Chief Engineer Jan “Yannie” Nielsen died suddenly after he slipped and fell at his home in Honduras on Oct. 2. He was the chief engineer on the 164-foot Feadship M/Y Aurora B at the time. He was 61.
Mr. Nielsen’s free spirit led him around the world, beginning with a year of travel through Europe after high school, according to his sister Diane Smith. He was born in Esbjerg, Denmark, and his family immigrated to Calgary, Alberta, in Canada when he was young.
He learned to scuba dive and became an instructor and manager of scuba operations on Club Med boats from 1992-95. He was a service electrician before his break into yachting. He worked as deckhand on M/V Ken, according to Eng. Joe Esler, who worked with Mr. Nielsen in 1996-97.
“He truly lived,” Esler said. “Most people don’t.”
Yachting suited Mr. Nielsen’s nomadic lifestyle and he spent more than two decades as an engineer and chief engineer on vessels including the M/Y Inevitable (Feadship), M/Y Arrivederci IV, M/V Exodus, M/Y Maridome, M/Y Second Chance and M/Y Inevitable (Palmer Johnson).
Chief Stew Angela Orecchio, who worked with Mr. Nielsen on M/Y Aurora B for almost four years, said he was not only a crew member, but a friend and family member on board.
“Yannie was a sensitive, kind man who brought a unique sense of humor to our crew,” Orecchio said in an email. “He had big stories about his diving and life adventures, and an equally big laugh.”
Chef Tracy Pigott worked with Mr. Nielsen for about a month as crew chef for an ocean crossing.
“Yannie and I got along really well,” she said via Facebook message. “He loved the cookies and cheese cakes I would make for the crew, and I always set something aside for him so the deckhands wouldn’t eat everything.”
Many professionals in the industry said Mr. Nielsen had a professional presentation and they enjoyed working with him. Capt. John S. Calvert, of Compass Yacht Management, worked with Mr. Nielsen as project manager on the Feadship Inevitable during what he said was an intense refit.
“Yan was one of those guys with an infectious smile,” Calvert said. “He was easy going but serious. He knew his stuff and he was an excellent engineer. He had a warm heart and a great personality.”
Chad Allen, founder and president of Coastal Tank, worked with Mr. Nielsen during hull and tank projects and agreed he was extremely knowledgeable and always professional.
“Yannie was always in a good mood, energetic and optimistic,” Allen said.
A captain who worked with Mr. Nielsen since the 1990s said he had friends around the world and will be missed by so many – in and out of the yachting industry.
“Jan was an excellent engineer, especially with troubleshooting,” said the captain, who preferred to remain anonymous. “He was a top-drawer electrician, always competent.”
The captain said he had a dry sense humor and didn’t get rattled too easily.
“As an engineer, the only time people come to you is when things break and it’s easy to get negative,” he said “But he didn’t and he could fix anything.”
“Jan was always an inspiration to the crew working with him,” the captain said. “And he was a great teaching co-worker to many engineers.”
Mr. Nielsen had many hobbies, the captain said, but “his passion for diving in recent years was eclipsed by his desire to explore the world on his several motorcycles when he wasn’t working and underway on yachts.”
Ms. Smith agreed and said her brother also drove race, demolition derby and stock cars, but his travelling spirit best enjoyed motorcycling around the world.
“He was good at puttering around. He didn’t need much, he liked the simple life,” she said. “He had traveled all over the world, but he fell in love with Honduras.”
He died doing his normal routine at his home in Honduras, she said. He had drained his pool to clean it when he slipped, hit his head and died instantly.
“He could have hired someone, but he loved doing the work,” she said.
Mr. Nielsen planned to retire next spring. A crew member on the yacht said they talked him into continuing to work with the yacht when in dry dock, according to Ms. Smith.
“He told me, “We did not want to let him go, he was excellent,” she said. “Wherever he went he had friends.”
Mr. Nielsen is survived by sisters, Diane (Rodger) Smith, Anna Marie Nielsen, brother Bent (Gudrun) Nielsen and nephews Greg Smith (Nicole), Kevin Smith and Brody Carter (Anya).
A Celebration of Life will be held on Oct. 20 at 1:00 p.m. at the Danish Lutheran Church in Calgary 210, 10 Ave. NE, Calgary, Alberta, Canada T2E 0W9. Memorial donations in Jan Nielsen’s name may be made to Kids Up Front in Calgary at www.kidsupfrontcalgary.com.
Please contact Triton Editor Dorie Cox (firstname.lastname@example.org) to share memories and photos of Mr. Nielsen’s life for a future article.