Lisa Nicholson, who with her late husband transformed the now-famous Nelson’s Dockyard in Antigua into a Caribbean yachting hub, died on March 20. She was 88 years old.
Nicholson, nee Lisa Dodd, was born in June 1934 in New York City. She grew up in Connecticut, attending high school at the Putney School in Vermont. She went on to attend Radcliffe College in Massachusetts, then a liberal-arts school for women. Shortly after graduation, she took her first trip to Antigua in 1956 with her mother, stepfather, and siblings. Her stepfather had chartered an 86-foot (26-meter) schooner, Freelance, from V.E.B. Nicholson & Sons, a.k.a. Nicholson Yacht Charters. Although she didn’t know it at the time, the island would become her home for the rest of her life. The captain of Freelance was Desmond Nicholson, whose brother Rodney, sister-in-law Julie, and father ran the charter company. Lisa and Desmond Nicholson were immediately attracted to one another, and they married in 1957.
The newlyweds did just what any cruising couple would do, spending their honeymoon on the water. They took the Nicholson family’s yacht, Mollihawk, to Barbados for drydock work. Upon returning to Antigua, they built the home that they continued to live in for the rest of their lives. Importantly, they set up a variety of yachting businesses in English Harbour, tied to the Old Naval Dockyard. Dating to the 18th century, the dockyard and harbor were the only ones in the Eastern Caribbean large enough for naval-ship repairs. It had, however, fallen into disrepair over many decades, since the Royal Navy last used it in 1889. The Nicholson family, including Lisa and Desmond, began restoring the dockyard, transforming it into Nelson’s Dockyard. Inarguably, Nelson’s Dockyard propelled Antigua to the forefront of yachting in the Caribbean. It additionally remains the only dockyard from its era that is operational today.
Besides attracting yacht-charter customers, Nelson’s Dockyard attracted visitors for further reasons. For example, Lisa Nicholson and her husband established the Admiral’s Inn in 1961, a boutique hotel in historic buildings. The hotel is still in business. Famous regattas like Antigua Sailing Week came due to their efforts, and they set up two museums as well.
Lisa Nicholson became quite involved with the local community, too. Among other things, she was a founding member of the Environmental Awareness Group and active in the Baxter Memorial Methodist Church.
Last year, the National Parks Authority celebrated the 60th anniversary of Nelson’s Dockyard’s restoration. As part of that celebration, the organization named Lisa Nicholson a Community Anchor, recognizing her work to restore and promote the site. A proclamation reads, “Together with her late husband Desmond, Lisa contributed tirelessly in making Antigua the mecca of yachting in the Caribbean.” (Desmond Nicholson died in 2006.)
Lisa Nicholson leaves behind a sister, brother, three daughters, nine grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. Services are set for April 20 at the Baxter Memorial Methodist Church in English Harbour. A celebration of life at the Dow’s Hill Interpretation Centre follows.