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Lots of boats come to Oriental, some tie up at the Town Dock for a night or two, others drop anchor in the harbor for a while. If you've spent any time on the water you know that every boat has a story. The Shipping News on TownDock.net brings you the stories of the boats that have visited recently.

Nancy Ellen
Father's Workboat, A Son's Work Of Love
March 13, 2012

t her heart, the Nancy Ellen is a working boat. Built in the 1920’s with a three-foot draft, she could navigate the shallow waters of the Core Sound. It was those waters, from the deck of that boat, that commercial fisherman Charles Smith of Atlantic fished more than 35 years ago.

The Nancy Ellen at Oriental’s Town Dock on March 7.

When the Nancy Ellen tied up to Oriental’s Town Dock last week, her sides still seemed unafraid of a little tap against the pilings. But even if she does retain some of that feel, the Nancy Ellen is not used for fishing any more. Rather, she’s become a work of love for Charles Smith’s son David. Over the past 8 years, David Smith has restored, renovated and yes, changed the 40+ foot long boat.

Nancy Ellen, aft, at the Oriental Town Dock with its owner, David Smith of Atlantic seated on a piling. The boat is named for his 1st and 2nd sisters… Mary Ellen and Nancy Ann.

Last week, David Smith made his first trip on the Nancy Ellen. He and a friend left their homes in Atlantic behind, and motored to Ocracoke. That was the first time David slept aboard in a new harbor. The next day, they rode the boat to Oriental.

That’s where Shipping News caught up with David and heard his story..

David Smith inside his boat, the Nancy Ellen, while at Oriental’s Town Dock.

David Smith grew up in Atlantic, then left for a career as a Navy pilot. He says he can’t count the number of times he has crossed the ocean his hometown is named for. About a decade ago, he retired and returned to Atlantic.

A wheel dating from an earlier era.

One day at a dock he saw two boats his commercial fisherman father owned 35 years ago and had sold in the 1990’s. When David Smith saw them 8 years go, one had already fallen apart at the dock. The other one was still salvageable. “If I didn’t get it,” he says he thought at the time, “‘it probably wouldn’t survive.’”

That was how the boat came back in to the family.

David Smith set about fixing it, and making adjustments, too. The boat his father used had a pilot house far forward, and aft of that and the engine hatch was space to put the trout and spots he caught.

Sleeping quarters in the forepeak of Nancy Ellen. David Smith says he arranged it so one berth — at right — can be pulled up in the daytime to allow better passage thru the cabin.

On deck, there were some rearrangements. . A pilot house was built farther aft and a few steps down from the bridge, is a galley. |What used to be the pilot house was hatched over and down below, David Smith fashioned two single bunks, one of which stays clipped up during the day.

The galley, in a part of the boat where fish used to be stored.

He worked on the 40+ foot long boat off and on for the better part of 8 years. He allows that he “got to a point” where he had to just stop for about a year and a half. He got some help in finishing the job.

Bow of the Nancy Ellen at the Town Dock.

Despite the switches for the pilot house and the fact that a galley occupies space where fish were once held, the Nancy Ellen remains a purposeful-looking boat. Its purpose though has changed. “I restored it so it couldn’t work,” David Smith says, with a laugh, “I restored it so it can’t work anymore.”

David Smith on the deck of the Nancy Ellen, showing a visitor the engine. His father would have used the same engine to go fishing for trout and spot — what David describes as the “food fish” (compared to what he calls “trash fish” such as menhaden which occupy nearby waters.)
A gray Gray Marine Diesel powers the Nancy Ellen. It’s been in the boat for almost 4 decades.

The Nancy Ellen has a Gray Marine Diesel which David thinks came from a landing craft used in WWII. His father put it in the boat in the 1970’s. The engine still works, and is what brought David and his friend Don Willis to Ocracoke and Oriental and back home last week. They figure it pushed the boat at 8 knots for the trip from Ocracoke to Oriental.

Friends Don Willis and David Smith on the vessel, Nancy Ellen.
Nancy Ellen in Oriental.
Reflection of Nancy Ellen in the Oriental Harbor.

More Photos of their Thursday Morning Departure, next page.


As David Smith, Don Willis and another friend were casting off from the Town Dock, they delayed pulling in one last line. That one they used to pivot their boat around:

Fenders in ..
.. and the Nancy Ellen starts to pivot…
.. a little more.
An elegant profile.
The pivot completed.
The line pulled in and wrapped up as Nancy Ellen heads out of the Oriental Harbor.
The Nancy Ellen leaves Oriental.

Posted Tuesday March 13, 2012 by Melinda Penkava

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