Monday, September 24, 2012

Summary of the DXpedition

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

First day of operation – things not looking good (196 QSOs)

There was a last minute change to the trip with my wife getting a job just a couple of weeks before my departure. So rather than her coming with me like on both Magnetic Island or the Fitzroy Island DXpeditions, instead I would be going by myself like on Horn Island. I woke up in Nhulunbuy on the East Arnhem coast mainland to find very wet and windy weather which meant we couldn’t leave as early as I had hoped. In addition to this there was some outboard motor problems with the small tinny boat that took us from the beach to the main boat. This would now put me in a position of probably not getting on the air with the Spiderbeam and ending up with very few QSO’s in the log. We finally got away in the early afternoon and took the one hour boat ride over to the island in pretty rough seas. It was worse taking the gear from the boat on the aluminium tinny boat onto the beach and I was nervous about losing gear over the side of the boat which would have ended up in disaster with 0 QSOs. Mind you they were not quite as bad as Clipperton though J

With the rough waves I smashed my toe on one of the trips and when unloading gear onto the beach I looked down to see a sand covered foot dripping with blood. Hmm, good start. With the extreme heat and humidity it was a draining and exhausting effort carrying the power supplies, coax, Spiderbeam, mast, food, diesel fuel, etc up the sand dune to Banubanu and the shack. With the pain of my foot and exhaustion, each I just kept saying to myself “think of the QSO’s”, “think of the pile ups” and “all this pain will be worth it”.

Due to the late hour of arrival and with the weather worsening I was only able to put up a 12m vertical dipole. By 0721 UTC (4:51pm local) was able to call CQ and after two calls had my first one in the log. From 0721-0921 there was a nice run of 200 QSO’s into Asia but I was suffering from a faulty push-to-talk button on the microphone that kept getting stuck in the on position. So this made people in the pile ups probably quite puzzled and frustrated at times. There was a couple of Europeans and Middle Eastern stations appearing in the JA pile up but then the band died very suddenly.

Things aren’t going well. At the end of day 1 only 200 QSO’s are in the log. The radio’s microphone could possibly be damaged and there is a big problem trying to find a suitable location for the antenna as the shack has thick vegetation for at least 50m around the shack and the only clearance to put the antenna near the beach may be too far away for the amount of coax that I have. So I went to bed not knowing if this DXpedition would be a success.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

 Day 2 – The Spiderbeam is up in the air – over a 1000 QSO’s today


I woke up feeling rather dejected after the first day’s failure. Fortunately the skies had cleared and even though it was still really hot and humid, at least the wind had died down and there was no rain. I grabbed the coax and started unrolling it through the bushes, trees and angry little biting green ants towards the beach and prayed that the coax would take me to the clearing so that I could put up the Spiderbeam. Fortunately I had sent up more coax than I thought and there was a good spot clear of any trees or bushes. Big relief!!! There was no internet on the island and just enough coverage on the phone for one bar to show if you walk to the top of a big sand dune. It was 0100 UTC on day 2 and my only activity was 2 hours on 12m some 16 hours ago. So I figured I should trek up to the top of the big sand dune and give people an update on DX summit to say that there was bad weather and I’d be on the air later in the day. It’s funny how us as DXers really want and expect internet updates from DXpeditions these days, no matter how hard it is to do. So with that I got to work.

For the next couple of hours I managed to have the Spiderbeam up in the air with 3 elements on 20, 2 on 17, 3 on 15 and 4 on 10m. To my huge relief there was good SWR on each band – phew, didn’t feel like lowering and lifting the mast and tinkering with it after such a terrible day yesterday. After a shower and quick lunch I was fresh and ready to go. I went on the air on 20m long path to Europe at 0400 UTC and there was a steady number of QSO’s into. While I was pleased to be working the first QSO’s into Europe I was constantly worried about the PTT button failing again. To my delight it worked fine and after five solid hours on 20m/17m QSOs into Europe and Asia with some North America I could enjoy the pile ups.

