Friday, 31 May 2013

Blog: Disappointment

It was always going to be about the weather.

We had to think long and hard whether the window we had to get me and all my kit out to and then onto Rockall would be big enough. We knew that the swell may also be a deciding factor, and in the end it was.

Having arrived on site, in the dark, at around 0100hrs, after leaving Leverburgh on Harris at 1130 the previous morning, we circled for a couple of hours, waiting for first light. Orca 3 moved in close to the rock as dawn broke, to check conditions: there were more sea birds on the Hall's Ledge and scattered around the summit than last year, but there appeared to be less guano.

However, the striking factor was the swell; hitting Rockall from the West, exactly where you don't want it to. There is a small step in the cliff on the Western flank which is the landing 'platform', and the point from where you would commence the fast vertical scramble to safety out of the swell zone, before traversing across the western face and back to reach the summit; but not today!

The swell ebbed and flowed in waves, hitting exactly the point where I would have to jump, hurtling three or four metres up the side of the rock, well above the usual safety mark, and then plunging four or five metres into a deep hole below the step. This created a potential fall, before being able to reach safety, of almost ten metres onto the skirt of rock around the base of Rockall, and a hole into which a RIB, its crew and any kit on board would be sucked, flipped and then scraped back up the rock face.

Last year I remember looking at the landing point and being overwhelmingly confident of making the jump and clambering to safety. Today was different; the combination of such a short time to reach safety, which would mean climbing to a higher point up the face in a shorter time, and then the exposure as the sea fell away below, just did not feel right. Angus Smith, the skipper, took me aside and made it clear that he was not happy about me leaving the Orca to attempt a landing in these conditions, nor was he keen to endanger his crew on the RIBs. In the end, he took the inevitable decision out of my hands.

Like a mountain summit, Rockall will be there another day. Its obviously difficult to turn my back on the rock, and to be sailing away, running before the weather, but I'm confident that it was the correct decision today. With time on my hands during the return journey to Harris, I've watched back the footage and looked at the pictures taken whilst we were there and they all reaffirm that today was not the day.

Now its time to take stock, thank my sponsors; LPG Exceptional Energy, Calor, Kukri, and Petrostrat, my employer DM Hall, and all the companies who have kindly donated or loaned kit and equipment for the expedition; and think how to move forward. I'd also like to thank everyone involved up to this point, including The Guardian, for their hard work and support for a personal project that has been a part of my life for the past four years. This was a solo attempt, but I couldn't have got to this point without the help of a huge number of people.

Nick Hancock FRGS
The Rockall Solo Expedition
Twitter: @RockallNick #RockallSolo

Sunday, 5 May 2013

The RockPod process

As I'm being asked increasingly about the construction of my RockPod shelter, I thought I would write a blog update describing how it was 'designed' and built:
The idea for a rigid shelter rather than a tent or something similar was made at an early stage of the process and was dictated by the weather conditions on Rockall, and also by using the experience of the previous parties who have stayed on the Rockall for any length of time, Tom McLean and Geenpeace. Tom used a home made plywood box (left) tied down with nylon rope, and Greenpeace used a bespoke Kevlar reinforced fibre-glass pod (below), which I understand they had previously used on various protests around the world.
My budget didn't spread to the equivalent of Greenpeace's pod, I couldn't borrow it as it had been crushed by the Norwegian government, and anyway I also couldn't afford a helicopter to lift it on to Rockall. I also wanted something more substantial and stronger than a plywood box!
A friend of mine is an architect, and he kindly put some drawings together based on a smaller version of the Greenpeace pod. I had this costed up by a couple of specialist companies, including one that made the pod for under the Breitling round the world balloon, and who do work for NASA. Even just paying for materials, it was still too expensive, so I started hunting for a suitable object to modify. Secretly I was quite pleased, as I liked the idea of an eccentric, 'Heath Robinson', home made shelter, rather than a hyper professional super-technical one.
Having considered and rejected various options (examples above and right), I finally came across a water bowser in London on my way home from the Marathon des Sables (below left). It took  while to track down the manufacturer as most of the hire firms were somewhat reticent about telling me where they sourced them from.
Finally, I managed to contact Trailer Engineering, who had a proto-type of  new design (below right) which they said I could have for free if I collected it from Birmingham, which I duly did.
Once the new bowser was home, I had to go about converting it to its new use. I had already agreed with Lewmar that they would supply the marine hatches I would need. I had previously decided on a square access hatch, but as luck would have it, their largest round access hatch matched exactly the moulding on the top of the bowser so I ordered that instead. The side hatch, which is not strictly necessary but means that I will not be stuck looking at the sky it I get pod-bound for a few days, is designed for a flat surface with a tolerance of just a couple of millimetres. This created difficulties fitting it to the curved wall of the pod, and meant that I had to cut a recess into the wall and remould the plastic around the hatch, using the off cuts and a heat gun.

