PAJAROS ISLAND, SONORA STATE, MEXICO NA-166
The RSGB IOTA Directory indicates that the Sonora State South group of Mexico consists of Huivulia, La Raza, Lobos and San Pedro Nolasco Islands. The local administration of these islands has restricted travel to a point where the group became the most needed IOTA group in North America. While Hector, XE2K, was doing research on the possibility of activating one of these islands, he noticed that an island near the city of Guaymas should count for the group. Pajaros or Bird Island was certainly large enough, it had no restrictions for access, it was not in the Bay of Guaymas and it was a sufficient distance off the mainland. When he collected all the maps and other documentation, he made a submission to the IOTA Committee and they agreed that it should be added to the NA-166 group.
Hector had previously activated three other groups in Northern Mexico with the assistance of other hams from Mexico and California. Hector and Ray, N6VR, had the basic equipment and antennas that have been collected from past operations and could be used to activate NA-166. The expected demand for QSOs would require at least five operators to handle the traffic. Fred, N6AWD, would again be the QSL manager. The laws governing amateur radio operations from Mexican islands must be strictly followed. A special license must be obtained and a XF call authorized. All operators must have a current Mexican license and there must be more Mexican operators than foreigners. XE2TG - Marco, XE2Q - Gerardo and N6JV - Norm volunteered to fill out the crew. It took several weeks to get all the licensing in order. In this period, Fred kept busy obtaining contributions to help fund what would be the most ambtious operation attempted by Hector and the team.
The target date to start operations from Pajaros was February 5, 2004. On February 3, Norm started from his QTH in Sacramento, California and headed south. Six hours and 300 miles later, he arrived at Ray’s home near Ventura, California. Equipment was consolidated and loaded in Ray’s truck for the trip to Mexico. Before 5 am, the Californians were on the freeways of Los Angeles on their way to Mexicali, Baja, Mexico. At noon, they arrived in Mexicali and after passing through customs, arrived at Hector’s home. The combined cargo was loaded in a rental truck that was large enough for the equipment and operators. Hector had fabricated a pipe rack that would hold all the masts, yagis and verticals above the bed of the truck. With everything loaded and tied down, it was time to head further south. Guaymas, Sonora, the final distination would be 500 miles or 800 km away.
The highways of Northern Mexico are in good condition and there were no problems traveling through the State of Sonora. There were several customs and security checkpoints to pass through, but all the papers were in order. Hector was very concerned about customs and was relived when we easily passed through. After midnight, the truck arrived in a small village near Hermosillo, Sonora. Marco, XE2TG, has a second operating and contesting location in a cottage away from the noise of the large city. Arrangements had been made to sleep there for the night. In the morning it was breakfast and then to Marco’s home in the city. Marco’s truck was loaded with additional gear and after picking up Gerardo, the convoy headed further south to Guaymas. A few hours later, the operators met with the local hams that would be the support team. XE2TNT, XE2UCT, XE2TVV and his son and Sr. Miguel Orozco, who provided the boat for the trip to Pajaros, helped unload the trucks and get everything into the boat. By mid afternoon the boat was loaded and there was enough room for 3 passengers. Hector, Gerardo and Norm made the first trip to the island in the 18-foot outboard.
Careful loading of the boat resulted in everything getting to the island dry except for the passengers. Miguel maneuvered the boat through the shallow areas around the landing site and stopped in the sand 10 meters off shore. It was time to take off the shoes and get into the water. The water was a bit cold and the many sharp seashells made the unloading challenging. Once everything was on the beach, the boat returned for the rest of the party. Work started on the first of the beam antennas (TH3JR) that was to be installed near the beach. Once erected, it was connected to an IC706 Mk2 using a storage battery to let everyone know that XF1K was on the island. The first QSO from the beach was with Fred, N6AWD, in California. It was decided to keep on the air from the shore while the rest of the gear was moved off the beach and the tents set up. The boat had returned and there were more people to help with the tents and antennas. It was getting dark when the pile on 14260 was worked out. The wind was blowing strongly and the foot switch kept getting buried in the sand, but it was exciting to finally get on.
Pajaros is a finger shaped island of volcanic origin. The volcanic rock forms a steep long hill that is covered by the large Cardon cactus. At one end of the island is the lighthouse and on the other is a 100-meter spit of level sand where the operation took place. The middle of the spit is about 1 meter above sea level. There is a small clearing in the grass there and this is where the main operating tent was placed with the sleeping tent nearby. To minimize interference, the tent that was to be used exclusively for CW was placed closer to the beach. It was also used for sleeping. The TH3JR yagi remained on the beach along with a DX88 all band vertical. These were used mainly by the CW station using an IC 706 Mk2. The A3S yagi, R7 vertical, 6-meter beam and the low band inverted "V" dipoles fed the main operating tent that had an IC 706, TS440S and a FT100 available. All rigs were used in conjunction with laptop computers for logging.
During the first attempt to operate 6 meters, the FT100 developed serious electrical problems. The Guaymas hams came to the rescue and Gerardo, XE2VGL, repaired the radio and had it back on the island the next day for the 6-meter opening. This rig was also used on 160 meters. Another problem occurred when we found that there was so much light coming through the sides of the CW tent that the computer screen could not be seen. Covering the computer and the operator’s head with a black trash bag during daylight hours solved the problem. Ventilation and heat buildup were issues, but it was a source of amusement for visitors to the tent.
