Ship's Log               s/v Uliad 

April 1:     

   If there's one thing that makes us crazy it's anchoring difficulties.  When your anchor won't hold, it's like getting a flat tire just a few miles before your destination.  It's tedious extra work just when you can almost taste that celebratory beer in the cockpit while watching the sunset.  But that's not even the worst part.   The worst part is that everyone is watching.  In a busy anchorage, all the eyes on all the boats are watching to see who is coming and what sort of sailors they are.  Will they anchor too close?  Will they run around and yell like buffoons?  Do they know what they're doing?  I admit we are guilty of enjoying the anchor show ourselves.  Of course objectively, we know that a certain percentage of your anchor attempts wont go perfectly.  It's easy to misjudge distances, unexpected wind gusts happen, and anchors just don't dig in to certain bottoms very well.

   So we sailed in to Road Town after a nice sail around St. John.  We thought about anchoring near the Fort Burt Marina but a glance around didn't show a lot of room.  So we sailed around a big cruise ship pier and anchored near another marina.  Three times we were unable to get our anchor to take hold!  And of course we were now sure that we were the afternoon's entertainment for dozens of cruise ship passengers.

   We sulked back over to the Fort Burt Marina with Kathleen offering her opinions of me as a sailor the whole way back.  We finally managed to drop anchor without further problems.  Except that when the wind pushed us around we were just drifting over into a buoyed "No Anchoring" area.  These buoys marked the take-off zone for a helicopter pad near the hospital.  But by now we were both so fried that, damn the anchor police, we were staying right here.  Any medivac flights that night were just going to have to look out for Uliad's mast!  Kathleen was fit to be tied and was sure that we have learned nothing about how to anchor after 2000 miles of sailing.  I tried to reason that a prudent mariner will patiently work for a secure anchor set no matter how long it takes...but reasoning was not exactly what Kathleen needed at that moment.

   We checked into the country and then went on to Fort Burt to take care of a bunch of business at Conch Charters.  We own a boat in their fleet that we've been trying to sell for nearly two years.  Our inspection showed why.  Shepherd was not being well cared for since we last saw her.  In one short day all of that relaxed attitude that cruising had brought us seemed to be evaporating.  And these British Virgin Islands that were once such an oasis for us now felt like a big pit of stress.

   We left the following afternoon and sailed up to Trellis Bay near the airport.  My Dad and brother were flying in for a visit and this secure bay was just the place to hole up from the strong winds being predicted.  Here, too we found the bay completely packed with charter boats on mooring balls with no room left to anchor.  We had to anchor in the outer entrance to the bay (hook caught on the first time!) and endured a rough night as the wind had really picked up.  And did I mention that we were once again anchored perilously close to the "No anchoring" buoys that mark the airport's flight path?

   The following morning when a bunch of charter boats all roared off to their next spot, we cruised in and took the calmest spot we could find.  The first mooring ball's rope was all chopped up where someone had driven over it with their prop.  "Oh boy, here we go again", I thought.  We really needed this to go easy.  Kathleen was noticing everyone's heads turn to watch us throughout the anchorage.  She probably felt like she was standing there naked on display.  So we went for the next closest ball.  Kathleen drove up and stopped perfectly at the mooring ball, despite the 25 knot winds.  I grabbed the pennant, looped a rope through, and tied it fast to a cleat in what I hope looked like the graceful motions of a seasoned mariner.  Whew!  Maybe we do know what we're doing after all.

   A few hours later we saw a big, fancy, brand new Oyster sailing yacht cruise slowly and confidently into the bay.  I remember having seen this boat way back in Annapolis, so the couple on board obviously had quite a few sea miles under their belt by now.  They turned smartly up to their chosen mooring ball...and missed it as the wind pushed their bow away too far for the wife to reach it with her boat hook.  They pulled forward to another ball and tried again.  Almost got it, but the wind again pulled the rope out of her hand before it could be made fast. 

   Kathleen and I quietly pointed out the "show" to each other.  We knew by now what they both were feeling...we had been in that situation too.  But sometimes you just can't help but feeling a delicious little twinge of delight at someone else's misfortune.  Because if it can happen to them in their big million dollar yacht, then maybe it's not such a bad thing if it happens to you, too.

   Finally, on the fourth try, they tied up to their mooring ball near ours.  The lady on the foredeck threw her boat hook down on the deck and stomped back to the cockpit.  A few curt words were directed at the captain which were regrettably unable to be heard from our cockpit.  She then descended into their floating mansion, not to show her face on deck again for the remains of the day.  Her husband sat behind his shiny helm and looked around sullenly.  We pretended not to notice but Kathleen couldn't help but look over and give a wink and a smile.  Which might be a bit catty and mean, but hey, we've been there too. 




April 3:     

   There's this place we know called Peter Island.  It sits about 5 miles or so across the water from Tortola.  The whole island is owned by a small, ultra exclusive, ultra luxurious resort in the north east corner of the island.  The rest lies like an untouched jewel floating in an aquamarine sea.  (Well, except for one old fisherman who still lives there, grandfathered in by some ancient deed...but that's another day's story.)   In a part of the world where every valuable piece of land with a beach or a view has been gobbled up for vacation homes, the tranquil simplicity of a nearly deserted island is truly remarkable.

   Peter Island Resort sits on Deadman's Bay--a stretch of beach that inevitably finds its way onto the list every time a travel magazine cobbles together another article titled something like "The world's 10 most beautiful beaches".  On the far end of this perfect tropical beach sits a little cove with enough anchoring room for a few sailboats to hide from the trade winds behind a windswept hill.  The resort staff maintains a few palapas and lounge chairs down in this corner--probably to keep the sailors from wandering down to the area used by the paying guests.  The water here is usually crystal-clear enough to watch the Hawksbill turtles browsing through a meadow of turtle grass below.  The air smells absolutely pure after its long march across the Atlantic.  The only sound is of that air rustling the palm trees and sea grape shrubs above, and the waves rhythmically massaging that sugary white sand in front of you.

   It's a beautiful and remarkable spot.  One that we have often spent all day admiring.  It lies close to Roadtown, so our tradition when we sailed regularly down here was to spend our last night at Peter Island.  I remember many mornings sitting on this beach, trying to make this moment soak in every possible drop of it's splendor before we begrudgingly had to sail back and resume our normal lives. 

   My Mom fell in love with this spot, too.  (Everyone does)  And so, this leads me to the reason we battled 25 knot winds to come back to this spot today.  My Mom...who I can still see sitting in that beach chair over there in the shade of that sea grape tree that has grown even bigger now.  My Mom...who I can still see splashing in the water with Emmett, looking to be the happiest lady in the world.  My Mom, who just a month after her last trip to this amazing place, at the age of 58, was diagnosed with a fatal brain tumor...

