The 2018 Samoan Archipelago IOTA Tour by our Dx Adventure Radio Club (DA-RC) was a resounding success on so many levels!  

A large number of stations and DXCC logged at a very challenging time of the Cycle, rich cultural experiences and 2 rare Oceanic DXCC made possible through the hard work of a committed member and the generous support of fellow DA-RC and non-DA-RC members/Sponsors.

Here is the DXpedition report…

DAY 1:  Tuesday, September 25

With no direct flights from Brisbane, I needed to fly to Fiji (99) first and then board a connecting flight to Apia, Samoa’s capital city, the following day. 

An upside to the compulsory 21-hour stopover between flights, however, is I get to chill overnight in Nadi, the main city on Viti Levu Island.

My choice here is Smugglers Cove Resort and this was booked online via Expedia back in July.  Reconnaissance confirms this cheap, yet very decent-quality accommodation is ideal for a transition point between IOTA DXstinations across the Fijian Archipelago and it certainly lives up to the 5/9+40 hype on this occasion.  

A coconut’s roll from the Airport, in a slice of the city I’m familiar with due to OC-016 dx adventure in 2014, Smugglers also provides FREE airport transfer + FREE internet Wi-Fi.  This is perfect for both checking in with the YL and kids back in Australia and updating Sponsors in the private Samoa Archipelago DX Facebook Group of my status.

Initially, I’d expected to erect a covert antenna like a vertical or dipole from my room’s balcony.  However, unfortunately there’s no access to an outdoor area.  The Viti Levu Island ‘holiday-station’, therefore, is not actioned.

A reasonable compromise, though, is much needed ‘chill-axing’ by the water; a chance to savor the local drop – FIJI BITTER – and an opportunity to rip into a coconut fish curry that night, cooked within a traditional Fiji ‘lovo’.  See below!

[In Fiji, this is an in-ground oven of heated rocks used for cooking a variety of foods wrapped in banana leaves].

DAY 2:  Wednesday, September 26

By mid-morning, I’ve downed 2 cups of Fiji Highlands coffee and am returning to Nadi airport to rendezvous with my connecting flight to Samoa.

Imagine my disgust at check-in when I’m slugged an additional $500 AUD fee for excess baggage – despite purchasing two extra bags for the flight at a cost of near $300 AUD back in July.  As you can understand, such unpleasant surprises are a menace to dxpedition budgets in which every dollar is planned and accounted for.  

Apparently, the additional baggage payment is void if your connecting flight is not on the same day as the first one; an incredible rort in any one’s moral filter and one that the Fiji Airways service woman could not justify despite continuous ramblings.  Anyway, we move on $500 AUD out of pocket to the next stage of our dx adventure.

The trip from Fiji’s epicenter to Samoa’s main business centre, Upolu Island, lasted just under 2 hours.  I’m bursting to work DX when the Boeing 737 aircraft and its thrill-seeking DA-RC occupant finally grace the tarmac of Faleolo airport, 40km west of the country’s capital city, Apia.

Being somewhat of a ‘culture junkie’ also, I’m craving to engage myself in traditional Samoan customs; to immerse myself with the natives, taste the local cuisine and also get a feel of what it’s like living in a ‘tropical treasure trove’.

The atlas confirms one third of our Earth is the Pacific Ocean, larger than all the land combined, and here on Upolu was its tropical, wet lower half – so unlike the school term grey I’d abandoned in Brizzy just days ago; wall to wall blue skies, friendly 27 degree temps and a gentle sea breeze softening the mild tropical humidity.

Last off the Fiji airways jet, through the cleared seat rows and past fare-welling flight attendants, I push straight into Upolu’s sublime stickiness – also warm and wet, but blended with the sweat of locals, soil, burning off and fragrant blooms.

After an $80 Western Samoan Tala (WST) taxi fare, I arrive at ham-friendly accommodation at Vaiala Beach some 40km from the airport.  My first impression of the cottages is that the nearby sea will help radiate the signal and, with a number of towering coconut palms on the property, there is ample structure for wires antennas and guys.

No sooner am I introduced to my quaint cottage accommodation, I’m outside throwing together an IMAX 2000 vertical and long wire multi band antenna, strung between two coconut palms and a barbed wire fence – just to get me on the air for the night.

Feedline from the antennas is run from the mast, along the outside of the cottage and in through a gap in the sliding glass door.

By now, the sun is dipping low and kamikaze mosquito bombers in squadrons of thousands are zeroing in for a kill; so it’s inside the cottage to set up the station.

The inside is spacious indeed.  It comprises a bathroom with a shower, toilet and vanity; a kitchen/living room with a fridge, stove, sink, cutlery, utensils, couch and coffee table; and a bedroom with double and single sized beds and a chest of drawers.

A large wooden desk housess the Yaesu FT-950 and ICOM IC-7600 transceivers, borrowed CB radio, 50amp power supply, HP laptop and other dx-cessories.

Everything tests up okay and as daylight slips into obscurity, brief openings on all bands, except 11m, are in order.

