They are 26 men and women bringing in 2021 at the British Antarctic Survey base and, this year of all years, their isolation is particularly splendid.
For as the Hogmanay bells ring out from the radio in the corner of the base’s dining room, they will toast the New Year with whisky, before starting the party.
Although Covid has reached Antarctica after staff at a Chilean base were infected by cases on a supply ship, the Rothera Research Station’s isolation has kept it Covid-free, which is good news for the staff as there are no stay-at-home rules, no ban on get-togethers, and no social distancing.
And the whisky can be relied upon not to freeze. British Antarctic engineer, Ross Bingham, 32, from Crieff, resplendent in his kilt, will be leading the dancing at Rothera base on Adelaide Island.
He said: “It’s an awesome place to be at Hogmanay and we’ll have a dram – we have a large supply of whisky as it does not freeze at -30C. We will all talk about how dangerous and isolated Antarctica is and how lucky we are to be able to party when the rest of the world is in lockdown.”
Ross is a heavy-machine engineer at the base. He works in temperatures of –37C to keep the biological research going.
Today it’s summer so “only” -7C outside and former soldier Ross is carrying out maintenance work on the snow ploughs.
“This is the most isolated place on Earth and you learn to live in isolation, albeit with small community of others.
“It’s our bubble, really.
“You learn a lot about isolation at the top of an icy glacier. The peace and beauty of no traffic, crowds or endless muzak is a joy.”
After work today he will put in a few hours training for his sub-zero marathon due to take place around the base on New Year’s Day.
With four months to go to the end of his contract he is dreading returning to lockdown Scotland.
“We have all been following the pandemic online and I can’t say I am looking forward to wearing a mask and queuing at supermarkets.
“It will seem very strange, distancing from everyone, after a remote but friendly group here at Rothera. In full summer the sun never sets and there’s plenty of time to explore what is effectively the end of the Earth.
“I have been training for my marathon for Combat Crisis for veterans’ mental health. We have to make the most of the weather because not much can be done in a fierce storm.
“Part of my job is to clear the airstrip and maintain the huge snowploughs and other machinery and there’s not much chance of that in a gale.
“The sun never sets in mid-summer just now.”
The team enjoyed a full Christmas dinner, although the Turkey arrives without bones, to cut down on waste, all of which has to be flown back to the UK.
Each base member made a Secret Santa gift for a colleague.
Ross’s was a base-made sporran from colleague Sarah Crosley, crafted from recycled materials such as packaging.
“It’s probably the world’s only Antarctic sporran and one to treasure,” he added.
He wears it with his Stewart-Douglas kilt.
His parents, Margaret and Brian back in Crieff may be able to put in a call on New Year’s Day and on a good day they get a video call.
Meanwhile, the incoming base leader Matthew Phillips, from Edinburgh, is on board the BAS ship, the James Ross Clark in sub-Antarctic waters en route to take over in the next staff changeover.
He had three false starts to travel south when it was decided that to keep the base Covid-free it was best to lockdown incoming staff before they set off, then board them on a safe ship for the six-week sail.
“I have been to Antarctica several times since 2013, first time as a boat man,” said Phillip.
“The isolation and beauty of the place is striking and I can think of no better life.”
The British Antarctic Survey said: “The Chileans are responding to Covid at their station. This doesn’t affect UK stations in Antarctica.
“We are doing everything possible to keep our stations Covid-free and our staff safe.”
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