*DXPEDITION REPORT* 135DA0, Solomon Islands

Day 1: Thursday, 6 January 2011

Overloaded with DXpedition baggage, we arrive at Brisbane International Airport via maxi-taxi at 21:36 UTC and, after battling the line-ups and shelling out an additional $500 AUD for excess baggage, are traipsing through the departure lounge by 23:00 UTC with our boarding passes and passports in hand.

According to the flight departure screen, DJ169 to Honiara has been delayed by 30 minutes so we spend a lelebet of time wandering the duty free shops and stop to buy some kaikai from Subway. 

There, 43DA421 Shane and 43DA234 Tom sink their teeth into couple of seafood sangas while I suck the suds from a skinny-chino and contemplate the day ahead for our dx adventure team.

By 00:30 UTC we’re seated in a Boeing 737-800, with the Pacific Blue logo splashed along the great bird’s underbelly, and climbing into cloudy grey skies above south-east Queensland.

Except for an occasional bump and shudder as the plane soars into the heavens, the flight is as smooth as one of Tom’s come-on lines, made more enjoyable with a tasty snack of hot chicken noodles, some SolBrew and a couple of Jim Beam & Cokes to flatten the butterflies!

By mid-flight, the cabin air-conditioning has chilled the plane to such a temp, however, where even Eskimos would’ve been reaching for their furs.  So much so that fruit juice served by smiling air hostesses earlier in the voyage has iced over and some of our fellow passengers have to be treated for frostbite!

At 04:45 UTC, some 3 hours after leaving Australia’s east coast, the ‘fridge-with-wings’ crashes onto the tarmac of Guadalcanal Island’s infamous Henderson Field Airport and we’ve arrived, safe and sound, in the Solomons for our 135 division radio activities.

In addition to mid 30 degree temps and 90% humidity which slap us in the face as we clamber off the plane, greeting us in the near distance is the unnerving sight of hundreds of islanders, their noses pressed hard against barbed-wire fencing which stretches for some 500m up the side of the airstrip. 

This provides a barricade between the old WWII landing field and its surrounding countryside which is sprinkled with thatched grass huts on stilts, coconut palms and rain water lagoons, no doubt swarming with malaria corrupted mosquito larvae. 

We can’t help but wonder if the locals are here to welcum home family members who’ve just stepped off the same plane or perhaps scope out some of the fresh meat that’s flown in from abroad…?!?!?

Some sweet-talking and a simple explanation of what an amateur radio dxpedition is to an overzealous YL customs officer finally gets us through Customs.

Not long after, we’re soon in a taxi, weighed down with luggage, headed for the ham-friendly South Sea Evangelical Church (SSEC) Transit House in Honiara.

The SSEC Transit House is normally intended as lodgings for church workers who visit from numerous Solomon provinces, yet recon indicates it’s the best possible location for a dx station in Honiara—a view confirmed by many visiting hams to this remarkable Melanesian country in the last 20 years.

Like plande of the central Pacific’s cities, Honiara’s streets are a snapshot of third world poverty and post-World War II existence. 

Roadside litter, crumbling infrastructure and overgrown tropical vegetation provides a somber backdrop to unpretentious market stalls which line the highway from Henderson Field, all the way to Honiara. 

Here, islander women and children watch the world go by from simple cane chairs or grass mats beneath the shade of towering mango trees; no doubt hoping our taxi will stop to release its city bound dx adventurers and our coin to brighten up their day.

On the outskirts of Honiara, everything appears in slow motion. 

Utes overflowing with teenage islanders saunter up the highway, mongrel dogs laze about beneath shopfront balconies, men sit ‘round smoldering open fires with heads lowered and even the taxi driver, Robert, a local man of some 50 years, speaks a laid-back intermingle of English, provincial based dialect and pijin that could easily put a fly to sleep.

Apart from the absence of any observable road rules, there’s an ambiance of calm about the place that eases our concerns about entering into a supposed melting pot of racial and political tension. 

As we drive through Chinatown, however, the sight of barred shop windows, razor wire fences surrounding properties, as well as the ruins of Chinese stores burnt down in the riots of 2006, provide a sobering reminder that beneath the smiles and eyes of waving islanders, something dark and brooding exists.

