The planning of a DXpedition…


Last Fall, as our motorcycle racing season was coming to a sad Wintry end, my thoughtful wife Becky said that since she was getting a new race motorcycle over the Winter, that I should go someplace for a DXpedition, in part to celebrate my 60th birthday in August.

“Someplace…”, what does that mean??? Well the answer was anywhere on the planet! Oh my, that was a wide open decision to make. Here is my original criteria, not in any particular order.

  1. Relatively rare ham radio place to operate from.
  2. Reasonably comfortable operating and living space, no camping out.
  3. English speaking
  4. Reasonable travel time and costs
  5. Not Asia, been there done that, and too far to travel.
  6. Not Africa, maybe not safe
  7. Europe is a possibility
  8. Some scenic or other interesting non-ham radio aspect
Europe sounded interesting but sometimes language could be a problem. I had been to England and Scotland in 2004 and it was nice, but perhaps someplace different would be better. I investigated the Isle of Man where Becky might come along and we could rent motorcycles and ride the public street “race track”. It turns out that the accommodations on the Isle of Man are pretty expensive and connections to the ferries were somewhat inflexible. Also it is not so rare.

I next started looking at the little countries in Europe such as Monaco, Andorra, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Soviet Order of Malta, or Mount Athos. Not all of these countries have reciprocal licensing and in some cases they are so mountainous that operating long distances would be difficult. It also seemed that these were popular vacation operating spots for Europeans that made them not so rare.

I started to think about places a little bit closer to home and realized that Nunavut, the Canadian Province was rarely on the air. There also appeared to be a lot of pent up demand for VY0 operations (20 points per contact with VY0RAC if we could gain access to that special call) during the Canada Day summer contest. Then I discovered that this was only one week after the ARRL Field Day. What an ideal way to combine two events.

The initial plan for the DXpedition was for 2 people. It later grew to 3 and then shrunk back to 2. Harry K9DXA and I are now both fully committed to the trip. However, there was a LOT of dreaming, scheming, and planning before we felt comfortable pushing the button on the non-refundable airline fare.

The original idea was to fly to Winnipeg, Manitoba, take the train up to Churchill, and then fly to Arviat which is the southernmost Nunavut city (by 82 miles). The train took 2 days each way and was judged to use up too many vacation days that could be better spent getting on the air. There would also be no way we could operate from the train, which was more expensive than the airfare.

Flying to Arviat was the first destination that was seriously investigated. They call it a hamlet, which is a pretty good description for a town of about 2800 people. The accommodations for visitors are very limited with 4 possible hotels or bed and breakfasts. I had very poor luck communicating with any of them to confirm the possibility of putting up antennas. The 2008 Google Earth images were really poor as well. One of the generic problems is that the places to stay are in town next to possibly noisy power lines and with little space between buildings for antennas. The Calm Air airline used small turboprop planes with very small luggage capabilities (20 lbs per person carry on) which would have put a huge crimp in our radio plans.

Next, considering the available jet service to Iqualuit, the Capital of Nunavut, I found a nice looking B&B on the edge of town but found that the cost of housing, plus an overnight hotel in Ottawa each way, and the airfare were pretty steep. One nice aspect of going to Iqualuit was that the only active ham in Nunavut, with a tower and a Steppir yagi, was maybe only a quarter mile away from the B&B. Talk about an excellent contingency plan. He has since provided us with a wealth of knowledge and experience. He works for the Canadian Government as a radio technician and has stayed in the remote Nunavut villages many times.

This led to investigating Rankin Inlet, which had been in the running to be the Capital of Nunavut in 1995. This bustling community of 2300 people, also a hamlet, has 2 B&B, 2 hotels, and a convention center. One of the B&B called Nanuq Inn seemed to be on the edge of the water with plenty of space to put up antennas. The 2008 Google Earth images did not reveal how much growth has been going on and there are now new buildings, power lines, and roads virtually surrounding the Nanuq Inn. It was very hard to get any useful outdoor pictures, in Wintertime, to figure out suitable antenna locations, which was a critical piece of knowledge for a DXpedition. Without adequate antennas, there was no purpose in going. Many hours of diagrams, emails, and phone calls back and forth did not completely verify the suitability of high performance antennas facing to the South.

We discovered that the new President of the Nunavut Arctic College was a ham and after describing our needs, he has graciously arranged for us to operate from the Laboratory which has a large open space behind it for antennas, is on a hill on the top of the town, and has a good southern take off over a fresh water lake. We may have some issues with soft or hard ground for guy stakes, but we will have access to the Internet,


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