HMS Pickle moves to Gibraltar

It’s the bowsprit that hits you between the eyes. Clock the size of it: with something like that you could sail her into port and knock the back wall out of a dockside crimper’s best bedroom…

The 73ft schooner HMS Pickle is a  replica of the 1799-built original HMS Pickle, which had the honour of bringing the news of the battle of Trafalgar back to Britain. It was a big, bittersweet moment: one one hand it was victory in the war with the French, but on the other hand the commander of the British fleet, Horatio Nelson1st Viscount Nelson1st Duke of Bronté, had been shot and killed.

The excuse for publishing these striking photos is that from mid-September the superyachts at Gibraltar’s Ocean Village Marina will have HMS Pickle for a neighbour. Gibraltar’s gain is the UK’s loss, but there’s something appropriate about the move.

HMS Pickle’s is to sail from the UK to her new home in Gibraltar via Cape Trafalgar – a route that the original Pickle would have followed many times.

The ship’s operator, Robin James said ‘The connection she has with Gibraltar and the part they both played in British Naval history is a great story to share and I am sure her arrival will be a real boost to tourism… We have received fantastic support from the government of Gibraltar and Ocean Village and can’t wait to get there.’

Robin comes from a family of mariners, and in 2004 took time off work to set off around Europe and America in search of a tall ship of his own – and then found Pickle in Gloucester where she had recently arrived from Russia.

Pickle had real appeal because of the original’s rich history and adventures in the Caribbean and Europe.  The first Pickle was wrecked and sunk off southern Spain in 1808 but this 1996-built replica is uncannily similar and gives us a great insight into the methods and technologies of the time.’

London’s ship in a bottle

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This giant ship in a bottle artwork in Trafalgar Square, London, by Yinka Shonibare commemorates Nelson’s victory at the Battle of Trafalgar.

It also raises the time-honoured ship-in-a-bottle question:  how on earth did they make it?

Having seen it at close quarters and read about it, I still don’t know the answer. What we are told, however, is that the ship’s 37 sails are made of exuberant and richly patterned textiles commonly associated with African dress and is meant to convey the complexity of British expansion in trade and Empire, made possible through the freedom of the seas that followed victory at Trafalgar.

The bottle’s context is intriguing. Trafalgar Square is the usual destination of big demonstrations in London, and as I passed through on Saturday a crowd of Egyptians were celebrating the previous day’s events in Tahrir Square, and their countrymen’s victory over an oppressive regime supported by so many Western governments. I sincerely hope the cause of their understandable happiness lasts, although I fear Egypt is a country where there must be many dangerous people who have reason to fear the justice that democracy could bring.

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Atop his column, meanwhile, Nelson serenely looked out over the River Thames and the Empire from atop his wonderfully impressive column. There’s something symbolic about the way he so resolutely turns his back on the political gestures and statements that ordinary mortals make in the square – I don’t know if it was the intention of the original architect and artist, but his stance could have been calculated to represent the establishment’s view of most of what happens behind him.

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More photographs from Hastings: statues and portraits of historical celebrities

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The house that once belonged to Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell’s mum

Also in Hastings we found this extraordinary house. Perhaps the last time I walked along this road I failed to make the obvious connection, but this time I didn’t fail to make it and took the shots that duty required.

The story of Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell is that he happened to be in charge when a large but off-course portion of the British Navy hit the Scilly Isles instead of sailing safely up the English Channel, as had been expected.

It was a miserable end to what must previously been a glittering career full of successful heroics – but it wasn’t in vain because the historians say that the renewed interest in navigation that followed led to the development of the chronometer.

Sir Cloudesley’s body was found washed up on a Scilly Isles beach, and he is now commemorated in Westminster Abbey by a monument made by the legendary Grinling Gibbons, no less.

Hastings seems to be keen on its big-name maritime heroes; within a quarter of a mile of the Shovell house, we came upon these reminders of Sir Francis Drake and Admiral Lord Nelson.

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