H44RH H40RH Operation “Plan B” (last update 2024/02/24)

As you may know, I was one of the H40WA DXpedition team, which was planned on 26 Oct- 9 Nov 2023.  I bought tickets to depart home on 21 Oct. I had a work trip to Iran until 20 Oct. I had less than 48hrs between two trips. I packed two suitcases for two trip before the trip to Iran at beginning of October.

I received an e-mail circulation from the H40WA team on Thursday, 12 Oct. It told me that the shipped equipment would not arrive to the site on time, thus the DXpedition will be postponed. The team rescheduled the operation in Feb/Mar 2024 immediately. Everyone started rebooking their flights. Wait. I was still in Iran where I had very limited internet connection. I could not do that quickly here. Furthermore, as I bought the cheapest tickets to Honiara (even though it costs 4000 Eur !), I was not sure if I could change the flight schedules. H44 and H40 would be my #99 and #100 DXFC countries. I was not happy to postpone.

I have flight tickets. The hotel would be available. I already packed my radio in my suitcase for some activities at H44. I have arranged 20 days off. Why I need to give them up ? I decided to go, to step two countries and some radio activities for my DXFC. I do not want to waste my 4000Eur. The team leader was not happy for my decision, however he would not stop. My trip will be completely independent.

I contacted Ben, out host on Pigeon Island, Temotu Province. On Wednesday 18 Oct, I received another bad news from Solomon Air. The flights from Honiara to Lomlom, our domestic flights from the capital to Temotu, were suspended, thus my booked flight on 26 Oct was cancelled. Oops. I tried to prepare another “Plan B”. There is another flight route to Temotu, flights to Santa Cruz, the largest island of Temotu. It has more often flights and the equipment would be larger. I tried to find hotels in Santa Cruz, it is not so easy, as no hotels are in Booking.com, I tried to contact these hotels. I sent emails to 4 hotels which I found on the internet, and I got replies from two. OK, it is not bad.

I know Ben would come to Honiara for logistic arrangement of our equipment on Saturday, 21 Oct. I talked to him about the flight cancellation. He told me there is another option to go to his place. He said he can arrange a boat from Santa Cruz to Pigeon Island. This means I can manage to go there anyway.

My work finished and went home without any issues on Friday, 20 Oct. I put some additional equipment into my bags, as I had just expected to have some handful QSOs in Honiara at very beginning. My departure on Saturday, 21 Oct. It was long long way to Honiara, Vienna- Dubai, Dubai- Brisbane (14hrs !), then Brisbane to Honiara. My bag tag shows it is 3days long trip !

My bag tag shows 3 dates, 21, 22, 23 Oct 2023 !

The winglet of the flight to Honiara looks tropic !

Approaching to HIR

Arrived at Honiara Airport

 First thing I needed to do in Honiara was to arrange my extended stay, though I did not know to when. My hotel lady said the hotel was fully booked during the weekend, however, she felt they could manage. Appreciated, I did not need to move to another hotel until the end of my stay in Honiara.

The hotel buildings are spread on a slope. This means all rooms face and are open to north.  It is good news for radio. After relaxing a while, as I could not sleep well during fully occupied flights, I set up my radio. As it is my usual stuff, it took just 10 min to complete.

Radio set up at Honiara. I tried to test CW skimmer if it helps pile up managing.

Dipole out of my balcony.

Though the antenna was very simple, it worked quite well. I enjoyed big pile ups even from Europe. As I have simple system, I tried to stay same band as long as possible to work as many as possible. I tried to be on 10m for north America as I felt there was a certain demands on 10m in north America. I tried to stay on 15m for Europe as it would be the best propagation on that band. 10m would be too high for Europe.

