ZK2V Niue by Chris Tran ZL1CT / GM3WOJ

The island of Niue (IOTA ref OC-040) is a raised coral reef 2200km NE of Auckland, N.Z. Niue has no resident amateurs, has not been visited by any major DXpeditions, but is a popular destination for ‘holiday DXpeditions’ usually lasting one or two weeks. Now semi-retired from my career as a Physics teacher, I decided to go to Niue for a longer period to work as many stations as possible at this sunspot minimum. I had intended to go in Feb/March which would have given better propagation, but circumstances beyond my control meant I visited Niue in May/June 2009. Niue is a virtually flat island, about 20m above sea level, so almost any QTH gives good take-offs in all directions. I stayed at the radio-friendly Namukulu Motel, as used by several other DXpeditions. Humidity and air salt content are high and corrosion of radios and computer hardware is a longer-term problem – a friend told me he has had to renew the motherboard in his PC 4 times in 6 years !

I have many years of experience of SSB and CW contesting and contest DXpeditions, both single-op and multi-op, but very little experience of RTTY and other datamodes – I knew that demand for RTTY from Niue would be high, so was happy to spend time on RTTY once I had a good number of CW and SSB QSOs in the log. To gain some experience of RTTY operating procedures I operated the ZM4A station in the CQ WPX RTTY contest in February 2009. Unfortunately ZM4A uses a Microham MicroKeyer II which I don’t rate as a piece of equipment - ponderous N1MM logging software controls the MicroKeyer router software, which in turn controls the MicroKeyer hardware, which in turn keys the ZM4A FT-1000MP MkV with FSK – a dismally slow set-up, even with a fast PC. I would trade the genuine FSK for faster AFSK any day.

For RTTY I was loaned an interface by Johnny G3LIV and Neil G4ZLP of ZLP Electronics donated a CAT cable for my RTTY radio. Both items worked first time and gave no problems whatsoever. On RTTY I used my ‘back-up’ radio, a modest Yaesu FT-840 (on CW/SSB I used an Elecraft K2) which meant changing laptop and coax cables over each time I wanted to use RTTY, but this was not a big deal. The FT-840 is a very basic radio – easy to operate and with reasonable numbers for the RX performance – I chose it for its fairly low weight and rugged construction. I found that by using CW Reverse on receive, LSB on transmit and off-setting the passband tuning control, I could use the INRAD 250Hz CW filter in the FT-840 on RTTY, which made separating signals much easier. I used a Tokyo HyPower 600W solid-state amp – running 200W o/p on RTTY. With the shack air temperature often near +30oC the cooling fan went to high speed at times, but overall the amp was quite happy at this power level.

Before the DXpedition I spent hours researching and testing antennas – I knew conditions to Europe were going to be poor, so I wanted single-band resonant wire antennas that would work well but be easily transported – no traps, coils, linear loading or antenna tuners, thanks. Have a look at the website www.zk2v.com antenna page for more details. The most successful antenna was the ‘Half-square’ which I used on 20m and 17m – this largely-neglected simple antenna is easy to construct and resonate and works really well for DX. I had two 12m Spiderbeam poles to support antennas and luckily there were also several suitable trees which allowed me to have 7 antennas available for use most of the time.  

The pile-ups on RTTY were huge – spread over many kHz but generally easy enough to maintain a good QSO rate. I made 1276 QSOs on RTTY and 18 QSOs on PSK31. PSK31 is a great mode but I wish the operators would reduce the content of their transmissions – a DXpedition does not want to know your name, locator, MB of RAM in your PC, etc – all irrelevant info which wastes time. Friends tell me that PSK63 is much faster and may increasingly be used by DXpeditions in future. I decoded some Olivia signals but could not decide where to call CQ, so stuck to RTTY to give most people the chance of a data QSO with Niue. Interestingly, during the ANARTS RTTY contest no-one was particularly interested in working ZK2V – just another mult – I called CQ for long periods on 14.106 but made very few QSOs, whereas outwith the contest ZK2V was in great demand.

Propagation during the 5 weeks was good to Japan and the U.S.A. as you would expect, but patchy to Europe. 160m and 80m were very disappointing – strong local powerline noise and tropical QRN made working any stations very difficult. I was surprised at how different from N.Z. propagation on 40m and 30m was, with good openings in the first week of the DXpedition, but poor afterwards. 20m and 17m were good for most of the 5 weeks. 15m was patchy and 12m was only open on 3 days in total.

Software - on RTTY I used MMTTY 1.66G controlled by WinTest 3.27.0 – this was fast and efficient. For PSK31 I used Digipan20 but had to log the QSOs in WinTest separately, which was not so satisfactory. WinTest is excellent software in DXpedition mode – easy to configure and very reliable.

At an early stage I decided that I wanted all QSOs to be confirmed on LoTW as quickly as possible – the internet connection proved good enough to do this daily or every second day, which made it easy for everyone to see quickly whether their QSOs with ZK2V were valid for DXCC or not.

Final QSO total on all modes was 15817 QSOs – I had hoped to work at least 30000 stations but it was not to be, this time. Overall ZK2V was great fun despite disappointing conditions to Europe. The Niue TV crew visited me and I was on the nightly news, so everyone on Niue waved when they saw us out walking. I have arranged a new QTH for another ZK2V DXpedition in late 2010 if possible – my wonderful XYL Pippa made many friends in the Niue weaving community and is happy to go with me for 10 weeks next time. Thanks to BARTG and all my other sponsors, my support team and to everyone who worked ZK2V – please QSL via N3SL.

73   Chris ZL1CT/GM3WOJ