Tag Archives: schooner

Pickle Night on board HMS Pickle at Vilamoura

HMS Pickle

Pickle Night, the 5th November, is a well known occasion in the Royal Navy, when  warrant officers celebrate the original HMS Pickle’s celebrated very fast nine-day voyage in 1805 to bring news of the victory at Trafalgar and Nelson’s death back to Britain.

(By comparison, commissioned officers celebrate Trafalgar Night.)

Captain Dennis Dixon, who recently spent a happy Pickle Night on board HMS Pickle  has written an account of his evening:

‘A warm thank you, from all of us who live in Portugal, Vilamoura who had an opportunity to celebrate Pickle night.

‘We arrived at the marina as the sun was setting. A slight westerly wind blew gently as I looked upon Pickle, a magical little ship built for fast passages: 22m long, she is a two masted schooner with just 10 guns.

‘She certainly wasn’t like HMS Victory, a man-of-war with a 100 guns, but stepping on board was like going back into time. New owner Mal Nicholson showed us around this magnificent ship with pride.

‘As night fell we all settle down to a selection of wonderful food which was kindly donated by a local Chinese restaurant and Sharon Smith a very good local chef, a few of the guests brought along some mouth watering desserts.

‘Malcolm was most generous with both his time and with the local wines. We sat around solid wooden tables which were well lit by a selection of oil burning lamps, surrounded by wooden blocks, shackles, sheets and rope rigging. Time passed easily as we chatted throughout the night.

‘I was just a little taken back when it occurred to me that little Pickle had brought so many different nationalities together on this special night: in the course of just a few hours I had spoken with French, Welsh, Chinese, Portuguese, Canadians, as well as English people.

‘Towards the end of a wonderful night it felt right to toast Pickle herself and to spend a few moments remembering all those who died that day, including Admiral Lord Nelson as well as sailors of all nationalities.’

Visit the HMS Pickle Facebook page.

PS – there’s a ballad written by a chap called Roger Laing describing the race to England that made HMS Pickle famous. It makes clear that the trip wasn’t what you’d call uneventful.

The Ballad of the Pickle

‘Make haste, little Pickle‘ the Admiral said,
‘Go and tell England that Nelson is dead.
In his moment of triumph, a sharpshooter aimed
And the life of our hero his musket ball claimed.
They took him below – in the orlop he lay,
As his spirit and lifeblood ebbed slowly away
He whispered “Thank God” in his faltering breath,
“My duty is done” and slipped unto death.’

‘The battle is won ! Make their Lordships aware
That the Fleet has prevailed and will shortly repair
To Gibraltar for succour, refit and thanksgiving
To bury the dead and to comfort the living.
Bellerophon, Thunderer, Swiftsure and Mars,
Colossus and Neptune – all have lost spars.
My own Royal Sovereign the leeward van led
And suffered in consequence three score men dead.’

‘So fly, gallant schooner and shake out all sail
For you carry great tidings and canvas-clad mail
For their Lordships, whose spirits our victory will gladden
Though the news of our loss the whole Nation will sadden.
God speed you to England ? make haste while it’s light.
Delay not a moment and fly through the night.
Young Captain I charge you – La Penotiere’s your name.
Hasten to London and tell of our fame.’

So with Collingwood’s blessing the Pickle departed
Past Cadiz she sailed – round St Vincent she started.
With five points to starboard, then ten degrees more,
The Pole Star ahead and away from lee shore.
Past Lisbon to leeward – Oporto in sight,
Close-hauled all day – past Finisterre that night.
On through wild Biscay the little craft lunged,
While mizzen stays hummed and through ocean spray plunged.

But while rounding Ushant, the hurricane shrieked,
Through cedar-clad decking, the wild water leaked.
‘Lighten ship!’ Cried her Captain, ‘Or all will be lost’
So into the ocean her cannon they tossed.
But once in the Channel, the tempest abated
The great Neptune’s ire all finally sated.
At last on the ninth day, ‘Land ho!’ came the cry,
Their landfall was Falmouth, past Lizard hard by.

Not waiting a moment the Captain alighted,
Commanded a coachman, the first that he sighted.
To London they galloped all day and all night;
Past midnight the third day was London in sight.
‘Ere dawn the good news round the City was sung
And the King ordered Nation-wide church bells be rung.
The news of this victory brought England great gladness,
Though tinged with the loss of her hero, great sadness.

So countrymen all, whether landsman or tar,
‘Three cheers for the Pickle!’ the smallest by far
Of that glorious fleet on that glorious day,
From whence for a century Britannia held sway.
When Nelson looks down from his heavenly portal
As we offer the toast to the Memory Immortal,
‘Remember the Pickle‘, he’d certainly say,
For she also served – on that fateful day.