I met Ben Tuesday morning. He did not fix his schedule to go back to Temotu. He confirmed the flight to Lomlom on Thursday 26 Oct. He tried to to get a ticket to Santa Cruz on Saturday but not confirmed yet. He told me all fights to Santa Cruz are fully booked due to the cancelled flights in the past. I kept in touch with Ben to update the flight info to fix the schedule. It is decided to go to Ben's place in Pigeon Island.

I visited Solomon Air office in Honiara, which is just minutes away from the hotel. There I met Francina who has took care of our tickets. It was confirmed that my ticket was rebooked on the flight on 2 Nov to Lomlom, this means that flight would be available. She suggested me to go to the airport as early as possible, 7am, to check in, to ensure I would get an excess bag allowance. The domestic flights allow 15kg of check in bag. I need 15kg extra for my suitcase, which is so far 30kg.

Francina at Solomon Air office in downtown

So, most probably my flight to Temotu would be on 2 Nov at this moment, one week later than planned. I had one week extra stay in Honiara. I tried to be on the air everyday, as I found Solomon Islands is still so far needed. In the morning, I started on 10m, whenever I got up, for north America. It continued until just before noon. I tried to work Japanese in the afternoon. Opeing to Europe would start early evening on15m. It would continue until 9-10pm when the propagation was good enough. 

One day I found strong noise on the band. It was more than S9, spread almost of the bands. It looks the noise started after dark, thus possibly it came from LED lights somewhere. It gave a certain impact to opening to Europe. Noise condition depends on day. No noise at all at very beginning but the noise continued after sunrise during WW SSB weekend.

As I had heavy noise disturbance, I was on both 15 and 10m to maximize QSOs during WW SSB. Pile ups from north America on 10m were remarkable. Maximum rate was close to 300Q/hr, hourly 180Q/hr. It was a certain fun with 100w +simple dipole !

Max rate during WWSSB. 300+/hr in 10Qs, 270/hr in 15mins,  180/hr in 1hr

Ben informed me he finally got a seat on the flight to Santa Cruz on Tuesday, 31 Oct. He would be back to his island on the following day then he picks me up at the airport on Thursday. He gave me the estimated invoice. As he does not accept credit cards and there is no bank around there, the best way for payment would be by cash. I went to the ATM at the bank to collect cash for the expected payment. Finally my schedule to Temotu was so far fixed (at that moment :-).

I went to HIR airport at 7am. There was already a line for the flight to Lomlom. No problem during check in. I paid 15kg excess bag in cash.

The airplane parked in front of the terminal. Everyone walked to the airplane to board.

I had a seat on the first raw. I could see the detail of the cockpit during the flight.

First stop of the flight was Santa Cruz. Most of the passengers got off here.

Santa Cruz (SCZ) airport terminal.

Fuel refill here.

The next hop from SCZ to LLM were very short, just 20 min.

LLM teminal.

Finally arrived at Lomlom.
Temotu, My DXFC #100 !

The airport faces a narrow shallow strait. As it was low tide when I arrived, many people walked the strait to another island.

Ben came to the airport to pick me up by boat. His island is approx 20 min by boat.

As the strait was shallow at low tide, the engine did not work. He needed to push by hand to carry on.

Pigeon Island is a small island, 200m long and 50m wide, which is owned by Ben and his family. Only his family live there. The strait between Pigeon Island and the neighbor island, Ngandeli, is very shallow. You can walk between these islands when low tide.

One small hut was provided to me for a week.

Soon after I have arrived there, I walked around to see how to put up antennas. Unfortunately I only have one role of 20m long coax. As you see above, the island is fully covered with tall palm trees. It does not look it is good idea to put antennas up inside of the island. I went down to the beach/water to see if I can put antennas there. It would be good idea to put it in the water. However I do not have anything to support it in the water.

I decided to put a dipole from the shore to the water. As I brought a 10m log rod, it would be long enough to put a dipole over the water.

Then I set up my radio on the kitchen table as below. As it is simple, it took only less than 10min.