   She fought on for years, through radiation and chemo.  She never stopped to wallow in self pity.  She taught Kathleen and I the importance of not putting things off until some hazy tomorrow.  She saw Emmett grow a bit more.  She died.  She donated her body to science.  But she never made it back to this amazingly beautiful spot that she loved so much.

   Until today.  My Dad and Brother flew in a few days ago, bringing along a cardboard box mailed by Mayo Medical School last year.  Inside, a shiny plastic box with Mom's name taped on the front.  Inside that, a plastic bag sealed with a metal tag bearing only a number.  Inside that, a white powder so fine it turned to smoke when you held it up to the wind. 

   We climbed that windswept hill and looked down on Deadman's Bay.  It occurred to me only now how ironic the name of this place is.  We tossed Mom's ashes to the trade winds to be carried down across the bay.  We watched the white powder dissipate and become part of the air of this place, part of the green foliage on the hills, part of the white sand beach, part of the turquoise blue waters.  We said goodbye once again.

Scattering Mom's ashes over Deadman's Bay

   Holding a now tearful Emmett in my arms, we walked quietly and separately back down the rutted trail to the beach.  I sat for a while in "Mom's" chair and looked out at the sea...taking it all in.  Trying to make those memories soak in every possible drop of this place once again.



April 5:    


     Having finished that task, we moved on down the shore of Peter Island to Great Harbor.  This broad, deep bay is surrounded by tall green hills.  The only sounds are the wind and the occasional wild goat roaming the hills.  It's a spot favored by the large yachts and small cruise ships that ply these waters, so we had to work through them to find a spot to anchor in about 50 feet of water.  We got to use some anchor chain that usually sits dry on the bottom of the locker!

    On the far end of this bay we noted a little stretch of white sand and a little beach bar that had sprung up since our last visit here.  Curious, we set out to see what had been built here.  What was once a run down, abandoned shack was now freshly painted in a fun yellow.  A dock was being used by the cruise ship tender to offload passengers who were slowly spreading out across the beach.   I swear they scowled as they passed by.   We tied off on the dock to have a look and soon noticed a handsome young islander in a neatly pressed uniform ambling down the path toward us.  Soon he greeted us with a big smile and said, "You see mon, here is the situation.  The beach is for a private function today.  The cruise ship should be leaving about 4 o'clock you know.  So maybe you'd like me to make a reservation for you at 4:30 or so.  Should I make you a nice dinner reservation, Mon?"  I have never been told that I was unwelcome in such a polite and friendly manner. 

    We passed on the dinner reservation and set out to explore the rest of the bay in our dinghy.  At the opposite side were some decaying fishing boats and nets scattered on a rocky beach.  I remembered seeing local fishermen here years ago, but they'd have a hard time laying a net today amongst all the mega-yachts.  A footpath was marked by a large "Keep Out" sign.  So we contented ourselves with the waterfront, watching the pelicans dive for fish.

    Soon a little weathered old man came shuffling down the path.  He carried a piece of driftwood and by the way he tapped it in front of him we quickly deduced that he was nearly blind.  We said hello and learned that he had lived his entire life in a little house up the trail, making a living by fishing the way his father had done.  Conrad Smith was the last of the native fishermen on Peter Island.  When he learned we had a child back on our boat he quickly insisted we go back and get him so Conrad could show us around.  When we returned with Emmett, he charged down to the beach and grabbed hold of our dinghy and gave orders as to where and how high to pull the dinghy up.  At 74 years old, the guy still knew how to haul a boat so we pretty much did what he said.  

   We wandered off on our tour.  First stop:  Conrad tapped apologetically at the Keep Out sign and mumbled something about some very rude French people last year.  "But", he said as his face lit up, "I give you permission!  Any time you want, you come down the trail."   He went on to show Emmett where he played cricket and spun tops as a boy, where they dug a salt water trench to keep the mosquitoes down, where they kept goats that have now wandered off and gone wild.  Kathleen went into social work mode, gently inquiring whether he has family around and who brings him groceries.  I reminisced with him about how Great Harbor had changed.  Years ago, it was probably him I had watched patiently laying out nets in the bay.  I asked about a shark that was once rumored to have lived in Great Harbor.  "Yes, we caught him a few years back", he said with glee, "9 foot long he was.  I think maybe a bull shark." 

Clarence SmithClarence at his home on Peter Island

   After a long chat with Conrad, we walked on to Peter Island Resort, but as we rounded the corner, we thought better of it.  Rain was starting to sprinkle down, and to be honest, we weren't really sure why we'd want to go up to the resort anyway.  So we walked back to Conrad's house and hung out with him for a bit longer.  When we finally had to go he reminded us again to come back.  "When you do, I give you permission to come up my trail!", were his departing words.

   One thing that has impressed us as we travelled through the islands is the warmth, friendliness, and good manners of the people living in remote places.  With lots of time to hone the art of conversation, and little exposure to outsiders, most islanders are a pleasure to get to know.  Now we find the converse is true also.  Americans (at least tourists who come with their usual habits) often seem ornery, rushed, and inexplicably rude when we see them now.  Americans seem this way to the Caribbean islanders as well.  And in places where there are lots of tourists, the locals have learned to be cool and distant, if not downright spiteful toward the rich boors they are forced to accommodate.

   The BVI has staked its future on attracting the high-end wealthy Western tourist.  And their own culture has changed as a result.  The old BVI and the new BVI could be summed up by the opposite ends of this little bay.  On one side, the allure of luxury and exclusiveness are maintained by Islanders who will happily and politely take your money, but never let their guard down or show their true selves to the tourists.  It's an Us and Them world.

   On the other side of the bay lies the dying way of life of old Conrad Smith--a subsistence fisherman.  A guy who is clearly happy in his life, despite his impoverishment.  A man who, despite his "Keep Out" sign, never learned to distance himself from a stranger who might happen upon his beach.



April 7:    


   We have continued to be plagued with high winds all this week.  The weather forecast sounds like it will start calming down in another couple days.  In the mean time, our main task is to find anchorages calm enough to be comfortable.  Great Harbor was nice in this regard, but we were looking for a little variety.  We moved on to a little spot called Key Point.  We had done some nice snorkeling here in the past, but today found the water visibility was not so great due to all the turbulence.  There were still plenty of big conch living here though, just like we remembered.

