ZS1AU Pilot Station
YANKEE ZERO CHARLIE
station operations of ZS1AU during the Bouvet Island Dxpedition
A visitor, Doctor Charles (Chuck) Brady, N4BQW, arrived in Cape Town in November 2000. Using a 2 meter hand held, he came across ZS1DTM, ZS1GPF and ZS1ADP. Chuck was looking for a DXer and my name and callsign came up, after all it has been around for over 50 years. What happened after that is history but what a wonderful 3 months it has been. I had the privilege of being associated with this fellow radio amateur who must be rated as one of the greatest DXer's of all time.
Chuck contacted me and asked if I would be prepared to keep in touch with him on Bouvet Island. He had just been issued the callsign 3Y0C and was going as part of a scientific expedition.
3Y0C will only be made known when he sets foot on BOUVET. This was a closely guarded secret. A list of frequencies to be used from 160M to 6M, including the WARC bands RTTY, SSB and CW, was drawn up. The most sophisticated amateur radio and other electronic equipment was being checked by ZS1CM, here in Cape Town prior to departure. This operation was going to be something BIG.
BOUVET is a volcanic island and is the loneliest place in the world. It is reputed to be the most inhospitable, and most inaccessable place. It measures 6 kms by 9 kms. This 5 man expedition, consisted of 5 scientists, the Norwegian leader, 3 South African scientists and the Doctor (Chuck Brady) who is also the amateur radio operator. Blizzards with high velocity winds of around 120mph are common. For Chuck, a NASA astronaut, who has walked in space, this was like going to Mars, with snow and mountaineering thrown in.
Chuck left on a ship called the POLARSTERN, and he operated as N4BQW / MM.
When Chuck landed on BOUVET he strung up a 20m dipole. We decided to launch 3Y0C to the world on the 16 December 2000 and the time 0700z. I gathered a crowd onto 14340 khz. At the designated time I called N4BQW. THERE WAS NO CHUCK. The minutes went by, AND THEN, after waiting 25 minutes, Chuck came on as N4BQW. We had a COUNT DOWN and a LIFT-OFF of 3Y0C from BOUVET. Within half an hour the pile-up had begun.
Websites were set up by Deon Erwin ZR1DQ, www.qsl.net/zr1dq and Bruce Richards WD4NGB, www.qsl.net/wd4ngb. On Christmas Eve, 24 December, Chuck sent a digital photo of himself on the Island. It was loaded into a passing satellite and then e-mailed to SOUTH AFRICA. It was placed on the websites, in colour and in remarkable detail, within hours of it being taken.
Then came the flood of e-mails and guest book entries. The whole world was chasing 3Y0C. Although he had other duties to perform on the Island, Chuck knew that there were stations out there that needed 3Y. SUNSAT ( South Africa's own satellite ) was thrown in to give Chuck a first from ZS to BOUVET on the "Parrot" repeater, on board SUNSAT. This Parrot repeater was the brain child of Henry Chamberlain, ZS1AAZ. It was fitting that Henry was the first to contact Chuck, followed by Dr Dave Reece, ZS1DFR.
A few weeks later while routine work was being performed on SUNSAT by the Stellenbosch University, it failed to respond and is now out of operation.
This "PARROT" QSO was remarkable. It was a repeater in the simplex mode and timing of transmitting and receiving was controlled by bleep tones. Chuck was using a 2m hand held as SUNSAT passed over BOUVET for approximately 12 minutes. We have to thank Pieter ZS1PK, one of the nine engineering students who built SUNSAT. He programmed it to switch on for a pass directly over BOUVET and with the foot print covering CAPE TOWN.
After Chuck had put up the HEXBEAM for HF and 6m, the VERTICAL for 160m to 40m, signals improved. I maintained daily skeds with him on 14340 khz. It was expected of me to set up skeds and find the best times and frequencies to work the various sectors of the world. The VK's, ZL's and JA'S found that signals over the poles were not that good. Bill Wells, VK4UA, David, VK3EW, and Keith, ZL2KOT, informed their regions that 3Y0C would be on 14346khz from 0600z to 0800z daily. Just when things were going fine Chuck lost his antenna during the night. Then the vertical snapped , then the dipoles and then the HEXBEAM mast broke.
