In 2014 Nick Hancock spoke for RSGS as part of our Inspiring People series if you missed Nick’s talk you can read below about his adventure on Rockall, an uninhabited remote granite islet 290 miles off the UK mainland. Nick spent 45 days alone on the 784 metre square islet and encountered all the ferocity that the Atlantic could throw at him and his “rock pod”.
Lying there on Rockall in my home-made ‘RockPod’, alone, foetal, I thought about breaking the promise I’d made to my wife; about not making it home safely. There was nothing I could do but wait and hope that the forecast was correct: that it was now approaching the peak of the storm. Thud, shudder then pray. Wave after wave hitting the pod; the deafening howl of the wind and the sound of spray landing on the deck of the pod was terrifying.
Three in the morning, near the forecast peak, and a huge deluge of sea water shunted my shelter across Hall’s Ledge, the only (but small) flat section of rock just below the 17.5 metre summit. Was I still attached to the rock? Were there higher waves and worse to come? I couldn’t check from inside as it was pitch black outside, and daren’t go out for fear of letting in the sea and swamping my equipment and supplies. I just had to lie there and wait. I thought about how this would be a different night if either the wind or the waves had been from a different direction, instead of both being from the South, compounding each other’s effect on my southerly-facing perch.
Two hundred and fifty miles out in the North Atlantic, during a Force Nine in the dead of night, and you know what alone really feels like. You also learn very quickly what’s important in your life as you wait in silence to be swept off the only solid object in that tempestuous ocean, unable to do a single thing about it. Speaking to trawler men by VHF, who returned from their safe harbours to the area after the storm had passed, I realised that floating safely over such waves as I experienced that night would have been hard enough, but hoping to sit tight in one spot with them washing over and through my refuge was really pushing my luck.
When dawn broke, I was thankfully still there to see it, and as the weather eased, it was time for damage assessment. There were slack straps at the leeward end of the pod, but they were all still attached; a bent anchor at the seaward end, from where the big wave struck, revealed the force of the water that had hit me in the night. The straps at that end were now under a huge amount of tension, but again thankfully all still attached. My equipment barrels were not so lucky: four of twelve were lost to the sea, containing food, climbing equipment and some non-essentials; enough of a loss to have to reassess my goals and to devise a new method of extraction, as the equipment with which I had intended to lower the RockPod off my ledge was gone.
The next few days were spent with wrecked nerves, fearing every crash of the waves below, and every patter of spray falling on the plastic shell of my pod, trying to work out a balance between food, weather and boat availability. Before the storm, I had relished rougher seas as they changed my panorama on a daily basis and let me know there was more than just me and the rock out there. Would I now break the occupation records, or would I have to be retrieved just days before I broke them?
After five days the sun returned, as did the minke whales and the seabirds; I returned to enjoying the privilege of being on Rockall, the rarity of the experience, and the sights and sounds of the ocean. My nerves were still shot, but I was regaining confidence, and my morale was growing. Very slowly the days of the records crept closer. I surpassed Tom McClean’s 29-year-old, 40-day solo occupation record first, with the Greenpeace 17-year-old 42-day group deadline passing shortly after. My original motivations for going to Rockall had been achieved. I now had just one thought: home.
You can buy Nick’s book Rockall Solo: 45 days of Discipline, Optimism and Endurance on Amazon here.