During my 2002 IOTA expedition to the Philippines I had the good fortune to meet Gil 4F2KWT a keen DX operator. An initial e-mail suggesting a second IOTA expedition met with an enthusiastic response. The aim this time would be to activate OC092 and OC120 both wanted groups. Planning got under way with a target date of March 2003. My trusty TS50 would travel again, this time a TA33jr was available in addition to my wire antennas. Gil applied for two special calls and was busy checking flight schedules for Cuyo OC120 and boat times for Calayan Island one of the Babuyan group OC092. Due to some delays with the licensing authority we ended up with two sets of special calls DX0C, 4D0B and 4D2B, 4D2C.
Departure date March 11th duly arrived, an Air France direct flight from Paris had been chosen avoiding the possible troubled Middle East areas, a good choice as it turned out with the start of the Iraq invasion. The weight allowance on Air France was 35kgs which was fortunate as the TA33jr alone weighed 11kgs. The long 14-hour flight over Russia and China eventually passed and I landed at Manila International Airport on the evening of March 12th. Passport control and customs were passed without a question about my odd shaped items of luggage, it must be my honest face hi!! The usual confusion over where I was to be met was fortunately sorted out by a most helpful local hotel representative who phoned Boysan DU1SAN who contacted my reception party to get me and them in the same place. Mike DU1MHX and Nicky DU1JXP took me to the qth of Boysan who very hospitably had agreed to let me stay until Gil arrived in Manila on 14th March.
Nicky was to join us on the first island OC120. Gil and I headed for the airport to take the flight to Puerto Princesa on Palawan Island from where we would fly by light aircraft to Cuyo Island. A one-hour stop over in Puerto Princessa saw us ready for the Cuyo flight. We were met at check in by some questions as to what we doing but all seemed ok. As we waited a policeman approached and said that the chief of police of Cuyo would like to see us!!!! We met a very large plain clothed man who was due to take the same flight as us, returning to Cuyo.
After explaining who we were and what we wanted to do we found we had a real friend whom had a relative, who ran the best place to stay on Cuyo, Nicky’s Pension and he would take us along and introduce us. Great, all our accommodation problems solved. We boarded the 19-seater light aircraft. One engine fired the other did not, we sat getting hotter and hotter. Off we got again but at least it was cooler in the departure terminal. After about 30minutes we reboarded the aircraft, I looked out of the window to see fuel pouring out of a small pipe at the rear of the engine which would not start. The fuel formed a puddle on the concrete. Nearby was a man with a “small “fire extinguisher. I measured the distance to the door, which was on the same side as the puddle. Suddenly the engine fired the fuel stopped running out of the pipe and much to my relief we taxied ready for take off. One hour later we landed at Cuyo Island airport where the chief of police took us to a nearby vehicle and we headed for Nicky’s Pension.
Nicky’s Pension turned out to be a complex of 2 storey buildings on two sides of a courtyard facing the road on the other side of which was the beach. We looked in horror, as at first sight there was nowhere to put anything up in the way of antennas. We walked round looking for possibilities. The road was not wide and there were palm trees on the beach side We spied a long, thick bamboo and decided to put the TA33jr on this and lash it to a small tree guyed to one of the bigger palm trees. This meant a long feeder, which had to run across the road. We found a local tree climber and he fixed the feeder run high up so that we could clear the roadway easily. One up, more to go. Next we tried the2-element wire delta loop. We got it up ok but it was so distorted and adjacent to metal roofing that we found it to be totally useless. There were two really tall palm trees on an adjacent property.
A word with Nicky and up goes our tree climber to about 40ft to fix a 40m loop, which tunes on almost any band with an atu. One of the palms is leaning at a 30 degree angle to the vertical, we invented a new antenna called the ” stone vertical ” so called due to the stone weight at the bottom which keeps it hanging vertically with only a little movement in the wind. We had 24 hour power so we were up and ready to go.
Two operating positions under a thatched roof along one side of the courtyard were set up and having decided to use DX0C we put OC120 on the air .Propagation was not all that good but with Gil running cw, me running ssb and Nicky DU1JXP working both we made a total of almost 2000 qso’s, trying hard for Europe and North America, with reasonable success. Gil slept in a hammock along side the stations ,Nicky and I and shared a room nearby. The proprietor supplied food and cold drinks at regular intervals, the sun shone, there were no insects we were a good team and we enjoyed ourselves making people happy with another iota island for their total .We found our usually reliable forecast wrong, each day I had my usual sked with G4YVV and G4CWD for home news at 1200z. This was the optimum time according to our forecast. In fact at that time we had NO propagation anywhere and it was not until 1600-1700z that we had propagation to Europe. We were unable to keep any of our home skeds on either island for the first time in any of our expeditions. We were disappointed that our friends at home were unable to contact us We did work a number of G stations, mainly the big stations in the pile up, but in spite of calls for UK stations we were unable to contact our home operators. Martin G3ZAY was kind enough to call my XYL to tell her all was well and that we had reached the first island.
