Monday, January 19, 2009

No Man is an Island

I remember back in the early days being called by an Italian station who excitedly asked me "Are you an island?" followed by "Are you a zona 1 or a zona 2?" John Dunne's Meditation aside, the op seemed somewhat crestfallen when I replied that no, I was on the mainland and no, I'm in zone 1. Never mind that there are less than a dozen active VE8 stations spread across a million or so square miles of remote Arctic wilderness. It doesn't matter how rare you REALLY are as long as you count for some sort of major award. DXCC? Nope, we're just 'Canada' and who hasn't confirmed that? Worked All Zones? Maybe somewhat rare on some bands but Zone 1 also includes 5000 KL7 stations in Alaska so no luck there either. I suppose there's a few 'Worked All Canada' type awards from RAC but I don't think they're that popular. If you're not a distant DXCC entity, rare state or rare CQ zone then you're worthless as DX. Some won't even consider any VE station DX! Hmmph. It's ALL DX from here!

So what about this island thing? One of the more popular awards, especially in Europe, is the '
Islands on the Air' program sponsored by the Radio Society of Great Britain. The general concept is to work as many worldwide island groups as possible. Many of these numbered groups have NEVER been operated from at all. Even more have only had small operations that made a handful of contacts. As it turns out, there are several very rare island groups that are within reach from here. Here are the ones that I think we (VE8EV and/or VE8DW) might be able to activate:

NA-192 Inuvik Region West Group #15 on most wanted NA island list*

I was on the first expedition that activated this group back in 1994. We went to Hendrickson Island which is just off the mouth of the Mackenzie River in the Beaufort Sea. The winter 'ice road' to Tuktoyaktuk passes within a couple of miles of the island and so we (David VE8NC, Carl VE8CF and myself) drove as far as we could and then snowmobiled the rest of the way. Even with low power at the bottom of the cycle I still recall the huge pileups of Eu stations wanting to get the 'new one'. We made several hundred contacts and no one has been back there since.

This winter there is a drilling operation exploring for gas on Ellice Island which is in the westernmost part of the group. If I play my cards right we may be able to drive up there on the ice road in March right before they shut down and see if we can't knock this group right off the list.

NA-129 Nunavut Banks Island Group #14 on most wanted NA island list*

This one is a no-brainer. Actually located in the Northwest Territories, I travel to Sachs Harbour on Banks Island several times a year. My current plan is to schedule my next trip to coincide with the IOTA Contest weekend in July.

NA-182 Inuvik Region East Group #6 on most wanted NA island list*

The East Group is a little trickier but it appears that Nicholson Island was the site of a former DEW Line station and now hosts an unmanned North Warning System radar site. This means that there is occasional helicopter traffic there to support the NWS station as well as a runway for fixed wing aircraft. Not sure what sort of landing permissions are required but I'll check into it and we can pencil this one for next year maybe.

NA-193 Yukon Territory Group

Already claimed by 15% of the IOTA programme participants this one isn't on the most wanted list but it is semi-rare and located nearby. Lots of summer tourist flights to this island which is administered by Parks Canada. Might be a worthwhile destination if we could catch a free ride there and back.

NA-006 Nunavut Victoria Island Group

Another one that isn't so rare (claimed by 24%) is Victoria Island, home to Cambridge Bay, a town about half the size as Inuvik. For many years it was the QTH of Ken, VE8KM (now a VE6 I think) and many visitors since then so it is fairly well represented. That notwithstanding, there's a little town on the far western corner of Victoria Island called Ulukhaktok. It's in the Northwest Territories as well and another of the communities that I visit on a regular basis. Safe to say you'll hear me on from there sooner or later.

For those island chasers that are drooling all over their keyboards now, let me mention a few last things. First and foremost, these places are difficult to get to on a fixed schedule. Planes are frequently cancelled due to weather and other issues. Another big problem is propagation. They're all in the auroral zone so there's always the chance of being there but having no propagation to anywhere. That said, I will try to advertise in advance as soon as we have a firm date for an expedition but nothing is for sure until it actually happens. I will also try to get special callsigns as well. 73 and cu in the logs!

* Not including the 11 'Mostest Wanted' North American island groups that have never been activated at all.


Anonymous said...

VE8 also stands as a seperate entity in the RSGB Commonwealth Award. I'm hoping to work you guys for this, as VE8 has eluded me so far.

Good luck - David, VK2NU

UU2JQ said...

I wish you good luck in your projects and hope to hear and make QSOs with you from many IOTA islands! All the best!