Bon Portage Island Expedition 2019

VB1D activated on NA-126: the 2019 Bon Portage Island Expedition

For the seventh year, a group of hams, mostly from the Halifax, Annapolis Valley, and Kings Co. ARCs travelled to Bon Portage Is. (BP) to enter the annual Islands on the Air (IOTA) contest, as an “island expedition”. The contest runs for 24h (12:00Z Sat. to 12:00Z Sun.) on the last weekend in July.

BP (aka Outer) Is. (NA-126) is about 2 miles off Shag Harbour, on the southern tip of Nova Scotia. We lived and operated in the old light-keeper’s house, maintained by Acadia University as a biological teaching and research facility. Our two-HF station setup is fairly complex, so as always, getting the 6 antennas, masts, and towers, two complete 500W HF stations, the computer and AC power systems ready, tested, complete, and packed beforehand was a big job!

Normally, we run in the “Multi-1” island expedition class, in which there is a “Run” and a “New Mult” station, but this year we decided to try the “Multi-2” island expedition class. In Multi-2 one station runs only SSB and the other runs only CW, with both operating continuously.

Station 1 (SSB) used a Kenwood TS590SG, Collins 30L-1 linear with a TA-33 tri-bander at 34’, a 40m vertical, and a full-wave 80 meter, vertical delta loop antenna. Station 2 (CW) used a Kenwood TS590S, A3S tri-bander at 34 ‘, two phased switchable 40m verticals and a low 80m dipole.

We borrowed a Bell Smart Hub from Sheldon VE1GPY, which linked us to the mainland, for internet access. We ran a 3-computer network, using N1MM as our logging and CW program. Thus, we were able to ensure that all computers had the latest updates to N1MM, the country files, partial calls file, and IOTA history files. The network worked flawlessly for us.

Tuesday, 23 July, 6:30 AM: Fred (VE1FA), Helen (VA1YL), Al (VO1NO/VE1), Wayne (VE1BAB), Bob (VE1RSM), Ralph (VE7OM) and Scot (VA1WTF) were all set to drive to Shag Harbour, when Fred received a call from Lee Adams, Acadia’s supervisor of Bon Portage: high winds, rain and thunder and lightning. Departure was postponed until Wednesday!

Day 2 Wednesday, 24 July: better wx and no call from Lee! We left the Valley around 9 AM local and headed for Shag Harbour’s main wharf. After an easy 225 km drive we pulled up to the end of the wharf and unloaded. Lee pulled his Cape Islander fishing boat alongside and we began loading. Endless heavy Rubber Maid tubs (RMTs), rolls of cable, and bundles of aluminum tubing! By 2:30 PM we were on our way to the island. By 4 PM and after several trips from the Cape Islander to the BP wharf in a large dory all the gear and people were up on the BP wharf. Next, the hill of gear was loaded in a tired 4x4 and trailer for the 1 km trip (over a very primitive and rough road) to the light-station. While the gear was being sorted there Helen and Bob cleaned up in the main house, and organized the food. Fred began rearranging the furniture and unpacking equipment to set up the two stations at opposite ends of the big front room. Two 500-watt stations 25 feet apart! Bob started supper; slow cooked BBQ ribs (yum!) and potato egg salad. Finally, after supper, we placed the tower sections in their locations and started preparing the antennas for Day 3.

Day 3 (Thursday), 25 July: Wayne, always up early, cooked eggs and bacon and fed everyone before the long day of getting the antennas assembled, erected, and tested. This being the 22nd of our IOTA island activations, we sort of fall into our antenna and other outdoor jobs without much decision or discussion. All the antennas, masts, towers, and rotors were erected, cabled, and tested by suppertime. The SWR checks were good and we connected the co-ax to the stations. After supper, a meal of mac, cheese and fried bologna, complements of Wayne, Fred finished connecting the radio gear and antennas, did some testing, and a few QSOs were made.

Day 4 (Friday), 26 July: sunny and warm all day. Yes, Wayne was up early again and cooked up eggs and fried bologna. After breakfast Fred gave a couple of brief talks on some of the rule changes to the IOTA test, and tips on operating the TS-590s, linears, and antenna switching in the two stations. Bob then gave a quick run through on N1MM and especially on how to use to our advantage the Available Mult/Band window in N1MM for search and pounce, to pick up available IOTA mults by band. We had trouble during BP 2018 with erratic CW when using N1MM. This was fixed by using the new MORTTY Arduino nano processor developed by K8UT and N8AR and assembled by Fred. After a re-arrangement of the CW station to make more room, Day 4 (Friday) saw testing, practising and operating of the two stations. Testing indicated that there was only a low level of QRM between the two QRO stations in the same room. We could even run both CW and SSB on 20m simultaneously and get very little interference! We have struggled for many years and expeditions learning how to minimize inter-station QRM! Supper was Al‘s spaghetti and meat sauce, and dessert was Wayne and Bob’s “island apple crisp”.

