In a generous attempt to satisfy Europes demand for Clipperton, five West Coast hams decided to return to this quintessential DX location for a second DX-pedition in 1986. (In 1985, 16 operators activated FO0XX from Clipperton Island, making over 31,000 contacts in 130 ARRL DXCC listings, the majority with station in the Western Hemisphere or Japan. Conditions to Europe, in particular, were poor.) The group again had the opportunity to tag along on the Royal Polaris, a 115 foot sportfishing vessel with 20 fishermen going to Clipperton in hopes of catching the world-record tuna. Thus, they were able to secure transportation at a fraction of the cost of chartering their own boat. By now, the captain and crew of the Royal Polaris were well-experienced in the unique demands of getting hams on and off Clipperton! What follows are notes from W6OATs diary, supplemented by notes from a similar diary kept by W6SZN.
Wed, April 23: To our amazement, everything fits in the truck which Carl and Wayne have agreed to drive to San Diego, where well all board the Royal Polaris. They leave the San Francisco area about 11:30 AM, and I devote the rest of the day to buying last minute items. I finish my packing about 10:30 PM.
Thur, 24th: We catch a 6:30 PM flight from San Jose to San Diego. On arrival, the 2 meter hand-held quickly locates Wayne and Carl, who are already there. A nice surprise to learn that N6CW is also meeting us. After claiming baggage we head for Fishermans Wharf and board the Royal Polaris, unload supplies and take off for dinner.
Fri, 25th: The fishermen begin arriving. By 9 AM, N6CW shows up with a complete 2 meter station, amplifier and 5 element beam, convincing us to activate grid squares for the Southern California VHFers. Well be going through "water only" squares, so working us for these guys will be like working new countries for the HF Dxer. It sounds like fun. The ship pulls away from the wharf at 11 AM. By 1PM we clear the harbor with the automatic pilot set for 170 degrees, on a beeline course to Clarion Island in the Revilla Gigedo (XF4) group. With this direct course, the 2 meter beam behind the ship stays aimed at San Diego. At a speed of 11.2 knots, we quickly hand out contacts from grid squares DM12, DM11, DM10. Below deck, W6RGG and N7NG have setup a transceiver in the galley, running about 100 watts into an upper deck vertical. Hourly schedules on 144.2-MHz sideband produces amazingly strong signals from San Diego and Los Angeles stations. We chalk up grids DL19 and DL18. N7NG has a good run of Asiatic Russians on 20 CW.
Sat, 26th: At sea. W6RGG is making lots of contacts on 20. The 2 meter skeds are still going strong.
Sun, 27th: Still at sea. Our last 2-meter contact is KS6A, worked from grid DL22, a distance of 592 nautical miles from San Diego. (Earlier we had worked K6CPL near Los Angeles, at a distance of well over 600 nautical miles.)
Mon, 28th: Clarion Island comes into view about 5PM. It is frustrating to be this close to a relative rare spot, but unable to operate for lack of a license. Below deck weve a good EU opening (about 0500Z) on 40 meters.
Tue, 29th: We spend the day fishing at Clarion, whales frolic alongside. Up close they dont look as big as I expected! One of the fishermen also happened to be a scientist from the Tuna Commission, with lots of material about Clipperton collected from various scientific and military sources. Much of this was new to me, and made fascination reading. We departed Clarion just before midnight.
Wed, 30th: Isla Roca Partida, another of the XF4 islands, was sighted abut 10:30 AM local. It is a rocky pinnacle rising vertically from the ocean, snowy white in color from bird droppings, and absolutely devoid of vegetation. There are whales, here too. We fish for several hours and then take off for San Benedicto, the third island of the XF4 group, arriving just at dusk. With fishing sparse, the captain says well spend another day there.
Thr, May 1: Signs of the 1952 volcanic eruption are everywhere, including a huge lava spill into the ocean. We cant see vegetation on the island, either. Evening is spent fishing for more bait for Clipperton. That means yet another day.
Fri, 2nd: We cross the 26 miles over to Socorro, the last of the XF4 islands. The catch isnt worth writing about, but the whales- big ones! These are even bigger than I thought whales were supposed to be! Lots of picture talking.
