H44IOTA-Beginning of a journey

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The H44IOTA DXpedition consists of multiple IOTA activations. It has been and will continue to be a journey from one OC to the next.

Our method of travel is Sailing boat which gives us great freedom and independence but also means we are subject to weather, wind and wave.

Below you will find our story thus far. We hope it helps you understand the unique conditions we face in undertaking this rather ‘Extreme’ DXpedition.

Preparation for departure (OC-149)

Liapari Island is a stunning small atoll closely nestled to Vella LaVella in the Western Provence of the Solomons. The Island itself is owned and managed by Noel and Rosie Hudson as a commercial shipyard and resort. It is small and isolated but well provisioned and organised. Noel is a wealth of information for all things maritime and technical and Rosie is a constant source of laughter and eggs (she loves her chickens).

Our vessel Hafskip had been resting safely on Liapari for over 18 months and was in need of some TLC before commencing our journey. So the 4 weeks we spent in Liapari (OC-149) were spent, grinding, sanding, painting, re-wiring and servicing engines, whilst dealing with the sweltering heat and pouring rain bouts.

We were preparing all we could while waiting for our barge from Honiara to arrive. We had organised all our generator, radio equipment, paints and spares to be delivered approximately 1 week after our arrival, but in true Solomon style, the barge was 3 weeks late!

Electricity on Liapari was determined by Noels generator use and Ralph only had his trusty ICOM 706, so Maggie and Ralph took it in turns to get on air whenever power was available.

As of June 1 Ralph and Maggie launched the H44IOTA call sign and managed to sneak approximately 1000 QSOs in between boat preparation activity.

It was on Liapari we learned of the Sikaiana activation planned by H44S and H44AJ. The team were disappointed of course that their planned ‘virgin’ activity had been usurped, especially given the extensive ground work that had been completed….. but the H44IOTA tour is, and always was, so much more than the one activation…..so such is life eh.

One week before we were scheduled to depart our barge finally arrived!! With some sweat, blood and a few tears all was complete and we left Liapari on the 6th of June, just in time to meet Dom in Gizo.

Here’s a few shots from our time on Liapari

Setting up the doublet outside the bungalow.  (Maggie walked all day with a friend to the other side of Vella LaVella to find long enough bamboo to use as a hanging point for the antenna).

Setting up the doublet outside the bungalow.
(Maggie walked all day with a friend to the other side of Vella LaVella to find long enough bamboo to use as a hanging point for the antenna).

Spectacular sunrises…a daily occurance

Spectacular sunrises…a daily occurance

One of our constant companions...Little Julie

One of our constant companions…Little Julie

Full moon on the rise

Full moon on the rise

Night before departure from Liapari...gear stored

Night before departure from Liapari…gear stored

Gizo to the Russells

We arrived in Gizo on the morning of the 6th of June and Dom arrived at 6.00pm the same Day. We had anticipated he would have to spend a night in Munda before being able to catch a canoe ride to Gizo, but he was able to swing a quick turn around and get taxied straight from the plane to Gizo faster than lightening.

The canoe delivered him to Hafskip’s transom, James Bond style and within a couple of hours he was up and operating as H44IOTA Maritime Mobile, 240 QSOs before dinner and over 400 before collapsing.

We had anticipated leaving on the 7th but with thunderstorms brewing, 3-4 metre waves and 25 knots on the nose we decided to wait for another day. So we set off on the 8th of June with solid South Easterly trade conditions still in place, but manageable….or so we thought.

We had exceptional sailing coming out of Gizo and had progressed quite well until exiting the shelter of the New Georgia Group of Islands and found ourselves exposed to a build-up of swell from the last 4 days of bad weather.

The swell doubled in size with each passing squall making it impossible to motor so we were forced to tack back and forth, making little more than 10 miles in the desired direction. When conditions eased enough to motor we were unable to start the engine without it overheating…. The water pump had melted and was beyond repair despite all our best attempts, meaning sailing in the prevailing conditions was our only option.

A solution to the problem could be found in installing an electrical pump but as luck would have it (not) conditions deteriorated so we were not able to quickly to attempt this fix and we sailed on in near gale force conditions for the next 12 hours,  with waves in excess of 15ft and wind gusts reaching 55 knots! This left the entire crew (aside from Ralph) feeling completely sea sick and quite shattered from the wind and rain battering.

