VK9GMW Mellish Reef DXpedition


VK9GMW was operational from Mellish Reef from March 28 till Apr 13, 2009. This was another low-key, simple DXpedition by AA7JV and HA7RY. The operation had a strong low-band focus, although over 50% of the 20,000 QSO-s were made on the 30 to 10 meter bands. Importantly, we made over 2000 QSO-s on 160 meters. The DXpedition was carefully timed to fall between when 160 meter conditions are still good -- i.e. the end of March -- and when the cyclone season (hurricane season) in Australia has started to wind down. As it turned out, we had wait out the season's last cyclone -- Tropical Cyclone Jasper -- on Marion Reef, which lies at the half-way point between the Australian Mainland and Mellish Reef. We were able to make up for the delay by staying on Mellish longer.

Reports indicated that our newly designed all-band antennas worked well. This was, no doubt largely due to it being above salt-water most of the time. Still, we were especially pleased with the 80 meter performance of the new antenna, as the inverted L we used previously on VK9WWI was a poor performer on 80. A description of the antenna is available on the Equipment page.

We want to thank our sponsors and donors, and those who have called us, whether they made it into the log or not.


Some expedition pictures have been uploaded to Picasa. Please follow these links to access these albums.

Apr 22, 1900 UTC, Miami Beach.
We both made it home, safe and sound (but dog tired).

Unfortunately our support team's efforts to recover the WriteLog QSO data have not produced results yet. We are now seeking help from WriteLog. In the meantime, please do not send any QSL-s or OQRS requests for any QSO that took place between 4/9 2020 UTC and 4/10 0923 UTC. We apologize, understanding how this may disappoint those who have made the QSO-s, but as long as we can not recover the data, we will not able to QSL these QSOs.

Apr 16, 0600 UTC, Airlie Beach. Final. The VK9GMW team, on board the 17 meter motor vessel Pedro (formerly Varzin), has safely arrived at Airlie Beach. The weather window turned out to be spot on and the 1100 km crossing was made in perfect weather and good comfort (even Tomi was OK). I guess we were due a break.

Many thanks to all who have contributed, called us or made contact,

The VK9GMW team, Tomi, HA7RY and George, AA7JV

Apr 14, 2200 UTC. We are underway now, about 30 NM from Marion Reef (at 2200 UTC, Apr 14). We will stop at the reef only for 6 hours: lunch, a quick dive, and will get going again at 1800 hours (local). We can not leave earlier as we must arrive at the Great Barrier Reef mid morning so we can see the coral heads and safely navigate around them. We expect to be in port by Thursday evening.

The weather is perfect. Almost no wind, the sea is flat and very comfortable. I guess we earned it by now. We timed our departure well and hit the WX window perfectly. It was blowing very and raining most of the day we tore down the station, and it continued blowing at 25 kts during most of the night. The winds started dropping in the morning. It was already down to 15 kts when we got under way at 8 AM, and kept gradually dropping. It was around 5 kts during the evening and remained calm all night. In any case, we were going with the weather (i.e. it was coming from behind the boat) and thigs were comfortable from the outset. By the morning the sea laid down completely, making for a very beautiful sunrise. Originally we were planning to stop at Marion Reef for a day and a night of rest, but we need to use this weather while it lasts, so we are going all the way to Airlie Beach.

Apr 13, 2000 UTC, Mellish Reef. VK9GMW has gone QRT on Apr 13, at 0400 UTC. (Last QSO was with JF3KON on 28 MHz - and they say we do not pay attention to the higher bands.) We have taken down the station and ferried all the gear back to the boat. (Where we had a great dinner with a bottle of celebratory wine!) The weather window we have been waiting for has arrived with winds out of the E-SE at 16 kts: much (much) better than the 30 kts we had yesterday. We intend to sail at 2100.

We made 20058 QSO-s, of which 2028 were on 160 meters. We thank all of those who made, or tried to make, contact with us. We also thank our donors for their contributions.

Apr 12, 2350 UTC, Mellish Reef. We have started dismantling the station although the weather has not improved at all: it is still blowing at over 25 kts and there is still patchy rain, which occasionally can very be heavy. At the time of this writing the station is still operational, Tomi running stations on 15 meters, although we have already pulled down some antennas and moved off the island a lot of gear. We expect to go on operating for another three or four hours.

