SEA Currents: Corwith Cramer
December 10, 2018
Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot!: An enlightening tour of Montserrat
16° 48.211 N x 62° 12.666W, anchored NW of Montserrat.
Around 27° Celsius
Context: Often when I think about past disasters I categorize them as sort of “old news” since most of these incidents occurred outside of my lifetime. Montserrat is unique in that it has experienced deadly levels of volcanic activity within the last few decades. The Soufriere Hills Volcano which covers most of the southern portion of the island went through periods of intense activity through the 1990s and 2000s. Many people have been forced to leave the Island due to the eruptions and pyroclastic flows that the volcano produces. Plymouth (the former capitol of the Island) was destroyed by pyroclastic flow in 1997 and we were able to visit its ruins while on a tour of the island.
We started off our glorious day with a beautiful breakfast provided by our beloved steward Ger. After breakfast we mustered on the quarterdeck, to auction off what we call “gear adrift” (which basically means lost and found). Nobody actually auctioned anyone’s belongings but it was fun nonetheless. Then we went over the tentative schedule for the day, and later we began loading the small boats and transiting to the Island where we would begin our tour. Our guide, Peter, seemed knowledgeable but was hard to hear in the bus. Luckily we had our pals Chase and Kienan (two Montserratian natives whom we had already befriended while on the Cramer) on board to help give us their perspective of the tour. They proved both helpful and entertaining during the ride. Our first stop was at fountain named Runaway Ghaut. Legend has it that “if you drink from this water you are destined to return to Montserrat”, and we all drank from it so fingers crossed. Next we stopped at the Montserrat Volcano Observatory (MVO), a research lab/visitors center where scientists study and monitor Soufriere Hill for signs of volcanic activity. There we watched a video on the volcano’s history and snacked.
For the next part of the tour, which was widely considered the highlight, we entered the exclusion zone and paced the stunning ruins of Plymouth. It was existential seeing so many buildings abandoned and covered in feet of ash as a result of such a recent tragedy. The buildings were evacuated so rapidly. One of the houses I peered into was still furnished and even contained a closet which still held onto the owner’s clothes after all of these years. The view of the volcano from our location was astounding as well. So much so that we were hardly deterred by the spontaneous instances of rain we’d experienced. I was captivated by the scenery: an active volcano, ash covered ruins and valleys, a beautiful assemblage of volcanic rocks scattered across the ground. It was an unforgettable experience and found myself pondering the overwhelming significance of Soufriere Hill eruption hours later. The history of the Island has shifted entirely by the effects of a single event.
For the remainder of the day, those of us who did not have watch duties to fulfill hung out on the beach for a while and either explored some of the surrounding areas or ate ice cream before returning to the ship.
Overall, this day was enlightening and astonishingly memorable. As a guy from the Midwestern United States it’s hard enough to picture hills let alone volcanoes, and visiting Plymouth’s ruins provided me with an experience that helped me to expand my world view so that I could think more precisely about the impact of natural disasters on the lives of Island communities.
Shout out to my family! And friends who may be reading! The seasickness has been surprisingly minimal and I’m having a blast on the ship. Truly wish you could live this with me: its life changing.
- Christian Watson- University of Indianapolis