The final end to end testing of the G3TXQ Portable HexBeam by Ant MW0JZE was completed today! Im very pleased to report that it came in at better than 1.2:1 on all bands. A very impressive product in the way Ant has packaged it and the proof it was working came with a 20m Long Path contact to Adam MU0WLV located on Guernsey Island using FT8 and the beam this afternoon!
This coupled with the SpiderBeam 10m aluminium mast obtained from the helpful folk at TTS Systems should make a great pairing for targeting regions like Europe from Vanuatu on the higher bands. The hope is to be able to catch both Long Path and Short Path EU openings with the beam as well as putting a substantial signal into North America on the higher bands and providing opportunities for South America with targeted calling of that region as well.
The assembly and erection of the beam and tower from scratch (now that I have had some practice) took about 2 hours. I have worked out a system to push it up with only 2 people (I could potentially do it with one but it would get a bit dicey above about 5 metres.). Fortunately my good wife has agreed to help me get it in the air once we arrive in Vanuatu.
Portable HexBeam (with my main station cranked down out of the way)
A huge thanks to Ant who went out of his way to support this expedition with a special construction run of the beam for me. Talk about service above and beyond! (Note this is not a sponsorship plug – just one impressed DXer who thinks this is worth a mention…)
After 7.5hrs in the field today and a further 6 hours building mark 2 of the matching network I am pleased to report that we have successfully provided some modifications to the 80m antenna to transform it into a 160m inverted L. While only 12m high, with a tuned radial plus resonant loading wire we have achieved successful daylight QSOs to several stations. I acknowledge that it isnt very efficient, but it is better than no 160m antenna at all (and hopefully will be a little more effective than the dipole I took to Niue last year).
Steve VK5SFA helped immensely with the tuning and setup today, including loaning me the high voltage capacitors needed for the matching circuit. The 160m design is based partly on those published by DJ0IP showing how to build low band antennas on a 12m Spiderbeam pole.
The 80m design is a scaled up version of one of Steve VK5SFA’s 40m designs that I used on Niue last year. One of the big differences was that it needed the large shunt L coil you see the raise the impedence up to 50ohms to match the radio.
We then took the shunt L out of circuit and added some series C and a top hat wire to form the inverted L for 160m. To tune the 160m antenna, we started with a variable vacuum capacitor to find the correct C value, and then using Steve’s VK5JST Analyser, we then substituted the variable capacitor with some fixed ones that matched the required 350pf. We then tested the VSWR and were getting around 1.7:1 as our best result at the antenna terminals. Back at the radio, this was represented as better than 1.3:1 which was very good indeed.
Feeling like we had a working antenna, we then called Tony VK5TT and arranged for some on air tests. Tony is on the other side of the Main Mt Lofty range. He was reporting us at 5×9 over a daylight path. We then proceeded to do various trials with tuned radials as well as with adjusting the tuning of the top hat wire. We finally settled on a combination that certainly seemed to be working. Neil VK5KA also joined in the conversation on 160m and we had a very pleasant hour or so tuning and fiddling, while marveling at the fact it worked at all <smile>.
We then put it into 80m mode (bypassing the capacitors and reintroducing the coil) and had similarly successful contacts and then proceeded to tune it up the bands. On 40m it is a full height resonant 40m 1/2 vertical and we were getting 59 and 59+20 reports into VK3. We then verified that it would resonate at 30 and 20m as well before calling it a day, satisfied that apart from finalising some packaging we had a fully verified antenna package ready to take to Vanuatu!
Again – a huge thanks to Steve VK5SFA for all the effort and time he has put in to helping me get this antenna running. Also thanks to Tony VK5TT and Neil VK5KA for their on air testing this afternoon!
See you on 160m FT8 (mostly) from YJ0AG de Grant VK5GR – 2 weeks to go!
UPDATE: YJ0AG planned use of expedition mode cancelled awaiting GA release of 1.9.0
Following the explicit requests of Joe K1JT and the development team, and respecting the fact that the code is still in beta, the planned operations for YJ0AG using FT8’s experimental Expedition mode will not go ahead (unless the GA release occurs in time for the expedition in 2 weeks time – not expected).
YJ0AG FT8 Standard Mode Operation Plan
It is my intention however to still run FT8 on Vanuatu during the activation. On 80m it is likely to be the primary mode used. Depending on traffic I will operate initially on the standard frequencies of 1840, 3573, 7074, 10136, 14074, 18100, 21074, 24915, 28074. From time to time I will potentially also QSY to stand alone frequencies for people to work YJ0AG to avoid causing excess congestion on the main FT8 channels only using the modes currently available in the 1.8.0 version of the software (ie standard FT8 protocol but non standard operating frequencies). See the frequency list down the bottom of the page for alternates.
If I can activate 160m I will operate using either 1840kHz simplex or I will call as ‘YJ0AG QSX1908’ indicating that I am running split frequency operation and am principally looking for Japan.
What is a Valid and Logable QSO?
I have indicated below how far you need to get before I consider your QSO to be in the log. Please take a minute to familiarize yourself with this so that we can have a smooth QSO on FT8. Note I will always operate split mode and will typically call from above 2000Hz on the waterfall. If I don’t see you reply to my reply at +15 seconds (see below) I will give 2 more calls and then move on. This is to maximise the chance of a QSO while being fair to others waiting in the queue.
Acceptable FT8 Call Sequence and points where I will consider the QSO Loggable
Broken FT8 Calls will ONLY be processed after the expedition has closed and I return to Australia. Please do not ask my QSL manager to adjudicate broken FT8 calls – I will do that personally!
Further, broken calls in the log will only be resolved by you providing your ALL.TXT file sample via Email to firstname.lastname@example.org and it being able to be matched to the expedition station ALL.TXT file. Only if the details in the master log on both ends of the contact match will the QSO be considered valid.
Alternate YJ0AG FT8 (standard mode) Frequencies
These have been chosen noting current activity and where possible have attempted to comply at least with the Region 3 band plans, although they should be acceptable for most regions and hopefully have avoided most of the PSK, Olivia, MFSK, Hellshreiber, Mailbox and other activity you see around the digital mode segments of the bands. 80m in particular was chosen to support JA stations (who cant operate above 3575kHz) while remaining above the bottom edge of the 80m band plan.
A lot of work has been going on in the background building the antenna system that I will take to Vanuatu this year. That work culminated in a first successful on air test this weekend on 80 and 40m. This is a positive development and confirms that 80m will be one of the active bands from Vanuatu next month! I huge thank you must go to Steve VK5SFA who has helped with the design and field validation work and also to Paul VK5SL for his insights as well.
The antenna is based on the 40m folded monopole solution that was used last year on Niue, but scaled up to 80m. Mechanically it is now based on a 12m Spiderbeam. The design allows for the main radial to be variable in length as well as the ground radials, such that the whole antenna is effectively tune-able from 80m-10m). The design has been modeled in 4NEC2. The results are shown below for 80m.
The design is based on the following basic components:
2x Fly Fishing Reels
1x Nylon cutting board
1x 3 terminal screw block
8AWG enamel copper wire
1.5mm dia 7×19 stainless steel wire (for the driven element)
1x 12m SpiderBeam pole
2 sections of a 9m Squid Fishing Pole
You can see the construction method here:
Out in the field the mast was rigged such that the guys provided the spacing over the top of the mast giving it a peak height of 12m. Groundwave QSOs on 80m were achieved over ~20km at 59+30dB for 50W in daylight. The coil in the first run had too many turns so some more fettling is required there. We also achieved some late afternoon 40m contacts with the coil out of circuit and the driven element wound in resulting in a native 1/4 wave that matched 50ohms. No reason to think it wont tune 30m as well as 20-10m. Next steps are now to tidy up some of the mechanics and then retest with taping the coil in various places.
