The Harbor Report: In remembrance of Nina, a top sailor

January 27, 2011
  • Nina Ann Nielsen sails in the harbor.
Nina Ann Nielsen sails in the harbor. (Daily Pilot )

Hello, Newport Harbor! What are you doing today?

At noon on Friday, an aloha celebration of life for Dr. Nina Ann Nielsen will take place at the Newport Harbor Yacht Club, 720 W. Bay Ave., Newport Beach. Cancel your afternoon appointments, call your spouse and tell him or her to bring your best Sponner and meet you at the club, because you will not be going back to work today. You will be drinking Mai Tais and telling sea stories.

This one's going to hurt, so I need to find my darkest pair of sunglasses. On Jan. 15, Nina died of a pulmonary embolism at her home in Newport Beach. She was 56. Her passing really put a hole in my boat.

I found myself looking up into the sky and saying, "Really?! You're kidding me, right? What, you got a toothache or something?"

I first met Nina, a dentist, at the college sailing parties in the late 1980s. As a competitive sailor, you remember who can beat you and, as a male, you always remember the women who beat you.


"Who is that chick? She kicked my butt today!" I asked Nick Scandone and John Pinckney, who were at that party.

They replied: "Dude, that's Nina. She taught us how to sail. She just got back from Princeton, where she sailed varsity for four years."

"Oh," I said. "That explains it."

As the years passed, I would race Etchells against Nina and Tommy "Smity" Smith, her husband of 26 years. I never really got used to being beaten by a woman, but I was starting to get used to it. Nina went on to be inducted in 1994 into the Intercollegiate Sailing Hall of Fame.

A few more years went by and, while watching my son sail sabots, he returned to the dock and I said, "Hey, good race. You got 2nd."

To which he replied: "Yeah, but that girl keeps beating me."

At that moment I looked up. Nina was helping her daughter Carolyn onto the dock.

"Yeah, son," I said. "You better start getting used to that. She can sail with the best of them."

While watching Nina help Carolyn with her sailing, or just help her on to the swim step of their boat in Catalina, there was a glowing pride of fulfillment that reached out and just grabbed you.

One of the things that I take from Nina is how she touched everyone. When she came up to you and asked you if you needed any help with something, she meant it. If you were to describe Nina in two words they would be" most generous."

Nina's father, Svend Nielsen, is 91. Her brother Jack and sister Pia will be at Nina's aloha celebration, along with anyone who ever raced in Newport Harbor and attended school with her. A memorial Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Friday at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, 1441 W. Balboa Blvd., Newport Beach.

Nina's ashes will be spread out over the ocean where she said her goodbyes to her mother last year. Something tells me that the same group of dolphins, which swam by during her mother's ceremony, will be by to pick up Nina for her new journey. We will all miss you, Nina.

Sea ya.

LEN BOSE is an experienced boater, yacht broker and boating columnist.

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