Description of XF1K operation, Isla Pelicano, 7 – 9 February 2003, by N6VR
The preparation for the NA167 IOTA operation started 2 months earlier with the efforts of Hector, XE2K (ex XE2DN) in obtaining licenses and landing permission. Originally, plans were for four Mexican operators and me, but in the end, it came down to XE2K, XE2ZY, Emigdio and N6VR, Ray.
Hector had previously gone through the authorization and licensing efforts with Mexico City for his 2002 Angel del La Guardia Island operation (XF1DN), NA163. Therefore, the contacts and procedure were in place. My concern was for my authorization. Hector always says, no problem, and there were none. It appears that as long as an XE ham initiates the licensing effort, and the 50/50 rule of operators is followed (50% Mexican and 50% others), Mexico City will issue licenses. My effort involved only applying for a XE2/N6VR license and a tourist visa. Other than that, I was considered a guest of the XF1K operation.
Hector also applied and received permission to stay on the island since it is located in a protected reserve area. Permission was issued by the director of the Sonora Environmental authority. As far as the planning, there were the usual emails and phone calls about rigs, antennas, batteries, generators, cables, tents, food, etc. Hector had traveled to El Gulfo de Santa Clara a month earlier to arrange the boat, fuel and help on the island. The goal was to have at least two stations on the air.
On the day of the operation, 7 Feb, we left Mexicali about 1 pm and arrived at El Gulfo, a small fishing village in the late afternoon. We immediately began loading the boat located in front of the home of the boat owner. After loaded, the boat was towed by a 4-wheel drive truck over the sand into the Gulf, about ¼ mile away. We climbed in and were off.
The trip to Isla Pelicano took about 20 – 30 minutes. The Island is mainly mud and sand with an elevation of about 6 – 9 ft (3m). The tide movement is amazing; the difference between low and high tide is up to a ½ mile (1000m) in distance. We arrived at sunset; about 500 ft from the hard sand ready to go not but realizing the effort to come. When you jump off the boat, you immediately sink to your knees in mud. We had probably a twenty items to carry 150 meters to the hard sand through the sometimes knee-deep mud. After the difficulty of the first load sloshing through the mud, we came up with a way to sled many of the containers, batteries and generators over the mud. Since it had turned dark, we had to place a light on land and the boat to find our way back and forth. It took a full hour to unload all the gear onto the island.
After all that, we were totally exhausted. However, the thought of operating from a rare IOTA kept us going. By the time we finished unloading the boat, the tide had retreated 200 meters, the boat could not move! The crew stayed the night on the island with us. It took us about one hour to set up the operating and sleeping tents, the tribander yagi at 25 ft, R7 vertical and the 80m inverted V at 45ft. I was the first on the air, 14.260 MHz. Within 30 minutes Hector took over 20m SSB, Emigdio was on 80m SSB, and I was on 40m CW.
Over the next few days and nights we were able to keep two stations on the air, and sometimes a third. Propagation was fair with 20m closing about 9 pm local time (0500z). We would then move to 40 & 80m. I often slept from 0700z to 1300z, and would open on 40 or 80m. At sunrise, I would attempt to move to a higher band but found that with the R7 vertical nothing was open until 1700z. By then 10, 12 & 15m would be open. There was another slow period from about 11am to 3pm (1900 to 2300z). The phone station with the A3S tribander was able to work the bands longer.
A special effort was made to work Europe and the Middle East. We did work many Europeans, but only a few Middle East and Central Asia stations. Of course, there was the continual calling by some of the Southern European stations that made QSOs very difficult at times. The weather in the morning was very cold, 40 to 46 degrees F, 4 to 8 degrees C. There were strong winds at times that made it even colder. During the day, the temperatures were nice, in the mid 60’s, 18 degrees C. One comment about food: Hector’s family had prepared some beef to make burritos, which was very good. We also had soup that one just adds hot water. However, I can tell you, the canned corned beef and canned chicken I brought was not so good. The beef looked like dog food, while the chicken looked like cat food. I hope they were not mislabeled!
In total, we made about 4000 SSB and 2000 CW QSOs. Our goal was 3000 QSOs so we farexceeded our goal. Leaving the island was even worse that getting on! The boat was stuck in the mud ½ mile (800m) away from our operating position. Fortunately, we had help. Hector and I had to make only one trip to the boat. No matter, it took me 45 minutes to pull my box of radio gear over the mud. I had to stop every 30 to 40ft to catch my breath. It took more than one hour to get all the gear and equipment into the boat. As before, the tide had retreated and the boat was left in the mud 300 feet (100m) from the water! We did not want to wait 2 – 3 hours for the tide to return, so we ended up pushing the boat across the mud to the ocean. This took almost 45 minutes.
The 20-minute boat ride to El Gulfo went fast. Emidio had left a day earlier, so we had to leave the antennas and a few large containers in El Gulfo for their later return to Mexicali. On the way back, we had go through two military drug checkpoints and unload and open a number of boxes and cartons to show them that we were not drug runners. Hector’s smooth words made it easier too.
The most unusual thing I discovered about Isla Pelicano is the mud and tides. During extreme tides, there may be only a little of the island exposed, 100m by 300m. During the low tides, while we were there, the island was perhaps 1km by 3km in size. No one lives on the island and there are no buildings or structures. Only on the highest points of the island does some short 6-inch grass grow. The main activity on the island is clam digging. We crazy IOTA operators are the only other people that would want to be there!
Another interesting amateur radio point is that another similar island, Montague, NA163 is only 8 – 10 km further west. Montague and Pelicano are separated by the border of the Mexican states of Baja California and Sonora, therefore the different IOTA references. There is an explanation for the XF1 callsign. Mexican islands are issued “XF” callsigns with the number “1” area covering islands in the states of Baja California, Sonora and Sinaloa.XF2 is for the Gulf of Mexico, and XF3 is used for Mexican islands in the Caribbean. XF4 is for Revilla Gigedo and other islands in the southern states of the Pacific area.