After my operation from Tarawa (T30GM) and via Fiji I arrived on Tuvalu on September 16. Although the small size of the Bonrikri International Airport on Tarawa was quite an experience, the airport on Funafuti is even smaller and I would consider this the absolute bare minimum space needed to operate an airport. Customs, immigration and luggage collection is all in the same room of just some 25 sqm. After the airplane was parked in front of the arrival hall, we disembarked and followed the usual procedures in a relaxed atmosphere.
However, a custom officer wanted to know what I had in the tall box. Once I mentioned that it was an antenna, he asked for an invoice and started to talk about some sort of import duty. I mentioned that I was going to bring the antenna with me when leaving the country but he was not convinced. He told me to leave the antenna at the airport and come back the next day. I thought that was not a good idea and continued to discuss how to solve the issue. As I had to wait until all departing passenger had boarded the plane, I decided to go the telecom office to collect my license. Perhaps this could help in the discussion with customs.
I met Mr. Anisi Penitusi who is the license issuing officer and with whom I had communicated about the license application. I paid the AUD 50 license fee and got my receipt that also indicated my call sign T2G. The license would be prepared and delivered later in the week. With the receipt in hand, I went back to customs to continue my attempt to get out of customs with my antenna. Finally (after all passengers left the airport) I was allowed to take the antenna with me but had to report at the customs headquarter the next day to talk with “the boss”.
After leaving the airport building I found myself alone in the parking lot and had a problem getting a taxi, as there are just only a handful of taxis on the island. After an hour a taxi showed up and was willing to bring me to my guesthouse at Tengako at the northern part of the island, some 15 minutes drive. After arriving at the guesthouse, I started to get things organized. I positioned a table close to the electrical outlet because there were no extension cords available. The table position was in front of the main entrance door which I always had open for some cooling by the sea breeze. With the absence of the sea breeze it was extremely hot and humid. I went back to Fongafale, the area around the airport, to rent a motorbike and buy the necessary food and drinks.
I was immediately concerned about the location as the garden was covered with tall coconut and palm trees which was an undesirable situation for my vertical. Also the backyard of the guesthouse was not suitable. Since I had no other choice, I started to assemble the antenna and mounted this on a iron tube of about 1.5m above the ground at an open spot in between the trees.
Although I worked stations from the US, Japan and Europe, signals were not very strong. The next morning I examined the situation in the backyard which ends at the ocean. It was a sloping area with some sort of small dike at the ocean and with trees on top. This was certainly not the right place for the antenna.
The “beach” behind the dike was fully covered with small and big pebble stones and not suitable for installation of the antenna. But I discovered an iron bar sticking out of the surface at the beach side, close to the top of the dike. This was a good place to place the vertical and to guy it with two ropes. My “good” antenna site was rather far from the guesthouse. I had to figure out if I had enough coax cable to reach this place. With 39 and 24 meters of coax connected together I could just cover the distance. I made sure that the coax was lifted from the surface by trees and branches to avoid being effected by animals such as pigs (the neighbors were farming pigs) or crabs. The joint between the two cables was covered with a plastic bag and kept in the air by a branch to avoid water getting into the joint.
Although the new position of the R7+ was still not ideal, it was certainly better. Later I discovered that at high tide the waves flushed around the base of the antenna and the waves caused a cloud of salty spray over the entire antenna.
After the antenna was installed near the ocean, I had to visit the customs HQ to discuss it with the “boss”. This was just a courtesy visit and once I promised that I would take the antenna back with me, the case was cleared. There were no outstanding issues anymore and I could continue working the pileups. It was more or less the same situation as on Tarawa with all day Japan, often also US and so now and then Europe.
It is common practice that several people are purposefully interfering with the transmit frequency of DX-stations (which again triggers others to respond, and so on…). During one particular operation I discovered someone jamming my listening frequencies and was even moving up and down when discovering my listening frequency.
This is the first time I came across this type jamming. As usual, best thing is to just ignore it.
On September 18 I erected the 40m vertical with elevated radials. I placed it in the middle of the garden in front of the guesthouse. The 15 meter tall pole stood 5 meters above the trees. The remaining 10 meters of coax was connected to this antenna with the feed point at about 5 meters above the ground. Switching antennas was now a matter of disconnecting and reconnecting of coax cables. The 40m vertical worked well and was a good addition to the R7+.
