Thursday, 17 July 2014

Final blog from the rock

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On Sunday I had some poor weather, coming from the south as it was meant that I had no shelter from the wind, nor the bands of rain and mist that came through all day. As usual, when this happens, this resulted in a generally pod bound day reading. I in fact read most of Bill Bryson's 'Travels in Europe' in between exercises with my Thera-band when it was dry enough to stand up in the pod. Fortunately, the wind had peaked in the night, I'd slept through it, and the wind slowly decreased throughout the day. The gannets returned in numbers, and have taken to landing on 'the patio' area at the west end of the ledge when they are not diving for fish below me. When they did land, I spoke to them firmly, pointing out that they would soon have the rock to themselves again, if they could just be patient.

 

There have been only three trawlers about this week, including K373 'Aalskere' and K121 'Keila', and my friend the oily kittiwake, whom I have imaginatively called 'Kitti' has been resting a lot on the ledge, even allowing me to get within a metre or so of him. He can still fly, and seems to be slowly cleaning up, but is obviously not quite right. As I have had to pack up the wind turbine a couple of days before I leave, I have been charging and discharging a couple of pieces of kit that I have not used much in order to try and get the batteries to hold their charge for long enough to reach the end of the expedition.

 

On Monday, I set up and started the second of my two Leica GNSS surveys, the data from which will be cross referenced with the first survey, now that the satellites are in a different position, in order to calculate the exact position and height of Rockall more accurately. In addition, I used the time I was out of the RockPod to collect a few more orientated rock samples for St. Andrew's University, and also made an attempt at drawing the back wall above Hall's Ledge and its main features for future reference. In the afternoon, the 'James Clark Ross' reappeared having been up to Iceland, and came close again, taking more photos and some video of me as they passed. They were here for over half and hour, we chatted on the VHF, then they headed home to Scotland.

 

Tuesday was a good but quiet day, despite the wind being from the south all day as it was low and there was no rain. Small blessings! In addition, it was a new solo occupation record for Rockall, and a day that I had been planning for and thinking about for over five years. My first job for the day was taking down and packing away the Leica GNSS receiver and backing up the data it had collected in the past twenty four hours. Apart from that, not much happened. I watched the gannets diving, and the minke passing. There have been three trawlers at the rock this week, and I went onto the lee North side of the rock and watched them, out of the incessant wind, for while.

 

Yesterday was the first day of packing up and preparing to leave proper. The forecast was for low winds. As I wasn't going to generate very much power anyway I planned to dismantle the wind turbine. Having done this before at home to practice, I though it would take me most of the day, if I worked slowly. In fact, even at a slow pace, I had it down and packed away in around two hours. The turbine head had come onto Rockall in a large barrel to protect it, but as I lost one of these I'm hoping a dry bag will be sufficient for getting it off. In addition, I've put the charge controller into a barrel, it came on inside the RockPod, as I may have to drop the pod off the rock and I don't think the controller would survive the shock of hitting the water. Having taken it down, it was amazing how much space there appeared to be on the summit, and I spent some of the afternoon enjoying walking about on a flat surface for the first time in weeks, albeit not very far! At the end of the day, I checked my emails to discover that my departure date has been pushed back 24 hours. This I think is due to the wind direction, which will be behind the boat when they leave Leverburgh on Friday evening, dropping to next to nothing when they arrive at Rockall, and turning round to be behind them on the way home too. Another day here means another day onto my new occupation record, but having taken down the turbine yesterday, may mean that I'm short on power tomorrow; hence why I'm posting this blog today rather than on my last night on the rock.

 

This morning I was rudely awoken at 0630 by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute vessel 'Knorr' over the VHF. We had a good chat; they told me that they had been laying moorings in the area and had come to Rockall specifically to see me. An added bonus, as today marks the longest anyone has ever been on Rockall, was that they set off a barrage of fireworks in my honour from their rear deck, which was amazing to see all the way out here, but probably shocked some of the fishing boats! The rest of today I've just spent reading, doing a bit of minor packing of kit, pondering about how I'd go about repairing the derelict light beacon housing on the summit, and looking out for seals and minke whales. Having complete most of the tasks I set myself before I came here, there really is now not a lot to do out here.