In 20 minutes we’re in the town-centre and the pace of the place is buzzing like an old Cummins diesel genny. 

There are barefoot locals everywhere…talking, walking, standing, sitting, selling cigarettes, wrist watches, beans and beetle nuts in primitive stalls set up on the footpath. 

Here, items are laid out on cardboard for display with prices called out to passersby or written on crude paper signs.  One price for locals, another price for white men.

The SSEC Transit House sits at the top of Vavaya Ridge, overlooking the town centre; a beautiful blue harbour besieged with gigantic container ships from foreign shores and the mountainous outline of the Florida Islands (OC-058) on the horizon. 

Apart from excellent yagi takeoffs to Europe and the Americas, it is dodgy accommodation indeed (which Shane describes as “minus 3 stars”), a far cry from the comfy resort-type lodgings offered on Aore Island for last year’s DXpedition to Vanuatu.

Our rooms at the Transit House are on the bottom level of this tufala storey eyesore which is surrounded by a menacing 6ft barbed wire fence and a padlocked gate at the front. 

We’re told by the caretaker, Diana, that there’s a 10:00pm curfew and that we must be in our rooms by then or be locked out.  NO PROBLEMS!

Mine, what’s generally regarded as ‘the ham room’, is at the end of the complex, facing out to the harbour some 2kms in the distance; while my team mates’, Tom and Shane, have one of the adjoining twin share rooms towards the front of the building.

As we drag our luggage to the rooms, timber doors peel back to reveal small musty quarters with concrete floors, flaking off-white paint and single-sized wooden beds which could’ve easily been misplaced from an early 1900s Honiara Church Mission. 

There’s a table in the room though which is very handy, reportedly purchased by onefala visiting ham to the House a few years ago.  This is soon laden with radio gear, log books and stationary from end to end.

Tom’s laptop also provides our team with usage of DX Atlas and Windows programs although we’re disappointed to discover there’s nomoa phone coverage with our Aussie sim cards, and therefore nomoa internet access, from the Ridge.

The view is breathtaking here and we’re more than happy to trade in some creature comforts for ham friendly accommodation and a perfect location for dx, even if it will take a little getting used to!

By 06:30 UTC the Sirio 4 element yagi is up in the air beaming to back home in the south-east and the Icom IC-7000 transceiver is fired up kwiktaem for our first call as 135DA0.  Despite hearing a few faint voices on 27.555 MHz USB, Tom’s first few CQ calls produce nothing!

Eventually the silence is broken with a few contacts with Australia (43), New Caledonia (172) and United Arab Emirates (94) as we work the greyline.  172AT101 Philippe on Grande Terre Island (OC-032) is the loudest station of the afternoon with a solid 5/6 report.

The band remains slightly open to the Pacific area until around 14:00 UTC and the rig is shut down at 11:00pm local time with just 9 stations in the log.

Day 2: Friday, 7 January 2011

The IC-7000 is switched on at 5.30 am local time and the first of many stations is logged in Part 1 of the Oceania Contest by mid morning. 

Australian stations are prominent, with big signals in particular from 43DA162 Brett, 43HS373, 43TR299 Geoff and 43SF303 Rob.

Naes fo lukim you guys 🙂

91DD018 Dave is worked at 5/7 from his home in Jakarta, Indonesia, as well.  We also log our first stations in Western Kiribati (224), Papua New Guinea (101), Thailand (153), New Zealand (41) and Japan (25).

At noon, we set up the 3 element skypper antenna on our 7m portable mast to do some comparisons with the SY-4. 

Mi no understadem why the yagi is superior by tufala s-points so we elect to run with this onefala as our main antenna. 

We also set up an off-centre fed (OCF) dipole in inverted V figuration using a 20m long length of bamboo as the support. 

This we have facing towards Europe 24/7.

As the sun dips below the horizon and sinks into the Solomon Sea beyond the Central Islands, we’re excited to work our first European station, 178SD111 Andy in Bulgaria. 

This is very exciting for us and many high-5s are exchanged amongst the 135 team as Andy’s callsign is logged and the 5/1 report is confirmed.

