Monday, October 22, 2012

QSL Duties

One of the things that never crossed my mind in preparing for the NH8S DX'pedition to Swains Island was that I might have to make up and send some QSL's of my own.  I knew the team had procedures in place for the NH8S QSL's but it never occurred to me that I would need to make some of my own.  That's because I never thought I would be operating under my own call.

However, when I got home from the trip, I found in my mail a QSL card (and SASE!) from a fellow I had worked while operating Maritime Mobile from the MV Lady Naomi during the passage from American Samoa to Swains Island.  That meant, I needed to make up a QSL card for him.  But FIRST, I needed to get a copy of the log that we used during that operation.  It took a few days for me to get the log from David, N6HD, but not long to extract those few QSO's I made and the ones Hal, W8HC, had made.  Once that was done, I was ready to send out QSL's - as soon as I MADE the QSL! 

I found a photo Hal had taken of me while operating W8TN/mm and that was easily turned into a photo that I printed at Wal-Mart.  Once I trimmed the 4x6 photo to QSL card size, I was able to run it through the printer and print the QSO info on the back.  That QSL was mailed out today and I'm now totally ready to respond in case any of the other 22 people I worked while "MM" need (or want) a QSL for that historic contact!  I'm just sorry I did not work any WVDXA Members from the MV Lady Naomi.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Music of Swains Island

David Jennings
As I mentioned in my last Post, there were many things on the Swains Island, NH8S, DX'pedition that were unexpected.  However, one of the really mind-blowing, over-the-top, never to be repeated things that I experienced, was the "Music of Swains Island."  Anyone who has been to a beach anywhere is aware of the sound of the surf.  But, that's not the "music" I'm speaking about.

Dalen & David Jennings
On the right you can see a photo of David Jennings, one of the owners of Swains Island.  David was our key "go-to" guy for just about anything (he was not able to get us any ice cream sandwiches but that's understandable!)  With a couple of decades of service in the Navy, there was just about nothing he could not do.  His abilities were raised to new heights for me when after dinner one night, about the middle of the DX'pedition, he pulled out a guitar and began to play and sing for those of us who were at the common area and not on the air at that time.  He was joined by his son, Dalen, on the ukelele, and together they "knocked our socks off!"  You can see a photo of the two of them on the left.

During their impromptu concert, Dalen suggested they play "Take Me Back to the Shores of Olosenga." Below is a recording of that song.  You can listen to it by clicking on the "Play" icon which is a small triangle on the left below.  This is a recording made on Swains Island during our DX'pedition, but this particular recording was actually made a few days later when we were treated to a "full" concert.
The above song is an original composition of David Jennings and copyrighted by him.  It tells of his feelings for Swains Island which is also known as Olosenga.  I can tell you that as I was sitting there on that uninhabited island in the South Pacific listening to David and Dalen play and sing this song, my emotions ran very high.  To hear in his voice and in his words the attachment he has for this land was something truly powerful to me.  Once I was home and found this song in all the recordings Mark, NA6M, had made on Swains Island, I have not been able to get the melody out of my mind.  I find myself driving or working and humming this to myself.  And, when I think about where I was and why I was there and then to just have this awesome thing laid out before me is something I know I will never forget!

On the night before we were to leave Swains Island, all of the support crew (with the exception of the three ladies who managed our food) gathered after dinner and serenaded us with two guitars, two ukeleles, one fellow on "spoons", one on the water bottle half full of small stones and one on a piece of metal that rang in various tones when he struck it.  Obviously not a full set of professional instruments - but that simply did not matter.  For THREE hours they played and sang while the radio operators just drank it all in.  It was well past dark and the scene was only lit by a single bulb in the common area under the tarp so there was not much light to film by.  However, I was able to get a bit of a recording using the "Night Shot" feature of my camera and that video can be seen below:

As has been said by others, this DX'pedition was a "Once in a Lifetime" experience.  With my Posts to this Blog I'm trying in some small way to convey the amazing things we experienced, all the while knowing that I will never be able to put it all across.  But, if you close your eyes, mentally put yourself on this South Pacific beach, think about the people who were there, and listen to the song again, maybe you will get a little taste of what those of us who were there experienced.  It was unbelievable!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Swains Island Surprise!

