28 February 2008

A Clean Sweep and a Great DXpedition

For the past few weeks, the HF bands have been full of activity with the VP6DX DXpedition to Ducie Island, a small atoll in the Pitcairn Islands which is a separate DXCC entity.

I hadn't really planned to be active with them, but I was playing with RTTY on 20 meters back on Feb. 13th and made a QSO with them. I gradually started working them on other bands and modes, and before long it became a quest. I was quite excited to snag them on Valentine's Day on 10 meters. I tuned up the screwdriver on the truck to catch them on 17 meter phone. I worked them in my truck on 80 meters at around 3:40 in the morning, during a short break while providing communications support at an all-night bike race event. I overcame my fears of fast code QSO's and started working the CW slots (it's a lot easier to work fast CW when it's not a long chatty QSO!)

I strung up an Alpha Delta Sloper to accompany my little beam and discovered that I could tune it for 17 and 12 meters, in addition to the 30, 80, and 160 meter bands. As the days went by, the quest became an obsession - I really wanted to work them on as many bands and modes as possible. This was made especially difficult by the fact that I'm presently in my busiest work time of the year (yes, it's tax season!)

I thought I was finished for good a few days ago, with all possible bands and modes except for 160 meters. The AD Sloper is really not a good 160 meter antenna, and to make matters worse I put it up where it is direction to the North. But, I kept trying anyway. I was so excited on Tuesday morning when I scored a CW QSO! I had spent many hours trying, and finally got through at about 6:30 a.m., so I'm pretty certain it was a greyline propagation helping my measly little signal to make it through. They took almost all the gear down on Tuesday, so I thought I was finished for sure. On Tuesday night, they were working 160 CW again, and I worked late while keeping an eye on the cluster for a phone op. Finally in the wee hours they gave it a try...only to switch back to CW after a short while because the noise was so bad nobody was getting through. I finally called it quits and went to bed at 4:00 a.m., but got back up at 6:30 on Wednesday morning to get my son up for school. I couldn't resist turning the rig on one more time...and surprise, they were on 160m phone. So I started calling. I kept calling, my voice was almost shouting into the microphone in desperation...and finally I heard them calling back, "Radio Kilo, Radio Kilo, again?" So I kept going and going, and what a miracle, I finally heard my full call come back with a signal report! I was more awake than ever despite only having a couple of hours of sleep, the adrenaline was really pumping as I gave my signal report to them. I was so excited that I gave a CW-style RST, "599 599", instead of just the normal "59", but I guess they forgave me. That QSO was definitely one of the most difficult ones I've ever made.

So I ended up with a "clean sweep" (they never activated 6 meters, so I got all 20 possible band-slots) and I suspect I was one of the last ones to make it into the log, as they tore down the rest of the gear on Wednesday and are now on ship sailing for home. I couldn't wait to see the online log to make sure I wasn't dreaming! And sure enough, I'm in the log - the picture above is a snapshot of their online log checker. I even made it in the top 100 for CQ Zone 3 (#86) and the Western United States (#83)! Not bad for a station with very limited antennas and no amplifier. My buddy Larry also had the bug and he scored a clean sweep too, with the exception of the RTTY slots.

This DXpedition set many records with over 183,000 QSO's. It certainly got me fired up to work more DX. I've actually logged quite a few DX contacts with other countries in recent times, and I'm already in a big backlog on QSL'ing. Tomorrow night the ARRL International DX Contest starts, and while I don't plan to make it a major effort, I'll probably get on and try for a few new ones between work and family commitments. Fun stuff!

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