Lord Howe Island

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VK9LA - DXpedition to Lord Howe Island

Towards the end of last year we were invited to join the ODXG group on a planned dxpedition to Lord Howe Island.
We thought about it for a week or so, discussing the pros and cons of the idea.
The pros – as relative new-comers to Amateur Radio we would learn a lot about dxpeditions, working pile ups and radio operation in general.
The cons – it would cost a fair bit more than a 10 day holiday to Fiji for instance, and much more than our usual style of holiday. We would be spending all this money to go on a holiday with 19 other complete strangers, be awake at all times of the day and night, and have to work hard.Looking SouthLooking South
From the start, my old man John VK4IO, said he would not operate, but he would be “hands on” before hand, during and after wards. Many hours were spent on Skype with Bill Horner VK4FW planning details of equipment, the collection of it all and getting it ready to freight, and then afterwards picking up from the freight depot and distributing all the gear to its rightful owners. A few days were spent at Bills QTH over the New Year erecting each antenna, and checking all the equipment available and making lists of all the gear still required from the other dxpedition members all over the world.
Finally, in the last week of March, we left for Lord Howe, via Sydney. The view from the plane while coming in for landing gives a great idea of the islands attractions. At the southern end are two huge mountains, often with their peaks covered in mist, they are so high, but also this creates a micro climate and environment for many unique flora and fauna. On the western side is the sheltered coral filled lagoon for swimming and diving, and on the eastern side the ocean beaches, one of which has large fish coming into knee deep water to be hand fed. The main grouping of houses and accommodation (not really a township) is towards the northern end of the island spread over the narrower part of the island between the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean.
Some of the members had arrived the day before, and already had the CW shack operational, which was up near the top of the ridge, with a clear area behind to put up a couple of verticals with a large number of radials, but they had to share this area with the beef cattle. With Johns super orange slingshot, one end of a 160m dipole was nearly at the top of a high Norfolk pine. Down at the SSB shack, which was near the lagoon, post office, and a very good café, heavily frequented by dxpedition members, work started the first afternoon on erecting the first of the towers with beams we had down there. Once again the slingshot was used to get the 40m & 80m dipoles up as high as we could in the Norfolk pines. These two dipoles ended up being joined end for end to take advantage of the tallest trees and to help stop interaction between the two when they were operated together.
Chris VK3QB & Catherine VK4VCHChris VK3QB & Catherine VK4VCHThere were three ICOM 7000 radios set up in the SSB area, all with amps, power supplies, band pass filters and other associated equipment. Eventually we had one radio always on 40m, as there was always someone around the world to make contact with; one radio alternated between 80m and 20m in general, and the third radio operated the WARC bands. On the covered verandah just outside another radio was set up mainly for RTTY, but was also used for voice at times. The CW shack had three radio stations and also operated 160m.
Many of the dxpedition members had not used the ICOM 7000 before including myself, but the basic operation was soon learned, and experimenting with menus could be undertaken in the quiet times. The main features used were the split operation and the voice recording. The N1MM logging programming was also new to many, but that too was simple to learn and use. The other piece of equipment that I had used very seldom before was headphones, but our Heil headphones were comfortable and worked well, and once again impossible to do a dxpedition without them. Now at home I find I use headphones in contests to make my life easier.
We followed the grey line operation guidelines we had worked out beforehand. Having not really taken much notice of the greyline before, it makes you realise that the contacts are there to be had, but usually at unsociable and inconvenient hours, but worthwhile exploiting for widening the range of dx entities that can be made contact with. Some bands were quiet with no contact for hours, but then they would suddenly come to life. One lonely contact would be made, and they would post the contact on DX summit, and the next minute you have a pile up – it happened a number of times. For several days in a row I operated the 5 to 8 am shift on 80m. The first half hour was dead silence, then as the greyline moved over Europe I began getting a couple of contacts, and within minutes a pile up of Europeans. Split operation is the only way to deal with these, and there are a number of tricks to successful split operation. Unfortunately on 80m there was a lot of background noise and many contacts were hard to make, and some European operators have very strong signals, drowning out the others, and not hearing well. Hopefully, the contacts I made were happy with the dxpedition and sent QSL cards! Then, as quickly as the pile up begins, it ends.
During the weekend of the dxpedition was the SSB section of the annual CQ WPX Contest, which the SSB shack took part in. We are hoping to do well in our part of the world.
Over the ten days of the operation all the operators worked shifts at different times on different bands, some only SSB, some only CW and others worked both modes. The “young ones”, all the European operators, favoured the night shifts so that they could sight see, snorkel, dive, bushwalk, do photography during the day. The other YL operator Victoria SV2KBS, also a member of ALARA, was a very enthusiastic radio operator, as well as tourist, and would often operate at night until she could no longer stay awake. Special mention must be made of Stan SQ8X, who had his own regular blog from Lord Howe (www.vk9la.net), took many fantastic photos and videos, did all the adventurous activities available, as well as operating SSB and CW for many hours. He has designed the most spectacular QSL card for the dxpediton (see www.sq8x.net). The more experienced dxpeditioners helped the novices with suggestions and advice to make our time easier. The dxpediton web site is www.odxg.org
The climate of Lord Howe is a moderate one, but being in the middle of the ocean is subject to strong winds. The first week we had beautiful sunny days and a light breeze, but over the weekend the strong winds came along with cloud, but not much rain, but at the same time there was a lot of flooding in New South Wales. We were a bit concerned about the beams but they all survived unscathed.
Eventually it was time to pack up, not only our own personal gear, but the crates and towers all had to be packed ready to go back by ship to the mainland. Some members made an effort to see more of Sydney and Australia, but others like us, it was back home and to work on Monday.
John and I both enjoyed meeting other Radio Amateurs from all over the world, and we learnt a great deal about operating, antennas and dxpeditions.Group PhotoGroup Photo