Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Breaking the Silence

Hi everyone!

Sorry for being so quiet over the past few months. Two reasons: home router went down and its taken Virgin this long to get a new one to me (I can't access the Blog from work), and secondly I'm trying to secure some National PR in order to have something concrete to offer potential sponsors - still trying. Anyone got any contacts?

Have a great Christmas and New Year.


PS: If you want to know what else I'm up to: http://www.mds2010.com/

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Giant Haystacks!

Early this morning I went to Haystacks Rock in the Firth of Forth to recce it as a potential marine testing site for the RockPod and my equipment prior to going to Rockall. It meant a very early start (0500hrs) in order to meet the boat at Granton Harbour, and although the tail end of a hurricane was forecast, the sea was flat and there was little wind. It was however raining pretty hard.

It took about 40 minutes to motor across the Firth to Inchcolm Island and then a quick RIB ride onto the rock. Landing was easy from the sloping western side, but having circumnavigated the rock prior to landing I noted that the eastern flank was near vertical, which should provide some experience of a scramble/climbing landing and somewhere to practice hauling the gear up from a boat.

Haystacks is similar in size at high tide (30m x 20m) to Rockall (25m x 22m), but is only 8 metres above sea level as opposed to 19.2 metres for Rockall. I think the extra space provided by Haystacks being much more level will be good for testing as it will enable me to spread stuff out a bit and get used to rigging before having to do it in a more restricted space.

There are some signs of nesting, although the four nests I could identify had all been vacated, and the build-up of guano means that there are a few level areas which could be suitable locations for the RockPod. One in particular I measured to be about 9‘ x 5‘6’’ (narrowing to 3‘2’’) and is right above the cliff, so this is the most likely candidate for mimicking Hall’s Ledge (11’ x 4’). There were also some signs of previous occupation, perhaps by “birdy people” to quote the skipper, in the form of a cairn and a concrete base and clasp, probably for an aerial. The latter is raised and suitably close to the level area that it could act as the summit of Rockall with its defunct navigation light, and would be a suitable spot for a wind generator.
In all, I spent just over an hour on Haystacks and I think it was worth the trip, getting wet and the early start. Unless something better comes along I’ll be using the rock as a testing ground at some point in the future.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Equipment and Sponsorship Update

It’s been a great few weeks working towards this goal, which seems sometimes to be almost impossible to achieve. I have been reminded though, by both the recent failure of a Belgian team to land on Rockall and by unseasonable storms in July, that the weather may well be my biggest hurdle and no amount of preparation will give me control of this.

In terms of organising equipment, I have agreed with Norco that they will polish the ‘RockPod’ design and manufacture the end product. They have very kindly agreed to provide the tooling for free; and on Friday I was approached by a potential financial sponsor with the specific aim of paying for the manufacture!

From a recommendation from Norco, Lewmar have come on board and have promised to provide me with their hatches for free which will give me secure access and observation to and from the Pod. Furthermore, I approached Ampair for some advice and costings for a wind generator to provide me with power on Rockall. They have been amazingly helpful, calculating my power requirements and donating generation equipment to the expedition. Ampair have also said that they will use their industry contacts to try and obtain sponsorship from manufacturers of the other power system components I will require.

Also, this week, I have agreed a window for the expedition in 2011 with the Captain and owner of the Elinca which is a boat which has assisted several previous Rockall landing attempts, both successful and otherwise. They are without a doubt the most experienced in this particular area of the Atlantic and therefore I am very glad that they are involved.

Finally, this coming Wednesday, I am going on a recce trip to some rocks in the Firth of Forth which I hope will make a suitable marine testing ground for the pod and all the equipment in the final months before the expedition; I am very grateful to Bill Simpson who is kindly taking me there (and hopefully back!) for no cost. I will post more details of this recce after the fact.

Friday, 26 June 2009

Surreal Reality Check

Stuart Farish at Giberts3D has just sent me an animation of the model he is producing, which I hope to use for personal inspiration and to demonstrate the challenges of the expedition at various talks I have been asked to give. It includes a scaled man on Hall's Ledge, which dramatically shows just what I'm taking on. A still of the animation is shown below, the animation will follow in due course.
If you'd like to see the full animation before it's uploaded, click here.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Post Edinburgh, plus hills!

