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A Mellish Morning -- VK9GMW

Scott Woelm (WX0V) on January 16, 2013
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A Mellish Morning - VK9GMW


Scott Woelm WXV

DOO-la-la-doo-DOO-doo- doo-DOO....DOO-la-la-doo-DOO-doo-doo-DOO...

WHAT is that? It's 3:00 a.m. for crying out-loud!

It's the alarm chime of my cell phone, which is actually smoother than the "battle stations" claxon of my regular alarm clock. Still a shock to one's deep slumber. My body's internal clock is prepared for the Monday through Friday morning jolt for work, but that's 3 1/2 hours later. What gives?

Mellish Reef is located in the Coral Sea, as part of the Coral Sea Island Territory. A good map will show it about 800 miles north/northeast of Brisbane, or about 600 miles east of Townsville, Australia. World War II history buffs may recall the Coral Sea naval battle back in May of 1942 (the first ever direct clash of aircraft carriers). It was fought about 400 miles north of Mellish Reef. As far as the locale itself is concerned, there isn't much to discuss. It's an uninhabited chunk of coral and sand with Heralds-Beacon Islet as the prominent feature. However, it is a DXCC entity as deemed by the ARRL, and at the time of this writing (late 2012), Mellish Reef is ranked #37 by DX News Magazine of the 100 Most Wanted DXCC. I suspect it will be ranked higher in 2013.

Sometimes a new one can be very easy. In February of 2009, Mark Rozmilowski, WQ7X, mentioned an easy nighttime 20m CW contact with K5D on Desecheo Island. He said no one was chasing them because most felt the band was closed. Sure enough, I got K5D on 20m CW with one call late in the evening; no competition. Of course, K5D had a large team and was close to the United States.

Mellish Reef was another story. VK9GMW was to be activated by the dynamic duo of George Wallner, AA7JV, and Tomi Pekarik, HA7RY. Operations began on March 29 of 2009, and although they were very active, their focus was on the low bands, which were not my station's strength. Also, overall high band conditions were not stellar.

I decided to do some DX cluster intel; reviewing spots for VK9GMW to see which band would give me the best shot. I did this by scouting when and where stations in my general area spotted them. I heard they were best during the overnight hours, so I usually did my cluster search right away in the morning, before the data was lost. It showed my best shot at VK9GMW was on 40m CW around 0800z. Uh, I live in Minneapolis, MN. That's 3:00 a.m. local time.

There's only one 3 o'clock I recognize each day, and that ain't it. Plus, I'm not retired, and my 6:30 a.m. wake-up call is bad enough. However, it was now April 9th, and VK9GMW was expected to go QRT soon. I had to make my move. I wasn't about to let Mellish Reef go away without a way...I set my cell-phone alarm.

[Some advice to those married hams. You may want to check with your spouse before setting your 3:00 a.m. alarm. Failure to do so may result in banishment to your very own Mellish Reef...the, that will not count for a new DXCC entity....nice try]

With a groan and much disorientation, I first decide to turn on my bedroom radio to see if I can hear them. I tune to 40m CW at 7.008, and sure enough, just as indicated, VK9GMW is there with a Q5 signal. I tune up the dial to check out the pile-up and hear very few if any callers; sweet! This might be easy! I stumble my way to the radio room. I feel like I'm sleep-walking.

Once the radio is on, I tune to 7.008 and do something VERY important; I hit my SPLIT BUTTON, and turn my transmitting frequency away from the DX's QRG. Otherwise it's WXV UP LID from HF Law Enforcement. No need to irritate Officer Farquar at this time of night; he might give me a sobriety test. More importantly, the DX is operating split so they are not listening on their own frequency. I could call all night and they would not hear me. Anyway, my split is correctly set at 1 up, and I'm ready to go, so let's get in there. This should be easy!


He works a JA, and sends TU UP


He works another JA, and sends TU UP


He works another JA, and sends TU UP


He works another JA, and sends TU UP

You catch the drift here? Yep. It's called a "JA Wall", which is no different than a North American Wall for K5D, or a European Wall for SV2ASP/A. It means my previous hope of an "easy" one just went out the window. Propagation is such that I cannot hear any of the JA's that VK9GMW is working. I'm being crushed by an invisible, inaudible force.

It can be both frustrating and difficult when all you can hear is the DX and no one else (I find this not uncommon on the higher bands). It feels like I'm the only one calling, so why can't the DX hear me? If it's a big pile-up, where does one send? All I can say is keep an ear to your QRG and nearby, and hope a strong signal you can hear works them. Sometimes the DX will indicate where they are listening, but this happens much more often on SSB than CW. I find it rare that a DX station will send anything but "UP" if they have a large CW pile-up in progress. Also, the DX cluster can give you an idea of the listening QRG range.

