A Scottish sailor is about to enjoy the ‘ultimate’ White Christmas this year – in Antarctica.
Launcher Scott Thornton will spend the festive season near the South Pole aboard the exploration vessel RRS Sir David Attenborough on its maiden voyage to Antarctica.
He helped moor the state-of-the-art vessel at Rothera research station, which is tasked with supporting UK scientists conducting climate change research, on Friday, December 17.
Born in Dumbarton, Scott, 37, believes the excitement of being involved in RRS Sir David Attenborough’s first polar mission more than makes up for the lack of Christmas at home.
He said: “To be honest, I think being part of RRS Sir David Attenborough’s maiden voyage to Antarctica is the ultimate Christmas present. It’s like the golden ticket.
“I love Christmas but I am used to being away and I know I will see my parents and my brother when I get back, but I was so excited about this trip.
“Not everyone can say he’s been in Antarctica before – he’s a real case ticker.
“Almost every day on the ship is a working day, so it is likely that we are working on Christmas Day, but we intend to organize a Fakemas on another day.
“We’ll have a Christmas dinner at some point and we’ve all hosted a Secret Santa. Can’t wait to see what I might have.
“The shipmate I drew really liked a knife that I had made a few trips ago and tried to order one, but it was not in stock. I managed to find one so I can’t wait to see it unbox and hope the good energy flowing in will get me something decent as well.
He added, “I also spent some quality time with my parents, brother and little Border Terrier looking forward to my return. We will go out for dinner in a nice place and exchange gifts.
“I’ll text them all on Christmas Day, if the wifi is working.” “
Seaman Scott’s duties as a launcher include the operation of the ship’s cranes and the operation and maintenance of the Erebus work boat and Terror cargo dinghy – used to approach Bird Island research stations and Signy where the water is too shallow for RRS Sir David Attenborough.
World-renowned naturalist Sir David Attenborough visited the ship named in his honor as part of a departure for the crew to London ahead of their departure for their seven-week trip to Antarctica.
The £ 200million ship is part of a major UK government polar infrastructure investment program designed to keep Britain at the forefront of global climate change research in Antarctica and the Arctic .
The Sir David Attenborough RRS was commissioned by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) – part of UK Research and Innovation – and operated by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS).
Scott beamed, “I was in the Birkenhead yard when my Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship, Fort Rosalie, was undergoing refit and saw the steel cut for RRS Sir David Attenborough.
“It immediately sparked my interest and this is what first caught my attention and when I saw this work appear on their website in 2019 it was a dream come true to land it.
“It was great to meet Sir David Attenborough when he got on board to give us a good ‘Bon Voyage’ before leaving. It was great to bring them both together – the man and the boat.
“It was impressive to see an older man looking so lively. I think I’m in worse shape at 37.
“He said a few words to the crew telling us that it was a momentous occasion and that it was such an important thing for us to go south and that the scientific research he will deliver over the years is so important in terms of saving the planet. “
He added: “I think Sir David is the greatest celebrity I have ever met, although I actually served Alice Cooper in a store in Glasgow when I was around 21. He came in tracksuit bottoms to buy a trilby hat. I didn’t realize who it was until he was gone and everyone was talking about it.
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Scott was delighted to meet his ship’s namesake, Sir David, before setting sail – and revealed that he constantly has the voice of the legendary BBC naturalist in his ears.
He laughed: “Sir David has pre-recorded many tannoy announcements for us as a favor. So everything from “No smoking on deck” to “All personnel not sailing with the ship, please disembark” is in its muted tones.
“Even when we crossed the equator, Sir David announced: ‘King Neptune was seen on the bridge.’ It’s hilarious.”
This is the first voyage of the former sailor of the Royal Auxiliary Fleet Scott to Antarctica.
Scott said: “I am so proud to be on this ship’s maiden voyage. Everything we do is a ship first and it’s actually my first trip down south as well.
“I crossed the equator for the first time when I have been at sea for several years.
“We stopped at the Falkland Islands along the way and it was absolutely beautiful. One of the highlights of the descent was passing Fogo, a volcanic island in Cape Verde. It was like I have never seen before.
“We saw a huge sea turtle on the way down and a lot of sei whales. A mother and her calf were very close to the ship as the sun was setting and they could all be seen blowing. It was fantastic.”
The ship is designed to break ice to help scientists get to areas they need to go to do their research.
Scott said: “Most ships avoid ice like the plague, but we’re actually going to look for it.
“The ship is designed to break the ice and help us get scientists to the places they need to study. I had never been in the ice so it’s brand new to me but I’m more excited than anything else.
“The sea can be dangerous every day. No two days are the same and you have to keep your cool, but we do what we are trained to do.
“A maritime environment by nature is more dangerous than other jobs, but when you encounter bad weather, you just have to embrace it and give in.
“A few of the scientists had never been on the ship before, so there were a few green faces, but I think they’ve got sea legs now.
“We had some pretty rough sailing on the way here, but it was a good test of the vessel’s capabilities and it can be quite exhilarating. When you put in a hard day’s work under tough conditions, it feels like you’ve done a good shift.
“It’s a challenge, but it really binds a crew together and I think it avoids missing Christmas at home because we’re like one big family on this ship.”