Well, it's been a couple of weeks since Edinburgh and I'm back running with the MdS in mind: weight, hills, distance, and more weight! Edinburgh was tough, a dull course, not much of which was in Edinburgh, 24 degrees C, and the infamous 'theft' of water made it much harder than London. I ended up 2 minutes slower in Edinburgh than London, so was happy. Thanks to everyone who came out to support me.

The MdS is very much a priority for me at the moment, however I have finished my costing of Rockall 2011, and at circa £30k including contingency and excluding any possible financial or equipment sponsorship, fund raising is going to be a challenge in itself. Unless a fairy godmother comes forward, I think it wise to leave this until the economy is looking healthier (hopefully in 2010?).

I always wondered how professional 'explorers' managed to fund and organise their endeavours, but I have been amazed how much support and how many volunteers have already come forward to help - and I haven't even started asking yet!

You've probably seen or read for yourselves, but I'd like to mention all that Phil Packer has achieved recently for Help for Heroes (and, I suspect, for himself) he puts me to shame!

So, for now it's on with more running, and hills, and weight...


Sunday, 24 May 2009

Marathon des Sables

Thanks for your support of Rockall 2011 so far.

In April 2010 I will be running the Marathon des Sables (MdS) in aid of both Help for Heroes and the National Association for Colitis and Crohn's. More information on the race, along with videos and photos of past events can be found at my website http://www.mds2010.com/.

On Sunday 31st May I will be running the Edinburgh marathon (my second in a month) as part of my training. If you would like to sponsor me for either charity please do so via the MdS website.

Many thanks in advance,


Thursday, 30 April 2009

Belgians' unsuccessful in landing attempt

I learnt this morning that due to bad weather, the Belgian expedition to Rockall has been called off and they are returning to Stornoway. Their website (http://www.rockall.be/) states:

"Landing on Rockall impossible
The skipper of the "Elinca" did not allow a landing on Rockall. The waves are too high; even launching a Zodiac is impossible.A very sad Theo, ON4ATW told us at 09.00 UT they will have to come back to Scotland. "The weather is worsening by the hour and the weather forecast for the coming days does not give any hope" he told us by satphone. For tomorrow 5 Bft winds are forecasted with gusts up to 80 km/h. We are all very disappointed that after all these preparations a landing was not possible. However we learned a lot about all the aspects of putting up a DXpedition. One way or another this knowledge will be used."

This lack of success highlights the difficulties of landing on Rockall, even with the best preparation which they had, when you are tied to particular time period in which to make a landing. I have a lot of respect for what these guys tried to achieve and wish them the best of luck for any future attempt.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Press Coverage

The expedition has had not one but two pieces of newspaper coverage in the past week. Ben Fogle wrote about the expedition in the Sunday Telegraph yesterday. Luckily a friend let me know as I was not aware that Ben intended to write about it. If you missed the article in the paper, there's a link on the website below. Secondly, the Yorkshire Post, in an article about Andy Strangeway's second attempt to land on Rockall, has set up a Yorkshire - Lancashire rivalry.
Also in the past week, Andy Bell and I sat down and went over the initial drawings for the survival pod (now casually 'christened' RockPod). We agreed that it could be smaller to allow easier transportation and erection by one man, and we also agreed on some smaller detailing regarding venting, access, windows, and sealing.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Shelter Design Update

I thought I'd share this footage with you. My good friend Andy Bell, an architect, is in the process of designing a shelter for me in which to survive comfortably on Rockall and has sent me this movie of the shelter on Rockall. Although the shape of Rockall is not wholly accurate as Andy has mapped it from photographs, its very good and includes a man for scale which really allows you to appreciate the size of Rockall and the lack of space once the shelter is in place on Hall's Ledge.
I'll be seeing Andy in a week or two, when we will be going over the detailed drawings for the design and updating it with ideas and information which we have individually collated over the past few months and with any options that come out of our discussion.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

One step back and two forward

Unfortunately today I had my first major disappointment. Having been handed around by the Royal Navy, the decision has been made that they will not be able to assist me in getting to and from Rockall as they do not have regular resources in the area. This is a set-back but not unexpected. I am now pursuing other options in addition to yacht charter for which I already have several quotes.
On the plus side, the Rockall 2011 business cards have arrived. These will be a great way of passing on details of the expedition and the website a little more easily.

