4. Dead Reckoning

A Lonely Isle
4. Dead Reckoning

Naturalist James Fisher tried to land on Rockall several times. In 1949 he sailed to the island with two friends, writing an account seven years later for his book about the island (Rockall, 1956, Geoffrey Bles Ltd).



NARRATOR: May 1949. James Fisher sails from Derry aboard the Petula keen to get within touching distance. He’s accompanied by retired Colonel ‘Blondie’ Hasler, and Anthony Rainey, a former marine.

A year earlier Fisher had been thwarted; left alone on the docks as the ship he hoped to go to Rockall in broke down. This trip was slightly more successful.

JAMES FISHER: Petula slid slowly on through the swells until we had passed about 15 miles south of Rockall, but Hasler didn’t want to try to close it until the weather had let up a bit.

He wanted another sun sight: he got two that afternoon, finding himself, on the second, somewhat north of his position by dead reckoning. When Rainey, at the helm, shouted “Rockall dead ahead” at about 2pm I felt no great surprise. Being no navigator myself I had come to take the mysterious ability of Hasler and Rainey for granted.

Anyway, there was the little thing we had come to see. The rock showed like the tip of a broad arrow, sticking up in the troughs of the waves.

NARRATOR: In rough conditions and with no hope of landing, they stayed only a short time before heading east.

JAMES FISHER: While we had been at Rockall a fulmar had circled round it once or twice, as if it had been a ship, and then had glided on. Somehow that a fulmar could pass it as a ship established its smallness, and lonliness, more than words or measurements or marks on a map.



Ann Scantlebury
Audio producer and director

Matt Addis
Voice actor

Matthew Sheret
Writer and narrator

Richard J. Birkin
Composer and creative director

Time Travel Opps
Digital production

Reverend Spotswood-Green
Original Painting

Joe Caithness
Mastering (Soundtrack)


A Lonely Isle is a collection of anecdotes about Rockall, a remote island in the Atlantic ocean. Each chapter is based on accounts written by visitors over the last two hundred years. 

The project came together by a process of dead reckoningResearched in 2012, written in 2014, recorded in 2015, scored in 2017, and published in 2018, it’s a product of guessing and sun-sights, serendipity and cumulative error.

Original Soundtrack

The Last Outpost of Empire (music for A Lonely Isle)
by Richard J. Birkin

Listen/Buy on Bandcamp