Little historical background
One of the pioneers of DX expeditions were famous: Robert Leo W7LR, Gus Browning W4BPD and Danny Weil VP2VB. Then for years we were excited by expeditions by Iris and Lloyd Colvin – W6QL and W6KG. For me these people have always been idols, as they have given a lot of emotions and happiness to the whole ham society, enabling us all to make long-distance communication with the white spots on the map. Please notice that in the very beginning dxpeditions were one-man. Later people get more lazy and team dxpeditions appeared. To them often Pareto principle applies: 80% of work is done by 20% of participants.
From my early years I liked travels and adventures. I read many books about solo yacht travels, about climbing mountains, about pirates and treasures. During amateur radio contest from club station I listened expeditions from Africa or Caribbean with admiration and envy… Some of you from previous GDR can understand reality of live in so called “building socialism country”. Everything on the other side of iron curtain seemed to be paradise (now we know that NOT everything was/is perfect there). But we could dream and plan, even if our plans were unreal. And now, amateurs from “closed socialist camp” are reacting to the closing years…
To make my dreams realistic I participated in several trekking and mountaineering projects in Nepal, Malaysia, Peru, Thailand. I learned a lot how to organize travels and how to survive on shoestring (spending not more then 5 USD per day).
Then in 1989 our political system changed and traveling become more easy but more expensive. From my short story you can see that I had some experience and training and there were still dreams about dxpeditions in my mind. I had few idols to follow: VK9NS, SM0AGD, G3TXF, DK7PE, UA4WHX, OH2BH…
After return from FO0WEG and FO0POM (one of the few first activations of new DXCC entities: Austral and Marquesas Islands in 2000) I wanted to go to Marquesas next year but my companion Rafal SQ9LR could not go because of work duties and planned wedding. I decided to go solo and finally made almost 12000 QSOs with barefoot and HF9V vertical as FO/SP9FIH in 2001. My one-man experiences just were created…
To have successful operation the most important is station location, second close are antennas. Before going anywhere I spent few weeks on Google maps, booking.com and airbnb trying to find good QTH. Finding proper location is 70% of dxpedition success. Looking for good QTH one should take always into consideration: distance to other houses being potential source of electronic noise, no obstacles like mountains, buildings, forests in main transmit directions (Europe, Japan, North America), owner consent for antenna installation and of course reasonable price. Best place is just on the beach or cliff but in most cases it is not possible. Sometimes you can follow steps of dxpeditions which operated before from your planned entity.
I always make Excel form with luggage details and another one with financial costs. Usually I am using light rucksack as cabin item and polybag as check-in. They are about 3-4 kg lighter then suitcases with wheels but not so comfortable in moving. Reducing not necessary luggage is important because usually one have to buy overweight ticket. I try to put many small items into jacket pockets, but I am far behind an English and Australian manufacturers who designed jackets (coats) with possibility of carrying 15 kg in several deep pockets!
Often I cannot take with me many masts and antennas due to cost of transportation. Instead of having big baggage I change and rebuild antennas, modeling them with 4nec2 software installed on my laptop. For example after few days of operation, 2 element vertical for 30m is changed to 2 el for 40m or inverted L for 160m is reduced to 80m after week or two of operation. Usually I leave cables, wires, masts in exotic place after the expedition because cost of additional ticket for kilograms taking them back is as big as new items.
In years of good solar activity one can go with multiband vertical and barefoot transceiver but when sunspots are low amplifier and antennas for 160m and 80m are welcome.
Getting license to operate amateur radio can be a challenge itself, both logistic and cost wise. Internet search, asking friends, writing letters or emails…you list them all. Takes usually months for more remote places.
Probably the most important factors are weight of the baggage and antenna performance. Ideal set would be KX3 (or ICOM 705) and Juma 1000 amplifier but sometimes something goes wrong and if amplifier goes out of order you will stay only with 10W transceiver. This will force you to QRP operation. Maybe better choice is IC7300 or K3 radio. Juma 1000 has optional 12V output – very useful when your power supply refuses cooperation. Juma is also very light – 1000W and only 6.5 kg. An alternative can be Expert 1.3k – FA (12 kg) or SPert 1200 DeLuxe (10 kg). For digital (RTTY, PSK, FT8) operation is better to chose transceiver with USB connection to laptop – you do not need any interface box or modem, only USB cable.
As for antennas: my choice is Spiderbeam or Hexbeam for higher bands if operation takes place from inland. When one is lucky to have QTH few meters from ocean better choice are VDA (lighter, quicker to build and with same performance). For 30/40m I prefer one or two element verticals and for 80/160m – Inverted L with two elevated radials. Very useful is antenna modeling software 4nec2.
In case of interference it is good to have few ferrite cores. Sometimes it is necessary to make few coil turns on coax, on USB cable or on power supply to avoid disturbance.
