K5D story

Prologue

Bob Allphin, K4UEE K5D DXpedition co-leader and a veteran of eight Top-Ten DXpeditions said, “I’ve never heard anything like this!” as he operated his first shift on the radio. The pileups were tremendous! And so it began….. the 2009 edition of the DXpedition to this rare DXCC location.

 

This DX adventure included world-renowned and novice DXpeditioners, federal and state governments as well as federal agencies and services were also a part of this collage of entities that led to this Top-ten DXpedition becoming a reality. Here is the story of this adventure of a lifetime.

 

Background

Desecheo was created as a National Wildlife Refuge in 1976 and is administered by the United State Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).  In March 1979, Desecheo was recognized by the ARRL’s DXCC program as a new entity under the separate administration criteria, after the first operation by KP4AM/D.  During the 1980’s and early 1990’s there were 10 operations from Desecheo which kept the demand for KP5 fairly low but in the mid 90’s things changed and Special Use Permits were no longer issued and Desecheo slowly crept up the most wanted list.    The frustrations between the amateur radio community and FWS mounted.  There were repeated denials for Special Use Permits; there were appeals, lawsuits, and a bill introduced in the U. S. House of Representatives.  There was a rogue radio operation, which was accepted for DXCC credit, but was conducted without the permission of the FWS.  All of these actions increased the tensions between hams and FWS, but eventually would lead to a compromise.  By now Desecheo was squarely in the Top Ten Most Wanted DXCC List along with the likes of North Korea and Yemen.

 

Finally, the breakthrough came in January of 2008 and culminated mid-summer when the U. S. Fish & Wildlife sent out a RFP (Request for Proposal) to every radio group and individual that had requested a Special Use Permit to operate from Desecheo in the previous 5-10 years.  Their offer was for a 14-day operation with a maximum of 15 operators sometime in the fall of 2008.  Fish and Wildlife would evaluate each proposal on a point system based on a stringent list of nine items. A three-person panel would review the proposals received. The deadline for proposals was August 15th, 2008 and seven proposals were received.  Finally on October 1st, it was announced that the winning proposal was submitted by The KP1-5 Project team. (This group of people had been involved since 2002 trying to activate both Desecheo and Navassa.) A few weeks later the decision was made that the operation would take place not in the fall of 2008, but sometime in January – March 2009 timeframe.

 

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Groundwork

Bob Allphin, K4UEE, and Glenn Johnson, MD, W0GJ were co-leaders.   It would require nearly a week in Puerto Rico to gather provisions and collect equipment for our operation.   After a two week operation, it would take some time to dismantle, clean and store/ship equipment.   The minimum time commitment for the entire operation would be 3½ weeks.   Many of the team had jobs that prohibited them from a commitment this long.  Therefore a plan was developed for three teams.  Team 1 would be present from start to finish.   Team 2 would be present to prepare and operate the first week.   Team 3 would arrive at the midpoint and stay to pack things up.   This helped give seven more people a chance to participate in a very rare DX entity, and provide fresh operators.

 

 

 

The island’s overall ranking of #6 most needed in the world. It was #3 in EU and #2 in Asia; this was a factor of 2+ more important in these regions. Therefore, early in the planning stages it was determined that Europe and Asia would be a primary focus for the DXpedition.

Because of antenna location of previous operations, EU was always at a disadvantage. We knew that we had to make a serious effort to get as many EU operators in the log as possible.

We knew that we must have a very good signal in order to work the pileup down. The Co-leaders made our intentions known early by issuing press releases explaining that when the band was open to a specific area that we would have everyone else QRX.

The Reconnaissance Trip – Four members of the team flew to Puerto Rico in mid-December for a reconnaissance mission.   They worked on transportation to Desecheo from Puerto Rico, looked for storage facilities for our equipment, had a meeting with FWS officials, and found sources for our supplies.  The highlight of the trip came on day three of our stay when they visited Desecheo.  There would be no radio, only a site survey to plan our station locations and antenna placement. Additionally, areas would be swept for UXO.

Preparing for Europe

Previous operations from Desecheo did not have good antenna locations to provide unobstructed paths to Europe.  Antennas were usually placed on the beach and were satisfactory for North America, South America, and to some extent, Asia, but the path to Europe was blocked.  While on the island, Ralph, K0IR crawled through a row of brush at the north end of the helipad.  He had found a small clearing about 100 feet above the sea.  It would be an excellent site for a small yagi and a vertical.  It would work well for a path to North America and Asia.  He continued to survey the landscape and spotted a high ridge to the east of the helipad.  He asked a FWS official if he could climb to the ridge and was told he could.  After climbing to the top of ridge, he looked in amazement.  When he stood atop the ridge, there was nothing between him and Europe except salt water. He shouted to the rest of the team, waving for them to come to the ridge.  A 30 meter vertical, an 80 meter vertical, and a WARC beam in would be placed in this area.  Europe would hear us!

