Coffee, anyone?

Anyone who knows Matthew knows how much he loves his coffee. On every island he searches out the best places to get a good cup of coffee. Two islands in particular really outdid themselves, putting on a great welcome and feeding his coffee addiction.


Kinship Coffee, Private Blend

In Falmouth Harbour we went ashore and walked up a hill to check out the Carib Bean Coffee Co., a coffee roastery that was written up in our Doyle’s Cruising Guide. It was well worth the trip – the owner didn’t realize he had been mentioned in the publication and was just thrilled. He served us a couple of kinds of coffee, while discussing in great length how to make it, checking for our preferences, and giving us a referral of a supplier for a knock-box and replacement milk thermometer for on board coffee making. We sat in his coffee shop on a hill, with a lovely view of the bay we were anchored in, enjoying the breeze and the good coffee and conversation. We left with 5 bags of “Private Blend Kinship Coffee”, enough to last us the rest of the trip.

It was a nice treat for all, even for Angela, the non-coffee drinker among us. When we first arrived and were greeted by a fella wearing a t-shirt that said

Things I don’t like:

  • mornings
  • people
  • morning people

 Angela was afraid she would be run off the property, but no, they were gracious hosts even to her, the morning person to beat all morning people!

With our hosts at the Carib Bean Coffee Co.




When we were driving around in the hills of Basse-Terre we stumbled upon the Musée du Café (coffee museum), on the site where the Guadeloupean coffee, Café Chaulet is produced. For a nominal fee we got to tour the roastery, read up on the history and production of coffee on the island, and view interesting displays of old-fashioned equipment and coffee serving paraphernalia.

garden and museum

history lessons (en Francais)

The tour ended with a complimentary tasting, sitting in their lovely garden. 

I have always known that coffee was rocket fuel for Matthew on a bicycle, now I know it works on a sailboat too!


Exploring Antigua with Boat Guests

The first of our boat guests, Angela and Sharron, arrived in Antigua on February 5th for a week-long, all-inclusive holiday in the sunny south, aboard the luxury sailing vessel Kinship. 

Sharron’s initiation to sailing was rather dramatic.  We waited for a rain shower to pass then set out on the Caribbean Sea. No sooner were the sails up, then the wind picked up, the rain came back, Matthew donned his ski goggles to protect his eyes from the salt spray, and Sharron’s eyes got as big as saucers! She was certain we were doomed! First of all, she didn’t know that sailboats are supposed to heel over, so she was definitely freaked out by it leaning over. The fact that Matthew was wet and not a happy Captain, of course added to her anxiety! We decided to head back to the anchorage, and just like that, ♪ up came the sunshine and dried up all the rain, itsy bitsy Sharron went out to sail again♪  We were treated to a lovely rainbow, then went to a beach, had a swim, collected shells and had lots of girl-talk. Back on the boat we had celebratory beers for surviving her first sail, a nice dinner and a beautiful Caribbean sunset. 

the three “sista’s”

From there the week just flew by, and what a success! I was overdue for a dose of sister time, and they were overdue for some holiday time. Antigua provided a lovely venue for both those things. I don’t think it could have been any better. Here are a few of the highlights:

  • Sailing: After her scary introduction to the motion of a sailboat, we were able to re-introduce Sharron to the boat and its motion much more gently, so that by the end of the week she was loving it. We started by having early morning “Yacht Yoga”, on deck, where she earned her stripes as official “Deck Fluff”. Then we moved gradually into her training as “Rail Meat”.
  • She (and I) will only ever be apprentice rail meat though, as Angela is clearly the best at that job! In fact, she is more than rail meat, she is a full-fledged bow-rider! On the last leg of our sail into English Harbour, which was directly into the wind, she rode the bow like it was a bucking bronco! Waves were crashing all over (and under) her, and she was screeching like a kid on a roller-coaster ride. Thank goodness for safety harnesses! And for the cockpit, where Sharron and I stayed, watching the “15 foot waves” all around us.
  • Swimming: Angela very quickly conquered her fear of swimming with the fishies. We started by practicing using snorkeling gear on a nice beach in Jolly Harbour. She found it kind of freaky to breathe while facing downward – she kept wanting to turn her head sideways before breathing in. But once she had mastered that, we moved on to the North Sound for some snorkeling in a shallow reef off Rabbit Island, where there were small corals but no fishies. Then she got to conquer her fear of swimming off the back of the boat when her hat blew off her head in Jumby Bay.

