A round the world ticket from Air New Zealand seemed a good buy - out via VR2, stay in ZL, home via W6 with a stopover in E5 just coinciding with the BERU contest weekend!
After a bit of surfing I decided to try and use the well known site on Rarotonga at the Kii Kii Motel.
This site is on the north shore of the island with a clear 180+ degree takeoff west - north - east.(pic above is looking East) E5 is a long way from anywhere, 3500km to ZL, 8000km to VE7 and a wopping 16,000km to the UK. Signals are going to be somewhat weak over that distance from the UK but probably very strong from the countries round the Pacific rim.
I totted up the weight of the K2/100 + PSU + ATU + Butternut + 50m of low loss coax + Libretto PC and it all came to 21kg. I rang up Air New Zealand and asked if we would be allowed luggage by 'piece' as we were returning through the USA - and after a bit of humming and hahing they said yes. This doubles the checked baggage allowance at a stroke. However I felt that to add in another umpteen kgs for a linear was just not going to be feasible, I was going to hear more than I could work.
E mails to Cook Islands Telecom enabled me to reserve the call E51PJT but I failed to be able to set this up in advance by snail mail as my letter and its $20NZ vanished into the postal system - but anyway it only took 15 mins to organise when we went to their office and the licence runs to 2008!
I assembled the Butternut, tuned it up with the MFJ. I have 50m of coax (about 20m would have been plenty) so I positioned the antenna right at the high tide mark. The set up of the elevated radials is along the beach about 1-2 feet above the pebbles - more or less as Dean N6BV described for their 6Y operation. I use the Butternut multiband radials covering 40-10m as they seem to work for all HF quite well. Being right at the lagoon edge the antenna was well placed for very low angle take off.
A quick tune around showed the bands were very quiet. The first of many rain squalls passed through and knocked the Butternut over. After waiting for a dry period I dug a much deeper hole for the base post and fixed on 4 guys just above the matching section (see above).
Conditions were very mixed with little stable progation on 15 or 10m, but 20 and 40 seemed OK I got the impression that the location was very quiet ( except when there were storms) and that I could hear better than I was being heard and this pattern continued throughout the trip.
The above shows the flexing of the Butternut in the 3 day storm which passed through over the BERU weekend. No damage - just a lot of detuning and later loose fittings.
BERU started with plenty of activity on 80 and 40 from VK/ZL and VE. Some outstanding signals from VE7 and even VE3s were putting in signals over S9 on 80m. Working them however was a bit more tricky - I guess their noise floor was a lot higher than mine. At this stage despite the weather my noise level was low. VA3RAC later reported that I was 579 over on the east coast on 80. VP8NO was a great signal on 40 at 1014Z as was Nigel V25XF.
During the first period on 80/40 Qs ran along quite nicely. The first G heard was Chris G3SJJ on 20 at 1126Z - I was surprised when he came back to the call! Not much else on 20 and despite a search no other Gs - weird propagation. Later I heard Alan P3J on 20 599+ and we also managed a Q on 40. Still a few ZLs on 80 but after a very quiet period from 1400-1600 20 opens up a bit.
This period was most frustrating I called a number of G stations but I could only raise Dave G4BUO and Ian GM3SEK. After local sunrise 80/40 virtually closed and I hunted around on HF for a bit - few VEs on 15, and later VE7CC and VE7VF on 10, but despite a lot of checking nothing more. The gaps between Qs started to open up significantly. The bands picked up a bit at sunset with 40 yielding G4BUO, VP8KF, VK9NS, J88DR and later GM0GAV. I got the impression that I was no longer getting out on LF as I had at the start. There didn't seem to be any real long path opening to G at all. The antenna now had no resonance on 40 as well as 80 and the Hi SWR warnings were becoming more frequent. Added to which a series of power line insulator leakages were occurring during the heaviest rain squalls , these wiped out everything. After struggling with this I finally closed at 0819 because I couldn't hear anything to work. Final Q was with Mavis VK3KS, very fitting.
80 40 20 15 10 Q/B Score
32 88 42 28 2 192/130 3560
Weather totally dominated this years entry. The tropical storm lasted the whole contest with winds strong enough to bowl a palm tree over - but not a Butternut as it turned out - but watch out for flying coconuts.
The rain turned the Pacific brown with run off water and to say there was QRN really doesn't describe the static crashes later on, electrical power insulators leakage and arcing during the heaviest rain and the strategic bursts of BY(?) radar to fill in the gaps.
In the end I only worked a few UK stations, G3SJJ, G4BUO (2), GM0GAV, GM3SEK but heard and called repeatedly G3BJ, G0IVZ, G4FAL, G3GLL, G4BJM, GW3NJW, 2E0KOP
Other bonuses I called and cant work include 9M4SDX, ZC4LI, ZS6AAA, VU2UR
Some I expected to hear but don't, include, ZS3/G3LZQ, GB5CC, GM3POI, and 9J2BO.
The unwanted caller approach seemed to work better this year - I sent slowly 'sri oc beru onli cu tmrw' .
Over the 2 weeks the most interesting propagation occurred at local sunrise and sunset. During the day there was very little to work, a few USA or Japan on 15, but short searchlight propagation mostly.
On 40/20 the pattern was that a few S5/SVs would break through the US/JA pile up and as the opening slowly worked westwards OK/DL/I/EA would be heard.
The openings didn't seem to spread very far north. The antipodal point for E5 is about 15E 20N. Towards the end of these openings the EAs were quite strong.
Conditions varied quite a bit from day to day according to the feedback which IK5MEJ sent me by e mail each day.
Operations on 160/30/17 were impossible despite a lot of requests as I didn't have time to erect more antennas in the lousy weather.
Several times I wondered if G/EU people realised that the short path to E5 is the same bearing as VE7(330) rather then ZL(14) or VK(60). That is why there was little LP since 40m LP to KH6/VE7/W7 occurs in November rather than March. In any case the hills in the centre of Rarotonga probably block LP to the Kii Kii location on the north shore.
Rarotonga is only populated around the circumference, the interior is mountainous extinct volcano plugs, thick jungle and not populated. Telecoms seem good but you have to buy a new SIM card and a Pay-As-You go so I used e mail for most communications back home. In fact some of the feedback I was given by e mail on signals was very helpful. Also to hire a car or scooter you have to get a new driving licence, Cook Islands don't recognise your home driving licence, but New Zealand does. Rarotonga is relatively well developed from the point of view of infrastructure and could be a good base from which to do a DXpedition to North Cooks or some of the other islands.
Sea view at dinner at Tamarind House - best restaurant
Not one of the best trips we have done. As far as BERU was concerned, we might have done as well from ZL3 or VK1 but I do seem to have found a radio set up that is robust and quite effective. Yes, an amplifier would have been helpful, but most of the problems were caused by the weather. Rarotonga will be a great location when the sunspots show up. Thanks to the management at the Kii Kii Motel, to Air New Zealand for baggage rules, and to Bill, N7OU, Mike ZL1MH, John ZL1BQH, Jim E51JD and the DX Holiday website.
Sunrise the morning after BERU!
G3PJT and Mike ZL1MH and ZL Team mascot?
Thanks for the QSOs - QSL via G3PJT