Our plan is to have all the gear stowed on board by tonight and sail at first light. At this point the WX remains a problem. According to forecasts, the winds were supposed to ease today and drop to 15 kts by Tue morning, remaining light until Friday. That was supposed to give us the window to make it to the mainland without having to put up with 15 foot waves. To this moment, however, we have not seen any lessening of winds, which throws the entire forecast into question. We have been able to obtain the French New Caledonian marine forecasts from Remi, FK8CP. This forecast also shows some easing of the winds ahead, but not as much as the Australia Bureau of Meteorology's forecasts. In any case, we will be ready to sail tomorrow in case the WX does improve. Otherwise, we will stay here waiting for better weather but without a station we will not be able to operate.

Low Band Report: Conditions on 160 were reasonable to NA and a total bust to EU: two hours of calling resulted in only three QSO-s. 80 meters was much better, both towards NA and towards Europe. Still, we now have over 2000 TB contacts, so we are happy!

Apr 12, 0200 UTC, Mellish Reef. Yet another storm: this one almost knocked down the tent last night. We had to cannibalize parts of the beverage to shore up the tent again. Strangely, this 95 meters long mini-beverage, which is now mostly on the ground, with its far end grounding gone, and parts of its counter-poise missing (birds), continues to function well. It is a decent RX antenna on 160, and a very good RX antenna to NA on the higher bands, especially on 30 and 20 meters. The pennant is long gone: mostly blown away by the winds, just some shreaded bamboo fragments and wires remaining on the ground.

This is our last day operating from Mellish Reef. We are trying to remove non-essential equipment from the island today, but frequent heavy rains are hampering us. We have also cleaned the bottom of the boat for the trip home. After three weeks in these warm tropical waters, the growth on the boat's bottom was impressive and would have slowed us down substantially. We intend to operate all day today and all night, until sunrise at around 2000 UTC (Apr 12). We will spend the day tomorrow tearing down the station, disassembling (more like cutting up) the tent and removing all equipment, materials and trash from the island. We intend to have all gear on board by the evening; ready to sail at first light.

Low Band Report: Conditions on 160 continue to be poor. Additionally, last night's storm also brought a lot of lightning that added to the noise. While 160 meters has been poor, 80 meters continues to perform well. As mentioned earlier, the now severely reduced mini-beverage continues to be our main RX antenna on 160 and 80 meters, as the noise and lightning crashes make the TX antenna almost useless for receiving. This must be compared to our second night here - the first night we were not on 160 - only two weeks ago, when we only had the TX antenna to listen on and still made 400 QSO-s in one night on 160. Conditions, and the demand, have certainly deteriorated. Still, we have almost 2000 QSO-s on TB and we are happy!

Apr 11, 0600 UTC, Mellish Reef. We continue experiencing strong winds and occasionally very heavy rains. Nevertheless, the QSO count is growing with many new SSB QSO-s added to the log. We have spent more time on 30, 40 and 80 meters to meet some of the demand there.
Log Search: Please note that Log Search has not been updated with the QSO-s that took place between Apr 9 2020 and Apr 10 0920 UTC. There seems to be some issue with the WriteLog file for that period, which we will fix later. (Got to make Q-s now!)
Low Band Report: QRN was tolerable last night on 160. Nevertheless signals were weak (but stations were calling longer). We made a few dozen NA QSO-s between 0930 and 1110, when we QSY-ed to 80. 80 was alive with strong signals from NA (and JA). We had a very productive three hours until 1421, when we went to 40 to find good conditions there too. We QSY-ed back to 160 at 1811 but conditions were marginal and we only managed a dozen EU QSO-s by SR at 1940.

Apr 10, 0000 UTC, Mellish Reef. The weather has improved some: we can now actually hear things in the tent. We have given up on RTTY, it is just too much for such a small team, and we are very busy with the pile-ups as is. Apologies to the RTTY ops. It appears that the weather-break for Tue-Thursday is holding. Therefore we are planning to tear-down the station on Monday, which means we will likely go QRT on Sunday, Apr 12 around 2000 UTC (just after we are done with 160).

Low Band Report: One can feel the change in the seasons. It could be said that 80 is now the new 160. TB was certainly difficult last night, both to NA, and later, to EU. Noise was high and signals were weak. We could hear many stations calling but they were mostly impossible to copy in rapid QSB: signals were just strong enough to keep us trying on 160 but not enough for QSO-s! 80 was better, like 160 on a good night. Tonight we intend to start on 80 at 2000 to give the East Coast a chance.