After a short dinner break, at 1030 UTC I was enjoying a great run into Europe on 17m short path. As it approached 1200 UTC I knew that I would need to try North America on 20m short path. So I had to make the tough decision to cut short a European pile up and QSY to 14 MHz. This resulted in a great 90 minute run into USA and so this was wonderful. I knew that Europeans were going to be easy because they were calling and were very strong off the side of the beam but I was only working the America’s and eventually people knew that I wasn’t going to make exceptions and so the pile up behaviour was quite good. Then at 1330 UTC I went down to the beach, turned the beam to Europe and continued until 1700. As I went to bed at 2:30am I had a huge smile on my face. On day 1 after the disappointment of only 200 QSO’s on 12m in 2 hours of operation, not having the Spiderbeam up and the possibility of a faulty microphone, just one day onwards I had the big antenna up, no radio problems and 1000 QSO’s in the log for that day during 0400-1700. PHEW!!!!!!!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Day 3 – The good times roll on with 1190 QSO’s for today

After 5 hours sleep and a quick breakfast I was on the air looking for North America on 15m. It was a pleasant and steady start to the day for a couple of hours with a slow steady trail of JA and NA. Certainly not as crazy as the pile up I had to Europe but it was still enjoyable. I took the opportunity for a couple of hours sleep before lunch. After being refreshed I was desperate to jump in the operating chair and do it all over again. At 0500 UTC 20m was open on the long path to Europe for 2.5 hours with the occasional USA and Latin American log. When the band died down it followed with a 30 minute stint on 17m but things weren’t great. I ventured onto 15m short path to Asia/Europe at 0830 for 30 minutes before dinner to hand out some Asian QSO’s.

After a lovely meal with our hosts it was time to get back to work again on 15m SSB at 1000 UTC. What followed was 7 hours of over 100 QSO’s per hour operating. I spent 1000-1200 UTC short path Europe and had to be disciplined enough yet again to walk away from an even bigger European pile up to go to 20m short path North America. I’m glad I did as there was a great run to that part of the world. Rates were a little slower as I had to call for “North America only” after each QSO and be strict and not let in any European or Asian stations in order to maintain the discipline of the pile up and ensure this more difficult part of the world to work is maximised during ideal openings. Much to Europe’s happiness, after exploring this one hour window, I went back to 15m to work them. I was tempted to simply turn the beam to short path Europe on 20m like the previous evening, but the 15m signals were really good and I thought I’d stay on 15m until the band should close at say 1400 UTC like it did on Horn Island. To my ridiculous amazement, the band kept going and going until the last log at 1717 UTC!!! This was when 20m closed the previous night. I was exhausted but very happy after another 1000+ QSO day. I went to bed thinking that this DXpedition was turning into a success.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Day 4 – Bad propagation on a Saturday but still 718 QSO’s in the log

The lack of sleep, oppressive heat, stifling humidity and the huge concentration to handle monstrous late night pile ups were starting to take its toll. After breakfast I jumped on the radio at 0000 UTC and worked a mainly JA run with not much North America. So at 0100 UTC I made the best use of my time by catching up on a few  hours sleep. At 0400 I jumped on 10m and thought there may be some JA activity being noon on a Saturday and had fun there for a half an hour before everyone on that band was worked and so it was time for lunch. Conditions were not that great this day and 20m long path to Europe was not too good. So by 0700 UTC I was looking short path JA/Europe on 15m with over 270 QSO’s made over the following two hours. At 0900 UTC despite the good conditions, I was asked to attend a local feast being offered by the hosts with visitors arriving by boat to the island to attend. Even though it meant I was not making QSOs for a couple of hours, with 2900 QSO’s in the bank and with this evening and two more full days of operating to go I figured I could take time out to enjoy the festivities. We all enjoyed a feast of fish caught that day, cooked to perfection with all assortments of fine foods, wonderful wines and good company as I tried to explain what the giant clothesline (aka Spiderbeam) was doing on the beach. In between beers I gave people a crash course on ham radio, DXpeditioning and the IOTA program. I went on the radio again at 1130 UTC short path to North America, for 1 hour I made just 43 W/VE QSO’s and so it was really slow going despite reports from the guys saying my signal was strong. For the next 5 hours I jumped between 15m, 17m and 20m with slow runs to Europe until I gave up and went QRT at 1530 UTC.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Day 5 – Best ever QSO haul for any of my IOTA trips – 1428 QSO’s

