Going With The Pyroclastic Flow

Sometimes we have to remember to get off the boat for more than going to the grocery store or hunting boat parts. For me at least, if I don’t make the effort to find out what is unique about an island, time can just slip away obsessing over the boat “to do” list and waiting for weather windows.

Our recent stop in Montserrat was the perfect reminder of why we make the effort to travel at slow speeds to remote locations. You don’t go to Montserrat to idle away the time on your boat watching sunsets and fixing things – the anchorage is much too rolly for that. Perhaps it is old Neptune’s gentle kick in the ass to get off the boat and explore and meet the locals.

Our new pal who talked up a storm. We loved ever second.

Our new pal who talked up a storm. We loved ever second.

It’s a small island set off by itself with a marginal anchorage so it does not get a lot of boat traffic.  When we were there only a handful of other boats came and went.  But that is part of its charm.

Most of the islands in the Caribbean are volcanic in origin and several of them bear the scars of human suffering at the hands of the volcano. But none present the modern day tussle between man and mountain as does the beautiful green island of Montserrat.

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Perfect view of Soufrière from the Montserrat Volcano Observatory

The Soufrière Hills Volcano on Montserrat lurched back to life in 1995 after about 400 years of slumber, and continued to erupt on a periodic basis for the next 20 or so years.  It still rumbles and spews in its high redoubt.  No glowing basalt flowing down the sides like the dramatic ones in Hawaii, Soufrière brought showers of ash and pyroclastic flows of mud, rock and ash to the inhabitants of its capital town Plymouth.

Photo illustrating how high the ash and mud was. Just the top of St. Patrick’s church steeple peeking out with church buried below.

29 people are said to have died in the eruptions.  The volcano caused massive disruption among the populace, many of whom had to abandon their homes and take temporary shelter in schools, churches and wherever could be arranged.

All residents now live North of the red line.

“Temporary” stretched into years as the volcano refused to go back to sleep and the daily activity and commerce moved to Little Bay on the northern side of the island.  The island had 11,000 inhabitants before the eruption and only about 3,000 now.  Many fled the hardships of life on the island.

Local guide Joe Phillip

Joe Phillip is a lifelong resident of Montserrat.  He offers a tour of the areas devastated by the eruption accompanied by his story of surviving the aftermath.  Joe had a lovely house in the danger zone that he abandoned when the volcano erupted.  Realizing life in the shelters would be cheek by jowl with only a cot as personal space, he commandeered a classroom in an abandoned school and made it his home for two years.  He snuck back to his old home and brought back appliances to furnish his new quarters.

At a low point and about to leave the island, he made a commitment to his island home and decided to stay, despite perhaps disappointing his wife.  When he could he bought a small plot of land and built a new house.  Joe took us on an emotional tour through his old town and showed us his and his neighbors’ houses under a foot of ash and being reclaimed by the jungle.  It is only a matter of time before the jungle wipes this once-thriving little town completely away as if it never existed.

Soon the trees will completely cover these homes.

Soon the trees will completely cover these homes.

can you see the house in there?

can you see the house in there?

Sir George Martin's famous AIR recording studio. Once recording Paul McCartney, Rush, The Police, Duran Duran, Black Sabbath and many more is now almost completely covered by trees

Sir George Martin’s famous AIR recording studio. Once recording Paul McCartney, Rush, The Police, Duran Duran, Black Sabbath and many more is now almost completely covered by trees

We went into an abandoned condo on the outskirts of Plymouth to view the devastation of the capital city of Plymouth.  It is buried some 30 feet deep – not by ash as some think, but by the mud that washed down from the denuded hills after rains.  It is sealed off and no one is allowed in without government permission and a police accompaniment.  It is a stark, lifeless place that feels like a Planet of the Apes movie set.

But Montserratians are a happy bunch and have taken it all in stride, even making lemonade out of lemons or should I say cement out of rocks.  Realizing that volcanic sand makes for better cement than salty beach sand, Montserratians have started several businesses to mine, refine and ship the valuable black sand.

breaking up large volcanic rocks to produce and sell cement.

breaking up large volcanic rocks to produce and sell cement.

