Friday, September 5, 2014

Thanks for the QSOs and great pile ups everyone

I was too excited to sleep so on Tuesday it was an early 5:00am wake up at the hotel in Darwin. My wife and monster in law dropped me off for the charter flight at 8:30am. It was a twin engine propeller plane that could fit 12 people so it was quite a big plane really especially as the pilot and I were the only two on the plane. It was pretty cool skimming over the trees to land on the red dirt airstrip and trying to stop the plane just in time before reaching the water of the mangroves. 

Little airline with little airplanes

Loading VERY precious cargo

And I'm off to Bathurst Island

Then from the airstrip I was met by the staff member of Tiwi Island Adventures and we went by tinny boat to Bathurst Island Lodge – my DXpedition HQ for the next 4 days.

Airport lounge

Arrived at the dirt airstrip, now off to the jetty to go in the tinny boat

Boat transfer from airstrip to the lodge

The previous group of sports fishermen were leaving the lodge with big smiles on their faces after a successful week of catches but I was hoping to ‘catch and release’ 1000 amateur radio operators per day. All staff were leaving the island as well as it was time for them to have 4 rostered days off. However 2 staff stayed to have their rostered days off at the lodge, this was the only way I was able to have permission for this DXpedition to occur. It just meant that I had to do all of my food preparation but the staff had left some great steak and barramundi to sustain me over the next 4 days. It was good piece of mind knowing I had a couple of the staff to be there in case of injury, out of control bush fires, power problems, etc. The best thing about this situation was that I had the beautiful tropical beach front all to myself.

Bathurst Island Lodge - DXPEDITION HQ

 I set up the station in one of the fisherman guest rooms. It had a beautiful view out to the beach and the room was only 20m to the high tide mark. So after unpacking everything and connecting the station it was antenna time. This is always my least favourite and most stressful time of a DXpedition. It was very harsh conditions with 33C temperature, high humidity and very strong winds blowing the fine white sand everywhere. Even though I had the two 12m Spiderbeam poles, I was hoping instead to have vertical diploes taped to rope and hang from the trees instead. This would mean I could operate late in to the night on the last day and spend less time packing up and carefully cleaning the Spiderbeam poles at pack up time to avoid sand in the telescoping poles. I had to be ready in time on Saturday morning for my 830am departure from the lodge.   

After seeing the prime location of the trees and coconut palms located at the high tide mark of the beach I decided to get the vertical dipoles in the trees with the EZY HANG sling shot. I could get the thin slingshot line easily into the trees but the really strong winds blew the slingshot line into the branches and so Murphy was enjoying seeing me struggle with tangled and constantly snapping lines. It took ages and ages to get the 20m vertical dipole installed in the harsh environmental conditions and I was having SWR problems with the damn thing so that I could only use 200W instead of 400W on 20m. In contrast the 15m and 17m vertical dipoles went up reasonably well in a coconut palm.  

20m vertical dipole 

17m and 15m vertical dipoles (beach at low tide)

watch out for falling coconuts when putting up the verticals

It was now 3:30pm or 0600 UTC and I needed a shower and I wanted to get on the air in time for the 20m long path opening into Europe. So I didn’t worry about putting up vertical dipoles for 10m or 12m as these were low priority.

It was 0630 UTC and after a couple of CQs a nice pile up resulted after a cluster spot from K6VVA who was waiting for me and got me straight away. This time of day wasn’t very productive but it was a good 2 hour warm up for the piles up to come later. After a 15m run of JA’s it was 1000 UTC (7:00pm local time), so I had a 15 minute dinner break and settled in for my mission to work North Americans on 20m in time for east coast sunrise. Well this was one of the most enjoyable runs I’ve ever had with lots of W/VE’s getting into the log. It was great to work Cezar VE3LYC and then a little later Bob KD1CT who will be part of our VK6ISL OC-294 team a couple of weeks later.

There were lots of familiar W/VE calls of IOTA hunters that made it into the log which was fantastic. The band was also open to JA and Europe at the same time, so I’m sure it was frustrating to them. The majority of stations complied with my calls for ‘North and South America’ only especially as I made sure that if I didn’t get any North or South American replies after a few calls then I would listen again for anyone anywhere. That routine seemed to keep all logical and reasonably minded hams happy. Being the first night of operation it was very hectic and signals from the European big guns were loud but so was North America and it was surprising to have W and VE stations cal me as late as 1700 UTC. At 1845 UTC or 4:15am local time I went QRT as the European pile up fizzled away and I’d been awake for 23 hours so I collapsed into bed with a smile on my face having worked 1169 QSOs in 12 hours and 20% were from North or South America.

So now its day 2 and after 4 hours sleep I toured around 20m and 15m over the following 3 hours with little more than JA and not much from North or South America, but I’m sure those guys worked were happy I was around. For lunch it was great to eat local barramundi washed down with a couple of beers looking out at the vertical dipoles on the beautiful beach. After reflecting on last night’s pile up I thought to myself that life doesn’t get much better than this.

