VK9CZ   2013   DXpedition

Cocos Keeling 2013 - the story of VK9CZ - 30th March to 13th April 2013

After our ZK2 exploits in 2011, we were keen for another DXpedition but it was April 2013 before we could find a time (and place) that worked. Keith’s day job is always the problem. Although we were keen to return to the Pacific, we decided to try Cocos Keeling in the Eastern Indian Ocean and so, VK9CZ took shape.

The 'jinx' that affected some DXpeditions around that time nearly stopped VK9CZ at an early stage. Our late-evening British Airways flight from Heathrow to Sydney was cancelled due to a hydraulic fluid leak on the 747 - we were convinced that we would miss our Saturday connecting flight ex-Perth to Cocos and therefore have to re-book on the Tuesday or following Friday flight, losing vital DXpedition days. Luckily a really helpful ground-staff member was able to rebook us on a flight via Singapore the next day, which missed out the original Singapore-Sydney-Perth legs and got us to Perth in time for the Virgin Australia flight to Christmas Island then Cocos Keeling. Our nerves were frayed by these events and we spent a lot of time worrying about our baggage until it arrived safely and on time in Perth.

    Welcome to Cocos Island

Arriving on Cocos at about 1500 local time on Saturday afternoon, we encountered our next problem. The rooms we had booked at the Cocos Beach Motel were out of commission because of a broken solar water heater. We persuaded the motel manageress to let us use room 28 for operating, because of its end location and open spaces nearby, and another for sleeping. Next we discovered that the air conditioner in Room 28 was dead - a useless mass of rust because of its proximity to the beach and the constant salt spray. This lack of aircon made the first four days of the DXpedition very difficult - we were installing antennas outside in 35oC heat, then trying to operate efficiently inside in similar or greater temperatures - coming directly from snow and +4oC in Scotland made this not easy. A new air con unit had to be brought from the other main island and was thankfully installed on the Wednesday!

It was not possible for us to ship some of the heavyweight items (Spiderbeam yagi and aluminium mast, 18m fibreglass pole) we had used on Niue, so we decided to try vertical 2el Moxons on smaller fibreglass poles, and verticals on 17m-160m. Although we had planned to use 2el vertical Moxons on 20m and 17m, we had some issues in installing these and instead opted to use on a vertical (dipole) on those bands. There were lots of beach side coconut palms so with ropes, we were able to space out verticals at the beach head, close to salt water, at least at high tide. These worked very well. We did have some inter-station QRM and had no WARC band filters so we had to move some antennas around, within the limits of space we had to work with. Our 80m vertical was made with a double vertical conductor so that one part could be disconnected at the feedpoint and the antenna converted to a 160m L for alternate nights, a modification which worked well enough from an electrical point of view although on 160m we worked very little. It was not a good 160m antenna.

Left to right -  30m vertical in palm tree on beach, 17m vertical suspended from rope off palm tree, 12m Moxon            

   15m Moxon on L, 17m vertical on R 

Conditions on the high bands had been pretty good in 2011, and we were also blessed with great propagation in April 2013. Into Europe on 10-20m was an easy path, but we also did remarkably well into North America, even running 100W. One of our amplifiers went QRT after one day into the DXpedition. We suspect it did not survive the journey. Twilight propagation on 30m and 40m was terrific, especially on the long path into the USA but the real surprise for us was amazing LP propagation into our antipodeal zone, SE USA on 80m. This has been studied and is discussed in this WWROF webinar by Ed N4II

   Early sunset - 160m/80m vertical on the right

Cocos Keeling is an interesting place. The population is tiny – circa 600 people, mainly ethnic Malays, and much of the West Island, where we were, is occupied by a huge military airfield and associated facilities, which also serves as the commercial airport to allow visitors and residents to ship in and out from Perth, WA. Three quarters of the population live in the NE corner of the atoll (Home island) - our VK9CZ QTH, the Cocos Beach Motel, was right beside the airport. Several flights came and went during our stay, transferring illegal immigrants to Australia from a camp on Christmas Island (VK9X) to repatriation further East in the Indian Ocean. We arrived during Easter weekend 2013 and the ‘resort’ canteen was closed, the bar at the airport did not serve food, so we were a bit challenged on the eating front. Some dodgy seaweed crisps filled a small gap that first evening. Our hopes rose after day 5 when the local store opened, only to find mostly empty shelves and eye-watering prices for everything that was left!  The supply ship had not been in since February and was overdue. We ate a lot of ‘out of date’ Cheerios and pot noodles on that trip.

We finished the two weeks as VK9CZ with 26300 QSOs and a determination to travel again.

Keith GM4YXI / GM5X

  Au revoir Cocos Keeling