White Christmas assured for Scot living in the Antarctic

The 2016/17 UK Antarctic Heritage Trust Port Lockroy team, (left to right) Lucy Dorman, Laura MacNeil, Adele Jackson and Hannelore Cuypers.

The 2016/17 UK Antarctic Heritage Trust Port Lockroy team, (left to right) Lucy Dorman, Laura MacNeil, Adele Jackson and Hannelore Cuypers.

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A Scot who is spending winter living in a hut with just three other people in one of the coldest and most remote locations on Earth has told how they will create Christmas dinner out of canned goods and enjoy a dram among penguins on Hogmanay.

Laura MacNeil, 37, from Inverness, is part of a team of four living at the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust’s base at Port Lockroy in Antarctica for four months, carrying out a range of duties from counting penguins to manning the gift shop and museum at the site, which is occasionally visited by passing cruise ships.

The hut at Port Lockroy where Laura MacNeil will be based for four months.

The hut at Port Lockroy where Laura MacNeil will be based for four months.

MacNeil said the remote location had begun to “feel like home” and she is worried about returning to the modern world after spending weeks without social media or online news.

“We only have satellite email for regular communication so no social media or online news,” she said. “Getting back into the internet world will be a bit of information overload. We’re getting used to not being able to just look stuff up online if we have a question – we have to email someone instead.”

The group had to undergo intensive training before they left last month, to help them cope with living in one of the most isolated places in the world. They can only shower if invited on board by scheduled cruise ships, while if weather prevents the ships from reaching them, they can run short of water and have to use melted glacier ice instead.

MacNeil said: “The ice conditions have been really changeable and many ships have been unable to get in to visit. Usually visiting ships refill our water containers but, as the ice has been difficult, we must be watchful of our water use. We have had to collect glacier ice twice now, to melt for water when our supplies have been running low.

“It’s been pretty easy to adapt to the lack of showers. We use hand sanitiser a lot and are always really grateful and excited when a ship invites us on board for showers. Often an expedition team member will allow us use of their cabin, or we’re allocated a spare cabin. It’s a real luxury getting a shower after seven days of no ships.”

MacNeil, a graduate of St Andrews and Glasgow universities, said weather conditions meant she had to delay her planned arrival by three days in November, while travelling on board expedition ship Akademic Ioffe – and was forced to hike across the ice to her new abode. “We had been getting used to the Antarctic scenery during our journey south, but walking across the ice and seeing the little buildings on Goudier Island appear on the skyline was pretty amazing,” she said.

The group eat mainly canned foods such as spam but have plans for a Christmas dinner of sorts.

MacNeil said: “It will depend on the food available but we’re going to try and cook something special.

“As for Hogmanay, we’re scheduled to have a cargo delivery on 31 December so we’ll probably be busy with that for most of the day. We do have a bottle of whisky so I’m sure we’ll have a dram to bring in the New Year.”

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