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Swingin' on a Star
Ship's log for the circumnavigating Saint Francis 50 catamaran, "Swingin on a Star".
One More Day in Montserrat
06/25/2007, Little Bay

Today was a down day waiting for weather. I was glad to have a spare bit of time because I wanted to locate a friend. During the Dive Instructor tests in the BVI I met a guy named Ned. Ned was originally from Dominica but worked at Green Monkey Diving in Montserrat. We had a great time talking and I told him I would stop in for some dives when we made it down his way.

We stopped by the dive shop and wouldn't you know it, Ned had left the week before. The slow season had sent Ned to Saint Kitts, we probably crossed at sea, to work at one of the dive operations there. I was so bummed.

We had lunch at a little restaurant (generous) next door. It is a neat place with lots of intricate decorations and a great view of the bay. The "restaurant" is basically a small shack with a fridge and a BBQ. Our choice for lunch was chicken and ribs or ribs and chicken. We all had the chicken and ribs. The food was good and the atmosphere was great.

Orin from the BBC news happened by and we did an ad-hoc interview. We were the only cruisers on the island at the time and we gave him our best verbal depiction of viewing Montserrat from off shore.

We wrapped up the day with a swim where upon Cindy discovered the Flying Gunards scrounging around our anchor chains. These fish have large colorful wings that they open up to scare you if you get too close, though they spend most of the time digging about the bottom looking for food in the sand. They have little claws, almost like a bat's hands, that they stir up the sub-straight with. They seem to like to hang around the anchor chains because as the boat swings it stirs up the bottom, apparently exposing something they are interested in.

Touring Montserrat
06/24/2007, The Exclusion Zone

It was a cloudy morning and the weather forecast made a couple of nights in Montserrat look like a good idea prior to making the crossing to Guadalupe. We all wanted to see the island so it was just as well.

Both Kelp Fiction II and our boat were still flying the yellow flag so we set out to the main quay to clear in as the first order of business. Apart from the concrete quay and the yard, the port consists of a warehouse and a security trailer. We arrived just as the customs officer got in and cleared in with no hassle. Montserrat doesn't get a lot of visitors and the officer was pleased that his signature was going on a Japanese passport.

A taxi/tour guide had hailed us on the VHF when we arrived and he was waiting for us at the gate. We piled in the van and set off for a day of exploring. There's not much to Montserrat these days. Most of the folks are very nice but the population is only about 15,000. Little Bay is scheduled to be the new capital but development is moving slowly for justifiable reasons. The main settlement has relocated to an area near the top of the hills in the northern part of the island. Great views but not a lot of flat land to work with.

There had previously been a ferry that brought tourists a couple of times a week to Montserrat from the more prosperous Antigua. Montserrat is a dependent territory of the UK. Given the choice of the subsidized ferry or an airport, the government of Montserrat shut down the ferry and built an airport. It is a nice airport in the hills near the settlement but not capable of handling more than a 16 seater. Due to the expense of flying in, a lot fewer folks visit the island now.

If you look at a guide to the Caribbean pre the 1997 eruption, Montserrat is heralded as the Emerald of the Caribbean. Pictures of the beautiful town of Plymouth and the lovely harbor of Road Bay impress. Unfortunately all of the areas where people previously lived, worked and played are restricted now. Much, including Plymouth and the old airport, is now wiped out, buried in ash and stone. You can only go in if you need to retrieve something from your former business or residence and then only with a police escort. Eruptions of pyroclastic flow take only 90 seconds to reach the ocean and the poisonous fumes kill instantly.

We stopped by a tourist outpost that was being built on the west side of the island. It is at the edge of the restricted zone and offers panoramic views of the desolation around the old airport. You can clearly see how the runway disappears under several feet of rock and ash. We stopped at the observatory on the west side of the island as well. It was closed but it is situated so that you can see the entire volcano and some of the primary run off zones. The beach near the old harbor is about 100 yards farther out into the ocean now.

The volcano is massive and dominates the horizon. You can only rarely see the top as it is typically enshrouded in steam and clouds. Man is no match for the forces of nature. All we can do is try to predict Mother Nature's actions and get out of the way accordingly. You can discover more at the Montserrat Observatory web site here:

Passage to Montserrat
06/23/2007, Little Bay

Saint Kitts is a nice place, but unfortunately for us we spent all of our time in a concrete marina (thanks to me and the flu, or whatever it was). The perfect anchorage may lie just down the coast, who knows. To get perfect anchorage status for us the anchorage must be a protected anchorage with not too many boats, it has to have inviting "jump in" water, a nice beach and good snorkeling/diving/fishing near by, and finally, a waterside café with fresh bread and WIFI, serving three meals a day. Not too much to ask? So far we have found pieces but not the whole place.

So today we're off to Montserrat. The Saint Kitts Port Authority referred to the island as Monster Rat. Cute. I guess a little inter island humor should be expected seeing as how Nevitians (those on Nevis) and Kittitians (those on Saint Kitts) have quite a rivalry going and they are from the same country. Nevis tries to succeed every once in a while but from what I hear they don't want to take their part of the national debt with them when they go so things are at a general impasse.