    Angela recovers her hat from the water

    A moment or two hesitation meant that she had a longer swim, but she did it! Fear doesn’t stand a chance against Angela!!! She showed it who was boss. Finally, in English Harbour where we were anchored close to shore, we swam ashore, over the first rock outcropping where we found corals and some little fishies! She got to see the Dory fish and several other types, but the real thrill came when we found a shelf that ran parallel to the shore, just off the beach. We swam there for ages, finding sea urchins and colourful fish of all sorts. What a treat. Ange didn’t even freak out when she saw the “5 foot swordfish”! The next day we had sailor baths (a.k.a. skinny dipping in the early hours with a bar of soap), that’s how “at ease” our crew got with the water. Great success!

  • Hiking: After spending 24 hours on the water without touching land, we anchored in Falmouth Harbour (after helping dredge out a bit of the channel with our keel, thus requiring a full-fledged Rail Meat drill). We did a bit of exploring there, then we moved the boat to the quieter bay at English Harbour, and took a recommended hike up the hillside to the Shirley Heights Lookout. That was an real hike, clambering up rocks, stumbling over roots, seeing lizards and birds galore, and the views! Spectacular! We could see water on three sides of Antigua, and from the top we had a fabulous view of the anchorage below.We also got to check out the old fortifications, and took a wander through the Nelson Dockyard Museum. This is a port with  long and interesting history.

    Eating: Sharron was of course delighted to find herself on a vegetarian all-inclusive vacation. And since we had provisioned the boat in the French island of Guadeloupe ahead of time, we had lots of wonderful French bread, cheeses, wine, beer and chocolate aboard. The guests insisted on replenishing the provisions and adding fresh bananas, pineapples and avocadoes we found at the road-side stall on the way back down from the coffee shop, so it wasn’t truly an all-inclusive (but they promised that was our little secret). Besides, who could resist the local avocadoes! They were the biggest, freshest, most delicious avocadoes you have ever had. Sharron made us a guacamole that was to die for – happy hour was especially happy that night.

    We also swore our guests to secrecy after they insisted on buying us two lovely dinners ashore. I hope our guests didn’t go home broke from their all-inclusive holiday!

All good things must come to an end, and on Sunday we had to say our goodbyes as Angela and Sharron rode off in their taxi to the airport (followed shortly thereafter by Matthew on his bike, to deliver the second misplaced object of the week, but we’re not mentioning that, honestly  ).

Montserrat and its live volcano

What a fascinating island, Montserrat! In mid-January, after leaving Nevis, we had a nice easy day sail there, arriving in Little Bay in the early afternoon. We made arrangements for a tour the next morning. We had a recommendation for a tour guide from other cruisers, and that was a good choice. Joe Philip was born here and lived through all the volcanic events. He had all his photos loaded on his ipad, and when he would stop and point things out, he would pull up the “before” picture, to show us what it used to look like. It put a very human touch to the tour – really gave an idea of what they have been living with. One photo shows people in the town of Salem, which is outside the danger zone, going about their normal business while the volcano is blowing its stack in the background – you would think everyone would be panicking, running, but no, they were just ignoring it! Apparently because they have been living with a live volcano for 10+ years now, they get dozens of “events” every year, so it’s business as usual unless told otherwise.

Salem, living in the shadow of la Soufriere

The Soufrière volcano was dormant for 400 years, then woke up in 1995. In the 100 years leading up to 1995, the island’s main town of Plymouth had had several earthquakes and suffered some damage from them, but it was still a thriving town, the capital of Montserrat and it’s main sea port. In 1995 it had to be evacuated when the dormant volcano awoke, shooting a steam column thousands of feet into the air and roaring like a jet engine. It covered Plymouth and surrounding areas with thick ash clouds causing it to go dark for 15 minutes, and spreading ash for hundreds of miles in the air. Pyroclastic flows travelled into Plymouth and several nearby towns. Nineteen people were killed, and ten more went missing. From then on, the volcano has never been inactive, with dozens of “events” each year. Larger blasts that caused further damage occurred every couple of years, the last big one having been in 2010. In the early years, scientists put up a volcano monitoring station, the Montserrat Volcano Observatory, on a hill with a good view but a safe distance away. They monitor the volcano 24/7. We went there for a half-hour video presentation, which was very interesting, explaining the science and showing videos of the last blasts and the pyroclastic flows. This is not what you typically picture as lava coming out of a volcano. Pyroclastic flows are hot mixtures of rock fragments, gas, and ash that travel down the sides of the volcano on cushions of hot air. They look like avalanches, and travel at 160km/hr with temperatures around 800 degrees Celsius, destroying everything in their path. The videos of that were frightening indeed.

