Charles E Nicholson

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And His Yachts

By Franco Pace and William Collier

Text Reproduced below: Courtesy of Adlard Coles Nautical, an imprint of A & C Black Publishers Ltd.

Thanks to Tony How of Superyacht Doc for donating the book.

Charles E Nicholson become recognised as a force within yacht design at a time when his father’s firm was in decline. Although only formed as Camper & Nicholson in 1863, the Gosport-based yacht builders were the direct continuation of the yard established in the tatter part of the 18th century by Frances Calense Amos. In 1809 Amos was joined by his great-nephew William Camper, who became an apprentice in his yard and eventually took it over in 1824. It was Camper who forged strong links with the wealthy members of the Royal Yacht Squadron and positioned the business at the forefront of the emergent yacht building industry. From the launching of the cutter Breeze in 1836 onwards, Camper built up a reputation as a builder of fast yachts. For a twenty-year period he built a large number of yachts, particularly schooners which were favoured by a prestigious clientele, and so his name was well established by the mid-nineteenth century. The trauma of America’s 1851 defeat of the cream of British yacht in the founding race for the America’s Cup, followed in 1854 by the outbreak of the Crimean War and the consequent cessation of yachting heralded a premature decline to Camper’s career.

The interruption by war left the many questions raised  about America’s apparent superiority in abeyance and it was not until 1860 that a new British schooner, the Aline, appeared to offer an innovative design solution. Aline’s designer and builder was Ben Nicholson, who had joined Camper’s yard as a shipwright apprentice in 1842. Thanks to a combination of skill and the lack of a clear male heir within the Camper family, Nicholson had risen to become the senior employee. Aline’s incredible racing success prompted Nicholson’s further promotion and facilitated his choice as Camper’s replacement when the latter sought to retire in 1863. Financed by both Camper and the Lapthorn family, who operated the sail loft adjacent to the yard, Nicholson not only took over Camper’s business but also undertook a 30-year programme of expansion. I tonnage terms, the design and construction of large schooners dominated the firm’s output, and to this staple Nicholson added an extensive refit and maintenance business which was made possible by the near constant expansion  of the yard’s facilities.

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