Preliminary preparations in a great hurry
As the plans were progressing, the schedule for the stay was confirmed to be from April 15thto 27th 2011 in the middle between high and low seasons. For QTH I chose a small hut from the northern side of the island. The budget crept as high as $10,000. I also began to dream of an own web page with online log. For working area I chose HF-bands 10m-160m and for mode CW. This because SSB was considerably more used off the island, and moreover, I decided to focus only on one mode. In this way I could have more strength, without stressing myself too much with the future trials. I wanted to play safe as far as possible.
While the ideas matured to an actual working plan, I realized that I needed help also during my trip. After becoming tired of working I should need all the time to recovery. Well, besides this it was good that at least one person knows how the pedition is developing and reads e-mails and updates the home page. So I called Janne OH6LBW and asked him to be my pilot. When Janne had accepted my suggestion, we started planning home page for the coming journey. In no time Janne had conjured up home page www.fjoh2yl.com to serve hams all over the world. For this home page Jari, OH6BG tailored excellent VOACAP weather forecast program, “online propagation predictions from FJ to the world” as auxiliary service. Jarmo, OH2BN for his part helped with the English translations. Because of my very pressing spring schedule all this help was really welcome and I highly appreciate the expert help I received.
OHDXF lent me a linear amplifier with a tuner and they also sponsored my journey economically. Especially the linear amplifier was really what I needed. Also Clipperton DX Club chipped in. And there were many others who helped by their own contributions and who inspired my pedition with confidence. Nice thanks for their support!
Geez, that´s a lot of gear!
Putting together the whole station I was nearly overwhelmed by the quantity of goods. How on earth could I bring everything along me? With money? Unfortunately, it was a tidy sum of money to be paid for the extra kilos. Ah the delights of travelling alone, ggrrr…
My station was composed of following elements: Elecraft K2, Yeasu FT-897, Mafet linear amplifier + tuner (by OHDXF), vertical 10m-30m, L-vertical 160M, 2 phased Butternuts, and G5RV. So I had to manage with these, whatever should happen. Anyway, I could get nine bands audible if all goes well.
At last starting the journey
The flight to Saint Martin via Paris went pleasantly asleep. I had stood awake the night before and zonked out almost immediately after entering the plane. It was time to have a proper nap, because the tension of the previous night at last began to subside. Now afterwards I am amused looking back to the episodes at Paris airport. I slipped like a ghost hardly awake from one terminal to another and after reaching the next plane I fell asleep again. Well, everything is probably human. When the European chilliness had changed to the Caribbean warmth on Saint Martin, I felt myself positively restless. Not more than one flight and I would be in my destination. A friendly airport officer brought me to the plane to Saint Barthelémy, at the same time proudly presenting his homeland.
Fabulous Saint Barthelémy
After a successful flight from the fourth dangerous airport in the world to the third dangerous one, I felt greatly relieved. I scuttled along with the other passengers to collect my baggage from a small counter. But I was bitterly disappointed; my bags had been lost in transit. Help, this is not real!
However, I soon could calm my thoughts and went for my rental car and the keys of the hut. A kind woman guided me to my lodgings that seemed to be a successful choice. The little hut in a big yard was situated on the beach and slightly aside. Under these circumstances, I could be in peace, which was okay. The two days of spare time waiting for my baggage to arrive, I spent making plans and also replenishing my supplies of food.
The DXpedition actually started at the moment when the baggage entered the island. Because of the long waiting I had so much grit that I wanted at once make me heard. So at first I dug up an 8 metres long fishing rod of which I built an auxiliary mast for the G5RV antenna. I set the rod up on a high fence in the front yard so that the mid section of the antenna rose to the height of almost 12 metres. This fence was a splendid help as to the antennas. On the other hand the height of the fence caused its own challenges and to reach the top of the fence I had to climb up on a ladder I had found. I also tied the ladder to the fence hoping not to fall rumbling down. The cross boards of the fence were loose and nibbling with my knife I could make a hole where a cable tie and a rope could be fastened. A cleaning woman was kind enough to help me by handing the fishing rod and other accessories to me while I was balancing on the ladder. This helped me greatly and at the same time it was nice to listen to her stories of this splendid Caribbean island. I chose my bedroom for the place of the actual station. There was a table big enough for working. Besides, air conditioning was also one of its absolute advantages. I could also take the cables comfortably in through the toilet window near by. Nice cool air guaranteed that even mosquitoes stayed out of this room.
I held my first QSO (April 16th) on 20m CW at 2241UTC with DL5AXX. The sun had already set and there was a total chaos on the band. Stations were heard from all sides and some of them seemed to try to break into my room. Just kidding, it was probably a cat running across the yard with its ears laid back. Maybe there had been so many strange voices that it wanted to get into a more peaceful place, I suppose.