We were greeted by smiles and wishes that we enjoy their island everywhere we went.  The food and drink are great, and we especially enjoyed a big lunch at Pont’s Place, where he decorates his outdoor dining area with all sorts of things he finds on land and at the shore.  It’s a delightful spot overlooking the sea.

interior of Pont’s Point restaurant decorated with flotsam and jetsam

Pont's Point

There is a spring on the island where it is said if you drink from it you must return to Montserrat.  We gladly sipped some hoping its magic is real.

Anchored in Antigua

Antigua is an island with English ties, and you can certainly feel it and see it at English Harbour, a beautifully restored British naval site first established in the 18th century. British naval hero Admiral Horatio Nelson was stationed here when this harbor (surprisingly small when viewed in person) was the base for British defense of its colonial isles. The historic harbor here, now called Nelson’s Dockyard, has been restored and contains many interesting relics and ruins showing what life was like in a colonial military outpost.

Nowadays English Harbour and neighboring Falmouth Harbour are a stopping point for some of the most impressive megayachts in the world.

This makes for good eye candy but renders the port a little lifeless for us simple cruisers. But hanging with Shelley and Johnny from s/v Planet Waves always brings life to any party. We spent a lot of high times with them including one hilarious night casually chatting on the dock when a guy rode up on a donkey and tried to sell him to us for $5.  Sorry I don’t have a photo of him but here is said donkey, Selassie named for Ethiopia’s Emperor, Haile Selassie.  If he would have fit on the boat, I’d have bought that sweet donkey.  DonkeyEnglish Harbour is well worth a visit for its historical importance and provides easy bus access around the island.  We rode across the island to see what’s what in the capital of St John’s (not much).

If you visit English Harbour everyone will tell you to go up to Shirley Heights Lookout for the view and Sunday night party. This may be the cynical curmudgeon in me talking, but I don’t see the big deal. Yes, the view is nice but it is jammed packed with every other sucker that believed the hype trying not to spill their overpriced drink as they attempt a clear view of the sunset. I say grab your flask and take the easier hike up to Fort Berkeley and get a spectacular view of the harbor and you’ll have the place to yourself.  Even with our old jaded attitudes we were able to connect with a younger generation of cruisers (how is that possible?) by meeting up again with Nightingale Tune and new friends on Disco Fish and Corpse Pounder (how about those names?).

Somewhere behind Mary are fellow cruisers from Disco Fish, Nightingale Tune and Planet Waves at Shirley Heights Lookout.

Antigua is pretty compact in size and has good anchorages all the way round, so we wanted to circumnavigate it, but as the Christmas winds kicked in, we were stuck in port as it howled a steady 20 – 25 knots outside. The winds aren’t so bad but when they are this strong for so long they kick up some impressive seas. We had no interest in bucking 9 – 10’ seas so we went around the leeward half of the island. Here we enjoyed the peaceful and more secluded 5 Islands, Jumby Bay and Great Bird for a holiday feast aboard Nightgale Tune, nice snorkeling and kite boarding.

Soon, though, we had had enough and set out on a squally, windy day for the short downwind run to Montserrat and its brooding volcano.

Season 4, Episode 1

We are back on the boat and traveling again.  It feels good to be home and doing what is familiar to us.  It’s a whole new season with new friends and new places to explore.  We are excited to be underway again.

We left Neko on the hard in Clarke’s Court to get her bottom done and a few other bits and bobs.   Terry O’Connell and his crew did a great job removing all the old bottom paint and applying new stuff. We were happy to become friendly with Terry and trusted his work ethic implicitly. We highly recommend Terry (terenceoconnell3@gmail.com) for anyone needing bottom work – just bring the paint with you as you can get it more cheaply in the duty free islands.  Neko was not much worse for wear after sitting in the scalding sun for 3 months. We had two LCD screens burn out from the heat alone and a couple minor leaks, but it could have been much worse.

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Neko heading back to the water with her slick new black bottom paint.

We left Grenada and started our way up the islands. Finally, we aren’t fighting our way east, but are off the wind using those tradewinds to do what Neko was meant to do, sail. Ideal conditions along with her new bottom paint have us consistently sailing at 9 and 10 knots, making great time between islands. Winds are steady and brisk in the right direction and the boat handles the decent sized seas like a champ. We almost always have one or more reefs in and might as well pack away the gennaker as we can’t foresee needing it for a while. We realize this is what VPLP designed the Switch 51 to do.

We returned to some old stomping grounds in the Grenadines and delighted in their clear water and laid back Rasta feel.

