RAC Ontario South Director, Phil McBride, VA3QR/VA3KPJ, is on a DXpedition to St. Paul Island (IOTA NA-094) as part of a team of 11 operators led by Randy Rowe, N0TG and Murray Adams, WA4DAN.
Phil will be providing regular updates here on the RAC website and on social media via our Twitter and Facebook accounts. All images are used with his permission. You can find out more about Phil and follow his journey via his blog and Twitter account and also on the St Paul Island DXpedition website.
Phil provided the following reports:
CY9C – Day 11, Farewell to Nova Scotia
You’ll have to forgive me, but this article is going to be a little more verbose than the others I’ve posted – Blogger’s Privilege 😉
The remaining members of the Atlantic Cove team are arriving by boat early this afternoon with the remainder of the equipment for loading and transport home. I’m waiting for them so I can load the generators and gas cans I bought locally, and head to Edmunston, New Brunswick for tonight, then back home for Tuesday night. As I post this article, I’ve finished uploading the final ADIF to ClubLog.
Going on a DXpedition has been a “bucket list” item for me for a good long time. Circumstances brought me to the attention of Randy Rowe, N0TG, early last year and I was fortunate enough to be made a member of what was a wonderful adventure and a fruitful endeavour – we will easily pass the 60,000 QSO mark when I post the logs tonight.
If you would indulge, I’m going to put on my patriotic hat for a few paragraphs.
As you know if you’ve been following my journey, I was the only Canadian in the group. St. Paul Island is part of my country, and I felt privileged and honoured to be one of the few Canadians who has, or ever will see, this gorgeous part of our territory.
Additionally, this is the first time I’ve been able to properly see the eastern part of my country. My drive took me right along the Trans-Canada Highway through lower Quebec, New Brunswick and into Nova Scotia proper before I got onto Cape Breton Island. The scenery I experienced on my trip here will be forever imprinted in my memory.
In Cape Breton, the scenery is especially beautiful – rolling mountains covered with trees for as far as the eye can see, beautiful beaches all along the coast, a view of the Atlantic Ocean that is unparalleled to anything I’ve see along the eastern coast of North America, and the people who live here are among the nicest, kindest and most generous that I’ve ever met. I needed a place to stay on Day 1 here when I decided to transfer to the North East Point, and the boat operator, Paul Fitzgerald, took me to his house, gave me a couple of beers and put me up in his guest room. Yesterday, when I went looking for coffee I went to The Markland Resort (where we stayed on our first night here) and Kim gave me two coffees and a basket full of muffins and refused to take my money. Last night, I stayed in a little cottage owned by an elderly couple in White Point (about 20 minutes south of Dingwall, off the Cabot Trail) and they made me the first hot meal I’ve had since going to the island.
The beauty and hospitality I’ve experienced along every leg of my journey thus far makes me even more proud to call myself a Canadian. I sincerely hope to be able to build a house on Cape Breton one day – nothing fancy, an 1800 sq. foot bungalow, with five acres in the back for an antenna farm on a high point for good take off 😉
I would like to thank Randy, N0TG and Murray, WA4DAN, for putting this event together from the very beginning. Especially, I’d like to thank Randy for finding me through a mutual connection and inviting me on what has been one of the most memorable events of my life thus far. I’d like to thank Pat, N2IEN, Ray, W2RE, Lee, WW2DX and Will, AA4NC, for making me a part of their team at the last minute when I switched from Atlantic to the North East Point. I’d like to thank Ray and Will for all of their operating, and their guidance on when and where to operate. I would especially like to thank Pat for the use of his helicopter, without which, there would have been no way to operate from the North East Point. I would like to thank Barry Smith, Pat’s aviation mechanic, for his tireless efforts managing logistics from the mainland and keeping us all safe. I would also like to thank the Amateur Radio Service Centre (ISEDC), Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and the Canada Border Services Agency for their help and service in getting all the necessary operating permits together, and for expediting the travel of equipment and personnel from the United States. I’d like to thank Derek Faulconer of CRE Insurance Services for helping us secure the required liability insurance. Most importantly, I’d like to thank my wife, Cassandra McBride, VA3MEW, for her patience, support and understanding over the last 15 or 16 months while we planned and executed this expedition.
Finally, I would like to thank you, my readers, who have emailed, Facebooked, Tweeted and otherwise digitally sent your warm messages of support and thanks. It made the experience all the more enjoyable knowing that we had your support, and further cemented in my mind my own personal belief that the Amateur Radio community as a whole is made up primarily of decent, kind and well meaning people.
