- On January 24th, an era came to a close as Desmond Nicholson, son of the late Commander Vernon Nicholson R.N. (Rtd), left us. An integral part of Antigua’s identity, Desmond’s life was woven into the fabric of the island, his influence spanning yachting, cultural preservation, and friendship.
- Desmond’s unwavering dedication to preserving Antigua’s history and heritage is evident in his contributions to museums, his extensive writings on the islands’ history, and his archeological pursuits. As a sailor, Desmond not only initiated Antigua’s renowned Sailing Week but also played a crucial role in the charter business under Nicholson Yachts World Wide.
- His influence extended beyond his professional achievements; Desmond was an accomplished athlete, a loving family man, and a cherished friend to many. His enduring connections across the Caribbean, nurtured through his yachting voyages and ventures, reflected his open-hearted nature.
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.