But after about a few weeks and just as we were running low on provisions in those lesser-inhabited islands, we set course for one of our favorite islands, Martinique.

Here we could bask in the glory of French culture in an island setting, having great coffee and baguettes every day all while having a few boat teething pains worked on. Le Marin in Martinique is a major stop for French cruisers needing boat parts or work, so what better place for the French-designed and built Neko to put in a stop. It was an added bonus that the harbor in Le Marin is supremely protected because we had a full week of squally, windy, rainy weather. Oh, did we say that it rained a bit? When we have a lot of rain, we catch it and save it to give our water maker a rest. In Le Marin we had more rain than we knew what to do with. We filled our tanks, spare water jugs, buckets, tea kettles and anything else we could think of.   It was just a reminder that in all our lives a little rain must fall.  So we just waited for the sun to come back and the next adventure to begin.

Our Maggi Chain

Update:   I wanted to update my original post with Maggi’s response to my public complaints about the chain we purchased from them. Shortly after the posting, we received a response from the company seeking to expedite assistance to us. It turns out that they do not produce very much Aqua7 chain in 5/16” – most of their production is in metric sizes. This accounted for the delay. Bad communication accounted for the lack of explanation to us.  As to the rusting issue, the CEO of the company tells us they do on rare occasion suffer loss of galvanizing, but no more on the Aqua7 than on Aqua4. This is hopeful as there has been some speculation that the higher strength chain does not take galvanizing as well as lower strength chains. In any event, they offered to ship to us immediately a replacement chain in Aqua4 and then when a new batch of Aqua7 is produced to ship a length of that to us as well, since the Aqua4 in 5/16” is not an appropriate strength for our boat. We have now received and installed the Aqua4 and are awaiting final production of the Aqua7 replacement. This has been a more than sufficient response for us so far, and we look forward to final receipt of the Aqua7 chain. To reiterate, we had been happy with a length of Aqua4 for 6 years (which had been on the boat for 10 years). We hope that the new chain they send us will perform as well and that the rusty batch was just an outlier.

Original Post:  Our boat had a load of Maggi Aqua4 chain (or whatever they called their G4 back then) that was original to its build in 2004. It was superior chain that we changed out in 2015. It was really only showing a bit of rust where the links connected, but I had the opportunity to replace it and wanted to lighten my ground tackle load. I purchased Maggi Aqua7 chain in a size smaller – 5/16”. It is essentially equivalent in strength to 3/8” G4 chain, and it saved me well over 100lbs on the foredeck.

However, after about a year on the boat the chain started showing alarming amounts of rust and corrosion. Now, after a year and a half, I need to replace it ASAP. This is far to soon for this chain to rust away. The galvanizing on the Aqua7 is not the smooth, hard finish I had on the Aqua4. It is lumpier and seemingly softer. In any event, it is all gone and the bare surface of the chain is rusting. I have heard other reports that Maggi Aqua7 galvanizing does not stand up, and now I have first hand experience.

The most concerning part of this whole episode has been the response of the Maggi company to our issues. The premature corrosion issue was quickly acknowledged and a new chain promised… and promised and promised. But never delivered. Despite what I deem to be the best intentions of Maggi’s US supplier, I have to conclude that I have been given the runaround, perhaps in an attempt to wear us down so we let it go and buy some competitor’s chain. If you want a sense of the degree of runaround we have been given, read the correspondence in the attached file, which begins in April 2016 and ends in December 2016 with me basically saying “Bueller, Bueller?”

This is a major chain manufacturer and supplier to the marine industry. I think the boating public needs to know about the quality of the chain they are selling and the customer service that backs it up. I warned them I would write posts such as this and take other steps. This is one way in which the individual customer has some power in this internet age. So why not exercise it? Buy Maggi chain at your risk.

maggi-chain-correspondence

A photo taken in April 2016:

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Land Cruisers Part II

We are back in Grenada after our 3 months sojourn in the UK, Antwerp and Amsterdam. We owe a big thanks to our pals Charlotte and James for letting us base out of their lovely riverside flat in Inverness while in Scotland.  

Gorgeous view of the River Ness from the apartment in Inverness

Gorgeous view of the River Ness from the apartment in Inverness

We really have to pay it forward with the cruising community after Charlotte and James’ generosity and Julie and Ken introducing us to the housesitting service that let us stay abroad for so long without breaking the bank (and letting Mary get her dog fix – and cat and chicken fix). 

