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I’m stood on the edge of a 930 foot cliff
There is nothing but open sea between me and America
I’m about to cast myself off it
My feelings are of exhilaration, fear and awe. I know I have to make the right decisions at the right time to pull this BASE jump off. It is 17th April 2015. I am on Foula, one of Britain’s most remote inhabited islands off the coast of Shetland at the top of the Scotland and I have been waiting for this perfect weather moment since 2012.
I have been waiting for this perfect weather moment since 2012.
The isolated island of Foula lies 20 miles west of Shetland and has a population of only 34. It is noted for celebrating Christmas on January the 6th and for having its own breed of sheep. On the West side of Foula is Nebbifield and it’s a truly amazing rock face. Nebbifield has a tiny rocky beach underneath it, but no way out except a boat or a difficult climb, which is beyond my abilities.
I started the process of finding a boat to charter and that proved to be no easy job. The conversations began with “Hi there, I would like to charter your fishing boat for a day at 24 hours notice and I want to jump off a cliff on a remote island. What do you think?”
Eventually, I came across a father and son operation – Jim and Richard Scott of RS Marine Charters. They had the faith in me to agree to the project and when a rare high pressure weather window system finally appeared over Shetland, I booked them for the 17th April.
Darren Strafford, a BASE jumping friend of mine, joined me for the jump. He knew about the project, so when I phone him at 6am one morning and told him we needed to leave by 10 to catch the Aberdeen overnight ferry, he said yes!
Early the next morning we docked in Lerwick and noticed a nearby wind turbine nearby completely motionless. Things were looking good. At the ferry terminal, we met with Mark Duncan, another local fisherman who wanted to help with the project. He can only be described as a crazy-haired, energetic and knowledgeable fisherman – an ideal candidate to assist in such an adventure.
He drove us both to the beautiful fishing village of Skeld where we met up with Richard and Jim Scott and their brand new catamaran. It wasn’t long before we were flying across the water at 21 knots to the island of Foula. Being a jumper and not a fisherman, I have to admit it took most of my concentration not to bring up my cooked breakfast over the boat!
Arriving in beautiful sunshine on the east side of Foula, we were met by a few of the locals including Brian who kindly offered to take us to the end of the road where we could begin our ascent the back towards Nebbifield. The plan was that we would hike up the back towards the cliff and at the same time the boat would circumnavigate to the west side and wait just off the bottom of the cliff.
I had briefed everyone that time was of the essence as winds were forecast to arrive mid afternoon – losing this perfect opportunity was not an option. It didn’t take long to summit the impressive 1,000ft ridge line leading to the edge and that was when we got our first view of the jump. It was as impressive as I had hoped for.
Our first view of the jump was as impressive as I had hoped for
It took only 5 minutes to find the exit point and my alti measured the height to be a whopping 930 feet, massive for the UK! Usually on such difficult technical jumps, I would normally experience feelings of nervousness and apprehension. After all, the sea had a swell of 2 meters, the landing area was very tricky, the water was only 6°C and we were far from rescue should something happen. However, both Darren and I felt calm and in-the-zone. After a quick prayer together, I decided to jump first and radioed a one minute call to the boat.
Making my way down the final few feet towards the edge, I recalled a thought from a friend who had taken me on my first BASE jump “The moment you jump, you are both dead and live at the same time”. That self-determination in life is exhilarating and liberating at the same time.
I pushed off from the cliff and into the open air. The cliff was truly beautiful as I passed a series of ledges behind me. Climbers before me had spent hours slowly making their way up the rock face, but I was passing the rock faster and faster until after only 4 seconds I decided to pitch. My canopy opened perfectly on heading and with that my focus now switched to where I was going to land.
The cliff was truly beautiful as I passed a series of ledges behind me
The plan on where to land had always been two part. One option was to land on the small beach at the bottom of the cliff and the other to land on the rear deck of the boat. Both required good accuracy within a few meters. I decided to land on the beach and had to pass over a series of boulders to get to an area where they were smaller. I landed exactly where I wanted and was relieved when Darren did the same on the back of the fishing boat. I think he did a better job than me as his target was moving!
New BASE jumps are like a puzzle and all the pieces need to fall into place for it to be a success. In this case, I needed the nil winds (and Scotland is a pretty windy place!), a boat to charter, a friend who was available at just a few hours' notice, an exit point on a cliff I had never been to and finally a landing area. For me a great BASE jump is so much more than just the jump itself, it’s about the journey, the place, the people who help, the skills required and the experience.
Simon started jumping 20 years ago at Skydive Hibaldstow, where he still loves skydiving today.