Craig, ZL2CWA has sent us a recording of the first QSO between Charles Simonyi operating NA1SS (International Space Station) and VK9GMW. This is a partial recording, but we believe it is interesting enough to share. CLICK HERE FOR MORE AND HEAR THE RECORDING

Apr 9, 0000 UTC, Mellish Reef. We did recover the computer that went overboard. It is working and we are fully back in business. Still don't know about RTTY, however. We endured an intense storm last night with winds gusting over 80 km/h. Rain was occasionally very heavy. We had to stop operating several times to strengthen the tent. There seems to big demand for 20 m SSB, which we will do some of today.

Low Band Report: 160 meters was poor last night, and the weather worse. Occasionally we could hear that a lot of NA stations were calling, but it was impossible to pick out individual calls because of the rapid QSB. Again, many stations were sending their calls only once or twice, making them impossible to piece together. We QSY-d to 80 at 0930 where conditions were fluctuating; at times the band sounded like 160, other times it was reasonable. We returned to 160 around 2000, where conditions gotten even worse. Additionally, the storm was shaking the tent and causing the tarps to flap very loudly. It was impossible to hear the few weak signals that managed to get above the noise. We went back to 80 but were interrupted several times by the storm threatening to blow down the tent. We had to add some tie-downs, etc. Altogether, not a great night!

We believe there is a need to clarify the focus of this operation. As stated from the outset, our focus is low bands: 160, 80 and 40, in that order. We work the other bands during the day because the low bands are closed (and Tomi loves it!). There have been a lot of complaints about our low band (and CW) focus, including comments that "this is no way to run a DXpedition". The way we see it is that many large DXpeditions do a great job of working the high bands, SSB and digital modes. There is a very good chance that one will be on Mellish Reef soon. These operations, however, with a few exceptions, do not generate a lot of 160 m QSO-s. We specialize in low band operations. We bring 160 meter antennas, RX antennas, pre-amplifiers, etc. We come with a lot of patience and the willingness to endure pain. We put up with low QSO rates and seem to have a desire to spend hour listening to entropy. Stuff that most DXpeditions, and their operators, prefer not to do. We aim at giving out as many 160 m (and 80m) QSO-s as we can. Everything else is cream!

Apr 07, 2300 UTC, Mellish Reef. Tomi's laptop that went into the water was also our logging computer. Fortunately, we took a back-up just minutes before, so no QSO data was lost. Getting WriteLog working on an other computer (which had it already installed), was a time consuming and frustrating experience, mainly because the other computer had no serial port and we used a USB-to-Serial Converter. Between WriteLog and the converter - both being imperfect products - we just could not get the rig interface working, had the software crash regularly, and so on... In any case, we got a minimum configuration working and we are up and running, although operation has become more 'labor intensive'. (By the way, if you have heard me (AA7JV) messing up the VK9GMW call-sign repeatedly, this is because I was licensed as VK2GQB for many years and each time I send the G in the VK9GMW call my hand automatically wants to send a Q after the G. This is not an excuse, just an explanation. SRI about the poor form.) The pile-ups continue to be dense, although we are sensing some easing on 160 and 80, but that could be just the conditions.
Low Band Report. 160 meters continues to surprise. Last night the surprise was to the upside with a very quiet band and excellent signals from NA. The first thing we noticed was that the generator noise was back on the beverage. We quickly realized that the earlier filtering never got rid of it completely, we just could not hear the residual noise because of the high ambient noise. In any case it was not problematic. Signals from NA, although not numerous, were clear and steady, and when not on top of each other, easy to copy. As usual, the band died by 1230. Unfortunately, when we came back on 160 around 1930 for EU, conditions were extremely poor: we only managed 6 QSO-s in two hours! Signals were extremely weak and far in between. 80 meters was excellent when we QSY from 160 at 1230. Signals from NA (and JA) were very strong and easy to copy. N7DF/QRP was a solid 569 with 2 watts. Amazing! When we QSY-d to 80 the second time at 2030, signals from EU were nowhere near as good, but still workable (unlike 160). During the next few days, we will QSY to 80 earlier (at 1130 for NA and at 1930 for EU), unless conditions on 160 remain very good.
Weather and Return: It appears that a suitable break in the weather is likely next week from Tuesday to Wednesday. Accordingly, we are very likely to remain on Mellish Reef until Apr 12. Please check this site regularly because that date is tentative at this point.