Several dangers await explorers. To mention few and not to discourage too much: pirates can attack yachts in remote areas and tropical cyclone can destroy your sail, you can get malaria in most of Africa, Asia and South America (use anti malaria pills), you can be arrested and spend days in jail and it is not Hilton hotel in most of the countries. Traveling to remote areas in arctic regions or traveling by yacht to the islands without the landing infrastructure, you can expect sinking or damaging of the equipment.
You can say that the most dangerous tings in politically unstable countries are diseases and attempts against life of explorers. The next dangerous group of things is the threat of loosing the equipment or its confiscation in some countries. There could be also the possibility of theft – it is hard to look after the whole luggage by one person.
The cases of extorting different kinds of payments (deposit for equipment, license, electric energy bill, extra luggage) are less dangerous but money consuming.
During the antenna assembly some accidents may happen, and usually there are no doctors in tropics or the outpatient’s clinics are very primitive. Every year in tropical countries a dozen of people die because of falling coconuts from the palm trees. You must really be careful of that fact. Swimming in certain tropical areas could be dangerous (sharks, jellyfishes).
Remember that going alone and having 3 bags with 60kg of equipment one must be alerted all the time.
Timetable, excursions, boarding
Right timetable during operation is very important. Before you go, better spend few days on voacap.com planner and choose proper time to all continents on all bands. For example for Japanese or Americans is irritating when you work Europeans and there is short window to more remote continent. Also take into consideration, that we, Europeans, are more aware of propagation to our continent and we have to learn when there is good propagation to other continents.
Of course one wish to see a bit of an exotic tropical island or country like Bhutan or Nepal with all old monuments, palaces, temples, etc. The best day to go on excursion is when K and A indexes are high and propagation is not good. Good solution is to rent a car. I always rent a bicycle or walk on foot J
I can survive day or two without eating or weeks with simple food – I learned it from trekking in mountains in Nepal and Peru where sometimes a bowl of rice was only dish for day walking. When your goal is to work 1500 stations per day eating and sleeping is waste of time. In some places you can have catering or meals served in restaurant. It is more expensive. In most remote places you have to buy and make food yourself. I am not good cook – only scrambled eggs and bread with jam are in my menu.
Goals and achievements
In my opinion most important is to work as many unique callsign as possible. All Time New Ones are most welcome by radio community. Sometimes I like to seriously participate in contest from rare country, mostly as single band entry. Contest is always opportunity for “small pistols” to work new one. There is Cass Award issued every year for one-man dxpedition with most unique worked during 14 days. There are also plaques for best dxpedition in the WPX or WW Contest but it is difficult to compete with multi operator efforts.
If you are not Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, George Soros or similar person – money for dxpedition can be a problem. Besides that dxpeditioner gives his time, effort, sometimes health to please armchair DX hunter, he needs funds to buy tickets, rent boat/ship/plane, buy equipment, food, etc. Sometimes people think that small donations coming with QSL requests cover whole dxpedition costs. From my and friends’ experiences it is only 30-50%, the rest of expenses are the responsibility of the participants.
There are few ways to compensate at least part of dxpedition expenses. From “pay to play” before all expedition starts to “wait until you see effect”. I am rather for the second one. It is a bit irritating to see all this mega dxpeditions asking for more and more money before they start expedition.
It is more fair to donate by Clublog or PayPal some money after you work dxpedition or after you see how they perform. Not to pay before, just for promises. Also for me is strange that people gift amateur radio foundations instead just donate directly expedition they like or appreciate. I do not understand why people give money to foundations – seems that they allow other people govern to whom give donation, who is nice, who is not… Probably sometimes is taxing system that prefers foundations but never the less I always like to evaluate where my money go.
From financial point of view one man dxpedition is much cheaper and effective then multi person effort. Compare 12 000 QSOs made by one operator in 14 days costing about 3000 $ against 60 000 QSOs made by 8-10 operators in the same time and spending more then 40 000 $.
Look: 100 persons making small expeditions will give you 100 DXCC entities every third day in a year. When you group them to 20 persons big events it will give you 5 DXCC entities every 2.5 month. Think it over men…
If you travel with group of friends it is always possibility that one of them in hard days can loose control of himself, there can be quarrels about food, bed, access to radio, distortions from other operating station etc. Going alone you avoid this kind of problems but before you go ask yourself: can you spend weeks/months without family, without friends, without TV and your armchair? Are you healthy to go by yourself, are you strong enough to carry luggage and to put up antennas? Can you survive without your favorite beer and meals? How do you cope with heat, wind, rain, snow, frost, mosquitos, spiders, cockroaches?
Often people ask me why I do it. The answer is: because I like it and because I am paying back to radio community what I received from other dxpeditioners in my youth.
Solo Giga Dxpeditions
Being so involved in on-man dxpeditioning I created an internet site about all solo dxpeds in history, which made over 10000 QSOs. There are data in the table I could find but maybe more are missing – you can email me every solo effort with more then 10k QSOs and not being on professional mission (only amateur radio expeditions count).
One-man operation from 6 continents: