Michael Sangria, AG6IP
A short stay at the Sovereign Base Area of Cyprus puts ZC4 in many DXer’s logs.
My journey started in late May of 2011 when I had the opportunity to take a 4 month trip to one of the Sovereign Base Areas (SBA) of Cyprus. The SBAs are politically separate areas of Cyprus controlled by the British and with a separate ITU prefix, ZC4. I made sure to pack my rig, which consisted of a Yaesu FT-817 transceiver, Buddistick portable antenna, LDG Z-817H antenna tuner, and a 9 Ah sealed lead acid battery and charger. I have operated from South Korea (HL2/KF6RCP), and the Philippines (DY1/KF6RCP), and was hoping to operate from the Cyprus SBA as my third DX entity.
As a backup plan I had my Internet remote station set up at home so if the licensing paperwork did not go smoothly, I would still be able to do some operating remotely, so long as I had an Internet connection.
On the way to ZC4 land I had a 17 hour layover in England. I stayed at a nice hotel near Heathrow with Internet service. Upon getting settled, I unpacked my laptop, connected to the Internet, and logged on to my remote station. This was the first time I had used my remote station outside of the country. Everything worked as planned and I made about 10 JT65A contacts from my hotel in England.
When I finally got to Cyprus and got settled in, I immediately began searching for the licensing official’s contact information. I had to make several calls, but I eventually contacted the correct office. Because the SBA is administered by the British Army, I was connected with Corporal Wayne Turner, who sent me the application. I quickly filled it out and sent it to him with the other required documents.
It took about 6 days to get my license approved. While I was waiting, I contacted Corporal Turner again to see if he could give me the call sign ZC4MS, which used my initials for the suffix, to make it appear as though I had a vanity call sign. He said he would do his best to get it for me. Unfortunately, ZC4MS had been already taken and he gave me ZC4MIS. It was a small disappointment but I was happy just to get the call sign so I could operate. I researched how many ZC4 operators were in the SBA and I found that only Steve Hodgson, ZC4LI (SK), and I were active at that time.
I learned that the Air Training Corps had a club station, ZC4RAF, on the post at one time. Corporal Turner said I should be able to get permission to use the facility. I went to visit it and found that it had been abandoned a few years back. I inspected the facility and saw that the Yagi antennas were still up, but there was no coax and one of the reflector elements was lying on the ground. There was no way I was going to get the facility running.
ZC4 On the Air
The next morning, armed with my new call sign, I packed all my gear in my backpack— a 25 lb load— and took a 4 mile bike ride out to the cliffs (see Figure 1). I found a sunny spot facing the Mediterranean Sea and was ready to go in about 20 minutes. I took out my log book and pen, turned on my radio, and was ready for some low-power operating. I could hear other stations but, could they hear me? I felt a surge of excitement as I picked up the microphone.
My first contact was an Italian station on 20 meter SSB. After my first contact ended, I was amazed that stations were calling me and I found myself experiencing my first real pileup. I realized ZC4 land was a hot commodity.
The commotion was confusing and at first I didn’t know how to respond. Finally, I just called the last station I heard after the 30 second pileup ended. I operated like that for 5 hours, making many contacts and almost becoming dehydrated because I did not expect to be out there for that long. My most interesting contact was with a ham radio operator who was a commercial pilot. I spoke with him on 20 meters while he was getting ready for a descent to Egypt — awesome!
Bike to the Beach
The next day, I decided to bike farther down the cliff to the beach, which turned out to be a 35 minute ride. I set up my station on a small boat dock near the scuba club. I made a few contacts out there and heard a lot of US stations, but, because I was operating low power, they could not hear me. I operated from the beach for a few hours and made many European and Asian contacts and a few contacts with maritime mobile operators.
While I was set up on the beach, some passersby mistook my Buddistick for a fishing pole and advised me not to fish in that area. I didn’t get any fish, but I did manage to reel in plenty of contacts. I finally closed down and packed up my rig and had to face the hard job of biking back up the cliff. My bike had a flat on the way and it took me a couple of hours to make it back walking, pushing a bike, and carrying a 25 lb pack.
For my last day, I decided it was too much work to bike to the cliffs and the beach and instead obtained permission from my landlord to attach my Buddistick to the house’s gutter, about 6 feet high (see Figure 2). I set up my radio on the picnic table in front of my quarters and started transmitting. Again, more pileups and a lot of requests for scheduled contacts — I loved it! So, this is how it feels when you are in a DXpedition!
