Once in a lifetime ‘Robinson Crusoe’ experience

The view of the Whiterocks from Michael Hassan's camp site on the Skerries off Portrush
The view of the Whiterocks from Michael Hassan's camp site on the Skerries off Portrush

Portrush man Michael Hassan has completed a once in a lifetime experience having spent a testing week on the Skerries, just off the coast of Portrush, reports GILLIAN ANDERSON.

Having been granted special permission by the landlord, Charlie Metson, for this ‘one off’ trip, Michael set up camp on the far east island for seven lonely days with nothing but the seabirds and seals for company.

Michael and his tent on the very east of the Skerries. Photo credit: Lady Karen Charters Portrush

Michael and his tent on the very east of the Skerries. Photo credit: Lady Karen Charters Portrush

Michael’s ‘Robinson Crusoe’ style adventure was to raise money for the Mercy Ships charity and already he has topped the £4,000 mark.

It wasn’t all plain sailing for Michael as a change in wind direction saw him battle the elements, his phone die on the first day and he ran out of gas for his stove and food on the sixth day.

“It was a long, lonely, cold and noisy week,” said Michael. “I went out on the Friday because I knew the wind was to turn and when I went out it was rough enough. Then on the Sunday the wind turned to the south and it blew a gale and that night there were 45/50 mile an hour winds straight into the mouth of the tent because that was the only side I wasn’t protected from.

“I had set up camp in a little gully which protected me from the west, north and east, however, this southerly gale blew straight into my tent. All day Monday it rain and blew, so all I could do was sit in my tent and make sure it didn’t blow away. I had to put boulders on the guy lines to make sure I didn’t lose it.

Portrush man Michael Hassan spent a week on the skerries off Portrush to raise money for the Mercy Ships charity. Photo credit: Lady Karen Charters Portrush

Portrush man Michael Hassan spent a week on the skerries off Portrush to raise money for the Mercy Ships charity. Photo credit: Lady Karen Charters Portrush

“The wind finally turned into the north west for the rest of the time which meant boats couldn’t get near me so it was very lonely.

“At night it was very noisy with the waves crashing at the back of the islands, some were even crashing over the back of them. Where I was there is a natural fissure in the rock and the waves were hitting the back of that and rusing through the gully and filling up a salt water pool that was beside my tent.

“Between the noise of the waves and the birds I definitely didn’t get much sleep. The birds would come in from fishing about 8.30pm and they would squawk at each other before settling down and then they would set off again around 4am.”

Michael has orginally planned to do some conservation work, counting wildlife and cleaning up the islands. However, as his first trip was postponed and the nesting season for the seabirds had now begun, he was unable to move around the islands in case he disturbed the breeding pairs.

“I totally respected Mr. Metson’s wishes not to move around the islands as I didn’t want to disturb any of the birds,” added Michael. “The time was very long. I had a kayak with me but I only managed to get out once to do some fishing on the south side, the north side was just far too rough. I really was nestled in my little gully and that was that.”

Michael’s plans to upload a daily blog to social media also fell by the wayside. “My phone ran out on the first night,” explained the 52-year old Portrush man. “I had a charger with me but that wouldn’t work but luckily on the Wednesday the sea was calm enough for a friend to come out with a wee cheap phone which I kept just for a phone call at night to my daughter and that was it, there was no internet and no contact.

“After a while you don’t miss having a phone and you settle in to the run of the tides. In the morning you were up a daylight and you could feel the day warm up, you basically got into the rhythm of nature and there is something really nice about that.”

Having spent six nights on the uninhabited islands Michael had achieved his goal and returned home to his family in Portrush.

“I came off on the Thursday which was my seventh day,” added Michael. “It was looking as if it was too rough for the boat to come and get me and the guy who was to pick me up said it could be the Friday morning. At that point, I had run out of gas for my cooker, I had run out of everything and I was coming home no matter what. I got in my kayak and paddled home, I wasn’t going to spend another night there.”

Reflecting on his week in exile on the Skerries Michael, who works in the Bushmills Distillery, was more than happy he got to have this experience despite the cold and isolation.

“It was exactly what I expected,” said Michael. “Even though that wind was blowing strong in the north I was fairly well sheltered and when the sun came out it was great. “It was amazing to watch the seals and every night a couple of young ones would swim up into the little salt pool beside my tent. I never knew the seals would have come up into that pool before so it was great to see that.

“This was something I have always wanted to so since I was 15 years old and now I have finally done it. As much as I missed my family, it was nice to step away from everything for the week.”

Michael’s week on the Skerries was to raise money for the Mercy Ships charity and he is fairly happy with the amount he has raised so far.

“I was hoping to raise £5,000,” said Michael. “At the moment we have just over £4,000 so I am reasonably happy with that. These are hard times and people have been very generous so I am very thankful to everyone who has donated.

“I would like to thank Charlie Letson for being kind enough to allow me to spend the week on the Skerries,” added Michael. “The islands are a bird sanctuary and at the moment the birds are nesting and breeding so this was very much a one off situation and one that is highly unlikely to be repeated again. I totally respected his wishes to stay on the very east of the islands as I am as keen to protect the wildness of these beautiful islands as he is.

“As an experience it was totally worth it. This was something that has never been done before and won’t happen again and for that I’m truelly grateful.”