VK9C-G6AY

Licensing would be no problem as Australia is now covered under the CEPT T/R 61-01 system arrangements.  Our concerns of last year in not strictly complying with the 2009 requirements of the Wireless Institute of Australia (WIA), the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) in terms of callsigns had been nullified on Christmas Island, so we decided to use VK9C/G6AY.

 

History

 

In 1609 Captain William Keeling was the first European to see the islands, but they remained uninhabited until the nineteenth century.  A Scottish merchant seaman named Captain John Clunies-Ross from the Shetland Islands explored the islands in 1825, aiming to settle on them with his family.  Alexander Hare, also landed and settled with his slaves.  Clunies-Ross set up a compound on South Island consisting of his family and some other settlers. Hare’s severely mistreated slaves soon escaped to work under better conditions for Clunies-Ross.  The workers were paid in a currency called the Cocos rupee, a currency John Clunies-Ross minted himself that could only be redeemed at the company store.

 

 

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On 1 April 1836, HMS Beagle under Captain Robert FitzRoy arrived to take soundings establishing the profile of the atoll as part of the survey expedition of the Beagle. The naturalist Charles Darwin, who was on the ship, studied the natural history of the islands and collected specimens.

 

The islands were annexed by the British Empire in 1857 and Clunies-Ross’ son John George was appointed as Superintendent.  In 1867, the islands administration was placed under the Straits Settlements. Queen Victoria granted the islands in perpetuity to the Clunies-Ross family in 1886.

 

On 9 November 1914, the islands became the site of the Battle of Cocos, one of the first naval battles of World War I.  The wireless and cable telegraph station on Direction Island, a vital link between the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, was destroyed by sailors from the German light cruiser SMS Emden, which was in turn surprised and destroyed by the Australian cruiser, HMAS Sydney.

 

During World War II, the cable station was once again a vital link.  Allied planners noted that the islands might be seized as a base for German raider cruisers operating in the Indian Ocean.  Following Japan’s entry into the war, Japanese forces did occupy neighbouring islands. To avoid drawing their attention to the Cocos cable station and its islands’ garrison, the seaplane anchorage between Direction and Horsburgh islands was not used.  Radio transmitters were also kept silent, except in emergencies.

 

After the Fall of Singapore in 1942, the islands were administered from Ceylon, and West and Direction Islands were placed under Allied military administration with a small garrison. Despite the importance of the islands as a communication centre, the Japanese made no attempt either to raid or to occupy them and contented themselves with sending over a reconnaissance aircraft about once a month.

 

Later in the war, two airstrips were built, and three bomber squadrons were moved to the islands to conduct raids against Japanese targets in South East Asia and to provide support during the planned reinvasion of Malaya and reconquest of Singapore. In 1946 the administration of the islands reverted to Singapore.

 

On 23 November 1955, the islands were transferred to Australian control.  In the 1970s, the Australian government’s dissatisfaction with the Clunies-Ross feudal style of rule of the island increased.  In 1978, Australia forced the family to sell the islands for the sum of A$6,250,000, using the threat of compulsory acquisition. John Cecil Clunies-Ross now lives in Perth, Western Australia although his son, John George Clunies-Ross still lives on West Island.

 

Amazingly. the 2004 earthquake and tsunami centered off the western shore of Sumatra caused no casulaties.

 

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Geography

 

The Cocos (Keeling) Islands is located in the middle of the Indian Ocean some 2750 km north-west of Perth, and 900 km west south-west of Christmas Island, its closest neighbour.  Cocos lies approximately 12° south and 96.5° east, locating the islands in the humid tropical zone. Twenty-seven islands form two atolls. The main atoll comprises twenty-six islands encircling a horseshoe shaped lagoon. Some 25km to the north is a single uninhabited island, Pulu Keeling.

 

Only two of the islands are inhabited, West Island (population circa 100) and Home Island (population circa 500).  80% of Cocos Islanders are ethnic Malays and Sunni Muslim.