   Key Point also proved to be way to rolly, so we next tried White Bay.  This is another lovely, secluded beach.  My friend Eric proposed to his wife here many years ago on a sailing trip.  The Peter Island resort now shuttles its guests over the hill to this beach, so it's not as private as it once was.  But it's just as lovely. 

   We took a nice snorkel around here and found  a family of four sharksucker fish and a large school of sardines living in the shade of Uliad.  The bottom was littered with the detritus of many years of charter boats who did not use enough clothespins:  Swim suits, towels, and hats were scattered about on the sand.  None looked decent enough to consider taking for my own use, however. 

   But White Bay still had a roll to it, so the next day we ended up going back to Great Harbor, and then on to Road Town after that.  My brother Mike had to catch a flight home, and we needed to finish up some business at Conch Charters.


April 9:     


    We showed Mike to his taxi and sent him back to the USA.  Then Kath and I had the job of cleaning up our old boat Shepherd.  It was pretty neglected looking when we arrived.  It had been used in charter up until last fall, and looked like it had bee ignored ever since.  Well, it was ignored except when the charter staff needed a part.  There were all kinds of things that had gone missing from our boat including a dinghy and outboard motor!  There was mold, rust, and crud growing in various places and we could see right away that nobody was going to buy this boat the way it was now looking.  So we spend a day cleaning up, putting things where they belong, and raising hell with the charter company.

   Their first explanation was that the dinghy had "just worn out" in the sun and was put on the junk pile.  When I asked them to get my dinghy from the junk pile, they looked around and started mumbling about all the work it would take to dig through the pile.  Then they decided that I was welcome to take any dinghy I wanted from the junk pile.  "Are you sure it might not have gone on to be used by other boats on charter?" I inquired.

   "Oh, no, Steve.  We never ever do that." I was told repeatedly.

    "Well then, if my dinghy wore out, show me my outboard.  And while you're at it, give me the oars and anchor and stuff that came with my dinghy.  Surely those didn't wear out."  A trip through the Conch Charter grounds turned up no outboard motor.  A day and a few calls later and the new explanation was given:

    "It appears that, without our knowledge, the staff sent your outboard on charter this week.  Had I known I would have certainly not allowed it!" the guy blabbered on.  So by the end of the day, Conch Charters felt like such idiots that they managed to find an outboard motor and a working dinghy for me.  And they came up with all the inventory of the boat that it is supposed to have.  We went out for one last sail on Shepherd with Dan and Derek from Ultima Noche who have been interested in buying or delivering her.  By then, we had the boat looking pretty good, but not good enough for them to make a good offer.  So we ended up accepting a low-ball offer from a Dutch guy who will be coming in next weekend to take a look at her.  If we can't sell it to him, we're going to have the boat delivered to Florida and try to sell her there.  Anything to get it out of Conch Charter's hands.

   This whole saga has combined with several other issues to leave us feeling as stressed out as we have been since leaving Wisconsin.  There was the whole thing with scattering Mom's ashes, and also I've accepted a job this summer working in rural New Mexico for a couple of months.  So I've had a flurry of paperwork to get done to apply for a medical license and hospital staff privileges in that state.  Somehow the whole work and money thing has re-entered my consciousness lately and it's not a good thing.  Funny how quickly the "real world" has become so utterly un-appealing.



April 10:   

   After finishing our business in Roadtown, we sailed up to North Sound on the island of Virgin Gorda.   This well protected harbor is where we planned to wait for good conditions to cross the Anegada passage to St. Martin.  It is the home of several ritzy resorts that look out on the sound and its unbelievably blue waters.  Sitting on the beach, I am amazed that the electric blue color of a snow-cone is actually found in nature.  I found a shady, comfy beach chair and read a book all afternoon while Emmett swam and played with some other kids on the float toys provided by the resort.  By the end of the day, I think I've managed to de-stress myself again.

    While I watched Em, Kathleen was back on the boat making water and doing laundry all afternoon.  I think I got the better part of that deal.  But when doing my usual daily engine checks, I found that water is getting into the crankcase of the generator somehow.  Damn!  It's always something!.

    So it looks like my first job in St. Martin will be to hire a diesel mechanic.  After reading my diesel engine books it sounds like all the possible causes of water in the crankcase are going to be beyond my skill level.  Until then, I informed Kathleen that she'll have to stop doing laundry and making water.  Somehow she did not share my level of annoyance. 



April 11:   


    The weather looked right:  15 knot winds and 3-5 foot seas in the Anegada Passage.  So we made ready and headed out of North Sound at about 5pm.  The first few miles were rough as the open Atlantic seas bunched up on the shallow waters approaching the Virgin Islands.  Worse still, the wind was right on our nose meaning we'd be pounding into these close set waves all the way there.  I was starting to feel pretty sorry for us and hoping that conditions would improve farther offshore when, ZING!   My reel sang out to tell us that we had a fish on.  I promptly reeled in a beautiful two foot long albacore tuna, calmed it with a shot of alcohol to the gills, and had it filleted into several platter sized slabs of meat just before the sun went down.

   Now anyone who has ever enjoyed a sushi restaurant will know just how delicious raw tuna is.  And I think albacore is one of the best of all.  As I sliced off the meat from the bone I couldn't help but steal a few slices of the freshest sashimi that any man has ever eaten.  It tasted like the pure sea that it swam in only a few minutes ago.  The rest went in the refrigerator.  It will be our dinner to celebrate arriving in St. Martin.

   The night progressed to show us the most amazing display of stars in the sky, and an almost as amazing display of cruise ship lights on the horizon.  We must have had 3 or 4 cruise ships in sight at any given time most of the night...including one on my Dad's watch that passed within a quarter mile of us.  I was sleeping in the cockpit and woke up to a dream that our prop shaft had fallen out and Emmett was crying and the boat would sink if I didn't do something.

   My relief that the dream was not true quickly disappeared as I saw the lights of a huge ship just ahead and to starboard of us.  "Dad!" I cried, "that ship's getting pretty close!"

   "Oh, yes," he replied calmly, "I've been watching him for a while now".  I blinked a few times trying to wake up.  After charging down to the radar and punching a few buttons I reassured myself that we were not on a collision course and went back to sleep.  I'd like to think that some supernatural sailor sense told me there was a problem in my dreams and woke me up, but I doubt that's true.

    By late morning, we were bobbing at anchor in Simpson Bay, St. Maarten.  This island is French territory on it's northern half (Saint Martin) and Dutch on its southern half (Sint Maarten).  We have anchored on the French side before, but the combination of a northerly swell predicted and my need for an English speaking diesel mechanic led us to choose the Dutch side this time.  For reasons that are not entirely clear to me, this Dutch territory speaks English and uses the US dollar as currency.  Go figure.



