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Friday 12th December 2014

Kay Pope presents ‘Memories of Jolyon Byerley’ on her blog, “Cabo Trafalgar in the Moonlight”. Read below her tribute to a sailing legend in the Caribbean who recently passed.

Written on the : 3 of Dec 2014

"Last week the Caribbean lost a remarkable sailor who skippered yachts carrying guests between the islands from Grenada to Antigua and whose seamanship joins the ranks of the 'greats' among them Maurice Nicholson with the Eleuthera and Ian Spencer, who skippered charter yachts in Commander Nicholson's growing fleet in English Harbour, Antigua in the very early days of the yacht charter business. We met Jol Byerley in 1965 when we arrived in Grenada and found his light blue 50-foot double ended ketch called Ron of Argyll hauled out on the slip and being a wooden boat, we had to stop to admire her lines. There were so many other occasions over the years, particularly in Antigua when we enjoyed his company, running into him in the Dockyard or at cocktail parties. He was a gregarious and genial person, always had amusing anecdotes to relate and was full of fun and mischief.

Jolyon Byerley arrived in Antigua in 1957 from Norfolk in the United Kingdom with his wife Jenny and immediately began skippering charter yachts for the Nicholson's. An early command was the Caribee, a 90-foot brigantine owned by Walter Boudreau who built the first hotel in Marigot Bay, St Lucia in the 1950s. There were many other large yachts which followed during the next years ending with Le Voyageur, a 138-foot Herreshoff staysail schooner and then bought his own ketch called Ron of Argyll. A year after we first met him in Grenada he bought Lord Jim, a lovely royal blue Alden 73-foot schooner which he went to see in Boston. Friends joined him and sailed her from Long Island, New York to bring her down to Antigua. Their voyage began with a fine northerly 25 knot wind which soon became a full gale with waves sweeping over her from the stern to bow. The storm jib was torn to shreds and in spite of the fact they were towing warps to slow Lord Jim's speed, in one 24-hour period they ran 250 miles under bare poles. When Jol sold Lord Jim a few years later he retired from chartering and worked for Nicholson's Yacht Sales in Antigua. Later he and his second wife Judy McConnachie opened the Lord Jim's Locker, a bookshop and boutique by the Yacht Club in Falmouth Harbour.

Maurice Nicholson tells the amusing story how Jol went to one of Commander Nicholson's Saturday evening cocktail parties with flour balloons which burst all over the beautiful teak floor. But the Commander took it in good part and happily swept the floor himself. Another well known prank was when Jol climbed Diamond Rock off the south coast of Martinique and planted a homemade Royal Navy white ensign over its peak, which was removed later by the French authorities. (This mirrored the earlier true legend that occurred in 1804 when Commodore Samuel Hood took possession of Diamond Rock, hauled up a few 24-pounder guns to the top and with thirty riflemen blockaded the southern entry to Fort Royal (now known as Fort de France) and held the rock for seventeen months, while the northern approach to Fort Royal was blockaded by Hood's squadron.)  But most of all Jol loved racing and continued competing until his illness prevented him. He owned Morningtide, a Sparkman & Stevens 34-foot sloop which he raced every Thursday afternoon for many years. The start began at four o'clock by Fort Barclay at the entrance of English Harbour and the yachts raced around to Falmouth Harbour and back. The fun continued at six o'clock with everyone gathered for rum punches at the flagpole by the Officers' Quarters and the announcement of the winners. Jol also entered Morningtide in other races including Antigua Sailing Week held at the end of April and early May. Later he bought and raced another 34-foot sloop, a Piper 34 designed by David Boyd and called her Springtide. She was even entered in this year's Sailing Week and sailed by his daughter Carey and her husband Robbie Ferron. Jol was a popular columist for several sailing magazines, including 'Letter from Antigua' in All At Sea magazine and wrote a children's book, Shadows on the Moon, A Lizard and Bungle Adventure. He also contributed to the Jerrems C. Hart's Cruising Guide to the Caribbean, the Bahamas including the North coast of South America, Central America and the Yucatan. He was an enthusiastic supporter of the Antigua Yacht Club and was five times commodore. In 2004 Jol was awarded a G.O.M. by the Governor General of Antigua and Barbuda for long service to yachting. For those who remember the glorious sight of Jol piloting Lord Jim into harbour and anchoring under sail, in the link is an article about Lord Jim's colourful history of all her previous owners and adventures. In the photo below is the start of the 1976 Boxing Day race in English Harbour, Antigua, the winner of the race Morningtide is the second yacht from left with Jol at the helm and his crew of ladies. For more on those early days of the Caribbean, please see Adventures in the Trade Wind by Richard Dey, The Story of Maurice Nicholson, Pioneer Charterboat Skipper, and of Yacht Chartering in the West Indies in the Half Century after the Second World War."


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