A total of six deep cycle storage batteries were available as well as two 1800-watt generators. Each station could choose whichever power source it could utilize best. Some of the computers could run on the 12-volt batteries. Power consumption was never a problem and one of the 1800-watt generators could run the entire camp. The generators consumed ten gallons of gasoline during the operation.
Pajaros Island is a very beautiful place. Rough volcanic rock covered with giant cactus contrasted against the blue, clear water make it a vacation postcard scene. But like most beautiful places, there is always something nasty near by. On this island there is an evil plant called the cholla (cho-ya) cactus. It is found all over the Sonoran Desert in Mexico and the Southwestern United States. This is the cactus from Hell and is sometimes called the "jumping" cholla. If you walk anywhere near a cholla, it will attack you. Its spines will penetrate a leather shoe. It breaks off the mother plant like link sausages with long spines. If it has attached itself to your pants leg, it has nailed the pants to your leg. Once you painfully pull the pants away from the leg you must get a stick to flip the cactus off. The next time you walk in that area, you avoid the plant and find the link that you had flipped off has now become a land mine and will get you again. Everyone coming to the island met Seor Cholla. Marco won the "Golden Cholla Award" by actually sitting on one. Further details must be left to the imagination.
The weather during the operation was very good with the exception of a constant wind that threatened to blow the tents and antennas down for the first two days. Large rocks had to be placed over the tent pegs to keep them in the ground. Antenna guy points were made from long reinforcing rods that would hold in the sand. The wind made sleeping difficult and dust got into everything.
There was plenty of food available and some hot meals were prepared. These dishes were usually a mix of what was available, had no names, but were very welcome. Some operators supplemented their diet with clams dug from the beach. An adequate supply of soft drinks, water and beer was also available.
The first day netted several QSOs on 20, 40 and 75 meter SSB and 30 and 40 CW. Only a few Europeans were worked, but the pile of JAs on 40 meters lasted all night. With the dawn of the second day, good openings into Europe were worked on 20 and 15 meters. In the afternoon, the JA and North American pileups kept everyone busy. We were aware that few stations in Eastern Europe were in the log so we tried to concentrate on bands and times that would be best for that area. Conditions improved as the operation went on and by the third day, large pileups of stations from all over Europe were put into the log. Even 40 meters was a good band for working stations in Europe and the Middle East. One hundred watts is good power when people are looking for you. The initial count had 1286 European QSOs and 1318 with Japan.
The QSOs by band:
BAND SSB CW 6 17 10 372 1 12 67 219 15 951 754 17 297 398 20 679 498 30 404 40 94 1691 80 505 82 160 6 TOTALS 2997 4047
The grand total including dupes was 7221. Not working us is a valid justification to buy a new rig and/or antenna. The last station to tear down on Sunday morning was the CW position where the last of the Europeans made it into the log. When the frequency could no longer be held because of contesters, the rigs were packed and the tents all came down.
By the time the boat came back to the island, all the gear was ready to be loaded. Two trips were again required to move everything. Four bags of trash were the last things to be loaded and after a sightseeing trip around the island, it was back to Port to pack the trucks. The Guaymas crew was again there to help with the unloading and loading. After a few group pictures, we were on our way north to Hermosillo. At Marco's QTH we took turns in the shower. Several days of dirt, dust and gasoline needed to be removed. Marco’s wife made us a nice meal and then it was time to make the long trip back to Mexicali.
The trip south was very easy. The trip north was potentially a bigger problem. The "Free Trade" agreements with the United States and Mexico have encouraged considerable truck traffic heading north. The Mexican Army has the responsibility of controlling this traffic and stops any movement of contraband going north. There are several Army checkpoints between Hermosillo and Mexicali and the lines of trucks waiting for inspection may extend for a mile. All traffic is stopped for inspection. In Ireland they call it "blarney" or the gift of gab. In America we might use the expression B.S. but we found that Hector is a master of that art. Anyone who can show up after midnight at an Army checkpoint with a truck loaded with more communications gear than the Army had, be transporting two aging, dirty, bearded, semi-conscious Americanos and not get searched down to the truck frame, deserves recognition for his mastery of the fine points of the language.
At about 2 am, the truck arrived in Mexicali where Ray and Norm stayed in a motel for the night. In the morning, the gear was again sorted and Ray’s truck loaded for the return trip across the border. Norm again spent the night at Ray’s QTH and late the next afternoon, Norm made it home to Sacramento. About 2000 miles of total travel had been made.
We would like to thank the Island Radio Expedition Foundation (IREF), AD5A, G3ZAY, K6DT, K7SO, N5UR, N6KZ, N6PYN, N7RO, W1NG, W4DKS, W5BOS, W6ED, W9HA, WB9EEE and VE7QCR for their contributions, which helped make the operation a success. A special thanks to the hams of Guaymas who helped make our trip much easier. We would also like to thank everyone participating in the pileups. Your courteous behavior insured that everyone should have made at least one good QSO. N6AWD will get the QSLs out in record time and then get ready for the next one.