We waited until the weather was calm enough to install our stand by solution and with water passing through the engine nicely we progressed well on to the Russells, arriving on the morning of the 12th of June, weary and worn but ready to DX.

Here are some shots from the trip….

Dom on board and up and running as H44IOTA Maritime Mobile

Dom on board and up and running as H44IOTA Maritime Mobile

Leaving Gizo behind (our trusty Liapari bamboo safely tied down on deck)

Leaving Gizo behind (our trusty Liapari bamboo safely tied down on deck)

Beautiful conditions as we exit the Gizo reefs looking towards Kolombangara

Beautiful conditions as we exit the Gizo reefs looking towards Kolombangara

Fine weather sailing for Dom…..until…..

Fine weather sailing for Dom…..until…..

We spot the first of our squalls brewing in the distance

We spot the first of our squalls brewing in the distance

A seasick and drenched Dom….the sea completely flattened by the wind

A seasick and drenched Dom….the sea completely flattened by the wind

The Russells finally in sight at first light with Maggie finally feeling well enough to enjoy it

The Russells finally in sight at first light with Maggie finally feeling well enough to enjoy it

Our Nggee Bay anchorage in the Russells….. finally a calm spot to stop!

Our Nggee Bay anchorage in the Russells….. finally a calm spot to stop!

The activation of OC-168 (Nggee Bay, Russell Islands)

On the 12th of June the team arrived at the Russells, passed through the narrow frigging reefs and anchored in approximately 30 metres opposite Samata Village, near a very inviting sand beach area, just perfect for going ashore.

Unfortunately our Dingy had suffered a great deal on passage and was no longer functional but Maggie called in some local women who were fishing nearby and took herself off to the village of Nukufero (the Chief’s village) to ask for landing assistance and to seek permission to anchor. Within the hour she had returned with Stalin (the Chief) himself in an outboard canoe, who graciously transferred Dom, Maggie and all their gear to shore.

The team had no time to rest after their tough passage……They were up and operating as H44IOTA OC-168 by 1.30pm on the day of arrival.

We were then joined by another individual by the name of Marcus from Samata who was curious about our operations and a little concerned about our chosen location. Our main concern was directionality, but Marcus was more concerned about the Crocodile breeding area no more than 200 metres down the beach.

We discussed moving operations but opted for staying central and brought in a couple of lads from close by to set up watch through the night. So fires were lit and bushes were shaken on a regular basis to ensure none of the team lost a limb in their quest to activate OC-168.

The team worked through the night with minimal disruption aside from the odd rain shower, sea snake visit and incessant humming (and biting) of mosquitoes.

Transmission slowed midday on the 13th, with the heat and humidity building, but regained momentum as the evening cooled until it was time to stow away the gear ready for our departure early on the 14th.

We would have loved to stay longer but time was ticking and we needed to get to Honiara to meet Tom! So we pulled up anchor at about 11.00am, bound for Honiara with another 1000 QSOs under our belt.

Reaching Honiara at 9.30pm on the evening of the 15th and met by Tom and another fellow in a dinghy shining a light on our well-deserved mooring we set to rest outside of the Honiara Yacht Club.

Maggie sets off to find and meet Chief Stalin

Maggie sets off to find and meet Chief Stalin

Dom and Maggie set off for shore in Stalin's canoe

Dom and Maggie set off for shore in Stalin’s canoe

Taking water to the team in a canoe....operations to the right....crocodile breeding ground to the left

Taking water to the team in a canoe….operations to the right….crocodile breeding ground to the left

Through the reef and on shore will all the stuff!

Through the reef and on shore will all the stuff!

Collecting more cable

Collecting more cable

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Set up by sunset

Set up by sunset

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Still seasick and exhausted but set up and calling

Still seasick and exhausted but set up and calling

Maggie loves her doublet

Maggie loves her doublet

The team....including Hafskip on OC-168

The team….including Hafskip on OC-168

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Chief Stalin and his Dad drop in to see how we're going

Chief Stalin and his Dad drop in to see how we’re going

The concerned Marcus

The concerned Marcus

Dom seeking respite from the mid day sun

Dom seeking respite from the mid day sun

Hafskip at rest....she held strong through some huge seas to get us there

Hafskip at rest….she held strong through some huge seas to get us there

The team will remain in Honiara and ready the boat for the next leg to the Florida’s (OC-158).

Schedule to be announced shortly.

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