Home :: News :: News #17 - 2008 Feb 16

Some more detailed information about the past days of the DXpedition:

First, our apologies for not writing news earlier. We have been a little busy... This note will try to catch up on the events of the past days...

By Sunday night Feb 3 all the radio operators were at the Sofitel hotel in Papeete, Tahiti... except for Robin. Robin was on the M/V Braveheart, at anchor in Mangareva.

After catching up on missed sleep, we met several local amateur radio operators for a leisurely lunch Monday at a nice restaurant in town. One operator's checked bag failed to make the flight from Los Angeles, so he spent the rest of the afternoon shopping for clothes.

That evening the team had a small planning meeting, and then fell asleep (some in the meeting) due to the lingering effects of jet lag. By 4am Tuesday we had checked out of the hotel and crowded into two mini-vans for the quick ride back to the airport. Our 5:20AM flight to Mangareva left at sunrise. The ship's master, Nigel Jolly, met us at the airport. He had been in Japan and was flying down to join the ship as well.

Our flight stopped at an intermediate atoll, a classic example of a flat circle of coral with coconut trees -- and an airstrip. The airport "terminal" is a thatched hut. After re-fueling, we were off to Mangareva. Again, the airstrip sits on the outer fringing atoll. But Mangareva has a very large lagoon with some hilly islands inside. No one lives on the outer segments, so we had to take a water taxi across the lagoon. Anchored near the wharf was the M/V Braveheart, our home for the next few days. (Check out Google Earth for a great satellite image!)

By now it was lunchtime, and the customs/immigration offices were closed for siesta. We stowed our baggage, and received a safety briefing and orientation to the boat (e.g., how to work the marine toilets, showers, etc) from the crew. At 4pm our paperwork was finished, the ship weighed anchor, and we were off. During the two hour crossing of the lagoon, supper was served. At 6pm, as the sun set, we exited the lagoon into the open ocean.

Wednesday was an uneventful day at sea. Conditions were fairly quiet and most team members were in good spirits. That night, around midnight, we passed Pitcairn Island. The mayor and some islanders came out in a "long boat" and tied up next to our ship as we motored slowly by the island. We took on fresh fruit and vegetables and a large number of bamboo poles... and delivered mail, medical supplies, and a computer video projector -- a donation from us to the Pitcairn school. It all went very quickly and, with a cheerful wave from the mayor at the helm, the long boat cast off and slipped behind into the darkness.

Pitcairn Island stands about halfway between Mangareva and Ducie Island. Thursday was spent in very quiet sea conditions with a long swell, but the seas got a little bigger during the night. At 9am Friday we were motoring around Ducie Island, examining the shore conditions, one full day ahead of schedule. The Braveheart anchored on the east side. The remainder of Friday was very demanding physically. Many hundreds of kilos of equipment and supplies were move out of the ship's hold to the deck, and loaded into small boats for transfer to shore. Unfortunately, low tide occurred near noon... so the boats could not get closer than 150m to shore. We had to carry everything through shallow waters, walking carefully to avoid coral, and set onto the shoreline. This was difficult work... and when the small landing boat returned to the ship to the next load, the shore party had to move equipment up over a 3m hill of loose coral to a safe spot.

By noon the sun was nearly overhead. It was a long, hot, difficult day. The late afternoon was spent putting equipment under cover, building tents and cots, and finally eating a small supper. During the night it rained heavily several times. Most everyone was exhausted... but at least we were dry and the evening temperatures were very comfortable.

The crew of the Braveheart has been fantastic. While we worked on Saturday and Sunday building antennas and assembling radio stations, the crew built a field kitchen, washing-up stations, picnic tables, a covered area with a large workbench for antenna and other projects, a field shower by the lagoon and radio operating tents at two sites 1 km apart. Outdoor toilets were built at both sites, and the crew moved generators (heavy!), fuel and water. They prepared meals and took laundry back to the ship. Although we are camping in the wilderness, in these practical respects the crew is an integral part of the overall Ducie Island team. They have worked with many radio expeditions before, and have lived on Ducie Island before, so they know what to do. Nigel, Niel, Matt, Bro, Nick and Theresa are fantastic and fun to have around, too.

Sunday evening the construction work was not done, but most were ready to play with radios a bit. We went on the air with 3-4 radio operating positions for a little "cooking session" to test equipment and have some fun after the long days of hard work. After a thousand contacts with stations around the world, sleep caught up with all of us and the stations were shut down for the night.

Monday evening at 7pm we started full-time radio operations with 7 radio operator positions. As we are a team of 13 radio operators and 6 Braveheart crew, staffing 7 radios 24 hours per day makes for some scheduling challenges. The radio operators have settled to the following pattern:

  • 8 hours on the air
  • 4 hours off
  • 8 hours on the air
  • 8 hour rest.

Three groups of operators have staggered patterns, so there are always seven people available to work the radios.

If you do the arithmetic, this adds up to a 28-hour day. Each calendar day our sleep periods and on-air times slip by 4 hours. Over the course of six days each person will have a chance to experience both daytime and nighttime radio conditions, communicating with all parts of the world.