 

Climate

 

Cocos experiences two main seasons which tend to overlap: the trade wind season from April / May to September / October and the calmer doldrum season from November through to April.  Higher rainfall is experienced between March and July.  Between January and August the occasional low-pressure system may occur, usually between February and April.. Rain usually falls in the evenings, bringing glorious sunny days, although the average annual rainfall is 2,000 mm! Temperatures are fairly consistent no matter what the season, remaining around a comfortable 29°C with a minimum evening temperature rarely dropping below 20°C.  We monitored the weather forecast before we went and were somewhat disheartened to see two tropical cyclones in the area and a daily forecast of thunderstorms, which did not bode well for our LF band activities

 

The economy

 

There is a small and growing tourist industry focused on water-based or nature activities – not to mention amateur radio – but this cannot increased greatly due to a limited potable water supply.  Small local gardens and fishing contribute to the food supply, but most food and most other necessities are imported from Australia or elsewhere.  The Cocos Islands Cooperative Society Ltd. employs construction workers, stevedores, and lighterage worker operations. Tourism employs others. The unemployment rate was 11.3% in 2006.

 

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Getting there and away

 

There are no direct flights from the UK to Western Australia and the most economic flights I could find from London to Perth were with Malaysia Airlines with a change of aircraft in Kuala Lumpur.  Bookings were made and Malaysia Airlines were receptive to a request for an additional free10 kg of baggage allowance each in exchange for some publicity

 

Virgin Blue, a subsidiary of UK’s Virgin Group, serves Cocos with two passenger flights a week from Perth’s International Airport.  Flights on Tuesdays go to Cocos, then on to Christmas Island, then back to Perth.  Saturday’s flights do the reverse.  Virgin Blue are the equivalent of Easyjet, and thus everything possible is charged for as “extra”.  The return fare from Perth / Cocos / Perth was almost 40% of the London / Perth leg!  My request for an additional free baggage allowance was not even acknowledged!

 

Flight timings required an overnight stay in Perth on the outward journey and I contacted Kevin, VK6LW and Steve, VK6VZ with a view to a recommendation for a suitable hotel and the chance of an eyeball QSO (plus maybe a drink and a meal together).  Steve advised that the traditional hotel used by DX-peditioners on route to Cocos is the Sanno Maracoonda Motel, close to the entrance to the Perth Domestic Airport and a booking was duly made.

 

Accommodation

 

The islands’ Tourism Association web site gives a number of possible places to stay, but by far the best location from the amateur radio point of view is the Cocos Beach Motel, located on the west side of West island, very close to the beach and with a good take-off over the ocean.  There are 28 rooms in seven blocks of four, together with a restaurant.  Again, a booking was duly made together with an explanation of what we wanted to do in terms of erecting antennas etc.

 

Publicity

 

With all the hotels and flights booked, in October 2010 we issued an initial press release and created a new page on my web site.  We also started to approach various DX clubs and organisations for sponsorship towards the extremely high cost of mounting the DX-pedition.

 

Almost immediately, I received an e-mail from Tim, NL8F, who had operated from the Cocos Beach Motel as VK9CF in March 2010, offering to help with background information.  Naturally, we jumped at the chance and Tim explained that, together with Lionel VK6LA aka VK9CB and Ron Grant, the manager of the Island Co-operative, which runs the Motel, he has been trying to set up a permanent ham station in a spare room next to the restaurant.  Introductions to Lionel and Ron were invaluable, although the idea of the permanent station seems to have stalled for lack of investment.  Lionel even sent us a DVD and lots of still photographs of the motel layout.  We were also given to understand that Bernd, VK2IA aka VK9AA had left some coax and antennas on the island, but when we contacted him Bernd explained that he’d since removed them.  Bernd very strongly recommended us to operate from room 28, which is in the most northerly block, closest to the ocean, so we particularly asked Ron to allocate rooms 28 and 20 for our use, so as to be able to maximise the physical separation between our stations.