April 12:   


   Well the glass is either half full or half empty, depending upon how one looks at it.  Just before we left on our crossing to St Maarten I noticed that the oil level had risen on the dipstick of our diesel generator.  That's a bad thing.  It doesn't mean that I'll no longer have to add oil to the engine.  It generally means that either unburned diesel or water is leaking into the crankcase somewhere.  So after draining the oil, it appears now that it is a water leak and I'm going to need a mechanic to take apart the generator and fix the leak.

   So this is a bad thing.  The good thing is that it happened just as we arrived in St. Maarten, which is the biggest yachting center since Ft. Lauderdale.  There are probably a half dozen diesel shops within a dinghy ride from Uliad, and within an hour of setting out, I had an appointment set up for a marine diesel mechanic to come out and look things over first thing Monday morning.

   So that's a good thing.  After accomplishing that, I started writing out the rest of my plans while in St. Martin.  With all the well stocked, duty free boat supply stores here, I can find all I need to make a few other minor repairs on board.  It looks like we'll be here a few days now, so I quickly came up with about a dozen other projects that I no longer have an excuse to put off any longer.  So that's not such a good thing.  I'll be working my butt off here. 

   This morning we planned to go to the outdoor market in Marigot on the French side of the island.  Ladies come on the ferry from Guadeloupe with spices and fresh tropical fruits, fishermen bring in their freshest catch, and the usual assortment of t-shirt and jewelry sellers all gather here twice a week.  Even if we didn't need anything, it's fun to stroll around and take in the scene.  We weren't disappointed.  A fishermen had a big bull shark and was chopping up steaks for people.  We found it sufficient to examine a large decapitated shark head still patiently waiting for a buyer.  The fish was going fast, and the meat counters were already looking pretty picked over, but then I noticed two goats tied to a tree near the "butcher shop" and we decided not to stand around while they replenished their supplies!

   We did fill our bag with some beautiful mangoes, plantains, and tomatoes before moving on to wander the picturesque streets of this town.  It looks like a little village on the French Riviera, dropped into the Caribbean.  We stopped at a little bakery for a lunch of quiche and croissants and added a fresh from the oven French baguette to our shopping bag.

   The bad thing about our market trip was that, after several months building up my Spanish speaking skills, I suddenly found myself at a loss to remember even the most basic French phrases.  The market ladies all chatted away in English, so it wasn't really an issue, but jeez!  I guess there's only room in my brain for one foreign language at a time. 

   On the way back to Uliad, we ran across our friends on Migo and Independence and wasted some more time catching up with all of them.  They are both boats with children, so Em is now excited to start planning play dates again!  By mid afternoon, after finding good friends, good food, and good times, I could hardly even remember the big headache that lay lurking in my engine room.  So for now, the glass is half full.




April 15:   

    If you ever get a sailboat, here are three things that you absolutely must own:  a Leatherman Wave multi-tool, a multiple tip screwdriver, and Nigel Calder's book The Boat Owner's Electrical and Mechanical Guide.  There is a sick pleasure that one gets from having the right tools, and the ability to use them.  Sick, because to get the aforementioned opportunity, something must first be broken.

My three favorite tools

    One simple thing that was broken was a little button on the helm that you push to turn off the engine.  It had corroded and no longer worked, forcing me to go down below to the pilothouse to push it's twin button there.  This seemed like a simple enough thing to fix so.  I pulled out my screwdriver and removed the panel.  You would think that a boat builder would gather his team at the beginning of a project and say something like, "OK guys, listen here.  A sailor shouldn't have to carry 6 different screwdrivers around all the time, so on this boat, we're only going to use Phillips head screws."  No. They never have that conversation with their workmen.  So as a result you might remove a cover held in place with large Phillips head screws, then open something underneath with small blade screws, then notice that a nearby object has square plug get the picture. 

   Hence the need for a giant bag of screwdrivers wherever you go until some genius invented the multi-tip driver.  For some reason it is the most used tool on my boat, and usually the first thing I reach for whenever I get the hankering to fix something.  In no time at all I had the helm panel off, the old switch out and I was crimping on a new waterproof switch.  As I reached for my beloved screwdriver to put it all back together, I thought I'd better just make sure it all worked.  Well, the button worked, but now my tachometer read zero.  And my engine start battery wasn't charging.  Hmmm.  Next came my Leatherman multitool.  I'd have this on my belt all the time if the swimsuits I usually wear had belt loops.  There were a few corroded terminals by the switch that I cleaned up with the file and then reconnected with the pliers and tried again.  Nothing. Time to go get my friend Nigel.

    As I climbed into bed,  I pulled the Nigel Calder book down from it's shelf on my bedside.  Kathleen has probably come to recognize this as a sign that not all is well onboard Uliad.  This thick book goes through methodically all the different systems on board a modern yacht, be they electrical, mechanical, plumbing, steering, hydraulic, or whatever.  After explaining how it all works, it then goes on to troubleshoot the myriad of problems that can arise and offers just enough advice to render courage for one who might attempt a repair.  Usually (although not always) this is a good thing.

    So I read on about alternators and how they run the tachometer and a whole variety of tests that can be done with the voltmeter to track down the problem and concluded that tomorrow morning, I'd just pop in my spare alternator and see if that does the trick.  Then I went on to read about water in the crankcase.  A few selected paragraphs from this book led me to a intimate knowledge of the several ways this can happen and led me to conclude that my problem was most likely a failed seal on my raw water pump.  If you must know, this is a little pump attached to the engine which pulls salt water in from a hose to then cool the heat exchanger.  Fresh water/coolant then goes out a separate circuit to keep the engine running cool and comfy in its hot hole of an engine room.

    I went to sleep and worried about it no more.  The following morning, I got up bright and early and had my spare alternator installed on the main engine before breakfast.  By the time the diesel mechanic arrived , I already had a layer of warm engine dirt under my nails.  I now felt as if we were like brothers.  I explained my suspicions, hoping to impress him with my newfound knowledge from last night's reading.  After peppering me with a few questions, he ended up arriving at the same conclusion I had:  there must be salt water leaking into the oil from the raw water pump.  He then began to dismantle the engine, first revealing a disgusting grey sludge underneath the valve cover.  He then moved on to the errant pump and after removing it, we confirmed obvious signs of failed, rusty bearings inside.  "Do you have a spare pump?" he inquired.