Apr 06, 2300 UTC, Mellish Reef. We are now operational on SSB. RTTY, however, may not be possible, as the RTTY computer got wet (alongside with Tomi, who fell into the water with it). If we are able to dry it and make it work (a very big if with salt water) we will get on RTTY during the next few days. We will know by tomorrow and will post on the situation. (The computer is now on top of the generator: gentle vibrations and heat -- you never know...)

Low Band Report: Very difficult conditions on 160 meters both last night and this morning. We got on 160 at 0945 UTC. The band was extremely noisy, with loud S7 crashes (on the beverage) that went on for several seconds at a time. NA stations were generally weak until about 1100, when suddenly signals became quite strong but very fluttery and hollow sounding. (They were perhaps arriving via a different path.) The good conditions lasted for about 30 minutes, after which signals became week again. One can definitely feel that the 160 meter season is changing. We quit 160 110 QSO-s later at 1230, when the noise became too painful to bear. We QSY-d to 80 meters where signals were strong both from NA and JA, and later, EU. 40 meters was relatively poor, except later in the morning, between 1730 and 1830. We returned to 160 to find that conditions did not improve: noise was still horrendous. Some EU stations, however, did manage to get through, especially around 1910, when a sudden signal enhancement produced a few loud signals. There was a bit of a spot-light effect, with the majority of the QSO-s coming from Germany. It did not help that during the last two nights a fishing beacon has been parked on 1825.0 with a steady S6 signal. And the irony is, that its call-sign is 2AHAM!

QSO Procedures Advice: Stations when hearing their correct call-sign from us should reply with the report and call-sign, or QSL, or R, or CFM and the report and their call-sign, but should not send their call-sign before the report, especially not repeatedly. Under the difficult conditions we are having, the operator can easily get the call wrong and change an already correct call, believing that it is being repeated because it is incorrect. If your call-sign being sent by us is correct, leave it alone. If it is not correct, just reply with the correct call-sign and don't send the report until we get your call-sign right. By the way, we feel that we are doing a lot better now that stations are sending their call-signs three times in their initial calls. Some callers, however, seems to have problems hearing us despite having great signals here. I came back to one of them so many times this morning that I ended up loading his call into the K3's memory.

Apr 6, 0200 UTC, Mellish Reef. We are up and running on SSB. From here-on we will be on SSB for two to three hours daily. The weather continues to be good, with no threat of cyclones (yet).
Low Band Report: 160 m was noisy last night but signals from NA were workable from 0930 onwards, although QSB and fluttery signals made copy difficult. Around 1015 UTC signals increased substantially and we completed around 200 QSO-s by the time the window to NA closed at 1155. QSY-d to 80 at 1200 where conditions were very good. The mini-beverage worked well 160 and it shined on 80. We returned to 160 meters at 1740 to hear loud and prolonged lightning crashes peaking over S9 on pennant, which we've reoriented towards Europe the day before. Noise was even more on the TX antenna. Nevertheless, signals from Europe were strong and clear between the crashes and we logged over 100 EU contacts. There was a substantial enhancement of EU signals around 1830, with a second, less pronounced, enhancement around 1910, about 40 minutes before our SR. Interestingly, during the enhancements, the TX antenna became he better RX antenna. Many callers continue sending their call only once or twice, which resulted in lost opportunities and wasted time. Lightning noise makes getting the call right on the first call (unless it is a very strong signal) very difficult. We really need the call three times for a good copy under these conditions.