 

Antennas and equipment

 

Jim is a great lover of dipoles and was very keen to use vertical dipoles close to the ocean.  He also took a 12-metre telescopic, fibreglass Spiderbeam pole.  I prefer to use a 30-metre long top doublet fed with 300-ohm ribbon cable.  With a small ATU, the doublet covers all bands from 80 to 10-metres and it’s easy to change bands without leaving the shack whereas, even in daylight, changing Jim’s dipoles tends to be a two-handed operation.

 

Jim took his Elecraft K2 and laptop running Wintest under Windows 7 in his hand luggage.  I put my Kenwood TS-570D in the hold for the outward journey and carried a laptop running N1MM under XP in my hand luggage.

 

The outward journey

 

We met at Heathrow’s terminal 4 on the morning of Sunday 20th February for the flight to Kuala Lumpur, connecting with a flight to Perth and arriving there at around 3 p.m. the following day and checking into the Sanno Maracoonda Motel.  Quick phone calls to Steve and Kevin and a couple of hours sleep set us up for a very pleasant evening at a local restaurant.  Check in for the Virgin Blue flight the following morning was simple but as expected, we were charged for 22 kg of excess baggage.  We later learned that they don’t weigh hand luggage!  The flight was uneventful and the plane less than half full, so we had plenty of room, arriving on the island shortly after lunch.  Clearing Customs and Immigration was easy and we then walked across the road to the Motel only to find that we were in rooms 26 and 28 instead of 20 and 28 as had been booked.  Nothing could be done that day but the following day Jim was able to move to room 16, which was even further away from room 28 and also very close to the beach.

 

Rigging the antennas

 

From Lionel’s video and photos, we had a fair idea of what to expect was available as far as trees to use as antenna supports, although we had floated the idea to Ron Grant of him supplying some scaffolding tubes in the same way that we had done on Christmas Island, but this proved unnecessary.  I rigged my doublet between two conveniently placed but not very tall palm trees about 5 metres from the beach.  Jim rigged two vertical dipoles for 12 and 17 metres from two separate, conveniently placed palm trees that literally overhung the beach.  He was then able to lower these and change them for 40 and 80 metres as he wished.  We also borrowed a 6-metre scaffold pole and strapped Jim’s Spiderpole to it before lashing it to a convenient concrete post of the beach.  This was used as the support for Jim’s 80-metre antenna.

 

On the air

 

To minimise duplicate QSOs, we agreed to allocate individual bands to operators.  Jim had 12, 17, 40 and 80-metres and I had 10, 15, 20 and 30-metres.  Jim made the first QSO with JR1GJP on 40-metres at 12.40 UTC on 22nd February, which was just after local sunset.  My first QSO was with YB1RGK on 30-metres at 12.52 UTC.  The bands didn’t open until around 04.00 UTC on most days, which meant that we had a fairly leisurely morning and a hectic afternoon and evening running the pile ups, which were quite fast and furious.  We always broke at around 12.00 UTC for a beer in the Cocos Club before dinner in the motel restaurant, which was dry, being run by Muslims.

 

Conditions were not great by any means, following a large CME the week before but 10-metres opened to both Europe and Japan.  However, there was a lot of SSB QRM and I was forced to work “up 5” on most occasions to avoid it.

 

12, 15, 17 and 20 were our “bread and butter” bands, and we made respectable numbers of QSOs on these bands.  Jim also battled with 40-metres to make another respectable total.

 

30-metres was a big disappointment for me, mainly due to an apparent lack of activity.  Logic would have dictated a move to 30-metres after 20-metres closed around 1600 UTC, but when I did, I just called CQ with no takers – except the occasional W6 or W7 who would say that we were the only signal on the band.  The Reverse Beacon Network was definitely not working to our advantage!  The only time the band started to open was on our last night, when I had to QRT early in preparation for the long journey home!

