fellow Marylanders we met while in Falmouth Harbour, Antigua. We dinghied over to say hello, and invite them for drinks and a catch-up. They came aboard, with friends in tow, and we enjoyed a great evening. Dan and Jackie purchased one of the Chesapeake Bay lighthouses, years back,when they were up for auction. They’ve did an incredible renovation, and enjoy it as a summer get-away. Check it out here.

The winds were dying, which meant we would all be continuing on, in different directions. Lindy and Rob left early one morning, bound for St. Lucia. We spent one more evening ashore for drinks, while Scott burned some of our trash, and the next morning, they passed alongside for a final goodbye, then headed for the horizon.

Dan slipped his mooring a few hours later. He was taking Chill to Martinique solo, where Jackie and some of their children would join him. Dan gave us a wave as he made is way out of the mooring field, and headed south.

Scott and I lingered one more day, giving the seas a chance to calm a bit more. We enjoyed an early dinner in town, and prepared for the next day’s journey, while Howard eyed some young pelicans swimming near the boat.


Our next stop….Dominica. Here are many more photos of our time in the Saints.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”