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Eight Bells: Richard Avery

Published on February 4th, 2017

Richard Avery, an icon in the Caribbean, passed away early Friday morning, February 3, 2017. Closing in on 90 years, his passing must be celebrated not mourned as his was a remarkable and exciting life. Dick could best be described as a bit “crusty” but his heart was open to all. He was a man to whom monetary things meant little but he lived a rich life.

Dick was a true pioneer arriving in Virgin Islands in the 50’s where he quickly met his Swedish wife of over 65 years, Maryann. He started Avery’s Boathouse in Frenchtown where he virtually invented the Bareboat charter industry.

Dick had the wonderfully creative idea to sell Pearson Yachts to his local friends and then help pay for them by chartering them to well established New England sailors a few weeks a year. A new industry was born and the island had its first fleet of racing yachts. It was never Dick’s interest in getting rich this way but simply wanted to get more folks sailing on his beloved waters.

Dick didn’t have a $1000 to become a charter member of St. Thomas Yacht Club (STYC) at its inception but he engineered and built the first club house with Rudy Thompson. He raised and rigged the pole that now serves as its distinctive masthead and was the brains and force behind the wonderful awning over the club deck.

Dick would go on to lead STYC as its Commodore in 1975 and 1976, with so much of the club’s history intertwined through Dick’s life and his racing yachts mostly called “Joker”.

Dick was a “renaissance man” in very strict terms. He was an inventor, a builder (houses and yachts), a writer (serving as Caribbean Correspondent for Yachting Magazine), a sculptor, loved classical music and a bard / storyteller.

His first and only house in St. Thomas was built on 11 telephone poles and he designed the house around all existing rocks that actually appeared in his rooms. When the power went out, Dick had a 12 volt light system powered by boat battery that lit his home and comfortable but tiny “cocktail pool”.

Not to be out down, his home in Maine was a literal “shack” on the end of a dock where water was retrieved via a hand pump and garbage went through a hatch in the floor into the sea. The one addition he was most proud of was an actual sauna with water poured on hot rocks he created in a concession to Maryann’s Swedish heritage. To say Dick was unique is quite the understatement.

A man of simple needs, Dick held court every day at the Quarterdeck (now Hook, Line and Sinker) in St Thomas, surrounded by a small group of friends and an occasional interloper who was always welcome. Lunch was always a rare “Seacow“ burger and fries always at exactly noon. His life was simple but full.

On his 50th, STYC hosted a Dick Avery look-alike contest with Breton red shorts, navy polo shirts, and a scruffy beard was the uniform of the evening. He was always willing to help you out with any marine issue and a bill never followed. He was formal in a nautical manner and loved the tradition that comes from being a true “Yachtsman”.

In years to come when folks speak of the great years of Caribbean sailing, the stories will focus on the legends I was lucky to know: Joel Byerley, Dr. Robin Tattersall, Don Street, Rudy Thompson, and most importantly Commodore Dick Avery. Dick, Rest in Piece, there will never be another quite like you. – Bill Canfield

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