Sunday, November 28, 1999

Gas, food, lodging (and cargo): Marble Point serves up warmth and good cheer

Published in the Antarctic Sun

Flying into Marble Point there’s not much to see from the air. It’s about five buildings, dwarfed by fuel tanks. It’s all tucked away into the loose gravel of a spit of land between the glacier and the sea.

But upon exiting the helicopter, you discover another world. A man waves and shouts hello from across the landing area. Even the fuelie smiles as she drags a hose toward the thirsty vehicle. A woman waits in the warm house, ready with hot chocolate, tea, and coffee.

They are James Raml, Meg Flanagan and Diane Bedell. They are the real Marble Point. McMurdo’s still the big town, but this is civilization, Antarctic style.

Helicopter pilots know Marble Point well. They fly into and out of the Dry Valleys through the area.

The Cape Roberts pilots also stay here, on the west side of McMurdo Sound, to be able to fly the morning shift change even if there’s weather in McMurdo.

Raml describes the place simply. “It’s gas, food, lodging and cargo.”

For four seasons, he’s been the site manager, the telecommunications technician and general handyman. If it’s been built or repaired around Marble Point, he’s worked on it. There’s almost nobody else, and not much in the way of materials.

He took a Wannigan structure when Williams Field got rid of it. It was leaning over and pretty well beaten up.

That was a couple of years ago. Now it’s upright, with a new floor and a new coat of paint on the inside. It sleeps eight and includes a furnace that’s as clean as a new one.

All of that was done with materials left over from other projects, including work done at McMurdo or the South Pole.

There’s always more to do. Among the tasks: Cleaning up the site from decades of messy Antarctic operations, getting cargo ready for transport to the Dry Valleys, getting waste and cargo ready to return to McMurdo, and then–oh yes–the normal stuff to support life.

Even in just a short 10-minute tour of the place, Raml comes up with a list of about a dozen things he intends to work on now or in the future.

“Every year I try to get a few things done,” he said of his “spare-time” projects.

In addition to helping Raml with the cargo and life-supportjobs, Bedell makes sure the guests are at home in their well-maintained surroundings.

“We try to run it basically as a bed and breakfast,” she said.

She makes an excellent quiche, ensures that everyone has more hot drinks than they can
hold, and is the weather observer, medic, and doer of anything Raml doesn’t do–except fuels.

She is very relaxed, though, even with all that on her plate. She’ll sit with you and talk if you’re in the mood, or let you be.

Raml and Bedell make an excellent team. They have anywhere from one to 12 guests on any given night. The camp can sleep 17, and while the table is not quite big enough for everyone all at once, there’s plenty of room for eating in shifts.

The other member of the team is the refueling technician. Fuelies rotate every three weeks, which is a nice break from town, but is no picnic. Helicopters fly 24 hours a day for large portions of the season, and there’s always another one coming in.

It means all three are going all day long, stealing time “off” whenever there’s nobody visiting and no helicopter on the way.

The beautiful setting is just part of the payoff for being the first field camp put in each season, and the last to be pulled out. For all of them, it’s the appreciation on visitors’ faces when they realize this is a special place and that they’re as welcome as can be.