Dominic Smith ⇓

Islands on the Air DXpedition to Québec (VE2) and Maine (W1)

A DXpedition to islands in the St. Lawrence Passage and the Eastern Seaboard coast.
This page is archived. It was last modified in November 2009 and it will probably not be updated.

NU2L/1 – W1/M0BLF/P – W1JR/P

June 2003

The planning for this trip started almost ayear before hand, whilst Martin G3ZAYand I were operating the CambridgeUniversity station GM6UW in the OuterHebrides in June 2002. Following a fewemail exchanges, we had the basic outlineof the trip sorted and Martin startedmaking the arrangements.

As I was working in France until May, andwould be back in France for July andAugust, we only had June to go in, whichregrettably meant that we would miss theIOTA contest. We did hope, however, togive many IOTA followers a 'new one',since many of the island groups to bevisited were needed by over 80% of IOTAchasers (although none fell into the 'MostWanted' category).

On 7th June at 16:50 UK Time, we leftLondon Heathrow on Flight BA0215 toBoston, since this was significantly cheaperthan flying directly to Canada. The nextday, Martin drove straight up the Interstate95, passing through Pep-Boys to buy acouple car batteries and a110V charger forthem, which would become our powersupply. We then went on to the Canadianboarder and we were able to reach Percé,near Gaspé on the south shore of the St.Lawrence Passage on 9th. We spent theafternoon looking around the town andvisited the Rocher Percé (Pierced Rock),just off the shore. (Not an IOTA counter)

Early on the following morning, we tookthe boat with the staff from park authoritySEPAQ (Société des Etablissements dePlein-Air de Québec) in the fog toBonaventure. Bonaventure (Good Fortune)is thought to be the name of a French shipwhich ran aground here in the 18th century,and the island counts as IOTA NA-177 andhad only been claimed by 13.5% ofapplicants before our visit, making it therarest one we visited. It is also Canadianislands QC-002.

Once on the island, we used the SEPAQshelter as our shack. Regrettably, however,the shelter was at the foot of a small hillwhich was limiting our take-off to Europe,so we moved to a higher point once theweather improved in the afternoon.

Conditions were not wonderful, withcomplete blackouts where we couldn'thear a signal for up to an hour at a time,but we managed 542 QSOs over the twodays we operated from there (although wehad to return to the mainland at night).

Martin G3ZAY operating on Bonaventure.

Martin G3ZAY operating on Bonaventure.
(Rigs FT-890 with FT-100 for backup)

On 12th June, we drove to Matane and tookthe ferry across the St. Lawrence toGodbout, from where we were able todrive to Sept-Îles (Seven Islands). Sept-Îlesis a small town, although the onlyhabitation for about 100kms in anydirection in this remote part of Canada.The town is on the banks of the estuary andwas once a major whaling station. Despitethe name, there are only six islands nearthe town: one of them appears from theland to be two islands. All the islands inthis group count as NA-125 for IOTA(Canadian Islands QC-006), and so wedecided to visit the nearest one, La GrandeBasque (The Large Basque), which is only ashort water-taxi ride away, on 13th.

Restrictions were fewer here, because theisland was owned by the Town Council,not SEPAQ, but we decided not to go tooearly because experience on Bonaventurehad shown that the bands were only openin the afternoon local time, and by earlyevening signals started to suffer fromaurora effects. All the same, we made 441QSOs in the day.

The next day, we travelledfurther East, through theendless forest along the banksof the St. Lawrence to HavreSt. Pierre (St. Peter’sHarbour), the next majorhabitation. Just off this townare the Mingan islands, NA-176, where we were able toactivate two islands in twodays. These two islands wereHavre on 14th which, unknown to us, was aCanadian Islands new one, QC-097 and LaPetite Île au Marteau (Little Hammer Island– not nice to spell in phonetics in QSB!) on15th. This counted for QC-055 and alsoLH0133 for the lighthouses award. 653QSOs were made over the two days. Boththe Mingans and Sept-Îles alsocount for CQ Zone 2, andcamping is actively encouraged,although we opted for hotels onthe shore because it was still coldin June (there was still somesnow on the ground).

The next day, 16th June, weawoke early to go to Havreairport (substantially smaller thanHeathrow or Boston!) to take alittle Cessna across to Anticosti island, NA-077 / QC-001.

Like the Mingans, Anticosti is mainlySEPAQ-owned, and is very easy to see on amap, because it is the big, long, thin islandin the middle of the St. Lawrence estuary.There is only one boat which calls in hereweekly, apart from the Cessna link back tothe mainland. The island was once ownedby the French chocolate manufacturerHenri Menier as a hunting ground, and hehad many deer and other animals releasedhere, which today roam freely in the streetsof the main town Port Menier. We stayedin SEPAQ’s hostel and were able to put upthe Butternut vertical on the grass outside.The FT-890 stayed in the hotel room andwe were soon on-air.

Again, not much happened in the morningson the island, but there was some time toget to Europe around late afternoon,before the aurora set in. During our nighton Anticosti, we got to see a spectacularvisible aurora, which confirmed the reasonbehind the problems we were having. Wemanaged to make 638 QSOs over the twodays.

Leaving Anticosti, we flew back to HavreSt. Pierre and then drove back to Sept-Îlesand hence towards Québec city, andcivilisation! On 18th / 19th June, westopped overnight at Île aux Coudres NA-128/QC-009. Coudres is nearer the majortown, and so is substantially less rare thanthe islands we had been on (claimed by28.3%). We therefore only operatedbriefly here, making 250 QSOs from thehotel car-park, with the Butternut on thelawn. It was noticeable, however, howmuch better radio conditions were nowthat we were slightly further south.Coudres is very easy to reach because thereis a substantial number of people who livethere and a car ferry makes regular tripsacross the river, even in winter when theriver is frozen.

The following morning, we briefly visitedQuébec city, before heading south acrossthe US boarder into Maine. On 20th, westopped briefly at Cadillac Mountain onMount Desert Island (NA-055), where wethrew up a fibreglass pole and 20m dipoleand operated from the top duringlunchtime, making a great total of 45 QSOs!Martin was now using his US callsignNU2L/1. By that evening, we had made itacross a short bridge to Bailey island (NA-137), where we made a further 111 QSOsfrom a car-park. (Have you every triedsitting in the driver’s seat, pen-and-paperlog on your lap, holding a mike in one handand trying to keep a hoard of midges awaywith the other? It is very hard and looksvery strange to outsiders, but we had tokeep the car door open to support the mastvertical, without any guys!)

The next day, the 21st June, we activatedour last IOTA reference of the trip: StarIsland in the Isles of Shoals, which count asNew Hampshire State group NA-217, eventhough they are actually in Maine.

The Shoals are also very easy to get to,thanks to the Isles of Shoals SteamshipCompany, which operate out ofPortsmouth, NH. For this final leg of thetrip, we were joined by Joe W1JR, an OTCW Op, which sort-of made up for myrefusal to make a CW QSO on the trip andMartin’s … er… not perfect efforts. (Mindyou, VE2/G3ZAY/P is not the easiestcallsign to send!)

Star Island is owned by a religious groupwho operate a conference centre there,which makes it a very nice QTH, with evena shop we could use to get food! Luxury!

Between the three of us, we made 250QSOs from here in about 5 hours.Having left Star Islandthat evening, and aftersaying goodbye to Joe,we went inland almostto the Vermont borderto stay for a couplenights with Martin’scousin and his family,where the car batterieswere left for a futuretrip.

QSL Card from Anticosti

QSL Information

A small selection of photographs (scanned from print originals) are on Flickr.

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I am Dominic Smith and this is my personal website.
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