Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Prince William – Princess Margaret, of course…

And now me.

Mustique is not an island you can bypass. Mustique is one of those islands that actually deserves the words “unique” and “iconic”.

Just north of the Tobago Cays in the Grenadines, it really is the world’s most exclusive (and most expensive) holiday destination, contrived for the rich, the very rich, and the uber-rich.

The only way anyone else can get there is by rocking up on a boat.

Admittedly, they charge you £60 to stop (taking a mooring buoy is mandatory), but that gives you three nights and £20 a night in the Solent would be considered good value.

Also, it’s a lot cheaper than renting a villa or taking a suite at the Cotton House hotel.

I looked up the villas. OK, from the hundred-or-so to choose from, I looked up Princess Margaret’s 10-acre estate, Les Jolies Eaux, now owned by the Mustique Company and available to rent at $42,500 a week.

For that, you get 5-6 bedrooms, a “Media Room”, both a dining pavilion and a dining room – and a pool overlooking the Atlantic in one direction and the Caribbean in the other.

Your live-in staff comprise of a butler, a chef, a gardener and two housekeepers (all expecting a tip of between five and ten per cent.)

On top of that, you have to stump up another 10% for using the island’s amenities – everything from the tennis club to the tasteful wooden boxes to hide the litter bins when your butler serves a picnic on one of the island’s nine contrasting beaches.

There is no chance that you would baulk at the cost of any of this because, even before your booking is accepted, you have to be “approved”. This might be why 85% of the bookings are repeat business – the same families coming back year after year so that they’re as much a part of the community as the Jaggers and Hilfiger’s who own their homes on the island (Jagger has two).

But I wouldn’t be playing tennis – or going to the weekly cocktail party or inviting the neighbours round for dinner (everyone wants to show off their chef, and there is a certain amount of good-natured rivalry).

Actually, I wasn’t even supposed to see as much as I did. No sooner had the harbourmaster collected my money and given me a receipt complete with a 60-word disclaimer than I leapt on my bike to pedal off and tour the island – it’s only as big as Alderney, after all.

It seems the Mustique Company had not imagined that boats stopping here would conceal rusty folding bicycles. They assumed that if anyone wanted to see the island, they would hire a mule with a driver – not the animal, but a curious six-seater conveyance that is something of a cross between a golf cart and a dune buggy.

So, when I arrived at the airport and paused to photograph one of these things outside the bijou bamboo terminal (no private jets, please), a smart young man approached, slipping a discreet blue badge from his pocket: “Security”, it said.

Respectfully, he explained that the regulations prohibited anyone who was not a “resident” from wandering around wherever they pleased – something I should have learned from the information supplied by the harbourmaster.

I assured him the only information I had was the 60-word disclaimer. We agreed that I would make my way back to the harbour where I belonged. I got a little lost on the way, but it was remarkable how many polite security men I found to help me.

Still, it did mean I got to see the statue of Colin Tennant – Lord Glenconner – the man who made Mustique what it is today. He bought the island in 1958 when it was nothing more than a few wild goats and a ramshackle village. He paid £45,000 (£442,000 at today’s prices) and did nothing with it until his father sold the family financial business, leaving him without a job.

Oh yes, he did one thing – one very astute thing: He gave Princess Margaret ten acres as a wedding present. Lady Glenconner was her lady-in-waiting, and they offered the Princess the choice of a silver cocktail shaker from Asprey’s or a whole headland with the best views on the island. There, she commissioned the stage designer Oliver Messel to build her the perfect hideaway from her imploding marriage and the tabloid press.

If you have seen The Crown, you will know all about this – particularly the scene with Roddy Llewellyn and the sun cream – and the paparazzo in the bushes.

Those were the heady days of wild parties with young men in gold loincloths – although, it must also be said that the electricity had a tendency to pack up at awkward moments and there were no shops: everybody had to go down to the harbour and buy their food directly from the boat.

Or, at least, everybody’s chefs had to go down to the harbour…

As it became more civilized in the 1990s, Tennent moved on to another development in St Lucia, and Mustique became quieter – more family-orientated. You can see this in Basil’s Bar – a collection of huts on stilts built out over the water. This is where the two Mustiques meet – where it was always said you might see a fisherman dance with a duchess.

Now merchant bankers dance with their three-year-old daughters as they might at an up-market wedding reception. You can imagine Prince William twirling Princess Charlotte.

I stayed the third night just so I could experience the Sunday night “Sunset Blues” party. The music was first class – just as everything is first class on Mustique, from the lobster to the horses in the riding stables.

But I still felt like an outsider. It took me a while to work out why this was: I was the only one handing fistfuls of Eastern Caribbean dollars across the bar – or worse still, a whole handful of change that had been rattling about the chart table.

The rich don’t carry money. They certainly wouldn’t be seen dead with a pocketful of change spoiling the cut of their white linen trousers (£178 from LottyB at The Pink House).