I'm not sure if it was George or Tomi, but the operator here was outstanding. Most of the time I'd send 1, maybe 2 calls, and a station was being worked. It's never fun when you cannot get through, but hearing a quality operator on the other side makes it easier. You know the DX is busting their tail to log the Q's as well. Occasionally a US station would sneak through, and that hope kept me going. However, after about 55 minutes of effort here, the 3:00 a.m. surge of adrenaline from the wake-up jolt and the excitement of hearing a rare DX are being overtaken by my body shutting down; I needed to get back to bed. At this point I literally have my head down on the bench when calling:

I was still cognizant enough to have a handle on the pile-up dynamic. That meant doing a good share of listening and not calling. VK9GMW's signal remained solid into my station. Had they been very weak, it would have been back to bed for me. Unlike in "Nothing to Lose - CY9M", there was no way my 100 watts could sneak through a continental wall without a decent path. Another point of listening is to see if the DX is working a particular area only. If they're sending JA UP, then WX V needs to keep his key quiet.

In this case, no geographic moratoriums were in place. I was free to fire away, but my calls are not getting the desired reply. I was very close to pulling the plug when I heard Bill Beyer, N2WB, not quite a KC up from my spot. "Wild Bill" is a very prominent DXer with a much better DXCC total than mine, so I figured he knew something I didn't. Before long VK9GMW works him, and then suddenly says;




Whatever energy was left in my tank, was copiously applied to my system...I quickly move my QRG to N2WB's last position and it's go time! It's now 4:00 a.m.


He works a W8, and then I call again. Twice, with just a hint of desperation;





YES! I got him! [celebratory dance around the room removed for your viewing safety]

Whew! I'm in the log! All that for a 20 second exchange, but it's a new one! N2WB's big signal likely told VK9GMW that NA needed some attention, so that ended the JA Wall (credit also goes to the Japanese stations that clearly held their calls in check). Another helpful portion of adrenaline was applied, so I was unable to fall asleep for another hour or so. That equated to me being a bit of a wreck at work the next day, but I was pleased. I never did tell my co-workers why I was so tired...haw!

Let's recap what I did to work this DX:

# Know your prey: have the best understanding you can of the DX you're chasing. Know their frequencies, operating tendencies, and propagation from them to you. Although not used in this story, propagation charts are an excellent tool. Use DX clusters, DX chat/message boards, and other DXers. The more data the better. Recall WQ7X's advice on K5D? I don't know Mark; I just met him on a 40m SSB rag-chew. That's when he told me about the path to K5D. Pretty slick.

# Understand your SPLIT button: it's easy to "click and send" in this age of automated equipment, but make sure you are properly set up for split operation. If DXers would stop calling on the DX's frequency, most of HF Law Enforcement would be sitting in the unemployment line. Besides, as I said earlier; they cannot hear your signal if you're calling on their QRG. In simple terms; UP, folks...spleet!

# Listen, listen, listen: in this article I showed how careful listening helped me bag me the DX. Try it. Also, calling on each volley is not always a good idea. You may discover something very helpful by not calling every time.

# Proper ID: although not related to this story, make sure the DX you're chasing is the DX you're chasing. Shortly before I constructed this article, 7P8D in Lesotho was spotted on the DX cluster on 30m CW as ZL9HR at Auckland/Campbell. "7P8D" was very clearly being sent, yet multiple DXers kept re-spotting them as ZL9HR. A bunch of them are going to wonder why they are not in ZL9HR's log. The good news is they did work 7P8D; a fine catch on 30m. However, one wonders how many log coordination emails ZL9HR will get for lost 30m contacts because many failed to get a proper ID?

# Commitment: sometimes getting a new one requires unusual efforts, such as waking up at 3:00 a.m. You have to be a little off your rocker to do that (I never said DXers were normal), but in this case, it worked. No DX.

So that's the narrative of what I had to do to get this DXCC entity (hopefully with some helpful tips to aspiring DXers). However, the story here is not complete. You need to know a little of what VK9GMW went through to even get on the air.

George and Tomi's voyage to Mellish Reef would not be confused with a leisurely Bahamas cruise. Tomi had to fly from Hungary to the United States, then both of them flew to Australia. That's a lot of travel and it's just starting. Once there they faced delays caused by not one, but two tropical storms. After a rough voyage to the half-way point, on Marion Reef (10 minutes into that boat ride and I'd be hangin' over the side), they were delayed again by even rougher seas. Once they made it to Mellish Reef, their camp was hit by two thunderstorms that wreaked havoc with their gear and damaged antennas. Later, Tomi even fell into the water carrying one of their computers! These guys were then expected to get on Ham Radio and make contacts? Are you kidding me? All this while playing a game of meteorological chess to find a window of safe travel for their return. Tomi wrote in an email to me, "we are not soft guys"...not soft, indeed!