The hatches are fixed with stainless steel bolts, and have both a neoprene gasket and marine grade silicone sealant around then to keep the water out. Similarly, the openings for its previous incarnation have been sealed with silicone. I also installed a deck vent, for those times when the weather doesn't allow me to open the hatches for ventilation, and a target level to help level the pod once on Rockall.
Next job was to attach the fixing points to the side and top of the RockPod, from which ratchet straps (the system used and proved by Greenpeace on Rockall, and provided by Safety Lifting Gear) will attach to fixing points on the rock left in place by Greenpeace. As part of my recce trip last year, I inspected the condition of these fixings, and they look like new and are all still well fixed in place. I will of course be taking back-ups in case any come loose during my stay. The fixing points were supplied by William Hacket Chains, and again were bolted on with stainless steel bolts and backplates, with silicone sealant to fill any gaps. I have put a number of self-adhesive grip pads around the 'deck' of the pod to assist climbing and moving about on it, as the surface is shiny and very slippy when wet.
Internally, I have fitted a plastic floor to level the convex moulded base, supported at the edge with off-cuts of plastic pipe and insulated below with expanding foam and reflective foil. The walls and 'ceiling' were insulated with spray-on foam by Foamspray Techologies, and this will be sealed with a rubberised paint to provide a cleanable surface. Externally, and following the first round of winch testing, I have adapted the original 'design' by filling the concave base with more expanding foam and fitting a plywood baseplate, as previously the shape caught on rocks as it was being winched. In addition, I have fitted two additional lifting point, much lower down on the RockPod, specifically for winching it up Rockall and as a result of issues encountered during testing
The end result is a strong, rigid, waterproof, but relatively light weight shelter (circa 150kg) which floats, and although Spartan inside, will, I am confident, protect me from everything the summer Atlantic can throw at me.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

One month to departure!

Today, and I can hardly believe I’m typing this, it is exactly one month until I leave for Leverburgh on Harris to await a suitable weather window for departure and a hopefully successful second landing on Rockall. I can hardly believe it, as it’s been such a long road to this point, which has suddenly arrived out of no-where!
I have been very lucky, particularly this year, in having obtained all the funding I need for the expedition, which has been the sticking point for the last two years and the lack of which was the main reason for postponing the expedition in both 2011 and 2012. I'd like to thanks LPG Exceptional Energy, Calor, DM Hall, Kukri, Petrostrat and Ocean Row Events for all their help and support so far.
In addition, most of my transportation has been agreed in the past four months, and I have also confirmed that all the generous offers of equipment still stood, and have been ordering shiny kit with relish – the house now looks like an equipment store. So much in fact has fallen into place in 2013, that I'm starting to suspect that the hand of destiny might be playing a part.
Packing has been interesting, as everything has to fit in the plastic drums provided by Smiths of Dean. An initial rough distribution and packing session revealed that I have more than enough space for everything, and I have subsequently repacked neatly, which has left me with space for the kit which I am still awaiting, such as survey gear, satellite phone, and wind turbine; all of which are ordered and should arrive in the next week or so.
This time of year is always busy with expedition and adventure news: the Marathon des Sables was run at the start of the month and which I ran back in 2010, only a year into the planning of the then ‘Rockall 2011’ expedition; I was far too optimistic! Bob Kerr, who went out to Rockall with me last year, is currently climbing his own Everest (literally) and is about to move up to Advance Base Camp on the North side of the highest mountain in the world. Sarah Outen, one of the judges of the Kukri Adventure Scholarship, which I‘ve shared this year, has just departed from Japan on her second attempt to row solo across the Pacific to Canada as part or her larger ‘London to London via the World’ expedition. Unfortunately, however, Niall Iain MacDonald, who was also a recipient of the Kukri Adventure Scholarship this year, and with whom I have been in touch since we both postponed our respective Atlantic adventures last year, has had to postpone NY2SY yet again. I know some of how he feels, and I wish him all the luck for 2014.
Right, I’m going back to packing kit, but remember you can sponsor me in aid of Help for Heroes at . More news soon!

