LIMERICK plumber Gerard Ryan from Caherdavin Heights is currently working in the vast white wilderness of the Antarctic. He told our reporter Alan Jacques this week all about the experience.
FOR one Limerickman currently working out in the vast white frozen wilderness of Antarctica it isn’t a hot shower or his mammy’s cooking that he misses most, but the flirty dating app – Tinder.
Gerard Ryan (36), a larger than life tradesman from Caherdavin Heights, arrived in the Antarctic on December 4 last after flying out of Shannon Airport days earlier.
Known fondly to his friends as ‘Farmer’, Gerard is currently working as part of a 95-strong crew that are getting ready to move British Antarctic Survey’s Halley VI Research Station 23km across the ice.
Halley VI is an international science research station for global earth, atmospheric and space weather observation. It played a critical role in the research that identified the ozone hole in 1985.
The station has a re-locatable design to cope with life on a floating ice shelf, and is now to be moved for the first time since it was towed from its construction site to its present location in 2012.
Gerard Ryan, a past pupil of JFK Primary School on the Ennis Road and St Nessan’s Secondary School, is among the crew that are gearing up for this mammoth move out on the Antarctic’s 150-metre thick Brunt Ice Shelf.
The wild globetrotting plumber has worked all over the world in locations such as Australia, Qatar, Norway, Canada and the UK. But how on earth did the Caherdavin tradesman ever find himself in the harsh, unforgiving Antarctic?
“I came across the job for British Antarctic Survey (BAS) online and just applied, not thinking I would get selected for such a job. Then I was called for an interview in Cambridge in November 2015. One of the questions they asked was ‘what would you do if your mother died and we couldn’t get you home for obvious reasons?’ I just replied, ‘if my mother dies, she won’t miss me at her funeral’. I got an email eight months later saying I had been selected for the project,” Gerard told the Limerick Post this week.
“My official job title is a mechanical technician. The job basically is to decommission and disconnect the science research station. The job involves setting up temporary camps at the current location and the new location so we have somewhere to sleep and eat.
“It consists of 20-foot containers that sleep four, and clamshell tents for two people. Everything is equipped for the harsh environment we work in. There are no phones just a few desktops with the Internet. If we shower, we have to shovel snow into a melt tank so showering time is short, but I love that because I’m bit of an animal.
“When the camp’s sorted we can start moving Halley VI to a safe new home in Antarctica – 23km away. It has to be moved due to a massive natural carving event occurring on the ice shelf where a huge chasm is heading straight for the base at a rate of a kilometre a month.
Scientists detected a movement in the dormant ice chasm and 95 people have been drafted in to shift the eight pods of the station over the six to nine week summer period. It is like train carriages with skis weighing from 120 to 250 tonnes, which have to be towed using bulldozers at 3km per-hour,” Gerard explains.
“Then when we get to the new location we have to reconnect and re-commission the station. Currently the weather can turn from glorious sunshine to 30-knot winds and no visibility in a matter of hours, so it has been challenging and enjoyable working outside in all the elements.”
Most of us will only ever experience the alien, virtually uninhabited, ice-covered landmass of the Antarctic from the comfort of our living rooms with gentle, hypnotic voiceovers from David Attenborough. But what it is really like?
“Antarctica is like a big field full of snow. There’s nothing around as far as the eye can see. It’s a bit therapeutic travelling between job locations as there’s no traffic, people and lights. Actually, the fact there’s no sound or noise makes it quite eerie.
“As for the work, it’s such a prestigious project in a location very few people will ever get to set foot in. But even in this harsh environment we all know the task in hand and failure isn’t an option. I’m one of the lucky few to set foot in the Antarctic and I’ll always cherish that.”
Gerard celebrated Christmas Day aboard BAS’s ship, the RRS Ernest Shackleton, where he enjoyed a few home comforts like fresh meat, vegetables, fruit and even milk.
In his downtime, he gets to partake in activities such as ice-wall climbing, snowboarding and skiing.
The Limerick man rang in 2017 with work colleagues in temperatures of minus 15 degrees while enjoying a barbecue and a makeshift ice bar.
But the highlight of his trip so far is the birds.
“Even though the camps are 25 and 50km from the sea, we are frequented by penguins. It is amazing to see them in their natural environment. They come up within a few feet of you and look dazzled.
They are probably thinking, ‘what the f*** are ye doing here? It’s Baltic!’
They are really cool creatures, but they f***ing stink.”
When the Caherdavin plumber first arrived in Antarctica last December, he spent four days in a hut with 16 others. They had no running water and only a camping toilet to answer nature’s call.
“Oooh the comforts of home. It is personal space I miss the most, as there’s four of us to a room in a set of bunk beds. I’m 6ft 4” so it’s not easy fitting into them.
There’s no TV but we’ve all the latest boxsets. Having no phone at the start was strange, but it’s f***ing great not having one and I don’t miss it anymore. Oh, I do miss Tinder though, definitely Tinder,” he admits.
“I’m a single bloke with no kids, so I’m not living the dream, I am the dream!
My mother loves the fact that I’m travelling and is happy that I’m happy even though she would love to see me settle down. My father is great. Anytime I’m on the road he’s happy to look after my personal business like banking and bills. He picks up the tab while I’m away. This must be a pain in the ass but he’s always sorting it. My older sister knows she’s old because she’s always happy just to get a few fridge magnets from my travels.”
Gerard is due to sail out of the Antarctic to the Falklands on the RSS Ernest Shackleton on March 3, arriving back in Ireland two weeks later – weather dependent!
“I’ve survived everything from dungeons in Edinburgh to forest fires in Canada and blizzards in the Antarctic, but Limerick is always going to be home. Tell my mother I said hello, and happy birthday to my father. They don’t even know I’m in contact with you,” he says.
by Alan Jacques