Lisa Nicholson arrived in Antigua more than half a century ago — on a charter holiday. She married into the Nicholson family, a moving force behind the renovation of Nelson’s Dockyard and the birth of the charter and tourism industries in Antigua. YACHTING interviewed Lisa for a sidebar in our March 2011 Cruising Yachtsman story “Our Own Island.” The following is the full text of our interview.
YACHTING: When and why did you first come to Antigua?
Lisa Nicholson: I first came to Antigua in 1956, having recently graduated from Radcliffe. My stepfather Laurens Hammond (of Hammond Organ fame, in case that's of interest) had invited his new bride, my mother, and her children to come on a cruise in the Caribbean. He chartered a wonderful old 86 ft. Schooner, the Freelance, from V.E.B. Nicholson & Sons, captained by Desmond Nicholson and crewed by 5 West Indians. Desmond and I 'took a shine to each other' as the saying goes, and we were eventually married in May 1957. Our honeymoon was spent taking the Nicholson family yacht, the Mollihawk, to dry dock in Barbados, and then we settled down in Antigua to build the house I still live in, and establish various operations in yachting activity and eventually Antigua's two Museums. Desmond died in 2006.
YACHTING: How has it changed since then?
Lisa Nicholson: Well, the whole world has changed dramatically in the past 50 years, hasn't it - that's a tough question to answer briefly. Antigua was still a colony under British rule when I came, so there have been huge social, political and economic changes on the island throughout the fabric my time here. It had been an agrarian economy based on the crop of sugar cane, but this gave way tourism as the main source of revenue as the world's citizens began to travel.
The Nicholson family (parents and two brothers, eventually with their spouses), having arrived in 1949 after the War established themselves in a forgotten corner of the island, English Harbour, and began to encourage sailors to come and base in the Old Naval Dockyard, from which they began to operate a new business idea of making yachts available to take people sailing down the islands. This led to the growth of other yacht-related services such as accommodation, maintenance, and regattas. Never in our wildest dreams could we have imagined the number and range of vessels that now spend time in these harbors.
YACHTING: What makes Antigua special for visiting yachtsmen and charterers in your opinion?
Lisa Nicholson: I think Antigua is special because its' yacht industry grew up gradually over the years, under the inspiration of a family that had connections in other parts of the world to attract people here, but themselves always remained firmly established in and loyal to this English Harbour area and its people. It was kind of an organic development, rather than one being imposed from outside. Then there's nowhere else in the world quite like the beautiful historic Georgian Dockyard (now known as Nelson's Dockyard) - which also happens to be one of the safest and most protected anchorages in the entire Caribbean. It's a special place with a fine variety of services and activities for both visiting yachts and their charterers, right in the area.
It has been an amazing adventure living here all these years, and I sincerely hope it will continue to flourish in the years ahead without ever losing its unique historic and West Indian identity in the high-pressure materialism that seems to be so rampant throughout the "developed world" these days.