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Friday, April 22, 2016

How Heard Island gave me W8OI a lifetime thrill

It all came down to this.  After decades of trying to confirm QSOs with every DXCC land mass in the world, a ham radio contact with one desolate island on the opposite side of our globe was all that I needed to finally reach the Top of the DXCC Honor Roll.   And after four years of planning, in March of this year a team of 12 strong and brave scientists, who were also ham radio operators, took a long, difficult voyage to get there to give me that QSO with the final DXCC entity I needed to “run the table.”

VK0EK team ready to depart Cape Town
The place is Heard Island.  It is about as far away from us in West Virginia as anything on earth can be.  It is close to Antarctica in the southern Indian Ocean.  No people live there, just animals, birds and perhaps thousands of other native species, many of which were heretofore undiscovered.  In addition to setting up amateur radio antennas and transceivers this crew was there to discover as many of those animals and plants as possible.  They were there to do serious research.

The story has a happy ending.  A wealth of scientific knowledge was uncovered and documented.  And thousands of hams around the world, like yours truly, got that last QSO needed to be able to say that they have worked and confirmed all 339 current entities on the DXCC list.  With the sunspot cycle dropping drastically, propagation to the US was poor much of the time but I was able to work Heard several times on CW, SSB and RTTY.  Many other hams logged this difficult one with a “whew” as they climbed another rung up the DXCC ladder.  By the time it ended, this VK0EK DXpedition made more than 75,000 QSOs with radio amateurs on every continent.  Perhaps you worked them too.  If you did, be thankful and consider the sacrifices they made for your pleasure.

Natives stand guard over tent city
As readers of this blog may recall, I was able to go on a DXpedition myself in 2009 to an uninhabited island in the Caribbean called Desecheo (KP5).  It was a “bucket list” trip for me, I personally worked thousands of hams world-wide around the clock for two weeks.  That K5D DXpedition logged 115,787 QSOs.  It was a satisfying accomplishment but it was also hard work and involved long, hot days with very little sleep and nearly a month away from home at my own expense.  So I appreciate what the Heard Island team went through.
For them it was a commitment of nearly seven weeks.  The international team first flew into Cape Town, South Africa from countries around the globe.  Next they sterilized everything they were taking with them because Heard Island is a nature preserve, not to be polluted.  They packed all of their radio gear, generators, fuel, food, water and an endless list of other stuff.  They then loaded all of that, along with themselves, on a vessel called The Braveheart and voyaged 12 long days to Heard.  That voyage was more than 3-thousand miles long and the ship averaged 11 miles per hour through cold and rough seas.  Imagine driving in an automobile night and day without stop at 11 miles an hour for 12 days going from the southern California coast  to the northeastern tip of Maine (about the same length of trip).  When the DXpedition ended another voyage of comparable distance was required departing Heard for Perth, Australia.  Then came the work of unpacking the ship before flying home to wherever.  And while on the island they struggled in bitterly cold weather erecting a huge field of antennas, a tent city had to be built, six stations had to be set up, then those stations had to be operated 24/7, all the research had to be carried out to discover new forms of life in the extremes and finally there was the “fun” of tearing it all down and packing it back aboard ship.

One of many antennas amid desolation
Wasn’t it nice of them to do that just so I could realize a nearly life-long ambition to confirm radio contacts with every entity in the world?  Hi hi.  After 63 years of hamming they put me right up on cloud nine.  

But best of all is the pride I feel in the fine company I share on that cloud.  The WVDXA has eight members at #1 DXCC Honor Roll.  In alphabetical order the other seven are N8DX, W8HC, W8OM (ex WA8VPN), W3UR, W8UV, W8WEJ, and WA8WV.  Three other members - K4OM, W8TN and W8QY - just need one more entity to have them all.   And three SK members made the #1 list before they moved on to that great ham shack in the sky - W8AH, W8QHG and W8GG.  Not bad for our little club, huh?