Sat, 3rd: About 1 AM, the captain says lets call it quits on bait fishing and get underway to Clipperton, ETA 1039Z May 6, a voyage of about 50 hours. The Great Armadillo Run of 1986 is going hot and heavy on 20 phone, so we pass out a few contacts from "Ocean" county. I even manage t snag a rare phone QSO with W1YlL. She claimed it is only of a handful of sideband contacts since I worked her from KP6KR, Kingman Reef, in 1974. Shell probably want another card. Good news. Two of the fishermen also play bridge, enabling a hot game all the way to Clipperton. Hard-luck W6RGG gets feet badly sunburned.
Sun, 4th: Flat, calm seas, but hot and humid, a sure sign were getting closer to the equator. We dissemble N6CWs beam and stow it away. 75 sideband is poor, with horrendous static crashes, but a quick CQ nets QSOs in short order with EA4, EA8, EA9 and F>
Mon, 5th: Foul weather offshore of Clipperton, but with good fishing. The seas lowered the first skiff, spending an hour or so searching for a landing spot on the east side of the island, near a big clump of coconut trees halfway between Clipperton Rock and the spot where we wee last year. Too many rocks and coral heads here, damaging the prop. AI6V plays blacksmith to repair the prop while the rest of us go fishing again. I finally catch two 40 pound wahoo. Fun, but not as much as working a new country. Were now near the 1985 operating site. The place now looks awful, with a gigantic breaking waves. A half a mile closer to Clipperton Rock we see what might be a good place,. Checked out by three crew members in a skiff. They land. Two stay on shore while the third comes back out through the surf. The skiff is hit by a huge wave, nearly going vertical. He finally clears the surf and searches for potential landing spots. One is found, all sand , without rocks or coral, and with land quickly dropping away. The means the surf breaks closer to the shore: well have to get through only 10-15 yards of breakers (instead of the usual 50 encountered at most other sites). It is now mid-afternoon and we have to postpone landing until tomorrow. Carl, Kip and I pass the time playing poker, and I quickly discover that there are more sharks here than those in the water!
Tue 6th: The captain circles the island looking for a landing place. The tide has now changed, and we cant locate the exact spot the crew found yesterday. About 9 AM local time we do find a place which looks about as good as anything weve seen so far (thats not much comfort!). W6RGG got jostled a bit in the surf, just like last year, and a crew member incurs an ugly gash. Except for these two incidents, the 8 or 10 ship-to-shore trips go smoothly. Well were here, grinning ear to ear while we wave goodbye to the Royal Polaris, which will spend the next few days, fishing around the island. We head inland toward the lagoon and the three palm trees. Because were relatively out in the open there are fewer birds and crabs to deal with than at last years camp. The ground is also sandier, with less coral. The site is pretty flat, about 100 yards from the ocean. Hopefully, we are far enough away to avoid the salt spray which was so damaging to our equipment last year. Before we can do anything a big rainstorm sweeps in. Quickly we unpack a few tarps and get everything covered before possible damage. We erect two of the AV-5 verticals and FO5XX comes alive on 20-meter SSB at 0227 UTC May 7. The S-meter with the big signal from Pat, WA7NIN, one of last years big ops. Were off and running- what a pileup!
" I thought I should write you a couple of lines, just to thank all of you for a super job from FO0XX. Although the propagation was quite poor, I think everybody who wanted to work you really made it." OH2BMH
Wed, 7th: We erect a 160-meter vertical and a Cushcraft A3 tribander on a push-up mast. AI6Vs muscle gets it about 38 feet above ground. We point it at Europe and leave it there. The W stations can work us no matter where the beam is pointed. (In fact, they probably could work us even if we didnt have an antenna!)
Thu, 8th: W6RGG has been on 20 CW with a great opening into Europe. Were in a heavy downpour, but the fresh water feels good. I swap places with Bob and continue to run Europeans. Were asking the USA to QRX during this opening, and they do! We get terrific cooperation for hours on end (the W stations have learned a lot of savvy technique in recent years). About1:30 PM local time, Bob and I set off to explore Clipperton Rock. Besides the ever present booby birds. Frigate birds and crabs, we observe one small sand piper, a few sow bugs, a fairy tern and a creature resembling a dark-colored earwig. On our return we find that Wayne, Carl and Kip have erected slopers on 160 and 80.
