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It’s not often the we employ the services of a guide. On the few occasions that we have, our strategy has been to find a really good one and take a tour as soon as we arrive at a new island. By doing this, we learn what there is to see and have a base to begin our own exploration during the days that follow. In this case, we knew that with only two days on the island, we would never be able to really see Montserrat if we didn’t hook up with a guide. So, following the recommendations in the books and Active Captain, we hired Joe Phillip to show us around. Was that a good decision? We think it was an excellent one!

Joe Phillip, who can be reached on VHF 08 by calling Avalon, or by phone at 664-492-1565, is a man who takes his tours seriously. He does not just drive people around the island and point at things. He has thoroughly researched the history of Montserrat and with his trusty iPad in hand, he has a collection of old photographs and videos that he will share, each serving to put the elements of the tour in context. I will freely admit that we knew next to nothing about the island when we first arrived. For example, we had no idea about the influence that the Beatles rock and roll band had on Montserrat nor the scope of the devastation from the volcano’s eruption. We learned a considerable amount during our tour but the learning didn’t stop there. By the time we had returned to our boat, we had already received an email from Joe with a collection of links for us to continue our research. Pretty efficient, eh?

Several people have mentioned to us that they plan to visit Montserrat themselves. If you are among them, we’d highly recommend that you hook up with Joe for a tour. I can’t imagine that there would be anyone on the island giving tours that would even remotely compare.

Scoping out the terrain before we met up with our tour guide.

Little Bay, where ZTC is anchored, is now the islands main harbor.
Before the eruption there was nothing there.

The island’s Cultural Center, completed largely through money raised by performing artists.

There is a large amount of musical memorabilia here and elsewhere on the island.

Montserrat is not lacking for drinking water, even during the dry season.

We drank from the spring. Does that mean we have to come back?

The famous Air Studios, once the site of a state-of-the-art recording studio
used by a number of famous bands.

Sadly, in 1989 Hurricane Hugo put an end to that.

With Joe guiding us, we were able to breeze through the security checkpoints.

Geothermal exploration inside the exclusion zone.

Joe showing us around the neighborhood where he used to live.

Note how the house is buried almost up to the windows
by ash that fell during various eruptions.

The jungle has come back to claim the evacuated land.
It is difficult to see even large houses that are now hidden in the growth.

There were plenty of opportunities to take photographs during the tour.

Unfortunately, as with most mountain peaks, it is tough to get a cloud free shot.

Mud and ash have completely buried what was once the main residential areas of Montserrat.

Here is a Google Earth perspective of the island. The photo above is of Plymouth.

A close up shot of the deviation.

See that nice pier..

…the bay has now been filled in leaving only the outside portion visible.

As much as we would have liked to, exploration in Plymouth by foot is not permitted.

Fancy hotels are left abandoned.

Look at the amount of ash that has washed into this room.
This is a full-sized desk, not some child’s toy!

We lucked out with a beautiful sunny day for our tour.

It might have been a nice enough day for a swim if the 9′ deep pool wasn’t filled to the top with ash!

The old photos that Joe has compiled added greatly to the tour.

Another thing we learned: several companies mine the sand
that has collected and export it to other islands.

Care for a game of golf? The fairway is 10-20′ below this!

Only the top of this 3 story house is now visible.

Old Road Harbor was once the best anchorage on the island.

Now it’s a beautiful place for locals to come for a swim.

Although the scope of the devastation is difficult to comprehend, there is still a lot of beauty and history on the island, making it well worth a stop for cruisers in the Leeward Islands.

24 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing. Did not know anything about this island.

  2. ABSOLUTELY ENJOYED THIS POST, THANX FOR THE TOUR.

  3. Back in the day, I was an obsessed Police fan. I always, always wanted to visit Montserrat because of this. Thanks for letting me get a peek!

  4. Most awesome Mike & Rebecca..

  5. Fantastic post! The difference is unbelievable! Really enjoyed this…

  6. Nico (fractionally of S/V Antares in the Chesapeake) - Reply

    Done! read your entire blog and am now officially current!

    One of the (many) reasons I wanted to make sure I read it cover to cover was to make an effort to not ask questions that have already been answered previously. Having not found an answer to this one, though, I feel obliged to ask now: Is your SPOT tracker having issues, because going to the “Where” page just draws a blank and the message “No displayable messages found for feed: 0uE3LkHKWNkRD2oaRAXPC5AJB4qhnGC9g”. Or is it only available while you’re underway?

    On the Montserrat side – what an amazing place that so completely contrasts the devastating power and awesome beauty of nature. Thank you for posting those pics and be safe!

    • Hi Nico

      The spot server only keeps data for 2 weeks (I think). So, if we don’t turn it on, our position shows up blank. We went to turn it on during our last passage and found that the batteries were dead. Unfortunately, it likes lithium batteries and we have none on board at present.

  7. I learned of the recording studio on the island when I read Keith Richard’s book – ‘Life’ – a really great read. Highly recommend; even though I am not familiar with most of The Rolling Stones music, I found the book really interesting. If you are a fan of their work, it would be all the more interesting.

    • So many good books… so little time.

      Speaking of the Stones…

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NgDnk5p2w3M

      • You are so right about too many books… but to further recommend this one… I love biographies and especially autobiographies, and this was the only one I have read where I felt like I could call Keith up after and say, ‘Hey, it was great chatting with you for the past few days. Want to get together for a drink?’ because it felt like I had sat down with a friend and listened to their stories face to face. It is really well written.

  8. Here is the link to the full concert for Montserrat in 1997. It can also be downloaded in 10-11 minute snippets.

    Great performances by Elton John, Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler, Sting, Paul McCartney, Phil Collins and Carl Perkins.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D-0DUPowEw0

  9. Glad to hear that you hooked up with Joe – we did a tour with him when we were there and were very impressed. The addition of having the “before” photos really made much more of an impact. See that he has kept up with technology with the addition of an iPad! It was great to have the personal touch that Joe added of having lived through it. We were so impressed with the positive spirit of the people of Montserrat – those that stayed seem to have an excellent outlook and are working hard at rebuilding their island. We were surprised as well by the many “non-natives’ that had lived on the island, stayed and have no intention of leaving. It was quite an education. Glad you got a chance to get there this time. Best wishes to you both from Portugal.

  10. Wow, great post. I have heard stories about ash and mud from volcanos covering everything in its path, but the pictures really show the power of mother nature.
    Yes, now this island is on my list of places to see.

    Gail

  11. Montserrat was my home for many, many years. We left after the volcano as our home was and is in the danger zone. I knew Air Studios, Sir George Martin and his recording people well and to see the devastation is a real blow. I’d return this afternoon if things were as I knew them…a wonderful island, wonderful people and the best place in the world to have lived. I count my blessings! Your photos are the best I have seen and I thank you for bringing so many memories to me. We lived above the golf course and had the Caribbean as our front lawn…now that is a view!!

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