It was time to move my radio indoors to a more permanent shack. This allowed me to make some improvements. I ordered a 50 foot length of coax, Diamond SX-2000 SWR meter, Tokyo Hy-Power HL-45B (45 W) amplifier, Ultimax 100 end-fed antenna, 25 A power supply, MFJ electronic keyer and an LDG tuner (see Figure 3). When the new equipment arrived, I hooked up the amplifier, ran the coax, took the Buddistick down and put the Ultimax up.
The hardest part of preparing my permanent station was trying to figure out how to get the antenna wire up into the tree. Finally, I took a small bag and put rocks in it, tied a string around it and threw it as hard as I could up into the tree. This was in the early morning and I had to try hard not to wake up my neighbors. After a couple of tries, I got it where I wanted it.
I mostly used JT65A and I think I must have been one of the first ZC4 operators who actually used this mode because, after each contact ended, a pileup of stations started calling me. The level of activity became so large that logging became an issue and I had to start using Ham Radio Deluxe’s logging feature to make the logging more efficient. My handwriting was not cutting it!
One day, half of Cyprus lost power for about 4 days from a big explosion near an electric substation in Limassol. We were over 15 miles away, but still heard and felt the explosion. I was on that half of the island that lost power but luckily, being on the British base, I only had to contend with rolling blackouts. This is where my 9 Ah battery came back in to play. I’m glad I kept it charged after giving up portable operating with my bike. Ham radio did not get interrupted during the blackout periods. I just connected my battery and set my rig for low power. When the power returned, I recharged the battery for the next round.
EME — Almost!
During my stay in the ZC4 land, there was a ham from the Netherlands who contacted me about operating EME on 2 meters here in ZC4 land. I was excited about trying that! The plan was to bring all their equipment to ZC4 land around the last week of September. We would get a special call sign as I was told no one had ever operated 2 meter EME from here.
I began researching the project. I sought assistance from 5B land (Cyprus) next door in getting the Netherland folks some accommodations and a few generators to use. They were all excited and ready to assist. Then, the bottom fell out. I found out that 2 meters was not authorized in ZC4 and we had to cancel the plans.
The months passed and finally the day came when I was supposed to leave. I did not tear down my station until a few hours before my departure. I wanted to squeeze in as many contacts as I could because I wasn’t sure when I would be able to return. That was one of the saddest moments for me in ham radio when I had to take down my station. I eventually bit the bullet, packed up everything, and shipped my equipment back home.
Remember my Internet remote station that I mentioned earlier? I was able to still make contacts on it and had no issues during my stay in Cyprus. So, I was able to operate with my home call KF6RCP for a few contacts while I was gone and also from my London hotel room both going and returning.
In summary, it was a great experience to operate in a semi-rare entity. It was good being able to help out fellow DX chasers who needed the ZC4 prefix in their logs. I worked SSB, PSK, RTTY, and SSTV from 10-80 meters. I participated in over 10 contests and won a few awards. I had over 5000 contacts, covering 116 DXCC entities. My longest distance was 16,355 km and all my contacts used a maximum of 45 W. I also made contacts with some of our Army troops who were stationed in Afghanistan. I hope my story has given you a feel for how it is to operate from a DX entity. On my next trip back to ZC4 land, I hope to work some of you.
Back in California, I’m still receiving QSL cards by the hundreds and am still working on answering them (now I know why there are QSL managers). If you worked me on Cyprus and have sent me a QSL card but have not received my card (see Figure 4) back, let me know. I am still working on answering a few hundred cards as I write this article. Thanks for the patience!
Until next DXpedition, 73!
All photos by the author.
Michael V. Sangria, AG6IP, an ARRL member, was first licensed as KF6RCP at age 26 as a Technician in May 1998. He received his General class license in Aug 2009 in Seoul, Republic of Korea and received is Amateur Extra Class license Jan 21, 2012. He earned a bachelor degree in electrical engineering in the Philippines in 1997. He has operated ham radio in South Korea (HL2/KF6RCP), the SBA area of Cyprus (ZC4MIS), and the Philippines (DY1/KF6RCP). Currently, he is in the US military stationed in California and is an aircraft electrical and environmental systems craftsman. He is mostly active on RTTY, JT65A and PSK31. He can be reached at 1738 Hicks Ave, Olivehurst, CA 95961, AG6IP@arrl.net