Now that I have returned to Nevada and have had a couple days to reflect on my recent DXpedition to St Paul's Island with Mike-VE9AA and Doug-VE1PZ, I find myself in the post-expedition glow that so many other have had the good fortune to experience after a particularly difficult expedition.
Though Mike and Doug have known each other for a number of years, I had not met either before arriving in Nova Scotia a few days before our scheduled boat departure for our CY9AA "Rock" as we have called it for some time. I am sure that we all were a little curious and maybe a little concerned about the days to come not knowing how each would behave under the many potential situations we might face. As things turned out, we truly did get to see each other in just about every possible scenario one can expect on an uninhabited island assault of this nature.
I had the advantage of having been on what turned out to quite a similar operation, NR5M-K5LZO/KP5 in 1985. It wasn't until this one was over that I remembered the many challenges of landing by boat on a hostile island...
The work hauling all the gear up from the landing spot on the St Paul's up over the sharp uneven wet rocks; up and down the ever higher mounds before reaching the old abandoned lighthouse keeper's building turned out to be a true test of staying power and determination for all. The landing was very difficult and dangerous for all including the captain of the Heidi M II who worked so hard to insure that we didn't miss another day of operating waiting for perfect landing conditions that just weren't to be had.
We had left port on June 27th (a day late due to foul weather) knowing that we were going to squeeze in between storms. We weren't even half way to St Paul's before Mother Nature's angry skies swept in on us earlier than anticipated. Twice during the passage the brave Captain had to bring the Heidi M II dead in the water so he could go over the stern in pounding seas to deal with our swamped and uncooperative landing row boat being towed behind. The pitching of the boat even had this seasoned sailor more than a little concerned about the possibility of being swamped due to the amount of water we were taking over the sides with the Heidi M's gunwales disappearing into the wave walls for uncomfortably long periods of time while the Captian was aboard the row boat bailing bucket after of bucket of sea water out of the landing craft.
Soon the rain came and the three of us looked at each other in a way that confirmed that we all knew that the landing might not be possible.
Very few words were spoken as the Captain remounted his captain's chair and began navigated is 34 foot long liner cod fishing boat as best he could into the mounting seas. Never once did he suggest that we turn back and I am proud of of my CY9AA team mates that not one of us lost his courage and determination to make the landing that afternoon if at all humanly possible. This even with one of our members hard on his knees seasick with the seas swirling around him.
Finally we spotted the southern island of the St Paul's on the radar amongst the storm clouds. Another hour and we had her in sight. As we made passage down the leeward side of the south island, the winds took another notch up in speed and a turn towards an unfavorable direction. Still the Captain continued onward. The three of us stood together as our destination for the last year, the northern island, came into view as we rounded a sharp outcropping of the south island. We exchanged looks but no words. The moment had arrived...
The next 12 hours are little more than a blur for me as I am sure they are for the other two. No words I am capable of generating could describe what private personal hell each man went through to land the gear, get it up the hill inside the building then have to immediately go back out into the horizontal rains driven by gale force winds. Even as exhausted and cold as we were, each man contributed what he had left inside him to step back outside and get some antennas up so the Deserving who had supported this expedition would get his or her just reward-a CY9 QSO in the log.
I can never thank my partners enough for dedicating themselves to getting up a 40 meter antenna for me so I could enjoy the very thing I live for - a 40 meter CW pile-up. A R7000 vertical and 6 meter J-pole made it up as well before we had to finally admit to each other that we were at the end of our endurance. Mike, our Team Leader, also had expressed concern for our well being due to the possible affects of body heat loss due to the fact that we all had been soaked to the skin for so many hours in such high winds at temperatures that allowed us to see our breaths'.
We had agreed that no one would get on the air until there was sufficient equipment in place so that we all could share the joy of that first CQ. Our reward for all the anguish we had gone through finally came and the DXpedition was finally a reality to the waiting crowds. As expected, CQs weren't even necessary as many of the alert were there on our published frequencies listening to our tune-ups. Many jumped the gun but we didn't answer anyone until all three of us were in place and Mike gave us the "GO !". The fun began and what pile ups they were. I eventually had to get up to exchange my wet soggy underwear for dry long johns, though...
Within less than an hour we knew something was wrong. It didn't take the boys from up here in the northern latitudes long to find the answer for the weak watery signals. One trip outside to a high spot just outside the building confirmed that the Northern Lights were shining in all their glory. Some depression set in but for the umteenth time we uttered words spoken so many times that day - "It is what it is, Men."
Again, my mind goes pretty blank except for the numerous highlights that occured the next couple days. All the boxes and containers that were opened to get our gear out pretty much stayed where they were opened. The three us did the very best we could to deal with the radio conditions that were dealt us. We operated and we rested in brief fits of muscle twitching sleep. We ate once a day pretty much on the schedule of hunger pains Doug suffered--our cook my default as neither Mike or I had the energy to get up and eat.
Finally the conditions began to rise as the affects of the Northern Lights wore off. I think it was the third day on the island that all three of us shared our first round of common laughs and some sort of high spirit joined us. We operated with a renew sense of urgency as the high HF bands finally began to produce some Q's. 6 meters continued to be quite unproductive for us with the exception of a contact with CT3FT. Thank God, the last day gave us a long opening on 6 and Mike made about 275 contacts. Meanwhile, Doug was struggling with 160 meter antenna challenges since the 160' beacon tower we had looked forward to using had disappeared before our arrival under somewhat clouded circumstances. Doug had the foresight to bring two weather balloons and the gas to lift them which proved to be the ticket to giving many 160 ops a new one. Me--I did what I do...grind them out hour after hour where the MUF would allow me. Ultimately, we made almost 12,000 contacts. We could have probably made many more but we stuck to our operating plan which was to cover the bands that had the biggest need for CY9. Those bands usually closed in the evening, though, which allowed me to join you folks in some of the best and most memorable CW pile-ups I have ever had the honor of running on 40 meters. Mike and Doug have my deepest gratitude for allowing me to work 40 each night to my heart's content. The rate meter hit 315 for me once and Mike saw CT give him a 650 plus burst on 20 phone. When we finally got into our zone, I think each op found his soul being refreshed. We would need it...we still had to get off that rock soon.
The departure time had to be moved up, again because of Mother Nature, cutting into our operating time. We all grew silent again as the time came to shutdown and pack up for the return trip to our landing spot in the "tickle" between the two islands making up the St. Paul's. We each grabbed two hours of sleep. I ate a bag of trail mix and a Pepsi and began the haul up and down the mounds and over the rocks. Mike and Doug worked on the antennas and coiling up rope and coax. About seven hours later a new boat arrived to take us off the island as the Heidi M II had followed the cod over to the Newfoundland coast. The skipper of the "Greyhound" proved to be of the same cut as our first Captain and three hours later all the gear was aboard and we took a turn around the St Paul's for one last look at our home for the last few days.
The trip in proved uneventful (Thank God). As a matter of fact, we actually got a sunburn ! The unloading of the boat back in Bay St Lawrence went quickly and we soon were in the closest eating establishment negotiating for a two steak dinner each. I am sure that we were quite a sight with our unshaven dirty faces and fish smelling clothes. They don't know how lucky they were that the fish smell was dominant over the others that were most certainly present...
I wish to thank all of you for allowing us to have this adventure and to enjoy all those monster pile-ups. And to Mike and Doug, I will be forever in debt for their decision to pick me as their No. 3. It was a true honor for me to make this trip and share the experience.
73 Dennis Motschenbacher K7BV ex AA7VB, KZ5M, YB9BV, VP2EWW, VP2EV, P40Z, V47W, V40Z, KC6DM, etc..