Events / HAM Radio 101

Dr. Charles “Chuck” Brady’s DXpedition to Bouvet Island

Credited as being the most remote island in the world, a trip to Bouvet certainly isn’t for the weak of heart—which is why, if you’re anything like us, you’ll really want to go.

The uninhabited subantarctic island is a dependency of Norway, located in the South Atlantic Ocean 1,100 miles north of the Princess Astrid Coast of Queen Maud Land, Antarctica. It lies at the southern end of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and is more than 1,400 miles from the nearest inhabited island of Tristan da Cunha.

Like many coveted DXCC entities, Bouvet Island is not without its challenges. Sheer cliff faces frame the island with sharp 164-foot drop-offs into ice-packed waters. Blizzard winds blow well over 100 miles per hour. A shield volcano that’s currently inactive, Bouvet Island is covered almost entirely by a glacier, with only 19 square miles (7 percent) of the island remaining glacier-free.

The ice-filled, cavernous caldera on the island’s peak makes up a quarter of Bouvet’s square footage with the highest point on the caldera’s rim. It was summited for the first time only recently in 2012. Strong wave action undercuts the cliffs, causing constant landslides and significant erosion that has reduced the island’s size.

Considered too treacherous for human inhabitants, the island is federally protected as a state preserve and is host to large waddles of penguins, seal pods, seabirds, orca and humpback whales. Well-protected by the Norwegian authorities, it can be a trying ordeal to obtain the right permits for island access, assuming it’s possible at all.

The perceived impossibility of such an arduous trek is why Bouvet Island currently ranks number two on ClubLog’s “Most Wanted List,” second only to North Korea—an entity with a harsh climate of its own, albeit from a political perspective. 

Only a handful of DXpeditions have successfully attained the shores of Bouvet Island, including 3Y5X in 1989 and the noteworthy trip of the late Dr. Charles “Chuck” Brady, N4BQW, a retired astronaut and DXpeditioner, who traveled to Bouvet Island as part of a research team in December of 2000.

No stranger to accomplishing the extraordinary, Brady was an American physician, Navy captain, and NASA astronaut who orbited in outer space for a full 16 days. During his time in space he maintained active contact with Hams worldwide—much to their delight.

He helped pioneer SAREX (Shuttle Amateur Radio Experiment), a program that allowed communication between astronauts in low-earth orbit and Amateur Radio operators across the globe. He also predicted (accurately, of course), that Amateur Radio would be an important method of communication for astronauts during long missions.

Once retired, he took part in several popular DXpeditions, including trips to Kure, Palmyra, Jarvis, Midway, Wake, Baker and Howland Islands, Kingman Reef, and the notorious Bouvet Island.

Brady kept his travel plans to Bouvet Island secret during the extensive planning that preceded his voyage. He travelled by boat and landed by helicopter as part of a research team that consisted of four Norwegian scientists and himself. He was the lone Ham operator.

When he announced his surprise location (with call sign 3Y0C) from the frigid shores of Bouvet Island in January of 2001—he practically broke the radio. Nearly 17,000 contacts poured in during his three-month stay on an island so desolate it must have at times reminded him of his interstellar excursions. He returned from his trip and later spoke about his experiences as a celebrated speaker at the Dayton DX Dinner.

Chuck Brady passed away on July 28, 2006, but his lust for adventure and ability to attain the near impossible lives on in the hearts of Amateur Radio operators everywhere.

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