OC-285 IOTA DXpedition June 2013– A successful trip
Sikaiana Atoll (Stewart Islands), Solomon Islands OC-285
June 4-7 (Solomon dates), 2013, by Mike K9AJ
Nando and I had been working on OC-285 since 2011. The big problem was transportation. Sikaiana Atoll is completely surrounded by a coral reef, so that only a small dinghy or canoe can cross the reef. Immediately outside the reef the depth plunges, so it is not possible for a boat to safely anchor outside the reef.
We searched all the charter services that advertise in the western Pacific but none wanted to take us to Sikaiana. In January 2013 we had a brief conversation w/ Ralph, H44RK, who was planning a visit to Sikaiana but he made several non-negotiable demands that we could not accept, so we dropped any further contact w/ him in late January.
We had a very good travel consultant in Honiara who contacted us in Feb/March about the possibility of taking an inter-island freighter to Sikaiana. These ships make the trip from Honiara to Sikaiana monthly but there was the possibility of a “diversion charter” where we would take the boat on its regular trip to Sikaina, then we would pay for it to divert back to Sikaiana to pick us up after our operation.
This option was costly: about $23,000 USD but it was the only way for us to activate OC-285, so we agreed.
Nando and I met in Brisbane airport around 5am on Friday, May 31. Nando was accompanied by his nephew Salvo who was not a ham but came along as a “helper”. We flew to Honiara on Friday morning. Solomon Airlines charged me the equivalent of $1 USD per ounce of excess weight and I was 35 kg overweight! We spent Friday afternoon & Saturday purchasing last minute items, chiefly bottled water, food & electrical cables.
Our freighter left Honiara after dark on Sunday, June 2. The trip was a regular supply run by the freighter, so we made many stops on the way to Sikaiana, finally arriving there around sunrise on Tuesday, June 4.
We had previously been in contact w/ the council of chiefs on Sikaiana & asked for an operating site away from the village & close to the water. They cleared a site for us about a mile from the village and on the lagoon. We set our vertical dipoles up close enough to the lagoon that they were almost in the water at high tide.
We had some problems to deal w/: Nando’s laptop was “dead on arrival” out of his suitcase in Honiara, so he had to use a paper log. The nominal voltage in the Solomons is 230v. Our generator was rented from one of the chiefs. When Nando connected his 12v power supply to the generator, it did not work. I told Nando he could use my spare FT-897 w/ built-in power supply (already set for 230v). He plugged that in, there were two loud “bangs” & smoke came from my radio. At that point I got out my Radio Shack VOM & measured the voltage coming out of the generator: 290 volts! Fortunately, I had not yet plugged my power supply into the generator, so it was still good. The generator had a voltage adjustment & using my VOM, we adjusted it back to 230v (the owner later told us the adjustment often changes from the vibrations of the generator, so a daily voltage check & re-adjustment was done each morning). We were able to borrow/rent a 12v car/truck size battery & a heavy duty battery charger. So Nando ran his FT-900 from the 12v battery which was connected to the charger powered by the generator.
We were then QRV & stayed on the bands until well past midnight local time each night & then napped in the village till dawn (the roosters started crowing around 4am) then back to our op site. Conditions were good & the pile-ups were substantial.
We expected the freighter back on Saturday morning, June 8, so after three days QRV, we shut down late am on Friday, June 7. That afternoon I made a presentation to the council of chiefs, explaining why we were there, all about IOTA & ham radio. That evening the community had a special get-together where we presented them w/ boxes of medicines & medical supplies that they had previously told us were needed, & then a program of native song & dance followed.
There was a tropical depression south of Sikaiana that caused high sea swells & winds. The boat didn’t come on Saturday. We expected it the next day, and the next day but it didn’t arrive until Thursday, June 13-five days late. We learned on the trip back that Sikaiana exports pigs-we shared the deck of our freighter w/ 9 pigs! Because of the tropical depression, the trip back was difficult. We arrived back in Honiara after midnight on the night of Friday, June14. There was no flight to Brisbane on Saturday so we didn’t leave Honiara until Sunday.
Our QSO totals for 3 days QRV:
Nando, H44S (SSB): 2,896
Mike, H44AJ (CW): 2,919
Total: 5,815 QSOs
Thank you to IREF for supporting this DXpedition.
73….Nando, IT9YRE & Mike, K9AJ