We have made it! At 6 PM local time we arrived at the Whitsunday Islands, on the East Coast of Australia and the end of our journey. The trip home was long but relatively easy. We had almost flat seas to Frederick Reef, where we waited out some high winds. When we got going from Frederick some of the waves were 5 meters tall, but generally of little concern as they we were going in the same direction as the boat. We did some fishing on the 40 hour long trip. We hooked up two magnificent blue marlins, which, of course, were released. In any case, we wanted to catch tuna and were not equipped to fight fish like that. Still, it was exciting.
We will be flying to Sydney on Monday and then back to Miami and Budapest.
Again thanks to everybody for the support, calls and QSO-s.
We are anchored at Frederick Reef to let some rough weather pass and to do some diving. Also, we are somewhat exhausted from the operation, the dismantling of the station, and the long trip from Chesterfield and need some rest. This is a perfect place for all of these. We will resume our homeward trip tomorrow morning at 0600 AM.
In the meantime, we are working on log corrections and handling other QSO related inquiries. These represent a substantial load and a lot of them would be easier to handle if they included the correct date and time. Please note that we have limited Internet access and can not easily access web-sites. We intend to respond to all log related inquiries once we are back on the mainland.
We have raised the anchor and left Chesterfield Reef early this morning (0600 AM local time). We will stop on our way to Australia at two reefs to do some diving and to rest a bit. We hope to be back in Australia by Sunday (Dec 06).
We are all done. The station has been taken down and all equipment has been taken off the island. Except for the footprints, there is no sign left that we were on the island for one month. We are ready to sail tomorrow at 6 AM. The weather forecast is favorable and we hoping to arrive in Australia on Sunday, Dec 06.
Total number of unique QSO-s in our data-base is 36,174. We made 3435 unique QSO-s on 160 meters (and a lot more dupes - which we loved just the same).
Many thanks to all who supported the TX3A effort, thanks to the callers and thanks for the QSO-s! Also thanks to our support team in Hungary . Krisztian, HA5X/HG5XA and Tamas Holman, HA5PT. Also thanks to Carlos, N4IS and George, W8UVZ, for their TB signal reports. A very special thanks goes to Remi, FK8CP, who was instrumental in getting us all the French paper-work.
Today we are tearing the station (and everything else) down. It is going to be a very busy day.
We are done with the general operations of the TX3A 2009 Chesterfield DXpedition. The last QSO was with YL2LO on 160 meters at 1858 UTC. We gave a one more chance to 40 meter RTTY until 2236, when the last RTTY QSO was with JR1BLX. TX3A will be in the CQWW CW contest, operated by Tomi in the single operator, low power category. (I will be diving this weekend!)
We will start taking the station down tomorrow (Sunday), first removing the antennas and other equipment not needed for the contest. We will complete the tear-down on Monday. If the favorable weather forecast is still holding then, we will sail early Tuesday. We intend to stop along the way at one of the outlying reefs of Australia, and then behind the Great Barrier Reef. We expect to reach Australia on Sunday (Nov 6).
Top Band: Last night (Nov 27 0800 to 1900) was a good night on 160. Noise was down and signals from NA were stronger than the past couple of days. N7DF/QRP came through at 1203 with a very good signal from his 5 watts! More amazingly, however, he called an hour later as N7DF/QRPP. He was a solidly readable 549 with his 850 milli-watts (0.85 W)! So if you could not make us on TB with your 100 watts, or even a kW, check your antenna; you may need to lay more radials or raise that inverted V higher. Later, conditions were also good to Europe, although the large number of stations calling on the same frequency - and on top of QSO-s - made the going slow. The only exception to the good conditions was towards Japan. There was a lot noise on our NW Beverage, which made copying JA callers difficult most of the night. Furthermore, at one point we had to move the QSX up to 1827.7 (DWN 3) to avoid another operation that came up 1824.7 (our DWN 6 QSX). Many thanks for all those who called TX3A on Top Band!
The winds have started moderating ahead of a forecast four-day calm period. We hope the calm conditions will last past the weekend and until our departure for Australia on Tuesday (Dec 01).
The bands are crowded with the various pre-contest operations. Although conditions, especially on the higher bands have been poor, there have been some brief openings 0300 on 10 meters to NA and Asia. 15 meters has also been good in the morning. During the night we worked 80 and 40 SSB. Although we intended to start 40 m RTTY at 1900, we missed the 40 m window due to the failure of the K3 radio, which took a couple of hours to repair. We were back on RTTY later on 17 meters. We will try 40 meter RTTY again tomorrow morning (Nov 27, around 1900Z). Please note that during the CQWW contest we will not be making on-line log updates.
Top Band: We started at 0800 hoping to make some SA contacts but nothing was heard. Conditions were good but QRM built up as the other operations came on the air. We moved our QSX to 1828.6 (DWN 2) and later to 1827.7 (DWN 3) to avoid some QRM. We apologize for the frequent QSX changes and the seemingly erratic behavior; we were trying to avoid other people\'s pile-ups. Tonight (Nov 27 0900 Z onward) will be our last 160 meter operation (other than some limited 160 meter contest operation during the weekend).
The good weather continues. Although some of our supplies are starting to run low, we have ample fuel - both for the small boat and the generator - to last us until the end of the operation.
Ahead of the CQWW CW contest a lot of other DXpeditions are setting up and creating their own pile ups, which sometimes co-mingle with ours. While we are trying to avoid them, some overlap does occur. I suspect there will be some of contacts in logs that belong in other logs. We had good propagation yesterday to both NA and Eastern Europe on 28 MHz. We intend to operate on 28 MHz again today (Nov 26) around 0300 UTC. In the evening we intend to try 80 m SSB around 0900.