I will be writing an article for The Canadian Amateur, the publication of Radio Amateurs of Canada (RAC), at some point in the near future, and will share that article on my Blog after it’s been published in TCA. My next journey will be in a couple of weeks to Heart’s Content, Newfoundland, for RAC’s Annual General Meeting, which will also commemorate the 150th anniversary of the laying of the first permanent cable between North America and Europe.
For now, with my thanks and best wishes, a final 73 from the east coast of Canada from VA3QR/VE1.
I left St. Paul this morning and am typing this from the back of my truck in the baseball field we’ve been using as an airfield. We are getting all the gear and people off of the North East Point first. Will, AA4NC, will operate from there until the last possible moment.
After that’s done, all but two of the Atlantic Cove team will leave the island and head to Sydney, Nova Scotia to wait for their flight home. The two remaining members will operate all day and perhaps into the evening, and then load the boat, which will arrive at sunrise tomorrow. Once the boat arrives tomorrow afternoon, I’ll grab the rest of the team gear that I brought with me and start making my way home.
I will post one final entry when I do the final ClubLog upload, along with a few pictures, hopefully tomorrow night when I make my first stop on my way back to Acton, Ontario.
I would also like to thank all of you for the wonderful and positive responses I’ve gotten over the past several days on my writings, and on our operations. This was my first ever DXpedition and I don’t think I could’ve asked for a better experience.
Until tomorrow, 73, VA3QR/VE1.
Day 9, Leaving Early 🙁
I experienced one of the most beautiful and most intense thunderstorms of my entire life last night. Once we realized a storm was approaching from the west, we disconnected all the feedlines and just watched it for 10 minutes. Lightning was flashing everywhere, and bolts were hitting the water.
And then the rain started and it was like someone was dumping an entire city reservoir on my tent. I stayed dry, Will, AA4NC, got a little damp, but Ray, W2RE’s tent got soaked. His stuff is drying out on the dock.
Despite the storm and the 59+30 crashes, I managed to pull out about 40-50 160m phone contacts out of the noise last night. Ray and I are going to switch off doing 160m CW and phone tonight and see how many more we can get.
Alas, though, the weather forecast for Monday (August 29) is rain all day, which would make tearing down and flying back to the mainland nearly impossible, so we’re going to start breaking camp tomorrow morning and we’ll be gone from the North East Point by tomorrow evening. The Atlantic Cove crew will be leaving the island tomorrow, with the exception of one or two guys who will supervise the loading of the boat on Monday (subject to change, the boat may come tomorrow instead).
THIS WILL BE OUR LAST FULL OPERATING DAY. I’m going to try to get logs from Atlantic today and do a log dump, and then I’ll do the last ClubLog dump once we’re all on the mainland and I’ve got the last logs, then it’s all going to Murray, WA4DAN, for processing.
I’ll post one final update once I’m on the mainland. 73 for now, VA3QR/CY9.
Day 8, The winds came back...
Well the winds came back and paid us a visit – starting last night (local time), they were kicking up to about 80 km/h. Thankfully, we’ve sustained no damage. The tents are okay and the antennas are still standing. Then the rain started around 9 AM this morning, local time (1200z) so we’ve been trying to keep the equipment dry 🙂
Band conditions haven’t been so great either. Will, AA4NC, woke up at 0915z today to work RTTY on 30m and got no takers, so he moved to CW. He did a pretty good run. Ray, W2RE, did a couple of runs on 17m and 20m, but overall, the band conditions aren’t as good as they’ve been. We’re expecting things to open up around 7 PM local (2200z) and will have all four stations going. We’re getting down to our last couple of operating days and want to get as many QSOs as possible.
Pat made it back from the mainland this morning, just before a fog system moved over us, so we haven’t been able to get logs from Atlantic Cove. Hopefully we’ll find a window this evening, but if not, we’ll push new logs out tomorrow when the weather is supposed to be sunny, clear and calm.
Stay tuned for more! 73, VA3QR/CY9.
Day 7, RTTY Logs Fixed, Active on LEO Birds
It’s another beautiful day on the North East Point of St. Paul Island. Band conditions aren’t great, but the weather is getting better by the day. By the time we have to disembark, the winds should be almost still, which will make the trip home a lot easier (and safer). We’ve already started to offload garbage and miscellaneous gear that we either didn’t use or that isn’t working to ensure the lightest possible load for the trip home. This will also let us keep a station going as long as possible. We’re trying for every last QSO.
We set up Pat, N2IEN’s satellite gear last night and he’s already made several QSOs on several LEO passes. We’ll keep working as many as we can and give as many of you FN97 as possible.