In the new year, more BIG drama - the diesel engine gave trouble. It is losing oil at such a rate that they would run out of fuel. This gave cause for concern. There was also a smaller gasoline generator but not sufficient fuel so we consider making a conversion to propane gas. Experts in Cape Town & even in Port Elizabeth where Barry Jackson, ZS2H, an Engineer who had been on MARION ISLAND, were working on methods for making it work with the accent on safety. There were only a few hours of battery left and then, NO MORE 3Y0C. After a lengthy period of hard work they got the diesel engine fixed and there was no need for the conversion. The diesel engine carried on running until they left the island. PHEW !!!
The Linear Amplifier failed to function.when it was really needed. The experts were called to solve the problem but to no avail. Chuck reported very good reception as there was a low noise level and no interference. Scandanavians were having a tough time getting over Europe. We tried them going over the north pole and that worked well. Chuck reported that 70% of his contacts were in Europe. Japanese were the most disciplined and polite operators. Chuck fealt they deserved a better chance. The West coast of the USA found it difficult working 3Y0C. A very difficult area was also the middle East and central Asia.
After all those months of harsh weather the 160m dipole had 25 joints and the HEXBEAM mast was in six pieces. Let's try the 160m, 80m and 40m bands again. The word spread to the BIG guns on the LF bands. ZS3D, ZS6EZ, ZS6UT and several of the locals like ZS1PDT, ZS1MJJ, ZS1BW, ZS1DUP, ZS1B, ZU1G and 9J2BO, got up at 3am in the morning . TOP BAND was the difficult one and the only contact made was on CW with ZS6EZ. Chuck worked " the early morning gang " on 80m but not many on 40m. The DX qrm was tremendous. Chuck kept going for long stretches and then on to the HF bands. He was awake for .. thirty six.. hours. !!! At daybreak the VK's, ZL's, JA's and Europe ( long path ) were at him. We could hear Chuck giving stations many chances and repeats, until that contact was, A GOOD ONE.
There was other work to be done on the Island and when Chuck did not show up at a specific time, the WORLD wondered if he had been blown away. AGAIN, or maybe the batteries were flat. Then we heard 3 Y ZERO CHARLIE and we all heaved a sigh of relief. He's still OK.
Chuck now suggests that Bill Dewey, ZS1EK, our 6m expert, get up onto high ground and set up a station on 50,120 mhz Within a day BILL, and Buddy McCallum, ZS1MP, had got organised to set up a station at CAPE POINT, the nearest you will get to BOUVET Island from the African continent. The site is some 800 feet above the sea. Ron Marlow, ZS1RON, had arranged for a permit to enter this restricted wild game park. They borrowed a 3 element beam from Dr Bud Voortman, ZS1B.
RON was so keen to join his buddies and was making such a noise around the house that his XYL said , RON, go enjoy yourself. The 3 of them (all members of THE FALSEBAY RADIO ELECTRONICS and COMPUTER CLUB) arrived at Cape Point in a howling, cold and gale force wind. Chuck was experiencing bad weather, except that it was ten times worse. Bill had a 6 element yagi for 6m with 150 watts. As it was impossible to erect the triband beam. A 20m dipole was erected and this worked well with DX. They succeeded in working 3Y0C on 20m, 40m and 80m but were unsuccessful on 6m. Like MARCONI, they deserved success. What came out of this was a bondage of a friendship. It was a tremendous effort on both sides.
How keen can a DXer get? No keener than Hans, OH2EA, from Helsinki. Hans was not in Helsinki, but in Bangkok on holiday to get away from the cold weather in Finland. A friend in Helsinki Ossi, OH3YI, kept sending regular reports about 3Y0C on BOUVET. By January just a handful of OH's had made it and Hans was getting worried about missing 3Y again. Getting a flow of information regards Chuck and his troubles, his heart went out to Chuck.