As the greyline passes, the band goes ballistic as we log plande of stations from Europe.  Big signals are heard from 14DX181 Marc, 35AT160 Peter, 14SD164 Elodie and 1AT763 which has the adrenaline pumping like the fuel lines of a Tulaghi dive boat. 

With Tom and me taking turns on the mic, I’m able to record some of the action on camera also and will soon upload the videos to YouTube and embed them on the DA-RC website!

Tonight, 35 EU stations are worked in total from 7 different EU DXCC.  These include Greece (18), Bulgaria (178), Italy (1), Austria (35), France (14), Italy (1) and Germany (13). 

Tagio tumas to every station which called in for your patience and behaviour in the pile up.  It was excellent indeed!

113ET333 from Western Malaysia is also worked, just as the band closes down at 10:17pm local time.

Lukim yu moa soon EU…

Day 3: Saturday, 8 January 2011

Hungry for more DX and a possible opening into the Americas, we’re back on the air calling CQ at 5:00 mone time as the sunlight starts to filter through the windows of the ham shack and a new day dawns. 

Much to our amazement, 10FAT010 Roberto responds to our call and becomes the first station from Mexico in the log.  The band is awake early today!

A quick flick of the VHO and it becomes apparent that we have conditions with North America.  There are many, many thumping signals on 27.385 MHz LSB from the United States but strangely only a couple of stations are active on the higher frequencies.

The team is very excited though to work 2WR2811 Eli and 2SD178 with good signals, just before the EMU Islands Fiesta kicks off.

At 00:00 UTC we commence CQing with the IOTA callsign, 135DA/OC-047, with OC-047 being the RSGB IOTA reference for Guadalcanal. 

This is onefala of 6 main islands in the Solomons archipelago along with Choiseul, New Georgia, Santa Isabel, Malaita and Makira.

Unfortunately, as rain storms close in from Ironbottom Sound, the band shuts down after lunch and doesn’t offer a murmur of DX for the rest of the day; except for a lone signal from Andi as 91DA/OC-022 Bali Island, participating in the Fiesta late in the afternoon.

While DA421 Shane remains in the shack hunting dx, Tom and I descend Vavaya Ridge to the wild streets of Honiara in search of an internet cafe. 

Everywhere we walk there are stains from beetle nut consumption on the ground.  This nut-like native fruit, which is said to have a sedative effect, is green in colour on the outside with a deep rich red on the inside. 

From what we can gather, it’s chewed by the islanders and then spat out on the ground at their feet with nomoa prejudice about lo wea or wanem taem it’s done

[Imagine the ground splattered with blood spots from a broken nose and now you know what I mean]!

We soon locate an internet cafe in the NPA Plaza and are able to upload a list of stations worked to the DA-RC website. 

We’re also thankful to read emails from a couple of new sponsors who’ve made donations towards the 135 activity via PayPal.  Your support is very much appreciated guys and a postcard from Honiara is on the way to say cheers!

We’ve also received many emails from ops in EU thanking us for the new DXCC.  Believe me when I say we’re equally as happy to work you guys as you guys are to work us and especially happy to provide a new one for many.

On this note, if you believe an error has been made with your QRZ not appearing in the log then of course we’re happy to receive an email from you with the appropriate evidence, recordings, etc. 😉

Day 4: Sunday, 9 January 2011

Day 4 starts where day 3 ends with the band in hibernation and rain still falling heavily as far as the eyes can see.  We’re also sad to see that the skypper has blown down overnight and has had one of its elements broken.  A quick patch up with electrical tape, though, has the antenna operational again in kwiktaem.

As the temp hits 40 degrees about lunch time, we’re finally treated to some conditions and are lucky to work some more of the EIF stations. 

With sweat running like a waterfall down our foreheads and splashing onto our log sheets, 172DA/FK-099 N’Guie Island is logged at 5/7, 41DA/OC-036 North Island at 5/5 and 43SD/OC-001 Australia at 5/9. 

We’re also excited to work 99DB in Fiji but disappointed not to work Mr Choi as 79DA/OC-129 in the Visayan Islands group who we hear calling at 5/1 on 27.555 MHz USB.

