Sailors go 200 years back in time to crew sailing vessel which brought news of Trafalgar

Portsmouth Naval Base volunteers are to sail the schooner Pickle from Hull to the Solent to attend a celebration of the original HMS Pickle’s voyage to Falmouth carrying the news of the victory at Trafalgar and the death of Admiral Lord Nelson.

The battle took place off Cape Trafalgar (not far from the Southern tip of the country) and the journey took ten days – and then it took another 37 hours for captain Lieutenant John Lapenotiere to reach the Admiralty in London.

On arrival, it’s recorded that he announced: ‘Sir, we have gained a great victory but we have lost Lord Nelson.’

The accomplishments of Lapenotiere and his small boat are celebrated each November 4 – the anniversary of Pickle’s arrival in Falmouth – with Pickle Night, an evening for naval ratings to remember the heroes of 1805 and generally let their hair down, often dressed in the uniform of the day.

HMS Victory hosts a special Pickle Night event on the great ship’s lower gun deck with 104 specially-nominated ratings dining with Second Sea Lord Vice Admiral Jonathan Woodcock.

HMS Victory executive officer WO1 Dickie Henderson along with some senior ratings serving aboard Nelson’s flagship thought this year the presence of a replica (the original Pickle was wrecked more than two centuries ago) berthed next to Victory, would add to the proceedings.

The current Pickle was built 20 years ago in the Baltic, has a hull similar to the original and was adapted to look more like the original HMS Pickle to mark the 200th anniversary of Trafalgar.

The crew will live in more comfort than sailors of Nelson’s era but he sailing gear would have been recognisable to old time sailors. On her  planned way south from the 25th-30th October, she is to call at Harwich, Dover and Eastbourne, and reach Portsmouth on the 30th.

Thanks to support from long-time Navy supporter Sir Donald Gosling and his foundation, and the RN RM Charity, up to six sailors, at a time, from HMS Victory and Portsmouth Flotilla will be able to crew the Pickle on each leg (the longest is 36 hours)… I gather there has been no shortage of volunteers.


HMS Pickle is on her way home

Now substantially fixed up with many new timbers, new rigging and other gear, HMS Pickle is now sailing her way in shortish hops along the coast from Portugal to her new home at Keadby Lock in South Humberside. She has reached Santander.

Today’s HMS Pickle is traditionally built schooner named after the celebrated Bermudan sloop HMS Pickle, which famously brought news of the victory at Trafalgar and of Nelson’s death to England. Little Pickle got the job because she was quick and handy, but from reading the original HMS Pickle’s Wikipedia entry she was involved in quite a number of remarkable exploits, including various captures and rescues.

To see her position on the route home, click here. Also, follow her progress on the official HMS Pickle Facebook page.

Man in a Pickle

Mal Nicholson is in Portugal and up to his eyes in the job of repairing HMS Pickle, the traditionally build schooner named after the similar fast-sailing Royal Navy schooner commanded by Lieutenant John Richards Lapenotière that famously carried the news of victory and of Nelson’s death to England following the Battle of Trafalgar.

It seems fair to say that Mal has had what for anyone else would be a torrid time – the ship may be relatively small, but it has suffered badly from rot and neglect – but Mal is not a  man to be stopped by such problems, and even seems to be enjoying himself, describing it as ‘the adventure of a lifetime’ and ‘stuff that dreams are made of’.
‘Buying HMS Pickle was the right thing to do on so many levels, she needed saving or she was going to die where she lay in Gibraltar, I do not regret it.

‘People have shocked me with their support and enthusiasm for this project.’ (An example of this is sponsor Riskex’s support – here’s a piece about the Pickle project from the company’s newsletter)

Mal’s hoping to set off for England in mid-June if possible, depending on how the work goes. His plan will be a series of day-sails from Vilamoura to Lagos, Lagos to Sines, Sines to Cascais etc. If you’d like to help him along the way to getting Pickle seaworthyand earning her keep, click here.

Here’s a piece by Phil Warren, of the Warren family that had the shipyard that built Mal’s earleir project Humber sloop Spider T. Phil is a retired university and an expert in woodwork.

Man in a Pickle

At the moment in Portugal there is a man in a Pickle.

