Island escapes

The Firefly on the Caribbean island of Mustique is reputed to be the “most exclusive hotel on the most exclusive island” in the world.

Tiny cays beckon near Tobago

Tiny cays beckon near Tobago

The Firefly on the Caribbean island of Mustique is reputed to be the “most exclusive hotel on the most exclusive island” in the world.

Tourist charter flights and large jets are not only unwelcome on Mustique but also unable to land. The tiny airstrip facilitates only small aircraft. If you overrun the runway, you’ll end up in a schoolyard full of young island children clothed in traditional British school uniform happily running and playing in the Caribbean sun.

The only other access to this remote speck of land in the Grenadines, part of the Windward Islands, is by yacht or sailboat. There is no suitable anchorage for cruise ships to moor. This is just fine with the locals. They tend to jealously guard their privacy.

You may have heard of a few of them. One fellow’s name is Jagger. His next-door neighbor is Hilfiger and just up the road are a couple of their Canuck island-pals, Twain and Adams.

There are only a hundred or so houses on the entire island, exquisite tropical mansions. These prized home sites are known by name, not address.

“I say, why don’t you drop ’round Hibiscus for cocktails. Shall we say six?”

This place is ultra tres chic. Ownership is strictly by application to the island’s formal homeowner committee. Ah, the mystique of Mustique.

We and three other Red Deer couples had chartered a 45-foot dual-hulled catamaran out of Martinique, in the north Windwards. Glenn, who keeps his wits about him when storms begin to brew, acted as captain. His wife Wendy was first mate.

The other six of us did our best to simply obey orders (i.e. stay out of the way) and avoid allegations of insubordination or mutiny. Separate staterooms — complete with ‘head’ — ensured each couple had adequate privacy in otherwise cramped quarters.

We motored out of Martinique’s Sainte-Anne harbour and hoisted sail for the short skip over to St. Lucia. Although at sea two full weeks, we never lost sight of land. Each evening, we sought safe moorage, always in the western lee of an island. A small powered dinghy granted us access from boat to shore.

The hikers amongst us were eager to explore the Windward’s flora and fauna so upon arrival in St. Lucia, a few of us hired a guide for a day trip across the island.

Our captain and the rest of the crew spent the day bravely manoeuvering the vessel down the shoreline to Pitons Bay.

Having finished our overland exploration well before the catamaran arrived, we spent the afternoon sipping pina coladas on the sandy beach of the Jalousie Hilton Resort.

This five-star getaway is located on a quiet bay directly between St. Lucia’s landmark twin mountains. The 1,000-foot-high emerald-coloured Pitons — from which the tasty island beer gets its name — rise steeply from the ocean, framing the bay, beach and hotel far below.

We had plenty of time for a swim so I waded out under the watchful eye of four lifeguards, each identically decked out in full length Hilton blue. While plump tourists splashed waist-deep in the sea, I swam beyond the roped-off area and floated in the warm Caribbean swell.

After a time I heard noise, shouting.

I gazed shoreward. All four lifeguards were blowing whistles, waving frantically.

I thought, “Gee, I’m only a hundred feet or so from the roped area. They’re kind of overreacting to my breach of swimming etiquette.”

I gave a friendly wave to let them know all was fine; I am a strong swimmer.

I ignored them but the din from shore grew louder.

When I looked again, the lifeguards had been joined by a multitude of sunbathers lining the beach, all pointing toward me, gesticulating.

For a moment I thought, “Wow, they’re friendly around here.”

Then I noticed the fin cutting through the water 20 feet behind me.

I didn’t panic.

I screamed and swam like hell. The brave lifeguards dragged me the last three feet to shore, careful not to wet their gaudy get-ups.

After a couple of minutes, they deemed the water safe. “Probably just a dolphin,” they reasoned and the hefty horde splashed back into the salt water. I dried off and waited meekly for the dinghy to return us safely to our catamaran.