TX3A will participate in the CQWW CW contest this coming weekend. Tomi will operate the station in the single operator, unassisted, all band, low power category.
Top Band: Conditions were good to NA last night but serious confusion was caused by A31A starting to work both up and down from 1826 kHz. (Earlier, they were listening only up.) Not only did they take up almost 6 kHz of spectrum, but their pile-up overlapped ours. We moved the QSX up to 1828.7, but even that was not enough, as their pile up continued spreading upwards. When there was no clear space below 1830 we QSY-d to 80 meters. We believe that on 160, where there is only 15 kHz of usable DX spectrum (less if we take the 1825.0 JA upper frequency limit into consideration), care should be taken to limit the width of the pile-up and stations should specify how much UP or DWN they are listening (i.e. UP 2), rather than just sending an open-ended UP or DWN. This would go a long way to prevent pile-ups from spreading out and mixing with other stations' pile-ups. (For example, during the past three weeks we have been meticulous in always sending DWN 6, or DWN 2 to ensure that our pile-ups remained relatively compact.) Tonight we will be QRV towards South America from 0800 UTC. Please listen to our transmission on 1830.7 for any new QSX we may have to move to in order to avoid last night's mess.
The weather continues to be mild although the winds are strong. Last night our tent was invaded by a large leather-back turtle intending to lay its eggs. Unfortunately, she has opened a 30 cm wide hole in the side of the tent. We politely pointed her into a more suitable direction, however it is not easy to herd a 400 pound turtle with a mind of its own.
During the day, from 0300 till about 0430, we had a good opening to NA West Coast on 10 meters, operating on 28026. We will try 10 meters again today (Nov 25). We tried to work CW on 40 meters during night but the QRM from the Over-The-Horizon Radar was too intense to work through. It seems to cover frequencies from 5.3 MHz to 7.1 MHz and must cause a substantial amount of interference to other services. One wonders how the Chinese get away with it; and indeed, what threat are they trying to detect? Both 80 and 30 meters were good, however, and we did log a fair number of QSO-s, especially on 30. We also did activate the small station at 1800 Z for a one hour 30 meter session. Although the low power and the small antenna does not create a big signal, the pile up is not huge either, which may make it easier for weaker stations to get into the log. We intend to be on 30 meters again starting 1800 Z.
Top Band: Not much to report. Poor conditions to both NA and EU, although noise was not high, the few signals that made it through were very weak.
The weather, while windy, continues to be nice. Winds are forecast drop by the weekend. We hope that the calmer conditions will last into the beginning of next week and will allow us to tear down the stations and depart in good weather. If the weather holds as forecast, we will go QRT at the end of the CQWW contest at 2400 Z on Nov 29 (Monday, 10 AM local time).
Conditions have become somewhat less favorable on the higher bands. We have noticed that some of the bands had lower signals and were closing earlier than before. QRM, on the under hand, has increased ahead of the CQWW contest, especially from the "contest-DXpedtions", whose pile-ups are starting to intermingle with ours.
Top Band: Conditions have improved substantially over the night before. Noise was down and signals from both NA and EU were stronger. The last two days' reports from Europe suggest that the parasitic reflector that we have added to the 160 meter T antenna has improved our 160 meter signals in Europe. On the downside, last night A31A has decided to set up on 1826 kHz, just a few hundred hertz up from the listening frequency that we have been using for the past three weeks. That forced us to move further down and listen 6 kHz down. This move, however, has turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as it encouraged more JA-s to call us, and added many welcome QSO-s to our 160 meter log. We will continue listening down 6; i.e. on 1824.7 (1830.7 - 6.0). Our RX antennas (DHDL for NA and Beverage for JA and Europe) give us enough directional selectivity to copy NA stations even when the JA-s are strong.
Winds have been steadily increasing but so far have not presented any difficulties. Fishing continues to be good, and we are not missing our meat supplies yet. Well, maybe Tomi does: he is not used to eating fish so often. All equipment and antennas are working fine: we almost miss the need for repairs (almost).
Conditions have been strange last night, especially on the lower bands, where noise was high and signals were weaker then usual. The pile-ups continue to be heavy and some of them are messy. As I have pointed it out here before: poor operating practices slow everybody down. It is in everybody's interest to minimize QRM and allow us to handle each station quickly and without errors. So please be careful: stop calling when we are in a QSO or we are asking for a particular call (or region). The operator will NOT SWITCH to a stronger signal, but will try to complete the contact he has started. All the persistent callers achieve is more QRM and a longer QSO!
Top Band: Conditions last night were miserable here! S9 noise, both in the evening towards NA, and in the morning towards EU. We made very few contacts. Even 80 meters was poor: it was like 160 on an average night!
We are continuing to enjoy reasonable weather and good conditions on most bands. Things are also settling down with all the equipment! This allowed us to add a (switchable) reflector to the 160 meter antenna, in the hope of improving our signal in Europe. It seems to work to some extent, but only at low tide. (The rising water - i.e. higher "ground" - detunes it quickly.)
We made a big push on 30 meters in the evening and during the night (Nov 21). We were on 30 meters three times: from 0757 to 1002, from 1236 to 1710, and from 1911 to 1958, with a total of 720 contacts logged.
Top Band: We got on 160 at 1017 but signals from NA were mostly weak. Around that time, however, we heard some "regular" 160 meters stations (who got into the log within the first few days) sending CQ-s with S7 to 8 signals. Antennas make a big difference on160! We gave up on 160 after about 30 contacts. We returned to 160 at 1720 and immediately started hearing strong EU signals. The difference between the NA and EU signals was remarkable. EA4HT had an S9+ signal. Other strong EA-s also followed, as well as six CT stations. We logged a number of F stations but G stations were totally absent. The "spotlight" was definitely on SW Europe this morning. EU signal levels dropped quickly around 1820 by about 2 S units, but still remained quite readable. Overall, a very good morning for Europe which, not even the additional contest QRM could spoil. In any case, it appeared that we were being heard better, perhaps the result of the increased gain by the new reflector. We will do more testing and report on the results later.
