Wednesday, May 9, 2012


After a few days in Antigua, where we bid our friends Bob & Janice on Tsamaya fair winds for their ocean crossing, we sailed south to Montserrat. The island doesn't offer much protection if there's any sea running, but we'd both been wanting to see Montserrat and we had a forecast of a few days of calm seas and low winds so off we went.
The captain checks out a waterspout forming on the way to Montserrat
We had an easy sail and as we passed the north end of Montserrat, the town of Little Bay came into view. 'Town' is a bit of an overstatement. Little Bay isn't much more than a handful of trailers that house the customs and immigration offices. It's also where the new dock has been built to replace the dock in the town of Plymouth which was destroyed in the late 1990's when the Soufriere Hills volcano erupted several times. 

We came into the empty anchorage, dropped the hook and dinghied in to clear customs. Clearing in was easy, though it was apparent they didn't clear in too many boats. The customs official couldn't find the forms she needed and the immigration officer was nowhere to be found. They told us it was no problem...  we could just stop back later if we wanted to get our passports stamped.

The customs officer's desk in Montserrat
Monserrat has been trying to resurrect itself since the volcano destroyed the much of the southern end of the island and displaced most of the population, but what we saw was a ghost of an island.The population was about 12,000 before the volcano erupted - now it's just over 5,000, roughly half of which is from off-island.

Small fishing boats anchored at dusk in Little Bay
Coming back from fishing; early morning Little Bay
On our way into customs, we were flagged down by a tour guide offering to take us on a tour of the island the next day. We'd heard about Joe "Avalon" Phillip from our friends on Tsamaya (mostly good things) and he was the only guy there, so we made arrangements to meet him the next morning for a tour.

Saralane at anchor, Little Bay Monserrat
Joe knows just about everyone on the island and told us that even though Montserratians were trying to hang together, the feel of the island has changed dramatically since the volcano's eruptions. We heard the same thing from someone else on the island too. The influx of people from other islands who've come to do the manual labor that the Monserratians don't want to do has sown seeds of distrust in the population. Sound familiar? Sadly, fear and distrust of people who are different than the prevailing culture, is alive and well. 

Joe showed us cashews growing in the yard of a nearby church. The nut is visible at the bottom of the fruit. The fruit is hard to describe.... it's sweet and sharp and sucks all the moisture of our your mouth. Interesting, but definitely an acquired taste.

Baby avocados; they won't be ripe until summer.

We stop by a neighbor's place and they offer us a coconut which Joe whacks open for us to drink.
Montserrat is known as the Emerald Isle of the West because of it's original population of Irish immigrants, but it could just as easily be for it's green lush appearance. Irish Catholics wanting to escape religious persecution and prisoners shipped here from Ireland made up some of Montserrat's early population. Joe knew all the places to stop for views of these green mountains. 

Here he took us to the rooftop of a friend's house to see out over the west side of the island. That little rock out in the distance is the country of Redonda. It's uninhabited, but still has it's own king. The royal position is chosen somewhat tongue in cheek... mostly it's whoever wants to be king. Why not? It's as good a way as any to choose a leader. 

The building in progress is next door to a refurbished sugar mill that's now a guest house.
We passed a little fall from a freshwater spring... rumor has it that if you drink from this spring, you'll return to Montserrat. Well.... we'd like to return. Skip drank too, but he had the camera, so it's only me in the photos!

From here we climbed higher into the mountains and closer to the volcano. We drove into the exclusion zone after checking in with the police who keep track of who's where in this no-go territory. 

It's hard to describe the scale of the devastation.  I'm not sure it even comes across in the photos. Even all these years since the volcano erupted, buildings that weren't completely destroyed or buried stand empty and decaying. Some are partially visible - half buried in the ash. A river disappeared beneath the flow of ash. Roads wind down the hills and disappear in the mud and ash.

We went through the Emerald Isle Hotel (top right, above).... and saw the portion of it still standing above the ash.

