The fabulous replica of Nelson’s topsail schooner HMS Pickle that featured in Tom Cunliffe’s TV series Boats that Built Britain has been bought by Mal Nicholson, owner of the magnificent Humber sloop Spider T.
After Trafalgar, HMS Pickle famously carried the news of Nelson’s great victory back to Britain – along with the news of Nelson’s own death.
The schooner is currently moored in Ocean Village in Gibraltar and is undergoing repairs. After many years of owning and running Spider T, I’m quite certain Mal knows what he’s in for – but great good luck to him and his helpers.
Previous owner Robin James’s family has owned Pickle for the past nine years. He said that the decision to sell the ship had been extremely difficult : ‘I have poured my soul into her over the past nine years, and in return she has carried me and many new friends safely through storms and adventures.
‘But after a difficult voyage to Gibraltar followed by a failure to get the much needed support to make her a success, this is the best decision to secure her future. The decision to sell Pickle has been made far easier by finding Mal, who I trust to continue to care for her and get her sailing again, while continuing to share her with everybody from her past, present and future.’
Mal said that during her time with Robin, Pickle had won many friends and supporters, and achieved amazing things.
Mr James added that that an unknown author once wrote the following lines, which summarised his feelings on Pickle’s sale:
‘I’d rather be the ship that sails And rides the billows wild and free; Than to be the ship that always fails To leave its port and go to sea.
I’d rather feel the sting of strife, Where gales are born and tempests roar;
Than to settle down to useless life And rot in dry dock on the shore. I’d rather fight some mighty wave With honour in supreme command; And fill at last a well-earned grave, Than die in ease upon the sand.
I’d rather drive where sea storms blow, And be the ship that always failed
To make the ports where it would go, Than be the ship that never sailed.’
Meanwhile, I will be casually dropping these words into the conversation at social gatherings: ‘I know a bloke who has a topsail schooner. Oh yes… ‘
Fishing with a seine net from a Portuguese beach in the 1950s. My thanks to reader Chris Brady for spotting this one!
By George R Sims
Been out in the lifeboat often? Ay, ay, sir, oft enough.
When it’s rougher than this? Lor’ bless you! this ain’t what we calls rough!
It’s when there’s a gale a-blowin’, and the waves run in and break
On the shore with a roar like thunder and the white cliffs seem to shake;
When the sea is a hell of waters, and the bravest holds his breath
As he hears the cry for the lifeboat — his summons maybe to death –
That’s when we call it rough, sir; but, if we can get her afloat,
There’s always enough brave fellows ready to man the boat.
You’ve heard of the Royal Helen, the ship as was wrecked last year?
Yon be the rock she struck on — the boat as went out be here;
The night as she struck was reckoned the worst as ever we had,
And this is a coast in winter where the weather be awful bad.
The beach here was strewed with wreckage, and to tell you the truth, sir, then
Was the only time as ever we’d a bother to get the men.
The single chaps was willin’, and six on ‘em volunteered,
But most on us here is married, and the wives that night was skeered.
Our women ain’t chicken-hearted when it comes to savin’ lives,
But death that night looked certain — and our wives be only wives:
Their lot ain’t bright at the best,sir; but here, when the man lies dead,
‘Taint only a husband missin’, it’s the children’s daily bread;
So our women began to whimper and beg o’ the chaps to stay –
I only heard on it after, for that night I was kept away.
I was up at my cottage, yonder, where the wife lay nigh her end,
She’d been ailin’ all the winter, and nothing ‘ud make her mend.
The doctor had given her up, sir, and I knelt by her side and prayed,
With my eyes as red as a babby’s, that Death’s hand might yet be stayed.
I heerd the wild wind howlin’, and I looked on the wasted form,
And though of the awful shipwreck as had come in the ragin’ storm;
The wreck of my little homestead — the wreck of my dear old wife,
Who’d sailed with me forty years, sir, o’er the troublous waves of life,
And I looked at the eyes so sunken, as had been my harbour lights,
To tell of the sweet home haven in the wildest, darkest nights.