DAY 3:  Thursday, September 27

Despite my sleep clock being completely outa sync given the 3-hour time difference, I leap to attention at the 5am alarm (2am just 48 hours ago hihi) to examine the possibility of grey line DX.  I’m not disappointed either…

The sun is rising over the stunning surf reef-break horizon and this drags a number of bands to life, including the world’s premier HF DX band, which tosses up openings between Oceania (OC) and Central America (CA) on 27.515 Lower Side Band.

[Note: This is one of the frequencies I’d identified in logistical planning so I was delighted it was baring fruit].

Consistent with VOACAP propagation forecasts, 27 MHz signals here are intense and a number of stations feature in the log from the Caribbean Sea region…

With the intimidating 4 element Moxon antenna now on the NBS mast and aimed short path (SP) at 75 degrees, fellow DA-RC member and big gun 347DA101 Sherman, from his home on Curacao Island (NA-), is the loudest at 5/7.  Stations in Jamaica, Barbados, Bermuda and Grenada are also recorded on my QSY frequency.

Later, the antenna at 101 degrees, 201AT102 on Tahiti Island in the RSGB allotted Windward Islands group (OC-46) comes thumping through the internal speaker of my Yaesu FT-950 transceiver at a solid 5/9.

201JY63 Jean is on his coat tails, waving the hand from magnificent Bora Bora Island in the Leeward Islands group (OC-067).

By lunchtime, the bands are closed so I grab the opportunity for a trip to the local market (Pictured below) where I stock up on DX-ssentials.  Food here is a fusion of contemporary and traditional cuisine, local menu choices and foods fresh from the local area.

There’s also a miscellany of non-consumables ranging from handcrafted jewelry, intricately woven mats and baskets to cotton clothing revealing traditional Pacifica printed themes, rubber foot thongs and fishing lines.

Locally caught Spanish mackerel, hand raised chicken, apples, bread, noodles, coffee, and some tropical strength mozzie repellent coils are procured and carted home, some 30-minutes’ walk to the station.

DAY 4:  Friday, September 28

Up and alert again as the Upolu morning dawns, I’m stoked to snare three new DXCC for the dxpedition log at truncated 5/1 signals before my first cup of coffee even hits the half way mark…  Martinique (136) and Grenada (195) islands from the tropics of the western hemisphere.

Just after lunch, with conditions on the slide, I switch the rig off and wander down to the sea, some 30m from the cottage, for a swim.  Here, towering coconut palms line the beach and I step barefoot over coral and lava, deeper into the 28-degree waters and immediately feel refreshed.

Some 50m out, a sand bank some 10m by 10m with heroic shrubbery is establishing itself on the coral bed.  The birth of a new 223 Division island for the world’s IOTA DX connoisseurs, perhaps!?!?!?  Who knows!

Wiki confirms 223 Division is an archipelago of black lava peaks looped along an east west axis 14 degrees south of the Equator.  Eons ago, these perfect IOTA prospects sprouted from the seabed, hissing and gurgling as hot crustal plates jostled below.

An old yarn claims this is where the world actually began when the creator, Tagaloalagi, first brought forth earth, sea and sky from rock.  Then he made the first human being!  For me, such cultural tales are one of the most rewarding by-products of dx adventure.

DAY 5:  Saturday, September 29

Today I awake to bending blue vortexes rolling across the beach out front like a scene from a Billabong Pro Surf Classic.  Yet, not a surfer to be seen!

I’d powered up again pre-dawn to work the grey-line but unlike the last couple of days, the band presents with all the stubbornness of an XYL at pre-radio purchase.  

With the rig locked on Triple nickel and audible through the screened window outside, I kick back in the garden and tackle a David Baldacci novel I’d purchased last minute at the Fiji airport, along with my friendly stray cat companion.

Periodic QSO with 172 and 201 division stations keep the log breathing but it’s an uninspiring day on the mic with no Americas, Europe or Asia propagation appearing in the late afternoon to evening either.

DAY 6:  Sunday, September 30

This morning, the band produces one of the most wonderful DXperiences in recent memory.  Reminiscent of a ‘peak of the cycle DX spree’, stations from Pacific and Central American Atlantic oceans DXCC emerge on frequency as 11m explodes to life.

Caribbean islands such as Jamaica, Grenada, Trinidad, Belize and Barbados are audible right across the spectrum, with 27.555 USB, 27.385 LSB and 27.515 LSB all bustling with vibrant West Indian dialects.

Off the Venezuelan Coast, 350AT101 Bert on Bonaire Island is like a ‘local broadcast station’ for more than an hour while 172AT101 Philippe on Grande Terre Island is so strong the FT-950’s digital signal meter is begging for mercy.

The shock appearance of Providencia Island station 81SD101 Gustavo in the pile up though, really gets the adrenaline pumping.  Lying midway between 69 and 23 divisions, this is one island I was yet to tick off the DXCC list so it’s nice to do it in grand style with reciprocated 5/9+ signals.

On 27.455 USB, Mexico rag-chew is romping through and log entries are achieved with ops in a number of 10 Division states…  Chihuahua, Sonora, Ags, Sinatoa and Nay.

