Antigua and Monserrat
28 January 2016
Liam writing again after a blog sabbatical.
I have been to Antigua before, to English Harbour in fact, on a replica of Captain Cooks ship, Endeavour. That was Christmas 2004 and there were high jinks, cold drinks and sore heads galore!! This time a little more sedate, or so I expected.
Liz's friend Dave has joined us, he arrived looking relieved to escape the London winter weather though the pale white skin stood him out for a day or two before catching up with a quick burn!!
Next day we lazily took a cab up to Shirley Heights for the big event of the week. The Sunday Party!!! This was a pretty epic steel drum, rum punch, cold beer and cheesy crooner band event with a most spectacular view over Antigua and on to Guadeloupe and Montserrat.
However, I delved into what strength and optimism I had for the day and we set sail to explore Antigua. Made it three miles and anchored! Oops.
Actually, don't be too disgusted at out short voyaging, we found a most lovely bay, with crystal clear water, turtles, fish and good shelter. Even free wifi from a hotel. Carlisle Bay, just west of Falmouth Harbour is a must stop anchorage. No need to dive on the anchor as it was plainly visible from the deck.
A soothing night here and as the cock crows (literally) we head off to the west again. A great sail as far as Deep Bay where we see looking forward to snorkelling on the wreck of a sailing ship. Alas, the swell was creating too much turbulence and the water was too cloudy. Though it was the first time that the water has been truly turquoise Caribbean style, no good for snorkelling though.
We decide to head for Jolly Harbour for the night. And guess who we find, 'Trick' with Joan and Mila.
Who is following who??
So we know the routine here, Joan will insist he is having a detox day, I'll twist his arm and we will both have sore heads in the morning.
Dinner and drinks are on 'Trick' and Dave seems to be getting into the swing of this cruising lark, even driving the dinghy. Happy hour in the bar and cheap rum in the supermarket. Lovely.
Next morning....... Where to next, actually we head back to Carlisle Bay, find even better snorkelling, more turtles, Joan and Mila for dinner and planning or run to Montserrat for the next day.
Our peaceful anchorage got a little crowded that night with no fewer then five super yachts dropping the hook, including the 11th largest in the world, Rising Sun. Lit up like a Christmas tree of course. We invited the owner for mince and rice, but he never turned up!!
Sailing to Montserrat from Antigua proves to be a dead run down wind. Being lazy and not wanting to rig the pole I decide to broad reach to the southern part of Montserrat and gybe to make the northern headland.
My laziness proves fruitful. Liz catches a Mahi Mahi for dinner, her eyes lighting up at the though of fresh fish for dinner!!
The view of the island and the volcano from the eastern side is breathtaking. We pick out remains of buildings and a village, some areas remaining intact but completely marooned by the volcanic flow. A new village on the north east coast gives us our first taste of what to expect on this magical island.
We anchor in Little Bay, it is little, with little shelter, jump in the dinghy to check-in before customs are closed and head for a beer in the pub next door. 'Trick' arrived ahead of us but opted for a quiet night.
In the pub the three of us get in tow with two local MP's, a radio DJ, a few police and a few more. A really warm welcome, the best yet. They were so proud of their island, were telling us of the difficulties caused by the volcano and the evacuations to UK and other islands. We leave the bar feeling very happy with ourselves and already getting into the groove of this unique place.
Next morning the rather unique Joe Phillips takes us on a tour of the island. He explains how the current town is all new, shows pictures of how the place used to look and how a lack of planning was caused by the expectation of the evacuation from Plymouth, the old capital, being temporary.
Joe takes us to his abandoned village, abandoned churches and schools and an apartment complex over looking the obliterated capital town of Plymouth below. It is really a sobering sight and one that shows in all our faces. To see a community ripped apart by nature so recently, some villages just disappeared, while buildings still poke out of the dust in Plymouth. Luckily not many people were killed and myself and Liz were remembering the pictures and descriptions of what happened in St Pierre Martinique in 1902, two survivors from 30,000 inhabitants.
We drive 20 ft over the now covered golf course with the roof of the club house peeping out of the sand and so back to the harbour.
However, the people of Montserrat are extraordinary, they are mining the volcanic sand for construction, the volcano is now an asset that will attract tourists, there is an amazing range and scale of small businesses and enterprises for such a small yet so very vibrant community.
And did I tell you that Montserrat is an Irish island??? And it is he only other country in the world that celebrates St Patricks day as its national holiday!! The Irish landed in the 1600's fleeing Olivet Cromwell who was ravaging Ireland at the time. They farmed the land, though unfortunately founded salve plantations too. But the island, now mainly of African descent are very proud of the connection. The st Patrick's festival lasts a whole week, with parades, music and entertainment to shame any town in Ireland. The population her is only about 50000. We have something to learn from them.
Our visit is topped off with attending 'Montserrat Idol', the trials!! Dave Tigar did a number in karaoke and had an application form pressed on him. It was a great night and we are still talking and laughing about it. What a wonderful bunch of people there, loving singing, living the music and living the fun.
We sailed off with mixed emotions from Montserrat, knowing we will return as we drank the spring water from the side of the road that ensures we will return one day!!
It is an island of contrasts, to the north a vibrant community making the island better for themselves and visitors and proud of it. To the south the most spectacular scenery of destruction and desolation.
This was no doubt the friendliest island we have visited yet, everyone waved or said hello and we felt very safe and at home there.
You must visit Montserrat!!! At least Google it and educate yourself.
As we sailed north towards Nevis and St Kitts, I was feeling the effects of the hospitality but poor Dave was positively overwhelmed by it and was dying in his cabin!!