The Hazards of Living Under A Volcano - March 15th, 2002
We left Petite Byahaut, St. Vincent headed toward St. Lucia on February 3rd. We had a lovely sail between the islands and arrived in Soufriere, St Lucia an hour or so before sunset. All of the moorings in the marine sanctuary were full and due to the depth of the bay the only other option was anchoring just off the beach and tying a line to a palm tree on shore. We had more than our fair share of assistance as two rival boat boys vied to be our selected helper. All the effort of both the boys was fruitless for we had none of what they were after: cash. But the winner of the the job helped us anchor and once we were securely in place, graciously accepted the only payment we could offer, a cold glass of apple juice.
Anchoring just off shore meant we had a calm night with little rocking from swells or waves. We settled down in bed happily anticipating a calm restful night when a sound caught our ears and we looked at each other in horror. The mosquitos were out! Being so close to shore made it easy for them to sniff us out, or do whatever they do to find warm blood, and we knew it would be a night of hiding in the sheets and slapping ourselves in the ear. The next morning we awoke from our restless slumber, happy to move northward away from Soufriere and the mozzies.
A short hop up the coast of St. Lucia brought us to Rodney Bay, the northern most bay on the island. We anchored here ate lunch and then snorkeled ashore to explore. At the top of a large hill stood an old British fort that had been erected in the 19th century but was used up until World War II as a listening station by the American Army. We climbed up to the top to behold a fantastic blue vista out across the Atlantic and Caribbean Seas, below a tempestuous cauldron of blue water turning frothy white against the rocky cliffs, and on the horizon 20 miles away a smudge of land called Martinique: our next stop.
St. Pierre, Martinique was at one time the cultural and social center of the French West Indies. Known as the Paris of the Caribbean it boasted a population of 30,000 and was considered a center for fashion and art. A theater along the Rue De Victor Hugo provided a grand gathering place and hosted touring productions from Paris and other major cities. But, the European Settlers who had successfully wiped out the Carib residents in order to reside here had overlooked one major potential problem. St. Pierre was situated at the foot of the Mt. Pelee volcano.
In 1902 the governor of St. Pierre was up for reelection but there were problems on the campaign trail. Mt. Pelee had started acting up. Rumblings and small eruptions had started scaring St. Pierre's residents into leaving. In order to win the Mayor needed to convince St. Pierre's citizens to stay in town. So he hired a scientist to say there was no danger. He managed to stop people from leaving town, but wasn't so successful at stopping the volcano which erupted wiping out the whole town, including the Governor, in a cloud of super heated gas. There was one survivor, an inmate in the local prison, who escaped the catastrophic explosion with only burns to his skin because he had been locked in a thick stone cell. He later went on to tour with Barnum's Circus as the sole survivor of the destroyed city of St. Pierre.
Today St. Pierre still lives in the shadow of the active volcano, but life goes on as normal. New buildings sprang out of the ruins and the town is an interesting mix of old and new. Most of the new houses and stores are built onto old structures and have at least one wall that is from the old city. Ruins of the theater, the prison, and numerous stores and houses are scattered around town. And a small museum documents the explosion and contains many interesting artifacts found in the rubble of the destroyed town. Miranda and I spent a couple of nice days here exploring the town, then thought it wise to leave while our luck was still good and the volcano stayed quiet.
Another day trip with light easterly winds took us to Dominica and along the way we were visited by some dolphins who played in our bow wave for ten minutes or more. Miranda and I jumped on the bow to watch them dart back and forth in front of us. We wondered what they were saying about us as we listened to them chatter. We squeaked back to them and smiled as they splashed and jumped around the boat. Then they left as quickly as they appeared and we sailed into our anchorage with a renewed sense of joy.