Humber sloop Spider T, rescued and restored by Mal Nicholson and friends

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Spider T today – click on the thumbnails for larger images

Spider T before restoration work began

Some people rescue old yachts while some adopt smaller craft – but perhaps the bravest are those who take on big old working boats. Mal Nicholson has restored the wonderful Spider T, a 62ft Humber sloop described as a ‘super sloop’ that  he now operates as a charter boat offering holidays and day trips out of Keadby Lock, near Scunthorpe. See the Spider T website.

Spider T was launched in 1926, and was one of two similar craft built at Warrens Yard at New Holland. I’ll let Mal take up the story:

‘Her sister ship was the Zenitha, as we recently learned with the help of Peter Warrens, of the Warrens Shipbuilders dynasty. We recently welcomed him on board with his wife Marjorie and his two sons, and he has taken the Spider T to his heart, and we talk now on a frequent basis and much more information is coming together.

‘He recently told me that Spider T & Zenitha were designed by his uncle Frederick Warren just before he died, and that they encompassing everything they knew about hull design, I suppose that is why they were labeled ‘super sloops’.

‘His father and grandfather built the Spider T. She is 70.4 gross cargo tons, and was launched as Spider T for captain JJ Tomlinson for whom she was the pride of his fleet. The name Spider was his nephew’s nickname, while the T stood for Tomlinson.

‘I have all the documentation for her including the plans and registration documents showing her registered as a ship. She has always been referred to as a ship by her past masters, one quite famous old master was George ‘Buck’ Harness. George told me at the age of 92 that she was not a barge or a boat but a ship, and asked if I knew the difference? ‘No,’ I replied. ‘Well, ship is short for a shipment, which is a vessel that is capable of taking in excess of 100 tons to sea!’ So that was me put straight very early on in my tenure!

‘Many years later I discovered what he said was absolutely correct, as I found her registration documents, and there it was in black and white: she was registered as a ship number 149049, yard number 216.

‘Unfortunately the Zenitha no longer exists, but I have spoken to the son of the original owner and apparently she was very fast and came 2nd in the 1928 Humber Reggatta. He has sent me some details of vessels and owners.’

In recent years, Spider T has been restored, refloated and re-rigged for the first time since the 1930s, and her crew have sailed to Scotland and Holland, and have chalked up some notable achievements. She was the first vessel from the National Historic Fleet to attend the World Port Festival in Scarborough, and was the first Humber sloop to cross the North Sea directly since before World War II. I have a sense that there’s more of this story to come, so I hope Mal will keep me informed!

And, finally, I’d like to put out a message from the management. This post about Mal keeping Spider T alive is just the kind of story we like to put up here at If you have a story about an old boat, traditional boatbuilding and design, boat restoration, boat history or even a modern boat with traditional features you would like to share, please let us know at

16 thoughts on “Humber sloop Spider T, rescued and restored by Mal Nicholson and friends”

  1. Great work Mal nice to see this *ship* restored and sailing again. I assume she also was powered and did not rely on sail alone? I would be interested to know what cargo she carried and to where during her working days?

  2. Hi Duncan she had sail power only until 1939 when she was de rigged and fitted with a small Lister diesel on a government grant for the war effort. She now has a Gardner 6LXB sweet but no match for the sails in the right conditions, 84 different cargoes were carried from bricks and tiles to cattle cake and coal. She worked the Humber region with coastal voyages before the war but never after, and possible Dutch destinations but as yet that has not been confirmed despite last years voyage to Rotterdam when they were convinced she had been there before. The new topsail has yet to be tried in anger and the flying jib has not yet been made.

  3. G'day Gavin, What a restoration, and I do like the idea of a banquet hall in the hold of a small sailing freighter. Sort of Tardis-like don't you think? Her rig looks quite powerful, I presume that it has power winches and is not manually worked.


    1. It's great isn't it? Mal's done something wonderful with that boat. And for a boy who grew up in North Lincolnshire but now rarely goes there it was a nicely nostalgic story.


  4. Hi Jeff in answer to your question Spider T is all hand powered by huge manual winches called crab rollers either side of the mast fixed to the coamings 1 1/2" square forged steel construction. Then a fore roller for lowering the mast which weighed app.2 tons prior to shaping, which sits in a "lutchet" that allows it to articulate. The "boltsprit" is raised by one of the crab rollers and the bobstay is tensioned by another large winch on the foredeck behind the massive barrel winch, this allows the boltsprit to be lifted vertical over centre for navigating in locks or harbours. The mainsail alone is 1,260 sq ft

  5. Term "Boltsprit" years ago an old sailor of Humber vessels mentioned "boltsprit" to me in a conversation, I thought he had mispronounced bowsprit. In fact because the bowsprit could be hoisted up on a pivot bolt the term boltsprit was used and he was correct.

  6. MFH – the Master of Fox Hounds, on the N.H.S register , my brother Stefan Proszynski converted her and took her to Falmouth

  7. I also thought Zenitha had been scrapped. Search for Eccles John on the internet and you will find her for sale. My great grandfather sold her to Eccles and she was renamed Eccles John. He also had it lengthend by about 18 foot, converted to a single cylinder elwe, and then a twin cylinder elwe.


  8. "Zenitha" was built by Warrens in 1925 yard number 213 Official Nomber 149031 for "Mr Foster of Barton-Humber" (from Warrens List) to Sheffield size. She was launched in September of that year and delivered on 6th October 1925. Mal's already spoken of the regatta incident, in the 50's she was sold to Eccles, quarry owner who had a contract with the River Authority to maintain banks and training walls along the Humber, Ouse and Trent. As far as I can tell she was extended to 90ft and renamed "Eccles John" her skipper was Ron Newton who I knew personally and who wrote the book "My Childhood Playground" that reflected his years in Barton and is a very good read. Every year "Eccles John" was cleaned out and a stage built up inside her hold were seating was arranged and a cover fitted for the Water Authority managers and guests to be taken on a tour of the bank works that had either been completed or still in progress. Apparently there were plenty of stops along the way at the handy staithes that as it happened also had a pub near by. There are pictures showing her at South Ferriby with the seating in and ready to go, also of her in recent years when she was put up for sale as a house boat. Alan.

  9. Recent findings have revealed that "Zenitha" was indeed scrapped after being bought by Eccles and was not as first reported renamed "Eccles John". It has been reported to me that a Goole barge called "Hazelwood" was bought by Eccles and renamed "Eccles John" which is still around as a house boat. Zenitha was lengthened by 20 feet while Fosters still owned her and was capable of carrying cargo of about 130 ton. Zenitha remained "Zenitha" untill scrapped.

  10. Just saw the Spider T on TV on the Thames for the Diamond Jubilee. Were the Amy Houson and Comrade there too?

  11. well in1973 i bought her for 310 pounds off Tomlinson bothers a there sale of their feet at Goole she had a AS3 armstong siddley in her we had her welded with a 3 foot wide plates along both sides just on her water line light boat I rebuild the Engine at Saxleby no the foss she was worked for a year then sold in brayford pool baot yard and that the last I have seen of her for many years

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