 

The photo is looking down on the RockPod from the summit plateau. I should still be able to Tweet tomorrow night, but this will be my last blog from Rockall. Thanks for following the expedition, and remember that you can still support me in aid of Help for Heroes at www.justgiving.com/rockallsolo . Once I'm onboard Kilda Cruises' boat Orca 3 on Saturday, hopefully around lunchtime, you should be able to track my return to land live here:

http://share.findmespot.com/shared/faces/viewspots.jsp?glId=0stNi5YCgRlZLKBfE2aunAKZztGzMGQ0k

 
Nick Hancock FRGS

www.rockallsolo.com
Facebook.com/RockallSolo
Twitter: @RockallNick #RockallSolo
Sponsor Nick in aid of Help for Heroes at www.justgiving.com/rockallsolo

Please forward all Press and Media enquiries regarding the expedition to Iain MacIver
Tel: 0845 860 2411
Email: rockall2014@promessage.com

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Blog Day 36

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I've been waking up earlier in the mornings since the storm, and this morning was no different. However, the sea was probably the calmest its been since I got here, in stark contrast to events just over a week ago. There was no wind at all, no waves, and a very slight swell. Today infact was one of the days that Kilda Cruises initially proposed to come and get me off the rock after the storm; we would have had perfect conditions for it this morning. As it is, they will be coming next week at some point, although they are awaiting the week's forecast on Sunday before making a decision as to which day.

 

The solo record of forty days is on Monday, so I will have beaten it on Tuesday. Similarly the group and longest record is on Wednesday, so I will have beaten it on Thursday. At the moment, the forecast for Wednesday is not great, so I'm speculating that I will be coming off on Thursday or Friday, having completed the main goals of the expedition: beating the two occupation records (although not by very much) and raising money for Help for Heroes (almost £7,000 as I write this), which is great. My sixty day target was always an arbitrary figure I had just on, with no real significance, as it was a nice round figure and represented two months here. It would have been nice to push the records out that far, but I'm not too disappointed that I won't be here for another couple of weeks. Yesterday, strangely, I did get a feeling of disappointment at the prospect of leaving soon. I think that this is partly because I've had to cut the trip down due to the loss of supplies, fitting in with weather windows and with boat availability, but I also think is more because I had wanted to record as much about Rockall, whilst I had this opportunity, as possible. The loss of my climbing hardware, along with the knock that my confidence has taken, has restricted me to the upper levels of the rock, whereas I had hoped to go down almost to sea level, on ropes, on calm days like today.

 

I've had a couple of lovely days of weather since the storm, and the wind has been mainly from the West and North West, until today, so that when it has been higher I have been sheltered on the South face. This has all combined, along with me getting out and about again, to settle my nerves, and I'm now much happier and enjoying being here again. My recent explorations have revealed that the rock has been scrubbed clean by the storm: guano stains have been removed from the light housing on the summit which is now partially filled with water and floating guillemot eggs, the 'patio' and 'ramp' sections of Hall's Ledge are completely clean, and a gannet nest with egg that was in a cleft above me near the summit has gone completely!

 

There are again a couple of trawlers about, but nowhere near as many as before. However, a couple of days ago I was visited by the research vessel 'James Clark Ross', registered in the Falklands. They were enroute from Canada to Iceland, and when I pointed out, over the VHF, that Rockall wasn't on that route, they told me that they were doing a bit of research here too, about a mile away, heading North, and would be back again in a few days. Once they had finished whatever it was they were recording they came back past the rock, within probably two hundred metres, close enough for me to shout to them, and see over thirty people taking photos of me and waving. It was a big ship, the biggest since I got here, and having it so close was amazing. The photo is of them heading North after passing by.

