339DA0 DXpedition Report

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339DA0 Temotu Islands by the Dx Adventure Radio Club (DA-RC) keyed up in January 2017 after a massive 15 years hibernation.

Here’s the dxpedition report by 43DA001 Darren…


20170113_114931Reconnaissance

Planning for this exciting dx adventure commenced more than 2 years ago.  An extensive 40 page logistics document was put together by participants, with the priceless assistance of a number of different contributors, ensuring the team was fully prepared for the challenge.

It contained island info, DXCC history, photographs, propagation forecasts, beam headings for major DX markets, accommodation and transport details, medical/travel advice and recommendations and much more.

The Logistics Program (Pictured above right with postcards) was also emailed to Sponsors who found the document “informative” and “educational”.

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Transport

Direct flights from Brisbane, Queensland’s capital city, to the Solomon Islands are just under a $1000 return.  From Honiara to Temotu Province it’s another $1000 return.  FYI, this is the average price for travel to any one of the Pacific island countries!

Cactus005Air travel here is certainly an experience and the instant you set thongs on Honiara’s Henderson Airfield, you arrive at a place rich in history.

In August 1942, US Marines landed in force here, capturing the airfield Japanese troops were constructing and this ignited the bloody Guadalcanal campaign that continued until February 1943.

The past reveals that, soon after capture, the Airfield began operations as an allied air base to attack the Japanese forces that were still in strength on the island, as well as the navel and supply vessels in surrounding waters.

20170119_092302Incidentally, wrecks of these are littered on the seabed of Iron Bottom Sound providing some of the most incredible dive locations in the world.

At 21:30 UTC, once the projected excess baggage fee of $560 AUD had been negotiated, check-in at the Domestic terminal was hassle-free and I devoured some banana crepes, fresh pineapple and pawpaw and coffee in the waiting area until the boarding announcement came.

I also posted some images and comments on the 505DA0 Private Facebook Group for Sponsors to keep them informed of my progress.

20170119_121901Earlier I’d bid farewell to my YL/DXpedition partner Leonie whom had departed from the International terminal, via an overnight stay in PNG, back to the kids in Australia.

Her assistance with logistics and with the setup of the antennas back at the Honiara Hotel was invaluable and she enjoyed working some of the local OC ops for 135DA/OC-047 when propagation permitted also.

On board the Dash 8-102 with 33 other passengers (See above), I left the eclectic cultural melting pot that is the Solomons capital and soared into the skies above Guadalcanal Island.

To my right were the stunning artificial islands of Malaita Province, raised from the surface of the Solomon Sea on hand-made slabs of coral.

To my left were the islands of Makira Province, dotted with primitive villages of thatched grass huts and simple leaf houses.

20170108_162355As quickly as a Cycle 24 band opening might disappear, though, a view of the islands departed from my window seat vantage point, overseeing the 25.9m wingspan of the aircraft, and I was left to fascinate over turquoise waters, pristine coral reef and the occasional fishing vessel below.

As we cruised at 490 kpm, these dotted the 400 km of open seas left to travel on route to one of the planet’s most isolated and hotly sought after DXstinations……Temotu.

After almost 2 hours, the 22.5m long Dash descended through cotton wool clouds towards the runway of Lata’s domestic airfield, a forbidding 800m stretch of somewhat bumpy crushed coral road that was wiped out by the devastating 2013 tsunami.

“Welkom to Nendo Island, Temotu, Darren…”

20170107_130342Apart from a small plane used to travel to other islands in the Solomons, some other transport types were observed.  Most fishermen, including the young boys who lived at the Hotel, used dugout canoes although a few had motorised fibreglass boats.  It was on one of these that I experienced my first ever trip to a volcano.

A handful of cars existed on the island also.  These were mainly used to transport ‘important’ people from village to village.  Some of the younger Temotuans used push bikes too.

There are locals walking in the street, friendly faces who smile and say hello as they continue on their way.  Most are women and children who carry items such as large bags of rice or fruit on their head.

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Propagation

8Based on VOACAP 11 forecasts, I anticipated occasional openings with Europe (EU) via both paths and daily openings with Oceania (OC), Asia (AS), North America (NA) and South America (SA).  These calculations, however, were inaccurate.

Only a handful of stations were worked in AS and SA, 2 in NA and none in EU.  It was great to work 3DA012 Roger in Brazil, 2DA357 Dave in the USA and 136SD136 Francis on Martinique Island (OC-107).

The majority of contacts came via sporadic-e from OC DXCC.  Namely, the eastern states of Australia (QLD and NSW) and New Zealand.

