Itinerant Ham

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Monthly Archives: February 2016

Anguilla Cays, NA-219 – The Trip

I thought I’d add a few notes on the trip to the Anguilla Cays – I have a few more pictures and video that might be interesting for anyone considering a visit or a similar trip.

We left from Long Island in the Bahamas on a 42ft sailing catamaran.  The trip took about 40 hours and we arrived on the Cay Sal Banks at dawn on Sunday.

It got a bit rough – in fact it was rough for most of the way.

 

When we arrived, I managed find a place to anchor the boat safely and went to the beach! Naturally, I was in a bit of a rush to get going but I shot this video of the station and a booming MI station.

 

In general, the videos were rubbish! Sorry! I was pretty tired after the trip.

I forgot to take (or apply) insect repellent. So there I am sitting on the beach and I was visited by my very own cloud of flies that settled all over me!  Believe me there is lettle more distracting than running a pileup watching a pair of flies fornicating on your knee! (Note to self: if you haven’t had a shower in a few days – better get insect repellent).

Anyway, they disappeared after a while but not before I’d swallowed one!

The rest of the trip was pretty uneventful if very uncomfortable. The boat never stopped rolling and I could only nap for about 20 minutes at a time since we would get a particularly violent ‘rock’ at about that frequency.

I was well supported by Julie, YL, who kept me supplied in food and drink and she stood her watches on the way and on the way back across the Florida current (Gulf Stream) to Florida (another 26 hours).

It was an interesting trip overall and I’d like to go back in a couple of years – hopefully in better weather and for a longer time.

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4 Crosses…

I took this photo on the way back. Its taken about 1/4 mile north of the QTH. There are 4 rough driftwood crosses on the hill (about 1/4 way from the left on the photo). I assume that these were placed by the Bahamas Defence Force back in 2014. I’ll let you read the gory details here.

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NA-219, Anguilla Cays, QRT

 

I was active from the Anguilla Cays, NA-219 on Sunday morning (21/2/16) from 1518z – 1733 on 15m only. The 2nd session was on 22/02 at 1349-1427 when the noise defeated me and then the antenna got blown over (again). (Winds were up to 31kts). Session 3 was the same day from 1737-1910z on 17m.
The QTH was the small beach to the north- west of the blue spot on the satellite photo.

Here are some videos of the QTH and station.

My apologies for the poor commentary – I was very tired after the 40 hour trip to get there.

In all I made only some 450 QSOs over the 3 sessions. My time on these islands was necessarily short – if you have been following previous posts then you’ll know that the weather was not playing ball at all. Indeed, we made it back to Florida only 8 hours before strong northerly winds set in – for at least 5 days.

The station was a K3, barefoot to a vertical on the beach as you’ve seen. Very simple but with a good enough performance to work 5B4AHJ long path. It was nice also to realise that apart from being able to work many friends who made it through the pileup I also logger W5BOS who first activated this group from the Dog Rocks back in 2000.

I’ll talk more about the journey and logistics in another post but in the mean time, thank you for creating a huge pileup when I was QRV – It was a lot of fun and I’m sorry it was not possible to stay longer but the weather was just awful and on the limits of being safe. That meant that I was only taking 20 minute naps for most of the journey there and during our time at anchor.

 

Anguilla Cays – NA-219 – Departure Update

We will depart Thompson Bay, Long Island this afternoon for the 42 hour trip to the Anguilla Cays. We should arrive on Sunday morning. The change in QTH and timing is due to the weather. 

It seems we shall be the ‘meat’ in the weather ‘sandwich’. The meat will be thin but hopefully tasty!

The forecast now gives us 15-20kt winds on the Cay Sal Bank on Sunday and Monday. But there is a serious risk of strong thunderstorms on Tuesday night and after that, strong winds from the north and west associated with a cold from transiting the area. Had we gone to Cay Sal itself, another 50 NM further, we would lose operating time and there is no decent shelter from the forecast winds. So, we’re going to the Anguilla Cays since that will allow us some operating time before we have to run for shelter in Florida. (There is no acceptable anchorage at Cay Sal to weather the cold front since the (anchor) holding is poor).

The Anguilla Cays have never been activated to my knowledge. The satellite photography is not so good but I got some pictures from the web site in my last post and it seems that the islands are pretty high – 12-15m. There are a couple of beaches on the west coast that will be sheltered from the wind but the takeoff will only be suitable for working to the west. For Europe, I’ll have to cross the hill and find a sheltered spot. 

On Sunday, I’ll get to the beach and setup to work north and west on either 15 or 17m for as long as I can. (Please bear with me – I’ll be a bit knackered after the trip). I’m hoping not to have to use 17m as there is limited space on the band and I expect to have a reasonably wide split but if 15m isn’t working, I’ll use whatever is!

Since the wind is likely to be lower on Monday morning – I’ll plan on being QRV for Europe and eastwards on Monday for the 15m opening. 

Just a word on scheduling. I can’t be QRV between 1130 and 1230 UTC on Monday – that’s when I get the weather forecast for the next few days. (That’s ok since 15 and 17m don’t open to Europe till at least 1200). The wind is due to change a bit more to the southeast early on Monday morning so I may have to move the boat and find a new qth so please bear that in mind if I’m late coming on.

I’ll stay QRV for as long as possible – I’m hoping not to have to leave before Monday night but that will depend on the forecast I get on Monday morning. I will also take a break every few hours for battery recharging. Help me work more stations with less power – please form and orderly queue – lol! #DX Code of Conduct 😀. If I get impatient while the main battery is charging, I might put some AAs in the KX3 and see who I can work – that’ll really wind up the armchair critics at CDXC!

