Story by Steve Telenius-Lowe, G4JVG( found on old EUDXF site)  reprinted by PA0ABM THE SPRATLY Islands. The very name conjures up images of South China Seas pirates, typhoons and - for radio amateurs - memories of ill-fated and even disastrous DXpeditions. Even today, the island group is disputed territory, with overlapping territorial claims by a number of countries in the region. Because of the uncertain political nature of the group, the Spratly Islands are considered a separate entity for DXCC purposes, and also count as AS-051 for the RSGB Islands on the Air programme. Some of the islands are unoccupied - though claimed by one or more country - whilst other islands in the group are occupied sometimes by troops of one country, even though they may also be claimed by others. In 1979 a group of DXpeditioners sailed into the Spratly group but, on approaching Amboyna Cay, which they believed was uninhabited, were fired upon and had to take refuge in Brunei. Later, part of the group returned to operate for a short time as 1S1DX from Barque Canada Reef, whilst the remainder of the group stayed behind in Brunei. Several years later, a group of German amateurs sailed to the Spratlys and were also fired on, this time with disastrous consequences. Their yacht was sunk and tragically two amateurs were killed, one immediately and the second after several days of drifting in a lifeboat without food or water. With this sad history, it is perhaps not surprising that, although Spratly remained high on the most wanted countries list, there were few more attempted DXpeditions for several years. Meanwhile, Malaysia had occupied Swallow Reef in the Spratly group and set up a naval base there. They built a sea wall around exposed sand bars at one end of the reef and gradually reclaimed the land to form a larger island, which they called Pulau Layang Layang. An aircraft landing strip was built, and a dive centre resort built on the island. It wasn t long before radio amateurs discovered that there was now a safe place to operate from in the Spratly group and in 1993 a group of mainly Finnish and American amateurs operated from Pulau Layang Layang as 9M0S.   Early Planning IN APRIL 1996, my wife and I spent a holiday in Malaysia, during the course of which we met Eshee, 9M2FK, who had been the sole Malaysian representative on the 9M0S operation. Eshee showed me all his photographs of the DXpedition and provided me with a vast amount of useful information. There and then the idea of a major, British-led, DXpedition to Pulau Layang Layang was formed in my mind. As a member of CDXC (Chiltern DX Club) - the UK DX Foundation - I mentioned the idea to some other members who had also operated from Malaysia in the past or who had experience on other DXpeditions. The idea was accepted with great enthusiasm: there was a feeling that CDXC was now big enough and well-enough established to attempt a major DXpedition of its own. Spratly was now at number 25 in the most wanted countries listing, so it was deemed to be an excellent location for our planned operation. A core team was soon formed, which consisted of Neville Cheadle, G3NUG; Don Beattie, G3OZF; Don Field, G3XTT; Tony Canning, G0OPB; and John Linford, G3WGV. John and I had operated on the highly-successful VK9MM DXpedition from Mellish Reef in 1993, and we invited two other members of that group - both well-known DXpeditioners in their own right - Dr Vince Thompson, K5VT; and Atsu Asahina, VK2BEX, a Japanese-Australian, to bring their own particular skills to the Layang Layang team. The first meeting of the core UK group was held during the RSGB HF and IOTA Convention in September 1996, when the initial plans were laid. In was soon apparent that we were all thinking along the same lines - we were planning a major DXpedition, with at least four stations operating simultaneously, with high power and multiple beam antennas. In 1993, 9M0S had only used 100 Watt stations, but since then the Malaysian authorities have increased the permitted power output to 400W. We looked at where Spratly was most wanted , and decided that it was probably on the WARC bands - 10, 18 and 24MHz - and very definitely on the low bands - 1.8, 3.5 and 7MHz. Previous Spratly DXpeditions had concentrated on making as many QSOs as possible, which meant mainly operating on 14 and 21MHz. Nevertheless, we also wished to give as many operators as possible the chance to make a contact with Spratly, and this meant not just those with linears and monoband beams, but also those with 100W and a G5RV or multiband vertical antenna. For us, this meant taking a big antenna for 20m, where we guessed that propagation would be best with most parts of