The main part of the job was still ahead, so I had to continue setting up the antennas outside. Next rose up a 160m L-vertical and a 10-30m antenna. It was a sweaty job to work outside and sometimes the heat nearly snuffed me out. However, the results of my work were instantly rewarded on the following night when about 70 new scalps appeared in my log on 160m. Among these there were two Europeans. On the third day the phased Butternuts (2 x HF2V) were completed. For the direction of the antennas I chose Europe being situated 45 degrees from the north to the east. I raised the front antenna on a low fence at the edge of the sea bank, and the other one 20m backwards to a small palm. I constructed the phasing with a cable. The contraption looked quite amusing, because it seemed as if the palm was growing Butternuts. However, everything seemed to function excellently and the SWRs settled down below 1.5 on all HF-bands (10-160m). I was overjoyed, because it was technique I had been mostly afraid of.
When the days passed by at a furious pace, I began to get used to my new daily rhythm. From day to day I tried to follow the same pattern regarding the bands. I also usually went to the lower end of the band I had chosen, thus also trying to make myself easily found. For updating the home page I also tried to deliver my new log to Janne at least once a day. During breaks I took it as easy as possible and usually went for a swim either in the pool or in the ocean. Swimming was a lovely remedy for tiredness that began to distress me in the course of the pedition.
When the QSOs moved to Europe and to the USA, the working of the Japanese was all the time very challenging, perhaps because of the remote location. The omni-directional antennas didn´t make it easier, on the contrary. On one woman´s pedition I was forced to compromise over the wages and complex constructions. The best JA-weather was often during sunset on the upper bands (15m and 17m) and likewise 2-3 hours after the sunrise (40m, 30m and 20m). Tiredness was the worst enemy when the band almost closed after I had stood awake for many hours and again strongly opened after 1-2 hours. This seemed to be some kind of shock treatment for the tired operator.
Otherwise I experienced the work challenging and enjoyable when the stations were strongly audible and there was no interference on the band. This was specially concerning Butternuts that seemed to function very well on the 40m and 80m bands. They simply “absorbed” interference away compared with G5RV. The most demanding challenge was the 160m with a lot of disturbances. I lowered then speed and tried to focus on every smoke signal separately. However, this was worth doing and as many as 249 QSOs dropped to the log.
The night before the last one of my journey remains in my mind for good because of a hard storm. In the midst of working I heard the noise of heavy rain strengthened by wind howling at the corners. It was totally dark outside, and an intermittent clatter was wafted into my ears. Soon there was a total silence on the band. I knew at once that the antenna had broken.
Not until at dawn I realized how strong the forces of nature had been. The storm had calmed down and it was very quiet outside. When I went out I met a desolate sight. Not a single antenna was in shape. What in the world could I do now? However, I was able to work again and began to examine damages and thus found that the support wires had broken down. Moreover, a pair of fishing rods had broken. So there had been a pinch of luck, too. After the first aid I succeeded in repairing all the verticals and I then returned again on the band. But it was only for a few hours, because a new storm front was becoming and destroying my antennas. Irritated about the misfortunes I decided to plunge into the storm to save all that was left. I packed all my things except G5RV that I still once lifted up hoping the best. Weather had changed remarkably and the rain had brought chill in the air. I still had time for almost a whole day before leaving and I decided to go on fighting. My target of 8000 QSOs was broken already for some days ago. I had set a new target of 10000 QSOs. So I began a fight against time. However the time was relentless and in spite of all my efforts I could not break my new target. Also the radio weather on the band had annoyingly worsened so that the pileups were only memories. Hunting QSOs began to resemble real fishing. It was quite boring to listen at the almost empty band. Sure I was satisfied with the 9561 QSOs I had received and with certain amount of pride I quickly began to make preparations for return home.
Reflections after returning home
”Wonderful – I did survive!” is the first thought that comes to mind after my expedition. FJ/OH2YL was a hard journey and without the help given to me I had not survived so much in style. I took conscious risks putting myself in the game and it was worth it. The journey sucked lots of strength, money and time. Besides, my fellowmen had to be very flexible because of my plans, so thanks to them. We have a fine hobby that is worth taking tender care of. This time my catch was 9561 QSOs and perhaps I will try to go one better in the future. I hope my expedition encourages others to gain experience in travelling with a rig around the world.
My warm thanks to all of you who supported me and who were working!
BAND MODE QSO COUNTRY
160m CW 248 31
160m SSB 1 1
80m CW 880 53
40m CW 1190 72
30m CW 1128 72
20m CW 992 58
17m CW 1273 64
15m CW 1140 60
12m CW 1473 66
12m SSB 1 1
10m CW 1235 58