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Monday, 16 August 2010

MSØINT EU118 Flannan Isles

Note: This history has been wrote by MM0NDX Col, I made a few minor changes. I took over 800 pics, here is the complete galery.

The first seeds of an expedition to a remote IOTA were planted in early August 2009. One month prior I had visited St Kilda (EU-059) intending to activate that particular rare island group during the IOTA contest. Unfortunately poor weather & sea state thwarted my efforts to remain there during the contest weekend - I spent only a few hours on St Kilda then returned home. A few weeks later - and in conversation with another IOTA activator (see below) - the words "Flannan" and "expedition" were first uttered.

Christian EA3NT and I had longed to form a team to activate a rare IOTA. Indeed, in 2007 we seriously considered Rockall EU-189, but soon realised the enormous effort and danger involved in this. We looked at many islands and options within the Scottish (GM) coastline and eventually decided Flannan Isles (EU-118) was worth the effort. Checking various most wanted IOTA listings, it confirmed Flannan was in demand, especially in Japan.

By November 2009, the callsign M0INT was issued. We formed a club (The Invoker Team) and soon became MS0INT. (This callsign will be used for future rare Scottish IOTA activations.) A google group was formed and all kinds of relevant info detailing the Flannan Isles was soon displayed - we learned very quickly the history of the place and just how impressive an island it is. If you like white sand beach islands, then EU-118 is not for you!

Me (EA2TA) at Lewis Is. EU010
By the beginning of 2010, our team was formed. All seasoned IOTA activators, we felt the group was as strong as it possibly could be. Vincent, F4BKV, Simon IZ7ATN, Bjorn SM0MDG, Christian EA3NT, George EA2TA and Col MM0NDX. Between us, over 100 IOTA activated. Our QSL manager would be Tim, M0URX. Things were taking shape and the excitement rolled on.

Planning and organising an expedition to EU-118 was time consuming and costly, albeit worthwhile. We had booked our boat charter way back in October 2009 - some eight months before we would leave for Flannans. Due to the fact our team consisted of six, accomodation and transportation was required too. A 12 seater minibus was hired and our base camp on Isle of Lewis (EU-010) was situated just 2 miles from our boat charter; a perfect location.We would use the base prior to and after the expedition.

February to late May 2010 was all about planning, logistics and organising. A monumental effort was given to this. Everything from how many litres of water would we need to what type of generators would work best. Norman, GM4KGK based in Stornoway, Isle of Lewis was a huge help in locally sourcing various items we required to make the expedition a success. Ant, MW0JZE very kindly loaned us a G3TXQ Hexbeam (link). Icom UK supplied us with two IC7000 transceivers and Alloa Hire Centre (AHC) provided the 2Kw generators to charge our battery tanks. GDXF and CDXC (Clipperton) provided cash support. Donations came in from all corners of the world too. These would greatly help offset costs incurred. Even the guesthouse at our base camp stored hundreds of kgs of gear ahead of our arrival, thus saving us flying into the Western Isles with literally tons of kit.

June 15, 2010 was when the MS0INT story really began! That evening Christian EA3NT and George EA2TA arrived at Edinburgh airport. We had a beer and chatted excitedly. We had also kept a close eye on recent weather conditions / forecasts and formed the opinion we had a great chance of pulling this off as the wx looked unusually good out in the North Atlantic! By next day, June 16, the entire team met at Edinburgh and off we set to Stornoway, full of optimism. On arrival there we met Norman, GM4KGK. He handed over all our "goodies" purchased locally - the least we could do was treat him to fish & chips! Next stop was the local supermarket. Six guys buying food for three days camping on a remote island is quite a sight to see! By late evening, we travelled from east to west across the Isle of Lewis on mostly single track road. The surrounding terrain resembled a moonscape! Soon we arrived at the guesthouse, settled in and fell asleep exhausted.

Next day, June 17, would see the team assemble and experiment with all equipment. The G3TXQ Hexbeam worked very well in testing and we were confident in erecting it on the Flannans. (This is testament to MW0JZE's instructions). Soon MM/EA2TA, MM/IZ7ATN & MM/F4BKV had pileups as it seemed the waiting world knew our next stop would hopefully be EU-118. We retired for the night at 0100 local, ready for the "off" at 0800 on Friday, June 18.

Friday was a truly beautiful day. Clear skies and no wind. Perfect for a sailing out into the Atlantic. We left our mooring at 0900 and soon Sea Trek boat charter had us on the high seas looking for Basking sharks - we saw one or two, adding to our already excited minds. After 90 mins at sea, from the distance the Flannan Isles appeared. At first glance they looked tiny, then they grew, and grew....

On approach, jaws dropped as we looked up at the sheer scale of the islands. Eilean Mor (main island with the lighthouse) now made us feel tiny! Our skipper Ian ( a very funny guy) surveyed the best landing site. Either east or west would be possible - most unusual. He opted for the slightly "easier" east landing as we had a good amount equipment which needed hauled up by rope onto a platform just above this particular landing site. We anchored and then two at a time on a small hard zodiac, we headed for the east landing. First operator to land on Flannans was Christian EA3NT, followed by Bjorn SM0MDG. Congratulatory pictures were taken and instantly sent to Niko DD1MAT, our webmaster in Germany. For some unexplained reason we never did have cellphone coverage again after the initial first landing picture was taken. Perhaps this was a curse of the lighthouse keepers who disappeared some 110 years earlier?! Once we all landed, we breathed a sigh of relief and immediately got to work in hauling up all our gear from the zodiac to the platform.

