Derry sailor’s ultimate White Christmas among penguins and icebergs near South Pole

A sailor from Derry has been enjoying the ultimate White Christmas helping command exploration ship, RRS Sir David Attenborough, on its maiden voyage to Antarctica.

Tuesday, 28th December 2021, 8:38 am

Chief Officer Matt Neill is spending the festive period near the South Pole on a mission to support UK scientists conducting climate change research.

He helped dock the state-of-the-art ship at Rothera Research Station in the run-up to Christmas.

The dad-of-two admits it’s a wrench to miss a family Christmas with his toddler daughters but says it’s an honour to be involved in RRS Sir David Attenborough’s first polar mission.

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Matt Neill surrounded by some Antarctic friends.

Matt (34), from Magilligan, said: “To be part of this historic maiden voyage absolutely makes up for missing Christmas. Everywhere we go and everything we do is the first time and it’s really exciting. Everyone is proud to be on board for this momentous occasion.

“I don’t want to think about missing Christmas with the kids. I try to keep going and keep my head on the job but, obviously, it is a wrench. I won’t be home until mid-January.”

It is the first time Matt, who is second in command behind the ship’s captain, has been away from his kids, Rosie (3) and one-year-old Ivy, at Christmas.

He said: “I’ve been away at Christmas before, but this is the first time as a dad so, of course, it’s different. This is the longest I’ll have been away from them.”

Matt during a visit to Antarctica.

Matt first set sail for Antarctica as a BAS cadet in 2011 and this is his eighth visit.

He said: “I think I have the best job in the world. I grew up sailing, powerboating and kayaking and both my grandfathers were Merchant Seamen. Many would say that the Chief Officer is the busiest person aboard the ship. I am second in command under the captain. He decides what we need to do, and I decide how it’s done and organise that work effectively on deck. I’m responsible for making sure the cargo is secured correctly so that it doesn’t move and get damaged or damage the ship whilst in rough weather.”

Matt was thrilled to meet his ship’s namesake Sir David before setting sail – and revealed he constantly has the legendary BBC naturalist’s voice ringing in his ears.

He laughed: “Sir David pre-recorded numerous tannoy announcements for us as a favour. So, everything from, ‘No smoking on deck’ to ‘All personnel not sailing with the vessel, please disembark’, is in his dulcet tones.”

Matt on the bridge of the RRS Sir David Attenborough.

Minister for the Polar Regions, Amanda Milling, says the £200million ship is part of a major UK Government polar infrastructure investment programme.

She added: “The UK’s presidency of COP26 in Glasgow last month, and our ongoing investment in science, demonstrates our determination to drive forward a greener future to save our planet.”

Matt in festive mood.