In late November the Caribbean lost a remarkable sailor and seaman. Jolyon Byerley was one of the greats who skippered charter yachts in Commander Nicholson’s growing fleet in English Harbour, Antigua in the early days of the yacht charter business.
We met Jolyon ‘Jol’ Byerley in 1965 when we arrived in Grenada and found his light blue 50-foot ketch Ron of Argyll hauled out on the slip and, being a wooden boat, we had to stop to admire her lines. There were many other occasions over the years, particularly in Antigua when we enjoyed Jolyon’s company, running into him in the Dockyard or at cocktail parties. He was a gregarious and genial person, always had amusing anecdotes to relate and was full of fun and mischief.
Jolyon arrived in Antigua in 1957 from Norfolk in the United Kingdom with his wife Jenny to skipper Mollihawk for the Nicholson’s, and then went on to skipper Caribee, a 90-foot brigantine owned by Walter Boudreau who built the first hotel in Marigot Bay, St Lucia in the 1950s.
A year after we first met him Jolyon bought Lord Jim, a lovely royal blue 73-foot Alden schooner which he found in Boston. Friends joined him and together they sailed Lord Jim from New York to Antigua. Their voyage began with a fine northerly breeze, which soon became a full gale with waves sweeping the yacht from stem to stern. The storm jib was torn to shreds and although they were towing warps to slow her down, in one 24-hour period they ran 200 miles under bare poles. Jolyon sold Lord Jim and went on to own Mirage and then Etoile de Mer.
Jolyon took over the ownership and running of Nicholson’s Yacht Sails from his wife Jenny who founded the business. Jenny also started Lord Jim’s Locker, which Jolyon and his second wife Judy McConnachie took over in 1998.
Maurice Nicholson tells the amusing story of how Jolyon went to one of Commander Nicholson’s Saturday evening cocktail parties with flour balloons, which burst all over the beautiful teak floor. But the Commander took it in good part and happily swept the floor himself. Another famous prank was when he scaled Diamond Rock off the south coast of Martinique and planted a homemade Royal Navy white ensign over its peak, which was removed later by the French authorities. But most of all Jol loved racing and continued competing until his illness prevented him. He owned Morningtide, a Sparkman & Stevens 34-foot sloop, which he raced every Thursday afternoon for many years. The start began at four o’clock at the entrance of English Harbour and the yachts raced around to Falmouth Harbour and back. The fun continued at six o’clock with everyone gathered for rum punches at the flagpole by the Officers’ Quarters and the announcement of the winners. Jolyon also entered Morningtide in many other races including Antigua Sailing Week. After Morningtide, he owned and raced the yachts Encore, Riptide, Hightide and Springtide.
Many will remember the glorious sight of Jolyon Byerley piloting Lord Jim into harbour and anchoring under sail, and seeing him out on the racecourse with his devoted crew of ladies gracing the windward rail.
He was a popular columnist for several sailing magazines, including All At Sea and wrote a children’s book, Shadows on the Moon, A Lizard and Bungle Adventure. He also contributed to a number of cruising guides.
In 2004 Jolyon Byerley was awarded a G.O.M. (Grand Officer of Merit) by the Governor General of Antigua and Barbuda for long service to yachting.
Jolyon Byerley, born May 25 1932, died November 27 2014