Bro is our main camp cook, and the cook on the Braveheart. Breakfast is at 7am (later for people scheduled to be on the air), lunch around 1pm, and supper at 7pm. The basic staples are stored in waterproof drums on shore, with enough supplies for a few days on our own. The Braveheart sends more supplies, fuel, and fresh water (and clean laundry!) ashore almost every day. Fresh-caught fish are often featured at lunch or dinner. The diet has been varied and delicious. We work too hard to put on any weight, fortunately.

The typical day is partly cloudy, hot in the mid-day sun but comfortable in any shade with a breeze. We have about the most scenic spot in the world for a shower: on the shore of a turquoise lagoon with white sand and colorful fish. One afternoon I was taking my "shower" (one half bucket of fresh water, hoisted up by rope on a tripod high enough to drain through a plastic hose and a normal shower head), and then realized there was a speckled fish about 20cm long just at the shoreline of the lagoon, watching. I cannot imagine what that fish was thinking, but he floated in the water right there until I had packed away my towel and soap.

The tents are a bit hot. We've tried to locate all of then under trees, but the shade can be a bit sparse and it's difficult to get good air circulation without exposing the tent too much to potential stormy winds. For operators who must sleep during the day, we have tarps overhead in breezy locations where a camp cot can be placed for a nap.

We sleep 3 persons in large tents (tall enough to stand inside) on folding camp cots that are pretty comfortable. Evenings are beautiful -- huge star-filled skies, a waxing moon until midnight now, and pleasant temperatures. A few nights have had showers -- short, dense downpours. On the first night I used one of these to take a quick fresh-water shower. The rain temperature was very refreshing... but the shower was a bit TOO short: I was left standing naked on the beach with a few soapy areas when the rain moved away. Life is so difficult sometimes.

The Braveheart remained anchored off our main camp, on the east shore of the island, for the first few days. Last Tuesday it moved around to the north shore as the seas on the windward side were getting rather rough. Last night (Thursday) it had moved around to the southwestern lee shore. Each day at high tide one or two landing boats can get over the shallow lagoon entrance and cross over to our camps.

We have two radio operating sites. The second is about 1 km away on the north shoreline. It's a moderately easy walk over an open plain of ancient coral worn rough by erosion. We schedule operators at night in a pattern to minimize the long walk in the dark, but with a flashlight held low (waist high), the shadows cast by the irregular terrain make it pretty easy to pick one's way across under the stars.

From a radio operating standpoint, the expedition to date has been a huge success. We are far above even the most optimistic expectations for results to date. The new antenna designs are outstanding performers. The new radio, on its first expedition, has been superb and the manufacturer (Elecraft, in the USA) has been swamped with inquires. Our laptops, WiFi network, and microwave data network between the two camps has worked well. The Honda generators have been fuel thrifty and reliable. We are now on day 4 of full-time operations with very few problems. Reports of our signals from all over the world are uniformly excellent. Contact totals are running at record-breaking rates:

  • cooking session: 1034 contacts
  • Day 1: 17,026 contacts (this may be a one-day record)
  • Day 2: 14,301 contacts
  • Day 3: 13,728 contacts, including a clock hour with over 1200 contacts

We are now two hours from the end of Day 4, and in a few minutes we will make our 60,000th radio contact. While the pace will slow down, this is an outstanding start. You can imagine the big smiles around the camp.

For comparison, the top 4 radio expeditions in history are:

  • Comoros Island - 2001 Feb - 168,722 contacts in 20 days
  • Rodrigues Island - 2004 Mar/Apr - 153,113 contacts in 24 days
  • St Brandon Atoll - 2007 Sep - 135,600 contacts in 21 days.
  • Swains Island - 2007 Jul/Aug - 117,205 contacts in 11 days.

We expect to be on-air for 14-15 days, weather permitting.

Enough statistics! Everyone is well. Outside of a few minor sunburns, there have been no injuries. There are no annoying bugs! We are having fun in a beautiful location, on an adventure that each of us will remember for the rest of our lives.

More news later...

-- Eric & company

Pictures

I reorganized the picture gallery. Under "DXpedition - FO" you can find now pictures of the team stopping in Tahiti, French Polynesia. The pictures after they left civilization can be found now under "DXpedition - *date*" where *date* is the date when I got new pictures from the island.

6m Operation

So far there are no news about the 6m operation. I hope to get more information about it in the next days.

Donations lists on the website

Sorry for not updating the donations lists on the website every day. There are too many mails comming in concerning the operation and other stuff which have priority. I hope to update the donors the next days.

Your QSO is not in the online log?

It can happen that QSOs are missing in the online log since data can get lost during the transfer from Ducie Island to the server. I get more than 50 emails per day with the request to correct the callsign or to look up if this or that QSO is in the online log. I am sorry but I will not correct any callsign in the database and I don't have the time to look up in the database if someones callsign (or busted callsign) is in the log. If your callsign doesn't show up in the online log there is only one possibility left: try to contact VP6DX again.

Thank you for your understanding.