I tuned on the radio. The dipole over the water worked much better than I have expected. Even signals from Europe were booming, real S9 on 15m. I was not sure if the antenna was the best, or I could do better, but it is ok, it works good enough. So I have worked with such simple set up, single K3 with PC plus simple dipole over the water until the end.

As I only have a low power and a simple antenna, I tried to stay same band as long as possible to work as many ATNO guys, or uniques, as possible. I did not play low bands, as I did not have enough power and antennas. According to my experiences at H44, I wanted focus 15m for EU and 10m for US. Fortunately no noise here, like Honiara.

Though I was not sure as I did not have internet access, I guess there was a magnetic storm during weekend. As 15m did not work well I went down to 17m. It worked ok to Europe during bad propagation period.

There is no internet connection on the island. Though some parts of Reef islands are covered by Cellar network, it does not cover Pigeon Island well. Connection would be possible at the certain points of the island. Ben relies on that connection. My handy worked time to time at my place but it stopped working on day 3. It looked SIM card might be broken.

There are not many thing to do for tourists in Reef Islands. Ben brought me to other islands a couple of times, 

We could walk to the neighbor island, Ngandeli.

There are some 200 people live in Ngandeli. There are limited industries, they are growing pigs to export.

Some photo in the main island, Nibanga Nendi.

Anyway, I enjoyed pile ups during my stay for a week.

I had good rate until the end of my stay.

As I tried to pick EUs, I had a good balance among NA/EU/AS.

I finished opening to Europe with good rate on 8 November. I packed all of my stuff before sleep, as I expected to leave in the morning on following day.

Ben came to me in the morning on the following day. He informed me the flight back to Honiara on that day was cancelled due to technical reason. He told me there would be a flight from Santa Cruz to Honiara on Saturday. He could arrange a boat to Santa Cruz on Friday. He also kindly arranged rebooking my ticket. I agreed to pay to Ben by cash. I prepared enough cash in Honiara for the payment to Ben. However, I might need more cash in Lata. Ben kindly suggested to keep some cash for Lata, and agreed some payment to him by bank transfer after my return to home.

He wrote down his bank detail to his old QSL card. I did not know he was a ham radio operator. He just told me that at the end. He was active in 80s.

Ben's QSL in 80s.

Ben brought me to the "internet cafe", the only place internet by wifi is available in Reef Islands. It is operated by a church, has a wifi rooter connected to Celler network. This is very important for me, as it is the only mean to communicate to outer world by internet at this moment. I sent an email to my office, saying my return would be delayed and I have no communication mean for a while.

Wait and wait and wait for a boat. Ben time to time updated me the situation but boat did  not come due to the weather. Finally boat arrived around 5pm with some cargo. Ben told me the boat would depart 5am on Saturday.

I got up early on Saturday, as I did not want to miss the boat. The boat did not come at 5. Wait and wait. Finally the boat came around 7am.

The boat trip would be approx 2hrs. Water was rough and choppy. It was a tough trip. Always lots of splash. Even we had a strong shower in middle of the trip. When I arrived Lata, I was completely wet from top to bottom.

Finally arrive at Lata.

Due to heavy rain on Friday and Saturday, I was almost sure the flight on Saturday was cancelled. I grabbed a taxi at the jetty to the hotel which Ben has arranged. The airport was is on the way. I did not see anyone at the airport which means the flight was cancelled.

Hibiscus Hotel, one of two hotels in Lata, Santa Cruz.

I had no idea what I can do for a while. Just dropped my bag into my room, I went out to see the town. I felt it is not easy for strangers to survive here. There are only several small shops in the town. I did not see any restaurants. No bank here. The town is around 10min long on foot. I went back to the jetty to buy a fish and chips for lunch from the lady who sold them on the street.

Several locals were drinking beer at the entrance of the hotel. They suggested me to join them. Though I was not in the mood to join, I did so as I had nothing to do. I wanted to relax to release myself from the pressure.

Local beer of Solomon Islands.