Once 80-10m are working, 160m will be tried with a top hat loading wire and a counterpoise radial. 160m is still an experiment and is not guaranteed. However we may be lucky.
After the success and fun of the expedition to Niue in 2017, I came home and started dreaming of my next destination. 2018 marked a year of change however with my daughter now starting school, which curtailed to an extent when we could go. That and considering other events around home, it was decided in 2018 to advance the next trip to the April School holidays rather than wait until September again. This also meant that the available time for logistics was reduced, so it had to be somewhere relatively simple!
Vanuatu Selected for 2018 – YJ0AG
After casting around the Pacific weighing up accommodation and travel options, we have settled on a visit to the island nation of Vanuatu. We will be based on the island of Efate, about 20-30 minutes from Port Vila (the capital).
Our travel plans see us arriving on Efate Island, Vanuatu on April 16th, with the hope that we will be on air sometime on the 17th for about 12 days. The callsign will be YJ0AG. Licensing is nearly complete with the telecommunications regulator in Vanuatu and the callsign is now confirmed.
I will be trying to target Europe and digital modes in particular but will provide plenty of opportunities to all regions of the globe. I am also planning an SSTV activity day and possible participation in the Polish RTTY DX Contest.
NOTE: If I am calling a particular region, I will still accept calls from OC, AF and SA stations at any time.
The station will consist of:
MW0JZE G3TXQ Ultralight weight HexBeam 20-10m
1/4 wave vertical 30-40m
1/4 wave folded vertical 80m
Inverted L – 160m (tentative)
QSL Management, OQRS etc will again be via Charles M0OXO. QSL details will be released shortly.
A new Website – vk5gr-iota.net is being commissioned which will contain more information about the project over the coming weeks.
The first part of the story covered my planning through to the end of the first week on Niue. Next up, we explore some more of the sights on Niue as well as finally make voice contact with Europe and have more fun on the bands.
Dateline Niue: Sunday 17th September
I started early this morning with an attempt at 40m CW. Now I am no export CW operator and was using machine generated CW, so when calling CQ it was nerve wracking hoping that I could then read the stations that answered. If they were strong it wasnt too bad, but if they were weak I really struggled. Even so, I did manage 18 CW contacts on 40m. I then switched up to the higher bands as the sun was well and truly up by then. I ran 12, 15 and 17m digital using FT8 for a couple of hours averaging roughly 40 contacts an hour.
It was then time to head out with the family to really explore Niue. We decided to do a lap of the island, and take a look at what made the rest of Niue tick. It is worth noting that Sunday is also a very quiet day on the island. Most establishments are closed. This is something to consider and plan for on Saturday. We were fine, as we had planned to eat in on Sunday.
So, after breakfast, we piled into our car and set off! The plan was to head north to the northern tip of the island, and then follow the ring road around to the sculpture park that had been publicized in the tourist brochure. On the way we stopped to take a photo of the Tsunami warning sirens – just one particularly “island” thing we encountered that us mainlanders had never seen before. This was up near Hikutavake Village.
Next we got back into the car and kept heading clockwise around the island. Next stop was Liku Village. One of the things that struck us was the number of disused homes. We suppose this was a by-product of the number of people who have left Niue in the last 20-30 years. Those that were occupied we mostly very well kept. It was a strange juxtaposition at times.
After Liku we kept doing and arrived at the Hikulagi Sculpture Park. This is a quirky fun place built initially in 1996 by the Tahiono Arts Collective. The aim is to construct it from the “found object” or things that are being discarded. We spent about 30 minutes wandering around the art works and exploring the site.
After the sculpture park we continued south down the eastern side of the island, through the Huvalu Forest, one of the last original inland untouched forest areas of the island, before completing the loop and arriving back in Alofi. Niue itself is an independent nation with all the trappings, including government house!
Alofi Namukulu Road
At the end of the trip we passed through Makefu Village back to Namukulu and our accommodation.
On the Air on SSB – Finally Europe is calling!
That afternoon I decided to come back up on 20m SSB and call CQ. After about a 30min run of Japanese stations one call caught my attention. I did a double take as I copied DM5EL – my first SSB contact with Europe! After asking JA to standby, I managed to work over the next quite a number of European stations on 20m in among a continuing string of JA stations. It was one of the few openings where I did successfully work Europe. I did however wish I had a better receive setup and more punch on transmit. It definitely convinced me that the days of islands without a beam when I couldn’t get into the water were numbered.
I then had a short break for dinner with the family before returning and giving 20m CW a try. As with 40m earlier in the day, CW was very sketchy. Conscious of not wanting to have people complain about poor CW quality, I didn’t keep it up for long, but I did work 8 more stations on CW. I then QSYed down to 40m and operated on SSB again working a number of VK stations, before again returning to 160m for the continuing skeds. The 160m FT8 activity was productive this night, with a number of VKs contacted, before I moved back to 80m.
Once on 80m FT8 it was pileup time! I had up to 15 stations calling me at once at one stage! I finally packed it in at 12:30am happy with the day’s efforts.
Dateline Niue: Monday 18th September – Week 2!
This morning we started early with an hour on 40m FT8 before getting ready for some more sight seeing. Amelia and I headed out for a look at Hio beach just 5 minutes up the road. Being low tide, we could walk a long way out onto the reef. The owners of Hio cafe had mentioned that there was a cave to be seen around the corner as well, so off we went. The beach itself isn’t large but is typical of most beaches on the island. Again we found very few people about but it was a beautiful sunny day and the scenery was spectacular. This was the area that the photo was taken for the QSL card. Amelia in the end wasnt really a fan however as the crashing surf on the edge of the reef was very noisy and echoed in the cave. The main swimming hole was also very deep (3-4m) and not really suitable for her. We will just have to come back another day!
We then returned home and picked up my wife before heading back to Hio Cafe for lunch. Again another wonderful seafood dish for me and one of their beef nacho dishes for Sharon. Amelia turned on the charm and was drawing her pictures which quite took the eye of the cafe owners. They invited Amelia to draw a picture to hang up on their back wall. Hopefully it is still there today!
This photo of Falala Fa is courtesy of TripAdvisor
Swiming and Dinner
After lunch we went back to Utoku reef so she could get in some more swimming after the aborted attempt at Hio Beach, before stopping back at Swansons Supermarket for more supplies. We then headed home and I went back on the air about 0400z spending some time on 20m FT8.
We then headed back out for Dinner, for our first visit to Falala Fa, a predominantly seafood restaurant in Alofi. The food here is excellent. We even managed to convince Amelia to try some fish for the first time. After a few tentative tastes she decided she really liked it. It was great to see her try new foods.
Our only discovery was that as we hadn’t managed to book a table we were lucky to be seated. (Incidentally they don’t have an answering machine and didn’t open till 5pm. Hot tip – book the night before and remember you do need to be a little organised in your meal planning on Niue). The full restaurant meant that the chefs were a little busy too and meals took a while to arrive. Our later visits saw us book in advance and arrive just after they opened for prompt service (important with a hungry 4yo <grin>).
Back on the Air – 160m to the USA!
After dinner we trekked back up the coast to home, dodging the coconut crabs as we went, and put Amelia to bed. She had a big day and was getting very tired. I then returned to the radio. From 0830-1030z I ran mostly 40m SSB for a long pileup,before a short stint on 80m SSB which included a contact to LU2FFD in Argentina! I then went back to 160m around 1030Z in time for the morning grey line in Florida. Ed Calloway N4II had gotten in touch with me with a special request to try 160m. I wasnt convinced my modest setup would make the trip, but we thought we would give it a try.
