Popular sailor's final voyage

In life she was one of the first women to take the tiller in sailing races and became a stalwart of the waters around Lowestoft, so following the death of Nellie Crockett there was never any doubt her ashes would be scattered at sea.

In life she was one of the first women to take the tiller in sailing races and was a stalwart of the waters around Lowestoft, so following the death of Nellie Crockett there was never any doubt that her ashes would be scattered at sea.

And yesterday, in the glorious spring sunshine, a party of relatives and friends set out on the restored fishing smack Excelsior to perform a poignant ceremony off the north Suffolk coast.

It was a fitting way to say a final farewell to the grand old lady of the water, who died at the age of 93 last summer having only given up sailing a couple of years earlier.

Nellie first became a yachtswoman during the war, sailing at Beccles because Oulton Broad was off-limits to civilians. Following the end of hostilities, civilian boats returned to Oulton Broad where Nellie began to race her Gull-class Phoenix.

For 10 years she captained the Gulls of the Waveney and Oulton Broad Yacht Club and in 1958 she began sea racing in Enterprises, winning many trophies. She showed a keen interest in helping younger sailors and during that period she held the titles of vice commodore and rear commodore.

Stepson Dennis Barker, 77, said yesterday: "Nellie was a sailor when women could go aboard sailing boats but were not expected to take the tiller. However, she was one of those who did.

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"In her will she stated that she wanted her ashes scattered at sea from the Excelsior. We hired the boat for the day and had the weather been bad we would have just poked our noses out of the harbour, but the day was so inviting that we sailed up the coast as far as Corton where Nellie used to live.

"Everybody said it was a very stimulating day, which is what Nellie would have wanted. She never wanted to be 'nicey nicey' - she wanted liveliness and she was indeed a character.

"She was sailing into her 90s. The one thing she hated was being cooped up and she would always rather sit out on the deck, even when she was quite old. She was a loveable person and everybody willingly helped her."

As Sister Nellie Crockett, she was in charge of the operating theatre of the Lowestoft and North Suffolk Hospital throughout the second world war and for decades after it - juggling her passion for sailing with her job.

Born in Hampshire in 1913, Nellie completed her nursing training in Poole, Dorset, and worked in Bristol and Croydon before moving to Lowestoft in the late 1930s on the recommendation of a colleague.

It was at Lowestoft Hospital that she met George Barker, who had narrowly avoided death in a car crash, and the pair were partners until Mr Barker's death in 1970. In 1972 she married retired Hales farmer Harry Brett, who died in the 1990s.

Even in her 80s, Nellie was the co-owner of several boats and was a member of the Lowestoft Cruising Club. She was also a keen Friend of the Excelsior Trust, taking many overnight trips on the restored smack, believing she was the oldest person to do so.