The weather has deteriorated somewhat, winds are up and are forecast to increase further during the next few days. We have taken precautionary measures and have strengthened the antenna guys and supports. We have also fixed the NA Double Loop; twisted fishing line with the wire. It is much harder to break now!
During the last two nights we have been operating SSB on 80 meters. This seemed to have been in big demand and we think we made a lot of people happy. The pile-ups on 80, however, were very messy and operating techniques by some (not by all) were very poor. While we can not do much about the idiots who jam intentionally, a lot can be done to ensure a clean pile-up (now there is an oxymoron for you). Remember, having a high QSO rate is in all of our interests! Here are a few operating tips:
1) Please don't tune up within the listening frequency span. (Curb you auto tuner too!)
2) Spread out! Tailgating rarely works on 80 because everybody hears everybody else and too many stations jump and end up calling on the same frequency at the same time. Pick a (relatively) clear frequency and call regularly. Don't call too long, but don't call too seldom either. As the operator tunes around, he will get your signal and he will be a lot more likely to copy your call. Remember, we want you in the log (correctly) as much you do!
3) When we are in contact with another station, or asking about another partial call, stop calling! All you cause is QRM. The operator WILL NOT SWITCH TO YOU, even if you are louder! He will try to complete the first QSO and all you do is slow him - and ultimately yourself - down.
4) Don't call if you do not copy TX3A!
Top Band: Good conditions, finally! We had a great night of excellent conditions (as predicted by N4IS) and had the modified Double Loop solidly up. Signals from NA were excellent until about 1200 Z, when conditions deteriorated rapidly. There was also a very rapid QSB on most signals (at a rate of 2 Hz!), which we later found to be a fault in the K3. A good slap seemed to have
"cured" the fault, but by then we have QSY-d to 80 m SSB. We came back to 160 at 1710, to very good signals and a very productive run of European stations. The only thing to mar the great conditions were a number of stations with very strong signals who persisted in calling but never heard us coming back. Eventually, we called with DWN 4 (instead of the usual DWN 5) to shake these \"one-way\" stations (and their QRM) off. Things went well after that, all the way till our SR at 1855.
It appears we have finally got the generators fixed. The problem definitely was contaminated fuel, which got into all parts of the generators (fuel tank, filters, carburetor, spark plug, etc.) and took a long time clean out. The weather is nice and we only had a few maintenance issues (other then the generators); mostly birds breaking wires. I have speared some nice fish, so are eating well!
We operated 40 and 80 m SSB last night for the first time. We intend to do more during the next few days. We also intend to do more 30 meter CW and 20 meter SSB. Just before noon almost every day (0100 UTC), conditions here deteriorate on the high bands (20 to 10 m) and do not recover until about 3 PM local time. We have started using this period as our maintenance and daytime sleep time, so expect us to be off the air on most days around these times.
Top Band: Noise was down and conditions seem to have improved on 160 meters. Unfortunately, our NA RX Double Loop was producing worse signals than the TX vertical (the morning revealed wires broken by birds), so we had serious RX difficulties towards NA. Later in the morning we enjoyed good conditions towards EU using our North-West Beverage. We have also started to spend more time listening to JA stations below 1825.0. Tonight we will have the Double Loop fixed and we hope for good conditions to NA.
We have been enjoying moderate weather and good conditions. Unfortunately, we continue having trouble with our generators. We have traced the problem to contaminated fuel and we are trying to clean out all fuel containers and the generators. We have spent a lot of time on this problem, but at least we have one generating running well. Unfortunately, that one is our back-up generator which is not EMI filtered and causes some interference on 160 and 80 meters. We hope to get the RF filtered generator running by tonight\'s 160 meter operation.
We have received a lot of questions and requests through e-mails posted through tx3a.com. Instead of sending individual replies, I\'ll try to answer them here.
More of Everything: We continue getting a lot of requests for more phone, more high bands, more low bands, more RTTY, more SSB, more CW; more everything. We can not do more! Even the current operating schedule is difficult to maintain. For every request to spend more time on a particular band or in a particular mode, we have other requests to spend more time on the opposite. So please accept whatever schedule we are able to maintain. Indeed, we have discontinued running the second station: not enough time, especially with the generator problem taking up so much of our time. Ultimately, with the exception of 160 meters, we end up operating on the band, mode and time that yields the highest QSO rate (including SSB). That is how we can give Chesterfield to the most people! And, yes, we do have a low-band bias.
Operating Schedule on the High Bands: We do not have one. See above.
TX3A Signals: A lot of people have commented on the good signals we put out on every band. No secret there: we use salt-water. The TX antenna stands in salt-water and is vertically polarized; Low losses and low take-off angles (including in the far-field). The wire lengths are designed to minimize high angle radiation. For details please go to the Equipment page at tx3a.com.
Skeds: We don.t do them.
80 and 40 Meter SSB: We will do some. The practical problem is that we have only one tent, and during the night (when 80 and 40 are open) we work in 3 hour shifts. Working phone is hard on the guy who is trying to make the most of his 2 1/2 hour sleep!
Erratic Operation: This is mostly the result of there being only the two of us: we need to do everything. Often we need to stop operating to fix things, restart the generator, and a wide range of other things. The antennas are especially problematic: waves and birds break things and often they need to be fixed immediately. In the future we will try to communicate better what is happening (QRX, QSY, etc.).