In the guesthouse I had no access to a telephone or internet so it became a practice to take the motorbike and drive to Funafuti to visit an internet cafe. Fortunately, they had a reasonable connection and were very inexpensive. However, such a trip was at least 2x 15minutes driving plus the time in the cafe. Sometimes I combined this also with necessary shopping for food and drinks.
Since the second day on the island, I visited the Vaiaku Lagi Hotel in Funafuti for breakfast or lunch now and then. I learned that they provided air-conditioned rooms with internet access. Besides that, they had an excellent garden between the hotel and the lagoon. This appeared to me as an excellent accommodation but unfortunately they were fully booked till Tuesday. I decided to book the last two days of my stay there as the circumstances looked much better than the guesthouse for a number of reasons (personal conditions, internet, antenna situation).
Tuvalu is a special case when it comes to your personal expenses. All payments are in cash since you cannot use credit cards. I brought sufficient Australian Dollars with me. However, with the hotel being more than double the price of the guesthouse, it immediately changed my financial situation.
Fortunately the extra money I brought covered the extra expenses, but you can imagine my initial concerns. The daily routine was to first scan the bands for activity. But this was sometimes frustrating because it happened often that I could hear some stations but did not get a reply on my CQ calling. When operating was not possible, I used the time to sleep, exploring the island by motorbike, shopping, or visiting the internet cafe for mail, web site maintenance or making calls to the family. But the fact that I could not make QSO’s was most frustrating as you can imagine.
I noticed that with my equipment being exposed to the very humid salty atmosphere on the island, things got rusty very quickly. In just 5 days, some of the hardware of the vertical became very rusty. Even the small screws on the K3 became rusty. During my stay, some engineers were fixing a new antenna and equipment for a new mobile GSM network.
During this task they had to dismantle an old Kathrein vertical GSM antenna from a 40m high tower which was just 5 years old. It was completely damaged by the harsh climate. Even the big satellite dishes will not last for more than 5 years.
On Monday 21st September I visited the Vaiaku Lagi Hotel to meet the handyman, Henry, to discuss the installation of my antenna. He collected a one meter long 2″ steel pipe from his workshop which I could use for placing my R7+ vertical at the edge of the lagoon. He was also available for any help I might need.
The next day I packed all my gear and was ready to move to the hotel. I had arranged a taxi the day before to pick up my suitcase and box but he did not show up. So I took my trolley and drove on the motorbike to the hotel after which I started to search for a taxi. I drove around town for more than an hour and I finally ended up somewhere between houses after many people gave me directions and suggested to ask further on. Actually the driver was sleeping but his mother told him to get up.
I gave him instructions to pick up my gear from the guesthouse. About 40 minutes later he appeared at the hotel with the remainder of my stuff. I installed the R7+ again, but this time at the lagoon side, straight in front of my room. The steel pipe was placed in the water (at high tide) and the antenna fixed on top of it. Two guy wires kept the antenna in position. As soon as I had installed the radio, I started to operate. The new accommodation was a real pleasure and having internet 24 hrs a day was a good extra. The R7+ was in an excellent position with (at high tide) some 50cm above the water and with free take off to Europe, US and Japan. I enjoyed another two days with nice operating conditions but finally had to prepare for my departure.
My plane to Fiji was scheduled for Thursday, 24 September at 12:30PM so there was plenty of time in the morning to take down the antenna and pack all the equipment. At 10AM I had to check-in at the airport after which I could go back to the hotel and report back at the airport at around 12. It took only 1 minute walk from the hotel to the airport which is the shortest distance I have ever experienced!
When checking-in at the airport I was told that there was a delay and the plane had not left Fiji yet. But around 11:30AM we got the information that the flight was canceled. Here my room at the hotel proved to be a benefit as I was back at the hotel quickly and reclaimed my room. This was not a problem because without a plane, there are no new guests. Immediately I reinstalled the antenna and was on the air within 1.5 hours. Normally you would be disappointed if your flight is canceled but this time I welcomed such a cancelation!
The next morning I followed the same exercise as the day before and at 10AM I was at the airport again for the check-in. This time the flight was confirmed and my luggage was checked in without paying for excess luggage.