The hotel's pool filled with ash and mud.
We were walking through the rain and mud when we heard the distinct sound of police sirens getting closer. The police tracked us down and chased us out, worried about the possibility of mud slides. Joe kept trying to talk them into letting us go farther in and stay longer but they wouldn't hear of it. "Now Joe, you must go now!" they yelled. They followed us all the way back out of the exclusion zone with lights flashing. Seems Joe has tried their patience before.

He took us to the famous Air Studios where so many rock stars recorded back in the day. Started by Sir George Martin, the likes of Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, Lou Reed, Dire Straits, Elton John, Sting, Eric Clapton and so many more recorded there. It stands in ruins now but Joe still thinks about the days when it brought Montserrat so much attention.

Flowers thrive in the rich soil
This house is one of several in a group that's left standing. It's a two story building, but only the top stands above the ash. This house is behind the trees on the right in the photo Joe holds up for comparison.

It rained off and on all day as we toured the island. It may have felt different if we'd seen it on a bright sunny day with blue skies, but it was sad on this day in the rain and fog to see the remnants of lives lost and abandoned. Living and traveling on Saralane, we are aware of the power of nature out on the sea, but standing in front of the steaming Soufriere Hills volcano we had a very different sense of nature's power. We'd wanted to see Montserrat's volcano but we ended up feeling like disaster tourists - not a good feeling. The island felt disjointed and confused, the small population scattered. As upbeat as Joe was, he and others talked about feeling disconnected from each other.

As often happens when we have a short time to visit an island.... we feel the need to go back and see more. We'll still need the calm weather to sit in the exposed anchorages, but perhaps next time we should visit when the sun is out.

From Montserrat we mostly motored through windless calm seas back to St. Martin. Offshore we always drag a line or two in case a fish happens by. Two did! We only landed one. The other one got away buy likely ended up becoming a snack for someone else higher up than him on the food chain. 

Little tuna.
We'll be leaving Saralane here in St. Martin for a few weeks while we go back to the states to see family and friends and take care of a few things.  We'll return to St. Martin in early June and will have another month or two to wander around until we haul out for hurricane season. 

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Back to Baruda

We loved Barbuda. Loved it. The weather was in our favor so we went back and spent a week there. This time we were able to explore inland a bit too. We weren't the only boat taking advantage of the good conditions and as often happens... where there are several boats, there are cocktails on the beach at sunset.

Seven boats worth of sailors on Coca Beach
The neighborhood changed as we stayed on and other boats came and went. One afternoon a young couple on a French boat came around in their dinghy and invited everyone to come to the beach that evening to celebrate their daughter Philipine's 5th birthday. Little Philipine was worried that she wouldn't have anyone at her birthday party, but everyone in the anchorage came. Philipine ended up with three cakes, cupcakes, crepes with nutella and enough other sweets to send her into a sugar coma.

Philipine strikes a pose in her mama's sunglasses
The birthday girl serves up cake... with jelly bean topping! 
That's Philipine's pere, Boris, holding the bottle of dangerous rum from Martinique
Coco Beach, Barbuda... not a bad spot for a kid's birthday party
To show us around inland we connected with John 'Taxi' who was Barbuda born and raised. He was a gentle, soft spoken guy and knew just about everything there was to know about the island. We went with Dave and Lori on Persephone who we'd met earlier in the week. We went to caves in the highlands, where drawings on the wall gave evidence of the Arawaks presence on the island.

Two feet bay... so named because the only way to get there is by using your own two feet.
John drove us to a dock on the lagoon where we met up with Aldwin (one of his nine kids) who took us farther into the lagoon to see the frigate bird colony. We were a little late in the season to see the male frigates showing off to attract the females by ballooning out their chests in bright red, but we did see lots of big fuzzy chicks and thousands of frigate birds. They're BIG, with a wing span exceeding six feet. Despit my lack of skills with fast moving wildlife, I was able to get a few shots of these big birds

Aldwin speeds us out to see the frigate birds
Dave and Lori in the front row

Our timing was off and we didn't catch the bi-monthly horse races held near the island's only town, Codrington. We did see the most recent winner getting some TLC from his owner though. Flute (the horse) was getting a post training bath in the lagoon and we wished them both luck in the next race.