Apr 05, 0200 UTC, Mellish Reef. Piles-ups continue to be dense. It appears that there is an almost insatiable appetite for VK9m on all bands. To unclog the pile-ups, and to allow access by stations beyond the 'JA wall' we often call NA/SA. We believe that this is fair, given the fact that Japanese amateurs have at least three bands open to us at any time - and they are generally loud here - while openings to North and South America - especially on 160 and 80 - are short and difficult. The situation is similar with Europe: although we have longer openings to Easter and Central Europe. Western Europe, however, has a very narrow and difficult window to us on 160 and 80 meters. Therefore we greatly appreciate when the JA stations allow us to work NA, SA and Europe. An unintended side effect of this is that we also exclude some Asian UA stations. As they are not numerous, they should feel free to call us anytime. We are also considering to be on 30 meters between 1130 and 1230 UTC to meet the demand from NA West-Coast stations on that band. This will take place, however, only if conditions deteriorate on 160 by that time, which they usually do.
We intend to remain on Mellish Reef at least until Apr 10. After that we will be looking for a favorable WX window for the return trip to the Australian mainland. We have supplies until Apr 15 - maybe 18, if stretch them and reduce power on the higher bands. Otherwise, we are using 'natural resources' to feed ourselves. (And, in any case, some of the crew could use some dieting.)
Low Band Report: 160 meters was wonderful last night. The station was being operated by Tomi who QSY-ed to 160 at 0810 to meet a large pile-up of NA stations. He went unexpectedly QRX at 0822 to complete a QSO with NA1SS (International Space Station) on 2 meters, but was back by 0832. Noise was low and the new mini-beverage was working, allowing Tomi to log 240 QSO-s by 1249, when he went to sleep. (Again, a beverage working near sea water!) Tomi was back at the key at 1630 to work another 100, mostly European stations by 1950. Noise was low during the entire period. QSB was moderate. Unfortunately, some stations participating in the SP contest were operating close to the TX frequency with loud clicks (DL8QS), forcing Tomi to QSY to 1823.5, although that only helped a little. Being close is OK,generating clicks is not: it is most often just carelessness, perhaps the result of over-driving the PA, or some other adjustment. If you feel that you may have missed out on VK9m on TB because of these clicks, please let DL8SQ know. Perhaps all he needs to do is adjust his rig.

Apr 04, 2009, 0100 UTC, Mellish Reef. We continue with our efforts to give VK9m to as many amateurs as we can. There have been a lot of requests (and some complaints) that we should spend more time on the higher bands (i.e. 40 meters and up). As advertized, we are a small DXpedition with a low-band focus. At night we work the 160, 80 and 40 meter bands; in that order of importance. During the day we work the higher bands (and don't sleep). Despite the low-band focus, more than 40% of our roughly 8000 QSO-s to date were on 30 to 12 meters. We feel that's reasonable.

Winds have increased last night and we had to re-enforce the tent several times. Even worse, the flapping of the tarpaulins is creating a lot of noise: mechanical QRN! Forecasts indicate that winds will moderate somewhat. (From 30 knots to 20.)

Low Band Report: We had another difficult night on 160. We started at 1940 UTC but noise was high and signals from NA were fluttery with rapid QSB. Stations should send their calls at least twice (maybe three times if running less than 5 kW) to give us a chance for an accurate copy in these conditions. Like during the previous night, noise increased after 1230. We QSY-d to 80 meters at 1255, where we had good conditions into NA and Asia until 1500 hours. After that we worked 40 meters until 1900, as 160 continued to be noisy. Returned to 160 at 1900 (probably a tad late) and worked a few dozen Europeans before all signals faded out at 1952. Following that, 80 m was mediocre at best, but we found good conditions on 40 meters.

The following operating pattern is emerging as our most productive:
160: 0930 until 1230
80 : 1240 until 1500
40 : 1500 until 1730
160: 1730 until 1950

Of course, should we encounter good conditions on 160, we will remain on 160 as long as those conditions last. The same goes for 80.

The pennant is helping to mitigate the noise. Interestingly, while it was intended for NA on 160, it helps most on 80 towards Europe. On the other hand, the 'mechanical QRN' of the flapping tent is making copying weak signals very difficult, despite our noise-canceling head-phones. The new mini-beverage (100 m long), completed late last night, heard only one signal: our generator! This morning we have added some filtering and moved the grounding wires to reduce the noise. We will see tonight whether it helps with QSO-s.

Apr 03, 0400 UTC, Mellish Reef. The weather continues to be good although the winds have picked up last night. We have passed the 7000 QSO mark this morning, with 80 meters leading. Suggestion to people calling us: once the operator has picked your call and it is correct, the best thing to do is to send only the report (maybe followed by your call on 160 and 80). Otherwise, the operator will think that he has your call wrong and will waste a lot time confirming it, or even changing it to something else. In the early morning hours we had an exciting QSO with the International Space Station*, NA1SS, on 2 meters. I guess this is the only QSO we can expect on this band (not that we are trying very hard).
Low Band Report: Last night we started early at 0730 on 160 but conditions were very poor. Even with a (finally) working pennant we had trouble hearing NA. Also, a lot of stations appeared to have trouble hearing us. (A good report from VK3ZL indicated that our set-up was working as normal.) There was a very fast QSB that let only one or two letters of a call through. We struggled-on until 0900 when we QSY-ed to 80 meters, where conditions were fine. Tried 160 a few times during the night, but managed only a few Q-s. There was a mediocre opening to Europe between 1856 and 1941 (SR at 1943). We are building a small beverage (90 meters long), which we hope will improve our ears.
* Edited by HG5XA: Operator aboard the ISS was Charles Simonyi, KE7KDP/HA5SIK.

