Basil’s Blues Festival
There probably isn’t a bad way to see Mustique. After all, this 1,400-acre island in the Grenadines is quiet. It’s gorgeous. And it’s exceptionally private.
Once farmed for sugar, the island was bought by Colin Tennant, Lord Glenconner, in 1958 for less than $70,000. In 1960 he presented Princess Margaret with 10 acres as a wedding gift where she built a villa, Les Jolies Eaux. It was the beginning of the rich and famous migration. In 1968 the Mustique Co. was formed, and the following year the airport was opened, the Cotton House hotel began receiving guests and the first villas were built. The Mustique Co. was sold to the 55 homeowners of the island in 1988. Today, there are more than 100 villas, with more than 70 of these in the Mustique Co. villa rental program.
The island is spectacularly pretty, but so are dozens of others in the Caribbean. Mustique, however, is one of the only places in the world where the privacy of residents and visitors is assured. The Mustique Co. books the flights that land at its airport, and it makes sure paparazzi don’t sneak in. It’s hard to overstate the value of being able to step out of the media glare when you’re someone whose every move is considered worthy of print and photo space.
But even the famous and camera-shy get cabin fever, and when they do, they go to Basil’s Bar, a thatched joint that overhangs the water. It’s pretty much the only show in town. Sure, the Cotton House has a lovely bar and restaurant, as does the Firefly Inn, but Basil’s manages to maintain an independent vibe in a place that might otherwise be almost too perfect. It’s definitely more casual, and it has long welcomed cruisers who can pick up a mooring for a few days and enjoy the island’s charms. Wednesday night’s Barbecue and Jump Up at Basil’s is an island institution.
Everybody on Mustique knows Basil. Basil Charles, Order of the British Empire, has been presiding over the bar for more than 30 years and is the de facto king of Mustique. Yes, he parties with Jagger, but more important, he serves a mean roasted pig. A sailor, a tennis player, a businessman but above all a great host, Basil (and his bar) has seen some wild parties over the years. The best party, though, may be his annual Mustique Blues Festival at the end of January. It began on a dare after an old friend, jazz singer Dana Gillespie, spontaneously performed at Basil’s Bar one night. If Basil got a decent piano, she promised, she’d come back with her band. The next year, piano at the ready, Dana and her London Band kept their word, and the Mustique Blues Festival was born. Each year the profits from the two-week festival go to the Basil Charles Education Trust, to benefit the children of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
So, I’d been to Mustique before, (“The Mustique Mystique“), but this year, I was going for the blues, aboard the Andre Hoek-designed Truly Classic 90 Atalante. Constructed at Claasen Jachtbouw and launched in 2009, Atalante is breathtakingly pretty, and as I approached her by dinghy, I found myself wishing that the next few days would go by very slowly.
Capt. James Prince and chef (and wife) Kate welcomed me aboard and installed me in the aft master. It’s a lovely cabin, with a queen tucked in the stern port quarter, settee to starboard, desk along the forward bulkhead and an en suite head that is small but elegant. A stairway leads to the afterdeck, and with the hatch and doors open, the master feels wonderfully one with the elements. Glossy white overheads and plenty of light from large portholes above contrast nicely with the mahogany joinery. Several beautiful, small oil paintings and a row of books made me want to settle in for a while, and in fact, that’s just what I did: After a delicious lunch on deck — prepared by Kate, whose New York culinary training showed — I retreated to the master and rear cockpit with a book and enjoyed doing nothing for the afternoon.
Later, I rallied for a tour of the rest of the yacht. Forward of the master and to starboard is a single stateroom, with access to the engine room directly across the hall. The door to the engine room is watertight but paneled in mahogany — a lovely touch that speaks to the sort of attention to detail I saw everywhere on this yacht. Forward and up one level is the navigation station, across from the port dining area. Down a short flight of steps is the small but wonderfully comfortable main salon, directly across from a compact but elegant galley. Continuing forward, there are two more staterooms — a spacious en suite queen to port, and twin bunks with en suite bath to starboard. The crew quarters are in the forepeak and finished to the same standards as the rest of Atalante.
After an insanely good dinner of local red snapper, I went ashore for the first night of the Blues Festival. Well fed, well rested and utterly content, I had a hard time leaving Atalante — we could hear the band warming up, the twang of steel guitar sliding across the water — and I was so tempted to stay and enjoy the music from the bow, under a blanket of stars. But come on — you gotta hear the blues in a bar! And once ashore, I was glad I’d gone. Basil’s was packed and a long line of people queued for a giant spread of Caribbean specialties arrayed on banquet tables. (Even though I had already eaten a perfect meal, yes! I did manage to choke down a succulent piece of roast pig that had been turning on a spit all day at Basil’s. Oh. My. God.) The music was rollicking — perfect for a warm Caribbean night. I stayed into the wee hours, enjoying the vibe and Basil’s excellent taste in red wine.
The next day, we sailed to the nearby island of Bequia. And, oh, what a sail. Atalante is a 90-foot yacht with a waterline length of 61 feet and a beam of just under 20 feet. We had 25 knots of breeze, and when I took the helm for a turn, I got a taste of what a real thoroughbred feels like and understood how addictive sailing could become.
In Bequia, I hired a taxi for a quick tour, stopping at Old Hegg Turtle Sanctuary and the Sargeant Brothers model boat shop. Bequia is a favorite with cruisers and it was easy to see why. From a hill high in the middle of the island, the views down to Port Elizabeth were stunning, the harbor a palette of pale blues and greens, studded with boats of every shape and size.
The sail home was nearly as invigorating as the morning’s, and we arrived just as the sun was setting. Another delicious meal on deck before an evening of the blues and then it was back to reality. It had gone by way too fast, and I vowed to come again next year. There’s probably no finer way to enjoy a beautiful charter like Atalante than to come with friends and enough time to enjoy exploring, with nights of the Blues Festival scattered throughout.
Atalante is available for charter at a base price of $42,000 per week, plus expenses, for four guests with three crew. Nicholson Yachts, 401-849-0344; www.nicholsonyachts.com