VKØIR: The 1997 Heard Island Expedition
Robert W. Schmieder
Published 1997 by Cordell Expedition and Funkamateur
7x9", hardbound
224 pp, full color throughout
ISBN 0-9626013-7-3
Standard edition: $25 + postage
Postage: $3 US, $15 foreign airmail)
DXpedition of the Year 1996-97
This is the story of an expedition to Heard Island, in the subAntarctic Indian Ocean, during January, 1997. Twenty men, supported by hundreds of others, spent two weeks at the bottom of the world and the bottom of the sunspot cycle, making a world-record number of two-way radio contacts using the callsign VKØIR. For those of us who were participants, it was an amazing journey to the edge of our planet and beyond the edge of our experience. But it was more than that: It was a new kind of journey for amateur radio: a shared, collective experience in which thousands worldwide used advanced technology to become nearly real-time participants in this extraordinary adventure.

It wasn't easy. It took about three years, thirty thousand man-hours, three hundred thousand dollars, and thirty tons of gear. It required the daily coordination of a team of fifty spread around the world, and faith in the vision in the face of criticism of our fundamental assumptions. But the team worked hard, and was well-prepared. The expedition happened on schedule, on budget, without a single casualty.

For the participants, this was a glorious ride. We experienced a rare comaraderie and made new lasting friendships. We saw things that usually appear only in stories. And we experienced the thrill of victory as we exceeded every prediction for the team performance. In going to Heard Island, we all took a giant leap over the clouds. It was more than satisfying...it was fun. I'm hooked. Sometime soon, let's take another leap over the clouds...

January 11 - The helo canopy cleared, and I experienced a rush: Heard Island was hurtling toward us at a furious speed! The scene changed faster than we could focus. The edge of the island, with a thin white line of breakers and a sharp cliff rushed at us, and in seconds passed underneath. A wide flat mossy plain punctuated with a hundred irregular lakes rushed up and raced under the helo. Then suddenly, there was just a flat black plain. No trees, no moss, no animals, no lakes. Just black. As far as we could see, a sea of black.
"There! 3 o'clock!" Peter yelled. "The ANARE station! To the right!"
Tonton banked sharply, and the plain below us tilted dizzily. In moments the island righted itself, and began to slow. I had more time to see what I was looking at. A wide expanse of floodwater. The ghostly ruins of perhaps a dozen buildings huddled together. As the ground came up to us, I began to see individual rocks and a few stalked plants. With his hand steady on the stick, Tonton moved slightly forward to avoid an obstacle, and gently set his craft on the rocks.
We might as well have been stepping onto another planet. The four of us exited the helo onto a landscape that was so utterly foreign we wondered if we had the wrong island. A slight drizzle misted our glasses, making the scene appear fuzzy and indistinct. In the failing light, the jet-black volcanic rocks were wet and shiny, like metallic coal. We were vaguely aware of the mountains around us, but they were lost in the slowly drifting elevated fog. To the North, huge hummocks of moss were outlined by dark brown gutters of slippery mud. To the East a low ridge lay covered in glistening black mounds, erratically strewn with jagged boulders. To the South, a wide and low sandy plain was almost completely flooded from the ephemeral creek. Beyond the creek, to the West, lay the ghostly ruins of an outpost from long ago, its metal buildings slowly disintegrating into shards and rust. There was no color; only black and less black. Even the disappearing light seemed to have a spooky blackness. The island stretched away to awesome distances, a phantasmic spectacle of hugeness. For a few frozen moments, we gazed in awe at the grand bleakness around us. It was pointless to speak. Anyway, there wasn't time.

January 14 - "John, we're ready to go on the air... Yep. Nothing to add. We're ready with four stations. We'll try to get two more ready later today."

Most of the team gathered in OP-1. Its 12x12 ft area was roomy and warm. Ralph dialed the FT1000MP to 14.195 MHz and tuned up the Alpha.

"ON4UN. ON4UN. ON4UN. This is VKØIR. John, are you there?"

"Roger. Roger. Roger. Five-nine. Five-nine. ON4UN."

There was a triumphant yell in OP-1, and I suspect in shacks across the world. Already numerous hams were calling. We knew that they had been lying in wait. In Belgium, John posted the message to the Heard reflector:


January 26 - Around nine-o'clock, I felt the urge to capture my feelings. I went to my laptop and sat down. For ten, perhaps fifteen, minutes I wandered mentally through the day, across the past two weeks, stopping to think about the village and the 20 men living here, about the technical effort and the goal, about the thousands of radio amateurs that were sharing this adventure, about my old friend Elleo, about the fact that I was the Visitor. I cast a few words, then erased them and cast some more. Then I cleared my screen, opened a new file, and began writing:

"My address at this moment is #1 Heard Island. Around me are three men, each silently exchanging a series of electromagnetic pulses with another human more than 5000 miles away. To all outward appearances, nothing is happening. The elephant seals and penguins in the nearby mossy hummocks are unaffected.The albatrosses and skuas continue their bobbing and casual foraging. In the distance, a volcano vents steam, and the wind pounds in violent gusts. Heard Island continues as it always has, unaware that at this moment on this spot, a world record is being set. As I write these words, we are logging our 80,000th radio contact, more than any other amateur radio operation has ever logged."

January 29 - Suddenly the helo was there, and at 10:28 in the morning, we stepped off Heard Island for the last time. Within seconds we rose, tipped slightly, and wheeled around, flying away from the ship. Tonton wanted to give us a treat, and we raced in the direction of Big Ben. Skimming fifty feet above the glaciers, we looked down at an ever-changing pattern of fractures: diamonds, rectangles, triangles, lines, crisscross. Some areas were flat on top, others jagged. The ice here was clear and clean, there it was dirty with the load of glacial till. Prisms, wedges, blocks...repeated hundreds, thousands of times in a white-gray-blue tessellation that evolved in front of our eyes like a gigantic kaleidoscope. Above us, enveloped in clouds, was the hot crest of Big Ben, the master of all this magnificence.

Those minutes were among the most magical of my life, an encounter with a world of exquisite beauty and awesome power. The sheer size of the glaciers made me feel tiny and inconsequential. I secretly hoped we would fly completely around the island, but at last we reversed, and headed back, along the beach, across the nullarbor, to the ANARE ruins. We made two complete turns around the rocky slope, looking with wonder at the bleakness that had been our home. Then, pausing for only a moment for a last look at the face of another world, we gunned the engine and roared across the place that had been VKØIR, clinching our fists and screaming with the thrill of victory.


LOG OF THE EXPEDITION Part I - Heading for Heard
The VKØIR logs
Solar Activity
Numerical Summaries of the Logs
Band-mode Summaries by Regions
Activity vs Day
Activity vs Time of Day
Propagation Charts
Propagation Histograms
Propagation Predictions vs Observations
The "Black Hole" in North America
Band Activity vs Time and Date
Skew Paths
The Antipode
The NCDXF Beacon
Band/mode Records
New and Unique Callsigns
Record DXpeditions
To obtain this book, please contact:

4295 Walnut Blvd.
Walnut Creek, CA 94596
(925) 934-3735

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