Scottish adventurer sets out to break record for solo stay on remote Rockall

Nick Hancock finds ordinary life 'a bit dull', so he's going to live in a converted water tank atop a speck of ocean rock in the middle of nowhere

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 08 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 08 May, 2013, 2:56am


An adventurer hoping to set a new endurance record by living alone for 60 days on Rockall, a storm-drenched rock in the Atlantic, was given a piece of advice by the last man who did so.

Nick Hancock, a 38-year-old chartered surveyor, was warned: "You need to enjoy your own company."

Tom McClean, a Special Air Service veteran who holds the solo record by occupying Rockall for 40 days in 1985, told Hancock that loneliness would be his greatest challenge atop the volcanic outcrop 360 kilometres beyond the Scottish Western Isles.

McClean lived in a hand-built plywood box, sleeping on top of his water containers and food - including a large stash of Christmas puddings - and kept up human contact by reaching passing trawlers by shortwave radio.

Hancock, too, has made his own vessel. He has nearly finished fitting out and testing a homemade survival pod, built in his garden near Edinburgh from a modified, bright yellow tubular water tank. It is 1.9 metres long inside, 1.2 metres wide and at just 76cm high, too low to stand up in.

I'm going to be able to keep most of my time busy. The worst times will be if I'm cooped up inside for several days by bad weather, and get cabin fever

"I'm fully expecting it to be tough," he said. "I'm hoping that by doing my daily tasks fairly slowly, I'm going to be able to keep most of my time busy. The worst times will be if I'm cooped up inside for several days by bad weather, and get cabin fever."

Hancock hopes to land on Rockall in early June and will carry out the last winching tests of the pod with the Scottish fire brigade's help next week before driving over to Harris in the Western Isles in three weeks.

His "RockPod", with winching points, a watertight access hatch and windows built into it by Hancock, will be fixed to tiny Hall's Ledge, one of the few flat points on Rockall.

He has a small wind turbine and a solar panel for power, more than two months' worth of army surplus "boil in the bag" rations, a satellite phone and a laptop loaded with e-books to keep him going.

From its cramped confines, Hancock will update an expedition blog, texting messages on Twitter and e-mailing wife Pam and friends every day.

White-capped by seabird droppings, Rockall is just 25 metres by 22 metres across, rising 18 metres above sea level.

Best known for its starring role in BBC Radio shipping forecasts, it has been occupied before, most famously by McClean but also by three Greenpeace campaigners, who set the long-stay record of 42 days in 1997 by occupying the rock in protest at oil and gas exploration in the area.

Alerted by lucrative oil reserves and fishing grounds, diplomats have been fighting over its status for decades: the UK insists it is British and that its ownership is settled, but it is also claimed by Denmark, Iceland and Ireland. McClean said his occupation there was partly to symbolically cement the UK's claim.

Hancock has run ultramarathons and climbed two of the world's seven tallest mountains, but he is a novice at this type of challenge. The challenge is in part a fundraising stunt for the military charity Help for Heroes, but chiefly a personal quest.

"I sometimes find ordinary life a bit dull and I like to push myself," he said. "I like to find out where my limits are, both mentally and physically."

Except for the coastguard, Hancock's only lifeline will be the Orca III, a service boat that will take him from Harris to Rockall.