Garry Fisher, K9WZB/K2V
Sun, sights and being the center of the pileup make for a fun and exciting vacation.
Stand by pileup, Europe, Japan, USA, South Pacific, Africa and the Middle East. You want to know why I am coming in so strong. You want to know why I call this a paradise location with a paradise station. Well, for starters, I was using an Alpha 87a 1500 W amplifier. Most hams dream of an amplifier sitting next to the transceiver. Double this and you have a dream station that most hams would envy. Add to this, a 6 element 20 meter Yagi, a 3 element 40 meter Yagi, a two element 80 meter Yagi and a sloper for 160. In addition, we had several multielement antennas for 30, 17, 15, 12 and 10 meters. Mix in a 7 element on 6 meters. Top this off with great accommodations with all antennas overlooking the ocean and you get the point.
What is it like to play ham radio from paradise? Well, it is most interesting to not only be the one chased but to learn how the propagation changes and band conditions differ in a unique way from one region to another. This was the third DXpedition in about a year and 3 months and the numbers of contacts increased drastically over my first attempt from Aruba as P4ØZB in October of 2008 and then the Cayman Islands as ZF2ZB in April of 2009. Not sure if the increase in contacts was due to location, propagation or just a matter of increased handling and awareness of propagation and pileups.
Interestingly enough, the amount of contacts almost doubled from activities from P4ØZB to the K2V DXpedition. The Saint Croix Island K2V operation provided many openings to the US, Europe, Japan and Africa. Surprisingly we had a few contacts in the South Pacific and the Middle East; areas that I had more difficulty reaching in the previous two expeditions.
The planning of this event took place 20 minutes after boarding our plane from Grand Cayman to return home. Sitting next to my wife I kind of elbowed her to look at the magazine the airline provides, which contains a map of the world. As I eyed the map with anticipation of the next trip, I suggested that we return to the Virgin Islands where we’d had an opportunity to visit during a cruise about 9 years earlier. Except, this time we would just operate radio and explore the many interesting and historical events that occurred on this Island.
Saint Croix Island, once a Dutch possession, still has many of the cultural customs that existed 100 years earlier. The Island is very laid back and reminded my spouse Sharon and me of the 1950s with some of the older looking Kmarts and many small family-owned business spread throughout the Island.
We chose the month of December of 2009 to visit Saint Croix because of the traditional Christmas activities that take place throughout the month and extend into the first part of January. While we were there we attended Christmas parades, outdoor festivals and other events related to Christmas. Although the parades were not big they were very colorful and filled with enthusiastic kids and adults embracing a traditional Christmas event. The Christmas spirit that engulfs the entire island of Saint Croix made us glad that we’d chosen to have a special event station.
The first day we arrived, the adrenalin started to pump even though we had been up for over 24 hours to make the various flights required to get to Saint Croix. DXpeditions are much like Christmas as you are growing up. You begin to feel the excitement and anticipation of the unknown events that will soon occur. Yes, we knew there would be pileups and DX coming in from all over the world. It didn’t make any difference. It was like approaching Christmas Eve; a new adventure was about to begin.
As I tuned around the bands just listening to several stateside contacts I prepared myself to begin to operate. The log was set up and the frequency I wanted to operate was quiet. Not for long, though. I gave out my first CQ and instantly one station responded. Well, that is pretty typical for a first attempt. The second call was different. Now there were two stations calling as I tried to separate them out so I could get at least one of their calls completely. From there it goes exponentially, two stations turned into four and then eight stations calling and then it was hard to tell how many were calling, but it was a bunch. Saint Croix Island DXpedition Christmas festival had started.
The first hour over 150 contacts were logged and it was time for my schedule with my friends from Indiana and Arizona. As I had the group stand by, I was presented with two huge signals coming in from Arizona. Bruce Hunt, N6BRH, and Don Buchanan, K9WHK, from Indiana. After several minutes discussing our trip to Saint Croix with them, I resumed what was now an even bigger pileup.
Some of the real highlights of several pileups were the number of VU stations from India that came in so loud and clear. I thought to myself this sure doesn’t happen back in Arizona where just to hear the Middle East, India and Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean over the past 2 years was a treat. There were times that several A6s JYs and ZD7 were calling sometimes on top of the pileup or buried down beneath the crowd of callers.
Along with operating, I had the opportunity to meet some of the hams on the island. Actually, the most interesting encounter occurred our first day. As we were walking down the streets of Christiansted we heard someone calling “Garry is that you?” My wife and I looked around in amazement that someone was actually calling me from a car coming down the street. Next thing they pulled over and said, “Garry and Sharon, this is Ann and Bryan, KP2YL and KP2HC.” Wow! What a shock! We went from not knowing where exactly we even were in this new place to someone calling out our names. Well, that started up a great friendship that included lunches together and meeting with them at the east side Saint Croix Amateur Radio Club on a Saturday.
One of our favorite places to eat lunch was Off the Wall. On our last day before flying home we had a final reunion with Ann Keegan, KP2YL, and Brian Keegan, KP2HC. Our discussion was directed toward the next DXpedition and the possibility of combining our efforts on another island in the near future. DXpeditions — once in your blood you can’t get them out.