Moreover, I cannot even fathom how much money this cost to do. Yikes.

In late 2012, George and Tomi activated St. Peter and St. Paul Rocks, as PTS. They were joined by Peter Sprengel, PP5XX, and Fred Carvalho, PY2XB. The initial reports have this to be a similar adventure to VK9GMW; missing just the tropical storms. Some of their operations were met with criticism; particularly over the DX cluster. Part of that had some merit; I would be a liar if I said I wasn't frustrated at times in the pile-ups. However, at the end of the day, we have to look at what these 4 guys went through to send some dits and dahs from an isolated piece of Hell in the middle of an ocean, all so DXers could get a "new one." To say thank you is the very least we should offer both PTS, and VK9GMW. What say you? Comments on this paragraph are particularly encouraged.

Please visit the VK9GMW and PTS web sites at:

If you pull the ARRL DXCC Mixed standings and search my call, you'll see I'm no #1 Honor Roll DX-pert here. However, I'm offering up what I'm learning, as I go. I'm in there scrapin' as many of you are. One of my DX heroes, Steve Root, K SR, speaks of this as a journey, and that's what many of us are on. Maybe this article will help you on your DX journey? Perhaps. However, be aware sometimes that path can lead to a 3:00 a.m. Mellish Morning.

See you in the piles...73!

Member Comments:
This article has expired. No more comments may be added.
A Mellish Morning -- VK9GMW  
by N4KC on January 16, 2013 Mail this to a friend!
Scott, congrats on nabbing that all-time-new-one! And especially for doing it the right way. Oh, and for telling us about it in your usual entertaining style.

Now, take a nap, will ya? Your snoring is activating the VOX.


Don N4KC

A Mellish Morning -- VK9GMW  
by K2CMH on January 16, 2013 Mail this to a friend!
>Now, take a nap, will ya? Your snoring is activating the VOX.

I actually heard that happen a couple of weeks ago. A group of guys were chatting and one of them got off on this 15 minute diatribe about medical issue, about 5 mins after it started, you could hear some loud snoring. Obviously one of the group had fallen asleep with the VOX on. It was not a recording because the snoring went on for quite a while and you could tell there were no 'repeats' in the rhythm that would indicate a looped recording.
A Mellish Morning -- VK9GMW  
by N4UFO on January 16, 2013 Mail this to a friend!
Another good article, Scott!!! Loved it! Humor always welcome.

I agree with your premise... knowledge and operating skill over nosebleed antennas and KWs anytime. (For others reading, I have 8BDXCC & 9BWAS... over 50 on 6m and almost to 50 on 160m... look me up on QRZ to see my humble radio presence.)

PT0S... outstanding effort. I can say that while smiling because I managed to work them... In the FINAL HOURS of the DXpedition (had to shake off some white knuckles that morning), but I worked them! (Twice actually but only one made it into the online log... 80m of all bands!) My attitude about the operation is the same I have about many things in ham radio... (LotW delays included) I take a page from the buddhist playbook... BE GRATEFUL. It's less frustrating and requires fewer prescription pills. This is a hobby... have fun; save complaining for politics and taxes. =^D

Cheers, Scott!

The YOU-FO man...
RE: A Mellish Morning -- VK9GMW  
by NI0C on January 16, 2013 Mail this to a friend!
A very nice story, Scott-- thank you. George and Tomi also did an excellent job during November 2009 with their Chesterfield Reef expedition (TX3A).

They always put on a good operation, and deserve a lot of credit, as well as financial support.

Chuck NI0C
A Mellish Morning -- VK9GMW  
by ZENKI on January 16, 2013 Mail this to a friend!
Very interesting technical details on the antennas on both web pages.

The fine finer details of the TX setup is also very interesting. Thanks for going into such technical details on both web pages. It contributes to and advances the art of DX'peditions rather than just contributing a boring equipment shopping list.

There is always something to be learned from how others do things, especially if they go into all the technical details.

A good read.
RE: A Mellish Morning -- VK9GMW  
by KE6SLS on January 16, 2013 Mail this to a friend!

Great story and thanks for the post here. I also have appreciated many of the dx nutcases (erm,, I mean Hams!) setting up camp on a rock in one of the big drinks!

My old friend John, wb6dcg would get up all sort of odd hours to work a dx station. The smile on John's face when he would confide his scores to me just made me feel happy for him! CW was his bag and he sure did love digging out a new one!

Thanks to all you hams for all the joy you bring so many around this amazing world of ours.

