Wow, what a place! This is an island we will remember! When we were sailing northbound, we were quite close to Montserrat, but at that point we made the conclusion that visiting an active volcano was not on our priority list, so we sailed right pass. But as we wanted to take a different route southbound, we decided to read up on this island. The curiosity exceeded the skepticism, and suddenly we were on our way!
When we arrived in Montserrat we were accompanied by 1 other boat, and we were the 2 only boats in the harbor when we dropped anchor. We have been told this island is “off limits” for many who charter their boats to go sailing in the Caribbean, and that’s a real shame. The anchorage is a well-protected bay in the north of the island (unless the swells are from the south) with good holding, and it’s definitely a place where they are welcoming sailors.
The day after we arrived we went on a guided tour with George Christian from “Christians Taxi”. Normally we prefer to explore on our own by renting a vehicle, but at this island we had decided to have a tour guide, since there is a lot of history and places to see that we would not have been able to discover on our own. And we do not regret this decision. George gave us a wonderful and memorable day around Montserrat. He is a knowledgeable man, who has been doing this for more than 30 years.
Montserrat has tragically been affected by several natural disasters, such as the hurricane “Hugo” in 1989, which we have been told left 11 000 of the 12 000 inhabitants homeless. It also destroyed schools, hospitals, churches and more. Big waves also devastated the main dock/cruising dock in the capital Plymouth, and the tourism industry came to a complete stop. The inhabitants spent 4 years to rebuild the facilities of the island, and were also preparing for welcoming new visitors, as tourism is an important source of income. Tragically enough, their new facilities only lasted approximately 1,5 seasons, as the previously dormant volcano in the southern part of the island, Soufrière Hills, became active in 1995. Plymouth, the newly built cruising dock and hotels were among what was destroyed by the eruptions. 2/3 of the inhabitants were forced to leave their homes, and most of these evacuated to the United Kingdom, as Montserrat is a British Overseas Territory. Some have returned to Montserrat, and there are now about 5000 people living here. Since the volcano is still active, there is an exclusion zone in the south, meaning everyone must live in the north. The volcano has been relatively quiet since 2010, and today one is allowed to enter parts of the exclusion zone during day time.
The Montserrat Volcano Observatory have the volcano under surveillance, and they also work as an information center, so we were taken there to see a documentary film about the eruptions. It was terrible seeing the footage of the destructions. George also took us in to the exclusion zone, and we got to see the results of the disasters up close. The former capital Plymouth is still buried, and when we visited on of the previously grand hotels of the island, we were walking around in ash. Seeing these things made us feel pretty sad, and even though it is hard for us to imagine how these events must have affected the inhabitants, we feel for the people of this island.
Luckily George also showed us the beauty of this island. The northern part is lush, green and beautiful. Quite a few foreign residents have built gorgeous houses here, and we can understand why. We really appreciated the atmosphere here, and we felt we got a look into the peoples everyday life. One of our favourite Caribbean islands so far!