Stations in French Polynesia (201 Division) such as 201RC001 Chris on Bora Bora Island (OC-067) in the Leeward Islands group were accessible at thumping 5/9 signals almost 24 hours per day.  Other prominent stations were 43DA050 Geoff, 41NZ270 Dan,  43DX234 Tom, 43DA102 Geoff, 43PW186 Wayne and 41AT101 Brian between 26.965 MHz to 27.405 MHz.

Unfortunately, the 4 week period was devoid of sunspots, except for 2016 and 2017 which appeared in the final few days.  These did not provide any observable improvements to propagation.

Alas, Cycle 24 has been a fizzer so far as longevity goes, bottoming out far earlier than expected.  I fear the next few years will be even worse.


20170113_160742Food & Drink

For 40 odd hours after arrival I did not eat.  There were no markets and no stores open due to the New Years’ public holiday and the family managing the accommodation were not aware that I hadn’t brought food from Honiara which is what most visiting hams normally do when they stay here.

As my relationship with the family developed, they started to make me breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.  Wow!

Most meals consisted of fish and rice, cooked on an open fire.  The variety came from the method of cooking (e.g. Baking, frying, steaming), the spices used (e.g. chilly, curry, etc.) and the species of fish caught – Snapper, Tuna, Bonito, Trevally, Barracuda, reef fish, etc.

15874768_10154478729003773_7539288765523592799_oOccasionally we ate pork and chicken however these are considered somewhat of a delicacy on the island as they are in short supply.

Wild chickens and pigs roam the island and when a pig is caught then it’s immediately killed, cut up in steaks and cooked on the fire.

Most pigs are domesticated that roam free in the forest.

Other foods eaten were bananas, taro, potato, nuts, pawpaw, noodles, biscuits, savoury donuts.  All fruit was picked from the rainforest and/or bought from the markets.

20170107_091359Water and soft drink was available for $10 Sol however it was normally not refrigerated as most places had no electricity or conserved it by keeping the fridge turned off.

There are 2 markets. The closest, by Lata Wharf, is small but sells the best food.  A favourite was cutnut (small nuts cut from seeds) and fish and chips (The chips were large taro sticks).  The large market sells mostly fresh produce that is grown or picked from the forests – vegetables, fruit.

Food supplies were also shipped in from Honiara once a month (See right).

This vessel also doubles as a passenger ship, dropping people off as it hops from island to island in the Solomon Sea.  In hindsight, it would have been great to travel back to Honiara this way.

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20170107_092558Betel nut chewing is an important cultural practice in Temotu and is readily available from tiny roadside stalls like the one pictured right.

I tried it once whilst watching an inter-island soccer match, much to the amusement of the locals, but let’s just say it didn’t agree with me!!!!!

It has traditionally played an important role in social customs, religious practices and cultural rituals.

 


The Station

20170107_182002This consisted of the following items:

  • 2 transceivers with accessories – Heil PR40/handheld microphones, Heil PTT, cables
  • 3 antennas – 1 x SWC-100 Bushcomm dipole, 1 x 4 element Moxon, 1 x Skypper (backup)
  • 1 Power Supply – Doss 50 amp
  • Dell Laptop with software
  • Computer log/paper log
  • Grounding cable and rods
  • 2 x coaxial cable – 1 x 15m run, 1 x 20m run
  • 12m NBS telescopic mast
  • 20m bamboo mast cut from the forest and brought to the Motel especially for my use
  • Sennheiser HD280 Headphones

Accommodation

Pictured below, Lata Motel is located in downtown Lata on the shores of Gracious Bay.  It’s a convenient location as it’s close to the wharf where one of the markets is held and also to a small collection of stores.  It’s one of 2 guest houses on the island where visitors can stay and undoubtedly the best for ham radio operations.

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Others are the Hibiscus Lodge and Luelta Lodge – the latter of which has been closed for almost 2 years I’m told as the owner has not returned from Honiara.

20170112_145803The second story room within the timber complex is modest but clean with made-up double and single beds, 2 power-points, 4 screened louvre windows with green frangipani print curtains, a fan, small square-shaped table and a toilet, sink and shower all-in-one.

There’s a communal kitchen downstairs with a gas stove cooktop, kettle, sink, fridge, cutlery, plates and cooking utensils.  It had a communal balcony and clothes line overlooking the antennas outside and a view of the ocean roughly 20m from the building, as well as Temotu Noi island in the distance.  .