She knew she was sinkin’ quickly — she knew as her end was nigh,
But she never spoke o’ the troubles as I knew on her heart must lie,
For we’d had one great big sorrow with Jack, our only son –
He’d got into trouble in London as lots o’ lads ha’ done;
Then he’d bolted his masters told us — he was allus what folks call wild.
From the day as I told his mother, her dear face never smiled.
We heerd no more about him, we never knew where he went,
And his mother pined and sickened for the message he never sent.
I had my work to think of; but she had her grief to nurse,
So it eat away at her heartstrings, and her health grew worse and worse.
And the night as the Royal Helen went down on yonder sands,
I sat and watched her dyin’, holdin’ her wasted hands
. She moved in her doze a little, then her eyes were opened wide,
And she seemed to be seekin’ somethin’, as she looked from side to side;
Then half to herself she whispered, “Where’s Jack, to say good-bye?
It’s hard not to see my darlin’, and kiss him afore I die.”
I was stoopin’ to kiss and soothe her, while the tears ran down my cheek,
And my lips were shaped to whisper the words I couldn’t speak,
When the door of the room burst open, and my mates were there outside
With the news that the boat was launchin’. “You’re wanted!” their leader cried.
“You’ve never refused to go, John; you’ll put these cowards right.
There’s a dozen of lives maybe, John, as lie in our hands tonight!”
‘Twas old Ben Brown, the captain; he’d laughed at the women’s doubt.
We’d always been first on the beach, sir, when the boat was goin’ out.
I didn’t move, but I pointed to the white face on the bed –
“I can’t go, mate,” I murmured; “in an hour she may be dead.
I cannot go and leave her to die in the night alone.”
As I spoke Ben raised his lantern, and the light on my wife was thrown;
And I saw her eyes fixed strangely with a pleading look on me,
While a tremblin’ finger pointed through the door to the ragin’ sea.
Then she beckoned me near, and whispered, “Go, and God’s will be done!
For every lad on that ship, John, is some poor mother’s son.”
Her head was full of the boy, sir — she was thinking, maybe, some day
For lack of a hand to help him his life might be cast away.
“Go, John, and the Lord watch o’er you! and spare me to see the light,
And bring you safe,” she whispered, “out of the storm tonight.”
Then I turned and kissed her softly, and tried to hide my tears,
And my mates outside,when the saw me, set up three hearty cheers;
But I rubbed my eyes wi’ my knuckles, and turned to old Ben and said,
“I’ll see her again, maybe, lad, when the sea give up its dead.”:
We launched the boat in the tempest, though death was the goal in view
And never a one but doubted if the craft could live it through;
But our boat she stood in bravely, and, weary and wet and weak,
We drew in hail of the vessel we had dared so much to seek
But just as we come upon her she gave a fearful roll,
And went down in the seethin’ whirlpool with every livin’ soul!
We rowed for the spot, and shouted, for all around was dark –
But only the wild wind answered the cries from our plungin’ bark.
I was strainin’ my eyes and watchin’, when I thought I heard a cry,
And I saw past our bows a somethin’ on the crest of a wave dashed by;
I stretched out my hand to seize it. I dragged it aboard, and then
I stumbled, and struck my forrud, and fell like a log on Ben.
I remember a hum of voices, and then I knowed no more
Till I came to my senses here, sir — here, in my home ashore.
My forrud was tightly bandaged, and I lay on my little bed –
I’d slipped, so they told me arter, and a rulluck had struck my head.
Then my mates came in and whispered; they’d heard I was comin’ round.
At first I could scarcely hear ‘em. it seemed like a buzzin’ sound;
But as my head got clearer, and accustomed to hear ‘em speak,
I knew as I’d lain like that, sir, for many a long, long, week.
I guessed what the lads was hidin’, for their poor old shipmate’s sake.
So I lifts my head from the pillow, and I says to old Ben, “Look here!
I’m able to bear it now, lad — tell me, and never fear.”
Not one on ‘em ever answered, but presently Ben goes out,
And the others slinks away like, and I say, “What’s this about?
Why can’t they tell me plainly as the poor old wife is dead?”
Then I fell again on the pillows, and I hid my achin’ head;
I lay like that for a minute, till I heard a voice cry “John!”
And I thought it must be a vision as my weak eyes gazed upon;
For there by the bedside, standin’ up and well was my wife.
