After having a great solo DXpedition to Pohnpei in 2012, I thought it would be appropriate to return to Micronesia, this time to Kosrae, OC-59, especially since I now had a 500 watt amplifier light enough to carry with me. I knew V6 was in the Top 100, so why not? Micronesia is just north of the Equator, and the 8000 mile haul to North America was doable. Although ClubLog propagation charts do not show any 160 activity to NA out of the 350 or so logs submitted, I figured that it was because no one had attempted that path yet. A challenge, true,
but one I was willing to accept!
This one would be the same route as before – Texas to Honolulu and then island hopping to Kosrae. I did an Internet search and came up with the Village Resort and Eco Lodge, complete with thatched huts on the beach, a restaurant and bar, pretty solid wireless, 110 volts and US style outlets, drinking water, dancing girls, the whole package, and the price was reasonable. I could sleep under a mosquito net, run the pileups day and/or night as I chose, 160 through 10. Even better was that my calendar was mostly free in mid-February, so I could
do the ARRL DX CW contest as DX.
I started planning right after Visalia and Dayton in the spring month of 2014, asking around to see who might be interested in either going with me.
Well, to be sure it was like the story of the Little Red Hen: nobody wanted to go, but there were no end to the volunteers to see if they could work me on 160 once I got there! This is not to imply there were none to assist me in my preparations, as we shall see. I always look for travel buddies on these trips to share the weight
of equipment, to share to operating time, to share to experience, and to help me figure out how to fix the things which always go wrong.
Having learned from past adventures the chancy nature of going to a distant land even when all is arranged and the skids are greased (see, for example, Going to Palau, DX Magazine, Nov./Dec., 2013), I thought it prudent to
advise as many folks as possible of my plans so I could get input. This one was going to be MY 160 trip, in addition to the more pedestrian bands. Having been impressed with the capabilities of a top-loaded vertical when I was in VU7 some years ago, I studied up and learned I could get great results on 160 with a Spiderbeam 40′ pole, appropriately guyed and using elevated radials. Not only that, the Village Resort was on an east facing beach, an almost direct path to NA. 160, here I come!
My best Christmas present last December was a 40′ Spiderpole from Germany. I knew these were robust and could easily handle a top loaded vertical with a top hat, even when only guyed at 15′ into a stout breeze. Figuring two,
three, or four heads were better than one, along about the first week in February I mustered my friends who claim to know about antennas, gathered some wire, and set forth proving the concept. With some experimentation, we put it into the air and it tested a 1.3:1 SWR at 18015 MHZ. Shazam!!
I had previously made reservations in Kosrae so that I would be set up and on the air by mid-week prior to the DX contest. I would have a few days to warm up The Deserving via the cluster and the 160 chat room prior to the ‘test, and then position myself to be the Rare DX. I booked my passage on the Island Hopper out of Honolulu, consulted my checklist, packed my radio gear into a couple of carry cases [you get two 70# bags nowadays on United, so a small amp is possible with just one traveler], and set on my way.
Because the Daily DX and a couple of other publications knew I was going, the interest level was high. 160 from V6 is a fill many need for their logs. I received a number of inquiries from throughout NA and SA from people who said
they would be listening at V6 sunset – about 0720 GMT – and beyond.
I had no misgivings at all about getting on the air, even though I had promised 160 in my trip to Palau a year or so ago. That trip was a bust: even though I was assured there would be a 160 access, it did not happen for a lot of
reasons, all of which were beyond my control. Because I learned from that one not to rely on other people, this time I had done it all. I had my Spiderpole, my receive antenna, my amplifier, my radio and a spare radio.
What could possible go wrong?
Rather than depart from Austin to Houston at OhDarkThirty, I took a leisurely trip into Houston the day before and spent the night at KC5HOR’s place. Gary graciously provided a bed and assistance with all my gear as well as a trip
to the airport. Because Gary is an employee of the airport, he badged through security and waited for me on the other side of the TSA machines after they checked out my carry on baggage.
Murphy, always lurking in the shadows, stuck not 50′ on the other side of security! With a crash, my power supply fell to the tile floor – the result of a TSA inspection which did not include a zippering up of my back pack and my failure to check to see if all was in order. Aaaaccccck! Though everything was intact, the fan housing was broken. I had no idea what else might have survived the impact, and of course it was the only power source I had for my transceiver.
I pressed on the Honolulu, however, thinking there was no way to check its condition without hooking the K3 to it and seeing what worked. I figured there would be more available repairs and/or other power supplies during my layover in Honolulu that at Houston Intercontinental Airport. Indeed, at the hotel, I fired up the power supply, hooked up the transceiver and a dummy load [you never know when you might need one, eh?], transmitted in Data more for a couple of minutes, and was pleased to see the fan on the supply spun up. The racket it made went away when I bent the fan guard away from the blades. Success!
