A DXpedition to islands in the St. Lawrence Passage and the Eastern Seaboard coast.
The planning for this trip started almost a year before hand, whilst Martin G3ZAY and I were operating the Cambridge University station GM6UW in the Outer Hebrides in June 2002. Following a few email exchanges, we had the basic outline of the trip sorted and Martin started making the arrangements.
As I was working in France until May, and would be back in France for July and August, we only had June to go in, which regrettably meant that we would miss the IOTA contest. We did hope, however, to give many IOTA followers a 'new one', since many of the island groups to be visited were needed by over 80% of IOTA chasers (although none fell into the 'Most Wanted' category).
On 7th June at 16:50 UK Time, we left London Heathrow on Flight BA0215 to Boston, since this was significantly cheaper than flying directly to Canada. The next day, Martin drove straight up the Interstate 95, passing through Pep-Boys to buy a couple car batteries and a110V charger for them, which would become our power supply. We then went on to the Canadian boarder and we were able to reach Percé, near Gaspé on the south shore of the St. Lawrence Passage on 9th. We spent the afternoon looking around the town and visited the Rocher Percé (Pierced Rock), just off the shore. (Not an IOTA counter)
Early on the following morning, we took the boat with the staff from park authority SEPAQ (Société des Etablissements de Plein-Air de Québec) in the fog to Bonaventure. Bonaventure (Good Fortune) is thought to be the name of a French ship which ran aground here in the 18th century, and the island counts as IOTA NA-177 and had only been claimed by 13.5% of applicants before our visit, making it the rarest one we visited. It is also Canadian islands QC-002.
Once on the island, we used the SEPAQ shelter as our shack. Regrettably, however, the shelter was at the foot of a small hill which was limiting our take-off to Europe, so we moved to a higher point once the weather improved in the afternoon.
Conditions were not wonderful, with complete blackouts where we couldn't hear a signal for up to an hour at a time, but we managed 542 QSOs over the two days we operated from there (although we had to return to the mainland at night).
Martin G3ZAY operating on Bonaventure.
(Rigs FT-890 with FT-100 for backup)
On 12th June, we drove to Matane and took the ferry across the St. Lawrence to Godbout, from where we were able to drive to Sept-Îles (Seven Islands). Sept-Îles is a small town, although the only habitation for about 100kms in any direction in this remote part of Canada. The town is on the banks of the estuary and was once a major whaling station. Despite the name, there are only six islands near the town: one of them appears from the land to be two islands. All the islands in this group count as NA-125 for IOTA (Canadian Islands QC-006), and so we decided to visit the nearest one, La Grande Basque (The Large Basque), which is only a short water-taxi ride away, on 13th.
Restrictions were fewer here, because the island was owned by the Town Council, not SEPAQ, but we decided not to go too early because experience on Bonaventure had shown that the bands were only open in the afternoon local time, and by early evening signals started to suffer from aurora effects. All the same, we made 441 QSOs in the day.
The next day, we travelled further East, through the endless forest along the banks of the St. Lawrence to Havre St. Pierre (St. Peter's Harbour), the next major habitation. Just off this town are the Mingan islands, NA- 176, where we were able to activate two islands in two days. These two islands were Havre on 14th which, unknown to us, was a Canadian Islands new one, QC-097 and La Petite Î'e au Marteau (Little Hammer Island - not nice to spell in phonetics in QSB!) on 15th. This counted for QC-055 and also LH0133 for the lighthouses award. 653 QSOs were made over the two days. Both the Mingans and Sept-Îles also count for CQ Zone 2, and camping is actively encouraged, although we opted for hotels on the shore because it was still cold in June (there was still some snow on the ground).
The next day, 16th June, we awoke early to go to Havre airport (substantially smaller than Heathrow or Boston!) to take a little Cessna across to Anticosti island, NA- 077 / QC-001.
Like the Mingans, Anticosti is mainly SEPAQ-owned, and is very easy to see on a map, because it is the big, long, thin island in the middle of the St. Lawrence estuary. There is only one boat which calls in here weekly, apart from the Cessna link back to the mainland. The island was once owned by the French chocolate manufacturer Henri Menier as a hunting ground, and he had many deer and other animals released here, which today roam freely in the streets of the main town Port Menier. We stayed in SEPAQ's hostel and were able to put up the Butternut vertical on the grass outside. The FT-890 stayed in the hotel room and we were soon on-air.
Again, not much happened in the mornings on the island, but there was some time to get to Europe around late afternoon, before the aurora set in. During our night on Anticosti, we got to see a spectacular visible aurora, which confirmed the reason behind the problems we were having. We managed to make 638 QSOs over the two days.
Leaving Anticosti, we flew back to Havre St. Pierre and then drove back to Sept-Îles and hence towards Québec city, and civilisation! On 18th / 19th June, we stopped overnight at Île aux Coudres NA- 128/QC-009. Coudres is nearer the major town, and so is substantially less rare than the islands we had been on (claimed by 28.3%). We therefore only operated briefly here, making 250 QSOs from the hotel car-park, with the Butternut on the lawn. It was noticeable, however, how much better radio conditions were now that we were slightly further south. Coudres is very easy to reach because there is a substantial number of people who live there and a car ferry makes regular trips across the river, even in winter when the river is frozen.
The following morning, we briefly visited Québec city, before heading south across the US boarder into Maine. On 20th, we stopped briefly at Cadillac Mountain on Mount Desert Island (NA-055), where we threw up a fibreglass pole and 20m dipole and operated from the top during lunchtime, making a great total of 45 QSOs! Martin was now using his US callsign NU2L/1. By that evening, we had made it across a short bridge to Bailey island (NA- 137), where we made a further 111 QSOs from a car-park. (Have you every tried sitting in the driver's seat, pen-and-paper log on your lap, holding a mike in one hand and trying to keep a hoard of midges away with the other? It is very hard and looks very strange to outsiders, but we had to keep the car door open to support the mast vertical, without any guys!)
The next day, the 21st June, we activated our last IOTA reference of the trip: Star Island in the Isles of Shoals, which count as New Hampshire State group NA-217, even though they are actually in Maine.
The Shoals are also very easy to get to, thanks to the Isles of Shoals Steamship Company, which operate out of Portsmouth, NH. For this final leg of the trip, we were joined by Joe W1JR, an OT CW Op, which sort-of made up for my refusal to make a CW QSO on the trip and Martin's - er - not perfect efforts. (Mind you, VE2/G3ZAY/P is not the easiest callsign to send!)
Star Island is owned by a religious group who operate a conference centre there, which makes it a very nice QTH, with even a shop we could use to get food! Luxury!
Between the three of us, we made 250 QSOs from here in about 5 hours. Having left Star Island that evening, and after saying goodbye to Joe, we went inland almost to the Vermont border to stay for a couple nights with Martin's cousin and his family, where the car batteries were left for a future trip.
A small selection of photographs (scanned from print originals) are on Flickr.