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Friday, April 11, 2014

The 2014 Amsterdam Is. DX'pedition – a Most Memorable Experience

My good friend, Arnie, N6HC, has give the WVDXA a first person account of the recent FT5ZM DX'pedition to Amsterdam Island.  What follows is his account of the "Trip of a Lifetime" (in my opinion) to a place that just can not be any further away from West Virginia!

N6HC Operating as FT5ZM
On January 14, 2014 a team of 14 very experienced DXpeditioners departed Fremantle, Western Australia on the RV Braveheart for a nine day 1900 nautical mile passage to Amsterdam Island in the southern Indian Ocean. The team consisted of ten North Americans, one South American and three Europeans.  The countries represented were the United States (New Jersey, Ohio, Georgia, Illinois, Minnesota, California), Canada, Martinique, Colombia, Norway, Russia and Tajikistan. We planned to activate Amsterdam Island for the first time since 1998. The island ranked in the top five of most wanted entities for DXCC.  Ralph Fedor, K0IR, had spent over two years organizing this trip to make it one of the most successful DXpeditions in recent memory.
The Northern Corridor Radio Group consisting of members from Perth and the surrounding areas proved to be an invaluable resource to the project.  They provided transportation from the airport, hosted two BBQs and loaned us multiple aluminum tower sections for our Yagi antennas.
The crew of five plus our ship Captain, Matt Jolly, worked tirelessly to ready the boat for our journey.  It quickly became clear that our team was really twenty strong as the crew was completely committed to making our endeavor a successful one.  They did a lot of the heavy lifting and made sure that we were comfortable and safe for our passage. The Indian Ocean was not so thoughtful and made our journey somewhat uncomfortable for several days.  We passed the time operating maritime mobile as VK6FZM, read books, did crossword and Sudoku puzzles, watched DVDs and clung tightly to our bunks during heavy seas.  We came to know each other very well over those nine days.
We arrived at the island on January 23, 2014 and the following day began transferring our equipment to the island by Zodiac.  The French inhabitants were extremely helpful with this task and efficiently allocated the offloaded equipment to the appropriate station sites using a fork-lift, tractor and trailer.  We didn’t know what to expect from the twenty resident islanders but our trepidation was quickly allayed.  We saw nothing but smiles and a can-do attitude that made it clear that our team had grown again this time to forty strong.  After a brief orientation, we split up into two radio teams and went to our respective work sites…either the lower Mataf site about 76 feet above sea level and a half mile from the Martin de Vivies base or the upper Antonelli site about 650 feet above sea level with a two mile hike from the base and uphill through very rough terrain.  It took us a couple of days to assemble the antennas and stations, erect the antennas, establish generator power and network our computers.
At both sites we used three element monoband Yagis on 10, 12, 15, 17 and 20 meters, single element vertical antennas for 30, 40 and 80 meters and an EY8MM “special” 160 meter top loaded vertical only at the Antonelli site.  The Yagis were rotated manually by the “Armstrong” method. The transceivers were Elecraft K3s driving either OM Power OM-2000 or Elecraft KPA-500 amplifiers. Several of the transceivers had auxiliary Elecraft panadapters.  The interfaces were by W3YY, the band pass filters were individual ICE models in the shack and 4O3A high power models at the tower base.  We used N1MM logging software and the MMTTY engine for radio teletype.  There were three 6000 watt generators at each site and the Braveheart crew maintained the generators throughout the operation. Corporate sponsorship was generous and without their support this operation would have been impossible. FT5ZM hit the airwaves on January 26, 2014 to humongous pile-ups.  Those pile-ups never abated. When we closed the operation on February 12, 2014 the pile-ups were still humongous.  In spite of meticulous planning, several obstacles were encountered.  The terrain between Antonelli and Mataf made networking of both sites problematic.  Some of the computer power supplies were RF noisy making it difficult to operate on some bands.  After one week of operation, we found that our 40 and 80 meter operation from Mataf was interfering with the geomagnetic monitoring that the resident scientists were carrying out; we had to shut down 40 and 80 meter operation from Mataf. 