Getting There……

When we talk about arrival and departure for Desecheo 2009 there are three parts to the story, i.e. to Puerto Rico, to the west coast and to the island. Each is a story unto itself. Here is that story…………….

 

 

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Departure for Puerto Rico would begin with Team 1 and 2. Team 3 would follow in just under two weeks. Our Team consisted of hams from coast to coast, north to south of the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. The K5D team did their part to support the airline carriers in North America. Most of the team departed from their homes and arrived in San Juan on February 7th.

No story about Desecheo 2009 would be complete without the following: All of our plans were falling into place nicely.   However, five days before the team would depart for Puerto Rico; we were informed that the Super Puma helicopter, that was planned, would NOT be available.   It was being fitted with new instrumentation and the process would not be complete until March and the helicopter could not fly until then. We were back to square one with transportation.  We could not find a large enough boat to handle all of our gear.  Would we have to resort to the MicroLite-type of DXpedition? Therefore, the first order of business when we reached the west coast would be to determine the options that would be available. The success of the operation hung in the balance.

Our first evening in Puerto Rico, we had dinner with some local hams; one was an influential member within the Puerto Rican government and we discussed our dilemma with our host at dinner that night. You will understand the significance of that in a later.

The following morning we underwent Unexploded Ordinance (UXO) training. This was a requirement in order to gain access to island and specified in the Special Use Permit that would be issued. Following the training, we were ready to head west. Our destination was Rincon located on the west coast of Puerto Rico. Our transportation arrived at the hotel and after an hour of loading we were underway.

 

The destination was the Lazy Parrot Hotel in Rincon. Rincon is lovely town on the west coast of Puerto Rico a mere 14 miles from Desecheo Island. Due to chance on-air meeting by team member K9SG with WP3R, we stopped by the Arecibo Observatory (www.naic.edu/) which was on the way. Gary learned that Angel worked at the observatory and we could have a private tour of the facility. We will all tell you that if you ever have the chance to visit Arecibo, do it. It is truly an amazing place. You won’t be sorry. As we arrived at the observatory, we OBSERVED that our bus had a major problem. The transmission of the bus was going out. We went on with the tour while the driver arranged for another bus.

 

We finished the fascinating tour, transferred the bags and we were off again; however we are woefully behind schedule. Bob, K4UEE spent the majority of the remaining time on the highway on the cell phone arranging for our late arrival with the rental car company and others. Team 3-member Eladio, WP3MW played a vital part in this and countless other aspects of our time in Puerto Rico.

 

049

 

We finally arrive at the Lazy Parrot and settled in for four hard days of preparation. Just down the road from the hotel was an incredible view of the island (see below). The first order of business Monday morning was to resolve our transportation dilemma. As this got underway, other teams headed out to arrange for equipment that were shipped prior to our arrival to be delivered to the staging area; while other teams set out to buy the supplies that were available locally. Mayaguez, just south of Rincon, is a large city with all the stores we needed to fill out the supply list.

By the end of the first day in Rincon a small flotilla of boats had been arranged for to take the place of the helicopter. The DXpedition would proceed but with a radically changed plan that all centered on the weather and sea conditions; conditions were not good. For the first three days we would look out at the island and see a daily deluge of rain and the ocean was getting increasingly rough, too rough to be safe but…..

To make a long story short, with less than 48 hours before our permit became effective, the original helicopter company was back in the mix although the big aircraft was still not available. Additionally, another company with an A-Star helicopter was available. That meant that two smaller aircraft would carry all the equipment, supplies and personnel. We are almost back to the original plan. Remember the influential member of the government. Relief!

By the evening of February 11, we had staged all of our equipment for an early morning departure.   Instead of 4-5 flights with the Super Puma, finishing by noon, it took a total of 39 helicopter flights over 1½ days to get all of our gear to Desecheo!   Desecheo usually bakes in the sun while the west coast of Puerto Rico will get thunderstorms.   There were some afternoon thunderstorms that delayed flights.   The helicopters flew until dark.

On Desecheo, the first loads were people and antennas.  During the first day, antennas were assembled; coax run and the generators were set up to power the camp.   It was after dark, and with the help of floodlights, that we finally were able to assemble our shelters.   It would have been impossible to do this with the helicopter traffic during the day.    The rest of our supplies arrived the next day and were landed away from the helipad.

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K5D on the Air! 

The helicopter plan was the right decision and fortunately it worked out. The seas were high on D-day and we would likely have been delayed and certainly exhausted if we had used the boat option.

