Update, July 24, 2015: The experts at the UWI Seismic Research Center have put Kick ‘Em Jenny on orange alert. Erik Klemetti discusses the situation here.
On May 7, 1902 – one day after La Soufriere erupted on St. Vincent and one day before another volcano, Pelée, destroyed the city of St. Pierre on Martinique – the captain and crew of the Danish steamship Nordby had a remarkable experience while sailing through a strait called Kick ‘Em Jenny between the Caribbean islands of Grenada and Ronde (one of the Grenadines).
Per the captain:
We were plodding along slowly that day. About noon I took the bridge to make an observation. It seemed to be hotter than ordinary. I shed mv coat and vest and got into what little shade there was. As I worked it grew hotter and hotter. I didn’t know what to make of it. Along about 2 o’clock in the afternoon it was so hot that all hands got to talking about it. We reckoned that something queer was coming off, but none of us could explain what it was. You could almost see the pitch softening in the seams.
Then, as quick as you could toss a biscuit over its rail, the Nordby dropped three or four feet down into the sea. No sooner did it do this than big waves that looked like they were coming from all directions at once began to smash against our sides. This was queerer yet, because the water a minute before was as smooth as I ever saw it. I had all hands piped on deck, and we battened down everything loose to make ready for a storm. And we got it all right – the strangest storm you ever heard tell of.
There was something wrong with the sun that afternoon. It grew red and then dark red and then, about a quarter after 2, it went out of sight altogether. The day got so dark that you couldn’t see half a ship’s length ahead of you. We got our lamps going, and put on our oilskins, ready for a hurricane. All of a sudden there came a sheet of lightning that showed up the whole tumbling sea for miles and miles. We sort of ducked, expecting an awful crash of thunder, but it didn’t come. There was no sound except the big waves pounding against our sides. There wasn’t a breath of wind.
Well, sir, at that minute there began the most exciting time I’ve ever been through, and I’ve been on every sea on the map for twenty-five years. Every second there’d be waves 15 or 20 feet high belting us head on, stern-on, and broadside, all at once. We could see them coming, for without any stop at all flash after flash of lightning was blazing all about us.
Something else we could see. too. Sharks! There were hundreds of them on all sides, jumping up and down in the water. Some of them jumped clear out of it. And sea birds! A flock of them, squawking and crying, made for our rigging and perched there. They seemed like they were scared to death. But the queerest part of it all was the water itself. It was hot – not so hot that our feet could not stand it when it washed over the deck, but hot enough to make us think that it had been heated by some kind of fire.
Well that sort of thing went on hour after hour. The waves, the lightning, the hot water and the sharks, and all the rest of the odd things happening, frightened the crew out of their wits. Some of them prayed out loud – I guess the first time they ever did in their lives. Some Frenchmen aboard kept running around and yelling, ‘C’est le dernier jour!’ (This is the last day).
It wasn’t the last day for the crew or the boat, fortunately.
Long before anyone knew about the volcano, this area was named Kick ‘Em Jenny because of rough seas there. The Nordby crew certainly could attest to that, but it wasn’t until 1939, when an eruption cloud broke the sea’s surface, that people realized there was a volcano (perhaps a volcanic complex) underneath the waves. The name Kick ‘Em Jenny then transferred to the volcano.
I can’t find an authoritative statement online that the Nordby sailed over an active volcanic eruption that day in 1902, but it sure sounds like they did. It’s also interesting that two (three, if you include Kick ‘Em Jenny) volcanoes in the Lesser Antilles were erupting almost simultaneously. Of note, Pelée is rather far to the north, while Kick ‘Em Jenny and Soufriere St. Vincent are in the southern part of the Lesser Antilles arc. I’m guessing, as an amateur, that each has its own individual magma source.
All three, and other active volcanoes in the Lesser Antilles, sit in the eastern Caribbean near an active subduction zone. They’re dangerous. Though the Nordby and its crew survived what possibly was a journey over an erupting volcano, Pelée and Soufriere St. Vincent claimed tens of thousands of lives in that three-day period of May 1902 and drove the Carib people into extinction.
Kick ‘Em Jenny Risks
This volcano has had 11 eruptions since it drew official attention to itself in 1939, making it the most active volcano in the Lesser Antilles. The last eruption was in 2001. Kick ‘Em Jenny also tends to collapse and so is a major tsunami risk. That’s why volcanologists are studying it closely today.
Oh…and Kick ‘Em Jenny is inhabited, too. Hey, everybody vacations in the Caribbean!
Front page image: Doug Wilson, NOAA