This was a third attempt, and we started out on FT8 on 1840kHz . I managed to work VK3XQ so knew something was being radiated but Ed couldnt see me. He then called me and I could decode him, so at least on receive we had a path one way but wasnt getting anywhere. So we agreed to QSY to 1838kHz and give JT65 a go, given that it had a couple of extra dB of signal gain. We were rewarded with Ed now spotting me in his waterfall as sunrise approached. We persisted calling for about 10-15 minutes when finally Ed scored a decode from me. Our contact inched forward (JT65 after all is like treacle compared to FT8’s lightning fast QSOs) and we made the next step when I decoded Ed’s reply. We just needed the RRR response from Niue to be heard in Florida to make the contact. First cycle we missed, and then the second as well. By the third cycle we were getting nervous as the sun was really poking it’s head up at Ed’s end of the circuit when finally he copied the RRR from E6AG. We had done it, a confirmed contact over 10,900 kilometres! This was a new personal distance record for me and a new country for Ed on 160m. There were smiles all round. We must say thanks to Joe K1JT for inventing JT65 as well for without it I doubt the contact would have gone through.
That wasnt the end of the fun however as I moved back to 1840kHz on FT8 and called CQ. I had a huge surprise when Terry AL7TC also called me. Not quite as far as the contact with Ed, none the less the contact with Terry still weighed in at over 9100km this time on FT8. I also went on to work Tony 3D2AG on 160 FT8 as well as 160 CW for new band/country records for him also!
After the excitement of 160m, I went back to 40m for a while and worked many stations on FT8 before giving up at 1335z (2:35am Niue time) and joining the rest of the family fast asleep in the next room.
Dateline Niue: Tuesday 19th September
Tuesday morning was another beautiful sunrise over Niue. I however missed it after sleeping in. After some breakfast I started out with a short stint on 30m before QSYing to 17m for a run on SSB. Calls came in think and fast with lots of contacts to North America and Japan. As lunch time approached, we prepared to head out with the family. The plan today was to play a round of Mini-Golf with Amelia at Vaiolama Cafe. Amelia had a ball, although her enthusiasm was an issue running around the course which has many nooks surrounded by rather sharp coral rock. As for keeping score, lets just say we played to simply get the balls into the hole and had loads of fun!
After golf, we stopped at the supermarket again to pick some some food for dinner before heading back to the house.
Later in the afternoon it was time to try out some 20m RTTY. Up until now I had been running more FT8 than RTTY so it was great to fire up the RTTY system. It was a good shake down for the CQ WW RTTY contest coming up on the weekend, and it definitely reinforced that the over rate achievable on RTTY is nearly twice what can be done on FT8. I ran for about an hour before I had to go QRT and start preparing dinner for the family. In that time I put ~50 new contacts in the log.
After dinner, I ran on 15m then 40m data before moving back to 160m around 1030z again where I tried my hand at calling CW again. After a couple of contacts I moved to 80m and ran some SSB contacts in the 75m DX Window initially. Unfortunately, the radars were out in force and all of the DX Window from 3775-3800kHz was rendered unusable. I struggled through with a couple of contacts into the USA, before I have up and tried something different. I set up so that I was transmitting on 3690kHz and started listening on 3820kHz above the radar interference. After self spotting on the cluster I achieved several SSB contacts into the USA and one into Argentina which wasnt expecting! It was great to work LU7YS that night – just another one of the surprises I had on the bands whilst on Niue.
Dateline Niue: Wednesday 20th September
Wednesday started early with some 40m contacts into Europe on FT8 around Sunrise. I then moved up to 20m and worked another nearby IOTA operation on Samoa (5W0RA). I then also achieved a string of contacts with North America as well as Easter Island CE0YHO for another IOTA to IOTA contact. After breakfast, Wednesday was daddy daughter morning. We headed out to a playground we had seen in Alofi and let Amelia have a play in the swings. We then stopped in to the general store and petrol station (which sold locally made bread as well) before heading back home.
Later that day, I headed back out on a photo trip looking at some of the harder to reach walks. Heading north from Namukulu, I first visited Matapa Chasm. This was a favorite swimming hole for the kings of Niue. After parting at the top car park, it was a short walk down the tree lined trail to reach the water. The trail is also full of the native skinks. When I took Amelia down a couple of days later we came across perhaps 30-40 of them in our short trek.
After Matapa Chasm I tried to reach Tulava arches. This was a failed attempt as I didn’t have the right shoes on for the task. The trail is lined with very sharp coral limestone rock, and reef shoes were never going to make it. I got about 2/3rds of the way there before I had to give up and turn back. The trail definitely is more towards the “hard” end of the moderate to hard scale quoted in the guide books. It gives me something to aim to see next time we head out to Niue at least.
One of the native Bromiliead Beds on the way to Tuvala Arches
Next on my tour was a stop at Utuvahi Steps on the NE corner of the island. This is near the highest point on the island at ~60m ASL.
The final stop on my travels was around to Tautu Beach near Liku on the eastern side of the island. Here was another sea track which took us down to some scenic views of the shoreline and the reef.
The rest of Wednesday was fairly quiet. On air I ran some 15m SSB during the day, and then after dinner made another effort to reach Europe on 20m, achieving contacts with Spain, Poland, Denmark, Germany, Slovenia, Belarus, Finland, Bulgaria, Greece, Israel, Italy, Ukraine as well as some USA East coast Short path contacts before heading to bed.
Dateline Niue: Thursday 21st September
Thursday morning was another family activity, with a visit to one of Niue’s agricultural success stories. Vanilla farming. “Vanilla on the Rock”, one of the local farms, holds tours through their plantation and gives us some insights into how Vanilla is grown. Nonga Bray took us on a walking tour through her plantation showing us how the Vanilla orchid is pollinated and explaining the lifecycle of Vanilla.
After lunch I returned to the airwaves and operated on 20m data for a while. Here I worked another (almost) famous islander, Bob VP8LP on the Falkland Islands as well as a few more South American stations from countries including Brazil, Chile and Argentina. At ~0400z I QSYed to 30m and was rewarded with some contacts back into Europe again before going QRT at 0500 for dinner.
This photo of Scenic Matavai Resort Niue is courtesy of TripAdvisor
Tonights dinner was going to be something special, as we headed to the Matavai Resort for their BBQ Smorgasbord and Fire Dancing show. The food was delicious and the show was entertaining. For us it was a glimpse at how the “other half” of the tourists were living in the hotel world. We came away content with our temporary Niuean home up in Namukulu however, as the glitzy hotel life is not something we usually seek out.
Upon my return, I started up on 40m SSB for a few contacts before once again trying my hand at 160m, this time making contact with another expedition, A53W on Tonga. I also discovered that 15m was still open, and went on to work Egypt, Vietnam, Israel, China and Hong Kong before another short stint on 160m picking up Fiji and VK3/4, I then made it an early night, as the plan was hatched with Steve VK5SFA for me to try calling him on my sunrise on 160m.
Dateline Niue: Friday 22nd September
Today I made the extra effort to be up before dawn so that we could try to make contact with Steve VK5SFA in 160m. It was Steve who inspired me to take the 160m equipment out to Niue, yet he was the one VK in particular despite several attempts that we had not yet been able to contact. Finally, with Steve waking at ~2am in VK5, we made contact on FT8, and then repeated the feat on CW as well. Steve used his Transmitting 2 turn Magnetic Loop antenna and I used Steve’s tri-band trapped dipole slung in the coconut trees! Smiles all round…
E6AG using VK5SFA Antenna
I then went on to work some 40m data before switching up to 17m after sun-up. I then had a 90min run of North America on 17m FT8 before stopping for Breakfast. The band then opened to Japan and I switched from FT8 to RTTY. AFter about an hour I switched up to 12m, making contact with Australia, Japan and the USA before then taking a look at 10m. I ran on 10m for about 30 minutes in SSB working ~10 stations before stepping out for lunch again at Hio Cafe.
