A Photo Journal
by Jerry Rosalius WB9Z
I was invited at the last minute to travel to Christmas Island (VK9XX) and Cocos-Keeling (VK9YY) only 2 weeks before the departure date. My good friend George Taft W8UVZ informed me one morning on 160 ssb that he and Charlie W0YG, were short one operator. Merv K9FD had backed out at the last minute because of back problems and travel arrangements with work. Their operation would concentrate on 80 and 160 meter CW, RTTY and the WARC bands. These islands were very much in need on those bands and modes.
My XYL Lori got word of the invitation and immediately got invited to go along herself, since W0YG was also bringing along his XYL Rita. One note, Charlie and Rita are world travelers plus they are professional photographers, having lead several photo expeditions into the African bush.
My XYL Lori has been all over Asia the Caribbean and some of Europe.
Amazing enough with such short notice Lori put the travel arrangements together in a few hectic days. We had to travel from Chicago to LA, LA to Sydney, Sydney to Perth, Perth to Christmas Island via a short stop at Cocos.
A travel agents night mare!!!
A distance of over 13,500 miles. Or about 32 hours in the air. THAT's ONLY ONE WAY.
Also, we were limited with the amount of baggage we could take from Perth to the islands. The weight limits are 40 pounds of one checked baggage per person and one 10 lbs. of carry on. We were glad the women were along to help distribute some of the weight of the ham equipment. Fortunately George had pre-shipped the Battle Creek Special for 80 and 160 meters, one IC-751A and one AL-80 amp. This equipment would meet us in Perth and we would have to make sure it made it on the plane to VK9XX. By the way the freight on this alone would be over $ 1,800.00 US.
Charlie and Rita brought along a IC-706 and AL-82 amp and CushCraft R-7000 vertical for 40-10 meters. Plus lots of exotic photographic equipment. We are to leave Monday morning Feb. 1 for O'Hare at 4:30 a.m.
I was lucky to have Lori again do most of the packing, she's really good at that. I decided to do a half hearted effort in the CQ 160 CW Contest, well conditions were good and it turned into almost a full blown effort. I believe I ended up number 3 USA and number 1 in zone 4. Well, I needed the CW practice.
After the lack of sleep over the weekend, Monday morning wake up came way too early. I had my good friend Steve N9EWS lined up to get us to the airport. He was early so we were on the road by 4:30 a.m. The trip to O'Hare and to LAX was uneventful. After a short lay over in LA we were on the way to Sydney, a trip of 14 hours, where we were to meet up with the rest of the group.
We were on a QANTAS 747, if you ever have a chance to fly QANTAS don't pass it up, their service is great.
After 14 hours in the air, we arrived in Sidney in the evening. We had a lay over of 8 hours and Lori had us a reservation at one of the motels downtown so we got a chance to see Sidney via taxi cab.
It's a nice clean city.
The trip from Sidney to Perth was uneventful. The Australian landscape from the air was beautiful. In Perth we were met by the rest of the group and Steve Ireland VK6VZ, Steve was very helpful in assisting George and Charlie organize the trip. We spent a lot of the next 3 days with Steve, his wife Debbie and family, and their hospitality was world class. Steve took us to the freight agent to pay our bill to get the heavy stuff to Christmas. He took us sightseeing in Perth and in the bush to photograph kangaroos.
Mike, VK6VZ a famous 160 operator and long time friend of W8UVZ drove 6 hours to see us and ended up spending 2 days. We all got together and had a big blast the last night in Perth at Steve's home.
On Saturday morning Feb. 6 it's back to the airport in Perth. This time all five of us are together. Since we are traveling together we check all of our luggage together. The people at National Jet are great! We get by with only $ 120.00 AU extra charges on our checked luggage.
While boarding the plane I am introduced by a flight attendant to an older lady who was traveling alone. She is delighted there are other Americans that were on board. Her name was Betty from Memphis TN, and she is a member of the Travels Century Club. Century of course meaning 100.
She was traveling to Cocos and Christmas, these being her # 298 and # 299 country she has visited. Her next stop was Bangladesh # 300.
She said she had meet other ham operators on her travels and was fascinated by the hobby. She also went on to say the Travels Century Club uses a lot of the same countries on their list as do we on the amateur radio list. We got to see a lot of Betty in the next week.
We flew a small British AeroSpace jet with 64 seats, but the engines are BIG, the runways on the islands are short. We fly up the western coast of Australia about 2 hours and make a short shop at Exmouth to refuel to make the trip to Cocos. Then another 2 hours in the air. Even though we will operate from Christmas first we must stop at Cocos first, to drop off passengers and cargo. All the food for Cocos comes in once a week on this plane. The first thing we notice getting off the plane is it is very hot. All the locals flock to the airport once a week to see the plane land and see what the people look like that get off the plane.
After an hour at Cocos we are back in the air to Christmas. After 1.5 hours we are finally on the ground. We are met at the airport by our host Voyteck from the Mango Tree Lodge. The ladies and our luggage head off to the lodge. As we wait for the Battle Creek Special and other equipment, we find out our equipment is the heaviest and will be the last unloaded.
Into our rental vehicle we take off, we have enough equipment and the R-7000 to get one station on the air,
I AM READY!! At the lodge, Charlie starts assembling the R-7000. I start digging a hole to put the support pipe, damn, this volcanic rock is hard! It's raining out but I don't care, I want to operate. Charlie finds a dry spot to complete assembly, Its now dark and we are using the headlights of the rental car to finish.
