Little Ellis gets to captain Wightlink ferry on its last journey across the Solent
WITH a grin beaming from ear to ear and sporting his new ‘captain’s hat’, young Ellis Yeats gives a farewell salute to his favourite ferry.
The maritime-mad eight-year-old, from Gosport, was the guest of honour at the final sailing of Wightlink’s veteran vessel, St Cecilia, which left Portsmouth for the last time on Friday bound for the Mediterranean.
And for excited Ellis, it meant the world. The little lad, who has a life-limiting brain condition, had forged a close bond with the ship and her crew and was thrilled to see his beloved St Cecilia off.
‘It was amazing,’ said the Grange Junior School pupil. ‘It was the best day ever.
‘I got to cut a cake, read my own speech and I even got to turn the ship around at Fishbourne and blow the whistles. I felt like a celebrity.’
Ellis was born with chiari malformation, a condition which causes the lower part of the brain to push down on the spinal cord.
It leaves him regularly suffering from painful headaches and spells of dizziness and has seen him undergo three brain operations - his last less than a year ago.
His illness means Ellis can’t always run around and play with his pals at school as much as he would like.
Instead he directs his passion towards the sea, regularly visiting the port and watching ferries come and go from Portsmouth.
His loving mum Emily, 42, said: ‘He is lovely, energetic and very, very passionate. He can be a little cheeky too. But he is incredibly polite and respectful and never lets anything get him down.’
However, after his last operation, in February 2018, Ellis began to ‘struggle’ and Emily contacted her son’s favourite ferry firm, Wightlink for help.
The 42-year-old said: ‘Ellis was struggling with it all a little. So I went to Wightlink and asked if it was possible for him to come on board St Cecilia and see the bridge.
‘They were brilliant. Ellis has been back three times since and stays in contact with Wightlink.’
But when Emily told her son his favourite ship would be retiring from service, he was heartbroken.
‘When I first told him that St Cecilia was retiring he cried for 15 minutes,’ she said. ‘He was absolutely bereft.’
However, Ellis’s mood soon changed when he heard he was going to be the guest of honour.
The youngster joined the crew on their final farewell trip from Portsmouth to Fishbourne and back - and was even given his own, custom-made captain’s sweater and hat by the crew.
Ellis said: ‘I really wasn’t expecting that at all. It was a big surprise.’
Captain Jim Blanch, who first welcomed Ellis to St Cecilia’s bridge last year, said the eight-year-old was a delight to have on board.
‘From the first second we met young Ellis, my crew and I were completely bowled over by him,’ he said. ‘He was totally engaging, charming, intelligent beyond his years, polite but with a lovely sprinkling of cheekiness and confidence thrown in.
‘His knowledge of Wightlink vessels was astonishing and he was a real inspiration to all of us.’
Ellis now has his eyes fixed on becoming the captain of his own ship when he is older.
He added: ‘I wanted to say a very big thank you to Wightlink, St Cecilia and everyone for everything they have done for me.’