25 April, 2022

RRS Sir David Attenborough stewards Eric Bourne and Stephen Carpenter, tied the knot yesterday (Sunday 24 April) at British Antarctic Survey’s (BAS) Rothera Research Station. It is the first same-sex wedding to take place in the British Antarctic Territory (BAT).

The couple, who have been together for 20 years, shared their special day with the 30 crew of the UK’s new polar ship RRS Sir David Attenborough.

Captain Will Whatley performed the wedding ceremony on the ship’s helideck in brilliant sunshine. The British Antarctic Territory Government, based in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, will register the marriage. It will be valid in the UK.

A group of people standing in the snow
Ship Captain Will Whatley reads the nuptials to Eric (left) and Steve, with staff from Rothera Research Station in the background. Credit: Rich Turner @BAS

This is the second marriage between BAS staff since the BAT marriage law was reformed in 2016; the law made it easier for marriages to be arranged in the Territory, and also updated the relevant paperwork for same-sex marriages.

Speeches by the couple’s best men (crewmembers), telegrams and toasts followed the ceremony as did live music with songs performed by the ship’s doctor.

A train cake sitting on top of a birthday cake
The wedding cake was adorned with penguins. Credit: Rich Turner @BAS

A wedding reception with all the staff at Rothera Research Station will take place when the ship returns for its final call on 8 May. The couple will enjoy a celebratory dinner with around 100 staff, prepared by the station chef and dance to live music from the station’s resident band.

Eric and Stephen are experienced seafarers, who have spent the past two decades travelling the world together on board various ships. Eric has been working for BAS for the past three years. They decided to get married when Stephen joined the ship’s crew last year and they realised Antarctica would be the perfect place for their wedding.

Stephen says:

“Antarctica is such an incredible place. We have been together for 20 years but now we’ve both been to Antarctica together, it felt like the perfect place for us to finally tie the knot! We’ve even had the coordinates of the wedding location engraved into our rings.”

The couple’s rings have been engraved with the coordinates of Rothera Research Station – 67 34’ S 68 08’ W. Credit: Rich Turner @BAS

Eric says:

“We’re both very proud to be the first same-sex marriage to happen in British Antarctic Territory. BAS is such a welcoming and accepting employer, and we feel very lucky to be able to live and work in such an incredible community and place together.”

A group of people that are standing in the snow
The ship’s crew create an archway for Steve (left) and Eric holding ice axes used for polar fieldwork. Credit: Rich Turner @BAS

Captain Will Whatley, Master of RRS Sir David Attenborough and a BAT Magistrate, performed the ceremony. He says:

“It was such an honour to be officiating Eric and Steve’s wedding. The RRS Sir David Attenborough is not only our place of work but also our home, and it is a privilege to help two integral members of our crew celebrate their special day. I am very proud of the inclusive culture within the British Antarctic Survey and across the Polar Regions. I am thrilled for them both and wish them all the very best.”

Before departing for Antarctica, Eric and Stephen had their wedding rings engraved with the coordinates of their ceremony, 67 34’ S 68 08’ W, overlooking the Antarctic Peninsula complete with mountain peaks and icebergs in the bay – the couple’s favourite view.

The couple plan a celebration for their family and friends in Spain, later this year.

A person holding a kite in a boat
Steve (left) and Eric with the pride flag on the RRS Sir David Attenborough. Credit_Rich [email protected]

About the couple – Eric Bourne and Stephen Carpenter

Eric and Stephen first met working aboard RFA Sir Percivale before being deployed in the last Gulf war.

Eric was born in Rochford, Essex and lives in Spain. Eric studied Catering and Logistics before working as a Steward on ferries. He then moved on to working deep sea.

Stephen was born and raised in Caerphilly, Wales. Stephen studied for his Certificate of Competency as Ship’s Cook and worked for the Ministry of Defence before joining BAS in 2021.

This is the second marriage between British Antarctic Survey staff since the BAT marriage law was reformed in 2016; the law made it easier for marriages to be arranged in the Territory, and also updated the relevant paperwork for same-sex marriages.

Further information about marriage in the British Antarctic Territory can be found at:  https://britishantarcticterritory.org.uk/visiting/getting-married/

RRS Sir David Attenborough is Britain’s new polar research ship, and is one of the most advanced polar research vessels in the world. The ship is currently on its maiden voyage in Antarctica, and earlier this year completed its ice trials. The ship was commissioned by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), built by Cammell Laird and is operated by British Antarctic Survey.

Rothera Research Station, the largest British Antarctic Survey facility, is a centre for biological research and a hub for supporting deep-field and air operations.  Situated on Adelaide Island to the west of the Antarctic Peninsula the site includes the Bonner research laboratory, offices and workshops and a crushed rock runway, hanger and wharf.  Rothera supports a wide range of BAS, UK university and international collaborative science programmes including the Dirck Gerritsz laboratory that is operated by the Netherlands polar research programme.