view from Montserrat Volcano Observatory

Looking down from the observatory deck, the hills and the valleys below now mostly all look incredibly lush and green. Joe, our tour guide pointed to a verdant area in a valley and showed us pictures of what it used to look like, full of houses, schools, churches etc., none of which could you see now. Then he pointed out what you could sort of see looked like it must be a river bed through the bottom of the valley, and told us he was taking us there, across the river, to see his former town of Cork Hill. The town is in the part of the exclusion zone that is accessible by day with a guide. So he drove us over what used to be the river, showing us photos of the former road and bridge to his town that are all buried under the pyroclastic flows.

Can you see the river bed in the bottom right corner?


crossing the buried river

Going up the hill from the river valley, he started pointing out the abandoned houses – you really had to look for them. In the ten years since they were evacuated, the jungle foliage has taken over and every house is hidden behind lush overgrowth, which was why we couldn’t see them from up top at the observatory. His town is still more or less standing, with a layer of only a foot or two of ash over it, but it is unfit for habitation because of the ongoing danger. His tour of his town, pointing out where he lived, where he and his son had gone to school, their church, all made it very real and personal, highlighting the human impact of the disaster.
Next he took us to a former condo development that borders on the part of the exclusion zone that is still completely off-limits.

We were able to walk into one of the apartments and stand on the balcony, which had a layer of fine ash on it, to look at the volcano and the massive destruction area of Plymouth. Incredible. You could see chimneys, smoke stacks, and a few roofs of taller buildings, but that was it – the rest was buried. I can’t even describe the extent of the devastation. A whole city, buried under tons of rock and ash.

A city lies beneath

We learned that prior to the volcano awakening, Montserrat’s population was about 12,000 people. About half the population lived in the danger zone, and had to be moved and put up in makeshift shelters in schools and churches on the north end of the island, which is protected from the volcano by mountains. After a while, a lot of those who had lost everything, their houses, jobs etc., started to leave the country and move to London. The population dropped by half and kept falling each year. Great Britain told the remaining residents that if the population of the island dropped below 1,500 people, that they would all be evacuated to London and the island abandoned. So the community leaders, who did not want this to happen, came up with plans to attract new residents from neighbouring islands, and managed to get the population up to its current level of about 5,000. There was lots of work to do re-building, and they started a new industry harvesting and sifting the pyroclastic flows to yield sand and gravel that they now ship all throughout the Caribbean for concrete mixing and construction use. Plus they have been building up tourism, with a new port and facilities for cruisers like us. Determined people, they are saving their island.
The next day we left port and sailed around the east side of the island on our way to Guadeloupe. This brought us by the other side of the volcano that we hadn’t seen the previous day. Again, fascinating to see the remnants. A whole airport disappeared, leaving not a trace of a tower or any other infrastructure.

The flow extended the shoreline a few hundred feet out from where our old charts show

The previous day we had been able to see the fissures up the sides of the volcano near the top that were emitting steam, but it would drift up and join with the clouds at the top, and it was hard to tell what was volcano steam versus clouds coming down over the top of the mountain. But this day was much clearer, and the steam vents much more obvious from our vantage point on the water. We sailed along the shore for a while before heading south towards Guadeloupe. After a while sailing, I looked back, and said to Matthew “have a look back at that volcano, I’m sure it wasn’t doing that while we were there”. Sure enough, it was now shooting a column of steam and ash straight up into the air. We watched as the darker ash spread out and rained down on part of the island before heading out to sea. The steam column would die down for a few minutes, then shoot up again. This went on for at least half an hour while we watched it through the binoculars. It created a mushroom-shaped cloud above the volcano. We actually got to see what they call an “event” with our own eyes! I was glad we were far away, but it was sure fascinating to watch.

The “non-event” volcanic event of Jan 21/17

The next day I checked out the Montserrat Volcano Observatory (MVO) Facebook page, and there were notices about the previous day’s activity, re-assuring everyone that it was perfectly normal, just an everyday event that perhaps had more people, even some from the other islands, concerned because they could see it more clearly and the wind direction had shifted. In other words, what to us was scary and exciting, was “business as usual” for the residents of Montserrat. Such resilience.