real estate values took a dramatic plunge in 1995 when the top
of the volcano blew off ala Mt. St. Helens. 2/3 of the island
has been evacuated, verdant hills and ancient ruins have been buried
in ash and the population has dropped by 3/4. Their local
radio station gives regular activity reports on the belchings of
the mountain. Under some conditions, you can visit; others require
giving the island a wide berth. Conditions were good and we thought
it would be interesting to see what a volcano can do, close up.
We sailed on down from Nevis in winds of 20 kts, averaging
6.2 kts to windward in 6' seas. Hansruedi took a short movie of
the crashing and banging boat using the movie feature of his camera
which we will try to post. 34.5 miles latter we pulled into the
only surviving harbor at the northern, undamaged end of the
Little Bay. Montserrat's remaining harbor is quite rolly, at the
northern end is a commercial dock and the western side is covered with fishing
boats. S/V Geronimo, which came in directly after us, initiated radio
contact with the port authority about where we were to anchor. The somewhat
cryptically delivered instructions were to stay south of the dock. We
listened in and decide to move south a bit and Geronimo anchored to the south
of us. Conditions did not seem stable and we elected to stay on board while
things settled and check in the morning.
A large, badly overloaded gravel barge
on a very long tow was standing off shore. We thought he couldn't be coming
in to the tiny little dock next to us but he started maneuvers to tie
up next to his rolling, pitching barge. The Coast Guard would be dismayed to
know he showed none of the usual towing signals. He clearly had his hands
full with the precarious operation in seas and wind such as we were
having. It was a little like sitting in your living room watching a T-Rex and
Brontasaurus doing the polka on ice in your front yard. Fascinating but
S/V Geronimo, manned by sterner sailors than ourselves,
dinghied by and nonchalantly went ashore for a night on the town. We saw them
being escorted from the dock by a uniformed person and resumed watching the show.
The barge, its aft starboard quarter awash, was definitely going to try
to come into the dock. We got on the radio and got ready to run if the
thing got away from him. Our main source of information was the communication
in heavy island patois between the poor fellow on the bow of the barge
and the captain of the barge. Between the whistling of the wind in his mike,
the crashing and roaring of the general confusion and his heavy accent, it was
not always clear that things were going well. The general mood seemed to vary
between hysterical shouts to stop or turn and gentle pleadings to go slowly.
The captain would garble, repeat or question the bow's instructions and the tug
would belch much smoke. As they approached the dock, the exposed bow man cried "Take
her in slow, please. None of that beautiful stuff now!". Our Bowman has taken
this as the ship's watchword.
Unnerved by the action, by the unloading that went on
under lights until midnight and by the general wind and roll, the ship's company
did not spend the most restful of nights. In the morning, the barge was visible
tied to a ball behind us, having been unloaded only enough gravel in 6 hours that
it was actually floating on its water line. In addition, there was a freighter
standing off shore asking the port authority for permission to come in. Discretion
being the better part of valor, we elected to take off without ever setting foot
on land. As we left, we heard the freighter captain complaining to the port that
it was unsafe to go into the harbor with that sailing vessel ( Geronimo ) in
the way: "Too dahngeruus!" The port authority promising to get them moved.
The port authority appeared wholly without means to carry out the promise. We
got out of Dodge.
We passed Montserrat on the windward side to avoid a
possible rain of ash and got some pictures of the smoke and clouds around its
peak on the way to Guadaloupe. Another fast passage under good winds and rollicking
seas brought us into Deshais, Guadeloupe 8 1/2 hours
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| later. The entire ship's company
was very happy to see a well protected harbor and a welcoming, quaint beach town
of the French West Indies. The only commercial traffic is the morning fisherman,
customs is easy and welcoming, the markets and restaurants are French and the
island is beautiful. Hansruedi took us to dinner and we enjoyed spectacular sunsets
and meals in the restaurants and on the boat. We walked up to the botanical
garden at the top of the hill. We snorkeled the reef along side the boat. We
watched the pelicans dive from the heights of the cliff sheltering us from the
wind and could not find any reason to move. Eventually Hansruedi's stay
came to an end and he made plans for flying back to Saint Martin and going skiing
in the Alps during the end of his vacation. Guadeloupe is big enough that it
gave us some shelter from the easterly winds and so we felt we could sail down
the western side of the island. We made our way down the island to Pigeon Island
where the Costeau underwater reserve is and had a good snorkel in bouncing seas.
It seemed too exciting to sleep there so we nosed up quite close to the beach
on Guadeloupe and settled in for the night, thinking that things would be quieter
in the morning and we could go back out to the little offshore island to better
enjoy the spectacular snorkeling. In the morning, we weighed anchor in high,
gusty winds from the east and took off downwind for the island directly to the
west of us. We flew past the island at high speed and decided that snorkeling
wouldn't be that relaxing and set sail for the south end of Guadeloupe under
reefed sails. No sooner had we settled in for the longer trip than the
wind died. We noodled about in glassy waters for an hour or so and motored slowly
southwards after shaking out the reef. Getting the sails out was the all
the wind needed to pipe back up and we were flying again. Blocked by the
island, the seas were not high and we were having a great time buzzing along
under sunny skies. The gendarmerie came along side and enquired where we had
been and where we
were going but they were in a reasonable size boat, not armed to the teeth and
generally quite pleasant. It seemed a much more effective way to check boats
than the ponderous overkill of the usual armed Coast Guard boardings and inspections.
Sailing was so much fun, we zipped on past Basseterre
and made for the Saintes, a small group of islands just south of Guadeloupe.
No sooner were we clear of the island and open to the east and the waves
were piling up in the shoal between the islands when a series of squalls blew
through. We doused the jib entirely and dodged the worst of them and went rocketing
through the pass with the islands appearing and disappearing in the rain. Big
fun. We went to an anchorage recommended to us around the corner from the main
town and harbor. Under its shelter, we have enjoyed snorkeling, hiking up to
the ruins of Fort Josephine (Napolean's Josephine hails from these parts), and
playing with the computer, with the underwater camera, with our neighbors, with
the goats and with the fish. Its so pretty and calm here, that we probably wouldn't
move at all except that we are nearly out of water, nearly full of garbage and
would like to visit a market for some vegetables and fruits. We would have gone
around the corner yesterday but a couple of cruise ships seemed to fill it altogether.
We'll see about today.
Voila! We are transported to a bustling holiday/fishing
town with the distinct flavor of Brittany with whom it seems to have a connection.
Too small and too steep for cane and rhum, Terre-de-Haut never imported slaves
and hence has a lighter caste than most of the islands. It is well
provided with restaurants, souvenier shops, forts (and ruins of forts), fisherman
and motorscooters. The latter made the streets unsuitable for sightseeing
and so we have taken a dinghy tour (the town is only two streets deep at its
widest) and are sleeping off the delicious lunch eaten a foot or two from the
lapping waves in view of our boat. Fish Kabobs in a tangy lime sauce
(whose main ingrediant came in the morning from the boats moored out front),
bananas flambe, and untranslated appetizers cunningly displayed and prepared.
The French may be "old Europe" but they sure know how to live.