Whether it’s a round of Mustique Whammies at Basil’s or ice creams for a gang of Manhattan teenagers invading the Sweetie Pie Bakery … on Mustique, just charge it to the villa.

5 Responses to Mustique


The rum punch in De Reef beach bar was a mistake. I thought I was in Keegan’s beach bar – but then there is a beach bar of some kind every few yards along the mile and a half of Bequia’s coastal path.

Keegan’s had seemed rather special because it had a wonderful signpost with the mileages to New York and Berlin and London (4,283) and aphorisms such as “There are better things in the world than alcohol – but alcohol compensates for not having them” and “A Rum Punch a day keeps the worries away.”

The whole Island seems to consist of beach bars and rum shops and people in flip-flops and T-shirts saying “Sail Fast – Live Slow”. It’s been like this ever since it first became a Mecca for Caribbean sailors in the 80s.

In those days, it must have been like St Tropez was in the 60s. Now there are cruise ships in the bay and a man in uniform to shepherd me politely off the dinghy dock – even though I tied up there yesterday without so much as a by-your-leave.

And that’s another thing: In Grenada you chain your dinghy to the dock with a couple of stout padlocks and haul it out of the water at night in case somebody pinches it.

In Bequia nobody bothers.

It’s pronounced “Bequé”, by the way to the people in the know. I wasn’t in the know either when I first read about it back in the 90s. But it’s been moving up the bucket list ever since, and as soon as I got the boom welded back together, I set off north. It was only 40 miles.

Of course, all the best destinations require a bit of effort – so it took 18 hours, a torn headsail, the mainsheet parting company from the end of the boom and my dinner leaping off the chart table and upending itself all over the floor.

This may have been my own fault (actually, everything was my own fault – it usually is) – but, honestly, who was I trying to impress, attempting to eat off a plate with a knife and fork in 25knots of headwind?

It was a good thing I made enough for a second helping – and that was taken properly with a spoon out of the saucepan, feet braced against the leeward berth and pan-handle at 120°to the angle of attack.

But Bequia was worth the effort. This is a place that does not just welcome yachties; it seems to have developed entirely for our benefit. Every morning the boat boys whizz about distributing fresh baguettes and croissants. An extraordinary bright yellow trimaran can be summoned alongside to fill you up with fuel and water, provide a bag of ice for the Rum Punch and take away your dirty laundry.

I felt a bit mean that I hadn’t hoisted a proper courtesy flag. But think about it: there are 40 nations and dependencies in the Caribbean, and every one of them has its own ensign – so I bought a string of “Caribbean Bunting” off eBay and proposed to cut off the appropriate bit as required.

It looks rather cheap, flying there from the signal halyard like an afterthought – as if I don’t care any more about protocol than your average Frenchman. The French don’t even worry about their own ensign.

But, on the island where “living slow” is a way of life, who’s going to care?

It may be different in Mustique, tomorrow…

P.S. If you have been tracking me on NoForeignLand, you may be surprised to find that, apparently, I am in the middle of the Amazon rain forest. I have no idea why, and quite honestly, I’m beginning to find the whole site more trouble than it’s worth.

So I’m going to abandon it.

There are various ship-tracking apps where you can find me by entering the British ship Samsara and the MMSI number 232010712. The best seems to be Marine Traffic (Findship still has me in the Cape Verdes.)

4 Responses to Bequia

  • Glad to hear you got ypur boom fixed. Sounds like a great place to visit. I am now hoping to get to Panama for next March and have therefore put Bequia on my list of stops. Leave some Rum Punch for me please 🙂

  • so why was the rum punch a terrible miscalculation? sounds like a great idea to me! Looks like you made it to Mustique too. Excellent, very jealous

  • New post from old man sailing. Ah! Find a quiet time-slot, put the kettle on and enjoy some observations and musings from this man that is doing what I would like to be doing after retirement. (But probably will not)
    Please keep up the good work, it is needed in these turbulent times.

Publishers and agents

This caused quite a bit of interest when I posted it on a writers’ Facebook group, so I thought people might like to see it here as well.

