DXpeditions. From the time I was first licensed in 1962, I had read about DXpeditions but never thought I'd actually go on one. The exploits of Gus Browning, the Colvins and others conjured images of exotic locales with pileups just waiting to contact me. College, work and family always took priority, however. Finally, with both of our children moving out and establishing themselves in the work world, I had time to seriously consider a DXpedition.
My first close brush with being part of a DXpedition came when I was invited to join fellow members of the Twin City DX Association (TCDXA) and Minnesota Wireless Association (MWA) - Vlad, NØSTL, Ron, NØAT, Bill, WØOR, Tony, KMØO, and Tom, WØZR - on their 2005 CP6CW DXpedition to Bolivia. While I initially signed on, for a variety of reasons I ultimately decided not to go.
I watched from the sidelines as they prepared, departed and triumphantly returned. "Wait till next year," I said to myself.
At an end-of-year 2006 lunch with Bill, WØOR, critical mass was achieved. We decided on San Andres Island for a variety of factors. It was relatively easy to get to, it was tropical - a definite draw for us frigid Minnesotans - and, while not a truly rare DXCC entity, it was uncommon enough to generate interest within the DX/contesting communities for the 2007 November CQ World Wide CW Contest.
The die was cast. My initial hurdle was to convince my wife to share my "vision." This happened without incident - or without too much of one.
Several months passed before we took the next step of seeing if others might be interested. Conversations with Ron, NØAT, and Vlad, NØSTL, revealed that they were champing at the bit to go on another DX outing. Tony, KMØO, had already made plans to operate that weekend from Thailand as XU7MWA, so he was unable to participate. So the cast of characters was set. The four of us would go.
In June we agreed formally to move forward. I had already begun to research accommodations and licensing, so I was charged with fleshing out those details. Bill, WØOR - who had handled the logistics of getting his earlier crew to and from Bolivia - took on the same responsibility for out DXpedition. Vlad, NØSTL, and Ron, NØAT, would wait to see if accommodations, flights and licensing worked out before contributing their skills to develop operating, computer networking, equipment and antenna plans.
A Web search revealed that the Florida DX/Contesting Group, led by Bill, W4WX, and his team had been to San Andres in 2004. He generously shared information regarding that experience during several e-mail exchanges and a couple of telephone calls.
Rafael of the Red Crab Apartments confirmed that two units would be available, Rob HK3CW, our key person in Bogota, offered us a "ham" discount for using his firm, Satto Translations, to apply for the license using a special call sign for the contest, as well as for individual licenses. Rob certainly went above and beyond the call of duty on our behalf.
Bill got a line on a combination of relatively inexpensive flights using Northwest and Copa airlines from Minneapolis via Miami and Panama City. We'd debated the merits of routing through Bogota instead of Panama City but settled on the latter city because customs clearance would be in San Andres itself. Customs turned out to be a non-factor; we hired a porter to shepherd us through customs - a key strategic move.
The group decided to go forward with the purchase of the tickets, a deposity on the apartment and applications for the necessary Colombian licenses.
We spent the next months having biweekly team conference calls and personal meetings as we nailed down the myriad tasks to carry out the trip. We consulted frequently with Bill, W4WX, about where we should set up the station, our options for installing the antennas we wanted to bring (no, we could not run coaxial cable across the road to the beach), how we could get 220V power for our amplifier and so forth.
We requested a variety of call signs but were told that only San Andres residents were eligible for an HKØ prefix. Instead, we had to choose from 5JØ or 5KØ, although we could still append HKØ to our US call signs. As with many governments, the issuance of Amateur Radio licenses in Colombia involves not only the federal government but the national radio club. After many communications with Rob, HK3CW, as our emissary between the Colombian Ministry of Communications and the LCRA (La Liga Colombiano de Radioaficianados), we were able to obtain the 5JØA call sign for use during the CQ WW.
For the complete version of this article as published in the NCJ, view the pdf version.