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The decadent decade in Cannes

Yachting is all about sailing to new horizons. At Camper & Nicholsons the ethos is exactly the same. In 1782 the firm commenced production of luxury yachts in Gosport on Britain’s southern coast. Over two centuries they pioneered a dozen innovations from flying boats to the world’s first diesel-powered luxury cruisers. Former chairman George Nicholson recalls the later years. “Our Gosport yard was used to build the world’s largest schooners. These include Creole, which was designed by Charles E Nicholson in 1927.”

Like many classic Camper & Nicholsons yachts, Creole is not only still afloat, she also boasts a history as illustrious as the company itself. Delivered for an American industrialist, she passed to an English baronet, before performing wartime duties as a mine hunter. e schooner then sailed under the flag of a Greek shipping magnate, the Danish Navy, then the Gucci family who restored her to her original Nicholsons glory. For good reason she is still invited to regattas far and wide: at 63m in length, Creole remains the largest wooden sailing yacht in the world. By the 1960s the yachting industry was changing. A growing market for leisure needs, rather than naval speeds, set the company on a different course. In 1961 George Nicholson, then a young employee, set sail for Cannes in the South of France. In May that year Alain Delon had opened the Cannes Film Festival, while Gina Lollobrigida wowed crowds by combining a straw hat with a necklace of pearls. A meeting that month in France between Charles de Gaulle and John F Kennedy inspired other Americans to cruise in.

Nicholson’s idea was simple. By opening a brokerage office in jet set Cannes, the first of its kind in the industry, orders could be transferred to the boatyard back in Britain. “In 1959 we built Destiny II, the first of the larger Camper & Nicholsons motor yachts, then sold several more of her series through our Cannes office,” Nicholson recalls. e 29m cruiser still turns heads in Cannes’ old harbour. At Camper & Nicholsons purchasers don’t merely buy a yacht, they buy an institution.

Cannes sparkled throughout the 1960s. Films like La Dolce Vita scooped the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, as starlets like Sophia Loren sashayed past the Camper & Nicholsons office at 36 La Croisette. Hollywood antics brought reporters from the world over on new Boeing 707 jets. Passenger numbers at Nice Cote d’Azur Airport topped one million. From the coastal airstrip a sea shuttle operated by Air France ferried passengers directly to Cannes itself.

George Nicholson’s order book grew alongside Cannes’ celebrity allure. “ e largest motor yachts built at Southampton were from orders from the Cannes office”, he explains. “ These include Chambel IV in 1966 and Terancar Nitani in 1967.” e former featured in Architectural Digest, which claimed that ‘the beauty admirers have sighed over for more than 40 years remains unimpaired’. e latter, a prowling 46m with a navy blue hull, was recently marketed for a far greater sum than her original build price. As anyone on La Croisette might attest, style never goes out of fashion.

e record-breaking decade didn’t end there. Nicholson’s success in Cannes inspired new sales and charter offices in Monaco and Palma. And where one blazes a trail, others follow. Thanks to Camper & Nicholsons original presence, a dozen other yacht harbours boast with accoutrements of the luxury yacht industry. Indeed George Nicholson’s original office is now sandwiched by Louis Vuitton and the Armani Ca eÌ€. Orders for fresh yachts - with an espresso macchiato thrown in - can be directed to a newer bureau in Port Pierre Canto at the eastern end of La Croisette.

Over the next 200 years, tastes will surely shift again. New yachts will be commissioned, perhaps with solar cells and pilotless tenders, that are barely conceivable today. Fortunately Camper & Nicholsons opening decade in Cannes proves one thing. As the company remains ever willing to conquer new horizons, the future looks shipshape. After all, it’s what they have been doing since 1782.