The man is Mal Nicholson from North Lincolnshire, the reason he’s in a pickle? Well it starts with EBay…

Almost a year ago Mal was surfing Ebay, as people do, when he saw something that he just knew he had to have, it was a boat. Not just any old boat however, this was the schooner Pickle, named after one of the most famous sailing ships of all time. The original saw action when Britain ruled the waves, that was at the Battle of Trafalgar and that was so exceptionally fast that she was chosen to bring home to Britain the news that the battle was won but Lord Nelson was lost. The boat was made from wood though and that’s when it got interesting.

The current Pickle was launched in 1995. She was used in the 2005 Bi-centennial Trafalgar celebrations were she sailed around the UK visiting many ports and maritime festivals.

She even moored alongside the Victory as part of the International Festival of the sea.

Pickle was famous for capturing a host of vessels and was referred to by Nelson himself as “ubiquitous”, her phenomenal speed allowed her to seem to be everywhere at once. In a time of square rigged ships her then  revolutionary Bermudan sloop rig made her the fastest ship in the navy. Due to this speed and reputation she was chosen by Vice Admiral Collingwood at the end of the Battle of Trafalgar to carry home the news of the death of Lord Nelson and the defeat of the combined French and Spanish fleets. Pickle set off with the Trafalgar dispatch on the 26th October and nine days later after besting a gale off Finisterre arrived in Falmouth on November 4th. This achievement is still celebrated today by warrant officers in the Royal Navy on Pickle Night.

Unfortunately the present Pickle found herself in a ‘pickle’ when she was taken to Gibralter and left for two years in the Mediterranean heat. Mal Nicholson heard of her plight and purchased her with the intention of bringing this famous vessel back to the UK. She was in a bad state. A lot of decking had rotted, allowing ingress of water which in turn had damaged beams, planks and many other parts but undaunted he set to with a group of friends in order to make her seaworthy.

They left Gibralter with a Royal Navy escort and laid a wreath at Trafalgar for sailors of all nations, then another at Cadiz where the original Pickle foundered. The seas off Trafalgar nearly ended the trip there however as the top main mast cracked and broke, and brought several tons of woodwork and rigging down on deck, narrowly missing the crew members.

Pickle was partly repaired at Puerto Sherry, and undaunted motored onto Mazagon, where on coming into the marina in a storm she lost drive. Mal was beginning to question just what he had bought, however it didn’t reduce his absolute determination to get the boat restored to its former prime and with the help of a local diver the issue was resolved. This was becoming a real adventure.

With further repairs in place the next leg in the voyage was a short hop to Tavira however on exiting the marina directions were given to sail 180 degrees for twenty miles to avoid Spanish naval exercises and oil fields. At that point it seemed sensible to continue to Villamoura after the extended detour:  Pickle’s engines did well, though, and never missed a beat on the hundred mile trip.

Reaching Portugal and with winter seas approaching Mal decided to spend a few months in Villamoura while repairs were made.

Lets return to the man in a Pickle.

The masts were the first item on the ‘to do’ list, a list that has grown and grown. Mal, a group of friends and a local boat builder have done the work and have made a superb job.

Repaired masts, new spars, jib-boom – the jib is the spar that extends from the bowsprit on the bow and allows more sails to be carried and effectively makes the vessel longer. On Pickle the jib-boom and bowsprit together  are more than half as long again as the hull itself.

The next issue was the hull. Ironically, while ‘pickle’ means to preserve in brine or vinegar, however in Pickle’s case the wood had been soaked with rain water and this had led to rot – lots of it. As one section was repaired then further digging led to more being uncovered. It seemed insurmountable at times but Mal does not give up. He has tackled similar or worse jobs before including his Humber sloop Spider T and a Grand Prix Ferrari – however, he is an engineer by trade and not a woodworker, so has had a very steep learning curve.

Finally, the hull is being completed to a standard surpassing its original form and is a stunningly beautiful creation. The masts are re-stepped, spars are aloft, the varnish and paint is drying and soon she will be coming back to the UK.

The plan is to set sail in mid June. She will make a rather more leisurely return than that made by Lieutenant Lapenotière, and will take in stops in Spain, France, the Channel Islands and the South and East coasts of England before sailing up the Humber Estuary to her new berth.

If any holidaymakers are in the area of Vilamoura, do go down to the marina and give them a wave. You cannot miss Pickle, as she’s the only warship in the marina!

Phil Warren