Nellie was built in 1862 by a master of his trade, Dan Hatcher at his boatyard in Belvidere,

Southampton. The boatyard has long since gone; in it’s place stands St Mary’s Stadium,

the home ground of Southampton Football Club. Nellie was built as a 19ft boat, originally

red pine planking on oak frames.  It is not clear who her original owner was.

Various sources report that some years after she was built, Nellie was damaged by fire as a result of a coke stove falling over.  Soon after and in a sorry state, Nellie was rescued by Mr Henry Thomas Banks of Hythe.  Following the fire, she was reportedly lengthened 20 inches by the bow by Mr H Luke at the Oakbank Yard, Itchen Ferry. Henry passed the boat to his son Captain Henry S Banks and she stayed in the family until the late fifties.  Captain Banks and his sons Harry and Arthur sailed her regularly in the Solent  and were often joined by George Preston, a local shipwright and friend of the family.  She was laid-up under a tarpaulin somewhere in Southampton Water during World War II and whilst she did see the light of day once the war was over, she was never really maintained properly.  She ended up being laid-up in Hythe for several years prior to 1959.   She was left by the Banks family to Peter Preston, son of George who had sailed with the Banks brothers.  Peter was away at sea, sailing for much of the Sixties and so it fell to his father George to restore Nellie and  they both cared for her right up to the nineties. Sadly, as with many small wooden working boats, Nellie became too expensive to maintain and was laid-up again for several years.  Somebody wanted to build a bungalow on the land where she was blocked-off and wanted her out of the way.  She had got into such a terrible state that they very nearly burned her but Peter thought better of it.

Peter put in a call to Chris Waddington of WicorMarine, a veteran gaffer whom he knew had experience of restoring a number of classics over the years including two other Itchen Ferries, Brunette and Sorella.

Chris had vowed never to touch another wooden boat but his love of the old gaffers and the threat of the bonfire worked and he took her on.  So began the task of bringing her back from the brink.  It was decided to retain Nellie’s original open configuration so the first job was to completely rebuild her below the waterline with a new iroko keel and planking with smart new stainless steel strap floors. The stern sheets and aft fish tray were completely restored and the deck was relaid in ply.    The old Stuart Turner was removed so Nellie was left without an engine for the first couple of years back on the water.  The original restoration work was carried out by newly qualified boatbuilders Dirk van Walt and Sara Fentiman.

In 2004, following his retirement from the boatyard, Chris's eldest son Scott took over the reins and inherited the restoration project and has seen her through to her current state.  Amongst the many tasks on the drawing board was a new engine and master boatbuilder Alastair Garland was enlisted to install a shiny new Yanmar 1GM10 single cylinder diesel on the centreline, an essential for navigating in and out of Portsmouth Harbour Entrance and negotiating the busy harbours of the Solent.

Next came Nellies topsides which had always suffered badly as a combined result of oversized planking and her traditional working livery of black. Garland split and splined every plank lengthways above the waterline as well as scarfing in numerous graving pieces in an effort to retain as much of the original red pine as possible. Nellie returned to her 1920's livery of grey and returned to the water for the Round the Island Race in 2010 gaining a respectable 4th in class.

Nellie, like many of the original old working boats, suffered from excessive weather helm and the race in 2010 cemented the need to address it once and for all. Scott sought out advice and ideas and happened upon a 1904 edition of A Manual of Yacht and Boat Sailing by Dixon Kemp. Amongst the pages were some revealing findings that confirmed weather helm as a perennial problem which a few fishermen, who could afford it, would overcome by fitting a ballast keel. The decision was made and Scott put together a trio of experts to tackle the problem, head on. Yacht designer John Sharp of Moonbeam fame, boatbuilder Ian Foster and sailmaker Peter Lucas got together and came up with a keel design and new sail plan.

Very soon a ton and a bit of old lead ballast and an MDF pattern was trailered down to Irons Brothers in Cornwall and Nellies new lead keel was cast and delivered back for fitting. The foot of the mainsail was shortened and battens were fitted to stiffen up the head. The boom was shortened and a new cruising jib was cut with a slightly larger area.

The day of reckoning arrived in June 2011 when Nellie entered the Round The Island Race again and performed magnificently on the passage from Portsmouth to Cowes. The weather helm was significantly reduced and Nellie felt stiffer and handled like a dream. Sadly, the conditions deteriorated and despite a valiant effort on behalf of skipper and crew, Nellie retired before rounding the Needles and headed back to her mooring in one piece to race another day.

The work however had not been wasted and last year, celebrating her 150th birthday Nellie made her debut at the Yarmouth Old Gaffers Festival and got around the Island again...just to prove a point.