Tuvalu was together with West Kiribati (T30) the target of my 2009 Pacific DXpedition with Fiji as the central hub. On September 8 I arrived at the Bairiki International Airport where many people were greeting the new arrivals. Tarawa has some 11,000 inhabitants and all international travel is by two flights (Tuesday and Thursday) and a number of vessels. It was no wonder there are so many people at the airport welcoming friends and family. The airport is rather small and I quickly got through customs but got stuck at the baggage claim. After waiting in an extremely hot and humid room in the airport building, the baggage arrived and was pushed through some sort of gate and placed in the middle of the small room. People started searching for their bags and quickly it looked like a nest with ants. I took my time and tried not to move too much in order keep my body temperature under control. After a while I was able to pick my two cases from the pile and moved outside where it was still warm but a lot more pleasant.
The hotel shuttle took about 15 minutes to deliver all guests to the Otintaai Hotel, the only (government owned) hotel. Tarawa has a number of guesthouses as well.
On advice from several other operators who were there before, I had asked for room 7 which is at the end of the east wing. The location is excellent as you can easily walk into the garden and work on the antennas which can be placed right at the edge of the lagoon. For my preparation of this trip I received some pictures from JA8BMK of this location which was very helpful. Just because of this, I brought two stainless steel clamps to fix the vertical antenna to one of the poles that keeps the fence in place. It was quite a challenge to get the vertical on top of the tube by myself but I managed to get it done by the use of two guy wires. I needed only 10 meters of coax to reach the radio in the room.
The first contact was made at 15:17Z on 40m. I was surprised by the extremely strong signals and at one point I had to adjust the audio to an acceptable level to protect my ears. I could work Japan, US and Europe at the same time and I soon had a good pileup which became more difficult to work. In some case I recognized that other DX stations started their operation close to my frequency which quickly caused confusion and finally I had to cease operation.
Sometimes I could work the pileup until conditions faded out but sometimes the pileup developed into a chaos where nobody was listening anymore. This was partly caused by the fact that my signal was very weak in Europe but largely by the misbehavior of some people at the other end, which was difficult for me to hear. I had cases where I had to pause for 15 minutes to get the pileup silent and could start with the right procedure again; once I have called a station, I want to finish that QSO, no matter how long it takes, but some callers did not honor my commitment.
The next day I constructed a 40m vertical for which I brought a 15m tall DX-wire fiber pole. I ran a wire from the top down and connected it to a current balun. This was about 5 meters above ground level. At the balun I connected two elevated radials. With the miniVNA I did some measurements and made the necessary adjustments. I had a good SWR and there was no need for an additional tuner. Although it is difficult to make a good comparison with the R7+, I’m convinced that this 40m vertical improved my signal due to its physical length and its lower radiation angle.
Conditions were quite different day by day and it was a bit frustrating to have fantastic pileups and propagation one day and many hours of dead bands the next day. Nevertheless, there were several fantastic pileups and I was even able to work good pileups on 15m and 12m.
One day I started on 15m that looked dead but within minutes I had a huge pileup for a couple of hours. The most useful bands were 40m, 20m and 17m.
Wireless internet access was provided in the restaurant so my tablemate was my laptop.
The connection was very slow so the first thing was to start downloading my e-mail and then order my food. This way I was able to get some feedback from the e-mails and the DX-cluster and also to answer the mail and update my web site while awaiting my food. The last day I started early to take down the 40m vertical after which I worked a good pileup on 20m until 10AM when I had to close down the station. I needed to take down the R7+ vertical and pack my equipment because the plane would leave Tarawa at 04:15PM.
Checking in at the airport was again an activity in a small room with extreme high temperature and humidity. All passengers were like sardines in a tin and queuing for the inspection of the suitcases. After this the luggage was placed on a scale but the guy did not read the weight so this time I did not pay for excess luggage. After a while, a mini-van drove over the runway for inspection and to remove possible obstacles or debris. Later a police officer on a motorbike with siren drove along the runway to alarm the local people that the plane was near and they should leave the runway. Sometime later, the plane arrived, exchanged passengers quickly and headed back to Fiji again. During take-off several people were waiting alongside the runway to wave us goodbye, including the police officer on his bike.