HMS Pickle’s current state belies the exceptionally important role her original namesake played in one of the most famous wartime battles.
A team of British and Portuguese shipbuilders are working side-by-side to painstakingly renew the neglected vessel, which was bought exactly a year ago by British entrepreneur Mal Nicholson.
“I saw her up for sale on eBay. An American friend tipped me off that HMS Pickle was to be sold and was up on eBay. So I looked at her and I thought; she needs to come back to the UK. I’m very patriotic”, he told The Portugal News this week.
A successful bid saw Mr. Nicholson, who also owns a restored Humber Sloop named the Spider T, secure ownership of the second incarnation of HMS Pickle almost a year ago, to the day.
The impressive vessel is an exact re-creation of the original HMS Pickle, which was built in Bermuda in the late 1790’s, and operated as a support ship in the Battle of Trafalgar before being wrecked in 1808.
Purchased by the Royal Navy for her manoeuvrability and speed, HMS Pickle was first a civilian vessel named Sting before being sent to battle, though she was deemed too small to take part in the fighting.
Having hung far back from the front line of the naval engagement, the ship was picked to deliver news back to the UK of Great Britain’s victory in the Battle of Trafalgar, and of Lord Nelson’s death.
“She probably carried the most important dispatches a vessel has ever carried”, Mr. Nicholson reflects.
The more recent HMS Pickle was built in 1995 and completed ten years later in time for the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar.
Nicholson, from Burringham, North Lincolnshire, is a fourth generation engineer and a “hands-on” businessman who has a passion for all things historic.
He ran a successful historic sports and racing cars and engineering business in the UK for over thirty years before it was completely wiped out “by a four foot wall of water” in the devastating winter floods of 2013.
Within days of news that his bid on HMS Pickle had been successful, Mal Nicholson flew straight to Gibraltar, where she was based, to inspect his new acquisition.
“I thought it was more than obvious from the description in the advert that she needed quite a bit of work.”
Despite being asked by the Gibraltar government to keep the vessel in the British Overseas Territory, the businessman was adamant that she should return to the UK.
Having patched her up to sea-worthiness, Mr. Nicholson, who is also a fully qualified captain and “wears many hats” while on-board, attempted to “limp” HMS Pickle from Gibraltar back to the UK.
But, thwarted by the ship’s precarious condition, a series of squalls and two anxious stops in Spain, and at the suggestion of a friend who lives in the Algarve, ‘Captain Mal’ decided to sail the vessel on to southern Portugal.
“We eventually arrived in Faro one night at around midnight and my friend came out in a little rib boat to meet us and guide us in. And that’s where the story began.”
Mr. Nicholson says the “Portuguese influence” on HMS Pickle “was set from day one” after he was introduced to Rui Pinto, who runs a small family boat repair and construction business in Quarteira.
With generations of shipbuilders on both sides, maternal and paternal, Rui Pinto’s family built traditional white Portuguese schooners.
“His grandfather did beautiful Indian ink copper writing, all of the formulas, the drawings, the designs. Coming across Rui was like, I would say, not just a breath of fresh air; it was like a miracle really.
“Sometimes fate plays into your hands doesn’t it? It think I could have gone all round Europe and not found anybody as gifted, as capable or as friendly and wanting to help”, Nicholson praises.
In a nod to his ‘Team of Dreams’, he adds: “It’s been amazing.”
“I’d never been to Portugal before; I’ve done most of the Med but never Portugal, and I’ve got to admit there’s a certain something about it that I really like.
“There’s certainly something quite endearing about Portugal that nowhere else seems to have. I think Portugal’s got that lovely sort of blend of authenticity and age that even though there’s modern technology and other things it still hasn’t lost its old world charm. I love it. I’ll be quite sad to go.”
HMS Pickle is scheduled to be lowered into the water at Ferragudo docks on Friday (17 July) at 3pm, from where she will sail to Vilamoura.
There she will be blessed and “re-launched” by the Vice President of the Merchant Navy Association Captain, Malcolm Mathison, before sailing back to the UK following “virtually the exact course that was sailed back from the Battle of Trafalgar.”
Once back in the UK, when not at her new home on the Humber, the vessel will participate in a number of events and exhibitions, and has already been invited to return to Bermuda for the Americas Cup.
But wherever she may go HMS Pickle will always keep a little bit of Portugal within her: beneath each mast is a “beautiful fifty escudo coin that came from a lady in Lisbon specifically to put there”, Mr Nicholson reveals, adding: “And to my great delight Vasco da Gama is on the coin with his ship; which is absolutely fitting.”