OC-168, OC-158 and OC-179

IOTA Expedition to Russell (OC-168), Florida (OC-158), and Duff (OC-179) Islands

Cezar Trifu, VE3LYC

H44R OC-168

The boat to Mbanika is loaded up in Honiara.

Russell is a group of volcanic islands situated about 50 km NW of Guadalcanal Island, in the Solomon Islands. It corresponds to IOTA reference OC-168, which was last operated from 17 years ago, and is in demand by 94% of the IOTA membership. Mbanika Island is roughly 10 x 6 km in size, and was home to the largest coconut plantation in the country, while the copra (coconut oil) producer was the largest employer. A labour dispute brought everything to a halt in 2003, and production never resumed.

Approaching the landing dock in Mbanika.

The region is a diving paradise, and in 2000, a small diving resort opened on Mbanika. Following the plantation shutdown, however, locals and people from others islands settled in, occupying the land and facilities. Since they don’t own their houses, the inhabitants are reluctant to invest in fixing and upgrading them, which is why many houses look rundown. There is no electricity or running water in the Russell group.

Bernhard (DL2GAC) provided ample logistical support for this project. Among others, he travelled to Mbanika in advance of the operation to identify and retain the best location for setting up a radio station, as well as ensuring that a generator can be rented. Subsequently, we travelled together for the actual operation, which allowed me to maximize the time on the air. For this trip we boarded Kosco, a large boat which travels back and forth to the Russell group once per week. Our host on the island was John Mairiri, who lives close to the landing dock.

Antenna setup.

Station setup with the AL-500M amplifier.

I used an Icom IC-7000 with an AL-500M solid state amplifier, and a multi-band vertical wire antenna. Unfortunately, the amplifier died after 200 QSOs. The rig was powered using 100 Ah deep cycle batteries, charged by a 5 kW generator. With Kosco’s return scheduled, we attempted to stay an additional day and looked for a private boat, but stormy weather and rough sea conditions rendered our search unsuccessful.

With Bernhard (DL2GAC) – left, and our host John – right.

At the operating table (with Bernhard).

A total of 3352 QSOs were logged with 2563 stations in 74 DXCCs on 6 continents. Almost 55% of all contacts were on 20 m, while 36% on 17 m, 8% on 30 m, and 1% on 40 m. About 63% of the QSOs were in CW, while 37% in SSB. The continental distribution of QSOs was EU 46%, AS 31%, NA 20%, OC 2%, with the sum of SA and AF less than 1%. The top five DXCCs by number of QSOs were JA, K, UA, I, and DL, accounting for just below 68%, followed by SP, UR, UA0, F, and SM.

Aboard the boat leaving Mbanika.

The house we operated from, seen from the sea.

H44R/P OC-158

Florida, also known as Nggella islands were first sighted by Europeans during the Spanish expedition of Alvaro de Mendaña on 16 April 1568. The name originated from Pascua Florida or flowery festival, which refers to the Easter season. They include four larger and about 50 small islands, one of which is Tulaghi, only 3.5 x 0.6 km in size. The town of Tulaghi, the capital of Central Province, was the capital of the British Solomon Islands before 1942, prior to its move to Honiara, on Guadalcanal Island, 40 km to the SW.

Arriving in Tulaghi after sunset.
Antenna setup at the Provincial Guesthouse.

This island group is known for the IOTA Programme by the reference OC-158, in demand by 84% of IOTA members. Bernhard (DL2GAC), who provided invaluable logistical assistance during my operation from Russell Islands (OC-168), visited Tulaghi prior to my arrival in Solomon Islands, in order to assess the possibility of an operation from this group. We returned to Honiara from Mbanika Island very late afternoon, and realized quickly that all private motor canoes heading to Tulaghi were long gone. Luckily, we managed to talk to a very late boater, who was heading to a different island, west of Tulaghi, and who agreed to give us a ride before continuing to his destination.

We arrived on Tulaghi after sunset, and found our way to the Provincial Guesthouse in total darkness. For the radio operation I used an Icom IC-7000 with a multi-band vertical wire antenna which barely fit inside the fenced compound. AC is available on the island, but local electric consumers generate a noticeable noise level after nightfall. The radio operation lasted a day and a half, with just one night on the island.

Station setup (with Bernhard).
View of the little Mbangai Island.
Traditional house.
The school grounds.

The island offers a great retreat, with several small but cozy hotels. Houses dot the limestone hills, which offer breathtaking views from atop. Several properties are covered in traditional, somewhat intricate palm tree leave designs. Locals are very hospitable, and will not hesitate to walk you to the place you need to get to, just to be sure that you will not get lost.

