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Camper & Nicholsons, sailing to new horizons since 1782
Tristan Rutherford
30th May 2019

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Camper & Nicholsons, sailing to new horizons since 1782

Sir Thomas Sopwith was a typical Camper and Nicholsons client. He was a captain of industry who combined hard work with pioneering pleasures. These included hot air ballooning, champion level motorcycling and prize-winning aviation.

In the 1930s, as now, the greatest sailing endeavour was the America’s Cup. When Sir Thomas needed a yacht to compete for the trophy, only one designer, Charles Nicholson, could guarantee the necessary power and prowess. The result was Endeavour. This J-Class had looks to kill and the speed to match, and remains one of most eye-catching yachts ever built. Although she lost the 1934 cup on a technicality (one wit declared “Britannia rules the waves but America waives the rules”), her legacy is more compelling.Endeavour is still racing in regattas today, alongside three of the four J-Class yachts built by Camper & Nicholsons.

The company has delivered yachts to royalty, celebrity and racing legends since 1782. A young designer called William Camper started the winning trend. His inaugural launch, Breeze, won the King’s Cup sailing race, resulting in a flurry of orders. A 14-year-old apprentice, Ben Nicholson, joined the growing firm in 1842. Nicholson soon learnt the company way - working in tandem with purchasers to create the world’s finest bespoke yachts. His 44m schooner Amphitrite is a story in itself. She belonged to a British colonel, two Dukes and a Swedish industrialist, then served as a sailing school and a working movie prop. She is still sailing today as a German cadet training vessel. On such longevity was the Camper & Nicholsons brand born. 

A pioneering spirit has kept the company ahead the pack. A novel idea in the 1950s was to send a young staff member, George Nicholson, to the South of France to source repair work for its Gosport shipyard. There was only one problem. Nicholson preferred the Cote d’Azur to ration-era Britain. So he opened an office on La Croisette in Cannes and created the overseas brokerage industry from scratch. Among the first yachts commissioned via Cannes was Destiny in 1959. The 29m cruiser still turns heads in Cannes’ old harbour. Such legends have maintained Camper and Nicholsons’ position as the largest, oldest and most prestigious name in luxury yachting.

Other bureaux were opened in quick succession including Antibes, Palma and Monaco. The 1960s were a fabulous age. While Jackie Stewart raced the streets of Monaco, and The Beatles partied at Nice’s Hotel Negresco, Camper & Nicholsons undertook a more serious commission at their original Gosport yard. One of Britain’s greatest explorers, Sir Francis Chichester, decided to race around world - at the age of 64. His resulting yacht, Gipsy Moth IV, took everything the Southern Ocean could throw at it. After 226 days at sea, she sailed back to England’s south coast and smashed five world records. In 2004 Camper and Nicholsons renovatedGipsy Moth IV at cost price. She later took part in the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant for Queen Elizabeth II.

The family affair isn’t over. George Nicholson’s son, Fernando, now heads Camper & Nicholsons Miami office. Nor has the quest for new horizons been quelled. The latest office openings include Hong Kong and Phuket, astride Asia’s largest economy and its finest sailing grounds. Recent years have also included the invention of a new builds department and an in-house risk management service. While in 2019 the company will release a 360° digital platform that will revolutionise the way yachts are chartered, bought and sold. Nearly 250 years since its inception, Camper & Nicholsons is sailing further than ever before.