And who do ye think was with her? Why Jack, as large as life
It was him as I’d saved from drownin’ the night as the lifeboat went
To the wreck of the Royal Helen; ’twas that as the vision meant.
They’d brought us ashore together, he’d knelt by his mother’s bed,
And the sudden joy had raised her like a miracle from the dead;
And mother and son together had nursed me back to life,
And my old eyes woke from darkness to look on my son and wife.
Jack? He’s our right hand now, sir; ’twas Providence pulled him through –
He’s allus the first aboard her when the lifeboat wants a crew.
Googling around reveals that Englishman George R Sims was an interesting character: the journalist, poet, dramatist, novelist and bon vivant wrote a series of hit plays and monologues, yet his output included Horrible London and How the Poor Live, a striking description of big city poverty in the Victorian era. A multi-faceted chap indeed. Read about him here.
My thanks to regular reader Paul Mullings for this one!
Multiple award winning boatbuilder and designer and all-round interesting bloke Will Stirling is continuing his campaign to visit dramatic lighthouses using a traditional 14ft dinghy built by Stirling and Son - most recently with a trip to the Longships Lighthouse, built on group of rocks a couple of miles west of the notorious point of Land’s End.
With this August’s weather, I think he’s done well to find a window in the weather!
Here’s his story about the expedition:
‘The original plan was to sail from Sennen Cove just North of Land’s End down to the Wolf Lighthouse, back around the Longships Lighthouse and return to Sennen Cove.
‘I set off early from Plymouth to avoid any traffic. On the way down the A30 the windmills were gently turning. From high land the Isles of Scilly and the Wolf were in clear view. Light winds and good visibility augured well.
‘I arrived in good time at Land’s End and twisted my way down the lane into Sennen Cove. The tiny old harbour was very pretty. I backed the dinghy down a very steep granite slipway overlooked by a mighty lifeboat station.
‘Reversing on the sand was easy and the dinghy was soon afloat and anchored off - but driving forward on the sand was not easy and the van soon became bogged down. Two fisherman were watching and no doubt the odd curtain was twitching. I am used to feeling stupid.
‘There was the predictable sucking through teeth about the difficulties of recovering the van and when it would be possible to do so later in the day. No doubt King Cnut sat in his throne on the beach to demonstrate that the tide could not be defied, with a pair of stout thurls on hand to lug the throne up the beach when the old king’s toes started to get wet. I could see that the van would be a little more difficult to recover.
‘However, having played the lead role in many acts of foolishness I am pretty philosophical; things tend to get sorted out.
‘I had some time in hand in relation to the tide, so I prepared the dinghy, hauled the trailer up the beach and bought a parking ticket. By the time I was back the fishermen had rigged a warp around a turning block and back to the harbour-head capstan. We dragged the van up the beach, and with an extra burst of speed managed to claw up the slipway.
‘I didn’t bother to contemplate dinghy recovery at this stage, but gave the kind fishermen my thanks and some chocolate and set off.
‘Soon afterwards, I returned having realised I had forgotten the VHF and then pulled the zip off the drysuit. The zip was unrepairable but the VHF was now on board.
‘The trip was still within the tidal constraints for doubling the Wolf; however, the wind was very light and I began to doubt that I would reach the Wolf before the tide turned. I decided to sail to the Longship’s first and see if the wind would fill in away from the land or come up as time passed.
‘I sailed just South of the Shark’s Fin, a nasty rock to the North of the Longships, and despite the calm weather there were tidal overfalls. Strangely, the wind seemed to increase in each of the overfalls as the dinghy sailed through them quite fast.
‘Turning South and to seaward of the Longships I could see an alarming line of broken water to the West, indicating further overfalls. As the tide was pushing East, I had to hope I wouldn’t be sucked into them.
‘When I successfully got to the Longships, it seemed calm enough to consider a landing. I sailed among the rocks to the south of the lighthouse and anchored in a little cove where there were seals.
‘The dry suit was broken so I swam five metres to the shore in underpants and took some photos – very aware that if the main sheet did wind itself around the tiller and become jammed, trip the anchor and sail the dinghy out of the cove, massive embarrassment awaited. I didn’t waste any time ashore and took care to ensure I was always within a few seconds of regaining the dinghy.