Despite showing promise with hours of squeaks, bubbles and harmonics all through the afternoon, the band doesn’t provide any opportunity to work EU today.  The station is closed down at 11:00pm local time with the sound of island tunes wafting up the Ridge from the town centre and the pitter-patter of raindrops still dancing on the iron rooftop of the House.

Day 5: Monday, 10 January 2011

We’re active again today from 5:30am local time as the sun rises above the Solomon Sea horizon to reveal a sunny day in the nation’s capital. 

In addition to contacts with fren in Oz, we’re also lucky to work 41AT058 Stan with a big 5/7 signal from the North Island of New Zealand.  We enjoy a small pile up of French Polynesia stations too with 201PT066 Tapi and 201BY104 Nicola on Tahiti and Moorea Islands the strongest at 5/8.

Furthermore, we’re thrilled to work 266WR001 on Fanning Island (OC-024) in Eastern Kiribati.  This tiny DXCC is considerably rare these days due to the impact of climate change and rising seas in the Pacific forcing most of the inhabitants, including resident radio operators, to relocate to other atolls.

79DA103 Choi in the Philippines is also worked at 5/9, as well as our first station in the Hawaiian Islands (17), Unit 270, on Maui.

Again, there’s no opening with Europe and the band bids baebae to Oceania at about 7:00pm local time, leaving us time to grab some kaikai at the local Yacht Club down on the water’s edge and have a lelebet of beer.

Day 6: Tuesday, 11 January 2011 (Darren’s wedding anniversary)

We awake to a beautiful mone and the band open wide to North America.  With little activity on 27.555 MHz USB, we QSY down to 27.385 MHz LSB lo wea we work through a massive pile up of 2 and 17 division stations numbering 36 in total.

Standout signals are noted from 17WR000 Richard and 17WR325 Joshua on Maui Island at 5/9, 2AK1992 Florde from the famous American Kangaroo Club at 5/9, 2CT440 at 5/7 with great studio quality audio and 2WO063 Ron at 5/9 also.

We’re also excited to work 132RM on Majuro Island in the Marshall Islands at 5/9, as well as a couple of 224 division stations, 224IR103 and 224WR011, on Nonuiti and Tarawa atolls in the Gilbert Islands (OC-017), respectively.

Back on 27.580 MHz USB and 10ET001 Robert is logged at 5/5.  He’s soon followed by 10ET555 Ed at 5/3, 10MEX001 Ricardo at 5/9 and 10AD125 at 5/5.  Another huge signal of 5/7-9 from 2AT041 Joe is logged at 08:23 local time.

At 10:04 local time, we’re amazed to hear 9DA016 Adrian tx from British Colombia in Canada and work him at 5/1-3 eachway.  People will remember Adrian as 9FAT016, particularly his many IOTA and LOTA dxpedition exploits in the late 90’s to early 2000s.

A lull in the band gives us the opportunity to visit the internet cafe again and update the list of stations worked.  We’re delighted to add another 50 stations in almost 24 hours and a couple of new DXCC in Canada and the Marshall Islands also.  There are 50 odd emails from passionate DX hunters asking about the activity which require immediate attention too.

[Note: This is one of the many tasks involved with DXpedition work which often goes unnoticed.  Still it’s very important to us to keep everyone informed with what we’re hearing, who we’re hearing, wanem taem we’re hearing it and lo wea]!

I also take the opportunity to email my wife and wish her a happy wedding anniversary.  Not many YLs would allow their hubby to go on a dxing holiday without her and 4 young kids for 12 days, let alone be away on their wedding anniversary.

On the internet, I also hear news of a devastating flood which has hit my home city, causing the destruction of homes and a loss of lives never seen before in the city’s history.  It’s times like this when you wish you could be home with your family but my wife assures me that everything will be okay and that I should stay on in the Solomons to dx.  What a woman!

On the way back up the main street we stop off at the Santa Cruz Yacht Club to slam down a few icy cold Sol Brew beers before returning to the shack a couple of hours later in anticipation of a night of dx with Europe. 

It’s the perfect tonic for dehydrated bodies and dry throats in searing tropical temps!

When we arrive back at the SSEC Transit House we’re astounded to find the band is open again to North America. 

27.385 MHz LSB is humming with super-sized signals from the USA but, just as it was this mone, there are no 2 division ops heard on the higher frequencies.