The police pull up to investigate what the hell we are doing. This cop tells us we dug this hole on federally protected land, and we could have to pay $2,000.00 AU each or go to jail. We would have to meet with the judge in the morning to pay our fine. Mean while we are going to jail. We all just about died on the spot. I said how about if we move our antenna and I cover up the hole and go somewhere else. He then busted out laughing, and the joke was on us. We all had a big laugh and went on our way to finishing assembling the first station.
We got station # 1 on the air from the lodge and I operated straight though the first night with no sleep, the pileups were large and it was a thrill working over 300 per hour. The next morning the rate dropped when the SWR started bouncing around. I went to sleep for a few hours because we were going to set up the second station in a few hours.
We spent all day Sunday setting up the second station at the Christmas Island Cricket and Sports Club. This is located on the highest part of the island, they gave us a room to set up the radio. There was just enough room for the Battle Creek Special along with 32 120' ground mounted radials, and 2 500'+ beverage receiving antennas.
Unfortunately, over half of the insulated beverage wires had to be pulled through thick jungle, filled with Christmas Island crabs. There are estimated to be over 130 million crabs on the island. Some range in size from 1 - 2' across. I was the youngest guy, so I volunteered. It was certainly a thrill! It took us a full day to assemble the second station in 90 - 100 degree heat and 100% humidity. Finally, George was ready for his first night on 80 and 160.
Charlie and I returned to the lodge. The SWR was still jumping around on the R-7000 and I couldn't get many stations to call, so I shut down for the night. After serious troubleshooting on Monday, we found a bad solder connection on the matching network. The antenna must of got bounced around to much getting there. The pileups continued good until Wednesday evening.
We dropped George off at the Cricket club to do 80 and 160 just before dark and waited around until he was settled in. Then just about the worse thing happened, his amp did not come on. Well since the 80 and 160 operation had the priority, we drove back to get the amplifier from station # 1.
Upon inspection we figured out a series of resistors had let go and we had no parts such as those for repairs.
We were without an amp on 20-10 meters during the darkness hours the rest of the stay on Christmas. We just shuttled the amp back and forth from station to station and prayed the good one did not blow up. I lost my best chance to work the USA and especially the Midwest on 20 and 15 meters, since those bands peaked before and after sunrise and sunsets. I found out in a hurry a IC-706 @ 100 watts and vertical from 12,000 miles out, it was going to be hard to work the states, without the amp.
George and Charlie kept the 160 and 80 station going during all of the darkness hours. I did my best to work some USA, and the Europeans and Asians were easy to work without the amp. Every morning George or Charlie would bring back the amp and I would haul it upstairs to station # 1 so I could catch the late evening opening to the states on 15 meters on the long path. It was a challenge. I did work a lot of North America stations though, including N9EWS in the local area.
After some problems with the RTTY equipment Charlie did about three hundred contacts on RTTY. Christmas and Cocos are very rare on RTTY.
Since we were leaving Saturday morning, we spent most of Friday tearing down the Battle Creek Special and packing in station # 2.
Charlie and I were fortunate enough to have the working amp all the last night, we made good use of it on SSB and RTTY.
From Christmas we ended up with over 5,500 QSO's, including:
461 on 80 and 160
300+ on RTTY
The plane arrives from Perth Saturday afternoon Feb. 13 to pick us up. The trip is only 1.5 hrs.
We arrive at Cocos and make it through customs without too much hassle. We are staying at the only hotel on the island, and its pretty bad, no air conditioning and not real clean. But we get used to it quickly.
The R-7000 goes up quickly and Charlie puts station # 1 together. A radio technician from the Australian air force stops by to see what we are up to. We tell him we are having problems with a amplifier, he offers to stop by tomorrow (Sunday) and bring some spare parts by.
The head administer for Cocos stops by to see if we need anything. He ends up opening up the grocery store so Lori and Rita can stock up, he turns out to be a great help the whole stay. Everyone on Cocos (all 68 of them) turn out to be nice and very helpful.
We got the Battle Creek special up just at sunset, George and I run all 32 120' radials in the dark with flashlights. The beverage antennas will have to wait until daylight. George get's on 160 and works 3 W6/7 stations without the help from the beverages. It looks like Cocos is a better location for 160, we hope.
I fired up on station # 1 without the amp and the pile-ups are unbelievable, I LOVE it! I worked over 1000 stations the first night.
Sunday comes around and we finish the 2 beverages. The only two Air Force technicians on the island come by and in a few hours have our second amp going. Did we ever luck out with these guys !!!
I worked the pileups most of day and all night. It was not unusual for all bands to just die from 10 a.m local to 2 p.m. It's just like operating from Illinois during the middle of the summer during the middle of the day. The HF bands are just useless during the middle of the daylight hours.
One of the highlights of Cocos was our trip on a 30' motor boat to Direction Island, which took one hour each way. It is a desert atoll just like Cocos. But uninhabited, and very clean and a beautiful beach. We all went for a picnic, snorkeling, swimming and sunbathing in the Indian Ocean.
We were able to keep both stations going until Saturday morning, when we disassembled everything and packed up. I enjoyed saying HI to my good friend Don K9NR and his XYL Billie KF9IF on 20 meter ssb from Cocos.
We end up with over 6,500 QSO's from Cocos with:
591 on 80 and 160
350 on RTTY
We arrived back in Perth, Saturday night late and spent the Sunday shopping and sight seeing. We left early Monday morning for Sydney and then the long trip back.
Propagation was not good during our trip. I worked no North Americans on 12 or 10 meters. 160 and 80 meters was a battle.
It was like working the other side of the world from the Midwest during our summer months, I never have done that during our summer months even with my super station.
Would I do it again? You bet! Charlie, Rita and George are a blast to be with. LORI AND I HAD THE MOST WONDERFUL TIME!!
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