CQ WW RTTY Contest – Whoops Missed the Start!
It was while I was at lunch I set to thinking about when I would run in the CQ WW RTTY contest. At that point I had a lightbulb “face plant” moment. The contest started at 0000 on the 23rd of September – UTC! That meant it started at 1pm Niue time TODAY – Friday! So, the time zones and the date line finally caught me. After 2 weeks of “Island time” I made the mistake of not thinking about it early enough. So, I had missed the start of the RTTY contest. On further reflection, as I was eating yet another delicious meal from Hio Cafe, I decided – hey, it lasts for 48 hrs, plenty of time to still turn in a respectable score and after all I am on holidays so I was unlikely to run flat out for the full 48hrs anyway.
That decided, I headed back to the house, fired up the RTTY contesting software configuration and away I went, initially on 15m.
In the contest it was also becoming obvious that I lacked the firepower when in search and pounce mode to break through to many of the Europeans I could hear. However picking a run frequency I could generally hold it and work a stream of contacts. This was particularly so on 40m. Operating in the contest was great fun, and being in the equatorial zone gave me the chance to see some great propagation to many parts of the world.
Dateline Niue: Saturday 23nd September
First order of business today was to visit the Alofi North “Show Day” at the high school. We had told Amelia about the show a few days before and tried to explain it wasn’t going to be like the big Royal Adelaide show. None the less she got excited anyway. That didnt last however when we arrived and there was no big Ferris wheel to ride. We did however manage to find someone selling locally grown Strawberries which cheered her up quite a bit!
We also managed to get up close to a coconut crab. Now I really was glad that we had been studiously avoiding running over one at night on the roads! These creatures are big and need to be handled with care, or it is clear there is a real risk of loosing a finger!
After looking around the show for an hour, we headed back home and I resumed activity in the contest. I had a lucky 2 hour opening on 10m across the Pacific and worked a large number of JA and NA stations in the process. It was only cut short by a planned family swim, this time at Hikutavaka Reef. While it looked promising from a distance, when we got down there, it was very tough walking out on the reef and the actual swimming holes were quite deep. Not really a great place for Amelia to go swimming in. So we retraced our steps and headed back to Alofi and another visit to Utoku reef.
This was our last time out swimming too as we were starting to think of packing for the trip home, and wanted to make sure everything was dry before putting it in our suitcases. Packup day (Monday) was approaching. Amelia was starting to miss her toys and we still had a long way to travel. No TV and only a couple Mister Maker and Dinosaur Train DVDs which had been watched multiple times for over 2 weeks was reaching the limit for a 4yo it seemed, despite having ample fun playing in the yard and building all manner of creations with her lego set.
Dateline Niue: Sunday 24th September
Sunday saw me wrap up my CQ WW RTTY contest operation with a total of 564 contacts after a stint on 15m. I then took a break from the radio for a few hours and took Amelia back to the MiniGolf course for another round. Just as manic as the first time, this time it was punctuated with a ball that got stuck in one of the tunnels on the 14th Hole. Amelia didn’t seem to mind as she took over daddy’s ball and played on anyway.
After lunch, we headed back to the house and later that afternoon I kept my promise to try a little SSTV from Niue. Band conditions weren’t great but I did manage SSTV contacts into VK and Japan. Thanks to VK5BC, VK4EM and JA3OEN.
I then called into the Southern Cross DX Net on 14.183 SSB. After quite a run of contacts I stopped for dinner before resuming my hunt for Europe. I found a few stations on 30m and was contacted quite late in the game by Rolf PY1RO station to see if I could make some contacts with South America too. As it was the last night and I didn’t have many LU and PY stations in the log either I made the effort, and managed to work him on 30m as well as PY2XU. I then made one more appearance on the 7130 DX Net as well as some 40m FT8 before calling it a day.
Dateline Niue: Monday 25th September
This morning was my last few hours on air. Station packup was due to start before lunchtime so that we could complete preparations for our departure from Niue the following day. I started very early on 40m FT8 and worked there for 2 hours. I managed to work a few more Europeans including one contact to the UK (one of the hardest targets to reach I found) before moving up to 20m to try some more contacts with South America. I was quickly rewarded with calls from PY2JEA, PY1RO, PY1TS, PY2RJ and PY2NX. As the sun climbed higher I moved up to 17m then 15m working Argentina, USA, Canada, New Zealand and the Canary Islands before my final contact with K3SF at 2012z.
That was that for E6AG and my time on air from Niue. Lunch was back at Hio Cafe one last time before we returned to complete packing up the house, and dinner was back at Falala Fa for one last meal of local fish. All that was left was one more sleep and a trip to the airport the following morning.
Dateline Niue: Tuesday 26th September
Tuesday morning we finished cleaning the house and loaded all the bags into the car for the trek back to the airport. We had to be checked in and waiting before the plane arrived for customs reasons so we started early. Fortunately all the bags were again under weight as we had judiciously juggled what was packed where and we then sat down to wait for our plane. On schedule the flight from Auckland arrived.
Finally it was our turn to board the plane. We climbed up the stairs at 12:30pm and bid farewell to Niue, promising to return one day.
Dateline New Zealand: Wednesday 27th September
After popping through the time vortex (err actually just crossing the date line) we arrived in Auckland at ~7pm on Wednesday having never see half of Tuesday and most of Wednesday (such are the joys of crossing the dateline from east to west). Clearing customs was again no issue, after duly declaring the radio equipment and the Vanilla pods we had purchased on Niue. We then encountered some minor hiccups with our rental car (which were duly resolved) and a slightly bigger hiccup with our Auckland Accommodation. The original B&B we had booked was unable to take us and we had attempted to book a replacement from Niue with no phone and flaky internet. When we arrived in Auckland, there was a message on my Australian mobile to give the owner a call. We discovered that not everything was as it seemed with the replacement booking and were left stranded at the airport with no where to go!
So, we sat down, pulled out the iPad and started searching for accommodation that could take us with no notice. We were lucky and managed to track down a hotel with a large family room that was available. The night manager kept the doors open a little longer as we made our way across Auckland and into our accommodation for the night. We breathed a sigh of relief and promptly went to bed, safe in the knowledge that we were at least half way home.
New Zealand: Thursday 28th September
Today we decided to do a little sight seeing around Auckland. We visited the Sky Tower and also one of the surrounding lookouts back over the CBD. We also did a little shopping before heading back to the hotel.
Friday 29th September – Auckland to Adelaide – on our way home!
The last day of the trip. After a very early start, we got to Auckland Airport without any fuss, got checked in and settled into our seats. After what seemed like an eternity (thanks to a very strong headwind) we finally landed back in Adelaide, everyone and everything accounted for.
A trip like this is not possible without the support of numerous people. First and foremost I must thank my good wife Sharon and daughter Amelia who went along with my crazy endeavors.
In particular I also wish to thank Steve Adler VK5SFA who helped with the antennas, Matt Cook VK5ZM who helped with a power supply plus a big thank you to Charles M0OXO who helped with managing the internet log updates via Skype from Niue and for handling the QSL cards for this activation.
I must also thank Farm Tukumulia from Niue Telecom who helped with licensing and telecommunications for us whilst on the island and all the lovely people we met all over Niue who always were doing their best to make us feel welcome on their Island home. A special thank you also to Glenda (owner of Kaliki Lodge) and Inga and her husband who supported us at Kaliki whilst on Niue.