Most of the operators on the 2012 NH8S DX'pedition to Swains Island have been on other DX trips.  Some have been on many trips to some of the most desired DX locations in the world.  You need only look at the Team Roster to see those who have operated from places like: Kermadec Islands, Pitcairn Island, Pratas Island, Scarborough Reef, Midway, Lakshadweep Islands, Kingman Reef, St. Brandon Island, Clipperton Island, South Orkney Islands, Bhutan, Comoros Islands, Desecheo, Spratly Islands and Malpelo.  Do those locations make your mouth water?  You can only imagine how difficult and dangerous some of those operations were.  These operators had to endure numerous untold hardships in order to make that all important QSO so you, the person searching for that rare DX station, could add one more QSL to your collection. 

But, we do it because it is fun for us as well.  We get a kick out of overcoming the hurdles and being that rare DX at the other side of the world.  It gives us pleasure to know that we helped you achieve that basic DXCC or your 5BDXCC or to reach the Honor Roll or even the Top of the Honor Roll and know we had some part in that.  One of those great memories for me at NH8S was when ZS6EZ told me I was his "Last One" on SSB.  That QSO put him on the Top of the Honor Roll on Phone for the first time - only the 3rd ZS station to achieve that goal!  Fantastic achievement, Chris!

However, on the trip to Swains Island, I'll venture to say that NONE of us had any idea of what waited for us upon our return to American Samoa.  Once we struck down our camp, packed all our gear, left the island and traveled across the sea for a day on the Lady Naomi,  we were treated to a totally unexpected reward.  First, one of the co-owners of Swains Island, Alex Jennings, showed up at our hotel in American Samoa with a tour bus and gave us a personally guided tour of American Samoa for a day!  Then, he took us to his home where the three gorgeous ladies who had prepared our food on Swains Island, Uti, Rowena and Sula, had prepared a fantastic farewell dinner for us! 

Before the dinner, Alex Jennings presented each of the Swains Island team with a T-shirt.  These shirts had the NH8S web site banner on the back and our name and call signs on the front along with a logo they created for our trip.  You can see the front of the shirt being worn by Hal in my Blog Post below.  We were then each presented with personalized coffee mugs and a Certificate of Achievement!  You can see photos of my mug below and the Certificate above.  Click on any image to see it larger.  Note that both the certificate and the mug contain photos from our own operation!  The T-shirts, Certificates and mugs were the creation of Dale Gandy, the son of the late Larry Gandy, AH8LG, and Uti Gandy who accompanied us on our trip and headed up our kitchen staff.  Dale - you did GREAT!

I think I can safely say that not a single one of us expected such a thing!  It was a marvelous gesture on the part of the owners of Swains Island and their team who had worked so hard to help us achieve our goals and was the capstone of a truly amazing adventure!  I doubt that any of us will ever forget the contributions of Alex Jennings, David Jennings, his son, Dalen, Uti Gandy, Rowena Jennings, Ursula, Tim, Junior, Cecil (Chase), Palapi, Joseph (who became a grandfather for the first time while he was on Swains Island with us), Capt. Wally and the rest of the Swains Island crew made to the success of our operation.  Yes, without them we would have made many QSO's - just not as many, we would have eaten enough to survive - but not anything nearly as tasty, we would have traveled there and back - but never seen the real American Samoa, and we CERTAINLY would never have the fabulous memories these people have given us.

Before I left on this trip I was asked by several, what will you do if your equipment fails to arrive, or if it rains every day, or if propagation sucks, or . . . whatever.  I always responded that if I were able to do 100% of my wildest imaginings on this trip I would have a wonderful time - but, if I only got to do 1%, I would still have a wonderful time.  That was my mindset going into this.  However, not in my wildest dreams did I ever expect to get to do 120% of my wildest imaginings!  That extra was due to the amazing efforts of the Jennings family, friends and crew.  The last line of the Certificate above says "Fa'afetai Tele" which in Samoan is "Thank you very much."  I would like to say "Fa'afetai Tele" to all those on American Samoa and Swains Island who made this trip an unforgettable and unbelievable journey which FAR exceeded my wildest expectations. 

In my next Post I'll give some more details about some of those memories that are very special to all of us who were there.  You really will not believe it!