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Montserrat May 6, 2013

We were not really planning to visit Montserrat.  It was actually sort of a last minute thing.  We were planning to head toward Nevis and St. Kitts.  We had engine problems which kept us in the Saintes for a couple of extra days.  So we made an adjustment and decided to stop in Montserrat instead.  The sail from Deshaines in Guadeloupe is about 36 miles and it can be done as a daysail.  We arrived around 4 PM and we anchored in Rendezvous  Bay which is in the Northwest part of the Island.  We came in on a Sunday and we had planned to just drop our anchor and then wait to clear customs and immigration on Monday morning.  However, as we were coming in we got a call on the radio informing us that we might be better off coming in today as the next day was a Holiday.  So I went in to clear us in.  As I was finishing up with customs, I asked about arranging a tour for tomorrow.  The customs officer said to check with Joe Phillips who was parked just outside the gates of the customs and immigration restricted area.  As it turned out, Joe was the tour guide highly recommended by the guidebook.  So I signed Graham and me up for a tour starting at 9:30 AM.

We rode the dingy into Little Bay for our tour.  While we drove through northern Montserrat, Joe started the tour by telling us about George Martin, the music producer for the Beatles.  Sir George already owned AIR Studios in London then in 1979 he  set up a recording studio in Montserrat.  Many famous musicians came here to record.  I knew this was where Jimmy Buffet recorded “Volcano” years before the actual eruption.  What I didn’t know was that many others including Paul McCartney, Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Dire Straits, The Police, and Eric Clapton recorded here.

Sir George’s idea was that it could be a retreat where musicians could get away from the distractions and demands of big city life and really focus on their music.  The house was right next to the studio so that it was possible to pop into the studio anytime you were ready to record.

Exterior of AIR Studio, housing on the right, studio on the left
Interior of the AIR Studio in Montserrat

When we arrived I felt sad to see the ruins of such an amazing place.  We wandered around the studio and the house taking pictures while Joe showed us videos and pictures from the studio in its heyday.  One of the best is the music video recorded by The Police for Every little thing she does is magic.  I have embedded the video below.  The really interesting thing about the video is that so much is happening: you can see interior shots of the studio at .36; exterior shots of The Police jamming on the streets of Plymouth (the city engulfed by the volcano); and at 3:25 Sting dances across the famous Neve sound board inside the engineering side of the studio.

Richard Buskin has a really interesting article about what it was like to record Dire Straits Money for Nothing at the AIR Montserrat.  It was a very small space with an amazing soundboard.

Although the studio was destroyed by Hurricane Hugo in 1989, George Martin continued to visit his home on the island every year until his passing in 2016.  George has also raised money for Earthquake assistance and a new cultural center that bears his name.  Joe Phillip, our guide, had videos of the many of the performers on his iPad so we could see and hear them talk about their time in Montserrat during the benefit concert. 

Of course the most amazing part of the tour was the views of the devastation caused by the eruptions of the volcano.  We went through a river valley between Plymouth and Brades which used to be a beach and a golf course which has since been buried.  Joe had before and after pictures of the devastation.  This included a bridge buried under 35ft of ash and mud.  We saw before and after pictures of houses where the only visible remains were the very top floor of a three story building.  Joe had many before pictures on his iPad so that he could show us the before and we could see the after for ourselves.  Plymouth was even worse with a huge slides of mud and ash which have buried all but the taller buildings.  We asked Joe to point out the Medical School and we took pictures for our friend Judy R. who graduated from the school. 

Remains of the Montserrat Medical School
Downtown Plymouth: Only the tops of a few buildings can be seen.

It was a humbling experience to see the power of mother nature and the havoc caused.  We left the island thinking that Montserrat has had some very tough times in the last two decades.  It seems unfair that the friendly people of Montserrat have experienced so many natural disasters.

Dominica: The Nature Island

Graham and I sailed overnight directly to Dominica from Antigua.  We sailed overnight so as to arrive around noon.  When we do this Graham takes the early watch and I take over around midnight or later.  It was generally a smooth sail down with the wind on the beam although sailing past Guadeloupe is unpredictable.  The wind shifted and died and then came back.  We arrived in Portsmouth around 11 AM and we were immediately contacted by the PAYS Yacht Helpers as we approached the Prince Rupert Bay.  Our friends on Patronus recommended we use Providence (Martin) and since we planned to take our tours with the Porters on Evenstar we decided to ask for the same helper.  The yacht helpers provide a range of services to visiting yachts.  They provide security, arrange tours, scuba dives, laundry, and more.  Martin even does a cooking class where you can learn about preparing native dishes using the local produce.