 

Also over the past few days, I started and have now completed a geomagnetism survey for St. Andrew's University. Again, I had hoped initially to go far and wide over the rock to complete this, but restricted as I now am, I confined myself to the extended area of Hall's Ledge. I was pleased, though, that I was still able to record eleven transects. I'm not sure how much use the data will be, but they have said that anything I can record will be "interesting"! I have also been collecting a number of rock samples for them as I go, which I have attempted to record the orientation of in situ so that they can reproduce that orientation in the lab, which has been also been fun and perhaps more importantly, time consuming. It occurred to me yesterday that I could also use the grid I had effectively created with the transects to map out Hall's Ledge fairly accurately, so I have been doing that this morning too.

 

Aside from all that, I have been reading a lot, and am now enjoying the autobiography of Malcolm X. One of the issues with reading so much in a cramped pod is that I am obviously resting on the same points on my body all the time, which means that I have started to develop a sore patch near the base of my spine. If I sit up to read then the top of my back quickly starts to ache from being hunched over! I've also developed a twitch under my eye. I don't know why, but it is annoying at times! Whilst reading I have seen a number of kittiwakes with brown clumpy stains on their tails, backs, and wings. I'm assuming that this must be oil or something similar they have picked up locally which is a real shame. The first one I saw a few days ago now seems to be cleaning up slowly, and they all seem to be able to fly still.

 

My thoughts are now turning to coming off the rock and how I now go about this with less barrels for kit and no climbing hardware. The remaining barrels of kit won't be an issue to lower down to the boat, but I had planned to use a Petzl ID to lower the RockPod off the cliff, the way it came up. Now that I don't have that piece of equipment, I need to find an alternative. The back-stop option is just to push the pod off the rock and hope for the best; although I think the pod will survive the fall, the shock of hitting the water may crack the hatches, and if the pod were then to roll, it would fill with water and be lost. I'd prefer to take it home, one so that its not a danger to shipping and two as it's the most iconic item associated with the expedition. Having emailed the guys at Summit Rescue who know the pod well, having winched and lowered it up and down the crag at Ratho with me in training many times, they have recommended a 'Super Munter Hitch' which I will be practicing with over the next few days. There is also an option to slide the pod down a slope at the side of the ledge with a smaller drop at the end, so that may be the way forward.

 
Nick Hancock FRGS

www.rockallsolo.com
Facebook.com/RockallSolo
Twitter: @RockallNick #RockallSolo
Sponsor Nick in aid of Help for Heroes at www.justgiving.com/rockallsolo

Please forward all Press and Media enquiries regarding the expedition to Iain MacIver
Tel: 0845 860 2411
Email: rockall2014@promessage.com

Friday, 4 July 2014

Day 30

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Today should have been a bigger milestone than it actually is due to the events of this week. I should have been celebrating the half way mark to the sixty days I had originally planned to be on Rockall for. Instead I've been here a month and am now counting down the days until I go home.

 

The storm that hit on Tuesday night was the worst experience of my life, ever. I have never been so scared, not helped by the worst of the weather coming in the hours of darkness so I could neither see nor brace myself for impacts by spray and waves. All evening and into the night the sea state slowly got worse and the wind strength grew to over gale force, until at around 0300hrs the pod was hit hard by a wave, fifteen metres above sea level. We were shunted around a foot but fortunately quickly returned to our original position. I was sure that if I was hit with another wave like that or bigger, that would be me washed off Rockall. Fortunately that was the biggest. At least part of the reason that I was so badly affected is that Hall's Ledge is South facing, and all the waves and wind were coming at me from the South. Had they been from the North, or even round to the North West or East I would have been at least partly sheltered, but in fact had to take the full brunt of the storm head on.

 

Frankly, after that, my nerves were wrecked for the rest of the night and I'm still not fully recovered. Even today I'm getting involuntarily apprehensive at slightly bigger waves crashing below me, which before the storm I would not have been bothered about. I lost four barrels of kit, which contained my buoyancy aid and quite a lot of my remaining rations, although fortunately I had brought as much food as I could fit into the pod before the storm. A quick inspection on Wednesday morning revealed slack in the ratchet straps at the East end of the pod, confirming that it had not returned fully to its original position, but no obvious damage, except for the lost kit. The barrels had all been tethered to the rock, the pod or both. The tethers hadn't failed, but the handles on the barrels had been torn off and left forlornly swinging on the leashes.

