THE HISTORY OF THE ANTIGUA YACHT SHOW.
By: Lisa Nicholson
A spectacular array of fine yachts from all over the world is once again gathering at the Marinas in Falmouth and English Harbours to participate in the annual Yacht Show. Since it is fifty-one years ago that the Nicholson family first established this event, it is seems appropriate to remember its humble beginnings and reflect on what it has contributed to Antigua over the years.
Commander and Mrs. Nicholson and their two sons Desmond and Rodney arrived in English Harbour in 1949 aboard their beautiful yacht, Mollihawk. The Dockyard was a deserted collection of fine old buildings in a state of disrepair, located in one of the best small harbours in the Caribbean. Twelve years later the two sons had married, all three families had built homes, and together they had established a Yacht Charter business which was attracting vessels and visitors to this forgotten corner of Antigua.
In order to publicize the cruising vacations they were offering on the yachts they had encouraged to come to the Caribbean, they decided to organize an opportunity for the vessels to be inspected, and set up what was originally called the Travel Agents Weekend, to take place before the winter cruising season. Commander and Mrs. Nicholson entertained these Agents in the home they had built around the historic Powder Magazine, establishing the hospitality that has always been at the heart of our Show. V.E.B. Nicholson & Sons arranged for the Agents to see the yachts, meet their crews and even go for a sail so as to better recommend this new idea of yacht chartering to their clients.
Half a century later, the Show is still fulfilling this original concept of gathering Yachts in Antigua as they come to the Caribbean for the winter yachting season so that they can be inspected and publicized. As worldwide Yachting activity expanded over the years the Show has grown, and it also now provides opportunity for Yacht Brokers to see vessels available for sale as well as those for charter. The Show's name evolved from being the Agents Weekend to being the Nicholson Charter Yacht Show and then to its present identity a few years ago.
Several factors contribute to the lasting success of Antigua’s Show. It started just as the Island was beginning to develop as a tourist destination, benefitting from the fact that there was an adequate airport enabling people to get here, mainly at first from the UK and the USA. It takes place in a part of the Island which has dedicated itself to servicing the yacht industry, and benefits from the unique historical ambiance of the Dockyard. Our yacht workers are renowned for their skills, and many small businesses have grown up to provide what yachts need. The friendliness of the local people is a key factor in attracting people to our shores, and having two protected harbours in close proximity enables the Show to accommodate more vessels in modest-sized attractive Marinas.
As we survey the glittering array of expensive modern yachts this year, it is nice to look back on some of the vessels of yesteryear which provided the foundation of today’s industry. The 70 ft. schooner Mollihawk was the grandmother of the fleet, gradually joined by such vessels as the 86 ft. schooner Freelance, 54 ft. schooner Carrina, 63 ft. ketch Georgiana and 70 ft. ketch Pas de Loup. They were run by European Captains, with local West Indians as crew, many of whom have gone on to lifetime careers in the yacht industry. Those early yachts were the pioneers that laid the foundation of what we have today, and it was the inspiration of the Nicholson family that got them here in the first place. It now feels appropriate to honour that heritage and do everything possible to keep the energy going for future generations.