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Moving forward

A major step forward has occurred since the last blog post: I now have all the transportation confirmed for the expedition. This includes Orca 3, operated by Kilda Cruises, which will take me from the Isle of Harris (Outer Hebrides) to Rockall; the previously agreed ferries, operated by CalMac, which will take me from Skye to Harris; and now Northgate Vehicle Hire have kindly agreed to supply a van for the use of the expedition, not only to get from HQ (home) to the point of departure (Leverburgh) and back at the end of the expedition, but also to transport the RockPod to FoamSpray to get it insulated in a couple of weeks. As you can imagine, this is a major cost saving for the expedition.
In addition, Northgate have offered to have the van branded with the 'Rockall Solo' and 'Help for Heroes' logos which will ensure maximum exposure for the expedition and the charity whilst on the road during the initial phases of the expedition, and which will also be picked up in any photo and filming opportunities.
An important piece of kit also arrived last week in the form of a Toughbook laptop from Panasonic. This will no only enable me to blog and tweet from Rockall (@RockallNick) but will also allow me to take some e-books and to save the data I collect whilst I'm out there.
I am also now in more advanced discussions with a TV production company who have been commissioned to film a piece for a well known TV programme. Its still early days, so watch this space for official confirmation and the 'big reveal' of what programme and when it will be aired, but there's a good chance I'll now be taking a camera with me on the rock to film a diary whilst I am there!
Also, just a quick reminder that you can sponsor me in aid of Help for Heroes at: . Spread the word!

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Things keep getting better!

The great news is that, following a presentation to the Kukri Adventure Scholarship panel at the Royal Geographical Society in London on Friday, I was awarded part of the inaugural scholarship fund along with four of the other entrants.
This unexpected injection of cash to the Rockall Solo coffers, along with the recent donations from LPG Exceptional Energy and Calor, means that I am now very near the total required for the expedition to go ahead this year (only delayed by 2 years!) and have been able to confirm a departure window with the boat skipper. In addition, a kind benefactor who has been 'on board' since the start, has confirmed that his pledge of financial support still stands, despite the delays in departure.
Now starts the task of buying and ordering kit and equipment, finishing the RockPod, and conducting a further round of testing all before departure. I'd like to congratulate the other scholarship winners: NY2SYAdventure 2013, The Mississippi Challenge, and Super Cycling Man, all of whom are worth following. My commiserations go to The Coxless Rowers and Worldride 2013.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Lots and lots happening!

Well its 2013 and this is the start of the fourth (or is it fifth) year of trying to get this expedition off the ground. However, things are looking really good for a positive outcome this year (as always dependant on the weather!).
The first thing that happened at the start of the year was that, thanks to a suggestion by my sponsor Exceptional Energy, Calor have agreed to become a financial sponsor of the expedition. This is a significant step forward, as their funding has meant that I am much closer to the total amount I need for the expedition, and I am now in a position to re-contact the companies who have agreed to supply the expedition with technical equipment I will need, and Kilda Cruises to pencil in potential dates for the expedition later this year. Calor have also kindly agreed to provide a stove and the LPG I will need for cooking and heating water during my stay on the rock.

The second major step forward is that, in part thanks to everyone who voted for me via Facebook, Rockall Solo has been shortlisted for the inaugural Kukri Adventure Scholarship. The next step in the selection process happens on the 8th February at the Royal Geographical Society in London, where I, and the other six candidates, will have to present to the panel of judges, and answer questions posed by them. The winner(s) will be announced that evening at a dinner - watch this space for the results, and good luck to the other entrants.
The final bit of good news for this blog (if all the above was not enough already) is that Smiths of the Forest of Dean have kindly agreed to provide the expedition with the plastic drums, to contain my kit and equipment, that my recce of Rockall last June so rudely proved that I need in order for the expedition, and specifically the landing, to be a success.
Onwards and upwards!