ZK1SDE A Dxers Journal 22nd October 2002
It seems incredible that once again I am sitting on a Boeing 747 on another epic adventure. Last year we were disappointed not to be able to activate North Cook Islands so this year we have set ourselves a new task, to try to go to the North Cook Islands and activate Manihiki Island. In 2001 we could not get a flight back from Manihiki Island so despite a determined effort we were not able to pull off the North Cook on our last attempt, this year a friend of mine that was in the Cook Islands helped make enquiries into flights with Air Rarotonga, It really wasn’t very difficult to arrange it is just a case of booking your flights a long time in advance to ensure that you can get there and back when you want otherwise you could end up being stranded for quite a while, ha ha I wish wouldn’t that be fun, problem is I might not have a job to go back to when I get home.
An Unplanned Trip
Anyway originally I had not planned to go on this trip at all as my finances were really in a dire state of affairs, Jed had telephoned me on several occasions to see if I could come but I was sadly not able to join him, then when Jed tried to book his flight from Rarotonga to Manihiki a few months ago he was told that he could only carry 10kgs of luggage on the flight, barely enough to carry personal possessions let alone radio equipment. So Jed had to pay for two seats on the flight to Manihiki, it was at this time I received a telephone call from Jed saying that as he had already paid for the extra seat to Manihiki and would I reconsider going to Manihiki Island. Well its not often on offer like that comes in a lifetime so I accepted and started to make plans for my unexpected journey.
Deciding What Equipment?
Between the two of us we agreed what equipment we should take but with only 20kgs luggage allowance between us the challenge was set to try to make the expedition successful but with the smallest of equipment, As always the trusty Kenwood TS 50 finds itself joining me on another adventure, also an Icom 728, we have two RM 500 amplifiers and 2x 30amp dual switch mode power supply. Jed is already in the Cook Islands as I speak he left Great Britain almost a month ago and has arranged with Victor ZK1CG in Rarotonga to have the Sirio 4 element beam to be sent over by sea to Manihiki ahead of our arrival in a week’s time. As usual on an expedition like this a great deal of forward planning is needed. We already had a Kenwood TS 50 on Aitutaki Island, but the KW amplifier was not working, so extra supplies were needed to be able to carry out the activity. Just as last year the flight from London to Los Angeles an awesome sight was below me, as we flew over the coast of Greenland I could see not only snow covered mountain peeks but the sunset that you only see in magazines. Truly magnificent! Never before had I flown so far in one journey, but arrived in Los Angeles with just 30 minutes before boarding my next flight to Rarotonga, the flight was a further 10 hours, arriving at Rarotonga I had several hours to adjust to Cook Island time but I felt very disorientated and was not sure even what day it was.
Cook Island Time
What happened next just made me realize that I was now in a laid back way of life, my next flight was due to take off at 8am and although my seat had been reserved no money had been paid. The ticket office was due to open at 7am and I really was beginning to worry now it was five minutes to eight when the ticket office opened and I was able to confirm my flight. Why was I worried they certainly were not? A short flight over to Aitutaki and I was met at the runway by my friend Jed, and Queen Tutai Manarangi, what a great surprise and very welcome too after such a long day. After a shower and some moments to gather my disorientated body Jed and I drove to the Samade Bar for a beer and to catch up with the latest news. I had missed the opening to Europe so it was the next morning before I was able to work some friends back home. I had already had permission from the Cook Islands Telecom to transmit as ZK1SDE and just needed to pop into the Telecom office to do the required paperwork and to pay NZ$20 for the licence.
Prepare for North Cook Islands
The first few days were for me a holiday, it wasn’t until Monday 28th that our work was to start for the expedition to Manihiki Island. This morning we were to fly back to Rarotonga to prepare for our trip. Victor ZK1CG was waiting for us at Rarotonga airport with a Radio Ham from Sweden who was here for the WW Ham Contest. We first had a couple of jobs to do before lunch, first to help Victor take down one of the antennas at his home and take to another ham on the Island and put the beam up, then back to Victor’s to prepare our suitcase to go up to Manihiki Atoll. We were pleased that the flight was still on schedule because the last flight a few days ago was cancelled because the supply ship carrying the aviation fuel to Manihiki had not arrived and in fact only arrived the day before we were due to take off. We were relieved as on that supply ship was our antenna systems and cables which had been put on the ship for us by Victor the previous week. Our luggage allowance on the plane was just 10kgs per person but we were really pushing our luck with a suitcase weighing 32 kgs and we still had our hand luggage to prepare to, this was another 18kgs of lap top computers and cameras. We decided it best to check in the luggage the afternoon before we fly to ensure that we could get it all on the plane. With some relief I can tell you we did manage to get everything we needed on the plane even though my only clothes I could pack were a few T-shirts and underwear.