Prior to our DXpeditions, we like to spend some time at a resort on the islands we visit. This gives my spouse, K7WZB, and me some time together without the restraints of the urge to operate the radio. We chose Hotel on the Cay because of its unique qualities. This resort is on an island of its own, off the main island. To get to Saint Croix every day we would take a ferry, which is always available, across the water to go shopping or dine in the many restaurants of Christiansted.
There are so many places to see and visit while you’re visiting Saint Croix. We visited many places as part of the DXpedition to provide interest and to maintain harmony with my spouse. Although she is also a ham, she wouldn’t want a DXpedition to be all about radio, so in addition to attending the Christmas festivities around Saint Croix, we also found time for snorkeling at Buck Island Reef National Monument, touring Estate Whim Plantation Museum, Government House and the one of the 10 radio telescopes that form the Very Large Baseline Array (VLBA) radio telescope of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. We drove around the island from Point Udall in the east, to Frederiksted in the west and points in between including Estate Hams Bluff (how could we not go there?) and the historic site of Columbus’ Landing in 1493.
Radio in the Sky
One of my favorite events outside of DXing was the opportunity to go to the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. Thinking this would be a 15 minute tour, I was surprised to find myself in a 3 hour session that was not only interesting and informative but an opportunity to see the insides of the equipment room. I got to actually walk on the VLBA dish to witness its size and scope.
This would be a great opportunity for visitors to learn all about the Observatory and its functions. My tour guide (and one of two maintenance personnel of the facility) gives a great tour and insightful information; so much that it’s difficult to absorb it all.
As a result of Saint Croix’s rich history, the island remains a melting pot of cultures. A remnant of this culture that we particularly enjoyed was the Mocko Jumbie Stilt Dancers. This colorful tradition dates back over 200 years. Mocko Jumbies are viewed as symbols of history, culture and heritage and perform at special events and celebrations to ensure good luck and a fun time. I try to find something unique at each island I work as the front of my QSL card and thus, as you can see from the picture on the card, are Mocko Jumbies who entertained at one of the outdoor dining functions we attended.
A DXpedition to Remember
With all DXpeditions, the memory you take back includes many of the friends and other experiences that you gather along your stay. Meeting Harold Kramer, WJ1B, the ARRL’s COO and publisher of QST, after his talk to the Saint Croix ARC and our chance meeting with Ann and Brian will always be a part of our memories. We will also remember the great time we had at Radio Reef. Brad Zuehlke, WP2B, and his wife Donna were the greatest hosts and are now considered friends. [Brad and Donna are no longer associated with Radio Reef. — Ed.]
Radio Reef must be one of the more interesting places in the world to visit and operate from. Even if you were not a ham you would enjoy this beautiful location that overlooks the ocean. The view is beautiful during the day, to watch the movement of the boats on the array of blues on the water and equally beautiful at night, to see the lights of the city below you. We are planning to return to Radio Reef in the future. What a great time we had with ham radio and visiting the sites on the island.
We made more than 10,000 contacts on all continents in 123 countries and, of course, all states worked in 12 days of operation. We operated 160 and 80 meters each evening, just around sunset and gray line conditions in the morning. All modes and bands provided contacts including 10 meters with a short opening the last 2 days we were there. We operated RTTY, CW and SSB.
I provided an updated log on contacts that were available for those that were interested in keeping track of their contacts with me. I had many stations that were interested in working K2V on as many bands and modes that they could. The statistical analysis of band and mode were available. I found a number of stations working me on many of the bands and modes as indicated by the Leading Band/Slot station page on the Club Log web page. Club Log is a web-based application that uses a large database to analyze Amateur Radio log files, which are uploaded by users all over the world. Our thanks go out to Michael for furnishing this great program to provide data to all.
Indeed, it was a wonderful DXpedition! A Christmas festival that we attended at St George Village Botanical Gardens was called “Christmas Spoken Here,” which reminded us of the “Ham Radio Spoken Here” sign on our ham shack wall. Hope to see you from the next dream spot as ham radio is definitely spoken here — and wherever else we might be!
Garry Fisher, K9WZB, an ARRL member, was introduced to Amateur Radio in 1959 while visiting his sister. Her next door neighbor was a ham operator and as a young kid he was taken by the large quad antenna and consistent interference on TV on channel 2. As Garry explains:
“My sister introduced me and I was given a chance to visit the ham’s shack. This was my first experience with ham radio. Although, I had always dreamed of talking on a radio to someone else this became the avenue to do so.
“Six months later I took my Novice test. Two months (that seemed like 3 years) later, I finally received the call KN9WZB. I was so excited about getting my new call that I ran eight blocks home from the post office to tell my dad, Eugene, later to be K9HLS. He encouraged my ham radio quest even though he was not himself a ham at the time. Within a few weeks of taking the test the antennas for the CW portion of the Novice bands were in place.
“Today, after 51 years in ham radio, I find that ham radio has been as big a part of my life as anything I have done. I can be found daily on the bands either ragchewing or DXing on almost any of the modes available. My most recent interest is adding video streaming to my contacts.”
Garry’s spouse Sharon, K7WZB, and he started to go on DXpeditions in 2008 and continue to expand on these each year. Garry can be reached at 3628 Tarpon Dr, Lake Havasu City, AZ 86406-4222.