Small but mighty: HMS Pickle to set sail after a brilliant city welcome

Captain Malcolm Nicholson next to HMS Pickle Picture: Habibur Rahman (171531-8)
Captain Malcolm Nicholson next to HMS Pickle Picture: Habibur Rahman (171531-8)
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SHE may not be the original ‘Greyhound of the Sea’ but that didn’t stop Royal Navy officers from giving HMS Pickle a stunning welcome.

The vessel, which is a recreation of the original boat that was used to bear the message of Admiral Lord Nelson’s victory – and death – at the Battle of Trafalgar, has been alongside in the naval base this month.

And with the vessel tomorrow morning due to sail from Portsmouth, Pickle’s skipper has praised the city for its welcome – and claimed he is eager to create closer ties with the Royal Navy.

Mal Nicholson, who owns the boat and helped rebuild her, said: ‘When the navy lads saw Pickle come here they were doing backflips.

‘It was just a feeling of pure euphoria. They loved her being here.

‘The welcome to Portsmouth really has been incredible.’

HMS Pickle’s tale starts in 1797 in Bermuda. The vessel that fought in the Battle of Trafalgar was initially named the Sting – a privateer boat.

She was bought by Lord Hugh Seymore after the Royal Navy’s original HMS Pickle was struck by sea worm and rendered inoperable.

Having seen the Sting in action, and witnessing her speed, Lord Seymore was determined to secure her for the Senior Service.

Against the wishes of the Admiralty, the naval officer bought the boat and named her HMS Pickle.

But as Mal revealed, the boat went on to have an illustrious history.

‘She was a spy ship that was used to gain intelligence on the French and Spanish fleets,’ he said. ‘That’s something that’s only just been revealed. We never knew that before.’

Disguised as a whaling vessel, with different sails, Pickle sailed from Hull, avoiding all the ‘snitches’ based in England’s southern ports.

She spent time in Lisbon, noting the strength of Franco-Spanish fleet before returning and passing on that intelligence to Admiral Lord Nelson.

Then, during the decisive victory in the 1805 naval engagement, Pickle rescued about 140 French sailors from the water after the French warship, Achille, exploded.

‘When we sailed from Santander to the French port of La Rochelle and were worried about the reception we would get,’ added Mal.

‘But it couldn’t have been better. The French said that 40,000 people were now alive because of Pickle’s actions in Trafalgar.’

Mal, an engineer by trade, bought the replica of Pickle in 2014.

She had been based in Gibraltar and was left to wrack and ruin.

He spent almost two years refitting her and making her good to sail.

‘The fact that she wasn’t underwater was a miracle,’ he said. ‘She was in a bloody awful state. It was pitiful.

‘If you have got a modicum of patriotism within you the Pickle means an awful lot. She needed to come home.’

Pickle – believed to be named after Henry VIII’s favourite greyhound – is due to leave tomorrow morning at 8am, firing her cannon at 8.15am.

Mal added that his time in Portsmouth had been eye-opening and that he had made plenty of close ties.

He now hopes that these ties will mean more visits to the city – which is also the home of Admiral Lord Nelson’s flagship, HMS Victory.

‘This will be the first time the Royal Navy has worked with a civilian ship like this before – it’s unique.

‘This is not a casual acquaintance, we get on extremely well. We would love to come back to Portsmouth.’