We plied the azure waters of these Windward Islands (so named for their reliable breezes, ideal for sailing) for another 10 days with stops in such exotic destinations as Canouan, Petite St. Vincent and Tobago Cays. It was then time to drop anchor in elusive, secretive Mustique.

Once ashore we rented “mules” — gas-powered golf carts — to tour this small cay. We felt certain we’d be greeted with open doors by the world’s most renowned celebs.

Nobody was home. Mick was out, dating a super-model, I guess. Tommy must have been in New York, fashion designing. Shania was probably child rearing on the shores of Lake Geneva and Bryan was likely on stage in Kuala Lumpur, Berlin or somewhere else equally remote.

Hardly the welcome we had expected.

Still there was the terrific burger and beer at the Cotton House (only $55 each!) and of course the prospect of rubbing shoulders with the celebrated clientele of the Firefly at dinner that night.

Originally a residence, the Firefly was converted to one of Mustique’s few hotels some years ago when it was purchased by a British expat. There are only five suites, each with its own private pool. The cheapest room is US$900 per night — before 20 per cent tax and optional gratuity.

Restaurant reservations are handled by Stanley, a discrete urbane gentleman who is also in charge of schmoozing with the rich and famous, sipping expensive French burgundies and, most importantly, ensuring that only those fully qualified to do so tickle the ivories of the grand piano situated in the lobby bar.

When arranging the dinner reservation, my trusted travelling buddy Dr. D had, unbeknownst to me, quietly informed Stan of my prodigious piano-playing talent. My friend is renowned for his hyperbole. With dubious reluctance, Stan acquiesced, granting permission for me to entertain the Firefly’s who’s who in the piano bar after dinner.

I do have a limited capacity to carry a tune and there have been occasions where I’ve been lauded as the life of the party, bawling out old Beatles tunes on an upright piano at someone’s dinner party.

Alas, the best laid plans. . . . After pre-dinner cocktails on the catamaran, another drink with the Firefly appetizer, a liberal helping of California chardonnay with the succulent Caribbean lobster and finally an “island size” special coffee, I was invited to perform. I stumbled my way to the grand, plunked down on the leather bench and grinned stupidly at the well-heeled audience.

I promptly forgot every song I have ever faked my way through.

When a tune did come to mind, the nerve endings in my fingers mutinied. My digits decided they no longer wished to be associated with my brain. Our poor server, Martinus, a helpful young black islander, tried in vain to lend his voice to my sloppy rendition of Bob Marley’s Stir it Up. To no avail.

Stanley was not amused. He stared at me, appalled. If he’d had a cane handy, he would surely have hooked me off stage.

He turned to one of my sailing companions and said in the driest of English accents, “You know, George Michael was in last week and he couldn’t play the piano either. But at least he could sing.”

We discretely set sail early the next morning. But I swear I saw a skinny guy with big lips silently waving goodbye to us from behind a window curtain in Hibiscus as we sailed away.

PS: I swiped an embroidered Firefly hand towel from the men’s room at the bar. If you’re ever on Mustique, don’t mention it to Stanley.

Getting there:

• Our Caribbean sailing adventure took place a few seasons ago, in early March. We flew Airmiles to Martinique. This entailed a red-eye flight to Toronto, another overnight in Barbados and an early morning island-hopper that stopped in St. Lucia before finally landing in Martinique, 36 hours after we departed Calgary.

• There are direct, scheduled flights to some of the larger Windward Islands. Spending less time in airports will extend — and improve — your vacation.

• The rich and famous can charter a small private jet from Eastern Canada direct to Mustique starting at US$16,000 … one way.

• The Moorings rents catamarans and monohulls out of Martinique, Canouan and elsewhere in the Caribbean. Our Moorings charter was “bareboat.” If you don’t have the luxury of bringing along your own qualified captain, a crew can be supplied.

• See fireflymustique.com for additional information.

Gerry Feehan is a retired lawyer, avid traveller and photographer. He lives in Red Deer. For more of Gerry’s travel adventures, please visit www.gnfeehan.blogspot.com