The weather has been tough for our entire stay in Saint Kitts and today is not really much different. Twenty knot winds and pretty good sized seas. We sailed south along Saint Kitts and then along the narrows between Saint Kitts and Nevis. The narrows between the two islands are famous for being a tricky place to navigate with strong currents and lots of rocks.

As we sailed along the coast of Nevis the wind came around and we either needed to tack our way up to Montserrat or motor sail. So motorsail it was.

About half way across the channel between Montserrat and Nevis is an Island called Redonda. It is basically a huge, inhospitable looking, rock. While it formally belongs to Montserrat no one really goes there except the occasional dive boat. At one point some interesting folk from Antigua claimed the rock and renamed it the Kingdom of Redonda. Apparently the king comes by now and again to climb to the top of his kingdom and then goes home to Antigua.

As we approached Montserrat it materialized out of the clouds and haze like an apparition. This is the one island in the Caribbean I have wanted to see more than all others. The volcano erupted as recently as this last winter, spewing ash into the sky that dusted our boat as we were crossing the south coast of Puerto Rico. It is an intriguing island, with the smallest population of any nation in the Caribbean at 5,000.

The entire southern part of the island has been wiped out or marked off limits. This is sad because Montserrat used to be known as the emerald of the Caribbean, and the area in the south was where the main port and all of the larger settlements were located. The only port of entry now is Little Bay. I assure you that it is a little Bay.

When we arrived around three in the afternoon the Bay had about four or five other boats anchored and there was precious little room for too many more without crowding. We anchored and lowered the dinghy to see about clearing in. In the French islands if customs is closed, no big deal, grab a bite at a café, shop a bit, just make sure that you clear in at the first opportunity. The British islands tend to be a little more uptight. I walked up the quay and approached the only person in view on the entire island. He had on a uniform and was tending a shack just inside the large chain link and barbed wire fence.

I asked him if we could clear in and he was very friendly. It was Saturday at four in the afternoon so no one was handy. He made a few calls but couldn't raise anyone. I said thanks and that we would come back in the morning first thing. Then I asked if it would be ok for us to go ashore to grab a bite to eat. A cloud passed over head. No, you must stay on your boat, was the response. Check.

So Hideko, Roq and I marveled at the intriguing island from the bay as we welcomed Kelp Fiction into the anchorage.

One more day
06/22/2007, Saint Kitts

We talked about leaving today but giving Randy, and the weather, one more day to get better seemed like a good idea. I went to the marina office to close out our bill and on the way picked up Chinese takeout for dinner. Yum.

(photo looking south over the apex of the Saint Kitts hour glass toward Nevis)

Saint Kitts
Chicken Soup
06/21/2007, Port Zante

Today Randy finally started to feel better. Kelp Fiction kept checking in to see if Randy was Ok. They didn't need to wait for us but they did. Good friends. Cindy even made Randy some chicken soup.

We were all getting antsy to move south. We were three weeks into hurricane season and still pretty far north. Our insurance requires us to be south of 12 degrees north by the first of July which is right around the corner

(This photo shows the botanical gardens on Saint Kitts)

Saint Kitts
The Hospital
06/20/2007, Basseterre

Today we are going to the doctor. The dock master told me that medical services at the hospital are free of charge. Saint Kitts has socialized medicine and medical services are fairly inexpensive throughout the country. I was going to take Randy to a doctor on call at the drug store but the doctors were there only at night. So the hospital it was.

We had Junie, the same taxi driver who took us on the tour, pick us up at the boat. Junie told us to go to the emergency room at the hospital for faster service. That saved us about two hours. We were still there five hours.

The doctor gave Randy an IV to hydrate him. Randy didn't really want an IV but was too tired to fight. The first nurse stabbed around for a few minutes trying to find the vein and then finally gave up and started over. Not pretty. Randy almost threw up during the process.

While I was waiting for Randy's tests to come back a medical school intern from India came to talk to me. She thought I was a Chinese girl that she knew. It was interesting to know that the Saint Kitts Medical School has many international students, mainly from India. It just so happened that the international students were having a tour of the hospital. The hospital was pretty crowded.

Junie came by a few times to see if we were ready to leave but IVs take a while to soak in. When the tests finally came back and the IV was done the prognosis was that Randy had the flu. We picked up some more vitamins and had Junie take us back home.

(This photo show the view from the British Fort north to Statia, aka. Saint Eustatia)

Saint Kitts
The Deal
06/19/2007, Saint Kitts

Over the counter drugs work sometimes but Randy was still running a fever this morning. I suggested seeing a doctor but because Randy hates going to the doctor (and generally doesn't) I made a deal with him. High fever for three days straight and you go to the doctor.

This picture is of Black Rocks, an eroded set of volcanic rocks on the northeast coast of Saint Kitts.

Saint Kitts

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