Web Site: The TX3A website is maintained, nurtured and managed by Krisztian (Chris) Hildebrand, HG5XA/HA5X/M0XXA, who also handles e-mails and manages the log updates. All credit goes to him for the great appearance and effectiveness of the site! Tamas Holman, HA5PT manages the LOTW and e-QSL work, a very time consuming exercise.
Top Band: Conditions towards NA were reasonable last night. Noise was low, around S3 on the TX vertical. There were many weak signals that were mostly too weak to copy. At the same time, a reasonable number of strong stations made it into the log, with clear signals in the S4 to S8 range. The difference was startling. Conditions towards Europe were good starting around 18. Signals were generally clear and in the S3 to S6 range. The band closed around 1850 UTC, with SM5ARL coming through surprisingly strong at 1859.
The previous announcement about a slim RTTY operation proved to be a mistake and was withdrawn. There were genuine RTTY QSOs in part of this timeframe, but there were problems when they were imported into the master log on the island. These valid QSOs are now in the logsearch as well as on LoTW and eQSL. We apologize for the mistake and all the inconvenience it might have caused.
We have just finished repairing both of our generators. Our primary generator - the one with all the RFI filtering - stopped running early this morning (around 2100Z of Nov 15) and it would not restart. After many attempts the starter cord broke. The back-up generator, which tested fine the evening before, also refused to start. We took both generators back to the boat where we have better tools and conditions to work on them. The back-up generator was quickly fixed: bad fuel has clogged its carburetor. The problem turned out to be the same on the primary generator, but that one had to be pulled apart to replace the broken starter cord. Both generators are good now, the primary one is back on the island, up and running fine. We are back on the air.
We worked 40 meters LP to EU early in the late afternoon, followed by an almost all night run on 80, with a few breaks to check 160. We started working NA from 1000 UTC, followed by a lot of JA-s around 1200 and then gradually working into Europe until 1730, when we QSY-d to 160 for good conditions and a nice SR run of EU stations. Around 1200 we were able to select NA, JA and EU just by switching RX antennas. Noise was moderate all night, but the pile ups were thick and steady.
We get many requests from stations around the world to go to specific bands at certain times to best reach their area. Generally, we try to follow these suggestions, but overall, we are constrained by the fact that we have only one station (well, maybe 1.3 if count the RTTY station), two operators; and the need to do maintenance work, to eat and sleep. During the night we sleep in 2 to 2 1/2 hour shifts: I sleep from 6:30 PM to 8 PM (0830 to 1000 Z), then Tomi sleeps until 1230 AM, when we change again and I get to sleep until 3:30 AM and Tomi from 3:30 AM till 5:30. We take computer back-ups between 5:30 and 6 AM, at which time I swim with the log data to the boat, where I upload it to the on-line log. During the day Tomi operates with few breaks, while I answer e-mails (90% log inquiries and corrections), and write this news update. I return to the island around 11 AM to do whatever work is required, go spear-fishing, and then either prepare our once a day warm meal or do some operating while Tomi goes on the boat to clean up, or just crash for a short nap. We sure could use 28 hour days!
Top Band: Conditions to NA were poor with a lot of noise (some of it atmospheric and some locally generated). We spent most of the time on 80 meters, returning to 160 at 1100, 1300 and 1740 to make a few contacts there. From 1740, when the noise has started to abate, we had a very nice run to Europe until our sunrise. Signals finally faded out around 1900 UTC, 5 AM local time. This evening we will be attempting to work (far) Western Europe on LP from 0720 till 0800. We would appreciate other stations not to call unless specifically requested to so. After 0800 we will be listening for South America. Our TX frequency remains 1830.7 (moved up from 1830.5), listening down 5. (For JA-s we listen below 1825.0.)
Operating Tips for 160 and 80: Please send your call at least twice: it takes a few times to get the full call pieced together through the noise and QRM. (On 40 and higher, however, you should send your call only once.) There is nothing more frustrating the tuning in on a good signal to catch the last two letters and then waiting, and waiting, and waiting for the call to be repeated. This wastes precious time, especially during short SS and SR windows. Also, once the operator comes back with your correct call, please send the report, or R (or QSL, CFM, whatever you like) and the report, followed by your callsign. If you start with your callsign - and especially when repeating it two or three times - not only do we waste time, but the operator at this end may think that he got the callsign wrong and will ask for unnecessary repeats and may even lose the QSO in the QSB or QRM!
Winds were reasonably down yesterday and we were able to complete all of the antenna work. The only problem was that the expected deep low tide - when the lagoon we hoped would dry completely - did not materialize and we had to work in 20 cm deep water. Hard when you don't want your wires and insulators get salt-water on them!
We have now the following antennas up and working satisfactorily:
Main Antenna: 19 m tall T with two 11 m horizontal wires, and the High Band "triangle". 1 kW auto coupler.
RTTY Antenna: 8 m tall Vertical fed by a 500 W auto coupler. (Also used for 2nd Station on 40m)
NA Double Loop: 22 m long RX antenna for NA (see Equipment page for info.)
EU Double Loop: 22 m long RX antenna for EU
EU Beverage: 180 m long reversible Beverage.
We have been working more 80 meters to meet the strong demand there. Conditions on 80 were mediocre last night but that did not slow down the pile-ups. There was a substantial enhancement towards EU just before our sunrise.
Top Band: Not much was going on on 160 last night. There was a new type of noise and few stations were able to break through it. We concentrated on 80 meters instead.