The Porters arrived after us for change and we worked with Martin to arrange a tour of the north part of the island.  It rained quite a bit over several days prior to the tour and there was some rain throughout our tour.  We drove up into the interior of the island and through a pass into the Morne Aux Diables.  We hiked to the Cold Soufriere: volcanic gas seeps through the water source but the water is cold not hot like most volcanic springs.  From there we went on to several of the sights on the Atlantic side of the island which included several of the on location sites where Pirates of the Caribbean 2 and 3 were filmed.

One of the many locations from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.

We had a fabulous lunch of local specialties on the beach in Calibishie and then went on to visit the Caribe Indian Reservation which is one of the few places where the native Caribe Indians still live in larger numbers.  Later that day we visited the Emerald Pool which is a beautiful waterfall and pool surrounded by rainforest.

Emerald Pool

The scenery in Dominica is some of the most stunning we have seen anywhere in the Caribbean.  The lush rainforest is a stark contrast to the BVIs and the Northern Leeward Islands which are very dry.  Fruits and vegetables are grown everywhere and many grow wild.  The farm fields here are nothing like in the midwest where I grew up.  Many of these fields look like you would need mountain climbing gear to harvest your crops.  Our guide, Dylan, showed us six different types of bay leaves.  These leaves are cooked and distilled into a variety of different flavorings and scents.  One is used to create the lemony citronella scent used in the candles and lamp oils that help to repel insects.

Tia Dalma’s Cottage form “Dead Man’s Chest”-notice the Bloodwood Mangrove trees

Another highlight of our visit was a trip up the Indian River in Portsmouth.  Martin, our Yacht Helper, conducted this tour himself.  At first the river was open and sunny.  Later it felt as though we were tunneling into the rain-forest.  One of the famous sights on the river is Tia Dalma’s aka Calypso Cottage, a site from the Pirates of the Caribbean.  It was used in the haunting scene at the end of “Dead Man’s Chest” where the surviving crew of the Black Pearl, minus Captain Jack, paddle up the river.  In this scene it is nighttime and there are hundreds of extras standing on the shore or waist deep in the water holding lamps and candles.

The river is a National Park so the use of engines is not permitted.  Martin paddled us his boat and at the same time gave us a lesson on the plants and wildlife we were seeing.  I really thought the Bloodwood Mangroves that you can see at the edge of the river are really cool.  They almost look as if they could walk on their roots.

Martin, our yacht helper shows us a freshwater crab

On our second auto tour we visited the Chaudiere Pool and the Red Rocks.  The Chaudiere pool was a bit of a hike as portions of the road had washed out.  The current at the pool was much stronger than normal due to the rains.  It took us a little while but we finally got up the nerve to jump off the cliffs into the pool.  The upwelling current pushes you to the surface and to the side so you have to be ready to grab on to the rocks.


We had a nice lunch with the Porters and then topped it off with a visit to the Red Rocks.  This rock formation looks a bit like Mars from one angle.  However, the dramatic views of the coast remind you that we are on planet earth.

Lunch on the beach with the Porters
Red rocks on the Atlantic coast of Dominica

Our final days in Dominica were pleasant yet bittersweet.  We have been traveling with the Porters on Evenstar since August of 2012.  We started hanging out while we were in Maine and we have spent lots of good times together.  Graham, Danielle, and Will have become good friends.  From here the Porters continue south toward Grenada and Panama, while we head north toward the BVIs and then home to Virginia.  We will miss them. Fair winds and following seas.

Nelson’s Dockyard in English Harbour, Antigua

While we were in Antigua I went to Nelson’s Dockyard. It was named for Admiral Horatio Nelson one of England’s most famous sailor’s. In the year 1671 English harbor was discovered, and by 1704 it was defended and by 1707 it had started to get use as a hurricane harbor. In 1728 it was developed into St. Helena, a small dockyard that only held supplies for repairs. Since it was a very safe harbor more and more ships came and St. Helena became too small. So in 1740 the construction of a much larger dockyard began. And in 1745 it had many more storehouses, but it still was too small. So over the span of 10 years (1755-1765) several more storehouses, sleeping quarters for high ranking officials, and a kitchen were built. A wall surrounding the dockyard was also built. Over time a hospital, The Engineer’s Office, a Pitch, a Tar Store, and extensions to the dockyard wall were also built. During this time Admiral Nelson spent 3 years at the dockyard (which soon after was re-named for him). After he left in 1787 several other shops opened including a Copper and Lumber shop, A blacksmith’s store, a saw pit, and a canvas store. Everything was expanded at least once and another house was built for high ranking officers. The last edition was the Clerk’s House before it was abandoned in the late 1800s. It was re-opened in 1961 as a tourist attraction and then became a fully-fledged marina over time having many docks, tourist attractions (such as a museum and recreation of the tar store), a hotel and several restaurants. In a way it came full circle because it still gets use as a dockyard and a ship repair stop. It was really fun to see and learn how it changed. Be sure to check out the pictures in the gallery below!

