The color-saturated, Photoshop-heavy work of photographer Jay Nichols isn’t for everyone. When it comes to capturing the high-performance powerboat world, Nichols’ approach to digital imagery is more Impressionist than Realist. Depending on your taste in photography, you either love or hate—there doesn’t seem to be much in between—his work. Like many of you, I fall in the first camp.
As for the guy behind the lens himself, everyone seems to love, or at least like him. And why not? Nichols is easygoing (though like all of us he can be provoked and lose patience), gracious and approachable. He has zero “big-shot photographer” attitude, and he’s often wickedly funny.
Nichols, who sustained two fractured vertebrae from a fall he took in a boat at the start of the Boyne Thunder Poker Run earlier this month (read the story) is going to need every bit of his sense of humor as he recovers in the coming months. The good news is he’s already using it while he recuperates at the home of his sister, Amy, in Northern Pennsylvania.
“I’m calling her the second coming of ‘Nurse Ratched’ (an allusion to the sadistic head nurse in the 1970s movie, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”), but she’s making sure I do everything right,” said Nichols via telephone yesterday morning. “And she’s a gourmet cook. I can’t believe the meal she made for me last night. I am eating really well, and I need to.”
“This isn’t some wrist injury,” Nichols added, and then laughed. “This is some serious bullshit. The 400-mile ride from Michigan, and I cannot thank Ron Szolack enough for taking me in, to here was agony. It probably would have been OK in a Cadillac STS or a Denali, but my sister has a BMW, and BMWs aren’t exactly known for their soft ride.”
At present, the plan is for Nichols to fly back to his home in Naples, Fla., late next week. His friend Bob Barnhart, one of the founders of the Fort Myers Offshore powerboat club who spends most of each summer tearing up his home waters in Canada, will go with him.
“Bob said, ‘No way you’re flying back alone,’” said Nichols. “God bless him and all my friends who have taken care of me. I don’t know where I’d be without them.”
Nichols choked up. His voice trembled and cracked. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I can’t help but get emotional when I talk about this stuff.”
That’s not hard to understand because Nichols has plenty to be emotional about. In addition to the tough job of healing from serious back injuries, when he returns to Naples he won’t be able to jump back into his work and start shooting from boats or helicopters, and that won’t change anytime soon. His friends—make that family—in Fort Myers Offshore have already told him they will help him cover his living expenses, including his rent. Nichols hasn’t asked for sympathy, much less charity. But in the close-knit community he helped create, he is beloved. Help comes with the territory.
Told that those who love and support him do so not for his work as a photographer but for who he is as person, Nichols went silent for a moment before he responded, his voice cracking again.
“Thanks, brother,” he said. “I am blessed to be surrounded by good people.”
Matt Trulio is an award-winning journalist who has covered the high-performance powerboat world since 1995. He wrote for Powerboat magazine for 17 years and was the magazine’s editor at large until it ceased publication in 2011. Trulio is the founder, editor-in-chief and publisher of speedonthewater.com, a daily news site that covers the high-performance powerboat realm. He’s also the former editor of Sportboat magazine.