PETER NICHOLSON Got the T-shirt
Classic Boat|January 2021
From navy pilot to yacht designer to Squadron commodore to company boss... it’s all in a life’s work to Peter Nicholson
NIGEL SHARP

It was always inevitable, at least in his father’s mind, that Peter Nicholson would work at the family firm. He was the fourth generation of the Nicholson family to do so after his great grandfather Ben, who started his apprenticeship with William Camper in 1842 and eventually took over the yard; his great uncle Charles E Nicholson, the famous yacht designer who produced the four British Js, among many other designs in a prolific career; and his father Charles A Nicholson (often called Young Charlie) who was also an accomplished designer.

After leaving school, Peter did his National Service as a pilot in the Fleet Air Arm, learning to fly and even landing on the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious. He then went to work as a draftsman at JS White in Cowes, “but they were running out of work,” Peter told me, “and, after spending six months drawing a bulwark door for a light vessel, I left.” For the next year he worked “for a government department developing RIBs for clandestine landings” before starting work at Camper and Nicholsons’ Southampton yard, first in the drawing office, then as assistant yard manager. Around then he also qualified as a naval architect after attending classes at Southampton College of Technology.

There were two other fourth-generation Nicholsons working in the family company – Peter’s younger brother George and his slightly older cousin Christopher. This might have led to a power struggle as it had with the previous generation. “My father was always based at the Southampton yard and Christopher’s father was at Gosport,” said Peter, “and they were almost rivals.” But Christopher didn’t have the “same enthusiasm for business I had,” said Peter, and George took over the company’s Mediterranean office, partly because “it was clear that a lot of our business was going to come from there,” and also because the climate would be better for a lung condition he had. “So Christopher’s father John, chairman at the time, promoted me and I was effectively MD by 30.”

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