Eight Bells: John Nichols

Published on December 10th, 2015

Most current members of St. Thomas Yacht Club never had the opportunity to meet John Nichols, longtime St. Thomas (USVI) resident and club member, who passed away at the ripe age of 100 in San Francisco on December 6, 2015.

John had been living in San Francisco with his son, Michael, since he moved from St. Thomas a number of years ago. John was well and alert until just a few weeks ago, when his health took a sudden downturn. He passed peacefully, in hospice with Michael at his side.

John’s accomplishments in the world of sailing are endless. He was an avid racer and member at the Larchmont Yacht Club (Larchmont, NY) since 1948, sailing IODs, Etchells, and Shields among others. He loved team racing and participated in many team racing events including those against the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club where he became a lifelong friend of Shorty Trimingham.

John was involved in at least three America’s Cup campaigns as a sailor in Defender trials. He also served on the New York Yacht Club Race Committee for the America’s Cup. John was a boat yard owner, a tinkerer, and an inventor. He invented many of the rope to wire splices used today. He was a race committee innovator who set up many of today’s procedures.

This is not the John Nichols that many who had the pleasure of knowing him remember. John was the ultimate Corinthian. He believed in sailing in the purest sense; a sailing world with no professionals, no advertising, and no need for juries after races, because Corinthian sailors retired immediately if they broke a rule.

Sails were to be white, junior sailors did not need intense coaching, simply more time on the water. In John’s day, it was a sport not a business; it was something you did seriously and for the sheer enjoyment of it, and more importantly, by adhering closely to the rules.

Those who had the pleasure of spending time with John, have now changed and have tried to adapt to today’s sport as it’s now played, but also understand how wonderful sailing is when enjoyed John’s way, a very pleasurable way, while he was around us. Legions thank and respect him.

John Nichols’s time at STYC was extremely well spent and hugely beneficial to the club. He ran the Race Committee during the International Rolex Regatta (now called St. Thomas International Regatta) for more years than anyone can remember. He helped run regattas for Maxi yachts and the 50’s class. These were events that small yacht clubs such as STYC would never be entrusted to run. But John provided the needed credibility to be awarded these regattas and always performed as well or better than the big clubs because of John. He loved to teach people how to run races. He was one of the first to use the word “customer” when referring to entries.

For those who worked with him in race management, they learned more about running fair, honest, and proper races than any book or seminar can teach. A culture of expertise in the region stems from John’s effort.

Besides being a great race officer, John was an internationally renowned International Judge and is remembered well for his jury work throughout the USA and Caribbean. The International Judges at STYC today were mentored by him, encouraged by him, given opportunities to perform by him, and they owe their judging careers to him.

Sailing is not the only thing that John did well! He was an accomplished artist and wood worker. A visit to his house at Pelican Point would see his latest painting or beautiful cabinets. John was soft spoken and unimpressed with himself and always the consummate gentleman and the perfect host who, along with his beloved wife, Doris, gave the most wonderful dinner parties on their orchid bedecked terraces.

Old school, old fashioned, sometimes curmudgeonly (but only in the nicest sense), but most of all a wonderful friend and an honored and loved member of STYC.

The word “legend” fits him perfectly.

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