Tuesday, April 7, 2009

VX8X Write-up (Part II)

After all the trials and tribulations, ups and downs, and driving back and forth, by 0300z Friday night I was back on the island and ready to hit the air. I had committed to IREF to make at least 500 contacts to qualify for their generous grant and secretly I was hoping to put a 1000 in the log. Even as a multi-op station in recent contests we had never managed to make more than 600 QSO's but I knew that between the IOTA chasers and the prefix hunters I had a pretty good shot. My operating plan was pretty straightforward. Work Asia and Oceania in the evening then hit Eu sunrise and work Europe for as long as I could. If I ran out of propagation on 20m I would have to drop down to 40m and take what I could get. Grab a few hours sleep and be onto Europe again until their sunset then switch to North America until 20m opened to Asia again. Repeat as necessary. As it turned out, this was one part of the plan that never had to be revised.

I pointed the beam WNW and only had to call CQ two times before the first JA's, UA0's and UA9's started going into the log. A few minutes after that I was spotted on the cluster and we were off to the races. The VFO's were all ready to go split because I was anticipating a big pileup and I wasn't disappointed. Within ten minutes of getting on the air I was already operating split and keeping the rate at over a hundred an hour. By 0500z there were more Europeans than JA's calling so I swung the beam around straight over the pole. There were a LOT of early risers in Europe this weekend! The pileup was huge. I was already working split so I decided to try going by numbers. The pile didn't seem to be getting any smaller and the rate was starting to slip as I needed more and more fills to complete the contacts. I've worked European pileups before and I knew how to keep things moving but around 1:30am local time I decided to throw in the towel. I'd been on the go for two days straight and I knew I'd need to be in top form the next day. I fueled up the generator so it would be ready to go in the morning, warmed up the truck and crawled into my sleeping bag for a few hours of sleep.

I was up with the sun the next morning at 8am and it took almost 45 minutes to get coffee made, grab some breakfast and, most importantly, warm the shack up. At 1430z I took a spin through the bands to see how propagation was shaping up. Europe was coming through but I was still sleepy and a bit gunshy from the night before so I decided to beam North America to get warmed up. The first station I worked spotted me on the cluster and the rate took off instantly again. After only 20 minutes on Saturday morning I realized I had this thing beat. It was only the first hour of the first morning, the total QSO count was already approaching 500, and I was only getting started. Relieved that the pressure was now off, all warmed up and with the first cup of coffee starting to kick in I decided it was time fulfill my promise to give special attention to Europe. Shortly after 1500z I turned the beam back to Eu and for the next few hours I slogged it out with the Europeans. Fortunately propagation was good, and I was running split so they had no trouble hearing me.

No offense intended to anyone but pileups from different areas of the world are very different . I find pileups of Russian and Japanese stations to be very orderly. If you return a call and you get a letter or number wrong you sometimes have to coax the station into giving his call again so you can correct yourself. Everyone calls then everyone listens, just like it's supposed to work. The Europeans are a little more, uh, let's say 'free spirited'. I find the best way to run a European pileup is to be as polite and firm as you can, never reward bad behavior and keep repeating instructions over and over until everyone knows that they have to behave. As long as you can keep a decent rate going no one will get too frustrated. But its a lot of work, especially if propagation is good and there's a gadjillion stations calling.

After a couple of hours I needed a 'break' so turned the beam back to the southeast and started to pick up more W/VE stations. I stayed there all afternoon until 2130z when I hit QSO number 1000 and decided to stop for a bite to eat and tend to the Ellice Island Light and Power Company. I had already been already starting to get a few JA's calling in so I turned the antenna around to Asia and had an instant JA pileup. Unfortunately, it was still a bit early there and after an hour I started running out of callers so turned back to the south to work USA and pick up some South American and VK/ZL stations. As midnight zulu approached I was once again getting more and more JA's in off the side of the beam so it was back to the land of the rising sun to start over from where I had begun almost 24 hours ago. With the QSO count past 1500 there was no pressure at all now and the evening flew by with good rates and stations calling in from all over. After a weak ZL called in I decided to beam Oceania for a while and see if I could get some VK/ZL's or a few Pacific islands but didn't hear any. Around the same time, the other good news I came to realize was that I had plenty of fuel for the generator. I really didn't have much of an idea about how much fuel it would require and I had only brought 25 gallons. Now passing the halfway point knew I had enough to last for the duration (and then some).

