After our first two DXpeditions to Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, which led us during our “triple jump” to the main island St. Vincent in November 1996 and to Bequia half a year later, we took a third trip to J8 in November 2013, this time to Union Island, an only 8 km² “big” island in the southern Grenadines.
That was a special wish of my XYL on ocasion of her 65th birthday. I have left her the choice of our goal - but it had to be the Caribbean.
I supposed, that J8 for hams was not even a rare or semi-rare DXCC entity but I agreed half-hearted.
Because I already had a ham radio license - J87GU - it seemed not so hard to me to reactivate the call sign. Though I know the caribbean working style, I already started my preparations in June. I sent the application form for my license renewal with the usual items (home license, copy of passport and the license fee of 25 EC$) to the NTRC, but nothing happened within the next three months. A little worried about the silence I called them end of September just to hear that they have got my license application but they need another 25 EC$ to issue my license.
Fortunately Fred, DH5FS, stayed right then at the same hotel which we have chosen. So I asked him to find a way to deliver the money to the NTRC. Clyde, the owner of the hotel, got the money there.
Again days went by without any reaction. I called them again and they confirmed that they got the money and issued the license. I asked them to send me a copy per email they reacted promptly.
We have booked the flights with American Airlines but a week before our departure we got a message that the flight from Berlin to Miami would be served by Air Berlin. That meant that our formerly unlimited cabin luggage reduces to 8kg. I can turn it like I want, the cabin luggage is always too heavy. So a few things like my transceiver’s power supply have to vanish into the normal luggage.
November 4 all is packed. November 6 our taxi picks us up at 3:45am and our flight starts at 6:45am via Düsseldorf and Miami to Grenada. Acording to the “something” enervating check-in/check-out procedure and giant line ups time is melting to about 30 minutes until departure.
I have an uneasy feeling which should come true at our arrival in Grenada.
My antenna case and our bag is there but no trace of our suitcase which contains most of our clothes - and the worst of all - my power supply and the coils for my HF9VX antenna and the coax.
My mood turns to zero. After the formalities at the lost and found counter they tell us, that the next flight from Miami arrives Friday evening. A transport to Union Island the same day would be impossible and because the 8-seated plane could not carry unlimited luggage it was uncertain if the next one could take it along.
A terrific start!!!
We stay overnight in a hotel in Grand Anse. The next morning at 07:00am our flight starts to Union Island.
Our host Clyde welcomes us at the airport and a few minutes later we arrive at the “Islander’s Inn”, our lodging for the next three weeks.
The hotel is located right at the beach and is a perfect DX spot with a free takeoff into all important directions from Japan via North America to Europe. Only South America is a bit handicapped.
Condemned to do nothing I have to resort to relax.
Sightseeing and a first snorkeling trip to the Tobago-Cays are now on our program instead of the intended pileups.
Our tour to the Tobago Keys belongs undoubtedly to the highlights. The tourquise blue sea between the five islands is breathtaking. Who expects the same under the surface could be disappointed. Compared to our first trip in 1996, when we found halfway intact reefs we now found a giant scene of devastation, dead corals everywhere. Besides a few turtles and starfish not much to see. Just a little outside the area there were a few remarkable reefs.
Union Island is a small, picturesque islet with magnificent kind people.
Friday evening. It’s 20:00pm. The WAEDC RTTY starts right now - without me! Time to give the Grenada Airport a call to ask for any news about our luggage. But nobody answers my call. At 21:00pm a staff member is calling and gives me the redeeming information that our suitcase has arrived. That doesn’t solve my problem yet but she promises to send it as soon as possible. So I have to sit and wait again.
Next morning. A phone call from the Airport. They inform us, that our suitcase arrives at 09:00am in Union. But the joy lasts only 10 minutes. Then another call. The suitcase is too heavy for that flight because it is fully booked and the passengers have enough luggage for this plane. They will send it at 03:00pm - but to Carriacou - a neighbour island.
Clyde organizes a water taxi.
Because Carriacou belongs to Grenada we have to manage a lot of paperwork to exit Union. The same formalities on arrival in Carriacou and the same on the way back.
In a breakneck half-hourly ride the water taxi brings me to Carriacou. The sea is rather rough and the water taxi jumps from wave to wave. We arrive like wet rats.
Immediately after the delivery we return to Union Island after the usual formalities at the harbour. About 05:00pm we are back at our hotel. Not much time left to erect the antenna at daylight.
There is a small saltwater pond in front of the hotel right behind the beach, fed by the sea, in which I place my HF9VX. Clyde throws the coaxial cable over the telephone line in front of the hotel to cross the driveway.
With a delay of 24 hours I access the WAEDC RTTY Contest. I reach over 1100 QSOs, A new personal record in any RTTY Contest.
After a three-hours-sleep I start my first CW pileup. I would never have dreamed of such a run on a J8 station! After not more than 12 hours I have 1165 QSOs in my log. It runs like a clockwork!
With Clyde’s help I erect the 160m antenna, an Inverted L, the next morning. It consists of a 14m glass fiber pole with about 27m horizontal wire and four 20m long radials. We erect it as well in the salt water pond.
The first pileup on 160m brings 347 QSOs with really good signals. Unfortunately condx don’t remain that good.
The resonance shows that it was a “new one” even for many US stations. Apparently there are probably not many hams to make efforts to face up to the sometimes hard conditions on 160m. Of course one can manage 3 to 5 or even more QSOs on the upper bands instead of 1 on 160m. In contests this is a factor one can’t underestimate.
All goes well until November 18.
The owner of the marshy property in front of the hotel who lives in Trinidad is on vacation in Union. He is obviously not our hosts best friend, though they are cousins. He commands to get the antennas down immediately. He tells us this is his property and nothing has to be erected there even if it is wasteland. He also refuses Clyde’s intervention that it is only for two more weeks. Reluctantly I give up the excellent place and move the antennas to the side of the hotel, about 30m away from the old place. I have no direct comparison but the pileups are still tremendous. The place for my 160m antenna is now all but optimal. The horizontal part of the Inverted V goes now uphill and the wire hangs only 2-3m above ground.
Always when the wind blows the horizontal wire tangels up in the tree branches. But all in all I get 1158 QSOs into my 160m log, amongst them 312 EU stations.
Like the years before I put my emphasis on Japan. For JA stations it is as hard to work the Caribbean like for us Europeans the South Pacific. They have only two small windows of about an hour to get through to the Caribbean, in the early morning and evening hours during my sunrise and sunset.
Sometimes it was not even easy to get up at 05:00 after two hours sleep after the EU pileups. And after the JA opening 12m opens in direction EU.
The CQWW CW contest starts really good. I close the first day with 2834 QSOs and I am already flirting with the idea to reach the 5000-QSO-mark, but the second day condx are not that good. So I end up with 4455 QSOs but I am not disappointed at all. Anyway it is a new personal CQWW record. Finally I go back to good old Germany with 18.521 QSOs in my log after 19 days - another new record.
I remember wel the first JA pileup on 17m. Japanese stations all over a 15 kHz slot. Between 21:20 and 22:35 more than 150 Ja stations can make into my log - then suddenly the condx go to ZERO. Japan makes it on rank 3 with 1873 QSOs after the USA (2721 QSOs) and DL (2142 QSOs).
At the end of my 19 days DXpedition I’ve got 18.521 QSOs in my log - not too bad. And another record: 914 SSB QSOs instead of my usually not more than 10 SSB QSOs per DXpedition.
Some friends already asked me if something was wrong with me - good question ... :o))