Wednesday 27 January 2016

VP8STI Excitement

S.Thule Island - courtesy: k5tr

Operations from the South Sandwich Islands (Thule) has caused a lot of excitement on the bands over the past ten days ... but for myself, it was more of a last-minute frenzy, which I'll elaborate on later.

The expedition, composed of a crew of 14 operators from the 'Intrepid DX Group', left Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands aboard the MV Braveheart, on a 38-day roundtrip to South Sandwich and then to South Georgia ... two of the rarest DX entities on the planet, and by any standard, not the easiest places to reach!

South Sandwich was on-the-air from January 18th to the 25th, when a sudden turn of events put an end to the operation from the island. Not long after they suddenly disappeared from the air, this bulletin appeared on the DX newswebsite:

Today at 21:20 UTC, Nigel Jolly, Braveheart owner, declared an emergency and ordered to VP8STI team to cease all operations and return to the ship.

A large ice flow that had broken away due last nights storm starts to block the entrance to the Bay where they were camped. There was strong potential for the ice flow to prevent Braveheart to get them.

Team is now safely aboard the Braveheart and they are moving away from Southern Thule Is. All the equipment and personal gear is still on the island. They hope to return to camp site during next good weather window.

Once they retrieve their equipment, they could make a determination as to whether they can proceed to South Georgia to do VP8SGI as planned.

The latest word sounds very hopeful:

Finally yesterday, team was able to collect all gear from Thule Is.
All team members are OK and they are on the way to South Georgia where they will arrive after three days sailing.

They will try to be on the air during eight days as VP8SGI.

Personally, I want to thanks to all who send support messages to us, expressing their concerns about VP8STI team situation.

Delorme tracker is working, you can see Braveheart progress at:

RV Braveheart
I had been aware of the expedition but had not been paying too much attention ... after checking my master DXCC checklist and finding that I had already worked South Sandwich on 160m, several years ago, I didn't really need it. I'm not sure why I checked my list again on the 25th but when I did, I realized that I had really messed-up ... it was actually South Georgia that I had worked on 160 and not South Sandwich! I had never worked South Sandwich, on any band, and it was one of the last 9 entities that I needed for having worked them all ... big mistake.

I soon realized that operations on South Sandwich would be coming to a screeching halt at any moment and scrambled to see where they were presently operating. Unfortunately they seemed to spend most of the day (25th) on the WARC bands, for which I have no antennas ... I really need to hang a 30m dipole up in the trees one of these days for situations just like this.

As darkness approached VE7 land, I began seeing a few spots for them on 20m phone, not my favorite mode, nor the most efficient for working pileups.

Zeroing-in on their frequency found them with a nice 5x7 signal on 14.180kHz and listening from 14.235 - 14.245kHz. The operator was working North America by call districts and when I tuned-in, was working "Ø" 's. He would work ten stations and then change. He started on down the list, calling for "9" 's and then "8" 's but when he had finished with them, he called for "1" 's ... hmm. Perhaps he had started with "7" 's before I arrived and was working his way through the list once again.

It seemed to take forever when he had finally finished with the "6" 's and his signal was now considerably weaker ... "7" 's should be next. But no ... it was even better!

Luckily I had been following his tuning technique as he worked through the pileup and was able to track his listening frequency as he worked his way from 14.235 to 14.245 and back again. I had my transmit frequency already set on the frequency of the last "6" that he had worked ... when he called for "any VE's?" ... as luck would have it, he came back on my first call, not only making my day but making my week!

After a bit of a scare, I was very fortunate to work them on what turned out to be their last full day of operation, as they left the air, and South Sandwich, after only a few more hours of operation.

From now on I'll be checking my list much more carefully.

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