If you are looking for a remote island paradise to visit (and activate on an expedition) then please consider Niue. It is a fantastic place and well worth your effort!
73 till our next adventure! de Grant VK5GR, Sharon and Amelia.
Well, the time has come to wrap up my E6AG DXPedition. I have been back home in Australia for a few weeks now and am very much missing my temporary home on the Pacific island paradise of Niue. So the aim of this post is to recap the events as they unfolded, on what was my first attempt at an international DXpedition. Perhaps this will help others starting out for the first time like I was. At the very least, I hope it encourages others to visit Niue, and most importantly take their amateur radio station with them. After all, I still need Niue in my own logs back home (chuckle).
Where did it begin?
Back in March 2016, about the time that the VK0EK Heard Island expedition was slated to go live, I finally decided to find out what this HF world was all about (after some 30+ years as a licensed amateur). 2 weeks later I worked VK0EK on 40m RTTY – my only contact with them. Somehow, that was enough to fire the imagination. It was my first serious brush with an expedition pileup, my first RTTY DX and my first contact with IOTA all rolled into one. I was hooked!
Then in October 2016 I dipped my toe into IOTA portable operation, with the activation of Kangaroo Island (OC-139). This was my first, albeit a very tame expedition, as I could take the car ferry 90 mins south of home onto the island and rent a holiday house for the duration. This was also a family holiday and was my first brush with the need on such trips to maintain balance between family and radio. 300+ contacts and 6 days later I returned to the mainland. A modest effort, but a fun one none the less given I was only running a multi-band dipole and 60-100W.
So Why Niue?
2017 then rolled around, and I had been thinking about what to do next. Another VK5 expedition to Flinders Island, OC-261 was considered, but was shelved when logistics for a 2 week stay with the family started becoming difficult (and a 30km boat crossing of the Southern Ocean to the island with my 4yo daughter in a smallish boat didn’t in the end seem like a good idea). That expedition incidentally is still on the books, but for when she is a little older and we can fly onto the island in a light aircraft.
So, the days kept marching by, and we reached May 2017 still contemplating plans for Flinders Island. While looking at how it might be made to work, my wife inspired me with the simple line – “well if getting to Flinders Island is hard, try something else bold!” She may have instantly regretted it, as I started consulting Clublog’s most wanted and then cross referenced it with airline schedules whilst dreaming of a remote tropical island. I hit upon Niue as a Pacific Island destination, simply because I had never worked it or heard it from home in the 18 months I had been on air, it was pretty close to the top 100, and I realized it was relatively easy to reach by air (thanks to Air New Zealand who fly A320 Airbus aircraft there once a week, as well as their daily service to Auckland from Adelaide).
The further I looked, the more appealing it became. We could rent a holiday house that would permit me to setup my antennas, reciprocal licensing was possible, and for the family, it really did look like the ideal tropical hideaway holiday. On presenting the idea, and a rough budget (which was way under done in the end) my good wife agreed, and planning began in earnest.
Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Performance (the 5 ‘P’s!)
June 2017: The Radio Station & Licensing
The first thing I had to decide upon was what equipment to take and most importantly devise an antenna solution that could pack down to less than 20kg. I initially estimated 3 bags would be required to get the transceiver, amplifier, power supplies and antenna out to the island. Here is where Steve VK5SFA came to my aid, with an offer to loan me his portable folded mono-pole, which was good from 40m – 6m. An ingenious design, it gave me a ground isolated, resonant, full size tune-able vertical covering 30-6m with a resonant 40m 1/4 wave folded vertical on 40m. I didn’t think I had the weight capacity for anything more so in the beginning 80/160m were not considered.
For the radio equipment, I was looking at Elecraft gear, something I had used in contest stations in the past and knew well. I was lucky that a K3 and a KPA500 came up second hand in VK4 that matched my budget and my requirements! I wasn’t confident my old trusty TS-690 had the legs to survive such a trip.
Meanwhile, after consulting with several amateurs who had previously operated on Niue, I determined who I needed to contact to to obtain my reciprocal amateur radio license. It turns out Niue Telecom is the issuing authority for all radio communications licenses and the people there were extremely helpful and supportive of my endeavors. I want to express a very heartfelt thanks to Farm Tukumulia who helped me with the process (contact me if you want his details). I was then allocated the call-sign E6AG and was set! (Current amateur call-signs must all come from the series E6A according to Niue Radio regulations presently I am told.) Now for the next stage!
July 2017: Accommodation and Flights Secured
The next challenge was securing flights and accommodation. I decided also to make an effort to work the CQ WW RTTY contest from Niue, as digital modes from the island were flagged as rare on CLublog. The fact that I am a big fan of digital modes probably helped my decision there too! This meant looking at dates around the middle of September. We also had to find suitable accommodation, somewhere where we would be allowed to setup a radio station. Always an odd request, it was made difficult of course by not knowing the location at all. Again researching previous expeditions proved useful and contact was made with a couple of amateurs who had been there before. Joe N7BF and Maurice ZL2MF were most helpful with contacts and location suggestions whilst on the island. Of course this also had to be a family friendly holiday destination, so renting a house was preferred.
What I found was perfect. Kaliki Lodge owner Glenda was happy for me to setup a radio station in the house. What’s more, it had all of the amenities needed for the family. With 3 bedrooms, we could have one set aside as the radio shack while the others were for sleeping. It turned out much later that another amateur, Lance W7GJ, had in fact previously based himself there too – which explained why Glenda had a working knowledge of Amateur Radio. Lance had operated his 6m EME station as E6M from Kaliki Lodge on Niue in 2012! It was looking like we were on a winner!
Kaliki Lodge Front
Kaliki Lodge Back
AirNZ A320 flies to Niue Once a week
Having settled on the accommodation, flights were the last major thing on my list. My initial budget had assumed economy airfares would be possible all the way, looking like about $3,200 return from Adelaide for the three of us. The standard terms on the Air New Zealand website were that additional 23kg bags could be added for a modest fee. So I had set my goal of taking 6 bags, three for the station and three for the family. Then it came time to book….
This is where it pays to read the fine print on a per route basis. I discovered I couldn’t add the extra bags to my flights online. On ringing Air New Zealand, I learned that because of the distance from NZ to Niue, the flight is weight restricted so standard excess baggage was not available. The only way forward was to purchase their Works Deluxe packages, which gave a spare seat between each passenger, and mercifully an extra bag per passenger. It came at a cost however – about $1,900 worth. I sheepishly went and talked to my good wife and explained the predicament. Upon getting the green light to go anyway, we went and booked the house and the flights. Now we were set with no turning back! (and travel insurance at this point of course becomes mandatory!).
Incidentally, later on the trip, we realized there was a real upside to the tickets we purchased. The Works Deluxe package gave us access to priority check-in and boarding. When travelling with my 4yo daughter and 70+kg of equipment, the little extras like having the Auckland Airport Air-NZ check-in lounge call staff NZ customs for us to clear the equipment Carnet took a lot of the stress out of travelling.
Staging through New Zealand
The other complication I faced was the need to stage the trip through New Zealand. The flights from Adelaide connecting with Niue didn’t work, so we needed an overnight stay in Auckland. In the end we elected each way to spend 2 nights and a day in Auckland to make the transits less complicated and tiring. It added about $1,400 to the trip – money well spent – read on….