Time to leave, the time had passed so quickly. There are only two flights a week to Cuyo so we had little choice but to pack our gear, say cheerio to Nicky’s Pension and head for the airport. We loaded all the equipment and ourselves into the local transport, a motor cycle with a roofed sidecar. The trip to the airstrip taxed the Japanese engine to its limits and on more than one occasion I thought it would be all out and push. There was the chief of police to see us off. So after 3 complete days we had to leave. The flight to Puerto Princesa did not connect with that to Manila so we had to spend one night on Palawan Island OC128. The hotel had rooms leading off an open path way lined with trees, up went Gil aided by a long ladder and we soon had a 30m loop in operation. Signing DU1PXP/P we made some 70 qso’s, no time wasted hi !!
We reached Manila at 1130am.local time. Gil collected his car; we dropped off Nicky who was unable to join us for OC092 and headed north. After 6 hours we reached Gil’s qth in San Fernando. We unloaded all our gear and reloaded it all plus a generator, large antenna box, cables etc. and drove for a further 3 hours to reach our port of embarkation for OC092. On the dockside we meet Jimmy DU2JAK, Bobot DU2GAP and Tante our mechanic who were to join us for the second island. The boat had bunks with mattresses mounted in rows on two decks. We settled down for the 10-hour overnight sea crossing. In this area the Pacific Ocean meets the South China Sea and the currents make the crossing a little rough and I was glad that Gil had some travel pills. We reached Calayan Island at 0730am and saw to our dismay that there was no jetty. The only way to reach the shore was to “carefully ” step aboard a small boat. These boats have large outriggers, which makes them fairly stable, however the transfer was not without its moments.
Finally all our gear was transferred and we headed for the shore. The bow protruded several feet so by standing there and taking a good jump we were able to get ashore dry footed. Father Butch 4F2BDR of the Order of Preachers met us at St Batholamews Church, Calayan Island. Our baggage was loaded onto a cart drawn by a water buffalo and we headed for the site of our operations. There are some 9000 inhabitants on Calayan, an administrative building (empty) and an extensive Roman Catholic Church and mission. We were to be housed in a large 2-storey building adjacent to the church. There were bedrooms and a large open area in the upper story leading out onto a medium sized veranda. Inspite of being tired after the journey the team set to work to erect the antennas. We had a Force 12 Expedition package, which consisted of a 6el. Yagi usable on all bands 20m -10m, additionally the supporting mast plus the yagi acts as a top loaded vertical on 40m. The structure standing on the veranda guyed to the concrete posts looked very impressive. The TA33jr sat atop a section of bamboo also suitably guyed; both antennas were some 40ft. above the ground.
All this work attracted a good crowd and we had an extensive local audience looking on in some amazement. There was a 60ft. bell tower, which was used to support one corner of our 80m. loop and various other wire dipoles hung from the beam guys. There was only power from 6pm till midnight so we had brought a 220v generator, a 12v generator together with a 110amph battery. We adjourned to the mission house for a welcome drink with Fr. Butch. All our meals and accommodation for our stay were provided free by Fr. Butch and the catholic mission. There is no visiting accommodation of any kind on the island and we were very grateful for the wonderful hospitality provided without which our stay would have been a great less enjoyable
Propagation was better than that on Cuyo Island and with Gil running cw and myself on ssb we soon had some pile-ups developing. Using all bands from 80m to 10m including WARC we made over 3000 qso’s approximately half on each mode. After the first day when it was really hot a cold front came in from the north and a temperature of 70 degrees F suited me if not the locals! The island is self sufficient in basic foodstuffs, rice is grown and fresh fish is on the menu every meal. A small group from the World Wildlife Fund were using the same accommodation whilst they were checking on a newly discovered whale migration route which appears to run adjacent to the island. We found that the main propagation times were 1200z to 0100z and again at 0600z to 0800z so we adapted our down time to suit these times and maximise our use of the openings available. Many European stations were worked and we had reasonable openings to both the East and West coasts of the U.S. The other operators with us felt that they did not have the experience to cope with the pressures of pile up operation.
It was time to leave after 5 days. We once again packed all our equipment for our return journey. There was quite a swell on at the time of embarkation and it was a bare footed climb aboard the outrigger canoe and a quick jump onto the cargo boat before the 10-hour voyage to the mainland, this time at least in daylight. We were tired but happy that we had achieved what we had set out to do and completed what we felt was a successful activation of a fairly rare IOTA group. We hope that those who worked the operations from OC120 and OC092 enjoyed our activity as much as we did. Our thanks to those organisations who supported our activities, namely the Island Radio Expeditionary Foundation, The Nunsfield House Amateur Radio Group, Les G4CWD, Peter G4YVV, Peter M3KUI and lastly Denise M0ADG for her continued encouragement. Finally thanks to all the wives of the operators for their forbearance in supporting they’re probably quite lunatic husbands