As per usual I spent the morning on 15m beaming to North America working a mix of JA/W/VE and South America. There were plenty of JA’s on air with it being a Sunday and the fun finally stopped at 0230 UTC just in time for a midday snooze and lunch. By 0500 UTC I was relieved to see conditions were again very good as opposed to Saturday’s average propagation. Despite a very busy 120 QSO’s in one hour, the band quickly died just before 0700 UTC which didn’t bother me as I was keen to make the most of 15m into Asia on a Sunday afternoon. There was a great run into JA for a couple of hours and then I grabbed a quick dinner which meant I was only off the radio for 20 minutes. When I returned at 0930 UTC the band was opening nicely into Europe. The long and late 15m band openings continued to dazzle my mind. At the end of the chaos and in the aftermath, from 0700 to 1730 UTC this 10½ hours stint resulted in 1100 QSOs and overall I’d enjoyed my best ever haul QSO’s for a DXpedition in a day – 1428 !!!!!!! I smiled to myself as my head hit the pillow, in one day of operation on Bremer these 1428 QSO’s was more than my entire first OC-171 DXpedition to Magnetic Island of 1115 QSO’s over a long weekend.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Day 6 – 556 QSO’s in the log before going QRT – best ever IOTA trip

I decided to sleep in a little after my record haul knowing that I’d surpassed my previous best IOTA DXpedition QSO tally of 3925 QSOs at Horn Island. There was some packing up to do as I was going on the boat back to the mainland early on the next morning. So after lunch I sat down for my last session on the island. It was 20m long path to Europe at 0500 UTC and conditions were good with a number of North and South American’s getting into the log as well as the majority of Europeans. From 0700 I jumped on the money band – 15m short path to EU. Despite this being my 5th night the pile ups were still very very big into Europe. I had to go QRT after 7 hours and I needed to start packing the equipment in the shack up at midnight local time. The band was still wide open with hundreds of people calling. As I was packing up I thought to myself that 6 days of operation was clearly not enough to satisfy the European demand.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Departure Day – 5149 QSO’s


Despite going to bed at 1am I needed to wake up a couple of hours before sunrise. There was no way that I was going to pull down the antennas in the heat of the morning with bright sunshine burning down on me. So in the morning darkness I was rolling up coax with the sand crabs keeping me company. By the time the first rays of sunshine starting beaming over the sand dune I had managed to tear down the Spiderbeam. In my haste to cut large cable ties on the main mast I inadvertently cut my thumb with scissors very badly, enough to even cut the nail. Blood flowed heavily and I had trouble stopping the bleeding. This certainly slowed down the packing up process as I had to have a hand towel wrapped around my hand to control blood loss.

No facilities for stiches, just bandages and electrical tape!!!! At least I had my accident one hour before departure, it was a nice “bookend” injury to my smashed bleeding toe within the first hour after arrival! The boat journey back to journey was pleasant with great weather. The gear arrived safely and I could relax in the Walkabout Hotel to recover and reflect on a wonderful DXpedition.

As always, after a DXpedition my thoughts turn to the next one. However before that it’s my wife’s turn to pick a holiday. Seeing as though she was working in her new job as I was making QSO’s, this will be a non-radio trip! So we’ll enjoy a visit to Abu Dhabi and Dubai followed by a Singapore-Malaysia-Thailand cruise. But as always, I can’t help but think of the next one ...........................

Band                          QSO’s           

15m                            2968   57.6%
20m                            1593   31.0%
17m                              303     5.9%
12m                              197     3.8%
10m                                88      1.7%
Total                           5149

Mode                          QSO's

SSB                            5130   99.6%
PSK31                           19      0.4%

Continent                 QSO’s

Europe                       3082   59.9%
Asia                           1458    28.3%
North America            371      7.2%
Oceania                      201       3.0%
Africa                             22       0.4%
South America             15       0.3%

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

QSLing started

Hi everyone

I'm currently in the middle of moving/renovating house. I'm receiving around 100-120 direct cards per week and I've started replying. My very understanding wife understands that Monday and Tuesday night after work is set aside for QSLing instead of renovating or unpacking boxes!

