27 April, 2017
Bon Jour mes amis,
John and Paulette? We met them at a Krogen Rendezvous in Solomon’s Maryland maybe six years ago, just after they had purchased their 58’ KK, “Seamantha.” We enjoyed the little time that we had together, and hoped that our wakes would cross in the future. Fast forward to January, 2015. When we arrived at Sunset Marina in Stuart, we found that we had just missed them. In November, they had left with two other Krogens, “Anne Marie,”a 58’ and “Sylken Sea,” a 48’, bound for the Antilles. Knowing that we would be heading south in the next year or two, our long-distance correspondence began. For the past two years, we’ve been picking John and Paulette’s brains for places to stay, sights to see, and people to meet. They’ve offered sage advice and friendly suggestions to us Caribbean wannabees, all the while planning to meet up and spend time together.
Back in Falmouth Harbor, we got down to the serious business of “getting caught up.” We started by delivering a few (but who’s counting?) bottles of “Don Q,”John’s favorite rum, that we had picked up for him in Puerto Rico. The rest of the evening flew by. Ever the gracious hostess, and consummate organizer, Paulette had planned an Easter feast to be attended by Ken and Sylvianne (Sylken Sea), and James and Pam (Love Zur). So…..on Easter Sunday afternoon, we all got together aboard Seamantha to celebrate the day. Without exception, these crews are great cooks, and no one was to be outdone. John and Paulette provided the main dishes (Veal, lamb, fresh veggies, salad, potatoes, homemade spanakopita, fresh-baked braided Greek bread, and etc.) while the other crews provided apps and deserts. Foie gras, Mexican rolls, fish/cheese spread and assorted cured meats before, then Suzanne’s(Thank you Julia) Tequila Lime pie after. All washed down with liberal amounts of French red wine, it was a chore to get back into our tenders to head home afterwards. The next week and a half just flew by. The classic yachts rolled in, ranging in age from over 100 years old, to those that were less than a decade, and in sizes from 30’ to well over 100’. We watched the start of the Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta races from our dinghies a couple of days, and from high up on the seaside cliffs a few others. We hiked and shopped, went out for lunches and met aboard one boat or another for Sundowners. One day, John, Paulette, Suz and I took the bus, number 17, to St. John, the largest city on Antigua for lunch and a lookaround. From there, we transferred to the number 54 bus for a field trip to the Epicurean, definitely the nicest grocery store that we’ve seen in the past 6 months. Another day, Suz and I explored Nelson’s Dockyard, a UNESCO heritage site, in nearby English Harbor.
Suz and I were starting to feel the pull of the sea, and the calendar was inexorably ticking down the days until Hurricane Season. So, on the 27th of April, when a small weather window opened, we were off to Montserrat. Seamantha needed a few more days for their guys to finish varnishing, and Sylken Sea was headed to dry dock, as our Canadian friends had to head home for 6 months (to maintain their health insurance), so it was just the Admiral and me. Five hours later, we had the anchor down in Little Bay, on the north end of Montserrat. The anchorage there is nothing more than a Bight, so you must go there in very settled weather. This we expected for two days, so we were quite surprised when the surge was rolling in, and waves were crashing on the rocks. Oh well, we were here, and this was as good as it was predicted to get in the next week or so. You may recall that Montserrat, an overseas territory of Great Britain, was hit by a devastating volcanic eruption in 1997. Actually, it was many eruptions spanning a few years, culminating in 1997, by which time, more than ¾ of the population had fled the island. Prior to the volcano, Montserrat had been a veritable paradise. With its’ fertile soil and abundant water supply, agriculture thrived. Since the island was a bit “off the beaten path,” it was attractive to the rich and famous who didn’t want to be seen. Sir George Martin (the fifth Beatle) built Air Studios here, recording some 70 albums by such notables as Paul McCartney, The Police, Sting, The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Simply Red, James Taylor, Jimmie Buffet, Arrow (Hot, Hot, Hot), Dire straits, Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Lou Reed, and many more. The studio was mostly destroyed by Hurricane Hugo in 1989, and never rebuilt. Sir George’s family still maintains his home on the island since his death in 2016. Now, post-volcano, the population of roughly 3,500 (down from 11,000), is forced to live on the northern 1/3 of the island, due to the fact that the southern section is now an “exclusion zone” where entry is forbidden due to the threat of continued pyroclastic activity. Unfortunately, the northern section has very little arable land, and water is scarcer. One has to wonder if the population will ever reach “critical mass,” to allow businesses to thrive, and life to return to “normal.”
So let me tell you about our tour of the island: We met our guide, Sunny (no, not Sonny. Sunny.) on the road outside the port security office at 09h00. He was easy to spot. As described by his wife to Suzanne: “A skinny white guy, around 5’11 Dishwater blonde hair.” Conceived and born in Key West, FL, Sunny moved to Montserrat with his parents (a couple of hippies, disenchanted with the U.S.A.-my distillation of his description) when he was one year old. Now thirty-nine, he has lived on Montserrat his whole life. For the next eight hours, we toured the island in his little SUV. He shared anecdotes about life on the island pre and post volcano. His knowledge regarding the history of the island seemed boundless. When we asked a question, he would rattle off dates and details as if he was reading from an almanac. As we gazed out across a miles-long pyroclastic flow on the east side of the island from a high vantage point several miles away, it was hard to imagine the international airport buried thirty feet below the surface. The top of the control tower was all that was visible. When the volcano was more active, Sunny and his folks would come up to this vantage point to witness the incandescent flows on the side of the volcano, and watch the lightning storms which always accompanied an event. Before heading to the exclusion zone (Sunny had obtained passes from the police to enter), we stopped at the Hilltop Café for lunch. The Hilltop is a non-profit coffee shop run by Sunny’s parents, David and Clover. The shop provides a gathering spot with free WiFi for locals and travelers alike. In addition to coffee, tea, and an assortment of organic juices, there’s usually some type of healthy casserole in the oven. Clover cut us each a piece of “Mexican Pie.” The Hilltop is also the best museum on the island. The place is packed with relics from the island, ranging from pre-Carib inhabitants, to furniture and mementos from Air Studio. As we enjoyed lunch, Clover cued up a video entitled “Remembering Montserrat” for us. The video, shot by Sunny’s Dad (he’s a professional photographer), with a soundtrack by Sunny and Clover (oh yeah, he’s a professional musician) highlighted scenes of Montserrat, and the capital, Plymouth, pre-volcano. After lunch, we headed into the exclusion zone, an area encompassing most of the southern half of the island. Entry is forbidden unless a special pass is obtained, due to the possibility of renewed pyroclastic activity.
Our experience there was profound on two levels: the immensity of the geologic change, and the incredible toll on the people. Sunny described the hikes that his family took when he was a kid, up to the highest peak on the island, gazing down to the lush valley below. That valley has now grown into the highest peak on the island. Driving down a dusty two-track, Sunny stops the car and tells us that there’s a two story house under us, and a truck that the electric company didn’t move fast enough over there. The buildings on higher ground are untouched, they’ve just been vacant for 20 years. Many are buried by vegetation, not ash. The original owners still retain possession; they’re just not allowed to live there-very strange. As we drive down the roads of Sunny’s old neighborhood, the scene reminds us of a post-apocalyptic movie set. Hard to explain-ya gotta be there. We got back to the boat by 18h00, spent the night, and were off to Guadaloupe early the next morning.