A skerry is a small islet or rocky reef, generally uninhabitable because they are washed by the sea in storms. The word skerry derives from the Norse sker which is a rock in the sea. It derives from the older proto-indo-european word sker meaning to cut.
Some say this refers to the fact that a skerry is a rock cut off from the mainland. As a sailor I wonder if it refers to the result should you cross a skerry by accident. It cuts a hole in your hull.
The SS Norge did exactly that on the Hasselwood rock, on the 24th of June 1904. A Danish liner, she sank for the loss of 635 people. Hasselwood rock is a skerry that lies just to the north of the contested Rockall, which lies far out in the North Atlantic between Ireland, Scotland, Faroe and Iceland.
Rockall has been claimed by the UK for many years, but the claim is contested because the rock is uninhabitable. The huge Atlantic storm waves regularly break over the entire rock. They officially claimed the rock in 1955, which would have made it the last imperial acquisition of the UK, if anyone had accepted it. Nobody does. But they did stick a plaque on the rock.
In 1971 the Royal Engineers and Royal Marines were dropped onto the rock by helicopter. They used explosives to level a pad on the top of the rock, and this level base was the site for installation of a beacon. They also installed another plaque to establish that the British owned the rock.
In 1978 the members of the Dangerous Sports Club held a cocktail party on the rock, and stole the 1971 plaque.
In 1985 survival expert Tom McClean lived on the rock for the month of June, and a little bit of May and July. His occupation record was expunged when Greenpeace spent 42 days on the rock in 1997. They wanted to protest any attempt to exploit the waters for fossil fuels. It was around this time that the 1955 plaque seems to have disappeared.
Nick Hancock holds the current record at 45 days.
Visiting and claiming ownership of the rock has become something of a standing joke at the expense of the British Crown. But Rockall will never become an “Insta” prize. It is not an easy place to reach and a harder place to stay. Still, I guess it’s only a matter of time before some intrepid instagrammer loses their life for the shot of a lifetime.
The Rock in the Sea; by Archibald MacLeish
Think of our blindness where the water burned!
Are we so certain that those wings, returned
and turning, we had half discerned
before our dazzled eyes had surely seen
the bird aloft there, did not mean? —
Our hearts so seized upon the sign!
Think how we sailed up-wind, the brine
tasting of daphne, the enormous wave
thundering in the water cave —
thunder in stone. And how we beached the skiff
and climbed the coral of that iron cliff
and found what only in our hearts we’d heard —
the silver screaming of that one, white bird:
The fabulous wings, the crimson beak
that opened, red as blood, to shriek
and clamor in that world of stone,
no voice to answer but its own.
What certainty, hidden in our hearts before,
found in the bird its metaphor?