By lunchtime, the DX Gods have slammed the door shut on my dynamic DX dreamscape just as quickly as it had opened and not a soul is RX or TX for the remainder of the day.  

At the end of the day, Samoan tranquility comes with a sinking sun behind coconut palm silhouettes and a distant volcanic mountain range.  Many attend church at this hour of a Sunday I’m told.  Others commune at social centers, in rugby fields, on dinner mats in wall-less homes, for prayers and picnics.

In light of this penchant for peace and tranquility, I try to envisage Samoans at war; once with Tonga, or with the rough sea and reefs in fishing canoes, with the missionaries, with natural disasters like cyclones and tsunamis, with the tattoo needle.

For now though, it’s ‘Samoan idyll’.  Likewise for the Freeband propagation which appears to be on ‘island time’ and in no mood for action.

DAY 7:  Monday, October 1

Magenta floods the early sky as I listen for EU stations via the Long Path (LP), engulfed in the absolute essence of morning – sunrise at sea.

At lunchtime, I batter blue-fin tuna I’d bought at the market, cut up some taro in thin slices to make chips and arrange myself a simple garden salad.  Nothing quite compares to eating product caught and delivered fresh from the fishing boats (Pictured below) and this locally inspired feed really hit the spot.

136WI136 Francis and 23ET104 Hugh on Martinique and Jamaica islands respectively, are the loudest stations worked this morning via the SP.  53SD001, 67SD101, 218AT016 and 11RC010 other notable entries.

DAY 8:  Tuesday, October 2

Sunrise showcases dark grey cloud, which rests like a fluffy foam mattress on the sea, all the way to the horizon.  The wind and rain had set in in the early hours of the morning and was playing havoc with the coconut palms and this had serious ramifications for the lightweight Moxon which could not sustain a beam heading for any longer than 10 seconds.

Despite a few South American voices around the band, no station is added to the log in the morning hours.  With the rig purring away in the background, I spend the time instead writing out post cards I’d picked up earlier in the week at the Apia Post Office.

Later, Moala pops his head into the shack and offers to drive me to the Samoan Shipping Corp to finalize my travel arrangements to American Samoa for a few days time.  Given the torrential WX, I accept his kind offer and, in a few minutes, we’re at the Port side office in Apia, only metres from the harbour which is a sandpit of white capped waves.

Regrettably, I’m informed the vessel isn’t operational due to mechanical issues and instead I’m given the option of joining a small 12 passenger boat for the 10 hour trip across the strait, past Swains Island, which departs on Friday.  Hmmmm, in seas like this – no thanks!

The contingency was always to charter a plane across to American Samoa so fortunate I was that after a quick visit to the Fagali’i domestic airport, I managed to sort myself a return flight.

So now, my South Pacific sojourn also includes an activation of American Samoa (70 Division)…Happy days!

That afternoon back at the station, contacts with Mexico (10) and Coast Rica (69) are achieved via the SP.  Big guns 10SD106 Amilcar and 10MEX001 Ricardo come romping through at 5/9 and they round off the log for the day as the hobby’s most exciting, yet most temperamental band, closes down.

Not a murmur is heard on 27 MHz frequencies for the next 10 hours and the station is shut down at 1am.

DAY 9 – Wednesday, October 3

Feeling guilty about a 7:30 am sleep-in, I’m risen and raring for a caffeine inspired assault on the 11m band soon after, hoping I’d switch on the rig to a pile-up of waiting EU stations via the LP.  Instead, an SWR reading of 4:1 on the Moxon sends shockwaves through my mosquito ravaged body.

My worst fears are confirmed when I venture outside to check on Aunt Anna and see a mishmash of shattered fiberglass poles and wire dangling in the sky; obviously a result of last night’s raging winds.

After a few choice expletives, I lower the telescopic NBS mast to survey the damage and am relieved to discover that only 1 of the fiberglass spreaders has shattered.  This caused the antenna to lose its shape and resulted in some of the poles to come away from the centre frame; thus creating the catastrophic appearance.

Fortunately, I have with me 3 spare poles for such occurrences so a replacement is effected, the appropriate configuration restored and the Moxon raised again to its position of authority overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

QRV now on a beam heading towards South America and, immediately, French Polynesian ‘beacons’ (i.e. 201AT102 and 201JY63) are at 5/9, followed by a couple of weak Mexican stations from the Alfa Delta (AD) club who are new and excited log entries.

This arvo, a perfect double rainbow arcs over Apia harbour as I walk back from the markets in light rain loaded with Tuala Beer, peanuts and some ingredients for tonight’ meal.  My eyes squint into the glare of the westward setting sun, highlighting the rainbow like a fantasized oil painting.  It’s almost too cliché.

In the late hours of Wednesday October 3, my first contact with Kiribati Islands is celebrated.  224DA036 Peter from his home on Betio Islet in Western Kiribati is logged at 5/7 and he’s keen to pass on his regards from the Delta-Alfa operators in 224 Division.

DAY 10 – Thursday, October 4

Today, I’m off to American Samoa’s Tutuila Island for 70DA/OC-045, the details of which will be provided in another DXpedition report soon!!!!!!

My IOTA operations from Upolu Island will resume in 7 days time.