Winds are down although the skies are overcast. The reduced winds make life easier, although they no longer hold the broken "horizontal" wire of the T up, which has likely reduced the performance of the antenna on 80. Today we have scheduled to do antenna work at low tide to fix that wire and also to fix an intermittent problem in the antenna coupler. (We did a temporary fix yesterday evening standing in 1.2 meters of water. Not ideal when working on a sensitive microprocessor based system!) We will be off the air between 0200 and 0600 UTC. (+-)
We are spending more time on 80 and 40 meters with good results. Conditions on both bands have been excellent. Last night (0800 to 0900) while the main station was operating on 80 meters CW, we used the RTTY station to work 40m CW. Although the station has only 90 watts and a small vertical, the pile-up and the QSO rate was good. We will start operating two stations on these bands during the critical hours (NA SR, EU SS) to provide maximum exposure. (Now we just need to find time to sleep.)
Top Band: Conditions last night towards NA were either very poor or we just did not have many stations calling. We QSY-d back to 80 at 1147, where both conditions and demand were strong. Later, at 1750, we went back to 160 for an excellent opening to EU. There was some QSB but many stations made it into the log. We will follow a similar pattern in the coming days: check 160 for activity but spend more time on 80 (and 40). Also, for the next few days, we will be listening on LP towards (far) Western Europe around 1730 (our SS).
Nov 12, 2350 UTC, Chesterfield Reef
The weather has improved and we intend to use the opportunity to fix the main antenna. We also want to use the calmer weather to go spear-fishing behind the barrier reef to the east of the island, which until now had too big waves to swim in. (We will have to relay on fish from now on, as we have had to eat most of our meat due to refrigeration failure.)
Both RTTY and SSB are running strong. We have started operating RTTY earlier to catch the 20 m opening to NA. We have rebuilt the (2nd) Beverage for EU. Finally, this Beverage, although only about 170 meters long, seems to work! To maximize the chance of NA stations on 80, we will start operating on 80 around 0800 today.
Top Band: The band was reasonably quiet last night and we had a reasonable run of NA stations between 1100 and 1230. The QSY to 80 meters at 1230 was not successful due to an antenna coupler error, which we could not fix due to the high tide (1.3 meter deep water around the antenna). We went to 40 meters instead, where we had a very long and productive run. We went back to 160 at 1820 for Europe, but conditions were very poor until just around our SR, when signals enjoyed a substantial enhancement for about 20 minutes. The new EU Beverage helped a lot, although the Double Loop seems to perform almost as well.
Nov 11, 2300 UTC, Chesterfield Reef
The weather continues windy and cold. While this does not interfere much with our operations, it makes working on the antennas difficult. The line holding one of the horizontal wires of the T antenna broke two nights ago but we have not been able to repair it due to the strong winds. Fortunately, the same strong winds keep the wire almost horizontal almost in its exact place, so its function is not lost. The winds are forecast to drop around the weekend when we are planning to make the antenna repairs and add some other improvements. Unfortunately, the boat's freezer - which stores all our frozen food - broke down; we are eating all our meat now before it goes off. It is all pretty good at the moment, but there are some lean times ahead! We are not overly concerned, however, as we can get fish by spearing or line fishing. And we have some freeze dried reserves...
Conditions have been favorable on the high bands: 17, 15 and 12 meters going well. RTTY operations so far have been limited to 20 meters (14090.0 and listening up), but we intend to try 17 meters soon. SSB also has been going strong on the high bands. This morning the OTH Radar interference on 40 was only QRM-ing the very low end of 40 meters. Because of this, and to give US General ops a chance, we have moved our 40 meter TX frequency to 7024. We have also started using 3524.0 on 80 meters.
Top Band: Conditions towards NA were much better last night then the previous two nights. Noise was down (only S5 on the TX antenna) but signals, with a few exceptions, were generally weak and had deep QSB. The double loop antennas are working well and we had a good run for NA stations for a couple of hours. We have built a new Beverage for NA but, again, it does not work. By 1200 UTC NA signals became very weak and sparse. We moved to 80 meters at 1258, where the conditions towards NA were excellent. A quick peek at 160 around 1330 resulted in no QSO-s, so we continued on 80, where conditions towards EU remained good until 1643, when we QSY-ed back to 160 for EU. Conditions towards EU were marginal, with most signals being very (very) weak. Around 1800 UTC a strong fish-net beacon started up on 1825.6, making the center of our listening frequency useless. (That's partly why we were requesting so many retransmits this morning!) Operating Tip: When conditions are poor, send your call-sign at least three times to give us a chance to "assemble" the call from the fragments that make it through the QSB and lightning crashes. TKS and CU on TB!
The log was uploaded to LoTW today. It is the same log database as the online log, therefore it does not contain RTTY QSOs yet. If your QSO is shown in the online log, but does not show up as a LOTW credit, there can be a problem with the date/time/band/mode you have entered in your log. Please examine your log, and upload the QSO again. We believe LOTW allows for a maximum time difference of 30 minutes. In our experience, most no-match problems are result of time differences (eg not keeping your log in UTC time or logging the QSO into the computer much after the QSO and entering data incorrectly or in incorrect format...)
The weather has improved somewhat and we had relatively few problems during the day, although it appears that we have lost an amplifier during the night (it was replaced by a spare one and will fix it later today).
The RTTY station is working fine. We have only managed a few hundred contacts so far, as the hours we can work RTTY are limited. We intend to start RTTY tomorrow (Nov 11) around 0045 UTC, on 20 and 17 meters for NA. Please note that the RTTY log has not been posted on-line yet. It will be posted sometimes tomorrow.
We had good runs on 12 and 15 meters during the day and on 80 in the evening (until 1050 UTC), with big signal reports from Europe. It is probably worth noting that all day we were running bare-foot with 30 watts (until 1145, the start of 160 m ops)! In the morning 40 meters was very difficult due to a very strong wide-band pulsed signal, which probably is an OTH Radar (Dragon?). 30 meters was great, however, being open to both EU and NA at the same time.
