WHITE ROCK - 2000
In the beginning. In March 2000, Martin Atherton, G3ZAY, was planning his annual pilgrimage to the International DX Convention in Visalia, California. He had planned to do some operating in the Channel Islands before the convention and the subject came up about the possibility of going to White Rock, NA-187. Ray Benny, N6VR, indicated that he was interested in the project and as his father lived in the San Luis Obispo area, he could provide logistical and operating help. I and my older son had done White Rock three years previously and indicated that there should be no problem getting permission. The weather was the only obstacle. I had tried to return to White Rock the summer before last and the rock was occupied by many California sea lions. We had learned much about landing on the rock from our first trip and I had constructed a waterproof container for the gear. We called it the "POD". My Zodiac was in good shape, so all we needed was people and some good luck. I obtained permission for the try, so everyone started making reservations and travel plans.
The Devil in the details. E-mails started burning up the Internet. Ideas were thrown about as soon assomeone had one. I had all we needed to do a simple operation. I had the boat and motor, a new IC-706Mk II transceiver, the antenna we had used on the rock before and a waterproof container to hold all the gear and heavy duty battery. I figured I could get this gear and some operators on the rock and back without getting killed. Beyond that, I could make no promises. Ray was trying to figure out how to get more power on the rock so we could operate longer. In trying to find a way to have a generator, he purchased a small inflatable boat and motor. Fred, N6AWD, provided a portable generator. Ray also talked to the Water Taxi Service at the harbor who could help bring equipment and operators to and fromthe rock. It occurred to us that a tow from the water taxi could save a lot of time as it takes me 45 minutes to get to the rock from the harbor dock. This is not a fun 45 minutes sitting in a Zodiac surfing the swells.
The best laid plans. On Tuesday the truck was packed with all the gear. The weather was beautiful in Sacramento but I happened to notice a weather report on TV. There was a large storm heading our way from the Gulf of Alaska. It was too late now to wait for a better time to go so all we could do is hope for the best. About 5 hours later, my wife, Mary, and I arrived at our motel in Pismo Beach. We quickly met N6AWD, who had come over for 2 days to help out. Martin and Ray arrived soon after and we all went out for dinner. We hoped that this was not our last meal. Before dawn, we were ready to go and everyone headed to the harbor, 5 miles away. Ray brought his father's Shop-Vac with him and this worked great for inflating the Zodiac quickly. We got the boat in the water with all the gear and Martin and I headed for the rock. Ray had to get his boat registered, so he planned to meet us on the rock. After 45 minutes we arrived and were not pleased with the conditions. The weather was very nice, but that storm out to sea was sending us 6 foot swells that crashed into the rock with great force. We decided that it would be best to try later and hope things got better. Back to the harbor. In the afternoon we hired the harbor patrol totake us all out to the rock to check on conditions and give the others a close up of what they were in for.
The Old Men in the Sea. The next day, Thursday, we headed early for the harbor to try again. On the way we stopped at the cliff near the rock to look at conditions. They were no better and it was high tide. We waited till the tide had gone down a bit and launched the boat again. This time we hired the water taxi to tow the Zodiac out to the rock. A good idea as this allowed us to be less tired for the attempted landing. We needed all the strength we had. It was obvious that conditions were not going to improve. We decided that probably the worst thing that was going to happen was that we were going to get really wet, but we could do it. Ray and I got in the Zodiac and moved closer to the rock with the oars. I set an anchor with a buoy rigged with a pulley so that we could pull the boat to safety. A second rope had to betied to it to make it long enough. Using oars in a Zodiac in a high swell surging around a rock is not great fun. I was very tired by the time we got close to the rock. Ray timed the swell and got out on an outcrop with the rope. We attached a second line to the front of the Zodiac. With much effort he was able to secure the lines and we started passing gear to the rock. The waves were battering Ray, and I was just trying to stay in the boat that was being tossed by waves hitting from 2 sides. The pod had to be handed to Ray on the rock with great effort and he managed to get it to higher ground. I pulled on the anchor rope to return for Martin. The boat had taken a lot of water by now. Martin splashed in and we made for the rock. As we got close, I made a dive and landed on the outcrop without getting too wet. This lasted 3 seconds before a wave hit me that picked me up and slammed me into the main rock that is lined with mussel shells and barnacles. I cut my hand in several places and was trying to get up when the second wave finished the job as it washed over me. Ray is taking the same water and we were totally soaked. Martin was trying his best with the oars until one of them broke as he and the boat came smashing intothe rock. Martin muttered something about madness and decided to return to the harbor and help direct support from there. We had plenty of operators already for the afternoon.
Up 5 - Up 5. The pod was quickly unpacked and the rig and antenna set up. Ray had put his heavy shirt in a pack and it had survived the drenching. The first wave to hit the boat submerged my heavy shirt. Ray got out of his wet shirt and got a bit warmer. I had to settle for drip dry. The fog came in so we remained wet and cold until we got back. We started on 14260 and people were waiting for us. It seemed that conditions were not very good on 20 so we went to 21260 where we were quickly set upon by a mob of Europeans. It wasn't possible to make out calls so split operation by the numbers was our only option. We traded operators after every log sheet that held 92 calls. We worked this pile until there were no more callers. We tried 20 again, but were told the frequency was busy on 14260. We QSYed to 14040 and 21040 for a few CW QSOs. In the distance we noted the water taxi with Martin had return for our rescue. We started breaking the equipment and antenna down and getting everything stowed into the pod and our packs. Ray pulled the Zodiac close to the rock and I did a belly flop into the boat. It now had 6 inches of water in it and I am soaked again. Ray started throwing gear at me and went for the pod. The sea had gotten worse while we were on the rock and a wave knocked him off his feet while carrying the pod. We managed to get the pod into the boat with a lot of effort. When it was Ray's time to get into the boat, a wave knocked him down as it lifted me and the boat straight up. It almost came down on him as he was then under water looking like a large starfish in a plaid shirt hanging on the rock. He made a lunge for the bow and I pulled him by the belt into the boat. We pulled for open water and the water taxi.
QSL VIA? After a long warm shower and dinner we were ready for the IOTA gathering in Visalia. Friday morning it rained heavly as the storm finally hit the coast. We were a bit sore, but we did manage to work over 400 QSOs that were mostly in Europe so we considered the operation to be a success. We have some ideas on how to do it more safely and I am sure you have not heard the last of White Rock.
TNX OM! We would like to thank N6AWD, W6ED, WB9AWX and N6KZ for their help with the boat sand on the air and to all the IOTA hunters who made life interesting.