I'm keen to do the write up of this DXpedition but that just has to wait as I figured people would like to receive their QSL card before ready the story of VK8BI :)

73s de Craig VK8BI/VK5CE

Monday, April 23, 2012

Now QRT with 5149 QSOs in the log

Hi everyone after a very tiring, hot, humid and demanding DXpedition in the tropics I am back on the mainland. Due to bad weather we were delayed on Wednesday the 18th and landed late in the day and so there was no time to put up the Spiderbeam yagi for 10m-15m-17m-20m. The weather was bad but I was able to quickly string up the 12m Spiderbeam fibreglass pole next to my hut and put the 24 MHz vertical dipole up before it got dark and worked 200 stations before 12m closed. So instead of 6 it was only a 5 day operation and so I'm pleased with the 5149 QSOs with a single person effort. Much more than my previous highest DXpedition QSO total of 3925 QSOs as VK4LDX/P on Horn Island OC-138 done last year.

I'll do a day by day write up on the blog over the next week or so.

This afternoon now that I'm back on the mainland I've noticed people sending emails to me during the DXpedition but please understand I had no internet access on the island that would enable me to look at emails. On a few occasions during the day I would walk up a big sand dune in the oppressive heat and humidity of the tropics and get 'one bar'of mobile phone reception to send a spot on the cluster but the phone reception was sporadic and unreliable at best, I wasn't even able to SMS my wife to say I had arrived safely on the island until the second day. Today on the phone she said she knew I was OK as I showed her how to monitor VK8BI on the DX cluster - hi hi! So for those who were emailing me, please understand that Bremer Island is remote with no electricity or mobile phone coverage, it's barely on the fringe of the mainland network.

Conditions were spectacular to Europe in the evening but I spent lots of time looking for North America with only moderate success. On four evenings I left and QSY'd in the middle on monster pile ups to Europe on 15m or 17m (I'm sure much to their disappointment and annoyance) and went to 20m calling CQ to North America only without much luck, it was good on only 2 out of four evenings and only lasted 60-90 minutes (I'm sure much to their disappointment and annoyance). I was beaming to North America on 15m in the 2300-0100 UTC period and calling CQ with only a small number of QSOs to North America. So I was trying for North America during the likely times/bands but that's just conditions unfortunately. Anyway as I said I'll do a day by day account my adventure on the blog site soon including my highs, lows, successes, failures and so forth of each day.

73's de Craig VK8BI ................need sleep...........................

Monday, April 16, 2012

Arrived in Gove. Next stop Bremer Island.

I’ve arrived in Gove (Nhulunbuy) in East Arnhem Land which is the town that I depart to take the boat to Bremer Island. Before I was an amateur radio operator I worked in Gove for a few years so I’m familiar with this crazy remote part of Australia. This certainly helped in the preparations for this trip as I knew what services were and weren’t here. All of my equipment including the 10m Spiderbeam aluminium mast, linear amplifier and 12m fibreglass Spiderbeam pole (for the 12m vertical dipole) that I sent last month has arrived. The Icom IC706MKIIG, 2 power supplies, computer and headphones were taken as carry on baggage. The checked in baggage included the Spiderbeam tribander.

So I’m ready to depart the island tomorrow morning. Hope to work you on the air for a new IOTA. If you have any questions I’ll be checking my emails at until around 2200 UTC Tuesday (7:30am Wednesday local time).

Sunday, April 15, 2012

VK8BI operating schedule......not long to go now!

I’ve spoken to the boat operators and I should arrive on Bremer Island on Wednesday April 18 around 0300 UTC or 12:30pm local time. I’ll spend the afternoon setting up the 12m vertical dipole, 10m-15m-17m-20m Spiderbeam yagi, generator and radio equipment in the hut and familiarising myself with the island.

I’m aiming for the operation to be in full swing at 1000 UTC where I’ll be beaming short path North America on 14260 kHz (+/- QRM).

As I’ll be using a 12m vertical dipole for the first time you may find me calling CQ before 1000 UTC on 12m 24960 kHz using the vertical to see what propagation is like to Asia, Europe and Africa. I know what to expect on 10m, 15m and 20m from previous IOTA DXpeditions. This is the first time I’ll be using the 12m vertical dipole so I’m keen to see how it performs.

So don’t worry I’m not ‘starting’ the DXpedition on a WARC band which would be odd because not all people have access to 12m and everyone’s best antennas are usually for 10m/15m/20m. I’m just looking there first to test band conditions to Europe and Asia so that I can plan my choice of operating bands for the Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday afternoons.

I’ll probably do a similar thing and check out 12m and 17m short path to the America’s on my first morning at 2200 UTC to see what conditions are like. I’d say over the five mornings in the period 2200-0300 UTC that I’ll be spending 75% of my time on 15m, but I’ll try 12m and 17m on the first morning just in case they prove productive.