TB: Not much to report on the TB activity. Conditions have not been favorable and we had to work hard on every contact. There was a strange noise around 1300 UTC. It sounded like an extended lightning crash several minutes long. It was on and off for about 20 minutes.
We got on the air with RTTY around 0730 UTC and after some fumbling and-on-the air guidance from a few RTTY operators, we quickly settled into the groove and made 50 RTTY QSO-s before going QRT for the day. Starting around 0230 UTC, we intend to work RTTY several hours tomorrow (Tue, Nov 10), mainly on 20 meters. Again, please bear with us; we are RTTY novices!
Winds continue unabated and we experience frequent down-pours, a small improvement over the past two days, however. Our friend Remi, FK8CP, from New Caledonia advises that the weather this time of the year is usually drier than now, and we could expect better weather ahead.
We had interesting propagation on the higher bands yesterday. 12 meters was open to Europe between 0500 and 0700 UTC and after that 15 MHz was wide open to Europe until 1000. We QSY-d to 160 meters directly from 15 meters!
Our antenna coupler developed a fault last night, which got gradually worse as the night progressed, forcing us to continuously reduce power. The coupler eventually failed completely around 03:00 local time. This forced us to reduce power to 50 watts, which was "force" fed to the vertical at an SWR of 10:1 (really more). As the tide was up, it was raining and dark, we did not try to repair the coupler until first light at 04:30 (local time). We got the coupler fixed and reinstalled at 07:30 and we are now fully back in business!
Top Band: We got on top band around 1000 UTC. Conditions towards NA on the double loop were good to begin with, but did not last. By 1300 there were very few viable callers (although we could hear the combined noise of many very weak callers) and we decided to QSY to 80 where things were going well until the antenna coupler failure. That also kept us off-the-air during the 160 meter EU opening. We will be back tomorrow! We are receiving a lot of conflicting requests: some want us to stay on 160 longer (past 1300) while others want us to QSY to 80 earlier. We have decided to try QSY-ing between 160 and 80 every half hour to maximize our coverage of both bands.
Last night we endured gale force winds and heavy rain. Winds exceeded 80 km/hr for many hours. Both tent and the antennas held up well and we continued operating in shifts throughout the night. Sleeping, however, was very difficult with the tent shaking and the noise deafening. (For the radio we use noise-cancelling headphones.) As we continue working during the day on both the antennas and the pile-ups, we need the sleep badly.
Yesterday Tomi was running a huge JA pile-up on 12 meters. E-mails this morning indicated that many European stations heard our signals well. We will be on 24 MHz again today around 0600 UTC and will be listening for EU. We regularly listen for EU on 40m long-path between 0700 and 0800 UTC
Top Band: Conditions towards NA have improved, especially in the early hours (0900). Noise was down to S6-7 and signals, while not very strong, were much clearer than yesterday. The double loop RX antennas seem to work well, indeed they allow us to continue working 160 despite the elevated noise levels. Some signals during the last two nights seemed to have an aurora like buzz to them, or that could have been just an over-dose of diet coke! (We are getting about 5 hours of sleep a day and manage the nights on caffeine and chocolates.) NA signals became very weak around 1300 UTC and we went to 80 where conditions were excellent towards NA (and JA, of course). Coming back to 160 around 1340 yielded very few contacts. Starting around 1700 UTC signals from Europe became quite good. There was a significant enhancement at our SR. I believe that the season is starting to work against us here. While conditions in the northern hemisphere seem to have been great, here we are facing increased thunderstorm activity as summer is approaching. (You would not think that summer is coming: we are freezing in the tent, which has a gale blowing through it all night!)
The pile-ups are a big but we are managing good QSO rates. The antennas require constant maintenance because birds fly into the wires and break them. This is the down-side of using light fiberglass poles and a complex wire antenna made of small diameter (i.e. light) wires. Still, overall, we are very happy with our main antenna (and the reports it gets). It is well worth effort of having to work standing in salt-water and managing a large number of wires and ropes.
We are also happy with our new RX antenna. A description of this antenna will be posted on the Equipment page soon. The Beverage was converted into a LP Beverage for 40, 80 (and 160). We have finally completed the installation of the RTTY station antenna and hope to start the station early tomorrow (Sun, Nov 8).
Top Band: Conditions to NA were poor last night. There was a lot of T-storm noise coming from the North-East, so our RX antenna was not much help. The LP Beverage, which we built in the afternoon, helped a lot, as it was pointing towards the south-east, away from the main source of noise. (Probably Equatorial thunderstorms.) Fortunately the noise abated towards the morning, which allowed us to have a good run of EU stations until our SR at 0510 local time.
A fact of DX life on 160 meters is marginal communications most of the time. When so, the following QSO format may help you to get TX3A in the log:
1) Call persistently (but not when we are transmitting). Having QSK would help.
2) Send: "599 Your Call" or "R 599 Your Call" (That will indicate to the op that he got your call OK.)
The weather has improved and we have been able to do more work on our antennas. Two days ago we have installed for the NA direction a unique double half-delta loop (DHDL) that seems to work well. It has allowed us to continue working NA on 160 and 80 despite heavy noise on both bands. Yesterday we installed a 300 meter long Beverage for Europe. Unfortunately, it does not work, which is probably because of the small island and the salt-water around it. Well, we had to try it! Today we will install a second double half-delta loop for Europe. The RTTY antenna is also going up today, along with the second station. All the construction work limits our ability to work the higher bands during day, but we have been active on 30, 20 and 17 meters. Pile-ups were heavy, especially on 80 and 40.
Top Band: Conditions better last night but noise remains strong. Fortunately, the NA RX DHDL works great and we were able to maintain a reasonable QSO rate. QSB, however, was deep; many callers disappeared by the second part of the exchange. One negative side effect of the new directional RX antenna is that we can not hear Japan well on it and have to switch to the TX antenna, which has S8 noise. The EU RX DHDL, that will be installed today, will hopefully give us better ears for Japan too.
