ZS1RON in his humble but functional shack. After 40 years service with the SA Navy, amateur radio became an attraction.
ZS1RON was a member of the team that activated IOTA No AF-085 Elephant's Rock Island in April 2000.

Just off the romantic west coast of South Africa, near the town of Lutzville and a few kilometres north of the Olifants River, lies an island called Elephant’s Rock. The locals call it Rob Eiland (seal island) and, there is much evidence both on the island and the beach on the mainland opposite, of the sealing activities that took place there in an earlier era. Presently, however, the main activity in the area is centred on the magical lure of diamonds that are reclaimed from the alluvial deposits found on the ocean floor up and down the coast, deposited there by the Olifants river

ZS1FJ Barry Fletcher.

It was this island that attracted the attention of ZS1FJ Barry Fletcher who is always on the lookout for new islands to be conquered and placed on the international IOTA list.

ZS1B Dr Bud Voortman.

After some discussion, Barry and ZS1B Bud Voortman the chairman of the Cape Town Amateur Radio Centre did a reconnaissance of the island and its immediate surrounds. Elephant’s Rock Island proved to be a very worthy venture and after gaining the support and co-operation of the De Punt Diamond Mine management, Barry went ahead and obtained the necessary authority from the department of Nature Conservation to mount an Amateur Radio Expedition to the island and was also given the use of the ZS31ER callsign.

The ZS31ER Team.

From left to right are:ZS1FJ Barry Fletcher.ZS1RON Ron Marlow.ZS5BBO Edwin Musto.ZS1MAL Mal de Beer.ZS1GRM Gerald Meneses.ZS1B Bud Voortman. They met at the home of ZS1B for a pre-expedition meeting some days before their departure and, left for the island just after 05:00 SAST on the morning of Friday 31st March 2000. We arrived at the De Punt mine compound in the early afternoon, having covered almost 400Km.

It was planned that the team would take up accommodation in a small wooden hut above the beach.


The hut can be seen on the left of this picture that was taken as the team were arriving. This site is on a high promontory just above the beach from where there is a good view of the island. During that first night we had a party in the hut and a good time was had by all, particularly Barry who made a big dent in my bottle of best scotch.

Waiting for the inflatable.

Eventually the adventure got under way and we were at last on the beach waiting to be ferried through the surf in a small rubber dinghy. The locals were out in force, including wives, children and dogs. They were all of one mind: "Hierdie verdomde radio amateurs moet sekerlik mal wees." (These damned radio hams must surely be bloody mad!)

Malcolm launched!

Here ZS1MAL Malcolm the first man on the island, goes bravely down to the dinghy to be ferried to the island. He made it, but not before he was dumped into the sea unceremoniously!

There goes Malcolm!

Braving the surf in this small and buoyant boat proved to be a highlight of the adventure and it is obvious that we got ourselves rather wet each time that we made the trip. Equipment was very carefully enclosed in multiple plastic bags to prevent damage from sea water but we had a few damp casualties despite this. When one considers that the team were all sixty-plus years of age or more, except ZS5BBO Edwin who is much younger, it is no wonder that the locals thought we were crazy!

Sleeping quarters with two camp stretchers.

At last, we were all on the island and engaged in the task of erecting the two pup tents, one for sleeping quarters and the other for on the air operations. A new tri-band yagi antenna was assembled and mounted on a mast that was affixed to a structure that was used by the sealers for conveying pelts and seal flesh to the mainland via a cableway. During the erection of this beam antenna, Barry ZS1FJ stepped on a wooden platform that was the worse for dry rot and took an alarming tumble that resulted in him being rather shaken for a while. Luckily Barry suffered no serious injury.

The new tri-bander, that failed, after 170 QSO’s.

Mounted on the old cableway structure left by the sealers, from which Barry took a tumble. Some resident seals can be seen on the skyline. This whole area is covered in a layer of seal fur that moults from the seal’s hides and, many skeletons of dead seals are embedded in a clay-like substance about six inches or more deep that also covers the island surface. One is assailed by a very strong ammonia smell when first arriving on the island but one gets used to the smell in a very short time. Our operating tent was erected close to this structure and we had strung electric wires that were connected to the generator, with electric light bulbs attached, to illuminate the area during the dark hours. Yellow six inch diameter tubing, used for dredging the diamond bearing alluvial gravel, can be seen wrapped around the legs of the old cableway structure. This place is definitely not for sissies! Yet one adapted to the hostile environment quite soon and felt quite comfortable. This was mainly due to the inventiveness and organising abilities of ZS1B Bud, who proved to be a tower of strength to the expedition.

