Friday, August 23, 2013

Day 1 Thursday August 15 – And we’re off and running

There are only two residents on Flinders Island and so everything had to be taken to the island. On departure day from Port Lincoln I was fortunate to be blessed with blue skies and a mild breeze for the tiny little single engine 2 seater plane flight north west to Flinders Island. It’s normally a four seater plane but the pilot had to remove the seats in order to fit in all of the DXpedition gear. It was pretty funny landing as there is no airstrip, it’s just the flattest paddock they have where the sheep keep the grass low. The plane has to buzz past the paddock at low levels to scare the sheep into one corner of the pasture so the plane can land. 

I was greeted by the 2 island residents who took the opportunity to depart from the island for a few days and so for day 1 to day 6 I was all by myself on the island. While I had blue skies it was quite windy which as you can imagine makes erecting a 12m long Spiderbeam fibreglass pole for the 20m vertical dipole an interesting experience. The antenna was put right on the beach with the guy rope anchors just a few metres from the high tide mark. At this point it was nothing but saltwater on the short path to North America and long path to Europe. The vertical dipole was finished by 0500 UTC. I then quickly put together the HF9V had a shower and was on the air by 0600 UTC (3:30pm local time).

It just took a few calls on 20m before I1JHS went into the log and then the expected bedlam and chaos broke loose for the next 3½ hours until the band closed. There were forecasts of doom and gloom for propagation to North America and so I was constantly holding the Europeans up for a few minutes every 15 minutes to listen out for North America. This did slow the rate and I’m sure it frustrated the Europeans to have to wait during their peak propagation time in the first hours of my operation! Despite this everyone was respectful and waited while I would squeeze out a few North America contacts.

Fortunately a few North Americans were around but the nice surprise was how long 20m long path was holding on, at home it’s finished by 0800 UTC but signals were still good until 0930 UTC well after my local sunset. I was thinking that 40m might be my best bet for North America so I figured I should leave that pile up and try to increase the proportion of W/VE contacts.

When I went to 40m and found a frequency Luke VK3HJ was there so after I logged him he said he’d spot me on the DX Cluster. There were only a handful of weak North Americans that went in the log after 30 minutes along with JA’s and VK’s and so it wasn’t very productive. To make matters worse the SWR on 40m went high. I tried sorting it out but it wasn’t an obvious fix as some other bands were OK such 80m and 30m but 40m just wasn’t happy at all. While stressful I did take a moment to relax and realise that even during the 30 minutes of the antenna working at W/VE East Coast greyline there was little propagation anyway.

So after a wasted 30 minutes from 1000-1030 UTC in the dark I went to 14260 and called CQ. The QSO’s were pretty slow but there was a useful mix of JA with the occasional European or North American. When there was a small run of JA’s I’d also get them to stand by for North America. By 1115 UTC I was calling for North America only and the rate was quite good and they began to roll in. It was great to receive feedback from 3 USA stations to say that I was their first ever VK. That was good to know that the modest station set-ups were getting through. The majority of stations were from the east coast of Canada and USA which was the area I wanted to focus on. By around 1200 UTC I didn’t even have to ask for North America only as they were stronger than Asia and Europe! North Americans were coming in well past 1400 UTC and it wasn’t until my transmit frequency of 14260 kHz all of a sudden became the listening frequency of XZ1A on 14255 that I figured it was best to cut my losses and move higher up the band. This ended my run to North America but it resulted in a couple of hours into Europe until 1645 UTC but my signals were weak.

I was then done, after battling antennas on the beach followed by 10:45 hours of straight SSB operating – I collapsed into bed with 900 QSO’s in the log.

After day 1 the breakdown of QSO’s by region was exactly what I had dreamt of:

35%     North America

49 %    Europe

16%     Asia/Oceania/Rest of the world

This was a great result for North America considering the lack of success I’d had there in the past IOTA DXpeditions. After 5 days on Bremer Island with the same power and the yagi antenna I made just 371 QSO’s into North America (from a total of 5149 QSO’s), after just the first day of operation today there were 315 North American’s in the log with the simple vertical dipole. 

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