They called themselves the Dangerous Sports Club – and they weren’t kidding.
They were an informal group of amateur adventurers – and students at Oxford University – who broke laws, legs and chandeliers around the world, leaving a trail of crashed cars, unpaid bills, empty bottles and overturned conventions in their wake.
In the summer of 1978 this club decided to throw a cocktail party on the infamousRockall, an uninhabited remote lump of granite in the North Atlantic Ocean situated 430 km (267 miles) northwest of Ireland, 460 km (286 miles) west of Great Britain, and 800 km (497 miles) south of Iceland.
Lord Kennet said of Rockall in 1971 that, “There can be no place more desolate, despairing and awful.” and In a House of Commons debate in 1971, William Ross, MP for Kilmarnock, said: “More people have landed on the moon than have landed on Rockall.”
It is there that the Dangerous Sports Club wanted to organise their party!
World famous but little understood, the Dangerous Sports Club was a mixture of artists and engineers, soldiers and academics, an MP and a member of the Monty Python team, united by their interest in creative forms of excitement.
It started all in the 1980s in and around Oxford University with the idea to try new, cool and especially dangerous sports. And it went from an origin full of innovation – including the invention of bungee jumping – to an eventual decline into chaos many years later.
Their story is one of nerve, drunkenness and wild spending; of movies, sponsors and TV shows; of surrealism, irresponsibility and bounced cheques; of huge public recognition and ultimate commercial failure.
And they did a hell of a lot of Kickass adventuring. like partying on Rockall.
In the early years of the The Dangerous Sports Club when they were still years away from being defined by anything more than occasional participation in absurd sporting and social activities, Ed Hulton and David Kirke decided to hold a cocktail party in the most remote place possible. The ‘vagueness’ of club membership at that made it difficult to guess how many people would get involved.
David was always inclined to err on the side of excess, so, in the summer of 1978, he sent out over 200 invitations to a cocktail party on Rockall. An isolated lump of granite in the North Atlantic, Rockall is claimed by Britain, partly from habit, but mainly so that the sea around it can be kept clear of foreign fishermen. Amazingly enough, very few of those invited decided to attend the party.
Alan Weston set off with David, Ed, Chris, Crispin, and four other friends, together with skipper Mike Villiers-Stewart, in a small boat, heavily loaded with food and drink. The Atlantic weather was particularly bad. After a couple of days heaving and churning in the waves, the boat sprang a leak. It was dark at the time , and for a while nobody noticed that water was slowly filling the cabin. It was waist deep before someone started baling with a bucket. After a while, they found the water was coming in the through a small drainage hole. Alan slowly realised that he was two hundred miles out to sea in a leaking boat, and somewhere in the back of his mind was the fact that, as on the Titanic, there were more people on the boat than spaces in the dinghy.
Alan Weston recalls:
When we got to the end of the Crinan Canal, the weather had deteriorated to the point that we had a force nine gale, and a lot of the weekend sailors from Glasgow – suburbanites wearing their yellow bootees – who had gathered along the edge of the Canal when we set off, were muttering that we were all going to die. We didn’t realise how bad it was going to be, only Mike Villiers-Stewart realised, but he was determined enough that he thought we could make it in his boat. There were so many people crowded on the boat that we had to have some people on deck all the time. It was extraordinarily rough.
At first it was so bad it was almost funny. It was the ultimate bad experience, being out in the middle of the ocean in a small boat in a gale. BUt then it just got worse and worse, until it wasn’t funny any more. Everyone got seasick. I threw up just when Mike was downwind and he got a beard full of it, but he was too sick to even care. It was really, really bad. I went downstairs and lay down to die. I just lost interest in what was going on.
Then the bung came out and the boat started to fill with water. Most of us were too sick to care or to do anything about it. Fortunately there was one guy, a real hearty bugger who kept singing sea shanties, who had his shit together and realised that something needed to be done. He cracked open a bottle of champagne and carved the cork into a shape that he could stick in the hole. I wasn’t taking much in then, I was just thinking how nice it would be to die and get it all over with. He saved our lives, basically. Later on, it calmed down and we began to feel better.
After five days they found Rockall, and got into the boat’s dinghy to approach it. The steep sides of the island rise straight out of the water. The dinghy was camped and fragile, and they had to manoeuvre it close to the rock, so that one of them could jump on to it. The swell raised them close enough for David to jump on to the island, and climb to a point where he could attach a line. Once a few people were on the rock, they could haul up the supplies. They celebrated all day with scrambled eggs, dancing and champagne, leaving the eggshells and empties in the light beacon the Royal Navy had erected in 1972. In the spirit of the good-natured vandalism which often accompanied the Club, they unscrewed the plaque attached to the beacon, proclaiming Rockall to be British territory, and kept it as a souvenir. They replaced it with a sign declaring the beacon to be a disabled persons’ toilet.
The club were probably the only people ever to visit Rockall for its own sake, rather than to raise a flag on it. In a crowded country such as Britain, any really good party will attract complaints and be stopped by the police. Finding a part of Britain which was hundreds of miles from the nearest uniformed official, yellow line, or bank manager was part of the fun; to be where the only real laws are those of nature, and petty, man-made rules do not apply.
There was nothing very serious about the Dangerous Sports Club’s trip to Rockall. When the party wound down and the dinghy ferried revellers back to the boat, the last two on the island, Chris and David, ran over the 70-foot high cliff and into the sea.