Apr 02, 2009, 0100 UTC, Mellish Reef. The pile-ups continue. They are dense to the point where it is difficult to maintain a good QSO rate. We will try to spread them a bit, although we do not want to take up too much of the bands. The weather continues to be fine and we hope that we will be able to stay beyond Apr 10. We have started catching fish to supplement our food supplies. We have also reduced the number of trips between the island and the boat to conserve gas. Again we have noticed that many stations have poor TX/RX switching (hot switching), where the first element of a morse letter is lost (not amplified). We are getting calls from a lot of OA (JA), M (W), TA (AA), IL (DL) stations. This is a surprising wide-spread problem. Low Band Report: 160 meters started off great last night. We got on the band early at 0830 UTC (we were working JA on 12 meters just 6 minutes earlier!). Signals from NA (and JA) were strong and exceptionally clear for about two hours, after which the noise level increased to the point where even JA signals became very difficult to copy. (The increase in noise level probably corresponds with sunset over regions to the north-west of us, where the monsoon season is active.) At 1049 we QSY-ed to 40 meters for an hour to meet a strong demand from NA (especially from the East-Coast). When we returned to 160m at 1144, conditions towards NA were somewhat better (West-Coast stations with stronger signals). The pennant failed again. We have finally figured that during the night large birds fly into it. Will strengthen it today and hopefully we will have better ears tonight. 80 meters was very good to both NA and EU during the night. We intend to start on 160 early at 0700, trying to take advantage of the better conditions that seem to exist before 1030. 160 Split: NA stations should call on clear frequencies up from 1825.0 rather than piling-on the last QSOs frequency (unless you are very good at tail-gating.) We will be tuning the RX up from 25.0 and will get around to you. This will hopefully spread the pile-up and allow us to work more stations.

Apr 1 0000 UTC, Mellish Reef. The station is fully functional now, except for RTTY, which we will get to in a couple of day's time. We had an interesting opening on 15 m yesterday evening towards Europe: stations were coming in at S9+ three hours past our sunset. The 20 m opening to NA this morning was short but intense with a pile-up that sounded like a waterfall. Could it be that the unusually good conditions on the higher bands correspond to the poorer conditions on the low bands? Low Bands: 160 m: Unfortunately, the pennant did not work due to a broken transformer wire that I only found this morning (thin wire, needed the light). Noise, however, was lower than the night before and NA was workable, albeit at a low QSO rate. JA traffic seems to be thinning out; perhaps a result of us moving the TX FRQ down to 1825.5 to allow for a wider split, or perhaps with over 500 JA TB QSO-s, we have satisfied some of the demand. Will be on TB again tonight, hopefully with a (well) working pennant. An interesting aside on the faulty pennant. The primary of the transformer was only connected to the lower wire. This has resulted in extremely weak signals, except for signals from UA9 and UA6, at 90 degrees to the intended RX direction. Totally unexpectedly, I was able to work stations from that direction that were totally inaudible on the TX antenna through the S4-5 noise. After the West-Coast traffic faded out (sometimes around 1200 UTC, quite early!), QSY-ed to 80 m for a second dip at the West-Coast and some very good pile-ups from Asia and Eastern Russia. Went back to 160 for EU but stations were weak and the QSO rate low. Many stations were being helpful by sending actual reports. This is appreciated because our antenna has several configurations and we are trying to find out which are the best for particular directions, especially on 80.

