The Radio Scene on the World’s Most Isolated Island

Bouvet in the South Atlantic

Modern geographers inform us that the world’s most isolated island is the barren, frozen and windswept island called Bouvet, in the South Atlantic Ocean. This small uninhabited island is located somewhere between South America, South Africa, and Antarctica, more than a thousand miles distant from each continent.

Bouvet Island
By Eric Gaba (Stingfr:Sting) – data:Norwegian Polar Institute (modified for the shaded relief) (under CC-BY 4.0)Topographic map, Norsk Polarinstitutt, Oslo, 1986Additional reference: Skrifter Nr 175, Results from the Norwegian Antarctic Research Expeditions 1976/77 and 1978/79, Norsk Polarinstitutt, Oslo, 1981, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

Bouvet Island is a very rugged island, perhaps almost circular or perhaps almost square in shape, and its total area is a sparse 19 square miles, 93% of which is permanently covered with ice and snow. This island has never been inhabited, and it is the top of an extinct largely underwater volcano.

The center of the island is simply a quiescent ice-filled caldera. Even though covered by heavy glaciers, the ground temperature on the island just one foot deep is a surprising 77 degrees Fahrenheit.

Over the past 300 years, Bouvet Island has undergone several name changes. When discovered by the French explorer Jean-Baptiste Charles Bouvet de Lozier in 1739, its location was charted incorrectly on the map, and it was named as Cape Bouvet rather than Bouvet Island.

West coast of Bouvet Island
By François Guerraz – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

The island was not rediscovered until two thirds of a century later by the British whaler Captain James Lindsay in 1808. He discovered that the so called cape was just the edge of a small island; and shall we say with a touch of unique modesty, Captain Lindsay renamed the island in honor of himself, Lindsay Island.

The first claim to a landing on the island was made in 1822 by an American sailor, Captain Benjamin Morrell, who again with typical modesty, added that difficult possibility to a long list of other impossibly grandiose lifetime accomplishments that he accorded to himself. Historians suggest that he may have sighted the island, though it is unlikely that set foot on it.

Some 3 years later again (1825), George Norris found the island once more, and he claimed it for the British crown and gave it the name Liverpool Island. He also stated that another island lay nearby, Thompson Island, but this second island proved to be a phantom island.

A Norwegian expedition landed on the island in 1927, they claimed it for Norway, and they reverted the name of the island back to its original title, Bouvet Island, which it still carries to this day.

The annexation of the island on 1 December 1927
By Unknown author – http://www.polarhistorie.no/ekspedisjoner/Norvegia I Norsk Polarinstitutt, Public Domain, Link

The United Kingdom renounced all claims to Bouvet Island in 1930, due to unresolved questions about the authenticity of previous exploratory findings about the island.

A second Norwegian expedition went to Bouvet Island during the following year (1928) with the intent of establishing a weather radio station. However, they were unable to find a suitable location on the island for a small community of technical personnel and the project was abandoned. The permanent ice cover, together with the steep rubbly cliffs almost completely surrounding the island, made landing difficult, and thus establishing a permanent settlement was declared almost impossible.

The first hut, built on Kapp Circoncision, in 1929
By Bjarne Aagaard (1873–1956) – http://polarhistorie.no/ekspedisjoner/Norvegia III/NP012003.jpg Norsk Polarinstitutt, Public Domain, Link

Nearly thirty years later (1955), a ship from South Africa, the Transvaal, was sent out, again to find a suitable location on the island for a radio operated weather station. Once more, officialdom declared that the plan was almost a total impossibility. Another two years later again, 1957, an American ship the Westwind, scouted the island for the same purpose (to establishing a radio operated weather station) and they also came to the same conclusion, that this was a geographic impossibility.

Then in 1964 South Africa sent out two ships on another expedition to the island for the same purpose. These ships were the Royal Navy Antarctic Vessel, HMS Protector, together with a South African supply vessel, and again they came to the same conclusion regarding an automatically operated radio weather station. It was impossible!

Now while ashore at the rubbly difficult location, the technical personnel discovered a half submerged lifeboat, a mystery that remained unanswered for several years. However, subsequent research discovered that a Russian whaling ship the Slava 9 had called at Bouvet Island eight years earlier.

A group of sailors from the Russian venture went ashore in a lifeboat but they got caught on the island by bad weather. Two days later they were airlifted out by helicopter and they abandoned the lifeboat in the shallow waters of the island.

The Norwegian government sent out an official survey expedition during the summer of 1977, and during the following year (1978) a permanent automatically operated weather station was indeed successfully installed. This radio operated facility was installed near the northwest corner of Bouvet Island, though it is no longer operational.

Amateur Radio Operations at Bouvet Island

During the 1977 expedition, the Norwegian radio personnel operated a temporary amateur radio station on the island under the callsign 3Y5X. This was the first amateur radio operation on Bouvet Island.

Twelve years later a second successful DXpedition to the island was on the air under the same callsign 3Y5X for a period of 16 days, running at the end of December and into the New Year (1990). The operators at 3Y5X succeeded in logging 50,000 QSO contacts with other amateur radio stations around the world.

3Y5X QSL. Images: CallingDX.com

The third amateur radio DXpedition took place in the winter of the year 2007 under the callsign 3Y0E. This event was a scientific event, together with approved amateur radio personnel who joined the expedition.

Subsequent DXpedition attempts have thus far been unsuccessful. Three years ago (2018) a fourth attempt was made under the callsign 3Y0Z, but the specially chartered expeditionary ship developed engine trouble while lying at anchor offshore, and it had to return to South Africa without fulfilling the planned visit onto the island itself.

In March of the following year (2019), another attempt was made with the same ship though with a new amateur callsign 3Y0I. However they encountered a massive cyclonic storm with 35 foot waves, thus a landing was impossible, and the ship again returned to South Africa, unfulfilled.

A fourth DXpedition to Bouvet Island was planned for December last year (2020), though this project was postponed due to the virus pandemic. However, the Norwegian Polar Institute is no longer supporting any DXpeditions to the island as they understand that their weather station may have been swept into the ocean by adverse weather patterns.

We might also add that there have been two additional privately operated DXpeditons to Bouvet Island. In December 2000, the American Dr. Charles Brady N4BQW joined an official Norwegian expedition to the island, without any prior publicity. When he suddenly went on the air under the callsign 3Y0C, he was instantly swamped with massive pileups. During his three month stay at the island, he logged 17,000 QSOs. Then during the following year (2001), world traveller Dominik Grzyb with the callsign 3Z9DX also landed successfully on the island.

3Y0C QSL
Image: Flickr © All rights reserved by alessandrobertoglio1957

According to the listings, Bouvet Island in the South Atlantic is amateur radio’s second most wanted callsign QSO; highest on the list is North Korea

This feature was written by Adrian Peterson and originally aired on Adventist World Radio’s “Wavescan” DX program of August 1, 2021

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