We left England to spend a considerable amount of time in Scotland, starting off with a bang in Edinburgh.  Arriving just in time for the Fringe Festival, lauded as the world’s largest arts festival.  Everyone should head there for it at least once.  You can walk around the historic city and drop into a comedy show, theatrical, music, film, or any number of other performances whenever they strike your fancy.  

Next up was a trip to the highland capital city of Inverness.  The Scotland highlands reminds us of Tahoe with conifer-covered hills and mountains and open countryside.  Except here there is the odd abandoned castle off in the distance.  We’ve seen enough old castles and manors to last a lifetime, but we love learning about the history and occupants of each one.  The Scotland National Trust does a great job of preserving the history as well as the buildings.  And to Pete’s delight the Whisky trail led him to single malt Scotch heaven.

When we finished with our house sits, we set off to explore the western shore of northern Scotland.  Driving the North Coast 500 was a trip on the beautiful open roads.  Just be sure to bring your cojones because the roads are narrow, often even single track, and twisty with blind corners.  Oh, and with sheep roaming free.  The roads and weather were so gorgeous Pete wished he was back on the Ducati.  We made it all way round from Loch Ness up to John O’Groats (we had to go there just because of that name) and then back to Inverness to catch our breath.

Our trip didn’t end here, but our camera did.  Sadly hundreds of photos were lost to the technology gods.  So you’ll have to imagine and hopefully see for yourself one day the exciting city of Glasgow, Northern England, Wales, Antwerp and Amsterdam.  Here are a few snaps from the phone. 

It was the perfect break from 3 years on the boat and definitely a much needed change of scenery, proving to us that one can even get tired of tropical islands and variety is indeed the spice of life.  Bring on Season #4…

Taking It To The Streets

We’ve seen a lot of street art in our travels over the last few years.  It has run the gamut from heavy political statements from oppressed peoples to pure whimsy.  We’ve admired and taken a number of photos of these eye catching pieces, but can’t say we always quite got it.  

We are sure they tell a story but without being clued in all we could do is admire it.  In the US, I think we viewed graffiti as vandalism and not necessarily art.  So it was a great treat to take the Alternative Art Tour while in London and learn a bit about street art from an actual street artist.  Our guide took us around the Spitalfields area of London showing us a number of different works by artists from around the world, all plastered illegally or with permission of the property owner in public spaces.  Some of them were amazingly detailed for a piece that might exist for only a matter of days before it’s removed by the authorities or painted over by another artist.

 There is quite a bit of planning that goes into a good piece, including avoiding capture by cops or the ubiquitous CCTV cameras that seem to record every aspect of outdoor life these days.  img_20160812_151553127

The artist who did this little sculpture above stuck on a post is known to wear a worker’s fluorescent vest and use a ladder in broad daylight, as impersonating a public worker may be the best way to avoid detection.  Some artists are very secretive and are not interested in personal publicity, which adds to the mystery and attraction of that artist’s work.  Hearing all this from a participant in this underground world was hugely illuminating.  We highly recommend taking this unique tour to anyone visiting London, and then perhaps you’ll see the graffiti in your hometown in a new light.

Land Crusiers

We are in the UK taking a break from the boat (and the heat) in Grenada.  We will be here for about 3 months and to make it affordable we are house/pet sitting for people who are away on vacation.  It is a wonderful way to experience a country, allowing the spirit of the place to seep in and avoiding the pressure to be on the tourist superhighway – which, in our experience leads to museum fatigue, information overload and the occasional argument with Google maps and each other.  

After a few days in London, our first gig was for a charming couple in rural Hampshire.  Living in a lovely old country home and taking care of two sweet old cocker spaniels was a glorious way to start. Funny thing was they went Greece to have a sailing vacation, so we felt as though we had switched lives for a week.  

We especially like England’s tradition of public footpaths, byways and bridleways, which preserve the public’s right of access across private lands, complete with stiles to allow human and dog to get over fences without letting livestock escape.  Wish we had such paths in the US. 

After Hampshire, we were off to a charming village in Buckinghamshire and then back for more city life in London.

Anyway, just a short note to let y’all know what we are up to. Cheerio for now.