Bernard Gilboy’s log of his trans-pacific cruise, 1882-3

Read more about the amazing Bernard Gilboy here. Oh the sharks, and the capsizes…

The Wreck of the Hesperus

The Wreck of the Hesperus II

Perhaps because it was made into a film, Longfellow’s dramatic poem is today more often remembered in sayings and references than as a poem. However, it used to be a popular recitation, so I thought I should try bring it back to public attention.

The Wreck has been a remarkably enduring meme, given that the poem was published in 1840 and the film was released in 1927.

According to the Wikipedia, it is widely employed to describe an untidy room (yup, my Mum used it regularly to describe my unnecessarily creative teenage bedroom). I read that it has also turned up in the Popeye cartoon series (not such a surprise), and the Marx Brothers song Lydia the Tattooed Lady (which I’d forgotten).

More amazingly, it also turns up in the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Simpsons.

There’s a powerful reading of the poem by Sean Barrett on YouTube.

By the way, the wonderfully named Norman’s Woe is a real headland not too far from Gloucester. If you follow my link to the satellite image on Google Maps, you may be tickled to notice that the road running along the coast has the innocent-sounding name of Hesperus Avenue.

The engraving above is one of a number included in a gorgeous 1889 illustrated edition that can be seen on the Project Gutenburg website – it’s well worth taking a look.

The Wreck of the Hesperus

By Henry Wadsworth Lonfellow

It was the schooner Hesperus,
That sailed the wintry sea;
And the skipper had taken his little daughtèr,
To bear him company.

Blue were her eyes as the fairy-flax,
Her cheeks like the dawn of day,
And her bosom white as the hawthorn buds,
That ope in the month of May.

The skipper he stood beside the helm,
His pipe was in his mouth,
And he watched how the veering flaw did blow
The smoke now West, now South.

Then up and spake an old Sailòr,
Had sailed to the Spanish Main,
‘I pray thee, put into yonder port,
For I fear a hurricane.

‘Last night, the moon had a golden ring,
And to-night no moon we see!’
The skipper, he blew a whiff from his pipe,
And a scornful laugh laughed he.

Colder and louder blew the wind,
A gale from the Northeast,
The snow fell hissing in the brine,
And the billows frothed like yeast.

Down came the storm, and smote amain
The vessel in its strength;
She shuddered and paused, like a frighted steed,
Then leaped her cable’s length.

‘Come hither! come hither! my little daughtèr,
And do not tremble so;
For I can weather the roughest gale
That ever wind did blow.’

He wrapped her warm in his seaman’s coat
Against the stinging blast;
He cut a rope from a broken spar,
And bound her to the mast.

‘O father! I hear the church-bells ring,
Oh say, what may it be?’
‘T is a fog-bell on a rock-bound coast!’ —
And he steered for the open sea.

‘O father! I hear the sound of guns,
Oh say, what may it be?’
‘Some ship in distress, that cannot live
In such an angry sea!’

‘O father! I see a gleaming light,
Oh say, what may it be?’
But the father answered never a word,
A frozen corpse was he.

Lashed to the helm, all stiff and stark,
With his face turned to the skies,
The lantern gleamed through the gleaming snow
On his fixed and glassy eyes.

Then the maiden clasped her hands and prayed
That savèd she might be;
And she thought of Christ, who stilled the wave
On the Lake of Galilee.

And fast through the midnight dark and drear,
Through the whistling sleet and snow,
Like a sheeted ghost, the vessel swept
Tow’rds the reef of Norman’s Woe.

And ever the fitful gusts between
A sound came from the land;
It was the sound of the trampling surf
On the rocks and the hard sea-sand.

The breakers were right beneath her bows,
She drifted a dreary wreck,
And a whooping billow swept the crew
Like icicles from her deck.

She struck where the white and fleecy waves
Looked soft as carded wool,
But the cruel rocks, they gored her side
Like the horns of an angry bull.

Her rattling shrouds, all sheathed in ice,
With the masts went by the board;
Like a vessel of glass, she stove and sank,
Ho! ho! the breakers roared!

At daybreak, on the bleak sea-beach,
A fisherman stood aghast,
To see the form of a maiden fair,
Lashed close to a drifting mast.

The salt sea was frozen on her breast,
The salt tears in her eyes;
And he saw her hair, like the brown sea-weed,
On the billows fall and rise.

Such was the wreck of the Hesperus,
In the midnight and the snow!
Christ save us all from a death like this,
On the reef of Norman’s Woe!