the world. I was tasked to obtain the licence. Licensing in Malaysia is relatively simple for overseas visitors these days, and four members of the core team had already operated from that country. Layang Layang is administered from Sabah, Eastern Malaysia, but the JTM (Malaysian licensing authority) office there can only issue 9M6 callsigns. We wanted a more distinctive callsign than this, as a 9M6 callsign would suggest only that we were in Eastern Malaysia - not Spratly. We therefore applied to the JTM head office in Kuala Lumpur for a 9M0 group special event callsign, specifically requesting 9M0C - the C standing for CDXC. Neville volunteered to take charge of the logistics and was also in charge of raising corporate sponsorship. After the initial couple of meetings, it became apparent that if we had ambitions of putting on a major expedition, with particular emphasis on the low bands, we would have to take a lot of equipment. Taking such a lot of gear to a remote location half-way around the world, and bringing it all back again, was clearly going to be an expensive proposition. Kingdoms THE VK0IR HEARD ISLAND DXpedition team had divided their responsibilities into areas controlled by individuals they termed Czars . We felt that, as a British DXpedition, we ought to have Kings instead, and so the system of Kingdoms was born. As already indicated, Neville was the Corporate Sponsorship King , whilst I took on the role of DX Association Sponsorship King . Don, G3XTT, as a keen topband operator, became our LF Bands King , with overall responsibility for ensuring that we took the most suitable antennas for 160, 80 and 40m. Tony, G0OPB, drew the short straw and became the RF King , which brought with it the onerous responsibility of soldering a total of 150 PL259 plugs on to the ends of the 75 separate lengths of coaxial cable we took. Each member of the team brought a different area of expertise, and was assigned his Kingdoms accordingly.   More Members The scope of the DXpedition continued to grow and now it was clear that we needed more operators, particularly as Atsu, VK2BEX, had to pull out as he could not take sufficient time off work. We felt that, although this was a British-led and British-organised DXpedition, we nevertheless wanted at least one American and one Japanese operator on the team. Several of the members of the group had operated during contests with John Krzymuski, G4DQW, who had recently moved to New York with his job and was now licensed as N2QW. John, who was already a CDXC member, was invited to join the group, as an honorary second American operator. It proved more difficult to find an alternative Japanese operator, but eventually Kazu Ogasawara, JA1RJU, was signed up as a member. Because of our commitment to the low bands, our Topband King , Don, G3XTT, suggested another specialist low bands operator would be a welcome addition. Mike Devereux, G3SED, fitted the bill perfectly. Ray Gerrard, G3NOM, who was living in Kuala Lumpur and licensed as 9M2OM, helped to obtain the 9M0C licence by visiting JTM headquarters in person on several occasions, so Ray was also invited to join the team. Experience had shown that having a man on the ground was almost essential and Donald Soh, 9M6SU, from Kota Kinabalu was asked to help with local arrangements in Sabah. Finally, CDXC member Jeff Morris, 9H1EL, with whom a number of us had operated in the past, was also asked to join, making a total of 13 operators from five countries. All members of the team were on the Internet, and between meetings of the UK group, much communication took place by e-mail. We estimate that something like 15,000 e-mails were sent around cyberspace during the planning of the expedition.   Sponsorship MOST FAIRLY LARGE DXpeditions receive sponsorship of some sort, usually from the various DX associations and foundations around the world. The Northern California DX Foundation (NCDXF) is particularly well-known, and for good reason, as it has considerable reserves and is able to support several small DXpeditions each year with moderate financial donations, subject to some fairly strict criteria. For larger DXpeditions, such as the one we were planning, donations in the region of thousands of dollars are possible. CDXC, with a membership of around 350, is also able to support serious DXpeditions, usually with a donation of £200. This sum is normally matched by the RSGB s HF DXpedition Fund, which is financed mainly by income from the raffle held each year at the RSGB HF Convention. We were delighted to receive a donation of £2000 from the HF DXpedition Fund, the largest sum ever provided by them for a single expedition, on the grounds that this