As well, Pat brought us a surprise dinner from the mainland, courtesy of his aircraft mechanic, Barry – who has been instrumental in keeping us safe and supplied. We really can’t thank him enough for all he’s done.
The Atlantic Cove site popped a K3S last night. That makes three so far. We sent them an IC-7000 that Pat had to get them up to four stations again. As well, they sent us their current logs and I’ve integrated them and sent them to ClubLog.
On the topic of logs, for those with RTTY contacts that are an hour off of your personal logs, one of the RTTY laptops was set to UTC – 4 with NO Daylight Savings Time. We found the problem, and we’ve fixed the logs. If you check ClubLog now, your times should match. If there are further issues, they’ll have to be dealt with by the CY9C QSL manager after the event.
Further on the topic of RTTY, I am going to wake up AA4NC tomorrow morning August 26 around 0830z and get him working RTTY starting on 30m starting about 0900z, moving up bands as the morning continues.
I set my alarm for 0030z this morning to get on 80m for Europe and I had it set for AM not PM. So by the time I got on the air at 0230z, it was pretty much too late. Going to try again tonight – first on the OCF dipole on the lighthouse, then on the big vertical we built on the radials of the old AM broadcast station that was here. I’ll take photos of that later – it’s AWESOME on 160m.
One of the reasons I wanted to work a DXpedition is so that I could be on the other side of an SSB/Phone pileup, and I must say I haven’t been disappointed. Now that I’ve got all my logistics/administrative stuff out of the way, I’m going to go hit the bands. Until tomorrow, 73 VA3QR/CY9.
CY9C – Day 6, Log Dump Complete!
Good afternoon from sunny and warm St. Paul Island! The wind gusts are dying down and by tomorrow should be under 30 kph, but as it is, they’re manageable now and we’re operating normally. Pat, N2IEN, is out getting us some more gas and bringing some stuff from the other site (like a spare tent, just in case). As well, a local EMT who loaned us a defibrillator, had offered to come over to both sites and do a checkup of all the DXpedition participants in exchange for a helicopter ride. Pat was only more than happy to oblige 🙂
WW2DX has been going crazy on 6m all day and is still going. If you’re looking for 6m, keep an ear open. Now that the winds have died down, we’re going to break out the LEO antennas and test the rotators that were blown over a couple of days ago. If everything works, we should be ready to get some satellite contacts by this evening. If/when everything checks out, I’ll post an update to my Twitter account.
We received logs from Atlantic Cove today so I’ve put together an ADIF file that encompasses almost everything up to August 24 1451z and am uploading to ClubLog. We’ll try to get the logs out a little more frequently if possible, but this should make most people happy! 🙂
For those asking for RTTY – we blew the front ends on 2 K3S’s, which limits the stations we have capable of RTTY. I have a SignaLink in my field kit, and Pat has a digital interface of some kind, so I’m going to try to rig my station for RTTY and see if I can spend some more time on that mode.
The low bands sounded like crap last night. I managed to pull about 60-70 QSOs from Europe on 80m starting at around 0400z, but the noise from the G1 storm was at S7 and the crashes went to S9+5 and I eventually went deaf. We’re going to try again tonight.
10m and 12m opened up today and we’re getting as many contacts on those bands as we can. Once I’m done this post and the log dump, I’m going to hop on 15m and sit there for a while.
Gotta get back to work!
– 73, VA3QR/CY9.
Isn’t it great when you wake up to something hitting you in the head? At about 5:30 am, one of my tent poles snapped and the whole thing came down under the sustained 40 kph winds coming from the west. As well, Lee, WW2DX, lost his tent, as well as his operating table. He managed to catch his amp and radio before they hit the ground.
Luckily, we had two spare tents so Lee is set up inside one of the buildings, and I set myself up on the opposite side of the helipad we’re using as a tent base, using it as a bit of a wind break.
The forecast has the winds dying down starting this afternoon, then the rest of the week looks great. I’ve included a couple of videos on my blog and on Twitter to show you what we’ve been dealing with. In the videos, it’s sunny out. 10 minutes later while me and Ray, W2RE, were moving the 6m beam, a cloud passed us and soaked us. It didn’t rain, it didn’t pass over us, it passed THROUGH us. That’s what you get out here in the North Atlantic.
The Remainder of WW2DX's TentPat, N2IEN, made a bee-line for Atlantic Cove to get much needed fuel for the generators and was almost unable to make it back due to a fast moving fog system. But we’re all gassed up now. We’ve put two stations on the air, we’re getting the third set up in Lee’s tent now, and if things hold up, we’ll setup the fourth today or tomorrow. That’s in addition to the four running in Atlantic Cove. As well, once the weather clears up, Pat will be able to do a log-run to Atlantic Cove and I’ll do another dump to ClubLog.
