Adventurer’s bid to break record on inhospitable island

Nick Hancock with a model of Rockall

Nick Hancock with a model of Rockall

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Take one man in a converted plastic water tank to a remote island in the Atlantic Ocean and leave him for 60 days.

Madness? Nick Hancock doesn’t think so.

“There have been plenty of people who have said it will never work,” the father-of-one laughs. “You don’t know if you don’t try though, do you?”

Nick Hancock with his pod

Nick Hancock with his pod

And try he will when he winches his temporary home – the converted water tank – up Rockall, some 186 miles west of St Kilda, this summer, when he will attempt to become the first person to spend more than 40 days on the isolated 18-metre-high islet alone.

With waves thrashing around, and frequently over him, the 37-year-old chartered surveyor, from Ratho, will snuggle into his eight-foot-long “pod” – a mere 4ft wide and three-and-a-half feet in height – where a wind turbine will charge a battery to offer him light and hopefully enough power to communicate with loved ones back home via his laptop. And there he will stay, popping out – weather permitting – each day for a breath of very fresh air and a stretch of the legs.

With a strong military family history – both his father and grandfather served in the forces – he is undertaking the phenomenal challenge to raise money for Help for Heroes, the charity which supports UK servicemen and women wounded in battle.

He is also a bit of a daredevil, loving nothing more than a gruelling challenge which the very thought of would send most people into a cold sweat. His lengthy back catalogue of double-marathons and a recent 177-mile charity trek across the Moroccan Western Sahara – known as the “toughest foot race on earth” – says it all.

“I was looking for a new challenge,” says Nick, “and thought about sea kayaking to St Kilda. Then I came across Rockall and it caught my imagination. I got more and more interested and then I heard about the records set there.”

He was determined to make his mark on the Atlantic island which very few people are familiar with and hardly any have visited.

The earliest recorded landing on Rockall is understood to have been in 1811 by Basil Hall, a Royal Navy officer and a group of sailors. But only four people have ever spent a night on the island.

In September 1955, Britain claimed Rockall to stop the Russians using it as an observational post to spy on missile tests. Led by Royal Navy officer Lieutenant Commander Desmond Scott, a team of men landed on the island by helicopter, raised a Union flag and named the only refuge “Hall’s Ledge”, after Basil Hall, and cemented a plaque into the rock.

It is on this ledge, which measures just 11ft by 4ft and is only a small distance from the summit, that Nick will tether his temporary home to supports hammered into the ground when Greenpeace visited Rockall in 1997, as part of an environmental campaign against oil exploration.

Three campaigners stayed in a solar-powered capsule for 42 days, setting the longest occupation record.

Prior to that, in 1985, only one other person had stayed overnight, former SAS soldier Tom McClean, who set up camp in a wooden shelter bolted to Hall’s Ledge. His “survival unit” measured only 5ft by 4ft and he spent 40 solitary days there.

“I don’t know how much anyone can psychologically prepare themselves for this challenge,” says Nick. “I feel I have researched as much as I can though. I’ve also spoken with Tom McClean and the Greenpeace people. Tom said he really enjoyed the solitude and advised me to take my favourite foods with me.”

Luckily for Nick, support for his expedition is already building, with suppliers of army ration packs offering him heavy discounts on food, and Panasonic supplying computer equipment.

But he still has a long way to go as the expedition itself comes with a £20,000 price tag. After all, heaving a plastic water tank up the islet, never mind getting it there, is no mean feat.

Nick has set up a webpage asking for financial support, as well as a separate one for people wishing to sponsor him for Help for Heroes.

He intends to travel to the island by boat, using a company which is setting up tours to St Kilda. Luckily, his pod is not too heavy and he hopes to be able to use an electric winch to lift it to Hall’s Ledge.

“Most of the expense is for the boat as I have to pay them to take me there and collect me,” he explains. “But I am doing this on a budget and most of the equipment I have sourced has either been donated or discounted.”

He hopes that companies may choose to advertise on the side of his pod, which it is anticipated will receive global attention as he makes Rockall his home for two months. The adventurer already aims to write a book about his experience and plans are under way for a television documentary.

But for now, in his back garden, Nick is hard at work converting his water tank into a temporary home which will store all his comforts when he is away.

“I got it from a company in Birmingham who didn’t want it any more,” he says.

“It was one of their prototypes and they were more than happy to give it to me as long as I went to collect it.

“As you can imagine, my wife is more than delighted to have it in the back garden. So far, I have finished insulating the floor with foam – which has made a huge difference to the temperature – and now I am working on the rest of it. I’m just sort of winging it to be honest.

“I will be able to lie down in the pod and sit crossed-legged, albeit a bit hunched, when I am on my laptop.

“I know it’s going to be hard and I am really going to miss my wife and our four-month-old son.

“She thinks I am mad, but she also knows how much I want to do this, so is very supportive. In fact, she’s never once asked me ‘why?’ – she understands.”

So, with two-and-a-half years of research into the expedition now under his belt, Nick believes he is armed with enough knowledge and support to complete the gruelling challenge which could catapult him to global attention.

“I am aware there is a high chance that I may not be able land the boat because of the weather, and in that case would have to head back and reorganise the trip,” he says.

“It’s much like climbers who cannot reach the summit of a mountain because of the weather. But as long as I can get past that, I am confident I will be able to do this. I wouldn’t be trying otherwise.”

• To support Nick, visit {http:// www.nicholashancock.com|www.nicholashancock.com|www.nicholashancock.com} and www.justgiving.com/rockallsolo

Disputed territory

ROCKALL is a small, uninhabited, rocky islet in the North Atlantic Ocean, discovered in 1810 and landed on the following year by Royal Navy officer Basil Hall and his crew.

It is thought that some fishing crews may have known about the rock before this.

The islet has long been a source of fascination for adventurers.

It lies 186 miles west of St Kilda, which is 41 miles west of Benbecula, and 267 miles from the nearest point on the Irish mainland.

The outcrop measures around 82 feet on its north-south axis and 72ft on its east-west axis. The summit is around 59ft above sea level.

The island is the core of an eroded volcano that erupted around 55 million years ago. Rockall has been disputed territory between Denmark (Faroe Islands), Iceland, Ireland and the UK.