August 2017: Dry Run of the Equipment
Throughout August preparations continued. The Microham Keyer II was purchased to drive the RTTY and other digital modes on the K3 and we took the vertical antenna out for a field test during the domestic WIA Remembrance Day Contest. The first test contact I had on the antenna told me how well it was working when I worked AL3/AA7CH on IOTA NA-042 on 30m over 10,000km away! Throughout the contest I also compared reports I was receiving on my horizontal dipoles to the vertical, and except for stations closer than 1,000km everyone reported better signals on the vertical. It looked like the gear selection was complete!
About this time I was starting to get inquiries about 80 and 160m operation. I experimented with an ATU on the back of the monopole, but that only worked on 80m. In the end, Steve VK5SFA suggested I take his 160/80/40m trapped dipole to at least have something resonant. I figured I would have enough coconut trees around me that I should be able to string it up, and as I had a couple of spare kg in my weight limit, so I figured why not!
September 2017: Travelling with lots of Equipment
One issue I explored early on was the implications for travelling with high value personal equipment. The last thing I needed was complications at the border checkpoints with import duties etc. Contact with both Australian and New Zealand customs indicated that the best course of action was to take out an ATA Carnet for the equipment. This is the equivalent of a passport for your gear, and is often used by international TV crews for example to transit their equipment through foreign countries.
I was able to arrange a Carnet through the South Australian Business Chamber of Commerce although it came at a price of nearly $600! Still, better to do that than risk being stung for duty each time I transited New Zealand or on re-entry to Australia (although I didn’t need it if only the Australian leg was the issue). I saved potentially $2,500 doing this in taxes I was told. Something to consider if you are taking more than just a basic SOTA style station overseas (I did have multiple transceivers, laptops, linear amplifiers etc so definitely the next tier up). Incidentally, taking the equipment into and out of Niue was no issue if I was staying only on a tourist visa for less than 30 days!
Thinking About Niue General Logistics – Transport, Communications and Meals
The final hurdles involved finalizing the logistics once on the island. There is no public transport on Niue so renting a car is a must. There are several options available here and all of the companies are happy to arrange pick up and drop off at the Airport. If you would like a recommendation, drop me a line.
Planning for home cooked meals on the island also requires a little forethought. This is where the extra day spent in Auckland was handy. There is a supermarket on Niue in Alofi (about IGA size) and most things are available. If you want meat, frozen chicken, beef and lamb as well as mince and many others is available but be warned it is all in bulk packs (minimum 1kg we found). Some of the travel websites had also warned about the lack of fruit and vegetables. Generally we found most things that we wanted, although non tropical fruits like oranges, apples and Strawberries were less common or not available. It made it interesting trying to get our daughter to try new things. To her credit she did!
In the end, the advice we received and took was to take some bread and vegetables plus your favourite condiments with us (no they don’t sell Vegemite in Niue – or New Zealand for that matter!). Provided we bought them at supermarkets in New Zealand and presented the receipts to quarantine at Niue Airport there would be no issue bringing them in. Bread in the end really wasn’t necessary it turned out as the island bakeries churns out plenty and it is available almost every day of the week. We learned for next time.
NOTE: not everything is permitted and some things are completely banned – notably honey. Check yourselves with the current Niue travel advisories before entering the country. The other observation we made was that our timing was lucky as the resupply ship had arrived the same day we had. We had been warned that if the ship runs late the super market shelves do get pretty bare. In this case, your mileage may vary.
We should also add that we certainly didn’t plan on eating in every night and whilst on Niue we found several favourite places for meals. More on those later!
From a communication perspective, we had determined that we had some Internet access at our house but no telephones. We also learned that Niue Telecom, who runs the GSM mobile service on the island, doesn’t have international roaming. When I went back to my contact there who I had arranged my radio license with, he helped arrange a Niue pre-paid SIM card I could use while on the island. I later found out I was very lucky as when I was there SIM cards were in short supply and weren’t available for visitors when we arrived. In short, you need to go in with the expectation that you are back in the pre-cellular age and simply embrace being disconnected from the world. To me, this was one of the refreshing and most relaxing aspects of being on Niue. After a few days, we really did loose track of what was happening in the world – and discovered that we really didn’t care! The only thing we were happy to have cellular available for was to be able to call and book restaurants for dinner – often needing to be done 24hrs before hand (or they might not open!). Something to remember!
Packing the Equipment
One of my big concerns was packing the equipment up in a way that maximized the chances of it arriving in one piece. The purchase of two Pelican im2620 Storm cases, one to carry the KPA500, Microham Keyer and one of the power supplies, and the other to carry the backup power supply, backup transceiver (an ICOM IC706 MK2G), KAT500 tuner (principally for the low bands) and a set of basic tools solved the problems. The K3 transceiver was taken as carry on luggage as were the two laptops spread across the three of us travelling. We probably pushed the carry-on baggage weight to the limits (and then some) but got away with it. It at least gave me the piece of mind that the K3 had a good chance of arriving unscathed.
To carry the antennas, I purchased a golf bag cover. This was just the right length to take the tripod, two fishing poles (main and spare) and to carry some of the coax. It also was less than the maximum length allowed by the airlines. Weight distribution was a real issue and it did come down to picking which bags to put what in. Coax cable wise I took 30m of RG213 and 40m of RG58. Next time I will take 10 more metres of RG213 or replace it and the RG58 with some RG8X. When we added the food we took into Niue, it worked out that we had probably 3kg to spare across our 6 bags. Enough for souvenirs on the way home (given that we would eat at least half of one bag in groceries over the two week stay <chuckle>).
The Adventure Begins
Departure – Monday September 11th 2017
Departure day was upon us! We headed to the airport with all of our luggage and made our first stop, the customs office, to get the equipment checked out of the country. After getting the Carnet stamped, it was upstairs to check in and the moment of truth. Had we gotten the baggage loading right? Phew yes we had – and our scales at home had been reading high so we had at least 0.5-1kg free in each. That done, it was off for some breakfast and then immigration control before the 11.30am flight to Auckland, New Zealand.
The rest of the first day was relatively uneventful. The flight was smooth and we arrived in Auckland around 4.30pm. Clearing the Carnet in Auckland was easy – after marking our arrival card with commercial goods we were shown to the correct line, and had everything processed without drama. On finally entering New Zealand, we picked up our hire car and headed to our accommodation. Friends had suggested some nice suburbs to stay in, and indeed they were. What we hadn’t counted on was how long it would take to reach by road across the city. Next time we will stay closer to the airport!
Staging in Auckland – Tuesday September 12th 2017
Tuesday was a slow start from our apartment but eventually we headed out to buy the groceries and some last minute spare parts (spare fuses for the power supplies and some spare nuts and washers for the antenna). That evening, after sampling one of the local gourmet burger restaurants in Mission Bay, we had an early night ready to get to the airport by 6.30am the next morning.
Arrival in Niue – Wednesday 13th/Tuesday 12th 2017
The next morning we left at 5.30am and headed to the airport. After encountering a traffic snarl on the airport approach road we finally arrived and could go through the procedure of checking in again. Here is where the works deluxe tickets from Air New Zealand helped. They were able to call customs to the Premium Checkin Counter and complete our Carnet export paperwork there! Priority Check-In is also not to be under valued. After clearing customs we began the wait for our flight in the international departures lounge, wondering what we were about to find.
After another pleasant flight over the Pacific we caught our first glimpse of Niue, a green jewel sitting in a sea of blue. There is a certain excitement as you arrive and catch sight of your destination for the first time! Here we had our first time warp, as Niue lies just over the international date line. We left Auckland on a Wednesday and 3 hours later it was Tuesday again in Niue. Just one more little matter to keep track of on the trip.
