The Caribbean is Volcano Land. Most of the Windward and Leeward Islands are
volcanic in origin. Fortunately, the volcanoes are dormant
except for Montserrat.
Montserrat has been erupting more or less continuously for several years.
You aren't going to see any active lava flows as you sail by on your yacht,
but there's plenty of steam and ash for your entertainment. There is
an exclusion zone around the southern end of the island and for good reason.
The volcano is unstable, and you never know when it might erupt or send a
cloud of superheated toxic gases in your direction.
The appearance of the volcano changes minute by minute. The clouds of
toxic gas, steam, and ash at the summit continually change in size and shape.
Sometimes there's practically nothing coming out, and then thirty seconds
later, a cloud of ash envelops the entire mountain top.
Some people avoid the sulfurous fumes and ash by sailing to
the east of the island. Since the trade winds blow out of the east,
all of the ash and toxic fumes extend off to the west. I
wanted to experience what it's like to sail through an ash cloud, so I
passed Montserrat to the west, but I did it at a safe distance outside the
The ash cloud varies from minute to minute under the influence of the trade
winds. When the volcano is spewing massive amounts of ash into the
atmosphere and the trade winds are blowing strongly, the ash cloud extends to
the west for a long distance. When the volcano becomes quiet, the ash
We chose to sail outside the exclusion zone because the winds were strong,
and there was a large ash cloud in our path. When we entered the
cloud, we immediately smelled the sulfurous gases mixed in with the gritty ash.
Although it took less than ten minutes to sail through the cloud, the deck
was quickly covered by a fine layer of grey ash. You could feel the
grit beneath your feet when you walked on the deck.
I felt like quite the adventurer sailing through the ash until I saw a
German yacht sailing close inshore. He was sailing far inside the
exclusion zone and heading directly toward a dense cloud of ash and toxic
gas. We wondered if he understood what he was doing and the risks
involved. He was either ignorant or stupid.
To our amazement, he maintained his course and sailed straight into the
massive gray cloud disappearing from view. Nothing good could
come from this, and we wondered whether he would survive. After a few
minutes, the yacht suddenly reemerged from the cloud of destruction reversing his direction of travel and heading north to safety. The
ash and toxic gas had been too much for him.
He sailed to the northern end of the Island beyond the volcano's reach and
put his anchor down for the night. We weren't far behind
him and did the same.
Sailing through an ash cloud in Volcano Land isn't something you get to do
every day, and it's the kind of thing you need to do only once. You get
your ticket punched and quickly move on to other things.
The power of presidents and kings pales in comparison with that of Mother
Earth when she shows us who's boss. She is the supreme ruler of
Volcano Land, and don't you forget it.
Thank you, Montserrat, for your cloud of ash and toxic gas. Because of
you, I've carved another notch in my adventure belt, and best of all, I