was by now far and away the largest DXpedition ever organised by a UK group. With generous financial sponsorship from NCDXF, CDXC, the European DX Foundation, many other DX associations, individuals, plus material provided either free of charge, on loan, or at cost price by numerous other companies, it looked like we would be able to keep within our original budget - just. We had now put ourselves in the major league of DXpeditions, and it looked as if it was going to become a very expensive undertaking. In order to fulfil our goals it would be necessary to ship out large quantities of material such as antennas, masts and coax, something that would be beyond the scope of smaller DXpeditions because of the cost. Neville threw himself into the role of corporate sponsorship fundraiser with considerable enthusiasm. Because of the excellent relationship between the RSGB IOTA programme and Yaesu, he was able to negotiate a deal with Yaesu which meant we could take four FT-1000MP transceivers, fully filtered, with four of their new Quadra VL-1000 solid-state linear amplifiers. We wanted to operate 6m, and Yaesu also provided two FT-920 transceivers, which cover 1.8 - 50MHz. Martin Lynch & Son and Nevada between them provided our coaxial cable requirements - no less than 2km of low-loss cable! - and Martin added two of the excellent Heil Pro headsets with boom microphones. Nevada is the UK importer of Cushcraft antennas, and we were delighted to receive a very generous donation from Cushcraft of two A3S tribanders, an A3WS WARC bands beam, a 20m monobander, and 6-element 6m beam. All the Cushcraft antennas worked superbly well - as anyone hearing our signals will testify. Dunestar of USA loaned three complete sets of their single band band- pass filters which proved essential in preventing inter-station interference; vital in a multi-transmitter environment. We are extremely grateful to all the sponsors who have helped, and a complete list can be found in Table 1.   Arrival AROUND 1.5 TONNES of equipment was shipped out to Kota Kinabalu at the end of 1997. It was taken to Layang Layang on an open-deck fishing trawler by Donald, 9M6SU, and three other 9M6 amateurs, all of whom succumbed to sea sickness during the 24-hour voyage. Donald had also hacked seven 35 - 40ft bamboo poles from the jungle and took these to the island on the boat. These were later to prove invaluable for supporting ancillary wire antennas. Eventually the day came when we all met up for the first time as a single group, in Kota Kinabalu. We were met at the airport by Donald and by Phil Weaver, 9M6CT (formerly VS6CT). They had arranged a welcome dinner for us at a local Chinese restaurant, where we also met many members of the Sabah and Borneo radio clubs. The following morning we were again transported to the airport for the 70-minute flight by Twin Otter to Layang Layang. We were greeted by Steve and Coralie Steward, the friendly Australian managers of the Layang Layang Island Resort, which is now a premier world-standard dive location. The temperature on Layang Layang was 35∞C in the shade - except there was no shade. A stiff breeze made the temperature bearable, but antenna work in the midday sun risked second-degree sunburn. Steve and Coralie allowed us to use the conference room on the island for our stations. This was so large, about 24 x 18m, that most of the antenna construction could take place indoors, in air-conditioned comfort. Of course the antenna erection itself had to be done outside, but with over 20 different antennas to make we were not ready to do this until the following day. A combination of jet-lag and excitement at the forthcoming operation meant that few slept well, so accordingly we were all up at 6.00am the following morning for the massive antenna erection party, before the sun became too strong. Everything went very smoothly: the months of detailed planning paid off, as everyone knew exactly where each required part was located. The conference room was located at one end of the resort, with about half a kilometre of open scrubland and coral sand to the west, on which we could plan our antenna farm. We had decided that to do a serious job on the low bands, we would need to take either a Yagi or something similar for 40m. A Yagi was eventually dismissed on the grounds that, in order to work effectively, it would have to be mounted high above the ground, which would prove to be difficult on a coral sand island. We eventually decided on a 40m four-square (4-SQ) array - four phased quarter-wave verticals with quarter-wave spacing. This decision was made before the Heard Island DXpedition, but we were certain our choice was the correct one after