Amy has to go home

Some unhappy news.  Amy, our spiritual leader, cruise ship social director, awesome wife, and supermom had to leave us in St. Martin and return to the US for back surgery.  Amy flew back from St. Martin and was in to see a specialist shortly after her return.  She needed a spinal fusion which is serious surgery which requires a 3-6 month recovery.  Her surgery was successful although the recovery has been slow and painful.  Please keep her in your thoughts and prayers!


We miss you Amy!!!!!!

It is hard to know what to do in a situation like this.  Amy suggested that Graham and I continue to cruise as we only have a few more months before we have to return to the real world.  We also didn’t really want to leave our boat here to return to the states so the best thing is to just keep on cruising and return with the Salty Dawg Rally this Spring.

St. Martin No Excuses

I have been lazy about updating the blog.  We have been somewhat busy.  Really I have just been lazy, so no excuses.  We were in St. Martin from January 20th to March 15th.  St. Martin is such a perfect spot for cruisers.  We met another couple on a Baba 35 “Play Actor” who spend most of the winter anchored in the Lagoon.  It is easy to see why:  good French Food, lots of boat services, great pricing on boat stuff (no duty), good swap meets, events for the kids, easy to anchor, and a workboat that brings water fuel and fresh bread right to you boat.  In Marigot, Shrimpy’s is the most cruiser friendly laundry anywhere.  Mike the owner of Shrimpy’s also runs one of the best cruiser nets we have encountered. (Channel 14 at 7AM)

Shrimpy's Laundry, the most cruiser friendly laundry anywhere

Even the grocery stores are cruiser friendly!

We took care of a number of maintenance issues that we had been saving up for St. Martin.  Our faithful dinghy started giving us problems.  The engine was replaced in Annapolis.  The two-stroke Evenrude 15 horsepower, that served us faithfully through a whole year in the Bahamas and up and down the eastern seaboard picked the worst possible time to quit, so we bought a new Mercury 9.9 four stroke.  Then in the BVIs our dinghy wouldn’t hold air.  So we held off until St. Martin and got a new IAB 9VL.

This is the new dinghy we purchased here at a very good price.

It was a little smaller and a lot lighter than the previous dinghy.  We added a few modifications that made it a better fit for our dinghy davits and then added a fuel filter with a clear bowl so you can see fuel problems.  I know it sounds like overkill to have a fuel filter for your dinghy.  But, this really helps a lot when you have a low emission four stroke.

Fuel filter helps out a lot.

We also worked on the diesel engine.  The water pump had developed a weeping leak and the engine was running a little hot.  The fine folks at Simpson Bay Diesel rescued us.  They helped us rebuild the water pump with parts from our used spares and flushed the heat exchanger.  There was a bunch of  broken zincs clogging up the exchanger!  Later on I replaced the generator belt.

There was a variety of other repairs that kept us busy.  I replaced the forward navigation lights, the Y-valve on the head, and took care of several little electrical problems.  All in all we got a lot done and at prices that seemed as good as or better than back in the States.

We had fun too.  Graham and I celebrated birthdays.  We had a gift of mad money that we had to promise to use to splurge.  We made new friends and we caught up with old friends from the Salty Dawg Rally.  We were also in town for the Heineken Regatta.

Sunset over the lagoon. St. Martin holds many great memories.


Graham and Matt with the Minnesota relatives Holland America Cruise Ship

Today we met up with Aunt Barb, Aunt Ginger and Uncle Jack in Phillipsburg, St. Martin. The planets were not in favor of this pow-wow as first their cruise ship encountered an unexpected stop due to a medical emergency. I didn’t get the memo that they wouldn’t make it to the café in the morning so we went at 9 and when they didn’t show up by 11, we stalked every cruise ship tender that came in. Then Matt and Graham started flagging down buses. We called Katie on skype from a cyber café and decided on Plan B – meet them at 2:30 at the café after their tour. Unfortunately there was a school bus accident on their way to meet us in the afternoon. We finally hooked up a little after 3 for 45 minutes and then they had to hurry back to the boat. It was the best 45 minutes of my life! Aunt Barb and I squealed through the family gossip the whole time, Graham chatted with Uncle Jack the whole time telling him what it was like to live aboard – Uncle Jack said, “Just think, one day you can tell your grandkids all these stories and about all the profanity you learned along the way ;-)” Ginger and Matt were regular chatty cathys about who knows what. The entire fabulous visit was bookended of course by the siblings throwing gifts and money our way. Their generosity knows no bounds. The first thing Gege said to Graham was, “Thank you for all those notes you wrote to my mom. Here’s $20, I didn’t know what to get you for your birthday.” So sweet, (he was 13 on Valentine’s Day). Aunt Barb gave him a care package of every possible favorite type of American candy (which he is plowing through at an alarming rate!) and a 2013 Almanac – he is all about the facts. It is the perfect gift for him, truly. They had to leave on the fly so I ushered Matt in to the pay the bill so I could hail them a taxi back to their ship. Aunt Barb insisted on giving me money. We made a righteous scene. She won, of course. She gave me $40 for had three iced teas. They are all too too much. It was the best taste of home. We were having such fun yapping that we forgot to even take a picture together so after they left we took a picture of ourselves with the cruise ship in the background.