So there it is. We’re off and there’s a good chance I’ll get to operate – see you there!

Cay Sal – NA-219 – Whats it Like There?

There are very few visitors to Cay Sal and I can’t find any record of any legal ones that were very helpful in planning my trip. Here is one that at least gives an account of what to expect. Cay Sal – Bluejacket 

It’s a slightly inconvenient place to activate from an IOTA perspective. To qualify for DXCC or IOTA you have to be in the country legally. Happily, we are but that’s one of the reasons this place is hard to activate – the nearest place to clear customs and immigration is in Bimini – 135 NM away.

 
Well, I suppose that’s not quite true. There are a few places on Andros that you could check-in but then you have to sail all the way around the island unless you have a mega-budget and can be landed by helicopter. If you could jump into a powerboat in the Florida Keys and just drive across the Gulf Stream then I suspect this island would be activated much more often. If you were to charter a boat in the Keys, it might be a good 300 NM trip just to get to the island legally. That’s a pretty expensive trip (by my standards anyway).

So there’s a little background – I need to put it up here on the blog anyway since I have to submit it to Roger, G3KMa, the IOTA manager – I promised to try and take some similar pictures so he would know I was really there 😀. 

What a Difference a Day Makes!

Yesterday, the weather forecast for our time at Cay Sal was dire and I really wasn’t looking forward to it much. There was a 54 hour sail in winds of 25-30 kts followed by a continuous wind of about 15-20 kt at Cay Sal itself. And then there was the short operating time because of the ‘significant weather event’ – that’s weatherman speak for bad – and all the uncertainty that brings.

  
Here’s the forecast for the same period as the chart I posted yesterday. It’s a lot better but in the background, the forecast models are not in good agreement yet. So I have decided to delay departure until Saturday, with 2 days or so en-route and hoping to arrive on Monday morning. If the forecast remains good, then I’ll stay as long as possible so it may give us up to 3 days of operating 😀. There is a risk of squalls and thunderstorms that come with the remains of the ‘event’ but we will have to deal with that as and when. What it might mean is suddenly going QRT and not coming back if the anchorage is untenable – just saying.

Apologies for the delays but I’m making decisions that will give us the best chance of getting some good operating from Cay Sal – and it’s got to be safe. 

By the way, it would seem that this is only the 3rd time that the Group has been activated and the first time from Cay Sal! The first activation was from the Dog Rocks (according to the RSGB IOTA site) in 2000 and the 2nd was in 2007 from Elbow Cay where there is an abandoned lighthouse. So it seems that this will be the first time that Cay Sal itself will have been activated.

Anyway, the news is much more positive today so I’ll leave you with that encouraging news and wish you 73 for now.

A Fly in the Ointment

The plan to activate NA-219 has taken a bit of a setback. In the weather forecast last night this appeared – out of nowhere… So I’m writing this not only to keep you up to date but as an aid to decision-making.

  

You can see from the legend that this is what the forecaster has called ‘a significant weather event’! The last event like this was yesterday – it resulted in tornadoes reported in Miami, FL.

It’s a long way out and the forecast may change however, it’s causing me to think twice. We plan now to leave Thompson Bay, Long Island on Friday for a 54 hour trip direct to Cay Sal. This also will be in strong winds (20-30kt) that are due to moderate to 15kt by the time we arrive at Cay Sal on Sunday morning. 

To get into the Florida Keys by Tuesday lunchtime, we could leave on Monday night when I QRT but I’ve again been recommended to leave on Monday morning to ensure I get in a safe place with time to spare. That would mean effectively only being QRV for maybe 5 or 6 hours after a 54 hour trip with only occasional naps. So as you can see it’s going to be a tough decision as to whether it’s worthwhile or not.

However, a lot can change between now and Monday so I’m leaning towards leaving on Friday by which time the timing and severity of this ‘event’ will become more clear. I’ll only know what’s going to happen as each new forecast arrives – fingers crossed!

73!

Cay Sal NA-219 update

Ok, the weather looks like it’s going to cooperate! That said we have rerouted to take account of strong winds expected at Cay Sal on Thursday to Saturday. So we now intend to follow the route below leaving on Thursday morning aiming to arrive at Cay Sal itself on Saturday morning.  

 On arrival, we aim to anchor on the west side of the island. We believe this is where there is a building that was once used as a radio room but I haven’t been able to locate it on the satellite photos.     

 
It would be fun to use it as a qth but I want to place the antennas on the thin sand bar 2/3 of the way down the west coast to take advantage of the salt pond to work Europe and further east so I suspect I won’t have the luxury of a building for shelter.

So when we arrive, I will do a quick survey and see what will work and maybe get an antenna up while it’s still daylight. However, itching as I might be to get on the air, I might have to take a nap since the trip to get there is fully 48 hours, I know that the pileup is liable to be intense and I don’t want to disappoint! So maybe QRV on Saturday but almost certainly on Sunday and then for as long as possible. With that in mind, I’m aiming to work Europe and Russia on 15m first if the band is working and work west as it closes so I’d ask for your patience. It’s liable to be a wide split so spread out would be my advice, I’ll be looking to pick out the individuals who are really listening. I’m really looking forward to getting as many in the log as I can so I’ll do my best, please do yours by following the Dx code of conduct 😀

So that’s the latest update. It was nice to get a comment from Daniel, DL5YWM (Op. @ C6ARI Cay Sal Bank 2007). He has a video of his activation of Elbow Cay back in 2008 which is worth a watch. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xvjVuM2PDW8).

In the mean time, 73 and GL!