 

It was obvious that I would not now be able to complete my goal of sixty days here, but I though I still had enough food to reach the records. I then spent much of the day on the Inmarsat IsatPhone2 speaking to the Coastguard, Kilda Cruises, Iain MacIver and my wife trying to discover what my options were. Kilda Cruises are obviously a commercial charter company and so have a full diary. Fortunately two extra boats are becoming available, the weather seems to be generally improving, and so we have agreed that I will continue to go for the occupation records but will come off Rockall as soon after that as the weather allows, and certainly before I run out of food.

 

I am very grateful to Kilda Cruises and their team for the effort they have gone to in order to help me out at such short notice. I should also mention that LPG Exceptional Energy and Calor offered to try and get more food out to me here. I declined as the cost would be significant, I'd rather money was donated to Help for Heroes, and a boat coming to drop off food may be using the best weather window I have to get off here safely. I would also like to thank Inmarsat and Wireless Innovation, as without the excellent and reliable communications they have provide me with, I may have had no option but to pull the plug on the expedition and call out the Coastguard.

 

This morning, I managed to get out of the pod for a good period of time, before it started to rain again, and whilst properly tidying up the remaining barrels and ropes, confirmed that I have enough food left to eek out to between forty five and fifty days. This is good news as it gives me a bit of a buffer should the weather not be great around the time of the records. I've spent the remainder of the day reading, listening to music and trying to ignore the wind and waves outside. I keep forgetting to say that the music on my iPod includes the albums 'The Band from Rockall' by Callum and Rory MacDonald and 'Rockall' by The House Band; very apt I think. The forecast is not perfect but is steadily improving into next week, and current indications are that it will remain good for the remainder of my time here, for which I am very grateful. My motivation is now to achieve the two records in ten and twelve days respectively, and then get home safely.

 
Nick Hancock FRGS

www.rockallsolo.com
Facebook.com/RockallSolo
Twitter: @RockallNick #RockallSolo
Sponsor Nick in aid of Help for Heroes at www.justgiving.com/rockallsolo

Please forward all Press and Media enquiries regarding the expedition to Iain MacIver
Tel: 0845 860 2411
Email: rockall2014@promessage.com

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Calm before the storm?

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I've recently had a couple of nights of not sleeping at all well, being awake until after 0200hrs. I though this might be due to drinking hot chocolate before bed, so cut that out and things improved, but I had it again the night before last, and there were no effects at all. So, I'm just putting it down to not being mentally tired.

 

A few days ago, after a particularly bad night's sleep, I was up early (for Rockall time) as I had an interview with Ben Fogle for NBC first thing. This was recorded by them via Skype and me on my video camera here, and will be cut together later for transmission in the USA, and hopefully in the UK too if one of the networks picks it up from them. Ben was as nice as you would expect, recounting his trip here, which was great as he'd just stepped off a plane from Alaska apparently. I have to briefly mention the fact that Inmarsat are being amazing, allowing me the airtime to do Skype interviews and upload the video I've recorded, to NBC.

 

That took much of the morning, after which I did some general admin and then went out about the rock to carry out some minor tasks like measuring distances between the fixings in the rock (might be useful for someone to know at some point) and cutting away some old ropes which might tangle my ropes and lowering rig when I eventually come to leave here.

 

I was treated to some amazing scenes over the past few days, what with all the whales around, changes in sea state and the sun glimmering on the waves. It's starting to become very apparent to me that as well as a challenge, it is also a privilege to see some of the sites I have already seen here, and to have had some of the experiences. It's almost a shame there's no-one to share them with!

 

I have also made a start on mapping out the summit plateau in detail. I had to time my start with the wind as I didn't want the turbine to clock me on the head, and as it was an Easterly the blades were facing away from the end where you climb up onto the top. The summit plateau was created when the Royal Engineers blew the top off Rockall to facilitate the installation of a light beacon (now defunct), and there are still the parallel drill tracks across the top where the explosives were set. This nicely forms the basis for a grid, and I managed to measure the width of these grooves and the distances between them before the wind started to pick up, as forecast.