Mar 31, 0400 UTC, Mellish Reef. We are fully operational now, although work continues to enhance the station. 40 meters was very good this morning towards Europe (and, of course, Japan) but the pile ups were dense and unruly, resulting in a lower QSO rate. We have moved to 30 meters, which was open to NA and JA. Fortunately, the JA stations are disciplined which allowed us to work more stations. Low Bands: Last night was miserable on 160: high noise and weak NA and EU signals resulted in a low QSO count. Even the JA stations were weak. At one point we had to QSY to 80, as 160 was almost unusable. This morning we have built a large pennant and hope that it will help with the noise tonight. Also, will move the TX FRQ down to 1822.5 (if free) to allow a larger split for the JA stations. Will listen for NA above 1825.0.

Mar 29, 2200 UTC, Mellish Reef. We are up and running although the antenna still needs radials. So far we have operated without radials, but it appears that we need some at low tide, as the tidal range is almost 2 meters here. Will install radials today. We also will build a 160/80 RX ANT as the TS noise is high. So far we have only operated at nights -- and therefore on the low bands -- as we had to work on the station during the day. From today onwards we will be active on the higher bands. RTTY in a few days time. At this time we are trying to get as many QSO-s as possible, as our presence here is tenuous due to the always present threat of cyclones (hurricanes). 160 m Report: Despite weak signals from NA and EU last night we put a good number of stations into the log (see log-search). JA signals were strong with a dense pile up. Apologies to the JA stations who got squeezed-in between our TX FRQ at 1823.5 and their upper band limit of 1825, but this method allows us to work NA while still working JA during the NA propagation lulls. Given the fact that band from here is open to JA almost all night, while the NA window is narrow, we believe that this is not unfair.

Mar 29, 0000 UTC, Mellish Reef. We spent all of Saturday setting up the station. Unfortunately, our brand new tent was lacking some vital parts (poor quality control in China, I guess) and we've spent a lot of time rigging up a shelter from tarps and drift-wood. (The tarps generate a lot of noise flapping in the 50 km/h breeze! Mechanical QRN.) We ran out of time to get the complete antenna up and were unable to operate on 160. Spent the night on 80 meters, although the partial antenna was not ideal for that band either. Conditions were variable: during the early part of the evening NA was strong but signals dropped after 1300 UTC. Conditions to EU were mediocre, with mostly eastern and northern Europe dominating (especially OH). We will complete the antenna (and lots of other chores) today and hope to be on 160 tonight.

March 27, 0800 UTC, Mellish Reef. At 0600 UTC we have dropped anchor in the lagoon at Mellish Reef (well, OK, we lowered it gently, given our make-shift gear). We have ferried some gear ashore this evening and will complete the station and camp set-up tomorrow. We hope to be on the air by 0800 UTC, Mar 28. Now we just need a three week break from cyclones and some good propagation.

Mar 25, 2200 UTC, Marion Reef. We have departed for Mellish Reef. WX conditions are marginal, but this is our best WX window yet and we must use it. If things go according to plan, we should arrive at Mellish on Friday, Mar 27 around 0600 UTC.

Damage to the boat
Mar 25, 0600 UTC, Marion Reef. We are still on Marion Reef. This morning, when trying to free the anchor from the coral in preparation for our departure, the entire bow pulpit broke off. We have made some temporary repairs, so we are back in business, but still on Marion. We intend to leave tomorrow for Mellish. Cyclone Jasper is gone (we hope permanently) and the weather is forecast to improve.

Mar 24, 2310 UTC, Marion Reef. Weather has improved slightly and we will attempt to cross to Mellish today or early tomorrow. Tropical Cyclone Jasper continues to pose a threat as there is a chance of it recurving towards us. We expect to arrive at Mellish on Mar 26 (or 27) around 0600 UTC.

Mar 24, 0000 UTC, Marion Reef. There is a new tropical cyclone (hurricane)! TC Jasper is now located 200 km east of Mellish Reef. Fortunately, it is forecast to move in a south-easterly direction, away from Mellish Reef and us. On Marion Reef currently the winds are 25 to 30 kts from the south-east. Seas are 3 to 4 meters, too big for a safe crossing, even if there was no cyclone. Early forecasts indicate possible easing of winds Thursday morning (Mar 26). If winds indeed drop to at least 20 kts, and TC Jasper continues to move away from us, we will attempt the crossing to Mellish on Thursday. If not, we will continue waiting at Marion. We have sufficient supplies and fuel to wait here another week and still be able to mount a ten day operation on Mellish. The only thing we are running short of at this time is patience.