I ventured onto 15m around 0530 UTC (3pm local) and during the Asian pile up noticed some European big guns popping through the JA’s. So I tried to make it easier for them by going to 20m but it wasn’t great and I made a mistake here and should have stayed on 15m, oh well live and learn. I then tried 17m and had a big JA pile up but nothing from Europe. These poor conditions on the long path to Europe continued for the whole trip but the ridiculously good short path openings clearly made up for that.

operating post

view out to beach from operating position

view out to beach from operating position - including blatantly obvious sponsor product placement :)

After the previous days success to North America I went to 20m a little earlier at 0915 UTC and that’s where I stayed for the next 11 hours!!!!! Conditions to W/VE weren’t as busy compared to the previous night, instead of a big pile up there was a slow but steady trickle and I didn’t need to call for “North America only” much because it seemed too early for propagation to Europe. I only needed to do it when the JA pile ups became large and I wanted to keep checking for W/VE’s. I only ended up making half of the North/South American QSOs compared to the previous night. It was then just a matter of time before the rising tide of European callers became a tsunami and by 1300 UTC the banks had broken and I eventually needed to call up 5-10 to make it manageable. The previous day the band closed at 1845 UTC but at this time today I was still calling 5-10 up!! I was so sleep deprived that maybe I was hallucinating and hearing things, but no it was real. The final QSO occurred at 2040 UTC or 6:10am local time, just as the red and purple sunrise gave a magical back drop to the vertical dipoles in the palm trees on the beach. After being up for 23 hours the previous day, I had now been awake for 21 hours today, despite the horrible sleep deprivation and fatigue, it was sensational to have made 1312 QSOs today.       

short path Europe and South East Asia

Short path JA

Short path North America

Its day 3 and by now I really needed sleep so after going to bed at 6:30am I woke up at 11:30am and I put up the 10m vertical dipole antenna. There was an amazing sighting of a monster 5m (15 foot) long crocodile in the water swimming very close to the shore past the antennas, this crocodile was massive. I saw a really big crocodile slide just slightly down the beach 60m down from the antenna site where obviously he was there the night before, hmmmmm, fair to say that I wouldn’t be adjusting antennas at night! So I then had a shower and lunch and had a lay down to rest up for the 0600 UTC (3:30pm local) start. 20m wasn’t great and things were quite slow until a big JA run on 10m at 0800 UTC but nothing heard from Europe. I was hoping for a 20m resurgence to North and South America at 1000 UTC but conditions to this part of the world seemed even worse but I decided to stick with it and keep calling despite the low rate. I thought I was doing OK with North America as I was having QSOs with US generals saying I was their first ever VK contact and how excited they were. Looking for North America at 1000-1230 was like pulling teeth and getting ridiculous because by 1200 UTC only JA/UA9 were getting into the log. So I thought I’d give 17m a try at 1230 UTC and this resulted in a pile up to JA and Europe after only a couple of CQ calls. After an hour of this pile up I was concerned that a very high percentage of them were with people that I’d worked on 20m over the past 2 nights so at 1330 UTC I went back to call CQ North America on 20m. A few W/VE’s were VERY slowly getting into the log and during times when I was calling and calling and calling with no response, I'd get calls from USA stations I'd worked before to say keep going as my signal was good or loud at their QTH. At one time I remember having a chat with Kevin N0CWR who called after hearing my endless CQing to reassure me that I was a genuine S9 and loud there and he couldn't understand why more people weren't calling. The annoying thing was that I had virtually zero noise levels and so even threshold audio was possible to get into my log. Mind you at this time it was pretty cool that the RI0X DXpedition to AS-064 called me to get in the log, how weird is that. The signals from Europe started to build by 1400 UTC and continued through to 1900 UTC and so it was another late bedtime at 4:30am. In that last run it was great to get the remaining member of our VK6ISL OC-294 team in the log Johan PA3EXX.

all 4 vertical dipoles for 20m, 17m, 15m and 10m

sunrise at VKCE/8 after 20m closed to Europe at the amazingly late time of 2040 UTC

The final day of operation arrives. I had to have the station packed up and ready for departure from Bathurst Island Lodge at 8:30am the next day. The past 3 days of operation showed the trend of QSO rates being most productive in the 0900-1800 UTC period which is 6:30pm-3:30am local time. This meant I would only have 4½ hours to sleep and pack up the station and antennas. So on Friday morning I tidied up the station as much as possible. I decided to leave up all four antenna to maximise whichever band would be open.

The daytime routine continued much the same as the previous three days. At 1000 UTC I didn’t worry about 20m and instead tried 17m and had a good JA and Europe pile up. I was on 20m from 1200 to 1350 for W/VE but that only yielded 27 W/VE's and so I switched to 17m and had monster European pile ups until 1730 UTC QRT.  All in all a fantastic experience at a beautiful remote location. I then packed up the gear inside and decided not to dismantle the antennas at night due to our big crocodile friend. At 1800 UTC or 4:30am I went to bed and had to wake up again in 2 ½ hours to pack up the antennas in time for 8:30am departure.

DXer selfie 

The final results:

4262 QSOs in 84 hours (all SSB)

2259     (53.0%)   Europe                  
1374     (32.2%)   Asia                   
  519     (12.2%)   North and South America            
  107       (2.5%)   Oceania                  
    12        (<1%)   Africa                   

2682     (62.9%)    20m    
1013     (23.8%)    17m    
  464     (10.9%)    15m    
  103       (2.4%)    10m   

VK5CE/8 QSL card to be printed

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