Gabo Island is rich in cultural history, significant flora and fauna and features the only operating island lighthouse in Victoria VK3. The lighthouse was constructed from 1858 to 1862 using the distinctive pink granite found on the island. It is truly a magnificent 47m high structure. As well as it being OC-196 it counts as lighthouse references ILLW AU0080 and WLOTA 1031 and these will appear on the QSL card.
At 23.5% claimed, it certainly isn’t rare but I needed it and so it was time to make a visit. There is a full time light house keeper on the island employed by Parks Victoria and the environmental authority allow people to visit the island and stay overnight at a heritage building. It’s not cheap to stay there at $400 per night and you need to bring all of your own food etc. So considering that it is not that rare, I decided to just stay there two nights to make the trip economically viable. Staying 4-5 nights would cost too much. Access by sea is very risky, not from a safety point of view but rather from a timing point of view. It is very common for boat trips to be delayed or cancelled due to rough seas despite the weather still being favourable. This meant that the most reliable option was to charter a light aircraft from the rural coastal town of Merimbula in VK2 and land on top of the island on a short grass airstrip. In hindsight, this was a great decision.
To avoid being too fatigued at the start of the DXpedition, I decided to do a road trip over a few days driving 5-6 hours per day from my home in Hindmarsh Island in VK5, through Victoria VK3 across to Merimbula in VK2. The weather was extreme with daily maximums of 42 and 43 degrees Celsius for the entire journey – needless to say that many beers were consumed each evening to rehydrate. I love hanging out at country pubs, especially within walking distance from my motel. On the morning of January 31 there was a relief from the heat with a cool change but it also brought strong winds. So the prospect of visiting via sea on a charter boat wouldn’t have been possible and I would have had to cancel the trip. Unfortunately with my antenna gear, the light aircraft originally booked was too small and so by doing some fasting talking with the charter company and using some well placed $50 notes as a persuasion, I had a bigger plane and was on the island 1 hour later.
The island is a beautiful heritage site and so I had strict conditions on my placement of antennas and it meant that I could not go near or use guy anchors on any of the structures on site. With the cool change it meant that the weather was very nasty. Putting up a beam such as a Spiderbeam yagi would have been impossible. Even putting up the 12m fibreglass Spiderbeam pole for the 17m/20m vertical dipole was an ordeal. The winds were so nasty that when I tried putting the pole in the air, it actually bent at right angles and I was expecting it to snap in half before I had a chance to finish the guys ropes – geez those Spiderbeam poles are tough!!!!!
Gabo Island is on a similar latitude to my home QTH and based on current conditions, 15m and 17m were extremely unreliable for DX and 20m was not producing the kind of results I was used to. However on the positive side, I noticed that 40m was showing some promise. I had a beaten up old Butternut HF9V and so be cleaning up the thinner top lengths and the bottom thicker tube I then found other pieces of aluminium tubing from old antennas and constructed a lightweight aluminium tubing 10m long quarter wave vertical for 40m which could withstand nasty weather. It could also be used for 15m. So I built this antenna and it was much easier to put up than the Spiderbeam as it was lighter and could withstand the wind better. To top it off I attached 32 x 10m ground mounted radials.
I wasn’t able to have access to emails, the internet or DX cluster on the island but I could go to the edge of the island and be able to spot myself on the DX cluster using my mobile phone. So I tried to stick to my pre-planned schedule that was on my website based on propagation forecasts, current conditions and my own personal experience.
20m didn’t produce anything of interest in the 0400 to 0700 UTC period, just mainly JA and VK/ZL. At 0800 to 0900 UTC the first Europeans made an appearance but it was slow and tough trying to make contacts. So after 5 hours of being on air, 15m and 17m were dead and 20m was on life support – there were virtually no signals on the CW or digital segments either. At 0900 I went to 40m at my local sunset. Fortunately I had a nice run of JA and occasional North Americans entering the log including many familiar IOTA chaser call signs from the USA. By 1200 UTC it was now time to visit 20m to investigate short path North America and Europe (I tried it at 1000 UTC but nothing was going on). Well all hell broke loose with a ferocious pile up to Europe, I would regularly ask for “United Kingdom, Echo India and Scandinavia only” but the European pile was very badly behaved and simply ignored these requests. Normally I get 3 or 4 people calling out of turn, usually due to their poor English, but this time I had dozens doing it and it wasted lots of time and meant less people got in the log. I guess that with poor conditions overall, an unusually good opening to Europe caused panic calling to get in the log during this limited opportunity. The pile up lasted from 1200 to 1430 UTC so it was a relief to finally get a pile up but there was nothing from North America on 20m during this normally productive time.