the Heard Island team reported excellent results with their 4-SQ arrays. Although we originally planned to take a single vertical for 80m, once we had decided on a 4-SQ array for 40m, it didn t take too long before it was suggested we also take one for 80m. The 80m 4-SQ array, based on centre-loaded US-made Gladiator verticals, with 20m spacing between the elements and 20m elevated radials, took up the most space, and this antenna was sited 300 metres away from the shack. Because of the long feeder run the array was fed with RG214 low-loss coax - even on 80m every dB counts. The Yagis were mounted in a line along the shore, all within just a few feet of the sea, and with a perfect salt-water take-off for hundreds of miles. To ensure we had a good signal on 160m, we took Neville s Titanex vertical. This is an 26m vertical made from titanium alloy. Extremely light and flexible, it can be erected by just two people. We were also loaned a Battle Creek Special for 160, 80 and 40m by the Battle Creek, Michigan, DX group. By 11.30pm local time, a full 24 hours ahead of schedule, everything was ready to go, and I had the privilege of making the first QSO, with K5DV, on 20m SSB.   9M0C On the Air THUS BEGAN 12 days of continuous operation. We had the four FT-1000MP plus VL-1000 stations located in the four corners of the conference room and all four stations were kept on the air around the clock. One problem we faced early on was having to make a strategic decision as to which four bands to operate, as - especially around dawn and dusk - there were times when all nine HF bands were open simultaneously. One of the FT-920s was operating in break-in beacon mode on 50.102MHz, but with no callers on 6m at all, it was soon decided that, at peak HF propagation times, the 6m station should be put on a fifth band. It didn t take long before the spare FT-920 was also pressed into service on a sixth band! It was, of course, not possible to keep six stations on the air simultaneously all the time. For a start, there were not enough operators: we did have to eat and sleep as well! Secondly, from around 11.00am local time (0300UTC) until perhaps 4.00pm (0800UTC) daily, absorption meant that the only bands that were really open were 21, 24 and 28MHz. There were some short openings into Japan during this period, but often signals were weak and business slow. However, for 24 hours a day we kept four stations on the air, and there were long periods with five or six stations active. During the first 24 hours of operation, 8000 QSOs were put into the 9M0C log. The pile-ups were intense, but - at least from our end - appeared to be well-disciplined for the main part. A major difficulty was the extremely high level of tropical thunderstorm static, especially on 160 and 80m. This meant that, although we were receiving reports that the Titanex vertical was putting out a very strong signal on 160m, our topband operators G3SED and G3XTT had the greatest of difficulty in receiving any station at all, even those with extremely strong signals. Many hours were spent experimenting with Beverages, a magnetic loop and a low dipole as receive antennas, but it was only in the last few days of the operation, when the static level suddenly decreased, that it became possible to receive many stations on 160m. 80m was somewhat more successful, although on at least one night I found it impossible to hear any signals other than the relatively local JAs and VKs because of the atmospheric noise. However, the directional 4-SQ array proved a useful relatively low-noise antenna and, on quieter nights, a great many European and North American stations were put into the log. The 40m 4-SQ worked superbly well. It was so directional that European stations could easily be worked through S9+ JA s, simply by switching from the NE to the NW direction. Our most difficult target area, the East Coast of North America, was worked with relative ease on 40m and - much to our surprise - 40m quickly became the band of choice for working the East Coast. During our 12 days of operation, the solar flux peaked at 107, with the A index falling to zero for a couple of days. This led to some good 28MHz openings to North America and Europe, with DL, F and G stations being worked between about 0900 and 1100UTC on several consecutive days. However, most of the time conditions on the higher bands were not particularly good. To a large extent our antennas made up for this, with the Cushcraft 203CD full-size 20m 3-element Yagi being the star performer. We installed this antenna on a 12m pole, 15m directly above the sea. Comparing it directly with a tri-bander at a lower height revealed about two S points difference over the important long path to Europe. Again, this made us feel we had taken the right antenna, and made the effort of putting it up at that height really worthwhile.   