As well, to answer those who’ve been asking, we’re going to try to run on the low bands overnight from the North East Point. It’s been impossible due to weather and fuel concerns at this point, but we’re hoping to get a couple of operators on 80m and 160m starting around 24 Aug 0400z. There might even be some RTTY – stay tuned.
For now, I need to get some dry clothes and make sure everything stayed dry during that cloud pass. Hope to hear you down the log.
– 73, VA3QR/CY9C
Well, it’s another day here on St. Paul Island, next to the lighthouse, and I think I’ve solved the last logging issue (or at least it’s the last one I’m able to fix). One of the laptops used to get on the air at the NE point when we first landed had a time zone issue. It looks like in trying to fix the issue, someone backdated most of the contacts by 24 hours. After a good night’s sleep, I was able to stare at the ADIF file and figure out where the break took place and modify the logs so that they made sense. I then merged everything together with our current logs and the Atlantic Cove site and posted the logs up to August 21 at 1426z to ClubLog. If there are still issues, I’m sorry, but I don’t think there’s much else I can do at this point, but the feedback I’ve gotten since posting the update to QRZ and Facebook earlier today was that most of the issues have been satisfactorily resolved.
Our next problem began late last night. The winds kicked up to something around 40-45 kph gusting to 50-55 kph and caused some damage, including WW2DX’s EME array. We’re afraid it’s completely beyond repair. The winds have been high enough today that Pat, N2IEN, isn’t flying and we spent some of the morning putting supplies in one of the houses here in case we had to take shelter. We don’t think that’s going to be necessary, but it’s good to be prepared. Also, we only have about 20L of fuel with us here and the rest is at the Atlantic Cove site. Pat has been ferrying gas, water and logs on daily runs, but it looks like we won’t be able to make another run until at least tomorrow afternoon, more realistically Wednesday. That means no more log dumps until then too (sorry guys).
We’ve gone to three stations, and might go down to two stations depending on fuel usage. Most of our generators are Honda EU2000i’s and are quite fuel efficient, but there is also a 220V 4kW generator here as well. We’ll probably run that until it’s dry, then stick with two stations with the fuel we have until we can resupply in a day or two.
This being my first ever DXpedition, I’d been looking forward to being on the other side of a pileup, and I haven’t been disappointed. I worked 40m last night from sundown for a few hours and it got so bad, I couldn’t even spread out the calling stations over enough bandwidth to make any stations out. The conditions from 160-17m have been awesome. 15-6m, not so much, but we’re listening and trying every once in a while because we know you all want contacts on those bands. As well, the LEO Satellite gear looks like it should still work even after one of the tripods got knocked over yesterday, so once the weather dies down a bit, we’ll give the birds a few calls to give you all FN97.
For now, I’m going to finish my dehydrated lunch and hit 20m as hard as I can.
– 73 for now VA3QR/CY9.
CY9C – Day 3, Logs Found
Day 3 on the North East Point and the weather is windy, but sunny and warm as well. We’re all having fun and making as many contacts as we can. Lee, WW2DX, made several EME contacts during the overnight period, and they’re busy setting up the LEO Satellite array right now.
Our scheduled call with Atlantic Cove is coming up soon, and we’ll be going over to grab a few supplies, drop off some empties and pickup their logs as to make a dump to ClubLog sometime today.
Speaking of logs, THE MISSING CONTACTS HAVE BEEN FOUND. During all the hub-bub during the initial setup of the site, one of the laptops that was being used for logging before we established the N1MM+ network on the North East Point was swapped out. We found the log and have pushed the approx. 2400 QSOs to ClubLog, so if you were missing in the log, please go back and see if you’re there now.
That’s all for now. More tomorrow. 73, VA3QR/CY9.
Well I made it, I’m on the North East Point with all my gear. I’ve been back to the Atlantic Cove site today and, despite all the gear we brought, we can’t get either a stable connection between both DXpedition sites via UHF, or a connection from Atlantic Cove to a cellular site due to a major Bell Mobility outage at Neil’s Harbour.
That said, the sites are able to communicate with HTs using the VE1CBI VHF Repeater on the top of Cape Smokey, which is owned and operated by the Sydney Amateur Radio Club. As well, since there is no way that a boat can get gear to the North East Point, everything has to come by chopper. So since Pat, N1IEN, will be making frequent trips to get water and gas, he’ll be ferrying USB sticks with the logs of the operators in the Atlantic Cove, and I’ll post them, as well as the logs from the North East, as often as I get them. I did the first dump today and the results are available on ClubLog for checking.