   I went on to dig under Emmett's bunk to fetch the plastic tub that held spare parts for the generator.  I was pretty sure I remembered seeing a water pump in there.  I arrived back a few minutes later hoping the mechanic did not notice that this tub full of engine parts was the most un-manly shade of pink and would probably be better suited to holding curlers and mascara than engine parts.  (To my credit, I inherited the pink box from Uliad's previous owner--an Italian art dealer who probably carefully selected this box to match the hideous pink cockpit cushions that we immediately discarded after purchase.)  Inside my effeminate spare parts tub I found a heavy object wrapped in a rag and labeled "raw water pump--needs overhaul".  Next to it was a brand new box labeled "raw water pump overhaul kit".  I held them up with a guilty smile.  I don't know if the mechanic's wry look was directed at my un-overhauled pump or the girly-pink box it lived in.  Clearly we were no longer engine brothers.

   Ultimately I ended up going to a shop about 100 yards from Uliad to buy a brand new pump.  The Westerbeke parts dealer then described to me how the pump had been redesigned to prevent the frequent failures seen in the past from my old design.  So that was nice to know that it wasn't just me.  With the new pump installed, I changed out the contaminated oil and set about running the engine all day under load to try to steam out as much of the water inside the engine as possible.  As we were standing around watching the valves clack away, I gathered up the courage to ask about my failed attempt to fix the tachometer problem.  The tach still wasn't working after changing that damned "Stop" button. 

   He listened to me and my white collar whining, took one look at the shiny new alternator attached to the engine, grabbed a wire on the back and gave it a yank.  "Hey!", I almost said out loud as the wire popped free from its crimp. 

   "Looks like that wire wasn't connected very well.  That was probably your problem, " he muttered.  He left me some instructions about oil changes, and packed up his tools to go.  I suspect he couldn't wait to get back to the shop to tell the boys about the idiot on Uliad with his pink box of broken parts. 

    Meanwhile I kept looking at my two old pumps and my rebuild kit.  After consulting a few diagrams in my engine manual and pouring myself a strong rum & coke, I set to work.  I ended up taking apart the two pumps, cleaning the housing well, and using the kit to rebuild one of them.   And damned if the whole thing didn't go back together and work just as good as new.  This then went back into the pink tub all ready to go in the unfortunate event I should need it.  If only that mechanic could see me now!

    I could end the story here, but it gets better.  I re-crimped that errant wire on the back of the alternator and still no luck.  But I had a back-up plan.  Our friend Patrick on "Migo" used to work as a diesel mechanic so I begged him to come over and help.  He came by later that day and politely checked a few voltages with my voltmeter behind the panel.  He muttered a few "mmm-hmm"s, wrinkled his brow, and walked over to the alternator.  Looking down at it he reached down and grabbed the wire right next to the one my last mechanic had indicted, gave it a tug...and nothing.  He grabbed harder and gave a bigger tug and the wire popped loose.  "I think your problem is this loose wire back here", he said. 

   To my credit, this wire was corroded inside a plastic plug and was not one that I had just connected!  Nonetheless, I tried to look surprised at this diagnostic technique.  5 minutes later, the wires were all reattached, the engine started, and everything worked like a champ.  Guess I'd better stick to medicine. 



April 16:   

   After my first fiasco at attempting to fix a switch you'd think I'd leave things alone for a while.  Unfortunately, though, the head was starting to leak so my next job was to take apart the pump that flushes our toilet and rebuild that.  It's a shitty job, but someone had to do it.  This time everything went well and our head is once again a pleasure to operate.

   Other projects undertaken while in St. Martin include some little wood projects on deck, lubricating the outboard motor, replacing a couple fans, and procuring a list of spare parts we needed from the boat stores.  I've also been dealing with paperwork: taxes, medical license applications, and reservations for this summer's haul out in Trinidad.  Still to be done is a trip to the grocery store to reprovision the boat and a good thorough cleaning.  St. Maarten has been a lot of work and by now I'm looking forward to moving on to a quiet isolated beach somewhere. 

   Kathleen and Emmett, for their part, have been sick with colds that Emmett probably picked up from the kids in the BVI he was playing with.  So while Kathleen lies in bed recovering, it actually makes it easier for me to spread out all my junk in the main cabin to work on fixing things. 

   Nearby is a video store which we have been frequenting to give my family something to do on their sickbeds.   Having been away so long, we don't know a thing about any of the movie titles at the theatre here, but the "New Releases" section is now full of dozens of movies we'd been wanting to see.   My prescription for movie therapy seems to be working.  Kathleen felt well enough to come along to pick out a couple new movies today.  Hopefully by the time she finishes those, she'll be back at full strength.  Before her cold, Kathleen has been making noise about starting some varnishing projects.  And she also sewed up a rip on one of our flags.  (We will now stop to catch our breath because any of you who know my wife will be struck breathless at the thought that she's started sewing.  Here is the photographic proof:)

 Kathleen sews a flag hem

   So anyway, before she gets back to full health, I'd better get this mess in the main cabin cleaned up.



April 19:    

   St. Maarten is an island of cruise ships, casinos, mega-resorts, and duty-free jewelry shops.  It's full of traffic, hot, dusty and generally a mess.  It is a great place to get boat projects done, due to all the yacht related services here, however.  Aside from that, the only other thing we've found to love about St. Marten is its bakeries.

   Ever since leaving the United States, we've been mostly making do with sad white bread from local bakeries and grocery stores.  The words "whole wheat" apparently do not translate into Dominican Spanish.  I have been craving a good crusty loaf of bread for much so that I had made it a pet project of mine to learn how to make decent bread in my tiny galley ever since Christmas.  (For my best advice on this, click HERE)

   But the northern half of this island is French.  And the French take their baking very seriously.  One thing the French have learned in this regard is that good bread must be fresh.  Fresh to the degree that there is a bakery almost on every block in any town.  And apparently, there are so many French bakers who would like to live on a tropical island that this is not only true on the French side of this island, but also on the Dutch side.

   These French bakeries pump out warm, golden baguettes all day long filling the air with its sweet, unmistakable aroma.  They also make a smattering of other artisan loaves, fresh croissants until noon, and the most luscious assortment of French pastries you could imagine.  And often they accessorize with sidewalk tables and fresh espresso to wash down whatever it was that you just couldn't resist from behind the counter.  It is a nirvana for the bread-starved sailor. 

   Lately we've been living on French baked goods:  Pain Chocolat for breakfast...quiches and tartlets and sandwiches for lunch, fresh loaves of bread with dinner (or FOR dinner).  And now we've found a bakery that also makes their own ice creams and sorbets for dessert in case we're too full to order the fruit tart or the mille fuielle or the cream puff and so on. 