The 40-year-old Moseley TA-33 Junior.

This beam replaced the beam that failed and was fed by a Kenwood TS-680S transceiver that replaced the equipment that failed and was used to handle the subsequent pileups that were like nothing we had heard before! ZS1RON on the left and ZS1GRM on the right, are seen below the antenna. ZS1B Bud took the photograph from atop a large rock formation near the antenna. A good view of the collapsed platform that ZS1FJ Barry fell from is seen on the right of the mast. The mainland is in the background. When we first arrived on the island, ZS1GRM Gerald decided that he would explore a large cave-like declivity behind the rock that this photograph was taken from and, promptly his curiosity was rewarded by a few startled and rather large bull seals that came charging straight for him. He had disturbed their siesta and all they wanted was to get to the ocean and safety as soon as possible. Needless to say, Gerald got smartly out of their way and the look of nervous surprise on his face was a sight to behold!

ZS1GRM Gerald tending one of the 4.5KVA generators that provided the expedition with adequate power, and ZS1RON preparing food on the gas stove on a rock in the background. The one leg of the G5RV antenna, for the lower bands, can be seen in the sky on the left. We worked 160, 80 and 40 with this antenna, turning it into a Marconi for 160. Some CW was worked by ZS1B at times, but regrettably there was no second station to make this possible all the time. The ends of this G5RV were anchored to metal spikes that were embedded in concrete blocks that were left on the island by the sealers and, at night the seals insisted on climbing over the anchor lines instead of under, thereby breaking them and upsetting the antenna.

ZS1RON had the job of regularly repairing the damage.Close to him is a collective nursery of some cormorant chicks. The adult birds take turns in guarding them and keep them all together rather than in single nests, for security against the seagulls who will attack the chicks. The malodorous island soon inflicted its smelly characteristics onto the team and it was a singular pleasure to indulge in a good hot shower at the mine hostel after a tour of duty. The only negative aspect that we experienced on the island was when we lost several carry packs of beer that had been placed in an ice-cold rock pool. A spring tide caused currents that washed the carry packs away despite the pile of rocks that was placed on top of them. This was a cruel blow indeed! However, we made up for this when back at the hostel, clean and sweet smelling. The presence of a medical doctor in our midst was most reassuring as there is no telling what can happen on an expedition of the nature that we were engaged in. As a matter of fact there was an instance where the good doctor came to my aid and saved me from the ravages of an upset stomach by prescribing a few pills that soon averted an embarrassing and threatening situation.

ZS1B with fuel for the generator, waiting to be ferried to the island.

Here is a quote of what Bud had to say about the pile–ups: "The pile-ups were astounding! Some of the team have had plenty of experience when operating from places such as Kermadek Island, Pitcairn Island, Tristan da Cunha, Gough Island and Antartica, let alone other South African islands and rare special event stations, but none of us have ever heard such a blast of noise as we heard after our first test call on ten metres. Hundreds of you fellows must have been ready and waiting, and we thank you for this, and also for your patience as we struggled through the pile-ups." Bud had the following to say in a recent packet radio bulletin: We are pleased to say that our team has now activated every single IOTA Island Group around the coast of South Africa. If any of you want us to go back and operate from ZS23I (Seal Island, Mossel Bay AF-077), ZS6BI (Bird Island, Algoa Bay AF-079), ZS64RI (Robben Island, Table Bay AF-064) or ZS1DAS (Dassen Island, Table Bay AF-064)
Please let us know.

In total we made approximately 3700 contacts in 76 countries, despite the problems we had with bad weather and equipment failure due to sea water and dampness. The team is to be congratulated on their patience and determination, and for displaying the magnificent spirit that was evident throughout the ten days. If you worked ZS31ER while we were on Elephant’s Rock Island, and have not despatched or received confirmation yet, the QSL addresses is:
Barry Fletcher ZS1FJ 18 Valley RoadKenilworth Kenilworth

QSL cards sent via the SARL QSL Bureau will reach him much later and replies will be returned via the bureau.

ZS1RON Ron and ZS1GRM Gerald.
ZS1GRM was dubbed “man of the match,” for his mechanical ability and expertise. He maintained the generators and, ensured that all mechanical equipment remained in good running order.
Please sign my guest book.

Vy73 - ZS1RON