After landing, we disembarked down the stairs – no air-bridge here, and went over to the terminal. After passing through immigration we headed over to the luggage trailers and collected our bags. I hadn’t been in an airport where it worked like this since the ’80s back home at the old Ansett terminal in Adelaide.
The full force of tropical humidity hit standing in line to clear customs as there were only a few fans in the arrival hall. Finally we made it through quarantine and then headed over to collect our hire car. When we had made the booking we had asked for the biggest car they could provide that wasn’t a minivan. As you can expect, vehicle selection isnt great on the island, so we ended up with a Subaru wagon. At least it had air conditioning! It was then time to play a 4 dimensional packing game, working out how to fit all of the bags and passengers in and what order to load them in. At one point it looked like I would be making two trips, but in the end, with my wife nursing the case with the amplifier in it, we crawled our way up the coast and arrived at Kaliki. Journey done!
The rest of the day was spent unloading the car, heading back to Alofi for supplies from the supermarket and a trip to Niue Telecom’s offices in the centre of town. There I paid for and collected my Amateur Radio license. They also loaned me a monitor to make operating digital modes easier. I cant thank them enough for the help they gave. A good thing to note here is that their office is manned 24×7 – a surprise really given the opening hours of many other establishments. We then headed back to the house, and with excitement growing started building the station.
The final hurdle then arose. I needed a table! Looking around the house the pickings were slim! In the end we decided to cannibalise the outdoor setting and bring that table into the radio room to solve the problem.
Now I was racing against sunset, and just as the sun dipped below the horizon, the antenna installation was complete. It was then back to Alofi to find somewhere for dinner.
Here is where we encountered our Niue quirky first observation. There are plenty of places to eat on the island, but many require you to book first, and many are only open certain nights of the week. Just driving up and hoping to get fed, especially when we had yet to determine where they all were, was a challenge! Fortunately Gills Indian restaurant was open and served delicious food. We were set (and they were right next door to Niue Telecom it turns out!)
After dinner we returned home and final station construction began. The moment of truth came when I powered everything up and made some test calls. The amplifier gave me a concern because there was nothing on the display, however it was still working fine. Shortly after the display there came to life too and all was well (and I never worked out why it did that). As it was already long past sunset I started on 40m and found some strong VK signals. First call was to Jim VK2QA on 7110 with 59 both ways and to Rod VK7FRJG with similar reports. Not quite ready to hit out and call CQ I called into the 7130 DX Net and listened for a while. I think I confused net control for a while who heard “E-cho” as “V-Kay” 🙂 Must have been the Australian accent. Finally they worked out they had some DX on the net (chuckle) and away we went!
Later that night I QSYed up to 7181kHz and started calling CQ UP5. This confused a few VKs apparently who perhaps weren’t regular DX chasers and with space on the band limited I settled back to Simplex operation up in the US Generals segment of the band. To do some final testing, I then dropped down to FT8 on 7074 and verified that the PC and Microham gear was working correctly before throwing in the towel for the night. We were on air as E6AG after what had been a VERY big day!
Dateline Niue: Wednesday 13th September – First Day Exploring
Today was our first full day on the island and our first real chance to look around. While the family stirred I started up on 20m FT8 to see what could be worked. Being unfamiliar with conditions this far north I wasn’t sure what bands and times things would be working. My 20m noise floor wasn’t fantastic either (about S5 to 7 most of the time) which was another problem to tackle, especially if I wanted to have some success into Europe. I worked 20m for about 90 minutes before the family was ready to head out and explore.
Our first stop was to head back to the tourism office and gather some local information about the best attractions to go and see. One of the most useful things we received were the tide times! A lot of the reef attractions are best accessed either at low or high tide depending on the attraction. Some of the swimming holes are also better at one or other extreme, so a very useful piece of information indeed.
We then headed across to Vaiolama Cafe (and Mini Golf!) for lunch before stopping past Utoku Reef to assess a potential swimming hole. Then we drove back up to Namukulu and took a look at the Limu pools.
Vaiolama Deck View
Lunch at Vaiolama Cafe
Sea Track to Utoku Reef
Amelia hurt her knee
We had heard much about this swimming and snorkeling location. For us however it was not ideal. Getting in and out looked difficult and really didnt suit Amelia who was still learning to swim. To top it off, here was the site of Amelia’s first brush with the sharp coral rocks found all over Niue. After a badly scraped knee, she wasn’t keen on going back there for the rest of the trip.
Ham Shack Setup on Niue
We headed back to the house and applied some first aid. I then hit the airwaves for a few hours working 20m FT8, a little SSB (although by now it was dawning on me what a problem the noise floor was going to pose). It was during this afternoon run that some cracks were starting to appear in the station too. Receive started failing several seconds after the end of each transmission. Early investigations showed that if I didn’t run the amplifier in line the problem didn’t occur. I started dreading the worst, and spent the next few sessions running barefoot.
Sampling the Islands Restaurants
That night we headed out for dinner. One of the restaurants in Alofi, the “Crazy Uga” did a burger night only on Wednesdays that the brochures said was not to be missed. Well, apart from a great view overlooking Utoku Reef, the nearly home made burgers were fantastic! We even got Amelia to try her first burger, albeit cut down to the bun, patty and some sauce. Crazy Uga’s is definitely not something to miss while on Niue and congratulations must go the family who run it who do a great job!
On the way home we again saw these moving shapes on the road. This time we stopped alongside one to take a look, and to our surprise it was a very large crab. We made sure we didnt run over any while on the island. Once we had settled Ameila to sleep, I activated 40m SSB for a short run then back to FT8 into the early hours of the morning. Not a big radio day but it did set the pattern of late nights while the family slept.
Dateline Niue: Thursday 14th September
Thursday morning broke and I started out with some 15m digital on FT8 before switched to 15m SSB. Plenty of Japanese stations as well as some North American and Australian signals. One notable one was a contact with a friend of mine, Adrian VK5ZBR, who tried FT8 for the first time – acoustically coupled – and succeeded in making it through.
While still puzzling over the amplifier issue, it was time to take a break. I pulled the covers off and started looking for anything loose that might be interrupting the PIN diode TX/RX switching supply (which is a 270v DC line in the amplifier – take great care around this!) thinking this might be the cause of my intermittent receive issue. After poking around the tightening up the 270v feed which seemed a little loose, I put the covers on and took it back to the shack. Alas – no real improvement. Resigned to my apparent fate, I then set about erecting the 160/80/40m dipole in the surrounding Coconut trees.
Rigging the dipole among the coconut trees
Erecting Wire Antennas
Having not brought anything else other than some rope and string, I started using local implements (the coral rocks were a good choice) to add some weight. After about an hour or so of realizing what a lousy shot I was, I finally managed to string the dipole across the yard. Time would tell that evening whether it would work or not.
I then headed back into the shack, checked the tuning of the new antenna, which was fine, and then waited for dark to see how effective it would be on 80/160m.
Back on the Air
Meanwhile, I decided to give 10m a try. I was rewarded with a short run of JA plus one US West coast station on FT8, before I went back to 20m. It was during my further activity on 20m that I started to really notice problems on receive. After each transmission, the noise floor would drop after a few seconds and the radio would appear to become deaf again. I called up one of my close friends in Adelaide, Matt VK5ZM and we discussed the problem for a while (as he had helped me with an earlier fault with the amplifier which appeared on the surface to be the same) as I found if I ran barefoot 100W that the problem didn’t generally occur. However that didn’t last and eventually the problem started showing up at 100W as well.
