Monday, 28 July 2014

Final Expedition Blog - posted in The Guardian

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If you didn't see it then, this is the final expedition blog which was posted in The Guardian last week:


I'm finally back home, after several days of waiting and travelling. Now its time to take stock, reflect on the expedition and look back on the experience. By far the most dramatic part of my stay on Rockall was weathering the severe weather overnight on the 1st July. The forecast predicted wind speeds of 40mph, with gusts of 51mph, peaking around 0100hrs on the 1st July. I had an anemometer with me, which broke that night, but which recorded a maximum speed of 47mph and a gust of 55 mph, between 2200 and 2230, which is Force 9 to 10 on the Beaufort Scale (Strong Gale to Storm force), three hours before the predicted peak!




Due to the sea spraying the RockPod, fifteen metres above sea level, I had to have all my hatches closed tight. During the night the wind turbine had fully charged the battery, so the charge controller dumped the excess power as heat into the pod. With the hatches shut, the internal temperature rapidly built until it was over thirty degrees centigrade. It being dark outside, I couldn't see the sea state and so just had to lie there and wait. The noise of the wind and the constant spray meant I got no sleep, and at around 0300hrs a wave hit the pod hard. The RockPod and I were physically shunted about a foot to the side, with a thankfully rapid return to somewhere near our original position. I was scared, and seriously thought that if a similar or bigger wave hit, the ratchet straps or fixings might fail. Fortunately, that was the biggest wave and I spent the rest of the night lying in the dark, jumping every time the pod was sprayed or hit by smaller waves, and waiting for the conditions to calm.




At first light, I checked that all the straps were still connected to the rock, which thankfully they were, and then waited until the weather had calmed sufficiently for me to have a proper inspection. There was seaweed all over the pod and barrels, the rock had been scrubbed clean of the guano left by the birds, and a nest above me, just below the summit, was gone! Moving around the RockPod, I retightened some of the straps which had become slack, evidence that the pod was no longer in its original position, and saw that I had four barrels of kit and supplies missing: in addition to losing my climbing hard wear and buoyancy aid, I had more seriously lost quite a bit of food. (I should say that in anticipation of the storm I had brought as much food into the pod as would comfortably fit, and so was left with more than had I not taken that precaution.) I had enough food remaining to get me to over fifty days if I was frugal, but would struggle to reach sixty without losing strength that I would need for lowering the pod and my kit at the end of the expedition.




A visual inspection of the pod structure suggested that it was fine, but I couldn't inspect the back plates to the fixing points as they were covered over, and I was worried that the pod may not survive another similar or more severe weather episode. In addition, one of the rock fixings had bent and with the majority of the others being almost twenty years old, I was not entirely confident that they would survive either. I spoke to my support team and the Coastguard to get a long range forecast, as if there was to be severe weather in the next couple of weeks, I would have had to consider evacuating immediately.




Next I spoke to Kilda Cruises to ask when they could get me off the rock, before my food ran out; because they are a commercial charter company, they have a full diary of jobs. They confirmed that they could move a charter, but that it would mean coming off Rockall the following week, just before I achieved the occupation records. This was not ideal, but I decided it was better to get off when I could rather than push my luck and get stuck. However, the forecast wasn't great for that date and they were able to move another charter which meant that they would come off shortly after I achieved the records. In the end the actual evacuation date was a balance between available food, boat availability and the weather and although this meant I would not reach my target of sixty days, I would still be able to beat both the 40 day solo and the 42 day group occupation records.




Achieving the records was amazing after five years of planning. I celebrated with a tiny bottle of champagne, which helped me sleep, and received a message of congratulations from one of the Greenpeace occupation team. In addition, the total amount I'd raised for Help for Heroes took a significant jump upwards once I had passed the records (




My final few days on Rockall were spent dismantling and packing up the wind turbine and the remainder of my kit. As I didn't want to leave anything but the permanent fixings on Rockall, I had a lot more equipment inside the pod when it was lowered than when it went onto Rockall, but the weight was less of an issue for lowering than lifting. Orca 3 arrived on Saturday around midday, having radioed from nine miles out so that I could prepare and release the last of the straps holding the pod to the rock and pour away my remaining fresh water. Conditions allowed a TV camera man to land and climb up to Hall's Ledge, so that we could record the first interview on Rockall before I left the rock, down climbing and jumping into the sea at the base of cliff, before climbing aboard the boat for the journey back to shore. After a long journey back, with a stop over at St. Kilda, it was brilliant to see my little boy jumping around excitedly on the quay and to hug my wife. After the boat was unloaded and interviews complete, we retired to a hotel where I could have my first shower in 45 days, and enjoyed a lovely evening back with my family in a little bit of luxury.


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