This is the room always used by hams who stay at the Motel.  A terrific price at $400 Sol per night, discounted on what I’d originally been quoted due to the length of stay!


Lata

20170102_132703Lata would be no more than 2km squared.  It consists of basic infrastructure – a post office, a hospital, police HQ, telecom building, air field, correctional centre, petrol station and a number of stores.  This is where the business is done.

The roads are surfaced with crushed coral and are extremely bumpy with many potholes usually filled with water. They reminded me of the roads in East Timor.  No doubt for the handful of vehicles on the island, tires do not last long.

The rest of the island is made up of traditional villages – thatched huts


Electricity

Despite the horror stories I’d heard from past visitors to Temotu, the supply of electricity was very reliable.  In fact, electricity was lost on just 2 occasions over the 3 week period.

On day 1, at 3:30am Temotu time, and with the rig purring away for an unlikely opening with EU via the LP and me slipping in and out of sleep, the electricity went off and the complex was in complete darkness.  The next 6 hours in the shack, with the fan out of action, were extremely uncomfortable so I grasped the opportunity to boil some water for drinking and completed some admin tasks on the balcony outside my room.

Thankfully the grid was restored at 9:30am and I was soon back on the mic hunting DX.

The second occasion was for a couple of hours in week 3.


20170113_105008The Climate

Like most islands in the Pacific, the heat here is brutal.  It was always mid 30s but the humidity was suffocating most days.  The only escape was a walk down to the wharf where you could sit and enjoy the sea breeze or go for a swim.

On 2 occasions through the night we lost power which meant the room’s fan could not be operated.  This was torture.  Fortunately, power was restored after a few hours and the station and cooling system became operational again.

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The People

20170114_164645The majority of Temotuans have never seen a white man before.  They are inquisitive yet shy.  Quick to offer eye contact and a smile yet reluctant to speak, particularly women and children.

I wouldn’t say it’s a trust issue, more an unwillingness to embarrass themselves in conversation due to the low levels of English in the community.

20170119_082414_005From the moment I stepped foot off the plane, I was the novelty.  Anything I asked for I received.  For instance, on day 2 I communicated the need for a second mast to erect a new antenna.

Straight away, a group of men drove to the rainforest, cut me a bamboo tree and brought it back to the Motel.  It is the largest piece of bamboo I have ever seen.

After a couple of weeks I’d established myself in the immediate community and gained the trust and respect of people living in and around the Motel.  I developed close friendships with a number of the locals, men and women, all from the same extended family.

20170115_152058“You are different, Darren,” I was told by one of the mothers.  “You sit with us, talk with us, laugh with us and eat with us.  You are like part of the family.  This is not normal for the white man who comes to Lata.”

For me, it was a privilege to know these people and undoubtedly the highlight of my trip.  In fact, I felt a genuine sadness when saying goodbye.  Not once during my stay did I hear a raised voice, a harsh word, any sign of violence or disharmony. Just a sense of calmness and tranquility.

20170115_150333In this traditional Pacific Island culture, women are the nurturers.  They look after the children, cook the meals, maintain the houses and gather food from the markets or forest.  Their role is a critical one.

The man is the worker.  He is the builder.  The fisherman.  The hunter.  The protector of his wife and family.


Thank You

14DA049 Fred

A special thanks goes to the large group of sponsors who supported this “Most Wanted” dx adventure.  48 guys from different countries, spread between 8 different clubs.  The sum of money raised through sponsorship might not be large for such a venture but the gesture of support is significant and very much appreciated indeed.

My personal thought is that for major 11m operations like this one to occur in the future, we must continue to get behind the guys involved – regardless of the radio club they are associated with.  Then maybe we will see more of them on the band.

Sponsors were invited to a private Facebook group on which photos/proofs, reports and other relevant information was posted almost daily by myself.  The feedback received by members of this this forum was extremely positive.

The internet cost was $600 Sol, which equates to approximately $100 AUD.  The service was reliable and relatively fast for such a tiny island and compared favourably to internet usage from past DXstinations I have visited.  There was a Hot Spot at the Motel where I stayed which was perfect.

I’m happy to say that a few sponsors achieved their contact (on 11m or elsewhere) via Sked which was offered as part of the Sponsorship deal.

Thanks to Luca and 43SD028 Jordan for their outstanding graphics work.  Luca for the special Sponsors certificates emailed to all 48 guys and promotional banners and Jordan for the promotional banners also.

Thanks to my partner and 5 young children who support my travels each year.  It is a long time for a father to be away from his family but they know I am passionate about what I do and accept that it comes with the territory.