Fri, 9th: Bob and I stay at the rigs, with good EU openings. When Kip, Wayne and Carl return from their around-the-island hike, they report that the automatic weather station on the north side of the island has been refurbished since last year and is now working. They also found a couple of vine-like-plants, at a location diagonally across the island, the only land based vegetation on the island (except for the coconut palms). At our sunset, 40 comes alive to Europe. Signals are there on sideband, but it is next to impossible to work anything on that mode. Many of the operators are about the same signal strength, obliterating each other and refusing to follow our directions. In spite of less than great operating techniques by many "on the other end, " the transceiver filters permit us to have a good two-hour CW run.
Sat, 10th: Everyone sticks close to camp and gets in a lot of operating time prior to Sundays departure.
Sun, 11th: Im up just before sunrise and 40 CW is great to Japan. But theres a loud bang, and the amplifier "goes west." We continue barefoot, and the rate doesnt even drop. Carl is running them hot and heavy at the other station on 20 sideband. We plan to leave Clipperton at noon. But, surf conditions are unusually calm, and a quick VHF confab with the captain indicates that now might be a better time to leave. Carl is just finishing a QSO with WA6AHF when we tell him to pass the word that were going off the air. FO0XX shuts down at 1455Z. To increase the safety factor we leave many things on the island (antenna, tents, cots, etc.) Even so, we still have 20 or 30 items to load into the skiffs. Our departure from Clipperton begins at 1515ZZ. A prop on one of the skiffs gets badly mangled, but otherwise we leave without incident. Except, that is, for the one skiff with W6RGG, which came completely out of the water as it cleared a big wave. (Im sure glad I wasnt in his boat!) We made the island departure in two-and-a half hours, on-fourth the time it took us last year. Back aboard the Royal Polaris, we meet with cheers from the fishermen, iced tea from the galley crew and a good shower. We finally set up the FT-1 to relay word that everyone is safe and were headed for home.
The equipment consisted of two Yaseu FT-1s; SB-200, MLA-2500 and Clipperton-L amplifiers; Heil microphone/headsets; Cushcraft A-3 tribander and five band verticals, and one Butternut vertical for 40-80-160. Thanks to a copious supply of wire courtesy of K4TEA, we had four 160-meter full-length radials to use with the Butternut. But in retrospect, I think they added little (thanks to the already excellent salt-water ground). We erected sloping dipoles for 80 and 160, but never used them. Our power source came from two 3-kw diesel generators.
Conditions were fairly good on both 20 and 40, we worked nearly 1700 Europeans. [The Dxpress Bulletin, of the Dutch Society, notes that the 1985 Clipperton expedition was frustrated by lack of propagation into Europe, resulting from a major solar storm with A-indices above 100 and K of 8. - Ed.] In total, we made nearly 16,000 contacts, of which 46% were on CW and 54% on sideband, working a total of 112 DXCC listings. The European objective was to give as many as possible a "first time new one, " visa-a`-vis new "band countries." This meant concentration on the mode producing the numbers.
Band EU SSB EU CW
80 9 6
40 38 365
20 119 974
15 93 25
10 5 7
In our discussion of the various operating practices observed, our general impression
The 1986 Cast of Five Carl Cook, AI6V; Rusty Epps, W6OAT; Bob Vallio, W6RGG; Kip Edwards, W6SZN; and Wayne Mills, N7NG.
Are that the W/VE gang were excellent about standing by while we worked other areas of the world, even when it meant they had to wait for several hours. In pileups they were good about coming back to "partial calls" (i.e., only one station replying when we called for, say "the Yankee Lima station"). It seems that the W stations have developed their abilities well ahead of many of the Europeans in responding to our specific instructions. We felt that our EU rate could well have doubled had the partial-call requests been observed and had stations QRXed while we finished contacts with others. Additional problems arose with the barrage of questions asking when we were going to move to another band or another mode, and with the QRP stations who (fearful they wouldnt get through) would insist on calling out of turn.
QSLs: Card requests go via the Yasme Foundation, PO Box 2025, Castro Valley, Ca. 94546.
This article originally appeared in the September 1996 issue of QST magazine, printed by the Amateur Radio Relay League.