Several times in this blog I've talked about techniques for working DXpeditions with QRP and small antennas. The strategy required can be quite different from how the big guns go about it. But sometimes it feels good to toss aside the rule book and forget the script, no matter how poor your chances. You may still get through with luck alone. This is one story of this coming true.
I was fortunate to work each of the major DXpeditions currently in progress during their first day of operation. These are VK0EK on Heard and FT4JA on Juan de Nova. With the pressure of those first QSOs out of the way I was able to relax and consider my opportunities to add them on other bands over the remaining days they plan to be active.
Since the solar flux is so low and not forecast to rise before they QRT my thoughts turned to 40 meters. With my antennas I have almost zero chance on 80 or 160 meters so 40 is the lowest band I can expect to work them.
One evening last week I periodically entered the shack to check the signal strength of VK0EK on 40 meter CW to decide whether to bother calling. Since the DXpedition was still young the press of callers was not conducive to success with 100 watts and an inverted vee. At the very least their signal should be strong so that I can be picked out of the pile up on their end of the circuit. I cannot easily compete with kilowatts and yagis.
Yet their signal remained fairly weak that night. The cyclical QSB would sometimes bury them in my (suburban) noise and sometimes lift them to a respectable level. Before bedtime I decided to make a few calls, expecting failure.
Their down split range was narrow and the DQRM was fierce. I narrowed my filter to its narrowest to copy them. Since I was using XIT the filter setting made it difficult to find who they were calling so that I could optimize my transmit frequency. With little hope of getting through anyway I set my XIT to the middle range of where they seemed to be listening and left it there. To fill the time I did some internet browsing to catch up on the news. I kept one hand on the WinKeyer to press the button to send my call. That's about as lazy a pile-up technique you're likely to encounter.
From the arc of this story line you can guess what happened next. After approximately 10 minutes of calling I was shocked to hear my call hazily through the wall of noise followed by "599". I was in mild shock for several milliseconds before I reacted. Not quite believing it was me they were answering I resent my call followed by "599 TU". There are several VE3 DXers with similar calls I am occasionally confused with. That was my worry.
Their "TU" was perfectly synchronized to my transmission, as was their initial response. That gave me confidence that I was truly successful. The Heard Island DXpedition made this trivially easy to confirm since they upload their logs in real time. So I opened their DXA page with my browser and had only seconds to wait for the confirmation to appear.
The screen shot above is of my 15 meter QSO which took place a day or two later. I didn't think to capture the one for 40 meters since I did not have this article in mind at the time. You can see the 40 meter CW square coloured in.
While I don't recommend rolling the dice as a DXpedition strategy there is always a chance. Sometimes you get lucky.