With 20m closing, I hoped that 40m would be ready for Europe and there was a great opening and pile up from 1500 to 1600 and it eventually died at 1630 UTC. So the band was really only open as the greyline went west across Europe, I was hoping it would be open throughout my early morning until 2000 UTC at my sunrise, but no luck. I tried 20m at 1630 UTC but nothing. The trend on the DXpedition was clearly short bursts of good conditions and then absolutely nothing for long periods and it was clear that 15m and 17m were not going to play a part in this trip. From 1630 to 2000 UTC I would put out bursts of auto CQ over and over again but to no avail, this was a big challenge considering I’d be at the radio since 0330 UTC, and 1630 to 2000 UTC is 330 to 700 am local time and I had no sleep yet. The worst thing was that with the nasty weather, it was too dangerous to venture out on the edge of the island at this time of night for putting myself on the DX cluster. Once the sun rose I was able to spot myself on the cluster on 40m around 2000 UTC and this produced a small European opening for an hour until 2100 UTC (8am local time).
I spent the morning from 2100 to 0000 UTC jumping between 20m, 17m and 15m and even with spotting myself on the DX cluster it produced virtually no 20m long path North America or 17m/15m JA. It was now 1100am on Wednesday and I’d been awake since 600am on Tuesday, considering that the day time conditions were not going to produce anything and I needed to be at the top of my game for 40m during the night, I really needed to get some sleep from 0000 to 0400 UTC.
At 0400 UTC I went to spot myself on the DX cluster with a walk to the edge of the cliff using my mobile phone, when I saw the solar figures and the K index I wondered whether I should just close my eyes and jump off the cliffs to the jagged rocks and stormy seas below – I figured this would be less painful than trying to make a QSO on 20m/17m/15m for the rest of the day and night – however the hope of 40m was enough to get me off suicide watch. Sure enough the following 3.5 hours produced 40 QSO’s on 17m and 20m……… where is that cliff again. Geeez, imagine if I didn’t have the 400w amplifier.
I had no where else to turn but 40m. It was 0745 UTC and it was 2 hours before sunset. After CQing for a while I was pleasantly surprised to find a steady European long path pile up and every now and then a strong North American would pop up. So this was a relief and the Europeans eventually disappeared at 0830 UTC. The good thing was that it was a little too early for JA so now North America was in the clear and I had time to apologise to them because I knew many would have tried for me their previous morning in the more civilised time of 1200-1400 UTC on 20m but now they only had once shot at me in the wee small hours of their early morning for 40m. So while it was nice to get North Americans in the log, the 0930 to 1100 UTC really didn’t produce too many QSO’s. By this time of the DXpedition I had resigned myself to the fact that big pile ups were not going to happen with rates of 100-200 per hour, it was time to knuckle down, grind it out and enjoy every North American and European contact, because each DX QSO would be precious and an important achievement.
Considering that with the previous day there was a monster 20m pile up to Europe at 1200 UTC and that 40m was very slow at the time, at 1100 UTC I went and spotted myself on 20m……… nothing……oh dear. There were NO signals anywhere on 20m on CW/SSB/digital, I even went outside to make sure the antenna hadn’t fallen down. So I went back to 40m to work a handful more of USA stations. I went back to 20m again at 1200 UTC and 1330 UTC and again nothing – oh shit!
So I focussed on staying on 40m to try and work the North American IOTA chasers from east to west coast as people were waking up. At 1400 UTC it was great as the opening was only to North America and Scandinavia which are the toughest paths from here. Then the rest of Europe appeared and was quite steady until 1630, after this time the band was pretty much dead. Unfortunately that at the end of every European opening there was no appearance of stations from Ireland and UK, all I can say is sorry to this region but I really did try and look for you and I slowed the European pile ups down many times by asking for “United Kingdom, Echo India and Scandinavia only”. There were 36 QSOs with Scandinavia and 19 QSOs with the UK region.
So over the 36 hours of operation there were 1198 QSOs on SSB:
60.7 % on 40m
36.9 % on 20m
1.8 % on 17m
0.6 % on 15m
52 % with Europe
24 % with Asia
13 % with North America
10 % with Oceania
<1 % with Africa