   Yes, St. Martin is a great place to work on your boat and a great place to get fat.  Fortunately, the boat projects seem to be coming to an end now, so there may be a chance for us to get out of here before I can't fit into my shorts any more.  So far I've been saved by the fact that my wallet is shrinking at a rate equal to the growth of my waistline...but that can't go on forever!

   On a more serious note, we were rammed by another boat today.  I have to relate the story second hand, as Emmett and I had gone on a run this morning to, yes, the French bakery when it happened.  Kathleen was down below and felt the boat bump on something.  She came up to find the boat anchored behind us banging into our stern davits and then bouncing off to the side.  The skipper of the other boat stood on the bow in his underwear and started berating Kathleen for dragging anchor back into him.  While trying not to stare at his tighty panty undies, she calmly pointed out that we've been here for over a week and we were still in the same spot relative to all the other boats around us.  (Furthermore, there was hardly any wind this morning.)  Anyway, after he took a deep breath and looked around he finally figured out that he had started his engine to charge his batteries and didn't realize that he had his boat in gear.  So he slowly motored foreword on his anchor until he ran into our stern!

   Kathleen went below to get on the radio to call some friends.  I'm not sure if she was looking for me or just wanting to tell someone what an idiot we had parked near us.   As she was telling the story (to the whole anchorage, probably) the guy rowed over to quickly apologize.  Kathleen reports she popped her head up just long enough to notice that he did put some pants on before coming over.  I returned shortly after this and noted that "Captain Underpants" hid below in his cabin for the remains of the day.

   Uliad, for what it's worth, has two small scratches in the paint on the starboard davit.  Since we're planning to repaint the whole boat in a few months anyway, I'm having a hard time getting too upset about it.



April 22:  


  We had only planned to stay in St. Maarten for a couple of days.  Between Kathleen and Emmett catching a cold, repair projects, and those addictive French bakeries, we've now been lingering here for a week and a half.  Most of the other boats with kids that we know have arrived here and gotten equally mired down in projects.  The trouble is, St. Maarten is a terrible place for kids.  There are no playgrounds anywhere.  The traffic is terrible.  Its hot and dusty all afternoon.  Em and I finally took the dinghy out of the lagoon to find a beach to swim at for a while yesterday.  It was just enough to remind me that we need to get out of here.

   Our last chores before leaving were to get groceries and fuel up the boat--and now we were motivated to get it done.  The best, largest stores on St. Maarten are near the main city of Phillipsburg, so we decided to rent a car for the day.  I walked into "Paradise Car Rental" as it was quite near the dinghy dock and $25 later I was issued yet another Daihatsu Charade.  The same tiny tin can of a car that we rented in the Turks & Caicos.  This car is not available in the USA--undoubtedly the NTSB would have a good laugh at its total uncrashworthiness.  But in the overcrowded streets of St. Maarten, traffic tends to  creep along at about walking pace.  We decided to take our chances.

    Our first stop was the "Top Carrot"--a juice bar at the Simpson Bay Marina.  Our latest addiction is their lime-mint smoothie.  Then the hardware store and the boat store where we got a copy of the available paint colors for our boat.  We're planning to repaint Uliad this summer and my style-conscious wife needs to know her options!

    Finally we arrived at "Cost U Less", which is a Costco style warehouse store with great prices on bulk groceries.  We loaded down the poor little Daihatsu Charade with as much as it could hold and then, like the little engine that could, we chugged our load up and over the hill that separates Phillipsburg from Simpson Bay.   Kathleen then set to working her organizing and packing magic to stuff it all away on Uliad.   

    About this time, Jenny from Independence stopped by to let us know that they were planning to leave St. Maarten in the morning and were trying to get ready to make the 4pm bridge opening to leave the lagoon.  We were also planning to leave for St. Barth tomorrow...Kathleen and I looked at each other and thought out loud, "Why don't we get ready for the 4pm bridge opening, too?"

    A few minutes of crazed rushing around ensued trying to get things ready when it struck me:  The bridge opens tomorrow morning too!  Why stress out and rush...we can slow down and live the leisurely life we imagined and still get out of St. Maarten in the morning.  Kath quickly agreed and we ended up having a nice relaxed evening, and a good night's sleep.  After 7 months of this, we're finally learning to take life at a more leisurely pace...and how much happier we are for it! 



April 23:   

   It turned out that we made the right decision to slow down and spend one more night in the lagoon.  We later heard from Independence and Someday Came that the anchorage outside was horribly rolly.  Nobody got any sleep, and Independence finally left at about 4am for Barbuda, figuring that if they can't sleep, they may as well start moving toward somewhere they could.

   For our part, we motored over to the marina to fill up with diesel.  Kathleen always gets anxious about docking and today was no different.  To only underline the concern, as we approached the fuel dock we noticed a large area of dock on a neighboring pier that lay in splinters after apparently being rammed by a boat.  We ended up docking just fine, although Kathleen still felt we left room for improvement.  I pointed to the sagging dock behind us and insisted that any time THAT doesn't happen is a good docking.

   I filled the starboard tank with $350 worth of fuel while Kath and Emmett walked down to the Top Carrot for one last lime-mint smoothie.  We then left the dock flawlessly and just in time to get in line for the boat parade leaving the lagoon at 9am.  Once under the drawbridge, we felt for ourselves the slow rolling seas that were keeping everyone up last night.  I cleared out of immigration and soon we were sailing off to St. Barth.

   By early afternoon we had arrived in Anse Colombier--a beautiful, quiet bay on the north side of St. Barth.  The waters here are crystal clear, allowing a clear view of all the hawksbill turtles that use the bay as a big snack bar.  Ashore lies a long swath of sandy beach perfect for lounging on to watch the sunset.  It was in this spot two years ago that Kathleen and I agreed to this plan to go sailing, and the magical allure this bay held then quickly returned.

   Moored nearby we found Independence, who had abandoned their upwind sail to Barbuda and stopped here to wait for more favorable weather.  Then a few hours later Someday Came pulled in with their two kids.  After being cooped up in St. Maarten so long, the kids were all overjoyed to be able to run wild on the beach all day. 

   On the beach this evening, I thought back to two years ago when Kathleen leaned over and agreed to this dream.  We had done it.  We were here and we were full time, world cruisers.  And moments like this are exactly what one dreams of when concocting such a plan:  A beautiful beach, warm blue waters, a cool breeze, and the family laughing, playing, and sharing it all together.