Time to Relax
That afternoon it was nice to relax with a meal in town and to talk about the WW Ham contest that the guys in Rarotonga had been active in. Tuesday 29th arrived quickly and an early morning shower at 4:30am was required as we needed a briefing from Victor about were we were staying and who we would be meeting in Manihiki, what equipment was in the lodge that we were staying. Lots of information to take in, I just hope that I can remember all that was said. Check in at the airport was at 6am and the flight left around one our later, the plane was a tiny 12 seater plane. It’s a real experience to be up in the air in this aircraft, it took 45 minutes to arrive back at Aitutaki Island for refuelling the plane for the next part of the flight, which was about another two and a half hours north of Aitutaki. Our arrival at the airport was one of total confusion. We had planned to stay on the other side of the Island but the Mayor said that he had changed our plans we were now staying in another location, the big problem was that there was no poles to put the antenna on, no generator and worse news was still to come.
Where is the supply ship?
The supply ship with our antennas and cables was still on Rackahanga Island 25 miles away and not due in until late this afternoon. It is unbelievable that all our plans had just been thrown out of the window. We sat down with Paaka Hagai our host and asked for help, we used his telephone to try to sort out all the confusion. I cannot express our feelings right now, just very angry and upset. It was no good we were getting nowhere. I suggested that Jed and I should go for a walk to calm down and just get our bearing on the island; well this is not hard it is only a few hundred yards across. Our challenge was to set up the DXpedition in 4 hours combing the island for materials. Within half an hour we had found a 7 metre pole to mount the antennae, if and when it arrived. It was a good way to meet some of the Islanders and was soon on first name terms with many of them. Then we went to a shop to buy some beer that was one priority that we must get right. We walked for about an hour asking everyone we could see if they had a generator that we could rent for a week, if they had one it was in use. It was back to Paaka Hagai’s home for a drink and another few telephone calls.
As if by Magic the shopkeeper appeared!
As if by magic a man appeared looking at my long wire and said that he had a 2.5 Kw generator we could use until our equipment arrived. Suddenly amidst all the confusion and obstacles put in front of us we could see that our challenge was beginning to take shape. The radio was set up, generator working and hey presto we were active even though it was only with a long wire for 40mts. This was enough to work a few stations in the log in South America and Australia Kamuta the local guy who rented us the generator offered to take Jed over to the other side of the lagoon to the village where the supply ship was to be moored. It was a lot of hanging around waiting for the sailors to unload the cargo, eventually the Antenna and car battery was off loaded but the box containing the co-ax was still on board and we were told we would have to wait until tomorrow.
On Air from North Cook Islands!
By the time Jed and Kamuta returned home it was dark and Jed was exhausted and soaking wet from the trip across the island. The following morning the antenna was put together and prepared for the installation of the mast. The weather here is generally about a few Celsius hotter than the South Islands, the first couple of days have been very hot and very windy too with lots of tropical showers throughout the night. The first afternoon on the radio finished with 296 QSO’s and the band closed early at about 8pm local. Thursday 31st October, Jed and I were both up at 6am, which is when the main generator on the island is switched on. We have main power from 6am until 12 noon and from 6pm until midnight. Thanks to Kamuta we have the 2.5 kw generator from midday until 6pm. It wasn’t until after 7am that we made the first contacts into Europe, the conditions were very frustrating as we could hear lots of noise from people calling us but the signals were below the audible level. We only could make just fewer than 100 contacts to Europe before conditions completely dropped out.
Phew it's so hot!
The wind has dropped today and the temperature is incredibly hot. As the band was very quiet Jed and I took a walk around the island taking in the lovely view of the lagoon on one side and as you cross the island about 300 yards is the Pacific Ocean. We watched some technicians at work on a black pearl farm and visited the village school where the children loved having their photos taken as they studied in the classroom. As we returned the band was opening to South America and we were able to log many more stations. By now the supply ship had unloaded its cargo to Manihiki and soon left as the islanders went about their business of stocking their homes with the month’s supply of food and goods. The island is incredibly expensive for the Manihiki residents, the wages are very low and goods are equal in price to Europe so the people here are quite poor. Their homes are very basic and are of just wooden construction, and most certainly could not withstand the pacific hurricanes. Just 6 years ago Manihiki Island was struck by a tidal wave from a hurricane which killed 18 people here. Despite the basic living of the Island everyone wants to talk to us and say hello and all the islanders seem really friendly and have welcomed us into their lives. By evening at last we had a good opening to Europe mostly Italia and Poland Via long path over the South Pole; it was great at last we can work a real pile up. I was really suffering at this moment as I had been bitten badly on my legs by mosquitoes and was in some pain. Friday 1st November, again just like last night good conditions to Europe for about 2 hours, but then we had a day of very poor conditions only the big guns could make it through.