Internet Integration ONE RELATIVELY RECENT development for DXpeditions is that of integration with the Internet. John Linford, G3WGV, was our Technology King and wrote some software specially for the DXpedition, which further developed techniques used by the Heard Island group. One really useful feature of John s software was that the four main operating positions were linked to a central server by means of a low- power 70cm wireless LAN (in effect this was a temporary Spratly Packet Cluster system). This meant that all the operators knew exactly who was operating on which station and, through utilising the FT- 1000MP band data, on which frequency and mode. When stations asked the inevitable questions such as ìwhen are you going to be on 10 metres CW?, it was great to be able to say we re actually on 28022kHz CW, 24945kHz SSB, and 14195kHz SSB right now! It was also possible to interrogate the server from any of the operating positions, for example to show how many QSOs had been made by any particular callsign, and on which bands and modes those QSOs had taken place. Of course, all our stations were in one (very large) room, but the idea of this system is that it could link several remote operating sites up to a distance of several hundred metres from each other. The effect was that each DXpedition operator was almost uniquely well-informed about the activity of the other stations and, just as important, was able to give out this information on request to the waiting pile-up. Having the logs from all six stations merged into a central server provided almost instantaneous back-up of the whole log, and allowed for an easy means of providing the log on the Internet. The integration of the DXpedition with the Internet worked in three main ways. Firstly, the DXpedition had (and still has) its own Internet page, at http://members@aol.com/spratly98 The page was gradually built up over the 18-month planning period, and included an overview of the planned operation, along with a map of the area, pictures of the core team, links to our sponsors pages and so on. During the DXpedition itself, the page was maintained by Martin Atherton, G3ZAY, who was able to upload pictures of the island and of our antennas which we took using a digital camera and sent by e-mail to Martin. Secondly, daily feedback during the course of the operation from a series of pilots , using e-mail. For the Americas, our pilot was Don Greenbaum, N1DG; in Asia, Yoichi Sakurada, JP1NWZ, whilst for the remainder of the world it was Martin, G3ZAY. Don, Yoichi, and Martin s e-mail addresses were published, and amateurs were invited to provide feedback via the appropriate pilot. The pilots would then pass on a digest of the comments to us. These were both of the heard other south-east Asians on 10m long path but you weren t on, and the worked you first call on 160m - you re doing a great job, guys type. Both types of message were very valuable to us: the former type alerted us to possible openings that we might otherwise have missed, whilst the latter gave our egos an at-times much-needed boost. The third way the Internet was used was with the provision of log servers. Each day John, G3WGV, uploaded the complete 9M0C log by e-mail to Don, N1DG, and Richard Everitt, G4ZFE. John Clayton, G4PDQ, also posted the logs on the DX Packet Cluster system. This enabled amateurs to check that they were indeed in our log, and thus hopefully reduce the number of duplicate contacts on a given band or mode. This service proved to be extremely popular, with over 20,000 hits being recorded by the log servers.   Summing Up WE WENT TO Spratly with the target of making 40,000 QSOs. We felt this was realistic, given the number of operators, stations and antennas we were taking. However, I don t think any of the operators really thought we would exceed this target by such a large margin. Our final QSO tally was 65,558. This made the 9M0C operation the fourth biggest DXpedition of all time, in terms of QSO numbers. We were also very pleased at the quality of these contacts, not just the quantity. G3SED and G3XTT between them made over 1100 contacts on 160m in extremely difficult circumstances. This included no fewer than 39 UK stations. On all bands, especially 40m, we worked large numbers of East Coast USA / Canadian stations across a very difficult, almost antipodal path, across the auroral zone. On the WARC bands, we often worked the pile-ups dry on 18 and 24MHz. There was one occasion when I was calling CQ on 18145kHz and getting