The folks on shore, as well as Pat, N1IEN, are working as hard as they can to get the rest of our gear over to both sites so we can start going full-boar. As it is, we’re running four stations full steam ahead, and Lee, WW2DX, is setting up the EME gear. I haven’t even had a chance to touch a running radio yet, so if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some DX to catch. More to come later.
Addendum August 20 1712z: There have been those saying their contacts are missing in the logs. When the ops got their stations going, they just started logging. Some contacts may have been missed when the network was established. I will go looking to see if we missed a database somewhere. Everyone’s patience is appreciated 🙂 VA3QR/CY9.
More to come. Phil, VA3QR/VE1.
August 19: Good morning from Dingwall, Nova Scotia. I arrived at The Markland Resort at 6:30 pm on Wednesday, August 17 after having stopped in Ingonish, Nova Scotia (30 kilometres south of Dingwall) to fill 50 gas cans with 1250L of 91 octane gas. The locals looked at the 50 gas cans on the ground and then gave me slightly slanted looks. The station owner, however, was quite pleased 🙂
We had our DXpedition dinner where a few changes were announced. The boat captain we had originally contracted with had mysteriously disappeared, and after speaking with one of the more well known locals, we were referred to another boat operator named Paul. Paul has been an amazing resource on this trip. However, due to the wind direction yesterday, the boat wasn’t able to get out there.
That left Pat, N2IEN, who happened to bring his own helicopter and aviation mechanic (Barry), to ferry as many people and as much gear to the two sites as was possible while we had daylight. So, at the last minute, we staged everything as best as we could and got people, survival gear, a couple of generators, a little bit of gas, and limited radio gear to both sites. I was the first to land at Atlantic Cove in order to start building the network bridge. Things didn’t go as planned.
The cellular repeater site I was planning on getting coverage from in Neil’s Harbour went down in bad weather about a week ago and Bell Canada hasn’t been able to get it back up yet. Even with a 70dB cellular booster, I couldn’t get cellular coverage in Atlantic Cove. As well, the network gear hadn’t made it over to the North East Point yet, so we couldn’t test the UHF bridge. The GOOD news is that the North East point HAS cellular coverage, and without even the need of any cellular boosters, so I opted to come back on the chopper to the mainland for the night with the access points for Atlantic Cove in my duffel bag and swap them with the access points going to the North East Point. Paul, the boat operator, was nice enough to put me up for the night in his guest room.
When I woke up this morning, the ground was wet and I was told that a big thunderstorm had rolled through town and it was currently out over St. Paul Island. As I write this, it still looks pretty nasty out there, and Lee, WW2DX, reports that it’s pretty miserable on the North East Point and they’re waiting out the storm. However, Paul decided to head over to the island despite the weather and is hoping he’ll be able to unload everything within the next few hours. The chopper is on stand down until the weather clears, but we’ve got the next few loads staged and we’re hoping the weather clears by the afternoon and we’re able to ferry the rest of the gear over.
CY9C has been on the air since yesterday. As soon as the network is built, the current logs will be uploaded, and if all goes according to plan, further QSOs will be logged live to Clublog. For now, Wayne and I are at the Markland staying dry and waiting out the storm.
More to come. Phil, VA3QR/VE1.
August 15: U-Haul trailer is hitched, packed and locked, truck is full of gas, and I’m ready to go. Most of the team is already en route to Dingwall, Nova Scotia.
I expect to arrive in Fredericton, New Brunswick by 10:45 pm ADT, and then will drive to Dingwall, NS the next day.
You can track my journey via APRS.
The CY9C DXpedition gang has talked about setting up a station at The Markland (where we’re staying the nights before we leave for the island), so keep an ear for them. Stay tuned to my Twitter Feed for updates and media from the Atlantic Cove operating site, and to WW2DX’s Twitter Feed for the same from the North East Point operating site.
I look forward to the pileups. vy 73 de VA3QR/VA3KPJ.
August 5: We’ll be operating from two different sites separated by approximately 3 kilometres, and are hoping to have a station operating on 20m CW and SSB simultaneously, 24/7 throughout the duration of the expedition.
I am going as an operator, I.T./Network Manager and am the call sign licensee. The logo we are using for the DXpedition is shown on the left.
We’re planning on having stable, broadband access to the Internet, both sites will be linked via a 70 cm Wi-Fi solution, and we’ll be posting QSOs to ClubLog in realtime.”
Watch for an article about the DXpedition in a future issue of The Canadian Amateur magazine.