The Spratly Islands DXpedition Gets Wings
The 37 operators from 15 countries who make up the DX0DX DXpedition Team that will go to the Spratly Islands are finalizing preparations for the almost month-long DXpedition that begins January 6, 2011. Instead of going by boat, the team will instead fly to Thitu Island where they will set up their operation. Thitu is the second largest island in the Spratly Islands. The Spratlys are a group of more than 750 reefs, islets, atolls, cays and islands in the South China Sea between Vietnam, the Philippines, China, Malaysia and Brunei. They comprise less than 4 square kilometers of land area, spread out over more than 425,000 square kilometers of sea.
“The boat that would have ferried the operators was damaged in heavy sea and needed substantial repairs,” said DX0DX Team Leader Chris Dimitrijevic, DU8/VK3FY on the DX0DX Web site, and “aviation transport to and from the island became available. The charter of a twin-engine aircraft adds to the expense of the DXpedition and the personal costs for all taking part in it. Smaller sea transport will still be used to get equipment and supplies to the island.”
Dimitrijevic said that there is “real excitement within the Amateur Radio community about this particular DXpedition, and most of the operators just can't wait to be part of action. It is much more than activating a rare DX spot. There is no doctor or health service on the island. As part of a humanitarian contribution, two DXpedition members who are doctors -- Josette Docherty, VK2FXGR, and Edward Soriano, 4F1OZ -- will provide medical checks to the island’s residents.” Amateur Radio Victoria -- a club in Australia -- announced it will make a substantial donation directly to purchase medical supplies for use as part of the humanitarian effort.
Other equipment include 10 HF transceivers (four each for CW and SSB, plus two for the digital modes), a VHF transceiver for 6 and 2 meters and 70 and 23 cm), eight generators with associated electromagnetic interference (EMI) filters, 11 laptop computers, four vertical antennas, a 2 element Yagi, two 80 meter 4-squares, two 40 meter 4-squares and 14 amplifiers, as well as headsets, foot switches and interfaces. There will also be moonbounce (EME) activity during the DXpedition. There will be four dedicated operating camps, one each for SSB, CW, RTTY and VHF/UHF operations.
The DX0DX Team is keen to give out contacts on 160 meters and will have two 65 foot phased verticals and a back-up antenna for this. “The DXpedition will be doing its utmost to satisfy the demand for contacts on the Top Band,” Dimitrijevic said. The DXpedition was extended a week to be able to be on the air for the CQ 160 Meter Contest. “This limited extension was carefully considered and agreed to in light of strong interest from Top Band contesters and the 160 meter band being the highest sought after in the DX0DX Web site online survey.”
“A new high tide photographic survey commissioned by the DXpedition has confirmed that the island’s coastline and available beach has dramatically changed from what was previously known, due to rising sea levels and sea erosion,” said Dimitrijevic. “This has meant a change in some aspects of the location of antennas and operating camps, but being fully aware in advance has enabled Station Layout Coordinator David Collingham, K3LP, and other DX0DX Team members to ensure it does not have a significant impact to the DXpedition plans.”
DXpeditions Can Be Dangerous
Small, remote islands such as the Spratlys have little economic value in themselves, but are important in establishing international boundaries. There are rich fishing grounds and geological surveys indicate the area may contain significant oil and gas reserves. As such, many countries claim the islands for their own, including the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, the People’s Republic of China and Republic of China (Taiwan). Additionally, Brunei claims Louisa Reef, as well as an Exclusive Economic Zone around that and neighboring reefs.
On March 31, 1979, just three days out since departing Brunei, North Borneo -- six hams -- Harry Meade, VK2BJL; Stew Woodward, K4SMX; Bill Poellmitz, K1MM; John Ackley, KP2A, Austin Regal, N4WW, and Bob Schenck, N2OO -- were on the boat Banyandah that would take them to the Spratlys. The boat was captained by the husband-wife team of Jack and Judith Binder. In the February 1998 issue of QST, Schenck recounted their trip: “We all cheered when we first spotted Amboyna Cay in the distance. It first appeared as a small white speck on the horizon. It was sheer torture in slow motion as we slowly crept closer. As we watched, our mood went from joy, to confusion, to despair, to hope, to sheer horror!”
When the boat was about one mile from the island, they saw that there were structures on the beach. Since the aerial photographs from only months before showed no structures and no people, the hams and crew were perplexed. “We saw no flag or other indication as to what country was represented on the island,” Schenck wrote. “Could they be Filipino fishermen?”
Binder wrote in his ship’s log that as the boat got closer to the island, he, his wife and the six amateurs could see “three distinct groups of people visible on that tiny mound of sand, a group at each end with a smaller number on the top. The ‘top’ hardly more than two meters above the sea. The smaller centralized group has begun signaling us with semaphore flags.”
At that point, Jack Binder and Woodward decided to go to the island in the dinghy and check things out. “Suddenly the person sending the semaphore threw down his flags,” Schenck recalled. “Within seconds, we heard four loud canon blasts from the island! The shells missed us by a wide margin, but their message was clear -- we were not welcome.” Binder wrote in his log that as they began their final approach to the island, one operator was at the radio scanning the bands and listening for a possible contact with the island. They were then shot at by the people on the island and got out of the area quickly. “We quickly put the 2 knot diesel into gear, put up the sails and steered away from Amboyna Cay,” said Schenck.
The boat returned to Brunei. Regal went back to the States, but Ackley and Schenck stayed in Brunei while the other three amateurs went back out in search of an island; Ackley and Schenck agreed to maintain a backup operation as VS5KV and VS5OO. Eventually, Binder assisted Mead, Woodward and Poellmitz get to what he called “a tiny scrap of sand.” The reef was Barque Canada Reef, a 30 foot wide sand cay that was only a foot or two above water at high tide. Here the three amateurs set up what became 1S1DX, making nearly 14,000 QSOs
In 1982, a Singapore yacht operated by the owner and his wife were carrying four German hams on a DXpedition to Amboyna Cay in the Spratlys. The boat was fired upon by Vietnamese forces. Diethelm Mueller, DJ4EI, was hit by an artillery round and fell overboard as the yacht caught fire. The rest of the party drifted for 11 days on debris, but Gero Band, DJ3NG, passed away from thirst the day before the group was rescued by a passing Japanese freighter and taken to Hong Kong. --Thanks to DX0DX DXpedition Public Affairs Leader Jim Linton VK3PC for some of the information