V63 : Yap and Falalop

by Nigel G3TXF - Article written for CDXC Digest - Nov 2003

The planning for the recent V63SXW-V63TXF operation from Micronesia was done in less than three weeks prior to departure. Originally we had mulled over the possibility of attending the Ham Fair in Tokyo, and it seemed daft to go so far and not get on the air from somewhere vaguely interesting. Looking at the map, Micronesia seemed like a good place, being a country made up of small islands scattered across 2,500 miles of ocean.

The Licences

The V63 licences were one of the easiest ever (for a non-CEPT country). Roger G3SXW soon found the details of whom to contact at the Ministry of Communications in Pohnpei (the capital of Micronesia). After exchanging an E-mail, a FAX and a phone call, the callsigns V63SXW and V63TXF were issued for use in Yap State. Although these calls are quite long, using easily recognisable suffixes definitely reduces the amount of time-wasting with "QSL via?" queries. With Micronesian administration being in a US mind-set, there was no charge for the licences. Micronesia (V6) used to be KC6 (East) whereas KC6 (West) became T88-Palau.

Why Yap?

There are four states in Micronesia : Yap, Truk, Pohnpei and Kosrae. But why Yap? Roger G3SXW had taken a close look at the great-circle map and realised that propagation from Yap (the most westerly of the four states) could be significantly better to western Europe than from the other states. We believe this turned out to be the case because there were excellent openings to western EU on both 40m and 30m.

Where to stay on Yap?

Having researched the Internet before departing, we came to the conclusion that despite Yap being the main island of the area, there was no accommodation which looked immediately ideal for operating with a clear sea take-off to the North and NW for Europe. We therefore arrived on Yap with no accommodation booked. Our plan was to take a taxi ride around the island and look for the most suitable site/hotel. This we did.

We inspected several locations from the outside but none of them looked ideal. We specifically drove to the most northerly part of the island, hoping against hope that there'd be something suitable. There was some really primitive looking accommodation available at the top end of the island, but it would not have provided the basic operating comforts that G3SXW and G3TXF have come accustomed to over the years. So we returned to one of the hotels in town which, although it was not positioned directly on the sea, was sitting at the edge of a salt-water lagoon with a water take-off to both EU, JA and to the USA.

Operating from Yap (OC-012)

As this was to be a relatively low-key operation we had not taken any linears, but just two HF rigs and two verticals. We stuck to the by now familar pattern whereby Roger G3SXW takes on the brunt of the heavy duty pile-ups on the main HF bands with Nigel G3TXF attempting to completely work out the three WARC bands. All operations are CW only.

Having checked into our chosen hotel (the ESA Bay View) we set about installing the two vertical antennas. Space around the hotel was quite limited, but the small garden at the rare of the hotel was itself on stilts over the salt-water lagoon. Our radials were therefore really close to, or in the case of the WARC vertical actually straddling right over the salt-water.

We quickly fell into the regular operating pattern of being on the air all night and going to sleep an hour or so after dawn and then waking up in time for a late lunch at about 1pm local. This meant that we were QRV until about 21z and started up again at about 04z, maximising our chances of working Europe.

The original plan had been for us both to travel from Yap to Falalop island (OC-078, which is quite rare for IOTA). However once we had got settled into Yap with a good take-off for Europe, it seemed daft that we should both make the journey to Falalop where the exact location of the operating QTH was still an unknown. It was thus that V63TXF packed up early on Friday morning in order to make the 100 mile journey across to Falalop (OC-078) to operate as V63TXF/p, leaving V63SXW running huge CW pile-ups with both Europe and the USA on the HF bands from Yap (OC-012).

Falalop (OC-078)

Pacific Missionary Aviation (PMA) run regular twin-engined Beechcraft flights to several islands from Yap including Falalop, the main island in Ulithi Atoll. The flight was an adventure in itself. Everything and everybody was weighed. This included the few other passengers who were mostly wearing just loin clothes. The weather was marginal on the flight out to Falalop. At one point the pilot had said they might be staying in Yap until the following day, but in the event we made the flight. Falalop has a huge runway which traverses the entire island. The runway was built during WWII when Falalop acted as a major supply station prior to US forces heading towards Japan.

QRV from Falalop (OC-078)

Small islands can either be "dream-QTHs" or "nightmare-QTHs" depending entirely on the direction of your sea take-off. Although we had struck it lucky (in the end) on Yap, this was not to be the case on Falalop. The orientation of the beach in front of the one hotel on Falalop was towards the South-West, which made working Europe towards the North-West difficult and working the USA towards the East nigh impossible.

Don't be deceived by those pictures of lush palm trees on desert islands. Water ladden foliage is extremely resistive to radio signals. The only take-off on small islands which is usually any good is the direct sea take-off perpendicular to the run of the beach.

The operating pattern on Falalop was similar to that on Yap. V63TXF/p started up at about 04z on Friday 29 August and worked through each of three nights until about two hours after dawn (22z) then slept for a few hours before starting up at around midday local time (03z).

Because G3TXF was travelling with only a WARC band vertical, the operation from Falalop was not only CW-only (relatively rare for an IOTA-operation!) but also it was only on the WARC bands. Nevertheless 3,100 QSOs were made from OC-078 with 63% being with Europe.

It's a small world on Falalop. The owner of the small hotel recalled two previous operations from Falalop including the US Coast Station KC6CG in the late 50's. Since the 50's there have been two other operations from Ulithi Atoll, with V63TXF/p being the fourth ever.

Journey back to Yap

The primary purpose of the PMA flights is to provide support to the local community. The flight back from Falalop to Yap graphically illustrated this. Just as we were boarding (having been meticuliously weighed again), word came that someone had just been taken ill and required urgent medical evacuation to the hospital on Yap. A local girl with severe respiratory problems was quickly bundled onto the aircraft (as well as two helpers) and the plane then whizzed off down the runway taking us all back to Yap. It did occur to me that no-one had weighed our three last-minute passengers, two of whom were decidedly heavy! Nevertheless the Beechcraft took us comfortably and safely back to Yap, where an ambulance was waiting to collect our three last-minute passengers.

Finishing up on Yap

After arriving back from Falalop in the early afternoon on Monday, it didn't take long to unpack the station and set up the antenna (for the fourth time on the trip : KH2-V63-V63/p and then V63 again!) and get V63TXF back on the air for the last couple of days from Yap.

However as it was G3SXW's birthday we decided to make an exception to our usual routine by not eating in the small restaurant just next to the hotel. Instead we were to have a celebratory dinner in the best restaurant on Yap. This we duly did. However as the local tourist industry has all but disintegrated, G3SXW and G3TXF were virtually the only two diners in the restaurant that evening. Once dinner was over it was back to our hotel and to the shack for some more CW QSOs from V63SXW and V63TXF. In total 10,800 CW QSOs were made from V63, with EU accounting for 65%, Asia 23% and NAm 11%.