 

80 metres was also disappointing, mainly due to the high levels of QRN created by the local thunderstorms and we made a much smaller number of QSOs than planned.

 

Operating standards

 

Operating standards have definitely declined in the past 12 months.  I blame this primarily on the use of Skimmer and Decoders by operators who can’t read Morse by ear.  I was not troubled greatly by DQRM on my transmit frequency, (although Jim complained of someone putting a strong carrier on his receive frequency on several occasions), but by strong stations who obviously couldn’t hear me when I replied and just continued to call, those who would not stop calling whilst I was trying to make a QSO and those who tuned up on top of the pile up.  The enjoyment of working the pile up was greatly reduced as a result of such poor operating and I came back feeling very disillusioned and de-motivated about making another DX-pedition.  Hopefully, that will change in a few months.

 

Steve, VK6VZ e-mailed me the following when we’d returned home:  “After I worked you on 14MHz CW I spent about an hour listening both to your frequency and the behaviour of callers above it.  Three things stick in my mind – the jaw-dropping inability of some of the callers to do what you politely asked them to do (including some JAs, who definitely used to be the politest operators in the world); the stations who called CQ nearly on top of you and, despite being challenged about their behaviour, seemed distinctly disinclined to move away (including one experienced G station, of whom describing his behaviour as a LID is being unkind to LIDs the world over); and your incredible patience and ability to pull stations out of the mire.”

 

 

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The journey home

 

We left the island at around 10.00 UTC on 5th March facing the almost contiguous flights, arriving back in Heathrow at 16.00 UTC on 6th March.  By the time I’d collected the car and driven home, I’d been travelling for 36 hours non-stop and was quite exhausted1

 

Armed with the advice about hand luggage on the Virgin Blue flight, I hand carried the TS-570D and reduced the excess baggage charge to a mere 14 kg.  Unfortunately, when we checked in for the Malaysia Airlines flight in Perth, the clerk claimed that, even hand carrying the radio, we were 3 kg over the enhanced baggage allowance and made us pay extra again, which we felt was rather miserly, although heaven only knows how much we were overweight on the outward flight without being charged!

 

Statistics

 

OP

BOTH

G3RTE

G3SWH

G3SWH

G3RTE

G3SWH

G3RTE

G3SWH

TOTAL

BAND

80

40

30

20

17

15

12

10

ALL

QSOs

73

1,410

690

3,163

3,141

2,242

1,931

615

13,215

DXCC

21

64

38

84

100

79

80

38

116

 

Logs

 

The log was uploaded to LoTW and my web site on a daily basis whilst we were on the island.  Unfortunately, some of the earlier uploads to the web site were corrupted due to the poor Internet connection available, which led to lots of attempted duplicate QSOs and much angst amongst the Deserving.  As Roger, G3SXW wrote in a recent article “real-time DX-pedition on-line logs are sometimes more trouble than they are worth if reliable Internet connectivity is not available”.  The final log is fully searchable at http://www.g3swh.org.uk/vk9c-g6ay.html, showing the operator’s callsign against each QSO.  Special, colour photo QSLs have been printed and are available either via the OQRS facility on my web site http://www.g3swh.org.uk/decision.html (recommended) or direct with SAE and adequate return postage.  Bureau cards can also be requested from the web site and will be processed as quickly as possible.  Cards are also available via the traditional bureau route.

 

Our particular thanks go to our XYLs, Cheryl and Jan for allowing us to go; to Lionel, VK9CB / VK6LA for invaluable information, to Ron Grant, manager of the Cocos Island Co-operative for logistical support and to the management and staff of the Cocos Island Motel for making this DX-pedition possible; as well as to all of our sponsors (RSGB, Chiltern DXC, GM DX Group, EUDXF, GDXF, NCDXF, Clipperton DXC, LA DX Group, CWJF, Swiss DX Foundation, Lone Star DX Association, NIDXA, West Tennessee DX Association, SEDXC, Nippon DX Association and Malaysia Airlines)

 

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