 

I retreated to the RockPod and the wind continued to build through the day until it was up past 30mph by evening. It's just not sensible to be out and about in those conditions, even with a harness and life line, especially when the rock is wet and slippery, so I was pod-bound for the rest of the morning and all of the rest of the day. This meant more reading: I finished Jay-Z's 'Decoded' and started Steven (Aerosmith) Tyler's autobiography, before completing some more harmonica lessons. The basic tunes I'm on at the moment sound to me like they're supposed to, and there's some basic technique work at this stage too, which seems to be going well.

 

Around 1600hrs the VHF came to life and I spoke with John (?Walker) who along with his wife Janet on their boat 'Jay Walker' had come out, via a night's stop at St. Kilda, from the Outer Hebrides. It had taken them three days all told, and they expected to be heading to Northern Ireland on their return, due to the prevailing wind direction.

 

Yesterday, I woke up to glorious weather: the wind was still high but had dropped away from the night before, blue skies and a choppy sea. The photo is of me squinting into the bright sunshine shortly after waking up! (Why does sunshine make me sneeze?) The gannets had returned; I watched them diving for fish whilst the minke cruised past, and wondered if the whales ever get hit by the birds. It's amazing how such a day can lift your spirits, particularly after being pod-bound like the day before. I was visited by a small brown bird, who was a bit bedraggled when he first appeared, but soon dried off and looked like a brown starling; maybe a juvenile? He appeared, wet again, later, so he was either bathing somewhere or was getting caught in the spray lower down.

 

It was a quiet day and I took the opportunity to enjoy the weather, taking a lot of photographs and video of the RockPod from various angles and the sea crashing round the sides of Rockall and meeting on the other side in a maelstrom of foam and spray. At the end of the day I had a telephone interview over the Wireless Innovation IsatPhone2 with The Sun. It went really well, and they're hoping to publish something in the next week or so, which will hopefully raise the profile of the expedition further and generate some more sponsorship for Help for Heroes.

 

However, the evening brought my first equipment issue since I've been here. I'd noted over the past few days that the gas canister didn't appear to be screwing onto the stove's valve as easily as it should, and had put this down to the thread on the disposable canister deteriorating through use. The thread failed when I went to use it last night, but not on the canister, on the stove, which is surprising as I've never had issues with these canisters and this make of stove before. I was too tired to look at it properly, but came to the conclusion that it was probably beyond repair and had a cold supper. More disappointing was the likelihood that I may not have another hot drink on the expedition.

 

So, this morning's first task was to look at the stove with fresh eyes. I confirmed that the thread had failed but that the seal was still intact, and the canister would now just push onto the valve. With a couple of spare large pipe clamps I have managed to strap the valve firmly onto the canister, and having monitored it for leaks, it appears to be a tighter fit than when it was just screwed together, which is great. I will obviously keep monitoring the set up for leaks, but I'm confident this will now last until the end of the expedition. I celebrated with a nice hot cup of tea!

 

Tomorrow is supposed to be a very calm day, but as they say: the calm before the storm. From Tuesday next week there are forecast winds in excess of 30mph, gusting up to 50mph (Strong Gale), with rain, and remaining that way for several days. I've already had winds in excess of 30mph, but only for short periods, so this promises to be the worst weather I've experience yet, and may limit my ability to Tweet and update the blog for a while. To prepare, after a hot breakfast, I checked the guy wires on the wind turbine, tightening a couple in the process, and the ratchet straps tying the pod to the rock. The straps were fine, but I tidied up the loose ends so they don't hit the pod and also double checked the straps holding all the barrels and empty water containers down.

 
Nick Hancock FRGS

www.rockallsolo.com
Facebook.com/RockallSolo
Twitter: @RockallNick #RockallSolo
Sponsor Nick in aid of Help for Heroes at www.justgiving.com/rockallsolo

Please forward all Press and Media enquiries regarding the expedition to Iain MacIver
Tel: 0845 860 2411
Email: rockall2014@promessage.com