As Father’s Day nears, we think about the men who are our role models in life. One local dad who we lost last month was William "Bill" Edward Nicolai, Jr. who died at 91. His celebration of life was this week at Alamitos Bay Yacht Club (ABYC).
Bill was a life-long resident of Long Beach and attended Lowell Elementary, Rogers Jr. High School and Wilson High School. As a youth, he joined Boy Scout Troop 99, earning rank of Eagle Scout in 1942.
Nicolai’s detailed scouting records were available to review thanks to another Long Beach sailor — Chris Wacker, who’s Santa Cruz 50 "Flyingfiche II" is always a top finisher.
Long Beach Area Council Scout Executive John Fullerton explained, “As part of our centennial celebration, Laserfishe donated their services to scan 53,000 individual scout record cards dating back to the early 1920s and created a searchable database.”
The scout record shows one of Nicolai’s first badges was swimming — a skill Long Beach watermen know is the baseline for any watersport. He progressed quickly through his rank advancement, and obtained Eagle by the time he was 15.
According to Fullerton, “Eagle Scout is the highest award in Scouting, earned by only about 4 percent of Scouts. The award focuses on a youth’s leadership development and embodies the values of Scouting.”
The values, interests and the drive that were documented in Nicolai’s scout record were consistent throughout his lifetime.
Bill’s son Kurt Nicolai said, “I was fortunate to have a long and rare relationship with my father. It encompassed family, business and sailing. My dad grew up in Belmont Shore and spent his summers sailing on Alamitos Bay mostly in a boat called a Skimmer.”
A Skimmer recreational dinghy is just short of 11 feet. Designed in the 1930s they are often homebuilt and proponents claim, “Where gettin' wet is part of the trip.”
“When I was 9, he found an old Skimmer for sale in Long Beach," Nicolai said. "He brought it home, fixed it up and introduced the family to sailing. For me, that progressed to Sabots, Lasers and finally to Cal 20s.”
Kurt continued, “My father relinquished the helm and became an excellent crew. He was strong, and agile, always ready for a fast tack or quick jibe. We became a good team and sailed Cal 20 #44 for many years before taking a break from sailing. During this time my father went through the flag at ABYC, becoming Commodore in 1978.”
His year as Commodore was a busy one, according to 2019 Commodore David Schack, the club hosted numerous regattas, and membership grew as did member participation. As a Staff Commodore, Bill and his wife Mary Lou continued to give back to the club. They were a staple at the regatta registration table, greeting competitors and members, always happy, helpful and great first impression for visitors. In 2015, their volunteerism earned them the Adra and Chuck Kober Volunteer Couple Award.
But the desire to race sailboats continued.
Kurt shared, “After a few years, we got the itch to compete again and bought Cal 20 #376. We were very fast in this boat and consistently did well in local regattas. We sailed #376 for about four years before moving into powerboats.
"I was also involved in business with my father as he was with his father. He and my mother led full lives filled with loving family, great friends and rich experiences."
Kurt ended with a tribute any man would be proud of.
“I learned many life lessons from my dad; the importance of family, treating others with respect, and taking measured risk in business. However, by far, the most valuable lesson he ever gave me was how to be a father.”