Mar 22, 0000 UTC, Marion Reef. We are still on Marion Reef. The weather has improved slightly -- winds are no longer 40 knots -- they have eased to 30 kts. The imminent threat of a hurricane has also been removed. Winds for tomorrow (Monday, Mar 23) are forecast to be 25 kts, seas 9 to 12 feet (3 to 4 meters). We will make an attempt tomorrow to cross the 440 km distance to Mellish Reef. Our plan is to turn back if the seas are too dangerous or untenable. If not successful tomorrow, the next weather window will probably be on Thursday.

Conditions on Marion.

Saturday, March 21 0000 UTC, Marion Reef. It appears the Tropical Low has dissipated. If this is correct, a serious danger to us has been removed. Winds, however, are still near gale force and are forecast to remain strong at least until Tuesday. This means that we will not be able to leave for Mellish until Wednesday, the earliest. The soonest we are likely to be on the air from Mellish is Friday, Mar 27. In any case, we will be able to extend the operation to make up for any lost time. While we continue waiting at Marion Reef for the weather to break, we are operating as HA7RY/MM and AA7JV/MM using a short vertical and 100W.

Friday, March 20 0800 UTC, Marion Reef. Extreme WX conditions continue preventing us from leaving Marion Reef. Winds are 40 kts + (75+ km/h) and waves are 12 to 16 feet (3.5-5m) high outside the reef. The low pressure system behind this extreme weather is now forecast to develop into a Tropical Low by Mar 21 and a Tropical Cyclone by Mar 23. Movement is forecast to be to the north and north-east (away from us and from Mellish), but the forecast is tentative at this stage. We will keep a close eye on this system as it poses a serious danger to us. While waiting at Marion Reef we have been testing our equipment (and making a number of MM QSO-s). We have found that the K3 got damaged in transport. With great on-line support from Wayne (N6KR) of Elecraft, we were able to fix the radio. Now it is only weather...

Thursday, March 19, Marion Reef. The weather has gotten worse. We are experiencing tropical storm strength winds (40 to 50 kts) and continuous torrential rains. To the east of us the tropical low is in the process of developing into a tropical storm or cyclone. The best we can hope is that it will drift past us to the south. The reef provides some protection for now, but we will have to decide soon whether we need to escape from here and return to the main-land or try to stick it out here. Currently we are hoping that the weather will ease up by Sunday and we will be able to continue onto Mellish on Sunday or Monday.

We have reached Marion Reef after a rough night of crossing. A tropical low is forecast to develop, along with strong winds, during the next two days in the vicinity of Mellish Reef. We will wait here at Marion to see how the low or hurricane develops and the direction it moves. We believe that it will move south and we will be able to sail for Mellish on Sunday.

The VK9GMW team is enroute to Mellish Reef. We have left the Whitsunday Islands this morning and are headed out through the Great Barrier Reef. Seas are rough and the weather is forecast to deteriorate. We will stop at Marion Reef (approximately half way to Mellish) to wait out the rough weather, which we expect to last until Saturday. The crossing from Marion to Mellish will take 30 hours, and we hope to be at Mellish by Mar 23 (Monday).

Fuelling up the tanks.Almost ready to go.

Airlie Beach, Queensland, Australia. Sunday, March 15. Preparations are under way for the boat trip to Mellish. We are currently provisioning and loading fuel. Lots of fuel. We intend to depart from Airlie Beach Tuesday morning. The weather forecast is fair (15 to 20 kts).

George and Tomi have arrived to Sydney and are heading up to Queensland, where their boat is waiting. George sent the following info:
Currently the WX is bad: the remnants of Cyclone Hamish have turned around and causing high winds and rain. I feel that most of that will clear during the next few days. Altough we have a few problems with the boat, I feel that I can fix them and we will be able to depart on Tusday, Mar 17. A lot will depend on the weather: we will go out to the outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef and wait for a decent weather window before crossing.
George will send us more once they have assessed their preparedness.

We are in the process of testing all the equipment that will be shipped to Australia for the Mellish Reef DXpedition. The heart of our unique "water-based" antenna system is the home brew, water-tight 1 kW antenna coupler. The coupler allows us to use a single antenna structure for all bands and it automatically compensates for the changes caused by the rising and falling tides. This, and an appropriate set of supports, is key to being able to erect the antennas in the water. See the equipment page for pictures of the antenna coupler under test at AA7JV's QTH.

spiderbeam - high performance lightweight antennas - www.spiderbeam.com

Feedback:  info (at) vk9gmw.com