The locals told me they are parliament members of Temotu Province. They had a meeting until Friday and stayed there until return. They started drinking after the meeting, from evening of the previous day and continued until now. One of them was working at the central government and told me he came to UN Vienna for a meeting.

I had a lot of chats with them, I felt relaxing. I felt at home a bit. I explained my situation to them. One of them told me Solomon Air guy was staying at Rotary Lodge, the another hotel. Yes, they know everyone here.

I walked down to Rotary Lodge to see Solomon Air guy. He was already aware of my case, He told me they were working on my case. He also told me the a replacing flight may happen on the following day if the weather is ok. I told him I was staying at Hibiscus Lodge and asked him to update me if any news.

One problem was I did not have internet access. No internet at my hotel. My handy (SIM) was not working. It looked there is no public internet access such as internet cafe. I asked the Solomon Air guy if there is any internet access for me. It was not easy question, he thought minutes and suggested me to try the hospital.

On the way back to my hotel, I stopped at the hospital. The doctor sitting at the emergency department was kind enough to let me use a PC at the emergency. Fortunately I could manage to follow up for my appointment on Thursday which I could not fulfill.

Nothing happened on Sunday. I visited Solomon Air guy again. He told me a flight was planned on Sunday but cancelled due to bad weather. Another flight on Monday was in discussion but not sure. He promised to inform me if it happened. I again stopped at the Hospital for internet access.

Unfortunately no flight on Monday, too. I walked to the airport to make sure nothing was happening there. Then I dropped into Telecom office to replace the SIM card. The office was full of local people. As there is no bank office in the town, Money transactions thru SIM card accounts are the popular way to send money. Many people want to send or receive money at Telecom. Telecom girl tried to access my SIM card but no success. I suggested that the SIM would be broken and new SIM would be needed. She finally managed to move my account, total amount unused, to new SIM card to fix all my problem. Now I have internet access !

I stopped at Solomon Air office to visit the guy. He told me the computer would be broken and he could not do anything. He tried to start it up several times but no success. Unfortunately he did not have any back up PC. Anyway, he told me there would be a flight on Tuesday as a regular flight. He informed me the expected flight time, which was not same as the regular flight. It does not matter. I do not want to miss the flight anyway.

There was another remaining issue. my flight ticket from Honiara to Vienna includes both Solomon AIr and Emirates. Solomon Air told me they could change the Solomon part but not for Emirates part. They suggested me to contact the ticket issuing travel agent to change it. As I bought it thru internet, it is "virtual" travel agency which may not have the office. Finally I found the way to talk to them thru a chat. It was frustrating, though the guy talking to me looked Indian (from his name) he typed German, possibly thru translating software. Then I needed to translate it again to English to understand... Anyway, the bottom line is they cannot change it, only airline companies can do. No Emirates office in Honiara, nearest office is in Brisbane. I did not have a visa to enter Australia. It is tricky.

I asked the hotel lady to book a taxi for me in Tuesday night. I paid for the hotel. Most of my cash disappeared.

I went to the airport at 7am. There were some people there. It looked positive. Then a lady came to the desk to start check in. She weighed my suit case and asked 16kg of excess baggage. I did not enough cash, I showed all of my cash to her. Then she said 15kg is ok, I paid for 15kg.

The check in counter at SCZ

There is no boarding pass. She had a passenger list and marked on it. No bag tags. Only thing I had for this flight was a receipt of the excess baggage.

I met Solomon Air guy here. He told me my ticket from Honiara to Vienna was on process, and asked me to go to the ticket sales office to receive it.

The airplane from Honiara arrived on time. It was full of the people, full of the bags.