Europe openings few
It is now Sunday November 3rd and the radio is very quiet, the opening to Europe did not occur long path last night, and was only open to Italy and Spain this morning for 20 minutes, since early this morning the radio has just been monitoring as few signals could be heard. For all the help that Kamuta had given us, Jed will be leaving him a truck battery, which we shipped across to power the amplifier. We also rigged up a wire antenna for Kamuta as he has a few 11metre radios that he wants to use when he is out fishing in his boat so that in case of an emergency he can contact his friends on the Islands. Our hosts Paaka and his wife Yvonne have also been great, cooking us 3 good meals each day, Yvonne really is a wonderful cook. It is just so hot today, the sweat just pours of us and there is not a lot else to do other than watch the sea and wait for the propagation to open up once again.
A secret Place in the Pacific
This place is a secret, and truly I am overwhelmed by all that have seen. The sun has set and risen again with no European conditions we have just one day left on Manihiki Island we hope that we can add a few more contacts on to the log. One of the local pearl farmers asked me for help in contacting the coastguard so that they could get a weather report; it is now the hurricane season here. Thanks to some hams in the USA we were able to get the latest hurricane report from Hawaii and luckily Hurricane Kuna was someway to the north of us tracking west. Conditions never did open up again to Europe so the log was closed at 0810 hrs local time on 5th November with 2500 QSO’s to 70+ DXCC. The equipment was quickly packed away as we made our way to the tiny runway to wait for the plane to take us out. Once again we were carrying close to 50kgs of equipment and only just managed to get it all on the plane although once again had to pay excess baggage costs. The flight back to Rarotonga was 3 and a half hours and waiting for us was Victor at the other end. With my feet still swollen from the mosquito bites, I decided to go to the pharmacist to get some medical advice; I hope it will heel pretty soon as now I am having difficulty to walk. The flight back to the UK took another 25 hours of flights over a day and a half flying to get home. Just to fly from Rarotonga – Manihiki Atoll has cost a staggering US$1,600, also costs to hire generator US$55, boat hire to get equipment from supply ship, US$55, Accommodation US$400, other costs US$160. Remember this is only the costing from Rarotonga to Manihiki Island. Total US$2,770. The cost of flights from Europe and other expenses US$4,800 just for two people a total of US$7,570.
Back with ZK1CG Victor.
Once at Victor’s home I again spent several hours on the radio surprise surprise hi hi. The last night gave me the best propagation that I had encountered and didn’t turn the radio off until 3am local time. While working a pile up of JA’s, I was pleased to log P5/4L4FN North Korea and also XY1M in Laos. Some of the other interesting ones in the log were T32NCC East Kiribati a local one from here, P29VR Papua New Guinea, K8O and K8T in American Samoa, JY9QJ Jordan, J28UN Djibouti, H44A Solomon Islands, it was interesting to learn about the Amateur Radio Training School in the Solomon Islands, it was great, every day I heard the training school teaching 14 – 17 year olds into how to transmit on the bands. How often do you hear that being done, a real credit to Solomon Amateur Radio Operators? Also in the log was 5Z4DZ Alex in Kenya, 5N6EAM Nigeria, and Africa is very difficult to work from here. I even logged our very own G3LAS nice to work you for the first time John! In total across the bands 6,000 QSO’s into 140 DXCC logged from the three Islands that I was active from Aitutaki Island OC-083, Manihiki Island OC-014 and Rarotonga OC-013. Some more statistics, I spent 52 hours flying from Boeing 747’s down to a tiny 8 seater plane where the pilot flew while reading the planes operating manuals, hhmm a little unnerving I can tell you. I got a big buzz from beaming directly over the South Pole at around 06.00hrs UTC and working Europe and back into England. You might like to try your luck doing that sometime; the Pacific operators would appreciate you trying. These contacts were up to 15,000 miles, not bad when we currently had an Amber 4 K index disturbance level. A special full colour photo QSL is available via my UK address only, PO Box 17 KX Warwickshire CV8 1SF England. Currently looking for QSL Sponsors!!! Thanks to all the people that helped us on the Cook Islands, ZK1DD Des, Queen Tutai Manarangi, Gina’s Garden Lodges, ZK1CG Victor, Paaka and Yvonne Hagai, Kamuta and Nando Glassi of the Government’s Outer Islands Administration who flew back to London with us.
73s de Tim ZK1SDE
Thank you for the call and hope to meet you on the air again. Thanks also to Cook Island Telecom, and to Paaka Hagai Government Rep for Tukau Village Manihiki, his wife Yvonne. Des Carke and Queen Tutai Manarangi, and to all the wonderfull people of the Cook islands.
Cook Island Time