We continue building antennas. Our main TX antenna is now almost complete and we have also built a double delta loop for NA. The weather, however, has deteriorated. We are battling strong winds and rain: not exactly the best weather for building antennas. During the nights the pile-ups continue heavy on 80 and 40 meters. Last night on 80 meters, despite high noise, we had some good conditions to NA.
Top Band: TB on the other hand was a bust last night! We experienced overwhelming noise of over S9+10dB (K3 S meter)! We could not even copy the JA stations, who are normally 599+ (they are "only" 6000 km-s from here - the same as EU from the East Coast). The noise was so strong and continuous that we could not even detect most signals. The only small savings was that the new double-delta-loop RX antenna is working well and allowed us to make the few TB contacts we did. It also appears that our signals reach into (far) Western Europe, which was a concern before, given the difficulties earlier DXpeditions had with (far) W-EU. We are hoping for better conditions tonight!
Weather on the island continues to be favorable: a stiff breeze keeps things cool during day - although it makes antenna work somewhat challenging. The island is about 400 meters long and 50 meters wide. The top ridge is about 5 meters above sea level and is covered by thick bushes, which are home to innumerable birds.
We are set up on the northern tip of the island, about 100 meters from a small lagoon. The antenna has been installed in the middle of the lagoon, which has about 10 cm of water at low tide. At high tide the antenna masts are standing in 1.5 meters of water. Grounding is not a problem here!
We have completed the first phase of the antenna installation and can run full power on 160 to 20 meters. (See the antenna picture on the Photos page.) The 15 to 10 meter wires are going up today. The RTTY station will be going up on Friday and likely get on the air on Nov 7. Please note that we are total RTTY novices: I have made one RTTY QSO B4 and Tomi has made less. Any feedback that makes us better will be appreciated.
Top Band: 160 meters was very noisy last night. Crashes from distant thunderstorms were S9+, often wiping out entire calls and making receiving very difficult, both from NA and EU. The noise did not abate until a couple of hours before our sunrise, which helped with Western Europe. Many stations came through well despite the noise. Signals were sometimes above S9 (on the TX ANT). K9DX had an absolutely awesome signal: S9+20 dB. (I almost jumped out of the tent to see if there was another station on the island.) There was also a good run of G, F and EA stations well before our sunrise. To help us hear better, we will erect an RX antenna today for NA and tomorrow for EU. We will be trying a new double-pennant design that looks good on NEC. Will see.
After a full day of hard work we were able to get the station on the air 1117 UTC. We started on 160 meters and immediately had a pile-up of NA and JA stations. While the antenna was only half finished, and we had to deal with a 3:1 SWR (and only could run half power), it appeared that stations were hearing our signals, despite earlier concerns about our TX frequency of 1830.5 being too close to BCI birdies. Noise on our TX antenna was considerable (S6 - 8), especially from distant thunderstorms. We will build an RX antenna as soon as we get around to it. Conditions on 160 must have been good last night and many NA stations had strong signals. W5UN was the first NA QSO at 1123, with an S9+ signal. While NA stations continued coming in with good signals (and of course JA stations), from 1320 we could also hear OH and RA3 stations calling. OH3SR was the first EU contact at 1326. (That's at 1536 his local time!) After that we were making both NA and EU contacts until about 1430, when NA stations started to fade.
We hope that JA stations understand that NA stations, especially East Coast stations, have a narrow time window and that we were necessarily concentrating on NA, and less on JA - who have much wider time window. During future nights we will pay more attention to JA, especially when conditions towards NA are less favorable.
Today we hope to complete the antenna installation, add grounding (we only had the sea water GND last night) and strengthen the tent. If there is time, we will also install an RX pennant. We intend to be on 160 starting around 0900 UTC. Frequency arrangement will be the same: TX 1830.5 and QSX 1825, listening for JA below 1825.
We are up early and building the station. We have found an ideal position for our TX antenna. Unfortunately, it has 1 meter of water over it at high tide, so we can work on the main antenna only for a few hours each day, and some of that in knee deep water. We hope it will be worth it! There are plenty of other things to do, so we are not being slowed down. If everything goes smoothly we expect to be on the air tonight (Nov 03), sometimes around 0800 UTC, either on 40 or 80 meters.
Our TB TX frequency will be 1830.5 kHz. We will be listening around 1825 kHz: for JA stations below 1825 and for everybody else (including US and EU) stations above 1825.
We have dropped anchor in the lagoon of Chesterfield at 10:30 this morning. We will start ferrying the gear ashore and building the station this afternoon. We expect to complete the station tomorrow and be on the air around 0800 UTC on Nov 03.
We are now 130 nautical miles from Chesterfield. As forecast earlier, the WX did deteriorate during the night and we are now in 2 to 3 meter seas, with the boat rolling heavily. The winds appear to be moderating and we hope that the rest of the trip will be more pleasant.
We left Saumarez Reef at 10 AM local time and gained the open sea at 11. Initially the seas were very rough. The seas laid down in the afternoon and we had a relatively comfortable cruise until about 5 PM, when the waves increased rather quickly. Currently we are fighting 2 to 2.5 meter waves and a strong current, with the boat rolling hard but not dangerously. The WX forecast indicates deteriorating conditions tomorrow morning, and some improvement for tomorrow night. We are now approximately 230 nautical miles to the west of Chesterfield and expect to arrive there early Monday morning.
