Dates Set for DXpedition to Desecheo Island
The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has notified a group of hams led by veteran DXpeditioners Bob Allphin, K4UEE, and Glenn Johnson, W0GJ, that they will be able to mount a DXpedition to Desecheo Island (KP5, IOTA NA-095), February 12-26, 2009. Desecheo currently sits at number 7 on DX Magazine's Most Wanted list. Desecheo is a small uninhabited island in the Mona Passage, 14 miles off the western coast of Puerto Rico. It is part of the USFWS's national wildlife refuge system administered by the Caribbean National Wildlife Refuge Complex (CNWR).
Per USFWS rules, only 15 operators will be allowed on the island at one time. "We have arranged with USFWS to allow a shift change about half way through the DXpedition," Allphin told the ARRL. "This has allowed a number of hams on our waiting list an opportunity to participate in this DXpedition."
Johnson said the team will be running CW, SSB and RTTY on 160-6 meters. "We've had tremendous support from DX organizations all over the world and from numerous equipment and antenna manufacturers," he told the ARRL. "We are diligently working on the propagation studies to reach our hard to work areas of Asia and Europe. This and with our planned antennas, we should knock Desecheo off of the Most Wanted List for a long time to come." Desecheo is the second most-wanted DXCC entity in Asia and third most-wanted in Europe.
According to DXCC Manager Bill Moore, NC1L, the lack of amateur activity on Desecheo is due to the USFWS not issuing the needed Special Use permits. "The USFWS has always claimed safety concerns as a reason to not issue the permits," he said. "Since the island was used as a bombing range, there is the possibility that unexploded, live munitions are still on the island. It is always a good thing when an entity that had activation difficulties in the past gets on the air again."
On Friday, December 19, three DXpedition team members, USFWS personnel and an unexploded ordnance (UXO) expert will go out to Desecheo to sweep and clear the assigned area of unexploded ordnance and other hazards. "We are uniquely fortunate for a 'sneak preview' of our operating site the week before Christmas," Johnson said. "We will spend a day on Desecheo clearing hazards from our operating sites. Rarely does such a most-wanted entity have an opportunity for a sneak peak to optimally plan logistics, stations and antennas." There will be no radio operations on this trip.
The KP5 DXpedition team will assemble in Puerto Rico on Sunday, February 8 for mandatory UXO training. They will spend the next few days training, preparing and staging the several tons of equipment for transport to the site and set out for Desecheo on February 12. Allphin said that as soon as they land on Desecheo, two stations will be "immediately activated. Stations will continue to operate until the final moments of departure on February 26."
Allphin is an experienced DXer, having visited 80 DXCC entities and operated from 40, including Peter I Island, Howland Island, Kingman Reef, the South Sandwich Islands and South Georgia Island. Allphin and Johnson have both participated in DXpeditions to Heard Island and Bhutan.
"For a team leader, the challenges are pretty much the same for Desecheo as they were for Peter I and other remote DXpeditions," Allphin told the ARRL. "Take logistics -- you still must make sure everything you need gets there. Although there is a Radio Shack 20 miles away, the boat trip is $1000! The team must be selected on compatibility, experience and operating skills; that never changes. The difference this time is that Glenn and I have been inundated with requests to join the team. The close proximity makes it look like an easy DXpedition, I guess!"
ARRL Membership and Volunteer Programs Manager and experienced DXpeditioner Dave Patton, NN1N, said that both Desecheo and Navassa Islands (currently third on DX Magazine's Most Wanted list) saw frequent operations in the late 1970s through late '80s, but operations from the islands have been very limited since then. With the islands under the control of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, combined with decaying "infrastructure" on Navassa, there are more issues that must be dealt with than there were 25 years ago.
"A well-organized and lengthy operation from Desecheo will be a nice treat for the world's DXers," Patton said. "With W0GJ and K4UEE leading the operation, I think we can all count on a first class effort that will give maximum exposure to Asia/Oceania and Europe where KP5 is most needed. I also think that Glenn and Bob can demonstrate to the Fish and Wildlife Service that a DXpedition can take place and not damage the environment or cause big problems amongst other hams or for other agencies. I hope hams will be invited back to Desecheo more frequently in the future and expand the places where hams may operate."
In 1979, upon the recommendation of the DX Advisory Committee (DXAC), Desecheo Island was added to the DXCC list for contacts made after March 1 of that year. KP4AM/D -- with operators N4EA, KP4Q, N4ZC, KP4DSD, KV4KV (now KP2A), KP4AM (now W4DN) -- made the first DXpedition Desecheo in March 1979. Various groups have made their way to Desecheo since the first trip, but other than a brief operation in December 2005, there has been no activity from the island since 1994. "It is so exciting that our DXpedition to Desecheo coincides almost exactly 30 years to the day of the first operation from Desecheo," Johnson told the ARRL.
In June of this year, CNWR invited written proposals from hams who had previously made inquiries about an Amateur Radio operation from Desecheo; CNWR indicated that they would allow one group to activate the island. After reviewing the proposals, CNWR would then select a group and prepare to issue a Special Permit to the successful party, limiting the group to no more than 15 people staying no longer than 14 days. Applicants had 45 days to prepare and submit their proposals. According to Allphin, seven groups submitted proposals.
"A panel of three Fish and Wildlife Service employees, from areas within the Service outside of the Caribbean refuge, spent September 24 and 25 reviewing and evaluating the [seven] proposals," Allphin said. "The selection criteria used were those outlined in the proposal invitation letter and points were awarded for how well criteria were addressed for thoroughness and documentation."
"It was truly an honor to have our proposal and team selected from the stiff competition," Johnson told the ARRL. "This has been a true team effort on our part from the start. We look forward to activating an entity in the Top 10 Most Wanted that is located in our own back yard! We are most grateful to the USFWS for giving us this opportunity to activate this rare entity."