I used to think that finding a proper agent and a proper publisher was the be-all and end-all for a writer. Now I’m not so sure.
Back in the 1980s, I thought I had written a best-selling thriller. My hero among writers was Ken Follett who started as a reporter on the Evening News. Once he was successful, I interviewed him over lunch at his local restaurant and he ordered Dom Perignon champagne and a claret that would have wiped out my entire week’s expense account – but he insisted on paying.
I sent my book to the Laurence Pollinger Agency. They told me to cut it from 108,000 words down to 60,000, said the result was “workman-like”, and started sending it round the publishers. All of them sent it back with modest compliments but declined to take it. One said it was “too good for the general list”, but since they had already chosen their lead titles, regrettably…
Honestly, how ridiculous is that?
So I put the novel away in the attic and forgot about it – until 2014 when the theme became rather topical. I thought it might be fun to self-publish it on Amazon. It sold a few copies, which was rather gratifying but hardly amounted to literary success. Instead, my writing was confined to this blog which by 2020 had 163 followers.
I kept this number rising gradually by writing posts about particular sailing topics and then posting the link as a comment when one of the subjects came up on a sailing Facebook group.
Then, along came Lockdown. But instead of Locking Down at home, I went off sailing. When I got back, I found myself talking about it on the Jeremy Vine Radio2 show – my ten minutes of fame.
By midnight that night, the blog had received 45,000 hits. More to the point, Jeremy Vine’s literary agent called to say that if I could write a book about it, he was sure he could find a publisher.
I wrote the book in double-quick time – a lot of it was on the blog already – and he sent it to his chums. All five of them came back and said they liked it but asked what was my “platform”. In other words, was I a contestant on Big Brother? Was I a pop star or Premier League, footballer? Did I have ten million Twitter followers? Was I Jeremy Vine, for heaven’s sake?
When they heard I was just a bloke who had gone sailing, they all regretted that the book was “not commercially viable”.
But, of course, now I had written it – and having one book on Amazon already – the obvious thing to do was put this on Mr Bezos’ electronic bookshelf too.
And, of course, I put a link on the blog.
A year later, it is still selling between five and fifteen copies a day. In the run-up to Christmas, this was running at 20 and 50 a day – and the other day, I was astonished to discover that it was the Number One bestselling Amazon sailing book in the USA.
Here’s another thing: If one of those publishers had accepted it, I would have been given an advance of – say – £1,500 (of which the agent would have taken 15%). The book, with colour pictures, would have been priced at £16.99 in hardback with a print run of maybe 2,000. My family and friends would have bought maybe 50 copies and, by the following January, it would be remaindered down to £3.99.
There would have been no second printing.
With Amazon, I was able to set my own price: £11.49 for the paperback and £6.99 for the Kindle edition, of which I receive £2.76 and £4.86 respectively. No pictures are included, but there is a link to the gallery here. During the current month, my income is £719 on top of $829US and $95AUS – as well as various smaller amounts from places like Spain and Brazil.
And, of course, I get to keep it all – before tax, of course.
Because the marketing is done entirely through the blog (which now has some 700 subscribers), people leave comments and sometimes mention how much they enjoyed the book. I am able to reply, asking if they would be sure to leave some Amazon stars – stars are so important.
And reviews, of course – one was so good I couldn’t resist re-posted it. Well, wouldn’t you, if someone wrote: “Now and again, something or someone comes along that invokes a shift in the way we think and view the world. Thank you, John, for opening my eyes to a new paradigm and a reality I thought was beyond the reach of a mere humble town planner. I’ve had a few laughs along the way and all for a few quid. I hope to buy you a beer in some far-flung place one day. Keep up the blogging.”
(Oh dear, I seem to have posted it again…)
Meanwhile, if I look carefully, I can see that, in among the sales of the new book are a few for the old one.
Am I despondent that those publishers turned me down? Not a bit – if they had taken me on, the book would have sunk without trace. Instead Yachting Monthly called it “a word-of-mouth bestseller”.
Now, I would advise any new writer to ignore the traditional route entirely.
Do it yourself – you won’t regret it.
And here’s a tip: One of the hallmarks of a self-published book is dozens of typos and mistakes in the text – you just can’t spot them yourself, no matter how many times you read it through. But a professional editor is expensive (and not always effective).
Here’s what I did: I included a line in the foreword asking people to email me any mistakes they found (just send me five words, including the error, so I can search for it). If they were the first to report something, I would refund the cost of the book.
Three people took this to heart and, between them, cleaned up the whole manuscript. Only one of them accepted the refund.
With Amazon, you can go back in and change things as often as you like – not a luxury you have with the traditional publishers.
Of course, I would be happier if Mr Bezos paid his staff a decent wage – and paid his taxes, come to that. But he’s paying me every month, so I can do my bit on his behalf…

5 Responses to Publishers and agents

  • Well we’ve certainly enjoyed reading it John and so has the next generation in the family. Who is tie Mr Bwzos?! Keep on sailing John and may the waters be kind to you Cap’n!

  • John, I hope you don’t mind, but I am adding you to a list. Already on the list is John Noakes (I loved Blue Peter as a kid), James Wharram and Pip Hare plus a few others I can’t remember at the moment. These are people whose lives I have enjoyed or am enjoying viewing from the sidelines and people whose wake I might find myself following. I bought your most recent book on Kindle, I think I might buy the paper version too. Keep doing what you’re doing!

  • Excellent tip for budding writers!

  • We , your community of readers be it the blog or the book appreciate it as much as yourself your lucky strike with Vince ‘s interview and the events that followed which allowed us to discover your book and blog . We also appreciate that apart from the lucky strike there is a story , a writer and a humble enough person to almost convince the rest of us anyone can try it . We reckon though how brave you really needed to be to do what you did and how beautifully , funny and interestingly you put it on paper . We wished we had such a story to tell to start with . Thank you and congratulations for the success story . Keep it coming
    Fernando. Tarifa Spain