Beautiful garden atop the island.
Leaving Tulaghi (with Bernhard).

The log contains a total of 1123 QSOs with 916 stations in 51 DXCCs on 6 continents. About 51% of all contacts were on 20 m, 25% on 17 m, 15% on 15 m, and 9% on 40 m. Almost 85% of the QSOs were in CW, with the rest in SSB. The continental distribution of QSOs was AS 41%, NA 31%, EU 23%, OC 4%, SA 1%, and only one contact with AF. The top five DXCCs by number of QSOs were JA, K, UA, VK, and DL, accounting for over 81%, followed by UA0, I, UR, SM and F.

H40D OC-179

Tahua is a small island (145 x 105 m) in the remote Duff group of northeastern Temotu. It is the most important of five similar islands built by the locals on the coral reef surrounding Taumako, the main island in the group, whose volcanic cliffs rise to 400 m. This complex construction work lasted generations, but was completed before the first Europeans visited the islands in the 17th century. Located 160 m west of Taumako, Tahua is home to 90 people or one fifth of the group’s population.

Duff Islands in the distance.

Named after a missionary ship which visited them in 1797, the Duff Islands have been populated for a few milenia. Locals are Polynesians and speak Pileni. Their way of life is traditional, with subsistence farming and fishing. School aged children are boated daily to the only school in the group, located in Taumako, across from Tahua. Solar panels were introduced in 2014 and are popular.

Arrival at Tahua Island.

There is no regular transportation to Duff. My only option to reach these islands was a 23 ft open motor canoe. I travelled the distance of 175 km from Lata, the capital of Temotu, in two stages: Lata to Pigeon Island (72 km), where I stayed overnight, and from there to Tahua (103 km). The Duff Islands form the IOTA group OC-179, which was activated only once, 25 years ago, and is in demand by 97% of IOTA members.

Antenna setup.

The radio operation was carried out using an Icom IC-7000 with a multi-band vertical wire antenna. Power was provided by 100 Ah deep cycle batteries, charged by a 3.3 kW gas generator rented from Pigeon Island, which I only used during the daytime. The temperature was between 33oC during the day and 24oC at night, with high humidity. The island’s location offered a breeze at times, which – along with periodic rains – generated an enjoyable cooling.

CQ de H40D.
With Stanley (driver) – left, and Phillip (helper) – right.
The generator employed at Duff.

The log includes 3454 QSOs with 2383 stations in 76 DXCCs on 6 continents. Over 40% of all contacts were on 17 m, with 35% on 20 m, 13% on 30 m, 7% on 40 m, and 5% on 15 m. Almost 79% of the QSOs were in CW, with the rest in SSB. The continental distribution of QSOs was AS 42%, EU 37%, NA 16%, OC 4%, with the sum of SA and AF close to 1%. The top five DXCCs by number of QSOs were JA, K, UA, DL, and I, accounting for almost 72%, followed by UA0, UR, VK, SP, and SM.

I am grateful to Bernhard (DL2GAC) for his extended logistical help. Ben Hepworth is acknowledged for his assistance with logistics for the Duff Islands operation. My thanks to Bill (K9RR) for providing the amplifier, Maury (IZ1CRR) for website help, George (VE3GHK) for technical support, and John Mairiri for his hospitality on Mbanika. I remain indebted to Stanley for a safe voyage from Lata to Duff and back, and very appreciative of his boat driving skills. Our return from Duff during continuous rainfall and particularly the trip from Pigeon Island to Lata on a rough ocean remain memorable. Chief Abros Miki is thanked for facilitating this project and his warm hospitality on Tahua Island.

A huge Thank You to International Radio Expedition Foundation (IREF), German DX Foundation (GDXF), DX News, RSGB, ICOM, Clipperton DX Club, European DX Foundation (EUDXF), Swiss DX Foundation, CDXC: The UK DX Foundation, Mediterranean DX Club, and Daily DX for their strong sponsorship of this complex and ambitious project.

I am grateful to Rei (DL6DQW), Sten (SM3NXS), Max (WB8FLE), and Doc (N4WW) for their exceptional support, to the top donors DL4KQ, DL6EBE, JE1DXC, JF4VZT, JM1PXG, K9RR, KD1CT, KO8SCA, N4II, N6VR, OE3SGA, ON4IZ, PA3EXX, PT7WA, SM3EVR, SM6CVX, VE7DP, VE7QCR, W5PF, W5ZPA, W6RLL, WB2YQH, WC6DX, and many others who offered financial assistance.

Meeting Thomas Taisea on Taumako Island. He hosted Bernhard on Tahua, 25 years ago.
Preparing the boat for the return to Pigeon Island.