‘In the second trip ashore to a small off lying rock the dinghy began to drag. I quickly clambered back aboard and sailed into deeper water away from the rocks before sorting everything out on board.
‘It was now 1130 with one hour until the tidal gate for arriving at the Wolf, which was 8 miles away to the South. The wind itself was now a steady F3 from the N. Ideal conditions for getting to the Wolf; not good conditions for getting back, particularly if the wind increased. I decided that it was not wise to attempt the Wolf with only an hour of tide, adverse wind for the return journey and a broken dry suit which made me vulnerable to offshore capsize. I was already quite cold after my swim.
‘I sailed back towards Sennen, through the overfalls just North of Kettle Rock and into the little harbour.
‘Charles Bush (the director of Mayflower Marina which is right next to our yard in Plymouth) happened to be standing on the beach with his family. He had been out catching turbot for supper.
‘With a bit of Norwegian steam we dragged the dinghy up the beach and hitched her onto the van at the very bottom of the granite slipway. Charles’ family pushed, his son sat on the bonnet to give the wheels traction and with much revving the whole rig reached the tarmac at the top of the slip. One cream tea later at the Bush’s cottage over looking the cove and some local advice about a better launching spot for the next Wolf attempt concluded a very pleasant Longship’s circumnavigation.
‘Best wishes, Will’
Stirling and Son offers traditional yacht building and wooden boat repair and is based at the historic No 1 Covered Slip at Devonport. Also, follow the Stirling and Son Facebook page for news, some wonderful boats and great photos.
Reader Philip Risacher sent me these photos of a great 1/10th scale model he made of my Ella skiff design – and I am of course completely charmed. Here’s what he says:
‘I started the model about four years ago, but it lay as a brown cardboard model until a few weeks ago when reading through Ben Crawshaw’s blog got me back in the mood to build myself a boat. Of course the “everything needed to build a full size boat” is not yet within reach, but luckily my eyes fell on my little Cheerios box skiff and my brain said “oohh, that could be quite beautiful.”
‘So I started back at it, first gluing on some mahogany gunwales, then sealing the whole thing with shellac, painting, thole pins, Samson post, and the hand made oars complete with Turk’s head knots and eyes to scare the sea monsters away.
‘Just this weekend I brought her out on the lake to take some pictures, you’d think she were big enough to sit in, but alas it is only an illusion. I hope some day to make a boat I can sit in. Thank you for the great design(s), so kindly shared with us out here in dream land.’
Here’s the giveaway:
See more shots here.
Ella skiff plans are here.
The photos were taken by Jenny Steer, Becky Joseph and Liz Griffiths.
Reuben first saw this design at the Beale Park Boat Show where he entered a small sailing boat he’d designed in the Amateur Boat Building Competition.
He fell in love with the Alaska beach cruiser’s shape and efficient sail design, and when asked if he’d like to build a boat at the Academy, he jumped at the opportunity to build one for himself.
It is strip-planked in western red cedar, and has two masts and a yawl rig. Just two adjustments were made to the original design, which is based on the American Whitehall skiff: instead of building internal frames the boat was fibre-glassed inside and out to provide more internal space (the fibreglass providing the strength the frames would have), and extra water-tight compartments were added to prevent the boat from sinking should it capsize.
A week’s work experience with Thames boatbuilders Henwood and Dean convinced Reuben that boat building was the career for him, and he decided to join the Academy for ‘some advice on how to get there’.
A keen sailor, he taught sailing at Frampton Sailing Club and became involved in teaching at the Lyme Regis Club while on the course.
Tony worked as an activity instructor and group leader at PGL Travel in Wiltshire before attending the Academy.
With a passion for kayaking and working towards a two star canoe and kayak qualification with the British Canoe Union, he also built a modern skin on frame kayak while on the course. Tony found the design for kayak on the website Yostwerks.
Its frames were made of marine ply and western red cedar was used for the stringers.
The kayak’s coating was made of Dacron, a layer of glass fibre and epoxy.
Reuben looks forward to exploring the creeks in his beach cruiser and once it is complete, Tony plans to paddle his kayak on the Norfolk Broads.