We have been in St. Martin for about a month, still travelling with our friends, the Porters whom we have been loosely with since Maine in August. They head toward Antigua this weekend so we will catch up with them there in a few weeks time. Graham is progressing in school at an accelerated rate and will be done way ahead of schedule. As such, his father drills him on probabilities and the like while they have lunch or walk and his mean old nasty old teacher is going to make him take a sample SAT when he finishes with school to assess his capabilities. To be fair, though, she has agreed to take the test herself.

We have become quite accustomed to life here in the Caribbean. In St. Martin, Mike from Shrimp’s Laundry etc. does a morning VHF radio chat to announce the weather, give people a chance to announce their arrivals and departures, swap items, make announcements about kids activities (treasure hunt on Saturday!) and other stuff. He also does our laundry about once a week. We are anchored in the Simpson Bay Lagoon near another Baba, and our friends on Evenstar, and Cyberman ,conveniently, because my computer died completely and at least we had him around to tell us the truth. We will not be replacing it and that feels very freeing. All I need is access to email and google so Matt and I are sharing a computer. Life is simple. I spend my days painting and teaching and reading like crazy. We officially have a teenager now as Graham turned 13 on Valentine’s Day. We went out to dinner at Café de Paris with the Porters and had real French food and everyone’s meal was perfect. The Porters have addicted us to a TV series called “Eureka” which they have on DVD. As our separation is imminent we have been having many Eurekathons over on Evenstar. It’s good fun.

A really neat museum of Star Wars and other movie memorabilia put together by a former creature effects and costumes wizard was one of the more surprising finds in the town of Phillipsburg!

Phillipsburg, on the Dutch Side of St. Maarten, has a very similar feel to a lot of Caribbean towns where the primary business is catering to Cruise ships. You’ve got the sidewalk hawkers for everything from taxis and T-shirts to beach chair rentals and happy hours. It’s not a bad place and I didn’t dislike it, but it is busy and crowded and you’d do well to wear a T-Shirt saying “No Thank you I don’t need a Taxi/New Hat/Massage/Beach Chair/Jewelry” so you may walk down the board walk unmolested for a stretch.

But a favorite part of the town of Phillipsburg was “That Yoda Guy”. Nick Maley became known as “That Yoda Guy” on the set of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back because if his instrumental role in the creation of the puppetry and animation to create the character of Yoda back in the days before digital animation and CGI . Though he was also involved in the other movies in the original Star Wars trilogy as a creature effects animator as well. He’s also got a list of other movie credits as long as your arm including Highlander, Superman, Krull, and many others.

Mr. Maley retired from the movie industry some time back and moved onto a sailboat with his wife, where they cruised for a time. Eventually they settled in the Caribbean, and this small but interesting museum was opened. What is novel about it is that although it contains many things from Mr. Maley’s private collection, Mr. Maley himself brings a lot of inside scoop on how the Star Wars movies came together. He was there, and knows a lot of the details – be it technical or anecdotal, that provides some fascinating insight into how these iconic movies came together the way they did.

Throughout the museum are original art works and memorabilia, some for display and some for sale.

Passing by on the sidewalk on Front Street, I heard the Star Wars theme paying quietly – looking around I saw the signs. Having no idea what to expect, we mounted up the stairs expecting something…tacky maybe? Instead spent a very pleasant hour or so talking and exploring and learning some very, very cool stuff about some of our favorite movies.

Well worth a visit!

We attended a Mardi Gras type parade on the French side on Shrove  (Fat) Tuesday.  The costumes were pretty impressive. All ages and genders were bedecked in spectacular arrays of flowers, feathers and glitter. There were troupes of young children, teenagers and adults. One thing that impressed me was that these were all regular, real people, and everyone was out there strutting their stuff and you could tell they all felt proud and beautiful. It’s hard to picture an event like this back in the states where we have such harsh standards of beauty and judge those outside those brackets so unkindly. Some of the most charismatic people in the parade were the winners of the “Miss Plus Size” beauty pageant – this wasn’t a joke or a gag like it might be in the states, these were beautiful, vibrant women; accepted for who they are and proud of it. And you could see the happiness and humor as they saw friends and family along the way and broke ranks for hugs, pictures and fun.