A Mellish Morning -- VK9GMW  
by K5MF on January 16, 2013 Mail this to a friend!
Great story, well written. I am not a DX'er, doubt if I ever will be. I don't know much about it but I don't see myself having the time nor patience with my modest equipment to be successful doing it. I know, we can work the world on 5 watts. I can get to work on roller skates to, but I don't have the patience or time or stamina to do that either. I can certainly appreciate how much fun and fulfilling it must be to get that rare one. Thanks for the story, the advice (in a nonthreatening manner), and the encouragement.
RE: A Mellish Morning -- VK9GMW  
by AF3Y on January 17, 2013 Mail this to a friend!
PT0S? A chip shot from NC, you should have been able to run the table.
RE: A Mellish Morning -- VK9GMW  
by N4UFO on January 17, 2013 Mail this to a friend!
AF3Y: "PT0S? A chip shot from NC, you should have been able to run the table."

I'm going to assume that was meant for me... In a pileup, stations farther away can be much louder than me on the higher bands, especially considering I run only 100 watts and my antennas have always been under 30 feet. To the Caribbean, EU stations can blow me out of the water! But the white knuckling there was from having procrastinated until the last day... a little too late. Being I have always run 100 watts and no antenna ever over 30 feet high, if the pileups are big, I tend to wait until they thin a bit before getting too serious. - The key to little gun success: be where the others ain't! Whether that is when to work them, where in a split to call, or timing of when to call.

Story: A day or so before a DX contest one year, there was a station in the Caribbean giving the setup a shakedown run and calling CQ on SSB... one of the high bands. He had the most massive pileup on him. (DISCLAIMER on what I am about to say: I do not normally advocate the 'suffix only call', this was a rare exception.) Most guys were just calling to be calling; I even heard two guys in the pileup say, 'Who we workin'?' - 'I dunno I'm just trying to beat the others'... (AKA a urination contest) But I actually needed to work the guy for a band fill. I noticed the DX was not being too quick on the trigger. Rather than strain to listen, he would wait for the cacophony to dwindle and leave a pause. So I waited for the calling to die down, keyed the mic and simply and plainly said, "U...F...O..." It was my one and only call to the DX.

"Who's the UFO?" the DX came back with and proceeded to work me. But before he QRZ for the next round, he said in a most complimentary tone, "NICE Timing!" - If one could strut on the radio, I would have been seen strutting away from that pileup.

(I figure you don't mind me adding my little story to the thread, Scott... I know it's in line with the little gun theme.) =^D

73, N4UFO
A Mellish Morning -- VK9GMW  
by NP4G on January 17, 2013 Mail this to a friend!
Great article.

Waking up at 3am
Being tired all day long with lack of sleep
Getting a new one in the log..... Priceless!!!!

For the love of DX!!

RE: A Mellish Morning -- VK9GMW  
by K9RJ on January 21, 2013 Mail this to a friend!
Having been to Mellish Reef in 2000 (VK9ML) I can tell you it can be hard on the operators there as well. The seagulls were so noisy at night ( trying to protect their eggs from the crabs) that using Vox was not possible. Mellish is very isolated. If a storm is coming you need to get going or it might be QRT FOR GOOD. Seasickness is not unknown for those who made the journey. But it was fun!
Harris K9RJ (ex VK4CWT)
A Mellish Morning -- VK9GMW  
by TTOMAS59 on January 22, 2013 Mail this to a friend!
I no longer seek rare dx. I work casual dx at odd hours on odd bands just to see what stations I work for that once in a while magical feeling!
A Mellish Morning -- VK9GMW  
by W3TTT on January 23, 2013 Mail this to a friend!
Great story - enjoyed reading it. That is why I don't chase DX too much.
I am surprised that DXpeditions don't work with a controlled net, aka 3905CCN or OMISS. It would be lots more gentlemanly and in my humble opinion much more fun, than the usual free-for-all pile-up. A state-side station would act as net-control, and stations must check in and wait their turn.
A Mellish Morning -- VK9GMW  
by TTOMAS59 on January 23, 2013 Mail this to a friend!
The 160 meter cw contest this weekend will be my first time on 160 with a 70 foot end fed with a 9:1 unun. I anticipate S-5 qrn but I may be pleasantly surprised. I'm always open to something new!
A Mellish Morning -- VK9GMW  
by WX0V on January 24, 2013 Mail this to a friend!
For the comments and feedback thus far, thank you!

Joe, W3TTT wrote:

>I am surprised that DXpeditions don't work with a
>controlled net,

Although I have never *been* the DX, I'm guessing the
main reason they avoid Nets is that mode would likely
slow their Q rate down considerably. Particularly in
the classic "2 x 2, 2 x 2, 22, rifle-shot, bang-bang!"
scenario. That would be very tough sledding for an
operation such as PT0S.

In a case of say, perhaps a T32C operation, if they
went on a DX net, that might give some weaker stations
a better chance at working them. Although, towards
the end of T32C, they were begging for Q's on almost
all bands.

This story was devoid of the "street fight" behavior
of most pile-ups for difficult DX, but I agree 100%
with Joe, that is very frustrating.


Scott - WX0V
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