Flute gets a bath
Even winners have to walk home... no spoiling this champ with a horse trailer. 
Horses and donkeys roam freely on the island. Some return to their homes from time to time and others consider the whole island their home. These two were grazing by the bank.

One source of income for Barbudans is from the sale of their sand to other islands. They mine sand from different spots in the interior. They have fresh water springs on the island and at one point they accidentally broke through the water table and opened up this fresh water pool on the south end inadvertently creating a nice oasis for any wandering beasts.

Watering hole created by sand mining operations 
After spending most of the week at Coco Point, we sailed around to the south side and anchored in the lee of Spanish Point. The wind was still howling and the windward side of the island was wild with waves crashing on the reefs that are close to the shore. We spent hours walking the windward beaches and winding our way around the scrubby part of the island.

Windward side
Beach art

Everything from lightbulbs (unbroken) to tractor trailers (very broken) washes up on the windward side.

We wandered through the scrub and low trees and came across an strange assortment of shacks built from cast off materials. Each little shack had it's own improvised water collection system and were impressive in their creative use of odds and ends. 

Saralane comfy in the lee of Spanish Point. The big breakers were just on the other side of the point.
We wanted to stay longer but the weather wasn't going to get any better for sailing back to Antigua, plus we wanted to catch up with our friends Bob and Janice on Tsamaya who were in Antigua preparing for an Atlantic crossing.

We'll be back again Barbuda....

Tuesday, May 1, 2012


Though we arrived in Antigua about three weeks ago, we've made two trips north to Barbuda and have spent most of our time there rather than Antigua. Nothing against Antigua.... we've just been entranced by Barbuda. In between we headed a little farther off shore to do some fishing. And some catching!

We spent some time in Deep Bay on the northwest coast of Antigua and then went around to the south to see the spectacle of the Classic Yacht Regatta. Some of the boats were the old original classic yachts and some were replicas. Some were big - Elena at 137' - and some were small - Cora at 24'. They were all interesting. 

We walked the docks and went to a party (or two) and managed to be out at one of the marks during one race day as we were on our way to Nonsuch Bay around the east side of Antigua.

Athos and a little Carriacou sloop fly their spinnakers for the downwind leg

As always, there were errands to do, some of which took us by bus into the capitol St. John where we were able to get some local produce at the big daily public market.

The #17 buses that run across the island to St. John
 Seen around Antigua
We heeded the warning and tied our fu..... dinghy elsewhere.
After the hustle and bustle of Falmouth during the classic regatta, we sailed over to Nonsuch Bay and picked up one of the free moorings off Green Island for some classic Caribbean peace and quiet. Green Island is a private island, but a few very relaxed security guards said we were welcome to "Walk anywhere you want to mon, just be careful."

Saralane in Nonsuch Bay

It's getting to be that time of year again.... mango season! We walked by this tree a few days in a row and finally were able to pick a few ripe ones. It always seems to be coconut season and with our bounty from Barbuda, we've been eating coconut in some form or other every day. I get about two cups of coconut milk from each nut and then I dry the grated meat to use in other things. I've made coconut palettas and coconut/banana palettas a few times, but we eat them so fast that I haven't gotten a good shot yet. Along with the pineapple, christophene, fig bananas, sweet potatoes, limes, passionfruit and local herbs we got at the market in St. John, I'd say we're eating pretty well. 

From upper left: Coconut Mango muffins, fresh coconut milk, ripe mangos, grated coconut meat. 
Coconut chips
Having spent another week in Barbuda, we're back in Antigua and are making plans to connect with some friends we made last year in the Bahamas who are also here. I'll have another Barbuda blog soon. After grumbling about the crappy sail to Barbuda the first time (me, not Skip) I am happy to report that I may be an ocean sailor after all. Meaning that perhaps I just have a different definition of a 'good ocean sail' than others do. On our most recent sail between Barbuda and Antigua we had higher winds and much bigger seas than before and the sailing was fantastic! The wind was from just enough of a different angle that the dynamic of wind/waves/Saralane worked beautifully. So indeed.... it's not the size of the ship, it's the motion of the ocean.