It took a while to all people and all bags out, the the airplane was open to passengers to Honiara. I jumped in as soon as possible to have a seat where I could check my bag is on the airplane. As there is no bag check in system, it would be nightmare if I miss my suitcase. They started loading bags, but my suitcase was still next to the check in desk. I was not sure if they were aware of it. I went out from the airplane to bring my suitcase next to the loading guys. OK, now everything is on the way to Honiara. I was a bit relaxing, It is confident everything is going to Honiara. There were still several issues, but it is in Honiara. It is much civilized, it is much easy to solve issues with much better communications.

The flight was smooth, arrived in time.

All bag did not go thru the belt, they were released just out of the airplane. I found my suitcase at the bottom. It sounds good.

Then I went to the ticket counter next to the check in with my suitcase. I knew my flight to Brisbane is at 5pm. I have enough time. The ticket counter girl was already aware of my ticket.  She said she could not change my ticket as it was not issued by Solomon Air. She suggested to buy a new ticket at the travel agency in downtown. It was not my plan. I showed the printout of the discussion thru e-mails in a couple of days and ask her just to book my flight though they could verify the ticket. She told me she was in that loop but she could not do that. After some discussion there, she suggested to go to Solomon Air HQ to see her colleague who was dealing with my case. It is located at the another side of the airstrip. She kindly kept my suit case with her. It is good offer for me.

It was about 10min on foot to Solomon Air HQ. It was very hot, possibly 30C ++. It was very nice I did not need to carry my 30kg suitcase...

I found the guy working on my ticket was on leave on that day. I asked the lady at the counter to rebook my ticket.

It is a bit tricky. Solomon Air could not change the Emirates part ticket as it was not open to Solomon Air. However, during the email communication I found Solomon Air change the reservation of the Emirates part. Solomon Air cannot validate that part to finalize the change. A good point for me is that I can check in my bag thru final destination if the reservation is done, I need to finalize the ticket with Emirates, however, I can do that at Emirates in Brisbane Airport if I do not need to pick my suitcase up at BNE.

The lady brought all of my paper inside to her colleague. I waited outside for a while. She did not bring inside. It was so hot. It took a while. I waited almost one hour, finally I received a printout of new reservation. Fine. My issues were almost solved.

I came back to the domestic departure. Picking up my suitcase from the ticket counter girl, I went into a cafe there. Fortunately the cafe accepts credit card. I had a lunch with a tin of Coke as my first meal of the day. Hooo.

I still have more than 3hrs to kill. I move to the international departure building. It looked completely new, and it has an AirCon !!

The international part was completely empty. I checked in my suitcase. It took a bit of time, most probably because my further tickets were not validated yet, I could check in my suit case thru Vienna. Yes, Most of my issue was solved.

I killed time by chatting with a guy sitting next to me. As a flight to Nadi was cancelled due to the Hurricane, there was a bit of confusions.

My airplane from Brisbane arrived 1hr later. Thus, my departure also delayed, and my arrival at BNE delayed for hours. I rushed to the Gate of Emirates flight. It already started boarding. I showed the new reservation printout and said I did not have my boarding pass yet. The lady at the gate tried to find me in the system but she could not. I knew it would not be so easy. No surprise. I showed original ticket and told the booking changed by Solomon Air. Finally she found my booking but it was cancelled. It makes sense for me, it was booked by Solomon Air but it was not validated then, the booking would be automatically cancelled somewhere in the system. The she tried to book me at another flight, departing midnight, and ask her supervisor to approve. Ok, he did. Her colleague could not find my suitcase. I gave them my bag tag to find it. My new flight was 4hrs later, they have enough time to find it and change the bag tag.

Finally, all of issues on my tickets solved in good shape. I went to the lounge for meal and kill some more hours until midnight departure. When I went to the gate, the lady at the gate remembered me and gave me the new bag tag without saying anything.

I spent 5 more days in Temotu at last. I did not bring my radio out for 5 days. I did not want or I did not need. I had much more challenges and fun, I did not need radio for fun.

That's all folks ! There were too many story outside of radio. Hope you enjoyed my "adventure", lots of troubles, lots of challenges and lots of fun !