After about 6 hours of flying and a couple of stops, the Island Hopper dumped my and my bags in Kosrae in late afternoon. There was a ride waiting to take me to the Village, a 20 minute journey through some of the most lush land on the planet. My thatched-roof cabin was about 50 feet from the high tide mark,and the tide was crashing against the sea wall with so much vigor it was like those hurricanes in Houston which I endured. Obviously I would have to wait until low tide to even inspect the beach for suitable places for antennas. Because the sea quits at the jungle trees, I would have to elevate everything on tree stumps extending over the water. I used the time to set up the K3, the amp, the power supply and the tuner, and let the pounding surf put me to sleep. That night I dreamed of huge pileups, high rates, and smiles on the faces of The Deserving.
Low tide was late morning. Given the speed and energy of the surf — the flat nature of the beach meant the waves really moved fast — I thought it prudent to wait until I was sure no rogue wave would catch me looking the other way. I scouted the beach, located some huge fallen trees which would serve well as the base for my verticals, and get busy putting up a vertical dipole for 40-10. I stuck my vertical in the tree, guyed it tightly, and sat down at the key.
After about 15 minutes of calling CQ on 17 with no responses, W9BF got the first contact in my log. Apparently the Skimmers were not picking me up, though I understood when I returned home that Reverse Beacon Network had me from the beginning. At any rate, once V63MJ was on the packet cluster, the race was on!
I did 177 Qs in about 90 minutes before 17 died out, nearly all to NA, even though it was somewhat after NA sunset when my run began. My experience from past adventures told me that when it was time for a particular band to close, it did without delay. It took only a couple of minutes to go from good-sized pileup to nothing at all. It was just as if someone had thrown a switch. I figured that 20 – a very quick band change — would be very workable at my target audience even though it was then darkness throughout the North American continent. Besides, changing to 30 or 40 with my Force 12 vertical dipole takes 15 or so minutes, and since I had them sufficiently stirred up on 17, I did not want to lose my audience by staying off the air too long.
When I sat down after changing bands, I noticed the SWR was high – about 2.0, very unusual with this antenna – but forged ahead anyway thinking it must be the salt water, and in any rate, I would be able to fix whatever was causing the difficulty when I changed bands again I called CQ again on 20 for 10 minutes or so but again without any answers.
I kept an eye on the SWR as I went, and noticed that it seemed to be edging upward a little. Since there was no action anyway, I went to the antenna again, but found nothing amiss. On my return to the operating table, the SWR was now about 2.5, and still no takers. Aaackk! This I have to fix before the finals give up! About this time I thought I should probably start getting my 160 antenna up in the air. I knew that project would take several hours, and my sunset was marching ever closer. Inertia had me, however, so I thought it would be a good time to check my amplifier from the long 160 haul to NA. I wired it up to the K3, hit the “on” button and watched the information window on the amp switch as I changed bands a couple of times. So far, so good! I disconnected the feed line
to the vertical dipole, hooked up a dummy load [good operating procedure, eh?], and hit the key. Nothing . . . Again, the key and . . . nothing. Hmmm.
Thinking I must have wire things incorrectly, I checked all the connections, tightened all the myriad thumb screws, sat back down, and . . . nothing!? I checked in information window on the amp, and saw “Invalid.” I cycled the on/off switched several time, and changed bands. Every time the amp thumbed its electronic nose at me with an “invalid” message. By now, I was in anguish because without an amp, my chances of making NA on 160 were hopeless! I fired off an email to Elecraft with the symptoms, hoping the techs there would be able to supply a quick fix to my problem. Even though it was not business hours in California, I was pretty sure they would get back to me during my night hours. I would be on 160 tomorrow night, and in the meantime I would use 40 meters
to work the piles.
Figuring I could change the vertical dipole to 40 meters and be off and running pretty fast, I went to the antenna, climbed up on my support log, and . . . found the source of my high SWR: one of the bottom legs of my antenna [it
looks like a capital H on its side] had a broken weld and was now totally unuseable on any band!!
About this time, while bemoaning my fate and considering my options, if any, my wife sent an email to me that a niece was in the hospital. It appeared to me that all my planning, all my efforts, were cast upon the DX ash heap, and it was now going to be 160 or nothing, an that only if Elecraft had a solution.
I awoke the next morning about 0300 local, checked my email, and found a response from Elecraft. They had not experienced my amplifier problem before and had no quick fixes. Time to pack up and go home!
So there it was: all my planning for naught, and my DXpedition was on the ash heap of history. Ninety minutes of operating time, 177 Qs, and all kinds of memories. I will have to think about what lessons I learned from all this, but I can assure you of one thing: like General MacArthur, I will return!
Madison Jones V63MJ – W5MJ