The steps at the landing site are not in good condition. One small slip could have been fatal so we really had to be aware when we ascended. As we climbed further, the steps were in better condition. The climb itself is steep and tiring. It takes to long from landing to reaching the island lighthouse, some 88m (264ft) in height. We had to do this trip three or four times with heavy equipment, food, water and oudoor gear all hoisted on our backs, with each arm stretched out carrying other pieces of equipment.

We quickly realised the lighthouse was a perfect base. The take off for all antennas was ideal. Ocean upon ocean with no obstacles in our way. The area below the lighthouse would be our "shack". Three lightweight tarpaulins were used to provide a waterproof shelter/roof. An old outhouse building appeared to have been knocked down, so this would now be our cooking area.Near to the ruined chapel (image) we pitched tents. The Hexbeam was the first antenna to be erected thanks to Vincent and Simon. We decided not to begin operations on three bands simultaneously as the main target was to give out as many Qso's as quickly as possible. To wait until all stations were complete would waste valuable "on air" time.

Shortly after 16:30 local on Friday June 18th, Christian EA3NT was first to transmit on 14260Mhz. "CQ, CQ, MS0INT, EU-118 Flannan Isles". Instantly, Ukraine was first to make the log, followed by JA8MS. Within one minute, and being spotted on the DX Cluster, the pileup was as we expected - HUGE! The first 100 stations were logged in no time. By end of day, two stations were on air, and we quickly made 2000 QSO's. The opening to Japan on 20m was particularly pleasing as we knew how much EU-118 was needed there.
CW ops were EA3NT & SM0MDG. A special mention to them for working through the following nights as the SSB camp slept! By Saturday morning June 19, we had three HF stations and 6m (50Mhz) on air. Pileups were impressive and we noted how well behaved/controlled the callers were. Deliberate QRM appeared non-existant, which was pleasing to say the least. By end of Saturday, we had made 4000 QSO's in just over 24 hours. Oh, and we were all sunburt too!
Sunday, June 20 was a difficult day, weather-wise. The wind was blowing from the north making it feel nothing like summer! The rain and low level cloud added to an already miserable weather day. Coupled with this, the seas were far choppier than previous days, and I personally believed we would not get off the island on Monday morning such was the change in conditions. Of course we couldn't do anything about this, so continued to operate 24/7. 10m was going great guns on Sunday. Whole of Europe seemed like they were calling in. Split operation was a necessity until the pileup eased a little. Other bands continued to impress, with JA being worked easily on 17, 20 and 30m. By end Sunday, we erected the 80m vertical as we knew some ops needed EU-118 on this band for a new one. Propagation was not good for 80m - daylight never really left us - but we soldiered on and made approx 100 QSO's on a seemingly dead band. After midnight on Sunday, we continued to run 3 stations, and with contacts being worked so very quickly, the QSO count reached 7000 in 55 hours of operating.

1am Monday morning, June 21 Bjorn SM0MDG and Col MM0NDX are working 30 and 40m respectively. NA, SA all loud. A small amount of whisky continues to keep us warm, as Christian EA3NT prepares to take over the 30m CW station at 3am. Everyone else is now asleep!
A few hours later, three stations back on air, and I'm amazed at the number of stations calling in. 20m has a pileup which matches the opening of MS0INT operations three days earlier. Unbelievable! Sadly, we had to take two stations off air at 0800z on Monday. The boat was coming and already visible on the horizon as we disassembled. 20m SSB would keep going until the last minute. At 1000z local, we closed MS0INT.
Once all packed up, we had to carry all gear back down the steep descend of Eilean Mor. This was no fun as we soon learned we would not be using the platform we used to haul the equipment up on arrival. We would need to use the broken steps at the bottom of the east landing as our return boat was a RIB (we used Lochlann on the outward journey to Flannans) George EA2TA was the mainstay of this "operation" as we passed gear down to him who inturn passed onto Bjron who was already on the RIB. Suffice to say, a little bit of the Atlantic soaked George as the swell kicked up!

Finally at 11:05z we left EU-118. Happy. A total of 8194 QSO's were made in 66 hours. The journey back to EU-010 was very fast aboard the RIB. By 12pm local were back on terra firma, unloading. Our hire bus waiting for us, so we quickly got organised and drove to our basecamp a few miles south. Nobody felt like transmitting that evening! We had smoked salmon, wine and some beers, and then hit the sack, still high on adrenalin after a brilliant three days on Flannan's.

From left to right: IZ7ATN Simon, EA3NT Christian, F4BKV Vincent, MM0NDX Col, SM0MDG Bjorn and EA2TA George

The team wishes to thank everyone who called in, no matter how many times you made log. Every QSO was welcome and we're delighted EU-118 is now so much less wanted, particulary for Japan. Special thanks to CDXC, GDXF, AHC, SeaTrek and everyone who donated. QSL cards are will be available within next few weeks.
You can also visit our MS0INT website, plenty of information (Team details, online logbook, QSL preview...)