Hans got a message from OH3YI on 7 February. "QSO's are starting to flow into Finland. Now is the time." Well to any diehard DXer, needing the last one, the decision was to get home fast.
On 15 February 2001, Hans is at the Bangkok airport at midnight. Hans arrived back in Helsinki at noon on 16 February and immediately called Ossi, OH3YI, who updated Hans. I had been told via e-mail about Hans travelling half way around the world. I mentioned to Chuck about this flying Finn and we agreed that this was something special. Suffering from jetlag Hans had an afternoon nap and then went into his shack. He tuned the 15M band and he found Chuck. Hans stayed on one frequency. Hans called twice and like music to his ears he heard.OH2EA59 59FROM 3Y0 CHARLIE. Chuck says "Aren't you the guy that flew from Bangkok to Finland, just for a QSO?!!!!!! Hans asked Chuck if he can try CW. Chuck says stay on your split frequency and I will call you. It is a rock solid qso. WOW!!!! Hans blessed all the GODS in Ham DX heaven and Chuck too!!! GOD BLESS and thank you Chuck. de Hans OH2EA.
Peter Jelgersma, PA8AA, told me the story about his predicament with 3Y5X in 1989 / 90. Peter was in hospital undergoing surgery to replace his heartvalve with the first human heart valve, in Europe. This wrecked his chance of working 3Y5X. He said "If I don't get 3Y this time, I will not make it next time." I made a sked with Peter and one evening while I was on 14195 khz, Chuck came up and heard PA8AA. Peter worked his final country to complete a full house. The next morning, my phone rang and it was an excited Peter. Dennis!! I was so excited I almost forgot to enter the contact in the log. Peter has phoned me several times and has made an offer of a very substantial amount of US$ towards the printing of the QSL cards which must be worthy of this great, one man operation. So, when you receive your QSL from 3Y0C, remember how much joy, satisfaction, dedication & sacrifice went into making it possible. Thank you Peter.
Just spare a thought for Mac, WA4FFW, the QSL manager who will need plenty of H E L P with the hand written log. (40 thousand + contacts)
Then there was Nob Yamashita, JE2QYZ, a school teacher in JAPAN who sent a beautiful colour picture, of himself surrounded by his scholars who are also members of an amateur radio club. They are proudly holding several certificates which had been awarded to them. The children were so interested in this Island which Nob was so desperately trying to contact, for weeks on end. They also learnt so much and were facinated by this lonely Island of BOUVET. Nob was alerted to try the long path over South America around 0600z on 14336, he made it and the whole class was ecstatic.
The one who tried the hardest and appeared to be the most frustrated was Jussi, OH5CH.
His e-mails arrived almost everyday trying to find the best way to find Chuck and then try and make a contact, through that terrible southern europe QRM. I was very pleased when Jussi sent me his last e-mail and said "I thank everybody. I got Chuck with only a few days left."
Our webmaster, Deon, ZR1DQ, had been listening and kept daily reports about 3Y0C. As his ZR callsign precludes him from speaking to Chuck on HF, Deon decided to work Chuck on CW. With a day or two to go before 3Y0C goes QRT, Deon, with the assistance of Peter Breytenbach, ZS1ADP, took the key and rattled out 3Y0C de ZR1DQ. 3Y0C came back and they exchanged reports and IT WAS A GOOD ONE!!!!! This was the first for a ZR to BOUVET and Deon is in the records book.
Chuck tried to please as many as possible Harry, KH6FKG, and myself were in trouble because Chuck said he does not break a promise. Both Harry and I and later Bill, VK4UA, also came under fire. The "promises" gave us grey hairs and thanks to e-mails we tried our best to get these squared away.
Suggestions or "help information" was sent to the pilots to pass on to Chuck. This eventually helped in trying to get into every area. Some areas were just impossible because of location and also time differences. Where would you find a man working nonstop under such freezing weather and having to concentrate with exchange of callsigns and reports, which went on everyday and night for 3 months? Who gave his best shot? B r r r r r r.