The weather has not improved much, winds are still 18 to 20 kts and forecast to increase to 25 kts, but we are determined to try making the passage to Chesterfield. We will be raising the anchor at 10 AM local time and will get out of the protection of the reef by noon. That is when we will know the actual conditions outside, which we hope, will be, if not comfortable, at least safe enough. The distance to Chesterfield is 320 nautical miles (approx. 600 km) which will take us 46 hours to cross. That should put us just outside Chesterfield on Monday (Nov 02) around 8 AM. We will probably spend the rest of the day crossing the lagoon and finding a suitable cay to set up on. There are many considerations when selecting the right cay. First, it should be possible to safely anchor the boat close to the land. Second, there should be suitable shallow areas to install our TX antennas in the water, but enough land above high tide water to ensure that we do not get flooded in the event of a storm. All other considerations, such as comfort, come after. We will likely spend Tuesday setting up with a good chance of getting on the air that evening (Nov 03, around 0700 UTC). First, however, we have to get there...
We are still on Saumarez Reef, waiting for the weather to improve. The winds have not moderated enough for us to leave. The forecast for tomorrow is looking a lot better and unless the forecast deteriorates, we will leave for Chesterfield tomorrow around noon (Saturday, Oct 31). That should put us onto Chesterfield Monday afternoon and allow us to get on the air the evening of November 3, just in time for 160 meters! In the meantime, we are spending our time diving, spear-fishing, modeling antennas and building new gear.
We are still waiting for improved weather. The forecast for tomorrow (Friday) is not as good as we expected but we are determined to try the crossing to Chesterfield. Winds are forecast to drop from 25 kts to 20, which means very rough seas, especially after several days of 25 kts+ winds. The trip will take 44 hours, and if things go well, we will drop anchor at Chesterfield around Sunday noon.
Oct 27, Saumarez Reef
We continue waiting for better weather. Winds are 25 kts and seas outside the reef are very rough. The weather window for Friday (Oct 30) is still holding and we are hopeful that we will be leaving for Chesterfield on Friday.
Oct 27, 0400, Saumarez Reef
We have dropped anchor in the lee of the reef to hide from some rough
weather. The crossing from the Australian mainland during the night was
rough, with winds 20 to 25 kts and seas 2 to 2.5 meters: not dangerous but
not comfortable either. We will stay here at least until Friday, when,
according to the WX forecast, winds should ease. We hope to leave for
Chesterfield early Friday morning and arrive late Saturday afternoon. If so,
we will build the station on Sunday and be on the air by late Monday. Of
course, all subject to the weather getting better!
The TX3A license has been extended. We will be able to use the TX3A call-sign from November 02 until December 06.
Oct 26, Monday, Gladstone, Australia
The TX3A Chesterfield DXpedition is under way!
The last of our equipment has arrived at 1200 noon and we got going immediately. Our first stop is Frederick Reef, about 250 nautical miles (490 km) to the north-east and about half way to Chesterfield. We expect to arrive at Frederick Reef tomorrow late afternoon. The weather is fair with 15 knot winds. Waves are 1.5 to 2 meters. Conditions are forecast to worsen tomorrow, but we are not expecting any major difficulties.
Oct 25, Sunday, Gladstone, Australia
We are almost ready to go: the boat is loaded and fuelled. We have a great weather window, but...
FedEx is late with two of our boxes. As they contain our two K3 radios, and some other important equipment, we must wait for them. We were promised early delivery tomorrow. If we receive the boxes by 11 AM we will be able to sail at noon. We will miss part of the weather window and will have to stop at Frederick Reef to wait-out some rough weather. We hope to resume our trip on Friday, arrive to Chesterfield by Sunday, and be on the air by Tuesday evening (November 02).
Oct 24, Australia
The French authorities in Noumea were exceptionally helpful simplifying immigration formalities. This has saved us almost two weeks and 2000 km-s of sailing though the rough waters of the Coral Sea (and $10,000 in fuel).
Vive la France!
Accordingly, we will be able to reach Chesterfield by earlier than originally planned and operate for 20 to 25 days!
Last minute tests and preparations are under way. Equipment is being packed and weighted. We have both weight and capacity constraints, and we like to keep things simple. To paraphrase Einstein: 'We must take everything we need, but no more.'
Many improvements have been made to the equipment. We have improved the VK9GMW antenna coupler, the amplifiers and the splitter combiners. This time we are taking more RX antenna parts. Although our plans for a rotatable Waller Flag have not worked out, we are hopeful that we can install one or two short Beverages, for which we have parts prepared. We have bought a second K3 radio (last time we almost lost our only K3 to shipping damage).
This time, we have loaded and tested RTTY hardware and software. If we make it to Chesterfield, there will be RTTY!
The equipment will be shipped on Oct 9 to Australia. We will be departing from Gladstone (Queensland) to Chesterfield, as it is the closest Australian town. The distance to Chesterfield and back is about 1000 nautical miles (about 2000 km). As before, fuel will be the main constraint and we will be taking the required additional fuel in bladder tanks. The total fuel needed will be 6300 liters. We will have a total capacity of 7600 liters; not a lot of reserve, but enough.
Weather is the main variable. October is the windiest month of the year, although winds tend to moderate towards the end of it. We will be standing-by in Gladstone from October 28th onwards, ready to sail whenever we see a weather break long enough to get us to Chesterfield. The trip to Chesterfield will take between 60 and 70 hours. Should WX conditions deteriorate while we are under way, we may stop at Saumarez Reef to sit the worst of it out. Therefore we do not have a fixed date for the start of operations. In the best case, we may get on the air on November 4, but it could easily be November 10 or later. We will provide updates as we progress.
We will be carrying supplies for a 20 day operation. The TX3A license is valid for 15 days only, so we may operate some of the time using our own call-signs. We intend to remain on the island to participate in the CQWW CW contest. If we have to, we will stretch our supplies! George, AA7JV