Regardless, we chop into a pile-up again with 600 watts and the SY-4 right down their throat and work a load of eager World Radio club members on the east and west coasts all at 5/9.

Later, with our antennas now aimed at Europe via the short path, we fire out some CQ calls on 27.555 MHz USB and then QSY to our operating frequency, 27.580 MHz USB, to listen. 

In a few seconds the table is vibrating with massive signals from 43TR299 Geoff and 43TE333 Brendan in Darwin at 5/9-20+ passing on their best wishes.

A brief comparison between the skypper and the yagi indicates that the skypper, which is now at its optimum height of 12m, is now outperforming the yagi by roughly 3+ s-points.  Extraordinary!

Surely a coincidence then when the maker of the lightweight wire antenna, 1SD019 Alex, is logged at 5/1 seconds later, as the band springs to life with a lelebet opening to Europe. 

‘Mr Skypper’ is soon followed by big guns 1AT485 at 4-5/1, 1AT519 Giuseppe at 5/1 and then 14ZK020 Raymond at 5/2.

For a brief moment we’re able to SWL many stations calling at 3-4/0-1 but cannot make out another callsign through the wall of QRM. 

Sadly, we continue to call CQ DX and QSY until 11:00pm local time without any further additions to the log.

Day 7: Wednesday 12 January 2011

The IC-7000 is on again at sunrise and there’s nothing but zzzzzz all morning, except the sound of squawking parrots as they devour fruit in the mango tree outside our rooms, as well as crowing roosters as they roam free further down the Ridge.

Shane and I head down to the post-office in the town centre to send off postcards to our sponsors and a few mates while Tom remains by the radio listening for dx.

The streets are swarming with islanders and cars. 

The weight of hundreds of sets of eyes is heavy on our shoulders as we dodge our way through the wary crowd, sweat pouring from our brows, taking extra care when crossing the road so as not to end up as roadkill.

Like most of the city’s infrastructure, the roads are in a spot of ruin here with potholes so big a whole bus could fall in and disappear forever.  The drivers are also maniacs who pilot old beatup cars with smashed windows, flat or punctured tyres and no seat-belts.

Hem no taboo in Honiara! 

Even the ambulance has no windows due to them being smashed with stones chucked by irate locals during rioting.  It’s crazy, crazy stuff!

Tufla islander men approach us as we reach a curb and shove some stone carvings under our noses, haggling us to buy them all at $300 Sol each.

One I recognize as a canoe prow figurehead called ‘Nguzu-Nguzu’.  A land-spirit, these figureheads used to adorn the prows of war canoes on inter-island raids.  Positioned on the craft’s prow at the waterline, a nguzu-nguzu’s job was to ward off any spirit which tried to upset the canoe, guide the craft past jagged reefs, protect the warriors aboard and guarantee success in combat. 

I’m not sure what their jurisdiction would be over dx though hihi.

They’re desperate and pushy guys and don’t take kindly to our shaking heads but we’re conscious of not flashing too much cash around out in the open.  In Honiara, this is an invitation to be robbed at knife-point so we keep our wallets buried in our shorts and out of sight.

At 1:00pm local time, now back at the station, we log our first contacts of the day…153RT278 Nong at 5/9 and 113MB190 Arie at 5/7.  We also work a number of 2 and 17 division ops on 27.385 MHz LSB whom we worked yesterday. 

Still no sign of 2 division ops on 27.555 MHz USB…wat nao waka blong yu?

At 10:00pm local time the band opens again to Asia and we log a few more stations from Thailand and SWL operators CQing from the Philippines.  After a short QSO with 43TE333 and 43TR299 Geoff, the EU DX community is informed that the band is still open here and we’re listening for them on 27.580 MHz USB. 

But unfortunately, nothing eventuates and 135DA0 is shut down at 12:00am local time.

Day 8: Thursday 13 January 2011

Nothing is heard from 6:00 mone time until 2:30pm local time when 172SSB079 is logged at 5/7 from OC-032.  201PT066 Tapi is also a smoking signal on 27.570 MHz USB from the Windwards Island group in French Polynesia and not long after 79WO189 Jack is worked at 5/1-3 from Luzon Island.