FT5ZM Team
During the day, we were serenaded by the island seals and their calves who clamored for their next meal.  There were thousands of seals that called Amsterdam their home.  At night they came out of the ocean to nestle in the thick clumps of grass which were interspersed with large lava rocks.  They had no fear of humans and, if approached, could become very aggressive.  Our French host required us to agree not to travel at dark from our operating shacks.  It was dangerous at Mataf because we might find a family of seals in the brush around our towers; seal bites can be very nasty.  It was dangerous at Antonelli because the two mile hike to base was over uneven and perilous terrain.  The only way to abide with this constraint was to have 12 or 24 hour shifts.  There were three bunk beds at each site so it was possible to catch a quick nap if one was necessary.  Small “kitchens” were set up at each site so a meal could be enjoyed if anyone needed a snack or drink.
We were treated royally at Martin de Vivies base.  We were housed in a dormitory with two to a room.  We had flush toilets, warm showers and comfortable bunk beds.  We had use of the local laundry facilities and internet, although our connection rate was painfully slow and we had to use French keyboards!  The biggest surprise was the gourmet food that we enjoyed.  Breakfast was from 6:30 AM to 9:00 AM and was continental with a choice of fruit, fruit juices, hot chocolate, coffee or tea, cold cereal and warm baguettes with butter, margarine or jam.  Lunch and dinner were a different matter altogether.  We were treated to fresh fish, lobster, sausage, beef or chicken, salads, vegetables, rice, French fries (frites), pasta and delicious sauces to dress up the already yummy feast.  Dessert consisted of various choices of cheeses, cakes and pastries and even ice cream sundaes with chocolate and whipped cream toppings. With each meal there was a choice of beverage which included French wine.  No one suffered malnutrition on Amsterdam Island!  There was also a small bar which served soft drinks, beer, wine and various liquors.  No one suffered from thirst on Amsterdam Island, either!  It was not unusual for the team to give Francis, the chef, a round of applause in appreciation of his delicious creations.
Our radio team was integrated into the French team at the Skua restaurant.  We each performed at least once as “petit Marie” helping “grande Marie” clean the restaurant floor once daily and set and bus the tables for lunch and dinner. 
The eight K3 transceivers hummed for seventeen days churning out 170,000 QSOs. The breakdown by continent was 50% Europe, 25% North America, 22% Asia, and 3% Africa/South America and Oceania. The statistics by mode were 95,000 CW, 63,000 SSB and 12,000 RTTY.  Our most productive bands were 10 meters (30,834), followed closely by 15 meters (28,237) and 20 meters (27,816). We worked DXCC on every band except 80 meters (96) and 160 meters (85). There were over 36,000 unique calls in the log.
Unfortunately, we had to cease operation one day earlier than scheduled due to an approaching unfavorable weather front causing rough surf. Heavy seas would make it impossible to load the RV Braveheart.  With a heavy heart, we departed the island and waved goodbye to our friends at the pier. The nine day transit back to Fremantle blessed us with six days of calm weather and only three more days of tossing and rolling.  We were all glad to finally place our feet on solid ground on February 22.  With our sea legs still under us and the ground “moving,” we were graciously treated to another BBQ by the Northern Corridor Radio Group at their club station. The following evening our radio team started leaving the continent down under. 
We will fondly remember the generosity of our Australian hosts, the graciousness of our French hosts and the comradeship of the Braveheart crew. We gratefully thank our support team who helped at every step of the DXpedition. Lastly, we will never forget our radio team mates and what we accomplished together on this DXpedition.  We hope you made it into the log and that you enjoyed our adventure as much as we did.  
DXpedition web site: http:\\
Copyright © 2014 by Arnold Shatz