P29NI – OC-041 & OC-181

P29NI DXpedition a Rousing Success

Derek G3KHZ, Alan AD6E, Mike K6MYC and Skip W5GAI

October 21-24 on Garove Is.  OC-181

October 29 – November 2 on Hermit Is. OC-041

The team had two issues at the start. (1) Luis CT1AGF was turned back at Singapore because his passport expired within 6 months, not allowing entry into PNG. He returned home. Luis held the P29VLR call sign, so we had to use P29NI on both islands. (2) The Titanex Vertical for 160M which was shipped from Hawaii never arrived. So we erected an inverted-L in a coconut tree with 2 elevated radials, and it worked very well.  

The team assembled at the Rapopo Plantation Resort Hotel in Rabaul/Kokopo PNG on October 17. Our transportation, the live aboard dive boat Barbarian II, was anchored offshore, and beyond it on the opposite shore was the raging Tavurvur volcano, which had buried Rabaul in ash back in 1994. It was spewing ash far into the sky, more active now than any time since the initial eruption. Fortunately fur us, the ash cloud headed off NW, away from us. 

On leaving the harbour the next morning Captain Rod Pearce and crew of 4 cruised out of the Rabaul harbour around to north of the volcano, then we passed through the tail of airborne ash way out at sea on our way to Garove Island 180 miles to the southwest. 24 hours later we arrived and docked at the pier on Garove Island, an extinct volcano, with the caldera forming a lagoon surrounded by lush but very steep green hills rising several hundred feet from the sea. The island is home to St Michael’s Primary School (grades 1-8) and Catholic Church. The school headmaster provided us with two locations in school buildings for our radios and we were allowed to use their generator as long as we provided fuel. We had islander help to lug our radios and antennas up a path from the dock, up 45 narrow steps to a plateau, across a coconut forest and field to the school buildings that we were allowed to use. Antennas were setup along the bluff facing the lagoon, giving us good takeoff angles to EU and NA.

We recreated and rested in the early part of the day when the radio bands were dead, then worked our radios late afternoon through the night. Local children and adults would drop by all times of the day and night to observe our activities. We arranged a meeting with all the teachers and school children, got to hear them sing and tell them about ourselves and what we were doing with our radios.

The bands were mostly dead from about 2 hours after sunrise until late afternoon. It was frustrating at times hearing the VK9DWX team working LP into NA on 20M in late afternoon and we were hearing no signals

Our most productive bands were 20, 30, 40M with these QSOs: 12M=1, 17M= 567, 20M=1140, 30M=756, 40M=1357, 160M=324. 70 of these were SSB, all on 17M.

160M was a focus because of so many requests for P29 on top band. It was disappointing at first because the band was dead October 20-21, then only marginally open to a few JA’s/UA9-0 October 22-23. Then on Oct. 24, our last night on Garove Is., 160M opened up to west coast NA and EU. We ended up with these QSOs: AS=267, EU=43, NA=10, OC=4, TOT=324. The very first EME QSOs from P2 were made from Garove Is. Mike K6MYC erected his dual yagis for both 6M and 2M EME and had good luck with EME QSOs, gathering 36 contacts off the moon from 14 Countries: DL, ES, G, HB9, I, JA, K, ON, OZ, PA, S5, SM, UA, VK. Mike also decoded but did not work stations in F and UA9.

After 5 days QRV on Garove Island, we motored 30 hours and 330 miles NW to Hermit Islands. This island, like Garove, is an extinct volcano, but in this case the rim of the volcano is a sea level coral reef, and the centre of the caldera has a lagoon with several islands. Our location was Luf Island, which has a low lying and narrow centre with hills on each end. We anchored in the lagoon, and were welcomed by island residents, hosted by local “village councillor” Bob Poplis and his family, who assisted in lugging our gear across the narrow strip of land to the north shore where we were provided one thatched roof hut. We erected one of our tents a 100 yards away and put our generator in between them. The antennas went up along the beach, and we had a local fellow climb a coconut tree and attach a wire to the top for our 160M Inverted-L.

Hermit Islands has a Seventh Day Adventist church and 1st to 8th grade primary school. There were no pigs in this island, unlike Garove, and the locals did not eat pork or shell fish.

Better propagation made the HF bands more productive from this island. Again, our most productive bands were 20, 30, 40M with these QSOs: 15M=116, 17M=20, 20M=1544, 30M=2256, 40M=1812, 160M=719. SSB QSOs included in these were 20M=2, 40M=354. 160M was open every night into east to west coasts of NA, especially as the sunrise grey line moved across them, and all over EU, Russia, and Asia after sundown there. We ended up with These QSOs: AS=405, EU=283, NA 26, OC=5, TOT=719 EME was marginal on Hermit, with moon positions not favourable for EU or NA and Mike K6MYC made only one 2M QSO with W5UN in TX. We ended the DXpedition with 10,649 QSOs in the log: 2M=27, 6M=10, 12M=1 15M=116, 17M=587, 20M=2684, 30M=3012, 40M=3169, 160M=1043, including SSB QSOs 17M=70, 20M=2, 40M=354. The 160M by continent QSOs were AS=672, EU=326, NA=36 and OC=9.

After 5 days of operating on Hermit Islands, we packed and loaded our gear aboard ship, thanks to 4 island ladies who carted our generator across the island, and then motored 150 miles in 24 hours to Manus Island where we stayed overnight at Harbour side Hotel, shopped in the local open air market, and in their supermarket “Best Buy”. We had a farewell last supper aboard the Barbarian II with Captain Rod and his Crew Daisy, Lillian, Leonard and Godfrey.

Visiting the Manus airport the next day for our respective trips home was like the one we experienced at Rabaul/Kokopo, a small WWII Quonset hut building, crammed with people, no ventilation and steamy hot. On our flight to Port Moresby, we had an entourage of PNG officials, who had been at a meeting at our hotel. Skip W5GAI sat with the head of aviation, transportation and civil works, who was quite interested in how amateur radio could be a source of tourism to PNG. Skip also reported that NoJetLag herbal pills worked well to combat Jet Lag.

We experienced 20 hot, humid, sweaty, exciting, fun days in Papua New Guinea. We’d have lost 20 pounds each had we not been served 3 really nice hot meals a day aboard the Barbarian II. PNG weather was good, with very little rain, QRN tolerable with our K9AY RX antenna for 160M. Mosquitoes were non-existent (saw some only once), but flies and ants were abundant and pesky, even though they didn’t bite, which was really odd. All the islander folks were very nice, hospitable and helpful. Most spoke English, all spoke Pidgin, a modified, truncated English. What is your name? “Wanem nem bilong yu?” How are you? “Yu orait?” I am fine. “Mi orait.”

Sincere thanks to the people of Garove and Hermit Islands for their gracious reception and hospitality. We sincerely appreciate all the sponsor companies and individuals who donated equipment and funds to help defray the costs of this expensive trip, especially for our extra activities on 160M and EME.

Derek G3KHZ, Alan AD6E, Mike K6MYC and Skip W5GAI were QRV October 21-24 on Garove Is.  OC-181 making 4,181 QSOs and October 29 – November 2 on Hermit Is. OC-041 making 6,468 QSOs, for a total of 10,649 QSOs.