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The Rockall Jubilee Expedition

CommunityJames Hipkiss

The most isolated speck of rock, surrounded by water, on the surface of the Earth. James A. MacIntosh (1946) The Rockall Solo Expedition Rockall Solo is a unique endurance expedition to be undertaken by Nick Hancock in order to raise funds for Help for Heroes. Since the first recorded landing in 1811, only four people have spent more than one night on Rockall. Rockall is a very small rocky island lying approximately 300 km (186 miles) west of St Kilda, which itself is 41 miles west of the Outer Hebrides.

The outcrop measures just 25 metres (82ft) on its north-south axis by 22 metres (72ft) on its east-west axis. The summit is now just 18 metres (59ft) above sea level, having been officially 19.2 metres (63ft) ASL prior to the top being removed by the Royal Engineers for a navigation light in 1971. The only flattish area of Rockall, named in 1955 as Halls Ledge after the first recorded person to land there, is just 3.5 metres by 1.3 metres (11 foot by 4 foot). There are no plants on Rockall, and the only animals are resting birds. Greenpeace placed a solar powered beacon over the frame of the original navigation aid in 1997, and returned to upgrade the light in 1998. This was the only permanent mark of human occupation on Rockall until it too succumbed to the ravages of an Atlantic storm two years later. The earliest recorded landing on Rockall was in 1811, by a Royal Navy officer called Basil Hall from the HMS Endymion. Hall observed that, the smallest point of a pencil could scarcely give it a place on any map which should not exaggerate its proportions. On 18th September 1955 at 1016 GMT Britain claimed Rockall, and in 1972 The Isle of Rockall Act was passed, which made the rock officially part of the District of Harris, Scotland.

This represented the last territorial expansion of the British Empire. Rockall is today probably most famous for being an area of the BBCs Shipping Forecast. In 1985, a former SAS soldier, Tom McLean, lived on Rockall in a wooden shelter bolted to Halls Ledge, setting the record for the longest solo occupation of the islet at 40 days. Then, in 1997, several members of Greenpeace were landed by helicopter. They stayed in a kevlar re-enforced capsule for 42 days, setting a new longest occupation record, albeit by a group. They were regularly resupplied and the team swapped over from a nearby vessel. Nicks original aim was to land at the end of May this year and attempt to live on Rockall in his bespoke shelter, for 60 days, thereby setting two new endurance records: the longest solo occupation of Rockall and the longest occupation of Rockall in history. Due to the harsh weather conditions and the ocean environment (waves regularly top Rockall even in the summer month) a bespoke rigid shelter is required.

Having considered various options, Nick settled on converting a water bowser, made by Trailer Engineering, and now christened The RockPod. The bowser provided the required shape, size and rigidity for the shelter, whilst having the additional benefit of being designed to keep water in (so logic says it should keep water out!). Having been donated several yacht hatches by Lewmar, these were fitted with some issues due to their low tolerance to curves. The pod is manufactured from 10mm thermal plastic, and some remoulding was required. The RockPod was subsequently insulated with expanding, fire retardant foam, and a floor fitted. The shelter will be tethered to Rockall using in-situ stainless steel ring bolts placed by Greenpeace, ratchet straps provided by Safety Lifting Gear, and 1 tonne lifting points bolted to the pod, which were donated by William Hackett. With the shelter designed and built, the next major issues were that of food and water.

There are no fresh water sources on Rockall, and Nick considered taking desalination equipment (theres lots of sea water out there!). However, due to limited power options and the potential for breakdown, he has decided to take the majority of his freshwater requirement with him, with the remainder being supplied by rainwater collection. Again, various options were considered for food. Dehydrated rations would be light, a benefit for hauling up the rock, but would require extra fresh water to rehydrate. In addition, they rehydrate better when heated. Wet rations have the advantage of, well, being wet and can be eaten hot or cold, cutting fuel requirements. Fresh food, apart from an initial small supply, has been disregarded due to bulk and the lack of refrigeration facilities, even though its likely to be pretty cold for most of Nicks time on the rock. Power, which will be used to charge a satellite phone, VHF radio, and a laptop, will be provided by a combination of solar panels and a micro-wind generator, provided by Ampair, with storage provided by a portable battery pack. Nick is also considering taking a small recreational petrol generator for emergency use. The electronic equipment will not only allow Nick to blog and Tweet, thereby bringing his expedition to the wider world, but will also enable to him to stay sane with electronic books and music (theres not much else to do on Rockall!).

In order to keep himself busy during the 60 days alone, Nick has also devised a number of scientific projects to undertake whilst on Rockall. These include obtaining rock samples from both Rockall and the nearby Hasselwood Rock for study by the British Geological Survey; establishing the true orientation of Rockall, which to date has only been estimated; conducting a GNSS survey of the rock; and collecting any insect and algal samples he is able to identify for future study by the Natural History Museum. Unfortunately, due to lack of funding (the boat charter alone is 13,500) the main expedition has been postponed for a year until 2013. However, Nick is still heading out to Rockall at the end of this month on a reconnaissance trip, The Rockall Jubilee Expedition, and will attempt to land and hopefully, weather dependant, spend a night on the rock in order to test his clothing and some of his kit.

Nick also hopes to raise a flag in honour of HM The Queen during the Silver Jubilee weekend, and will be accompanied by BBC Radio Scotland, who will be broadcasting a programme about the expedition on Monday 4th June.

You can find out more about the Jubilee expedition, follow Nick on this expedition and the future 60 day attempt, and sponsor him in support of Help for Heroes at www.rockallsolo.com