I then had a contact with another long time friend, Garry VK5ZK who related a story of problems with high power causing antennas to go intermittent. I had a light bulb moment as I realized I could be having problems with the way the coax is coupled onto the driven element. After some island bodging with the spare parts I had brought I changed the way the coupling was done which improved things. Finally after further probing I picked that a barrel connector I had in the feed-line was the culprit. Upon replacing it, everything sprang back to life and we were back with full QRO! A definite sigh of relief…
Friction connection before
Screw connection after
Dinner this evening was home cooked sourced from local Niuean and imported food we brought from Auckland. Renting a house with a full kitchen definitely was a positive, especially staying up at Namukulu as it was about 20mins to drive back to Niue (dodging the coconut crabs on the road at night). The home made pasta sauce and spaghetti was delicious and receive the grin of approval from Amelia too!
After sunset, it was time to give 80 and 160m a run. Using FT8, my first contact on 80m was a “local” with Phillip 3D2TS answering my call from Fiji. After a number of contacts then with Japan, Australia and Brazil I QSYed down to 160m FT8 to see if the system was working there. My first reply came from VK4CMV, proving I was at least radiating something! I tried to work VK5SFA as well, however we couldn’t make it. The thought was that perhaps the antenna was not oriented sufficiently towards Australia. A plan was hatched the next day to try and move it to see if we could improve things.
The next appointment was a planned scheduled contact with home on 40m. Chris VK5CP setup his 40m remote station in the carpark outside the Amateur Radio Experimenter Group’s meeting hall back in Adelaide. Over the next 30 minutes we worked 18 members of the club. These were by no means difficult contacts but it was great to hear some voices from home.
After the club QSOs I returned to 80m FT8, working stations from all around the Pacific, before giving 40m RTTY a run. 47 contacts later over 2 hours and we wound up operations for the night.
Dateline Niue: Friday September 15th
First up on Friday was my second attempt at shifting the antenna for 160/80m. After more bad throwing and lots of walking back and forth, I managed to swing the antenna about 30deg to direct more energy towards Australia. I started early on this, about 7am, so as to beat some of the heat of the day and by about 9am it was done. It was then family time, and so we didn’t make it back on the radio that morning.
This was also the day we finally decided to give swimming a try. We packed our things and went back to Utoku reef in Alofi where there was a small beach and sandy bottom swimming holes among the rocks and coral. Carefully (after the incident at Limu pools with Amelia) we climbed down the sea track to the beach to find that we had it almost all to ourselves. This is what touring places that are “off the beaten track” can reward you with. Amelia donned her flotation vest (she is still very much learning to swim) and mum and dad waded into the rock pools with her. What a grin!
For lunch we then headed back towards Namukulu for our first encounter with the Hio Beach Cafe. I say first because it most certainly wasn’t our last. They offered a range of cuisine, with a strong seafood bias. Talking with the staff about the menu and my own love of seafood, they steered me towards their locally caught tuna. What can I say – I’m now ruined. There is nothing quite like fresh seafood and the fish they served and prepared was delicious. This is definitely a must visit destination and whats more, it was 5 minutes down the road from our holiday home!
Back on the Air!
After lunch we settled down with Amelia playing outside and the rest of the family relaxing. I then came up on 15m RTTY for a while, again easily working a string of Japanese stations as well as NA, SA and Australia. After a while I moved back to 20m, first on FT8 and then on SSB. I really was struggling on 20m however as there was a local S5-7 noise source I couldnt find that rendered 20m almost useless. It contributed over the first few days to no contacts at all with Europe. The terrible solar conditions as a geomagnetic storm raged didn’t help either.
After another home cooked dinner, I tuned to 30m, again running FT8 for a few contacts before moving down to 40m until about 0900.
Tonight was going to be the next big test of 160m, as earlier in the day I had been contacted by JA2WYN and had been asked if I could run Split Frequency for Japan, with my station transmitting on 1840kHz while the Japanese amateurs transmitted on 1908kHz. I had some doubts with the efficiency of my antenna on that band, but none the less we gave it a try. After announcing on the cluster network what we were doing, I called CQ JA E6AG AH51 on 1840, and listened for responses on 1908kHz. A happy grin broke out when I was answered first by Tom JA2WYN, followed by JA2NDQ, then JA4DND, JA4OZR, JA1RTX, JH4UYB and JE4CIL! Certainly that was the first time from anywhere I had worked Japan on 160m, and I suspect it gave a new band to most if not all those who worked me!
160m dipole just visible between the coconut trees
I then made a few more contacts on 20m and 80m before calling it a night at 1220z (1:20am).
Dateline Niue: Saturday September 16th
160/80m dipole in the coconut trees – house in the distance
Saturday turned into another day for playing with antennas. Having realized I wasnt going to get anywhere with my S7 noise floor on 20m I started loooking for alternatives. Moving the 160/80m antenna the previous day had forced me to move the high band vertical as well, and that had quietened it down a little (it was now more S5 than 7) which suggested something in the house was the source (we never did find it mind you). Moving the dipole closer to the house on the second day had also increased the noise floor on 160/80m too. So out we tramped again and looked for somewhere we could get the antennas much further away.
After moving things around again and juggling available coaxial cable, I managed to find a location where the low band dipole was ~40m away from the house and facing end on to it. I was instantly rewarded with only thermal noise in the receiver at S1 – hooray! Then while band switching with that antenna still connected I stumbled what I thought was a closed 20m band only to discover S2-4 FT8 signals a plenty. Ah-ha! Another light bulb moment.
After again bodging one of the cables I had brought, I was able to make an adapter that let me plug the low-band dipole into the Rx Only antenna port of the K3 Tranceiver, while leaving the vertical on transmit. Now I could finally hear! Contacts with Central America, the USA and South America rolled in across 20m, now running with my new S1 noise floor. Despite it being a non resonant antenna on the band, for receive it didn’t matter. The meter didn’t move much, but it didn’t have to to be able to clearly hear many new stations for the first time! As confidence grew, I moved up to 20m SSB again and made another 24 contacts before having a break.
Amelia at Kai Ika
Dinner – Japanese & New York Pizza?
We then broke for dinner and headed back into Alofi. This time we visited Kai Ika Restaurant. This establishment had a split personality serving both Pizza and Japanese dishes, both of which it did very well indeed. Another one I would recommend if you are spending any time in Alofi. Our daughter loved the Pizza here too!
Back on the Bands
After returning home I set up a run on 30m FT8, before firing up on 30m RTTY at ~0800z. I picked a fairly low frequency around 10132kHz as there was a loud commercial signal around 10145kHz that would have made it difficult to run above 10142kHz. Nearly 50 RTTY contacts later in the space of an hour and it was time to once again try 20m. I then ran achieving my first contact with Eastern Europe.
I stayed on 20m until 1030z when I had a schedule to try 160m again with Steve VK5SFA. This time I managed to work VK5BC, but Steve VK5SFA and I failed again to make contact. We weren’t being helped that night by the very high tropical QRN 160m either. I gave up early and went to bed, with the idea of taking a look at what the very early morning conditions would bring.
TO BE CONTINUED…..
This marks the end of the first week away from home. So far we had been travelling for 3 days, building the station, battling technical issues, messing with antennas, solving problems of electrical noise, and had done some sight seeing to boot. Contact with Pacific Rim nations had been achieved but very little had been seen from Europe. Now with the antennas optimized as best as they could, given the circumstances, we were poised to strike out and be heard around the world…
In my next installment, I will introduce some of the other sights of Niue, and reveal how we went contacting Europe and talk about some of the other low band excitement we had!
After a couple of mixups I am pleased to announce that the E6AG logs have finally been uploaded to Logbook of the World! The QSL cards have also been printed and the first batch will be mailed shortly (thanks Charles M0OXO for all your help there).
Stay tuned – the final full trip report is also slowly coming together and should be published here (hopefully) within the week!