no replies at all. Then JF1IST/7J on Okino Torishima opened up on 18150kHz and immediately had a large pile-up of JA operators, which proved that the band was open, but that we had worked all those who were around at that time. On the other hand, on 10MHz we made around 6000 QSOs, and even at the end of the operation there were still large pile- ups. On RTTY we made 2075 QSOs, which we believe is more than any other DXpedition. On 6 metres we worked 389 stations, mainly in Japan and including all 10 JA call districts. We also worked almost all the active 6m operators in Hong Kong. Towards the end of the operation, when the pile-ups on some bands began to diminish, we found we were working mobiles and QRP stations with ease. A very important factor in this success was that all the antennas and equipment worked flawlessly throughout. The Yaesu FT-1000MP is tried and tested and is a superb performer, but it was arguably a risk taking VL-1000 amplifiers, which are so new as to be virtually untested in the amateur market. We needn t have worried: with automatic band-switching and tune-up, when used with the FT-1000MP, you could simply forget that they were there. Band changing was virtually instantaneous and involved just pressing one button on the 1000MP and switching to the correct antenna. Without exception, all the 9M0C operators were very impressed indeed with this new piece of equipment. All in all we were delighted with the success of the operation and by the feedback received from the amateur community. Thanks to all the sponsors, to all the amateurs in Sabah who helped us in numerous ways, and to Phil Whitchurch, G3SWH, who in a moment of weakness volunteered to take on the task of QSL manager! Phil is QTHR and will be answering both direct and bureau QSLs.   Corporate (amateur radio) AEA Timewave, CQ Ham Radio magazine (Japan), Cushcraft, Dunestar, Gladiator Antennas, Martin Lynch & Son, Nevada, Radio Active Publications, The 59(9) DX Report, Yaesu. Corporate (non-amateur) Camel, Layang Layang Island Resort, Malaysian Tourism Promotion Board, NCT Forwarding & Shipping Sdn Bhd (Sabah), Sabah Boys Brigade, Sabah Tourism Promotion Corporation. DX Associations and Radio Clubs Arkansas DX Association, Battle Creek DX Group, CDXC, Central Arizona DX Association , Clipperton DX Club, Danish DX Group, Dateline DX Association, Eastern Arizona DX Club, Eastern Iowa DX Association, European DX Foundation, German DX Foundation, GACW Argentina, GM DX Group, INDEXA, LA-DX-Group, NCDXF, Northern Ohio DX Association, OK (Czech) DX Foundation, Oklahoma DX Association, RSGB DXpedition Fund, Sabah Amateur Radio Society, SE Michigan DX Association, Stockport Radio Society, Virginia DX Century Club. Individuals G0WAZ, G2FNK, G3JNB, G3OFW, G3PEM, G3PMR, G4JMB, G4VJM/M, GW4VEQ, JH1AJT, JH1UUT, K4QD, NI6T, VK5WO, XE1CI, ZS1FJ.   Table 1; List of 9M0C Sponsors   9M0C QSO statistics   1.8 3.5 7.0 10.1 14.0 18.0 21.0 24.9 28.0 50 Total CW 1149 2830 6554 5710 4635 3563 4529 3018 2048 262 34298 SSB 0 1420 4312 0 7511 2996 7282 2576 2632 127 28856 RTTY 0 0 0 0 1315 56 635 0 69 0 2075 FM 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 294 0 295 Total 1149 4250 10866 5710 13461 6615 12447 5594 5043 389 65524   Table 2; QSOs by mode/band   CW SSB RTTY FM Total Africa 115 195 4 0 314 Asia 11309 12438 823 290 24860 Europe 16844 9086 764 1 26695 North America 5345 5695 442 1 11483 Oceania 442 1120 33 3 1598 South America 243 322 9 0 574   Table 3; QSOs by continent/mode   1.8 3.5 7.0 10.1 14.0 18.0 21.0 24.9 28.0 50 Africa 2 17 51 28 116 25 27 32 16 0 Asia 398 1497 3090 1268 4541 3038 5313 2442 2884 389 Europe 567 1718 5501 3617 5100 2038 4283 2306 1565 0 North America 150 879 1927 695 2991 1320 2406 698 417 0 Oceania 32 123 186 68 536 167 296 90 100 0 South America 0 16 111 34 177 27 122 26 61 0 Table 4; QSOs by continent/band   Cushcraft A3S tribander 10-15-20m Cushcraft A3S tribander with 40m driven element 10-15-20-40m Cushcraft A3WS duobander with 30m driven element 12-17-30m Cushcraft 203CD 3-ele monobander 20m Cushcraft 6-ele monobander 6m Cushcraft 13-ele monobander 2m Homebrew 2 x 0.25-wave full-size verticals 30m Gladiator 4-SQ 4 x 0.25-wave full-size verticals 40m Gladiator 4-SQ 4 x 0.25-wave centre-loaded verticals 75 / 80m Titanex 85ft base-matched titanium alloy vertical 40 / 80 / 160m Battle Creek Special Trapped inverted-L (not used on 40m) 40 / 80 / 160m Homebrew Half-wave wire dipole 12m Homebrew Have-wave wire dipole 17m Homebrew Low half-wave wire dipole (for RX only) 160m Homebrew Magnetic loop (for RX only) 160m Homebrew 2 x 400m Beverages (for RX only) 160m Table 5; the 9M0C antenna farm  

The CDXC 9M0C Spratly Islands DXpedition