VK9CZ   2017   DXpedition

Cocos Keeling 2017 - the story of VK9CZ - 24th October to 7th November 2017

September 2017  -  from Keith GM4YXI / GM5X :

We are looking forward to our return to Cocos Keeling and re-activating VK9CZ. Although the islands have had a few DXpeditions since our last trip in 2013, and there will be an DXpedition (VK9CI) there just a couple of weeks before us(!), we figured it will still be a fun place to visit and we will still be relatively rare DX. We will also participate in the CQ WW SSB DX contest as a multi-2 entry – as we did last year from V6Z – over our first weekend on the island.

As you may see from the photos posted on this website, the trees that lined the beach appear to have disappeared. We suspect coastal erosion, something that was evident to an extent four years ago. This has created some logistical issues. We need to take more fibreglass poles for antenna supports and this, in turn, adds weight to the inventory, meaning we have to leave something behind – probably coax! We are always right on the limit of our 6 x 23Kg bags. Rick, DJ0IP, of Spiderbeam, and the folks at Nevada Radio (Portsmouth, England – thanks to Mike, G3SED and Glynn, G4CFS) have been extremely helpful in shipping us new 18m and 12m Spiderbeam poles and providing us with some sponsorship. This greatly assists with planning our antennas in advance and removes some (but not all!) uncertainty. Compared to the last two years at V6Z, we have much less real estate to work with and will only have one antenna per band (probably). So we may well be able to survive with a little less coax. At least one remote antenna switch will be used.

The contest should be interesting. VK9C is in Oceania, so our QSO points with EU and AS are favourable. We should be a fairly scare multiplier – hopefully unique! The West island of Cocos Keeling is, with the exception of the Aceh province at the NW tip of Sumatra (YB), the closest point of land in West OC to South-East EU. We can only hope that the high bands give us some sort of propagation. The solar number predictions definitely have a ‘close to solar minimum’ feel to them but we shall see. We will certainly be on the lookout for 10m QSOs in the contest, and 10 and 12m openings throughout our stay. 15m is usually the ‘money’ band – let’s hope that can still be the case.

Apart from having fun on the radio and giving out QSOs to ANYONE who wants to work us, we will have two main priorities – the low bands and North America. The former is pretty much in our control, at least in terms of effort. Last year we did more than ever before on 160 and 80m. This year it will probably be even more so. Low band antennas are a priority, hence the need for reliable supports. Paths to North America are very challenging from VK9C. We had some interesting skew-path propagation into W4 and W5 on 80m in April 2013. We will research propagation long and short Path to NA on any band that might open and do what we can – the outcome is not in our control!

The location we use is beach side and immediately across the road from the huge airstrip which occupies a fair chunk of the west limb of West Island – see Google Earth or the photos on this web site. The beach runs roughly NW-SE so the path to Europe is parallel to the coastline, while Africa and long path to North America is straight out over the sea. Short path to the Americas is across the narrow strip of land (300-400m) to the lagoon. This year we will have better Rx antennas for the low bands. Despite the reputation beverages have for not working close to salt water, ours worked very well in such circumstances at V6Z last year. We intend to have some such arrangement running NW-SE provided there are no unknown barriers. NE-SW will have to be a Receive loop since there is no space for a long wire. Chris assures me the Rx antenna pre-amps will work this time.

We are very aware that whenever we activate a relatively rare DXCC, we always seem to ‘upset’ some folks. We are not on the correct band at the correct time, we QSY just before the band peaks, we allegedly ignore certain locations, too much SSB, too little SSB, not enough RTTY, etc etc. We cannot please everyone, we cannot do everything with our limited resources (two operators who need some sleep and who have to eat, two stations, wire antennas) but rest assured we will be doing our utmost to at least please most of you! It is likely that our usual operating pattern involving one 4 hr sleep each per day in hours of darkness may have to change if two stations are on the low bands at the same time. This is hard to predict until we are on site and know how the bands are. Sometimes on these trips we have to choose between sleep and food if certain band openings are not to be missed. In 2013, there were logistical issues in terms of getting food – the ‘motel’ restaurant was a little unpredictable as it sometimes, at short notice, had to cook for hundreds of migrants who had ‘strayed’ into Australian territory and were in the process of being repatriated courtesy of the RAAF. We could not be fed. We think this traffic may well have ceased. Also in 2013, the local shop was virtually empty as the island’s supply ship had not been by for months. I seem to recall living on powdered milk (pretty good), Cheerios (stale and way past sell by date) and instant pot noodles (yuk) for several days. What will 2017 bring?

Let us hope for safe travels, decent propagation (we know it’s gonna be tough) and loads of QSOs.

Postscript written April 2019

After considering the lack of trees and the need for good low band antennas we ended up taking 7 x 23Kg bags including a second Spiderbeam 18m pole. The poles are excellent for 80 and 160m DXpedition antennas, they a strong, tolerate all the stresses associated with installation and tear-down and take the frequent tropical squally winds in their stride. Thanks to Spiderbeam for their support in helping us have these poles.

Both poles were used to install 80 and 160 ON the beach. 160m was IN the water at high tide!! Installation of the 160m antenna in particular, was quite job in limited space and we had some issues in regard to our guys and radials crossing the ‘view’ of one of the properties adjacent to our QTH. We were forced to compromise somewhat with this antenna. Our FO0AAA receive loop, once again failed to deliver. This antenna will NOT be tried again. We strung a 150m beverage terminated to NW (a perpendicular direction is completely impossible) but this did not work either. Perhaps it was too close to the sea. It may have been related to the strong prevailing onshore winds and an incredible amount to salt spray which actually created a visible haze on most days, but we had a lot of antenna problems related to arcing from radials and changes in LC characteristics. The poles were soaked in brine and at night the SWR on some bands could change dramatically – we noticed this most on 40m where we had to detach the wire from most of the poles length, to ‘offset’ the wire using scrap twigs from the beach. I think I (Keith) ended up repairing most of the low band antennas several times during the trip! Here is some ‘proof’ that the 160m Spiderbeam pole was in the sea at times……………….. 

                        Peter VK9FISH (L) with Keith GM4YXI (R) 

 

If you want to hear what a VK9CZ 17m European CW pileup sounded like - please click here to play or download a 5-minute MP3 audio clip (size 4.1MB). This was recorded on 4th November 2017, starting at 1317z, in a 300Hz b/w on a K3. It is unedited - you will hear me (Chris) making mistakes when I have to paddle something, me wildly guessing callsigns, etc. Most signals were fairly weak - I worked 14 stns in this 5-minute period (= 168 Qs/hr = not very fast) Every time I record a contest or DXpedition, I can copy the callsigns much more easily listening to the recording than I did in real-time - hmm.

The expedition was great fun and overall, we thought, quite successful. We made over 20,000 QSOs and had a good time in the CQWWSSB contest. We tried hard on 160m but often with very little success – on only a couple of nights were we able to run a reasonable number of stations. On 80m we had a lot more success, again including a lot of QSOs into NA. At the other end of the spectrum, 10m was a bit of a surprise – we were able to make nearly 3000 QSOs. 12m and 15m were also better than expected.

First QSO : 1625z 24th October E77EA on 30m CW       Last QSO : 2330z 6th November NK1K on 40m CW