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
Twitter: @RockallNick #RockallSolo
Sponsor Nick in aid of Help for Heroes at

Please forward all Press and Media enquiries regarding the expedition to Iain MacIver
Tel: 0845 860 2411

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