The best part of the whole trip was just after sunset that night. I took some time-off to do a few housekeeping tasks (oil and fuel in the generator, warm up the truck, call home on the satphone, etc) and I paused to take stock of where I was, what I was doing, and how things were progressing. The sky was pink and purple in a typically beautiful Arctic sunset. There had been no equipment problems to date. The weather was still the same and, most importantly, I was pretty confident that unless the bands totally gave out on me, I'd be able to push past 2000 contacts before I wrapped things up the next day. I took a look through the log and it seemed to be split about 30/30/40 between Europe, Asia, and North America which sounded like a reasonable balance (the actual numbers ended up being 33/20/47). Propagation had been excellent so far. I had no idea what the flux or K-index were doing but as long as I kept putting contacts in the log I decided it didn't really matter. Life was good and I was very pleased at how everything was turning out.

Then I remembered 40 meters. There had been a bit of hew and cry for 40m during the original planning so I (somewhat reluctantly) included it in the plans. I decided to take some time to get on and see if I could work anyone. I called CQ on 7.160 for about 5 minutes with no takers so decided to try higher up the band in the US General class portion. After a while I worked a W1, a W8, a W5 and couple of VE7s. Then nothing. I thought to myself 'I gave up a pileup for this?' If I had been spotted I probably could have put a couple of hundred contacts in the log but given the way things had been going I decided that I would get back onto 20m and work Asia until European sunrise then call it a night. Propagation was great and for the next few hours I had a strong signal into Russia, Khazakstan and Ukraine as the greyline tracked across the Urals. Once the Europeans started calling in I quit for the night. I wanted to be fresh and hit Europe in the morning.

The last day dawned bright and early and first thing on the agenda was the final run of Europeans. Propagation wasn't as good as the previous night. The band was also crowded with contesters and rag chewers. I called CQ on 14.260 and found out that there was already another expedition on. I finally got a spot with enough space to work split and called QRZ? VX8X. As I had become accustomed to, an instant pileup ensued. This time though it was much, much harder to make a good rate. All weekend long I had been riding the RF gain and the attenuator to help sort out the callers but not today. The whole pileup was only registering about S-5 on the meter. Even split I was having a hard time picking out callers. Given the moderately crowdy conditions I was hesitant to start spreading the pileup out but I didn't have much choice. It was still slow going but once they were spread over 5 kHz the rate picked back up again.

Just like the previous runs, three or four hours of a huge pileup like that was all I could take. As conditions picked up late in the morning I started getting more and more W/VE's calling in off the side of the beam. Finally I decided to just turn the beam and run stateside. And run I did! I never had a big pileup but instead was blessed with a continuous flow of callers that I worked as fast as I could. For the last three hours my rate was over 150/hr as I ran stations like my hair was on fire. I even had one guy, thinking I was a contest station, give me a report of 59-001! Not only that but, despite the fact that the beam was pointed to the East coast, I was still getting lots of callers from Europe and even had several Middle East and African stations call in. I blew past 2000 contacts around lunchtime without even slowing down.

Shortly after 2pm I started thinking about how much work I had to do before I could leave. Everything had gone splendidly up to this point. The operation went better than I could have imagined so why push it? I was pretty tired and I didn't want to wait too late to tear down and then have to make the three hour drive back to town running on mental-empty. With just over 2200 QSO's in the log I decided to stop right then and there. I thanked the guys in the pileup for their patience but I had to go QRT. I turned off the radio and walked outside into the sunshine. I was surprised to see a very large silver fox nosing around the edge of the pad. He seemed completely unaware of the miracle that had just taken place in his frosty little backyard.

Final QSO tally: 2228
Breakdown is 1027 NA, 721 EU, 430 AS, 22 AF/OC/SA


Rick said...

Awesome story -- congratulations!!

I'm wondering what kind of vehicle you drove, and whether you carried a rifle?

K6LSN said...

Great job! I worked ya Sunday here. I really liked hearing how you used your knowledge and had a great game plan, Great write-up, I learned alot, Thanks John 73

va3qv said...

Fantastic....I missed you but listened to your pile ups.... Congrats....


VE1VOX said...

Great story. I really enjoy the follow up to the operation. The pics are great. Thanks for the info and the new IOTA in the log.

73, Dana

VA7DXC said...

Well done. Your setup was so simple and yet so effective. I didn't get a chance to call on this one but looking forward to your next High Artic DXpedition.

73 Dave

Dragan K0AP said...


I enjoyed reading your article. Very exciting.
I was lucky to work you for a new IOTA and I thank you very much for picking me up in the crowd.
All the best.

73 Dragan K0AP, Z32XX

Steve said...

Just read your blog, made great reading, discovered it from reading the UK's RSGB Radcom magazine where you made the news with photo's of your truck and trailer and one portrait...
I know from watching the TV series Ice road trucker's how cold that place can be...

Well done on the DXpedition...

73's de Steve M3SXA

ridgeback said...

Great Job John

Thanks for a really interesting read,and of course thanks once again for the new Island

Paul G4RRA