I have also this week been contacted by and asked to speak at the annual reunion of the Friends of HMS Vidal in September (http://hmsvidal.synthasite.com). HMS Vidal was the survey ship from which the party landed on Rockall in 1955 to claim the island for the UK. The ship was named after the surveyor who originally plotted the position of Rockall in 1831. This is a great contact with the history of the rock and is going to give me the opportunity to meet more people who have landed on Rockall and also to raise some funds for the expedition.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Search and Rescue

This morning I had a telephone conversation with Stornoway Coastguard Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre who confirmed that should I require Search and Rescue, it is available and would be free. They also made some standard kit recommendations which were already on my list. This is great news as it removes the requirement for a bespoke insurance policy, thereby reducing costs dramatically; I can now use a standard UK travel policy!

Friday, 6 March 2009

Rockall Update

Much has happened over the past few weeks and only now have I had a chance to get this update out.

I have finally managed to track down not one but three contacts at the Royal Navy, two of whom work for Fleet Media. I am still awaiting responses from them, but just getting their contact details is an important step forward as the ideal scenario is to get helicoptered onto Rockall by the Navy.
This week Expedition Foods (www.expeditionfoods.com) came on board as food supplier for the expedition; they are also going to supply me for the Marathon de Sables which I'm running next year. Having a food sponsor will be a massive cost saving, and the nature of their product means a massive weight saving too!

An architect friend volunteered to design a shelter for me which is great. Once designed and costed he is hopeful that his company may well sponsor the build too, which is amazing. Another friend is in printing and is supplying me with business cards for the expedition to hand out at various events and meetings, they have also offered to print any banners I require to put on Rockall during the expedition. I've also managed to convince a local bronze foundry to give me a good deal on a plaque to fix to the rock once I land.

I'm having a few problems getting insurance as I think it sensible to have Search and Rescue cover. However, Rockall as you know is in the British Isles where SAR is usally free and therefore not included in UK policies; I'm pretty sure it won't be at that range. If you have any suggestions for good expedition insurance providers I'd be grateful to hear from you.

I've had several quotes now for yacht charter to get me to the island. Hopefully the Navy will come through as charter cost are huge!

Having met and spoken with Tom McClean, I finally got in touch with Clem Fisher this week. Clem is James Fisher's daughter, it was James who wrote the 1955 book on Rockall and whose research I am in part hoping to update. In addition, I have tracked down the Greenpeace team from 1997. They informed me that they also went back in 1998 and landed an additional 9 people. I'm awaiting confirmation, but they may also have rotated the team in 1997 thereby increasing the known number of people to have landed by even more. Greenpeace still have a similar pod to the one used in 1997 (the 1997 pod was trashed by the Norweigan government)which I hope to visit at some point. They have also offered to advise me on yacht and helicopter charter, shelter design, access and survival.

Finally, I potentially have a whisky sponsor. There's a new distillery on Harris called Abhainn Dearg, whose first release will be in 2011 conveniently. They have offered a case for auction to raise funds, and few extra bottles to help while the time away!