Day 5 (Saturday) 27 July: IOTA Contest day! Wayne provided a breakfast of pancakes and bacon. After breakfast, Bob did a final check to make sure that N1MM on all computers was identical and ready to go. Helen noticed a serial number assignment glitch, which Bob fixed by closing and restarting N1MM.

At 9 AM (12:00 UTC) the contest began with a fairly open 20m and the tail end of a 40m opening to Europe. QSOs were made, and island mults began to appear in the log. Surprisingly, we worked a JA through the Euro racket! 20m remained active throughout the day and there was a small opening on 15m, but 10m was completely shut....during the entire 24 h IOTA contest! Most of Saturday afternoon and evening both SSB and CW stations were on 20m....with 40m improving as time passed. With QSOs coming in from EU, NA and some SA stations, we got a good selection of IOTA islands, both new mults and islands already worked but new stations. Island stations are worth 15 points, and all others 5 points. Another great supper, this time Scot’s lasagne.

As evening advanced 40m was much more productive than 80m, but QSOs were made on both well into the wee hours of Sunday. We broke two million points by 1AM Sunday morning. When it’s busy we normally park on a frequency and call (resulting in a pileup on us), but after 1 AM when 20m was almost dead and 40m diminishing, the QSO rate slowed and we frequently hunted and pounced, with the help of N1MM. Actually there were still many 40m stations calling, but most of them we had already worked (dupes). Around 3:30 AM the CW station’s IC-2KL 500W linear emitted a powerful and unsavory burnt phenolic stench (not a happy moment), and CW became a 100 W station. Making CW QSOs now became more of a struggle!

Compared to BP 2018, when we got off to both a slow start and poor ending due to very poor prop to Europe, BP 2019 was a little better. The last 5 hours produced only 39 QSOs between the two stations, but 25 of those QSOs were 15-point QSOs, and of those 25, 10 were new mults. Near the end each new mult was worth over 15,000 points!

Bob had the best catch of the contest, working TX2A, Austral Islands, on 40m CW with 100 W, in the early hours of Sunday. Congrats Bob!

Before we knew it, 9 AM was upon us and the contest was over, but not before we had made 1730 QSOs, (23 dupes) and 226 mults. The CW and SSB stations each worked 113 mults. Our final (unadjudicated) score was 2.805 million points.

Day 6 (Sunday morning)28 July: Once the contest finished, we took a few minutes to look at the contest results, and then the teardown of the antennas and stations began.

We first lowered each tower so the beams could be removed and dismantled. By supper time the antennas, stakes, guys, masts, etc. were all disassembled and packed for transport, cables rolled and the gear put away. The stations were dismantled and re-packed in the RMTs. Finally, the two towers were taken apart and stored in the lighthouse for another year. We used to transport 10 x 10’ tower sections to and from Bon Portage, each year, but now we store them in the BP lighthouse...which saves a lot of hauling and carrying!

Supper on Sunday was Fred’s turn (chili), but since we had so many leftovers from previous meals we ate the leftovers...which were very good! After supper Bob presented our contest stats from the N1MM software, and an ATV + trailer-load of equipment were moved down to the wharf. Helen and Bob vetted the log for errors and omissions, then Bob submitted it on-line to the IOTA contest committee.

Day 7 (Monday) 29 July: Departure day. It was sunny, but windy with some large swells at the BP wharf. Were we going to get off the island that day? Since we had lots of eggs and bacon left, Wayne made a last breakfast, then all of the remaining gear was moved to the BP wharf.

Around 9:30 AM we all arrived at the wharf and behold, there was Lee’s Cape Islander, but moored 4-500 yards offshore, due to the low tide.

It took a few trips in the dory laden with gear and hams to get everything and everyone on the big boat. At the Shag Harbour dock, we transferred the gear from the boat to the dock and then to our vehicles, said our thank-yous and good-byes and started for home.

Thus ended another Bon Portage expedition, with everyone having had lots of fun, hard work, and radio time.

We sincerely thank Lee, and his assistant for transport and all manner of useful help, and Phil Taylor of the Acadia Dept. of Biology for allowing us to use BP in our special way, aka “Fred’s Course”. Our new recruits for 2019, Scot VA1WTF and Ralph VE7MO, appeared to enjoy themselves. Finally we thank Bill VE1MR and the Halifax ARC for loan of high-quality co-ax, 2 complete rotor systems, autotuner, and a linear amplifier.

Now, let’s see what 2020 brings... Propagation gods....are you listening?