April 25:   

     We spent most of yesterday socializing with the other boats here.  Emmett had Ben (from Independence) and Caroline (from Someday Came) over to swim and swing off our bow on a long rope to drop into the water.  This kept them busy for a good hour or so before they retired to the shade to play Hot Wheels.

     Then in the evening Independence had all the grown ups over for cocktails under the stars on the bow of their catamaran.  After shopping in St. Martin, all of our holds are filled with French wines and cheeses to make such events all the more extravagant.   Although we tend to hang out with the boats we've known for a while, I also noticed a Canadian family pull in with two little girls and a Norwegian boat with three blonde boys running around on deck.  We've definitely started encountering a lot more European flagged boats now.  I've made a mental note to get out and meet them.  

     Ahh, St. Barth.  The luckiest Caribbean Isle.  With no fresh water source and no fertile soils, St. Barth had little value to the colonial powers that divided up and fought over everything down here in the 17th century.  In 1782, King Louis of France gave St. Barth to his friend King Gustav of Sweden like one might give a cup of coffee to a visiting friend.  Perhaps I love St. Barth so much because it is the only Caribbean island with Scandinavian heritage.

   The Swedes took one look at the beautiful, protected harbor of Gustavia, rolled up their sleeves, and set to work building a pretty little town and a free port here for ships.  Having grown up amongst the children of Swedish and Norwegian immigrant farmers in Minnesota, I can just imagine their quiet, stoic, efficient labors in the hot sun, getting done what needed to be done.

    A hundred years later, France purchased the island back.  By now the island was quite prosperous, with 6,000 inhabitants.  I imagine Sweden turned a tidy profit on the deal.  Aside from the Swedish names to the streets here, those stoic Scandinavian immigrants would have a hard time recognizing their imprint on the island's culture.  St. Barth today is cool, chic, and dripping with money.  Multi-millionaires line up their mega yachts along the waterfront for easy access to the designer shops one block up.  Beautiful women sunbathe topless on the beaches and wander the town wearing only slightly more.  While trying not to stare, I think to myself, "I'm pretty sure they're not wearing THAT outfit in Stockholm!"

   Combining the general exclusiveness of Gustavia's shops with the weak dollar this year, and we didn't find much we could afford.  It was still fun to wander through the Euro-boutiques and admire all the fashionable things that you can't get in an American mall.  It was still fun to sit at a waterfront bar sipping a cold drink feeling trendy just for being here.  We all splurged on crepes for lunch in a little cafe and then went back to Uliad for a quiet evening.

   The world is an unpredictable place.  Nobody would have guessed 200 years ago that this little island would become the sparkling diamond it is today.  Just like a Scandinavian-American kid growing up surrounded by Midwest cornfields would never guess that one day he'd be kicking back aboard his yacht, anchored off the island of St. Barth. 



April 27:   

     At the crack of dawn we were up and getting the ship ready to sail.  Our intended destination was Montserrat, an ambitious 75 miles away.  The sail was wonderful, with flat seas, a cloudy (but not rainy)sky, and a fair wind.  After sailing upwind for so long, we had forgotten how nice it can be to sail along on other directions!  Emmett, Kathleen, and I soon each settled into a good book to pass the time. 

    By noon it became clear, however, that at our current pace we wouldn't reach Montserrat until well after dark.  So we ended up bearing off to head for the island of Nevis instead.  No fish all day, despite having all three of our fishing lines deployed.  By three in the afternoon we were negotiating our way through the shallow narrows between St. Kitts and Nevis, drifting past Booby Island--a round pile of brown dirt and rock which does indeed look quite a bit like a boob sticking up out of the water.  We soon had parked Uliad in front of "Sunshine's Bar", a little beach shack just south of the Four Seasons Resort complex here.

   Nevis is a round island that rises up to a cloud draped volcano cone at its top.  The green, verdant plains that surround Nevis' peak are a big change from the scrubby, rocky, semi-arid landscape that we've been looking at since the Virgin Islands.  But Nevis' round shape is its weakness for sailors.  It lacks a protected harbor and waves of any significance can easily wrap around the island to cause mayhem aboard an anchored boat.  We were in for a rolly night.

   Independence had arrived here shortly before us.  Recognizing our predicament, they kindly invited us over for a spaghetti dinner on their more stable catamaran.  We threw together a salad, garlic bread, and a bottle of wine and motored over.  Kathleen and I decided to deal with the uncomfortable roll with the following strategy:  We'd be charming guests onboard Independence, stay late and drink lots of wine.  Then by the time we got back to Uliad, we'd quickly fall asleep no matter the motion.

   Our plan worked well except that we forgot one important thing--how we'd feel waking up somewhat hung over on a rolling sailboat.  Not well, as it turned out.  Once again, we were foiled in our attempt to reach Montserrat and decided to stay here another day to recover.   


April 29:   

    Today we took a cab up the hillside to explore that lush, green landscape we'd been admiring.  We shared a lovely discussion with our taxi driver on the way up about all the foolish things that George W. Bush has done in the last 8 years before disembarking at "The Golden Rock".  This is one of several old plantation houses on the hillside that has been converted into a hotel/restaurant. Apparently growing sugar cane is not very cost effective without slave labor and virgin soils...neither of which has been available for some time here.  So the great great great grand-daughter of the original founder of this plantation keeps it going by renting out cottages, and serving exquisite meals in a lush outdoor garden overlooking a sweeping view of the coast below and the Caribbean Sea beyond.  A short nature trail up the hillside gave us a brief lesson in jungle plants and a brief glimpse of the green vervet monkeys that live here.

    Most of the tall trees here are draped in thick vines and it didn't take long for Emmett to begin looking for ones thick enough to support his weight to swing Tarzan-style.  After careful experimentation, we can confirm that yes, it is indeed possible to do this.  But given the warnings on our trail map about the "irritative plants" to be found here I would not recommend vine-swinging here dressed only in a loincloth.

Emmett the jungle boyGreen Vervet Monkey

    After our nature hike, we sat down to lunch and enjoyed the view.  I had a lobster sandwich while Kathleen chose the fresh snapper.  Both were delicious!  As we ate, the table next to us talked on and on about office politics back home and all the outrageous unfairness their bosses made them put up with.  Kath and I couldn't help but smile at each other.  After our neighbors left, we both had been thinking the same things:  1.  Thank goodness our lives were no longer occupied by such trivialities.  and 2.  We hoped this group would stop complaining about life back home long enough to appreciate the wonderful vacation they should be having now!

