No. 18 May 4, 1997


(Low Impact, Vegetarian, Environmentally Safe DX)

The BS7H expedition to Scarborough Reef has ended unexpectedly. The crew was supposed to be there from April 30 to May 7. Where is "there?" A submerged reef in the South China Sea, Scarborough has been a controversial "country" since the first Chinese activation three years ago. This operation was discredited by the DXCC desk because there was no proof that the reef was ever above water. The next "expedition" showed photos of an operator on a makeshift wooden scaffold, perched on a rock, sea water lapping at his feet. This one was accepted.

The present group arrived right on time and was on twenty meter CW and SSB. The following day, they tried 17 meters, working stations by "call area," mostly Japanese. Their signal faded out before they got to the "sixth" call area. On Friday night, they moved to forty meters, operating SSB. A very testy operator, a US member of the team, bristled with impatience. The Japanese are probably the most polite operators in the world, it must have been a shock to them. A few moments later, BS7H announced that they were "pulling the plug" and going home.

Another great mystery of DX. Could it have been pirates? weather? Perhaps the sea was too turbulent for the swimmers holding the guy wires. They have been silent ever since. During their trip to the reef they were quite active from the ship.

There have been several articles about the use of Morse code in the movies. They all seem to overlook two very interesting uses of the code. In the play "Darkness at Noon," political prisoners during the Russian Revolution communicate by rapping code on the iron walls. It’s quite effective: "Raskelnikov knock/knock is knock arrested knock/knock/knock…" Dalton Trombo’s antiwar film, "Johnny Got His Gun" was delayed by Trombo’s exile from Hollywood after the McCarthy hearings of the 50’s. This gruesome allegory is the story of an innocent young soldier who is cast into the trajectory of a shell by a crazed officer. We are able to hear the young man begin to discover what has happened to him. He has only the sense of feeling, nothing else, no face or limbs. He cannot speak. His doctors believe that he is just a vegetable.

The young man realizes that he can send Morse code by nodding what is left of his head. By the time the hospital staff figures this out, all he can say is "kill me." The aide called in to interpret the nods sends very convincingly on the soldier’s forehead. So, next time you’re blown to bits by a shell or imprisoned for your political beliefs, be thankful you know the code.

The reports of famine and cruelty in Africa come very close when you turn on the radio and answer a call from Rwanda. Now, our old friend Mats, SM7PKK is headed for Uganda, Rwanda, Zaire and Burundi. Mats has been known to down a few Johnny Rockets burgers and might enjoy some contact with the West Coast if he can find the time. Africa and Europe have been workable lately, mostly on 20, 30, 40 meters.

The banquet program at the International DX Convention, held in Fresno this year, featured the VK0IR effort from Heard Island. The most intriguing part of this presentation was the logistical problem – providing for the health and comfort of a crew spending thirty days on a cold, unfriendly, isolated Antarctic island. The cost is estimated at $350,000.00. I guess that made it very important to document more contacts than ever made by an expedition. The idea of "blockbuster" DX-peditions is not new. Hallicrafters sponsored a Clipperton Island extravaganza in the fifties and an African Safari in the 40’s. Those days, it took more than a zodiac to get the equipment ashore.

The Heard Island operation received minor support from the commercial sector, so, buy the mugs, the T-shirts, the video, the walrus costumes, the ice balls and the cancelled stamps. Guess it's come down to merchandising. When I got on the air again in 1977 after being inactive since the early 60’s, I was astounded by the practice of "green stamps," stuffing a dollar bill in with your QSL card. Now, it’s become several dollar bills, but less expensive than the "International Reply Coupons" which cost $1.05 and are supposed to pay for return postage (ground) from anywhere. Problem is, many post offices are confused by this flimsy little form, printed in several languages. To make matters worse, the local post offices don’t properly validate the IRC, or stamp it in the wrong place.

Operators in rare countries collect thousands of IRC’s which they end up selling at a discount, and thus there is a lively marketplace exchanging IRC’s. Next time you hit the post office, ask for an IRC.

The QSL bureau rescues the neophyte DX-er from the poorhouse. The cost of QSL-ing has gotten out of hand. If you want those cards really quickly it can cost quite a bit, and the most frustrating part is the money you spend without getting a response. If you’re willing to wait a while, you can collect at least half your first one-hundred via the bureau. It sometimes takes a year for a card to make it through the bureau system. The ARRL sorts and sends out the cards to the individual bureaus in each country, the foreign ham sends her/his card to the local bureau which bundles and ships to the ARRL. Once back in the States, the ARRL sorts by call area and ships to the local bureau. The local Bureau has a "manager" for each letter (The one following the number in your callsign.) Provided you have S.A.S.E.’s and postage on file with your local bureau – each month, your envelope stuffed with precious pasteboards is mailed to you.

Pulling that bulky brown envelope out of the mail box is a big thrill. You’ll also find a number of "Short Wave Listener" cards. Be sure to reply, again "via bureau" to these cards – some countries require "SWL" experience before granting licenses – at least they used to. Many of the cards have exotic extras. The Hungarians have a contest where each card has a "playing card" value, "three of clubs" for example. You get a prize for collecting the best poker hand. The Swiss have a "castle contest," each card worth a certain number of points.

A local compulsive collected cards so that he had a "back-to-back" DXCC – in country order – the last letter of the callsign matched to the first letter of the next country. Don’t ask me how he did the calls that start with numbers. My collection of about 7,000 QSLs wouldn’t put a dent in his!

Ahhhh, the mark of a true DX’er – tall piles of QSL’s. They’re wonderful to browse through. Better hold on to them, too. Look at what they cost!

The WPX contest at the end of May will give us all a chance to work some DX on the bands that have appeared to be quiet (but are really open). It’s also a good opportunity to practice the CW you’ll really need if there’s a catastrophe in the universe.

Flash Update:
The word is in on the BS7H expedition. Though Scarborough Reef is a Chinese property, the area around it is claimed by many, including the Philippines. The Spratley Islands are 200 miles away, and you may remember the tragic disputes there that ended in the deaths of two German amateurs.
Sensing a problem, the Philippine Navy went on alert and sent jets and warships to investigate the activity at Scarborough. At first, the Philippines had believed that this activity was commercial, and had trespassed on their territory. Then it had to do with a "law of the sea" that states that a ship may pass through another nation’s waters within the 200 mile economical zone, but must not stop. Since there is a question as to whether Scarborough is land or sea, the Chinese Ship Captain decided not to get into an argument with the Philippine Navy. He simply loaded the angry and disappointed group on board and headed for China, three days early.
…Harvey, N6HL

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