All in all a few good weeks.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Tom McClean lecture

On Thursday I travelled to the Maritime Museum in Liverpool's Albert Dock to see a lecture by Tom McClean which was part of a series of talks sponsored by Old Pulteney whisky called 'Stories of the Sea'. It was great to meet Tom and he took time to talk to me about Rockall, his experiences, and my plans for 2011. Tom's lecture covered his whole life of adventures, but there was a section on Rockall which included some photos of his shelter which are not publically available. These are going to help in the design of my shelter and in addition, he still has the orginial 'wooden box' in a garage at his adventure centre which I hope to visit later in the year. All in all, it was great to meet the man who has the solo occupation record and to get some advice for my expedition from him.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

British Geological Survey

Today I had a very interesting meeting with Ken Hitchen of the British Geological Survey, who is also leader of the BGS Rockall Continental Margin Project team. He, I'm sure he wouldn't mind me saying, is as much of a Rockall nerd as I'm rapidly becoming. Following my meeting with Ken, I have been able to update the timeline on the website and confirm that two of my proposed research tasks are yet to be completed: obtaining a rock sample from Hasselwood Rock and establishing the true orientation of Rockall.

Ken was also able to correct or update a number of the facts on the website, provided me with some new avenues of potential research, as well as giving me some reading material to keep me busy! He also confirmed that the BGS will be more than happy to process any rock samples I manage to obtain during my stay on the island.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Ken was able to say with absolute certainty that there is no oil or gas under Rockall (although there is significant potential in the adjacent Rockall and Hatton Basins), and that the island's ownership can not be disputed as it is within 200 nautical miles of the habitable British territory of St. Kilda.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Leica Sponsorship

I now have my first sponsor. Thanks to a recommendation from the OS, Leica Geosystems have kindly agreed to sponsor me with the loan of a survey-grade GNSS receiver for the duration of my occupation of Rockall, and to provide processing support in conjunction with the offer from Ordnance Survey. It is hoped that with the right weather conditions I should be able to locate Rockall to the millimetre via cross reference to land based fixed reference points.
This is a fantastic step towards the Rockall 2011 project, and I hope that from this point Leica's commitment will lead to other corporations coming on board.

Survey Marker

Well, a successful couple of days. First and foremost the survey marker from the Ordnance Survey has arrived (above).

Until now this endeavour has only been communicated and progressed via email, the Internet and the telephone. Finally, something physical has happened, albeit quite small, but its actually been quite a big mental step in the right direction.

Friday, 9 January 2009

Science and Research

I am finally getting somewhere with this aspect of the expedition. To a certain extent it has actually been easier to progress this than other aspects:
The Ordnance Survey have very kindly agreed to provide me with a brass survey marker to place on Rockall, and to process any GPS measurements I might take. All I have to do now is drill a 60mm deep hole in the granite to fix it!
The Natural History Museum in London has expressed serious interest in helping me to collect, preserve and identify any insect material I might be able to obtain, and I will hopefully be meeting with them later in the year.
Geoff Hancock (no relation), Curator of Entomology at the Huntarian Museum in Glasgow, who himself has undertaken studies of invertebrates on St Kilda, has also agreed to provide me with equipment and guidance for collecting any invertebrates on Rockall, to identify them and preserve them for future study.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Guinness World Record

Well, Guinness World Records have declined to register my attempt as eligible for a World Record, citing,
"We receive over 60,000 enquiries a year from which only a small proportion are approved by our experienced researchers to establish new categories. These are not 'made up' to suit an individual proposal, but rather 'evolve' as a result of international competition in a field, which naturally accommodates superlatives of the sort that we are interested in. We think you will appreciate that we are bound to favour those that reflect the greatest interest."
Fair enough I suppose.

Monday, 5 January 2009

Shelter and Research

One of the major issues to be resolved for the expedition, amongst the many, is that of shelter. I am currently undertaking research and design for my own 'home from home'. Greenpeace used a bespoke re-usable fibre-glass pod, which I understand they utilise in protests around the world. Tom McClean used a home made plywood box, reinforced on the corners with metal and with adjustable legs. I am currently leaning towards a similar wooden structure, light but rigid, with light-weight insulation and adjustable legs to allow for the uneven surface on Hall's Ledge. This shelter will also require tether points to allow it to be attached to Rockall by steel 'guy-lines'. Any additional ideas or suggestions would be gratefully received.

In addition, I have been in email contact with the Natural History Museum in London, and the British Geological Survey in Edinburgh with a view to outlining potential scientific research tasks for me to undertake whilst in occupation on Rockall. I hope to meet with the academics involved in the next few months.