   Emmett completed the day's Johnny Weissmuller imitation by swimming some laps in the hotel's pool while I enjoyed a luxurious after lunch nap.  Our cab driver picked us up and brought us back to town at 2:30 where we perused the open air market for some fresh produce.  Tonight we'll try again to get to Montserrat! 



April 30:   


  In the 1980s, Montserrat was fast becoming a chic, ritzy getaway for the ultra-rich--along the lines of St. Barth or Mystique.  George Martin (previously the manager for the Beatles) built a recording studio here and attracted the world's hottest musicians.  Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson recorded "Ebony and Ivory" here.  This sort of traffic of course only added to Montserrat's glamour. 

   Then in 1989 Hurricane Hugo blew 160 mile per hour winds and damaged 95% of the homes on the island.  The recording studio was damaged...the tourism industry was decimated.   But Montserrat hadn't even begun to see its problems yet.

   In 1995 the dormant Soufriere Hills volcano started to rumble.  Jimmy Buffet flew in and recorded "I don't know where I'm a gonna go when the volcano blow".  Scientists poured in and concluded that a major eruption was pretty likely and most of the island's population of 11,000 was in it's path.  The politicians were wise to heed their advice, because soon after evacuating the southern 2/3 of the island (including the capital city of Plymouth), the lava, mud, ash, and rocks began pouring down the hillsides.  12 years later, it is still pouring down, burying that glamorous island everyone once knew.

   We arrived in Little Bay--Montserrat's only remaining harbor--at 8am after a nice overnight sail.  Two ocean tugs and two ships were also crowding the place, so we ended up anchoring  within a stone's throw of a towering cliff called Rendezvous Bluff.  After clearing customs, we met Joe Phillips, lifelong resident, taxi driver, and tour guide.  Both of our guide books recommended him as the best guide, so we climbed in his little van and asked him to show us Montserrat.  Joe then started in on what would become an all afternoon lesson in why he was the best tour guide.  He wanted to start at the MVO--Montserrat Volcano Observatory, but a quick call on his cell phone led him to change his plans.  They show a movie at 15 minutes past each hour and the staff refused to wait 5 minutes for us to get there.  So instead he pointed his little van out onto a broad, dried up mud flat and welcomed us to Montserrat's golf course--at least this is where it used to be.  Now it is buried under 10 feet of volcanic ash.  We drove on across a sandy, rocky track that seemed more fit for a dune buggy than a mini-van.  Joe pulled out a photo album from under the seat and showed a few faded photos of the golf course and a beautiful Caribbean bay with a pier sticking out into it.  The slab of concrete we were driving on now is that pier!  The water is now 50 yards beyond it and the entire bay has been filled in by the volcano.

   "None of the other drivahs have pictures, mon.  How can you see what de volcano done if ya con't see how it used to be?  I tell you, mon, I'm de only tour guide on de island dat show you dis!!", Joe bragged as he slid and swerved through the dunes of ash.  "You see dis track?  I'm de only drivah who goes here.  All the other taxis won' do it mon"  We bounced over a few boulders that I was sure would pound through the floorboards at me.  We dove headlong into mud pits that I feared this minivan would never exit again without the assistance of heavy chains connected to something with CATERPILLAR written on the side.  Yet somehow, we made it through.  Maybe he HAD done this a few times before.

   As we started to climb an impossibly steep hill, Kath made a comment to the effect that this was a remarkable minivan to be able to get us through that.  "No, mon!" Joe snapped, "it not the de drivah!"  As Joe droned on about how great his tour was, I began to notice the ground dropping away on both sides of us.  We were now climbing up a narrow ridge fit more for goat traffic than taxi.  "Yah, mon, dese cliff drop streight down here.  You ask any other cab to tek you to Garibaldi Hill an dey refuse!"  Just as I was getting worried, we met up with a Jeep coming down!.  Now this two track path was barely wide enough for one, so after a moment's gesturing, the Jeep went up backwards until the ridge flared out just wide enough for Joe to boldly veer off it until his right front tire surely had several treads dangling in the air.  The Jeep made it past and our path leveled out to a flat promontory with an abandoned radio tower.  From here we could see the smoking lava dome at the top of the mountain and follow the lava's path all the way down to Plymouth, which sat gray and abandoned in the sun.  It was a modern day Pompeii, with orderly rows of masonry buildings (the wooden ones mostly burned up) half buried in the pale ash.

Panorama of the abandoned town of PlymouthBuried home on Montserrat

   Nobody is allowed to go there without applying for special permission.  Joe's house sits over there somewhere.  He pointed out a church steeple with only it's tip visible and passed around his photo album again.  The sight was stark, quiet, and bleak as a lunar landscape.  Despite the heart-pounding excitement of our trip up, our moods quickly mellowed as the reality and magnitude of this tragedy sunk in.  Twelve years later, the capital city still lies abandoned.  The island's population is still less than half of what it once was as many natives fled, found new lives in England or neighboring islands, and never came back.  Twelve years of eruptions and Joe has started slowly building a new home, like many of his neighbors, on a small patch of dry land on the still safe northern third.  He's one of the lucky ones.  Many still live in shelters with no home to go back to, and little economic opportunity to move on.

  We arrived five minutes late to the MVO for their next show and a huffy lady at the desk gave Joe an earful before finally turning the movie on for us.  We were the only tourists there and it didn't appear that she had a whole lot else to do, so I'm not sure what the big deal was.  The movie was nice, and Em got to learn everything about volcanoes that he hadn't already learned from Joe.  Then he got to see the volcanologists take off in a helicopter for a mission which was undoubtedly the highlight for him.

   Grateful to the MVO curator for getting up off her butt and pushing the PLAY switch, we bought a T-shirt from the gift shop and had Joe take us back.  He reminded us once more how great our tour was today and took us by an ATM so we could pay him.  Walking back to the harbor, we stopped in the Sir George Martin Community Cultural Center.  Inside was a lobby, a theatre, and a ring of offices.  A guy without much else to do showed me the architect's renditions of a new Little Bay, complete with luxury marina, commercial pier, and waterfront retail district.  He showed me the plans for a whole new capital city to be built right out these windows.

   Geologic time moves slowly.  So it is an amazing thing to watch the earth changing so quickly here.  Twelve years later, and the scientists see no chance in the foreseeable future of the eruption stopping.  So the rock, ash and mud keep piling up, burying the past.  The island slowly keeps growing as the rivers of land slowly wash down from the volcano.  And the people, too, keep slowly moving...growing a new city here in the north...building new homes slowly, whenever they gather enough money for another load of cement blocks.  The upheaval goes on--and will for a long time to come. 

Smoking Lava dome atop Montserrat



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