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Jol Byerley’s Mar 06 Letter from Antigua

At about 8
o’clock in the morning on the 24th of January
there came about what can only be described as an end of an era. Desmond
Nicholson, eldest son of the late Commander Vernon Nicholson R.N. (Rtd)
and his wife Emmy had very sadly passed away in the
Adelin Clinic in St John’s
Antigua. Up until the last Desmond was a man
who always had a twinkle in his eye. His life for well over half a century had
been centered around his adopted small island home of
Antigua. It is almost impossible to describe how much
time and effort he has put into such things as Antigua’s two museums in
both the capitol city St John’s and the museum of
Nelson’s Dockyard. He has written
countless books and articles on the early and present history of the two sister
islands, along with organizing archeological digs in an attempt to fathom out
the long ago activities of the Arawak Indians who
lived here.

He was a
very accomplished photographer and lecturer, as well as being a sailor of note,
who basically began Antigua’s famed
Sailing Week. But most of all Desmond played a leading part in the
Antigua based charter business which to this day still
operates under the name of Nicholson Yachts World Wide and plays a valuable
part in running the fabulous Yacht Charter Meeting. In his early years, both at
school in the U.K.
and in the Royal Corps of Signals, he was an accomplished athlete winning the
British Army High Jump Championship and even being a possible Olympic
contender. In his later life, Desmond’s younger brother Rodney has
presided over the Nicholson Charter business but Desmond’s presence in
the absence of his father has been much appreciated by all. Lisa Nicholson,
Desmond’s wife is the mother of their 3 girls Sarah,
Nancy and Celia and of course their late son Chris who sadly died in New Zealand
in a mountaineering accident.

Desmond’s life in Antigua began in 1949 when his father,
(that most lovable of men who incidentally was also an
astute business man ) and wife Emma sailed their Linton Hope designed 70ft
schooner Mollihawk
across the then lonely Atlantic shortly after the Second
World War. They were headed for almost anywhere that offered an
easy going, and fun way of life. Having made their landfall in
Barbados they began sailing up the empty island
chain until one day they sailed into a deserted
English Harbour.
It had been the one-time base of a young captain Horatio Nelson who would leave
his name to the crumbling ruins of the old British naval base. The Family was
immediately captivated! The old place cried out for a saviour
or someone to bring back its life and vitality. So it was not long before
the Family Nicholson was living amongst the ruins of Nelson’s Naval
Dockyard, and slowly, very slowly this once thriving base for the British Royal
Navy saw the very beginnings of what it has become today. The only working
Georgian era Dockyard in the world . A few other
yachtsmen following in the Commander’s footsteps also began to disturb
the slumbering ghosts and the Family began to realize that this wonderful old
ruin indeed had a future. Desmond was in his element. He and his father and
brother firstly brought Mollihawk
back up to scratch. Then the old Pay Office which now houses the Signal Locker,
Crab Hole Liquors and a coffee shop became the home of Commander and Mrs Nicholson.

Shortly
thereafter one of the American visitors to the island saw the very lovely
Mollihawk
alongside the Dockyard wall and inquired if he and his family could be taken
down islands for a little trip. And the very first charter began out of
English Harbour,
Antigua. To cut a long story short, the
Commander was soon going back to the
UK to look for more yachts to join
the fleet. So Desmond and Rodney had a growing fleet to sail the
Caribbean.

A little
later a bright eyed young man (me) came out in 1957 to run Mollihawk when Des and Rodney
moved ashore to take on the problems created by a very new business. And what a
wonderful time that was, a mixture of tremendous fun and very hard work.
Desmond had sussed out the harbours
in all the islands and with a really good Antiguan crew comprising of
Warnford and Jonas Sebastian plus Alfa Le Blanc had sailed
into every possible harbour and anchorage throughout
the Caribbean. So the first guide to the
West Indies was available to me. He had also made dozens
of friends who were residents of the various islands. Such as the
Strongs of Dominica, the old priest who lived in a house
that looked like a boat in the Isles de Saints, the Beaufronds
of Martinique, the Hackshaws of St Lucia along with
dear old Jossette Snowball of Pigeon Island, the
Hazells of St Vincent, old man Sidney McIntosh of
Bequai, and the Evans Family of Grenada. So Desmond made it
all very easy for a new boy to the Caribbean
like me.

Remember
that nearly all the charts of those days were of a vintage well before the
Second World War. So we sailed up and down the island chain with just
Desmond’s charts and instructions. Also up and down the island chain were
dozens of Desmond’s friends. Taxi drivers like Joe Rattan in Fort de
France. There were Customs and Immigration men; there were school teachers and
mechanics. All of whom repeatedly asked when he, Desmond was coming back to see
them. Meanwhile, Desmond had started a hotel and a chandlery store in Antigua
and moved up to his hill top eerie overlooking
Falmouth Harbour.

But it so
happened one morning not so long ago (the 24th of January to be
exact ) a strangely dark squall or cloud swept over our
little island. Then, suddenly the dark cloud was gone and in its place came
bright sunshine. Almost like the opening of a door allowing access to a
beautiful garden beyond and in this brief time my dear friend Desmond had moved
on and left us.

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