During the day we baeleg the Westpac Bank and exchange some Australian currency for Solomon Islands Dollars (SBD).  The current rate works out to be $1 AUD = approximately $8 Sol.  From what I’ve read, shell money was the traditional Solomon Islands currency before bank notes and coins, like the ones we’re issued now, and this is still used in some provinces as a form of barter or compensation.

In the afternoon we’re joined at the SSEC Transit House by H44MS Bernard whom has arrived from Germany for a 3 month stay.  Bernard travels to the Solomons every year to dx and he’s been a tremendous source of recon info for us in the months preceding our visit. 

We present him with some new surge protectors we brought across from Australia to say tangio tumas for the help!

Sadly the band is zzzzz for the rest of the day.  Lukim you moa tomorrow…with luck!

Day 9: Friday 14 January 2011

The band is closed for most of the day so we bum around the Transit House with the rig on in the background, speaking with some of the visiting church leaders from other islands, fearing that if we leave the shack then the band will open and we will miss an opportunity hihi.

In the afternoon we work some stations in the Pacific area participating in Part 2 of the OC Contest. 

We also work a handful of stations in the Americas and southeast Asia, all of whom are already in the log for 135DA0.

Day 10: 15 January 2011

Today Tom, Shane and myself chartered a fishing boat from Aussie ex-pat Mike Hammond and spent most of the day on the open water chasing game fish such as marlin, sailfish and wahoo.

It was the first time during our stay that the three of us had done something normally defined as ‘touristy’ so we weren’t feeling guilty for leaving the shack.  The band was closed at 05:00am when we left also.

Although not lucky enough to hook one of the Solomon Sea monsters cruising the depths of surrounding waters, Tom and I did catch a large dogtooth tuna and 2 big trevally. 

The tuna we kaikai as sushimi when we arrive back in Honiara that afternoon. 

This is raw fish, cut into small bite-sized cubes, which is eaten with hot wasabi and soy sauce. 

The trevally we give as a gift to the caretaker of the SSEC Transit House where we are staying and this is feasted upon by her and her nieces in the evening.

Day 11: 16 January 2011

With the band at peace we take to the streets of Honiara again in search of souvenirs to take back to Australia.  Every day we had ventured to the town centre I ‘d been targeted by a local islander man carrying a backpack of carvings, begging me to buy some, and everyday I’d turned him away.  Today I take pity on him, however, and buy two canoe brow statues, a fish and a turtle for $500 Sol. 

In the Solomons, this is the equivalent of almost 2 weeks work for most so the man has a smile on his face.  I also buy some shell jewellery for the YL and some toys for the kids from a roadside market stall.

We monitor the band from 11:00 am local time until 2:00 pm local time and not a sound is heard on any frequency through 26-27 MHz.  Then the electricity goes off suddenly and the station is shut down for a few hours.  This has happened a few times since we’ve been here but, luckily, never when the band has been open.

In the afternoon we disassemble the yagi but leave the Skypper until the morning in the hope that the final few hours will provide us with an opening with Europe.  Unfortunately, however, this does not come to fruition.

Pijin Speaking Guide

There are about 90 languages in the country.  Whilst English is taught in schools and is the official language, locals use a mixture of Melanesian and English called Pijin to converse.  These are some phrases used in the dxpedition diary:

  • Yes: Yah
  • No: Nomoa
  • Thank you very much: Tanggio tumas
  • Good to see you: Naes fo lukim yu
  • I am pleased to meet you: Mi hapi tumas fo mitim yu
  • What are you doing?: Wat no waka blong yu
  • Food: Kaikai
  • Where are you going?: Yu go long wea?
  • Walk: baeleg
  • Morning: Mone
  • Hello: Halo
  • Goodbye: Baebae
  • See you again: Lukim yu moa
  • When?: Wanem taem?
  • Where?: Lo wea
  • Little: Lelebet or smolfala
  • Plenty: Plande or staka
  • Quick: Kwiktaem
  • One: Onefala
  • Two: Tufala
  • Thank you: Tagio Tumas
  • I’m sorry: Sore Tumas
  • It’s prohibited: Hem tamboo
  • Welcome: Welcum