DX-pedition to Conway-Reef 2009
by Ronald Stuy PA3EWP
Twenty years ago in 1989 Conway Reef was activated as 3D2CR for the first time by a German group under the leadership of Hawa, DK9KX, with co-leader Dieter, DJ9ON, XYL Annemie, DF3KX, Rolf, DF9KH and Harry, DL8CM, who became SK a few years ago.
In the meantime operations took place in 1989, 1990, 1995, 2001. In order to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the first activation the special call sign 3D20CR was issued by the authorities in Suva on Fiji. Conway Reef is a coral island in the Pacific. During low water it has a size of app. 300 by 100 meter. Ten thousands of birds live on the island. There are no trees, only bushes about 2 meter high, where all these birds live. There is nothing else on the island. It belongs to Fiji and is located about 450 KM southwest of the main island. The actual operation lasted for 10 days during the period of 30. September to 09. October 2009.
The team was formed by: Norbert, DJ7JC, Jan, DJ8NK, Uwe, DJ9HX, Dieter, DJ9ON, Heye, DJ9RR, Hawa, DK9KX (team-leader), Hans, DL6JGN, and Ron, PA3EWP. Five of the crew members belonged to the team which activated Chesterfield Island (TX9) in 2004. Hawa had negotiated for almost one year with the authorities on Fiji, in order to obtain that special call sign and the landing permission for Conway Reef. Parallel to those negotiations an appropriate boat had to be found, which finally was the same catamaran, that had brought the team to Chesterfield Island. Flight connections were checked, found and booked. Sponsors were contacted. Rigs, generators, antennas and all necessary expedition equipment determined, purchased, lent and tested. In particular the antenna testing took an considerable amount of time. Of outstanding help was our good friend Eric, FK8GM, who has plenty of expedition material in his home garage and who borrowed us mainly all those heavy « goodies », like masts, cable and a generator.
The entire team left from Amsterdam for flights via Osaka Japan into New Caledonia, which lasted all together 24hours. The next day we did the last shopping and collected all materials at Eric’s QTH.
From Germany we had previously sent over 200 KG of equipment. All was finally loaded to the chartered boat.
Sunday, September 27 around 12:00 we sailed off for Conway Reef. The trip was very quiet. There was so little wind that we had to use the engine almost all the time.
Wednesday around 10:00 we arrived at Conway Reef. At that time we got a notice via satellite telephone that there was a tsunami warning for our area. We were all very alert, but we have not noticed any of this tsunami. A half hour later the warning was withdrawn. We still had about 2 hours to wait until we could go to the Island with the zodiac because it was still low tide.
We spent over 7 hours to get everything to the island. Everyone had his responsibility with the main goal to be on the air as soon as possible. In the evening around 20:00 hours local time the first QSO’s were made.
We were active, pile-ups were huge as we all expected.
We had created 2 camps on both ends of the island (approximately 200m apart). One camp was used for CW and one for SSB / RTTY.
At both camps were installed 2 complete stations. We made use of Elecraft K2 and K3 radios.
The next day we built most of the other antennas, except 160 meter. This was done one day later.
For 160 meter reception we used a K9AY, but the QRN of the generator was approx. S5. It was impossible to use the RX antenna.
We moved the generator as far as possible away from the K9AY. But the QRN was still there. So unfortunately we had to listen on the vertical all the time.
Ron, PA3EPW, was our « 160m guy », well experienced with « sharp » ears.
Almost every subsequent evening / night he was active on 160 meter. One evening was better than the other night. Just over 600 QSO’s were made with about 50 QSO’s from Europe. These QSO’s were with stations located in Eastern Europe. No one was heard from the west, there were only 2 DL-stations in the log.
It is still a big challenge to work the European pile-up. One can imagine that many DXpeditions ignore Europe. It is always a big mess, sorry! (And remember, it’s not just the Southern Europeans but also the Northern Europeans).
The catamaran was the entire period around 1100 meter from the coast, it anchored behind the coral reef. Two times a day they brought us a meal that was prepared on the catamaran. Once a day they brought filled jerry cans with fuel for the generators.
We used the following antennas:
|10-20 meter||3 elements spider beam||4 meter high||SSB/RTTY|
|6-40 meter||HyGain AV640||On the beach||SSB/RTTY|
|10-20 meter||3 elements spider beam||4 meter high||CW|
|10-20 meter||Log Periodic LP5||4 meter high||CW|
|30 meter||¼ vertical||On the beach||CW|
|40 meter||4-square||1 elevated radial||CW|
|80 meter||¼ vertical||2 elevated radials||CW|
|160 meter||Inverted L||2 elevated radials||CW|
Unfortunately we could not install the beams higher due to the very heavy winds. Continuously there was a wind blowing of about force 6-7, sometimes harder. The temperature on the island was good, but the wind made it very uncomfortable especially after sunset.
We had little but no major problems during our stay. It happened at night during a strong wind, when 2 of our beams were blown down, but there was no damage. We had 2 nights during high tide and full moon that the water came very far inland. The tuner boxes of all the verticals were complete in the water. And we had to move one of our sleeping tents in a hurry.
Throughout the period we were active, we made 31,692 QSO’s (excl. dupes) with more than 11.000 individuals.
On all bands were huge pile-ups. Most QSOs were made on 17 and 20 meter. But even more than 1.000 QSO’s were made on 10 meter. These were mainly with JA and NA. Jan, DJ8NK was only active in RTTY and during the last days in PSK31. He has worked over 3.000 digital QSO’s.
We were focused for making as much as possible QSO’s into all area’s , Europe , North America and Japan with a balanced score. Japanese and W6´s could be worked almost on all bands 24 hours a day.
Around the island are 3 ship wrecks, one has completely disappeared. The wreck of 1981 is visible for a small part. But the Chinese fishing vessel which sank in 2008 is located just 200 meter from the shore.
On Friday, October 9th at dawn we started breaking down the stations. It took approximately 10 times for the zodiac to transport all the equipment and team members back to the Catamaran. Around 12:00 local time the anchor was lifted and we went back to Noumea. The return journey was much more restless than outward. Waves of more than 3 meter high for the first 36 hours were quite normal. Later it became a lot quieter. Monday, October 12 after 66 hours of sailing we arrived at 03.30 local time in the port of Noumea.
In the morning after early wake-up we could finally – after 16 days – have a hot shower in a washroom at the harbour. And around 11.00 we had our first « cold » tap beer on the terrace, and that tasted good! better than the canned beer from the boat with it’s temperature of 25 C!
We had the understanding that all the individual sponsors, who donated before 23. Sept., would receive their QSL card from New Caledonia as soon as we got back. This is what we have done. More than 200 cards were sent to our sponsors. All hand written, which took us one day work, but this was the deal.
That day we brought all equipment back to Eric, FK8GM, for a next occasion. The following days we have stayed in Noumea. These days we had planned to secure not be late for our return flight. The last day we packed a lot of equipment (> 200 KG) to be shipped as cargo to Germany.
In the evening we were invited by Eric and his wife for a barbecue, which we gratefully accepted. Then we went to the airport to begin our journey home.
In Amsterdam the team split up for their last part of the trip.
This was one of the DXpeditions which we will remember for a long time, it was a very special experience to be at a very small island in the ocean without any luxury. We hope that there will be a next DXpedition to Conway Reef in a couple of years, so that we (this year’s operators) can also work this DXCC entity ourselves, hi.
Many thanks to all, who called us !