Remember I DO NOT have internet access at my operating position so please don’t send requests on the DX cluster when I’m operating. I’ve had to adjust my operating frequencies a little to ensure I keep away from the Spratly 9M0L DXpedition announced frequencies on their site.

A fellow IOTA chaser Mike VE3VHB has let me know that 14260 is a bad frequency for North America due to net activity in their mornings. So in the 1200-1400 UTC period look for me between 14220 to 14260 in case there is bad QRM on 14260.

Operating schedule Wednesday April 18 (frequencies are +/- QRM):

0300 to 0600 UTC – Arrive on Bremer Island and set up station.

0600 to 1000 UTC – sometime during this period there will be operation on 24960 on the vertical antenna to test conditions to Asia, Europe and Africa. Sometime during this period I’ll have a short break for an evening meal and do final checks on the generator. It may take longer to set up the antennas depending on the weather, people available to assist me, etc. But I do hope to be calling CQ on 24960 +/- QRM by 0600 UTC or 0700 UTC at the latest before things get into full swing at 1000 UTC.

1000 to 1400 UTC    – 14220 to 14260 (short path North America)

1400 to 1700 UTC    – 14260 (short path Europe/Asia)

1700 to 2200 UTC    – break for sleep, breakfast, generator check, etc

2200 to 0000 UTC    – 18150, 21260 (or 21290*), 24960 or 28460 (short path North America)
    * to take into consideration US Generals

Operating schedule Thu April 18 to Mon April 23 (frequencies are +/- QRM):

0000 to 0300 UTC    – 18150, 21260 (or 21290*), 24960 or 28460 (short path North America)
    * to take into consideration US Generals

0300 to 0500 UTC    – break for lunch, generator check, etc

0500 to 0900 UTC    – 14260 or 18150 (long path Europe) or

                                    – 18150, 21260, 24960 or 28460 (short path Europe/Asia)

0900 to 1200 UTC    – 18150, 21260, 24960 or 28460 (short path Europe/Asia)

1200 to 1400 UTC    – 14220 to 14260 (short path North America) or

                                        14260 or 18150 (short path Europe/Asia)
                                         (only if there is no propagation to North America)

1400 to 1700 UTC    – 14260 (short path Europe/Asia)

1700 to 2200 UTC    – break for sleep, breakfast, generator check, etc

2200 to 0000 UTC    – 18150, 21260 (or 21290*), 24960 or 28460 (short path North America)
    * to take into consideration US Generals

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Latest update on preparations

Hi Everyone

All of the equipment that I can’t fit on the plane has been sent to Gove ready to meet me for the boat ride over to the Island. I’ve been in touch with my Gove contact and the people on Bremer Island and everything is going to plan thus far.

There is no reliable internet connection on Bremer Island and so I won’t be doing any log uploads. Apparently there are spots on the beach where I may get mobile phone coverage which means during daylight hours I may be able to do the occasional announcements or spots on DXSummit and then I’ll walk back to my operating position. So it’s best to assume that I’ll have no internet connection and I definitely won’t have access to internet in my shack so please don’t send requests to me on the DX cluster while I’m operating as you’ll be just wasting your time.

Operating frequencies will be (+/- QRM):

21260 *

* In the 2100-0300 UTC period I‘ll try and be anywhere between 21270 and 21300 and listening up 5 to take into consideration the US Generals.

I know as an IOTA chaser myself I only worry about working a DXpedition once just to get the IOTA number. I might work them on a second band in case I wasn’t 100% confident about my first QSO. I understand that with the IOTA DX Marathon that you need up to three bands logged per island. Considering that OC-185 was last activated in 2004 and before that in 1999, we can assume that this will be the only OC-185 DXpedition for the DX Marathon period.

So I’m expecting many people will be trying to log me on three different bands which mean those operators with low power and modest antennas screaming into a pile up to get their first QSO can get very frustrated and disheartened.  Please rest assured I’ll be on 10m, 12m, 15m, 17m and 20m as often as possible (up to 16 hours per day) as per the schedule in an earlier blog posting.

Just before I go to the island I’ll put a blog up saying my schedule for the first evening on Wednesday April 18 and I’ll confirm my operating schedule for the rest of the week to assist you in finding me.

Thanks, Craig