 

The first helicopter flight with five team members departed for Desecheo at 12:40Z on February 12th.  All during the day the 6350kg of equipment and supplies was ferried to the island antennas were assembled, coax run, generators set up and power cables put in place. High winds passing thunderstorms on Puerto Rico during the day delayed several of the flights, but we flew until sunset.  Only then could the shelters be erected, as the helicopter prop wash would have blown them down.  After sunset, the team had a quick meal and started building the camp under the glare of floodlights. Everyone slept well the first night; we were all exhausted!

 

At first light on our second day on the island, everyone was up again and completed setting up the operations tents, a few stations and enough antennas to get on the air. At 16:00Z… operations began!  We put our best operators on in order to handle the huge pileups.  John, W2GD opened up 20m CW and Jerry, WB9Z on 17m SSB.  After a brief celebration, which included the FWS security personnel assigned to keep us safe, antenna work and station setup continued. 24-hours later, we had 10,000 Q’s in the log as we ramped up radio operations.

 

On Saturday, February 14th, ‘Camp Desecheo’ is fully operational.  The operator schedule was implemented and everyone starts the daily routine of operating, eating, antenna and camp maintenance and rest.  Sleeping during the day is difficult because of the heat.

 

The pileups were tremendous!  Bob, K4UEE a veteran of eight Top-Ten DXpeditions said, “I’ve never heard anything like this!”  Because Desecheo was ranked #2 in Asia and #3 in Europe, the team was very diligent about exploiting the openings to these areas on every band.  As the days past, the QSO count rapidly climbed.

 

The Team 2/3 rotation was scheduled for February 19th.This was to take place with a 32 foot fishing boat hired for that purpose but the weather continued to impact our plans. To our dismay, a large low-pressure system to the north and west of Desecheo began to form and 18-foot seas were predicted for the next 48 hours.  The seas far exceeded these predictions. The morning of February 19th, Bob, K4UEE, George, N4GRN, Mike, NA5U and the head of the FWS Security team, checked the boat landing site at 5:00 am and again at 11:00 am local time.  Waves 6-10-feet high were smashing into the boat landing area and then crashing onto the small beach beyond.  It was obvious that a boat landing was not only impossible but potentially deadly!  The decision was made that the only safe way to make the change was again by helicopter. The rotating team members and the DXpedition shared the cost of this decision. The arrangements were made and four hours later Team 2 was at the bar in Rincon and Team 3 was either going through orientation or already on the air.

Surf conditions continued to worsen. FWS officials said they had never seen them this bad. In addition to changing the team transition plan, antennas were torn down. High winds played havoc with the camp tents requiring much attention to keep them in-place. Weather was definitely a factor in this DXpedition.

The resupply boat arrived on the 21st with fresh water and fuel so we could run the amplifiers again! This also allowed the FWS team to transition. The weather continued to be a problem with this being the hottest day on the island. Moving the supplies to camp was an exhausting and took its toll on team members.

 

 

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On February 24th K5D surpassed the 100K Q’s count on.  Our official goal before the trip was 80K QSOs; so we felt very good about the 100K milestone. We also felt our goal of working many EU stations was achieved. Even though the pileups never really died down, we hope all that needed at least one contact got it.

Camp teardown begins on the 25th and eight helicopter flights begin the process of moving everything and everyone back to Puerto Rico.  Flights were suspended at sundown and scheduled to resume early the following morning.  Three stations stayed on the air the last night, and more QSOs were logged on the low bands.

At sunrise on 26th, we finished breaking camp.  Radio operations stopped at 0939Z on 40m SSB with K6BAG as our last contact.  The final QSO count was 115, 787! Desecheo 2009 is not in the history books.

Statistics

K5D now ranks #7 among DXpeditions based on QSOs.  K5D ranks #1 for the most QSOs on 30m.  With more than 40% of the total QSOs coming from Europe and Asia the team felt they had done their best to accommodate those regions where demand for a QSO was highest.  We had a total of 32,807 unique QSO’s in the log.  This measure is probably more indicative of our success in giving a Desecheo QSO to those who need it the most.

 

 

 

Here are some statistics from a European perspective:

 

 

Continent

EU

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Band and mode

 

 

 

 

Band

CW

RTTY

SSB

Total

 

12

7

 

 

7

 

15

778

55

1409

2242

 

17

3160

409

4013

7582

 

20

4212

723

5086

10021

 

30

6440

865

 

7305

 

40

3759

410

2618

6787

 

80

3853

 

1970

5823

 

160

1626

 

390

2016

 

Total

23835

2462

15486

41783

Country details are provided as an attachment.

 

Epilog

We want to thank the Clipperton DX Club for their support. We sincerely hope that your membership was able to work K5D. Without organizations like yours, DXpeditions like this would not take place. We sincerely thank you!

 

 

 

 

 

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