Joe, N4OL, loyal to the end, was the mainstay of keeping things together. This operation had to be first on our priority list and we had to see it through to the end. This operation was continually on the go and stations did not dry up. There were more and more. Tthey just kept coming. They needed 3Y0C for the last one, to make the Honour Roll etc etc etc. There were those who told the truth.
Chuck was due to come off the Island on 2 March 2001. A week before the time he had everything packed except for the rig and a few dipoles and he was still giving it stick at the closing stages. THE LANCE was encountering bad weather and pack ice on the way to pick them up. When the ship arrived they could not get off the Island because of the heavy sea and wind. The university in the USA had been supplying weather predictions for some time and it looked as though the WX was going to get worse. Chuck still had some battery power, but, not much, so it was a question of conserving power. On 5 March at daybreak I was making what I thought was the last QSO before another lift-off and then silence. This was it.
About 6 hours later Chuck called to say they were still on BOUVET. He wanted me to e-mail Joe, N4OL,and GET THE VERY VERY VERY LATEST WX FORECAST FOR NOW NOW NOW!!!!!!!!! Skip was catching us down here in Cape Town. BUT thanks to Terry, ZS6TMG, Donovan, ZS6DGG, and Mal, ZS6MAL, they were in a position to put a LL call through to Joe, N4OL, in NORTH CAROLINA, who gathered the very latest expert forecasting and this was passed back to Chuck.
At daybreak 6th March, Ken, KH6CQH and myself were on 14336khz. It looked possible to lift off and with a YES, Chuck signed and we did not hear him again until the following day there he was N4BQW / MM. Asked about the LOG, Chuck said it was safe.
On his way to Cape Town, Chuck came on one morning and we were greeted with ALOHA from Ken, in Hawaii. The ZS's weren't finished with Chuck yet. Can you go 6 meters or, How about trying to get into our local 2 meter repeaters, from the ship, some hundreds of miles out. For the first time in months Chuck is relaxing and enjoying the warmer weather and the calm sea.
11th March, Sunday morning at 0745z N4BQW / MM gives a brief call. His handy batteries are flat but he tells us on our Tygerberg repeater that the pilot is coming aboard. It was a BIG day for CAPE TOWN and thousands of people streamed into the city. Chuck must have thought they were all hams but they were not. Chuck's arrival co-incided with the Cape Cycle Tour race. Close on 40 thousand cyclists were taking part. It is the BIGGEST bicycle race in the world. When I had told him about this race, some months ago, about entering, he was quite keen, but we were only kidding. Some of the locals were down at the dockside to see THE LANCE come into Table Bay. It was a perfect morning and the view of TABLE MOUNTAIN from the ship must have impressed everyone on board.
In the evening of monday 12th March we held thumbs that Chuck would appear at the OAKDALE RADIO CLUB, where a large crowd was expected to welcome him.
His personal "taxi driver", Gerald Meneses, ZS1GRM, and Bernie Crockford, ZS1BW, went down to the ship on monday morning . In the afternoon Chuck gave a talk at the TWO OCEANS AQUARIUM, where Peter Saul, ZR1FS, and his XYL, YVONNE, were responsible for organising this visit.
Later in the afternoon Chuck attended a farewell party for the various SCIENTIFIC group's who had come back together on the ship. Later, Gerald, ZS1GRM / mobile, brought Chuck to the OAKDALE CLUB HALL where a crowd had begun gathering 2 hours earlier. Amongst the crowd were a number of fellow amateurs who had travelled thousands of miles to be present. They were, ZS6TMG, ZS6EZ, ZS6DGG, ZS6MAL, ZS6UC, and son, ZR6RDU, ZU1G, and Hartmut, DM5TI, who came out to South Africa , from GERMANY to shake Chuck by the hand. Hartmut had worked 3Y0C a few weeks ago. Also in the crowd but not making himself conspicuous was David Clark, KB6TAM / MM. David another American, is attempting a circumnavigation of the world, single handed, to become the oldest man to achieve this remarkable feat. Unfortunately his yacht sprang a leak and sank, 200 miles out from Cape Town.
