WHITE ROCK, NA-187
Norman Wilson N6JV
The Rock. White Rock is located between the Port of San Luis and the City of Pismo Beach. There are few rocks and no real islands along the California coast and only Lobos and Ventura Rocks, which are South of Monterey, have ever been designated for NA-187. When I became interested in the IOTA program, I remembered the rock near Pismo that I had first seen back in 1949 or so. My family had been vacationing in the area for many years. This rock was the only one far out to sea and always had a bunch of sea birds on it. Past problems with wildlife agencies have made the IOTA Committee require written documentation for any operations along the Pacific coast. It took me several months to find the required 1,000,000 to 1 scale map that IOTA requires. Now the fun began.
The Paper Chase. How do you get permission to operate from a rock that no one claims? It really belongs to the State of California, but they donít know it. I found it very easy to find people in positions of authority who would tell you that its all right to go on the rock, but no one willing to put that in writing. Why should they? A civil servant can't ever get into trouble by saying no and few people will put something in writing they are not required to do. Then there is this thing about Amateur Radio. Will the RF sterilize the birds? After more agencies than I can remember, the consensus was that an amateur radio operation from some remote rock should be no problem, but no one could think of who could, or would, give written permission. The rock missed the city limits of Pismo Beach by about a hundred yards, so the City Engineer suggested that the only local authority who could give permission was the local State Game Warden. He was also a member for the Board of Directors of the Port of San Luis. PAYDAY! The warden said "go for it". He had seen no seals on the rock and the birds should not be inconvenienced. He was also very understanding about my paper chase problems.
The Boat. I was introduced through the Warden to the guy who runs the Water Taxi in the port. He told me that he will tow me out near the rock, but insurance problems would not allow him or anyone else he knew to loan me a boat. Now I am not a boat person. I get sea sick watching Victory at Sea reruns. An inflatable boat seemed to the logical choice as they tend not to sink and would be easier to handle in the rocks. I finally gave up on a rental and purchased a 10.5 foot Zodiac and 7.5 HP motor.
The Crew. After another trip to Pismo with my wife Mary and Zodiac in tow to do some scouting, I decided that I would be crazy to try it alone. The sea was rough and the fog was bad, so the annual family gathering in Pismo on the 4th of July was set as the target. My 23 year old son Brian said he was going to be on college break so would sign on as crew. My 17 year old son Clint also was coming out from Utah, so now we had an organization. It soon became obvious that I could take either the crew or the boat on the 300 plus mile trip to Pismo. The wife's car couldn't haul but half. My old truck was near death so I used that as the reason to buy a new truck. Now the organization was a convoy. Don, W6ED, a local island chaser, agreed to monitor 2 meters for safety.
Norm's Navy. The week before the big event, the boys and I made a trial run to an island in a local lake. We took a lot of water, but proved the Zodiac wouldn't sink. It was time to go for broke. The convoy made it to Pismo on the morning of the 4th of July. A fast look at water and fog conditions convinced me that we might never get a better chance. The 4th of July is the busiest day of the year in the harbor, so we had to inflate the Zodiac in the parking lot and carry it down to the water. Several trips carrying gear, motor, gas tank etc. were also required. At about 2pm, Brian and I made a dash for open water. We were already tired.
White Rock. So far, so good. We were making progress well out in the bay. It is about 3 miles to the rock. We passed several kelp beds with sea otters floating in them and a group of sea lions. After about 45 minutes, we neared the rock. My son's impression was that I was out of my mind. The problem was that I agreed with him. This project had developed a life of its own and I was determined to see it through. In my mind I has imagined some place we could tie up and unload the gear. Fat chance! Nothing but ragged rock covered with barnacles, mollusks and star fish three layers thick. Add sea weed and you have no place to get out safely. The waves were worse that I had imagined and tossed the boat into the rocks. With one rope, Brian jumped onto a small rock that was separated from the main rock by 5 feet of channel swept by waves. I couldn't tell him what to do next, so I jumped out with another rope on the same rock. Now we were really in trouble. We were taking a beating as well as the boat and had no place to go. Brian made some comment about obviously inheriting his intelligence from his mother and with a grunt of agreement, I jumped into the channel and crawled up on the main rock. Brian soon followed and got equally as wet. The boat is getting cut up on the rock by the wave action, so we grabbed all the equipment out including the motor and gas tank. This was accomplished in waves above our knees, but be got everything out and then picked up the boat and carried it out of the surf.
Marooned on Fly Rock. Now White Rock has been given a bad rap mostly due to itís name. White Rock is made of white rock. Most of the rocks and outcrops in the area are a white shale. The bird deposits donít add much to the color. We wereprepared for a really smelly place to operate, but it wasnít all that bad. We soon found a worse curse. A swarm of flies. They covered everything and everyone. The birds didnít mind our presence. We stayed near the edge of the rock away from the roosting area and the birds ignored us. We unpacked all the gear from their protective ammunition cans and got ready to operate. Brian set up the 15 foot whip antenna with roll up radials and I unpacked the TS-180S and got the battery connected. When I put the headset on, the vox was tripped on 14260 and the familiar voice of Elizabeth, VE7YL, ask "is that you Norm?". We were off and running. By now I was covered by flies. Brian tried to help by fanning the flies off using a life vest. After about 40 minutes, a harbor patrol boat pulled up near the rock to ask if everything was OK. Someone had noticed a guy on a rock waiving a red flag and called in for a rescue. After some fast talking, the patrol left.
On the Beach. One of the things the IOTA Committee wanted was some pictures of us on the rock. Thatís hard if you are on the rock, so it fell to Clint, the photographer in the family, to take the telephoto lens and get some shots from an outcrop called Fossil Point. Mary drove him to the Point and he climbed the rocks for the best shot. After a while, Mary got bored and decided to visit the nearby beach. As she waded in the water, she was approached by some gentlemen wearing nothing but their smiles. She had stumbled onto the nude beach. While trying to maintain eye contact, she now tries to tell them that she is there to watch her husband out on a bird rock. Sure.
Escape from the Rock. About the time the pileup started to die down, the surf was picking up. We both were getting nervous as we had no plan on how we were getting off this thing. When no callers were heard, we started packing. With everything in itís can, we moved it to the side of the rock. The surf was real bad now. Having no other choice, we threw the boat into the water. I tied off one rope and Brian held the other. Water was coming over the side of the boat. I didnít know what else to do except jump. I did. The boat was looking like a backyard wading pool so I fell in with a splash. As fast as he could, Brian passed or threw the motor and the rest of the gear at me and then he jumped. We paddled like mad out of the kelp into open water. By some miracle we werenít sinking. The motor kicked in and we were off plowing through the swell. For 45 minutes we traveled and swatted flies that were also trying to escape. On us. What a relief it was to crawl out on the dock.
Was this fun? I remembered all the gear. I forgot a hat. As I peel off sunburned skin, I can reflect more positively on the whole operation. Only 132 QSOs were made, but we worked 4 continents. Water conditions probably wouldnít have allowed many more. If another trip is made, it will be easier and safer. I learned a lot. More plastic, less iron and if it doesnít float, donít take it. For about 2 hours of operation, the work and expense might seem hardly worth the effort, but there can be no value placed on experience. Brian found out his OM might be nuts, but not yet dead. Clint got in some real good rock climbing and Mary made new friends and was exposed to a new life style. Everyone will be talking about this vacation for a long time. I was especially happy to work some stations that had given me a new one on CW in the past. So now I have a new truck and a Zodiac. We should find some interesting places to take them.