Sunday, October 11, 2015

EI2KC - chasing DX to the edge of my sanity

Homer Simpson shows exactly how I felt when I worked TX3X.
It has to be said that DXing on the HF bands is definitely not a pursuit for the faint-hearted. It requires skill, patience, and, perhaps more than anything, time. The TX3X dxpedition to Chesterfield Islands in the Pacific Ocean is ending tonight. Antenna tear-down is at 22:00UTC. As of this morning, here in Ireland, I did not have a QSO with them and had never worked Chesterfield before. I needed it as an ATNO (All-Time New One). The pressure was enormous.

I have been trying to work them since Friday, October 2nd - a whole ten days ago - without success. Every day, in the morning and in the evening, and sometimes (when I wasn't working) all day long. And every day I've been disappointed. Propagation was poor since about a week ago. Some days I could hear them, on 20 metres CW especially, and sometimes SSB. I never heard them on any other band. Not once. This was a tough one. Many times when they were "workable" into western EU, they would suddenly announce "QRX" or "QSY" or, on one or two occasions, they just disappeared without explanation. This was extremely frustrating for me, and for many other ops in EI and in the UK. After five or six days, only the very biggest stations in Ireland had them logged.

It came down to the last weekend. Yesterday (Saturday), I could hear them well on 20 metres CW and they didn't have a big pile-up so I was confident I could work them. But, just as their signal peaked, they announced "QSY RTTY". Nnnoooooooooooooo!!!! My attempt to work them had been foiled, again. Their signal was OK on RTTY, but they had the whole world calling them, and even the big EU stations were not making it into the log. It was JA after JA after JA. I hadn't a hope.

I had actually begun to resign myself to the notion that here's one new DXCC that I wouldn't be logging. I had begun to philosophically convince myself that I was beat. There was a conversation going on in my head like this: "Well, only the big guns got them. You're a small pistol, and even though you have worked the rarest ones, the miracles don't always happen. You have to accept the limitations of your restricted station and the fact that you are operating from a small garden in the middle of a housing estate."

When the alarm went off this morning (Sunday), I immediately checked the DX cluster. No sign of TX3X on any bands that I could hope to work them on. So I had a bit of a lie-in. But I couldn't sleep, so I got up and headed to the shack, thinking that I should at least keep the radio on the right frequencies in case they popped up. So on one VFO I had 14.023 on CW and on the other I had 14.185 USB. Fingers crossed.

Then on Facebook, Gerry EI9JU said they were on 14.185. I listened in. Yes, I could hear them. But could I work them? I had tried before without success. I began calling. Then I heard "Echo India" but I could hear nothing else because a contest station was working on 14.183 and obliterated the TX3X. A few minutes later I was calling again and this time I heard something along the lines of "Echo India Two Kilo Charlie you're in the log already, but you're 5 and 9". I went back with a "roger roger roger Echo India Two Kilo Charlie you're 5 and 9, 5 and 9. There was QRM and I could not hear you previously. Thanks for the new one!"

Of course giving him a 5 and 9 report was a bit overzealous on my part, because at best he was a 5 and 3, but that's the way exchanges are generally made with rare DX. They don't bother logging accurate signal reports in most cases. Many dxpeditions use contest logging software, which automatically logs 599 on CW and 59 on phone.

I was delighted. Relieved. Ecstatic actually. I shouted "woooohoooo" at the top of my voice several times. My youngest, Finn, came running into the shack and asked me why I was shouting. I told him I had just worked Chesterfield Islands and gave him a big hug. I doubt that he, or any of my kids, understands why I get so excited about making contacts on my radio. But that's how it goes for us DXers. In the above video, made immediately after my QSO, you can hear the excitement in my voice at having worked them.

A short while later I went to 20 metres CW, where they had a decent signal on 14.023. About five minutes later, I could hear 1KC? and then something like IZ1KC? and figured it was me he was trying for, so gave my call several times. Eventually, I heard the magic "EI2KC 5NN" and I gave him "R R R 5NN TU" and I had two QSOs logged within the space of 28 minutes. Fabulous.

I cannot describe the feeling of relief and ecstasy at having worked them. I was under serious pressure with this one. The days were ticking by, and they were proving impossible to work. When it comes down to the last morning, you wonder if they're even going to be active on the bands where you need them. I was even wondering if a CME might trigger some Sudden Ionospheric Disturbance (SID) and knock out the bands completely. In the end, I needn't have worried. Two QSOs is more than I could have wished for even yesterday.

Here's a video of my CW QSO. You can hear the squeals of delight:

Yet again I have proved a few things:

(1) You need to be absolutely mad in the head to be a DX chaser, especially if you have a small station;

(2) You need to devote hours, and sometimes days, to logging an ATNO;

(3) The reward is all the greater when the chase is tough.

And I can tell you that today, EI2KC is beaming from ear to ear. That was the toughest ATNO chase I've had in the six years I've been licenced.


  1. Great DX chasing story Anthony. Congrats on this ATNO. Due to bad propagation is was a very difficult one. I didn't even bother to chase this time. You really need a beam for such DX. 73, Bas

    1. And even a beam wasn't doing much for me Bas. Can't believe I spent ten consecutive days chasing these guys. Some days I could neither hear them nor call them. I had a lot of frustrating days too. But I got there in the end. The hexbeam works miracles for me. It's a great little thing. I'd be lost without it.


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