Chuck appeared at the entrance to our CLUB HALL and received a tumultuous ovation. He was welcomed by the MC for the evening, Dr Dave Reece, ZS1DFR. Several short opening speeches of welcome and presentations were made and then AN APPRECIATION AWARD was presented to Chuck on behalf of the VK, ZL and WESTERN PACIFIC RADIO AMATEURS and LISTENERS and then it was over to Chuck. He expressed his appreciation and thanks to everyone in turn and then held the entire crowd in the palm of his hand for over 2 hours. It was then questions and answers time, which was most informative and interesting. The photographers had a field "day" and Lyle Engelbrecht, ZS1UOK, captured all on video. A surprise parcel, about 3 meters long was carried into the hall. This was something special and the story is worth telling. While Chuck/ MM was on his way to Cape Town, I spoke to him on 20m and Peter, ZS1ADP, joined us. Chuck had difficulty reading Peter who was using a dipole. CHUCK was telling me that he was going to donate much of his equipment to deserving amateurs in Cape Town instead of taking it all the way back home. As Peter was the one who supplied Chuck with the very first contact information to get the DXpedition off to a flying start, it was a spontaneous gesture that the Hex beam be given to Peter, ZS1ADP. When Peter heard that the Hexbeam was his, he said, THANK YOU!!! And THEN, suddenly disappeared off the air. A little while later he reappeared.
What had happened was that the gift of "THAT" Hex beam, "THE" Hex beam, was such an unexpected present, that Peter was speechless at the other end & overcome with emotion. Who wouldn't be, after all, this is the most famous beam in the world, and it now belonged to Peter.
While on the Island some flags were flown and The Stars and Stripes of America, was proudly flown on BOUVET for the very first time. This very respected flag was presented to me, neatly folded, to symbolise the true bond of friendship which had developed through AMATEUR RADIO, and also a piece of BOUVET rock (5kgs).
Around midnight Chuck was still engulfed by curious and excited fellow amateurs who had just witnessed one of the most interesting and fascinating talks, ever heard. Some of it was out of this world and some down on the "ground" of BOUVET, supported by scores of digital pictures on a TV screen.
On Wednesday 14th March a few of the support group and their XYL's gathered at a restaurant and had a very relaxed and informal get together, with Chuck as our honoured guest. Once again Chuck entertained us with some remarkable and most fascinating stories about his space experiences. It was the opinion of everyone present that we were indeed a priviliged group to be in the company of a very courageous and brilliant man. A parcel of souvenirs received from Dominik, DL5EBE on behalf of the German radio amateurs was presented to Chuck.
He also addressed children at a local school, where he might have been facing the future South African Astronaut. Chuck was also interviewed on a local Talk Radio show.
Chuck spent days and nights packing equipment which had to be returned to various countries, prior to his departure for LONDON at 2050z on 16th March 2001. Matt Greyvensteyn ZS1MJJ, travelled hundreds of kilometers with his truck to get Chuck's large consignment of packages safely to CAPE TOWN INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT. We believe that Chuck was summoned to OSLO. We sincerely hope that the ARRL and the various DXpedition Associations and IOTA, will recognise this 3Y0C, ONE MAN DXpedition, as exceptional. Chuck gave his very best to his fellow amateurs WORLD WIDE, enduring the worst living conditions on this planet, to keep 3Y0C alive, for the longest period of time a human being has lived and survived on BOUVET.
There were times when it looked as though 3Y0C was going to go QRT long before his stay was over.
Harry, KH6FKG, the stalwart pilot in HAWAII, summed up the operator of 3Y0C as THE SPIDER MAN. We imagined Chuck climbing up and down the hillside, in the terrible WX conditions, repairing antennae every day and night to keep 3Y0C on the air. Chuck said "IT WAS FUN!!!!"
It was an experience, I personally, will never forget. Thanks to you Chuck and all you Dxers.
IT WAS THE GREATEST. HE IS THE GREATEST.