Being part of an expedition to a new or highly sought DXCC entity, will always be the dream of every DXers and the privilege of a few. So, in the absence of such privileges, when I got the news that I would be part of an expedition to Cayo Moa Grande/NA-218,It was like being told that I would be active from North Korea /P5, which for many years, has been the most needed DXCC entity. Since this Key, along with four other islands in the south of Las Tunas and some others in Granma province, the only ones that form part of the group “Las Tunas, Holguin, Granma”; Cuban last reference recognized by the IOTA committee (Islands on the Air) and that at more than 10 years after its unique activation was one of the most sought after thousands of participants of this RSGB program.
The activation of Cayo Moa Grande, would be then , the preamble of “Cuba2013”,a Project organized by Russian Robinson Club, in coordination with the FRC and Grupo DX de Cuba (GDXC) and which also would include two other references of the seven that our archipelago has. With this purpose, a group of seven expeditionaries, members of this Russian expedition club, specialized in activating islands, would be heading to the Caribbean from Moscow, passing by Frankfurt and the city of Holguin as destination. There, since a day before the arrival of the group from the Russian capital, Yuri/N3QQ was expecting , who had travelled from the state of Washington, just to meet up with this experience from Moa Grande.
I arrived to Holguнn city in the morning of februaray 10th, Winston/CO2WF was expecting me since dawn, National coordinator of Cuba’s DX group and the other ” Cuban part ” of the expedition . By mid-morning we got to contact N3QQ, whom had been waiting for a while in “Calixto Garcнa” park in a previously agreed park spot, definitely , not so recнprocae, because we found him in another pretty distant site. Yuri turned out to be someone very nice and talkative. After visiting the radioclub, where we met its solicitous administrator, we had lunch and even had time for Yuri to have his hair cut and talk for a while to Jorge/CO8JCS, Holguнn FRC’s branch President , before leaving for the airport , while waiting for the group.Despite the unusual and bulky luggage, which presupposed delays above usual; about seven p.m., the team was complete and after the usual introductions and lively chats , we headed to Moa. The newly arrived were as simple and friendly as N3QQ. I immediately knew that I had had contacts with some of them some years before, mostly with Alex/RW3RN, Eugene/RZ3EC and Sergey/RA3NAN. The rest were Igor/UA3EDQ, Oleg/R3FA, Andrey/RK7A and Andy/RZ3EM. We arrived to the Northern city at about 11:oo pm, after going through the 180 kilometers from Holguin. Victor/CO8VQ and Eduardo/CM8ZC were already waiting for us at Miraflores Hotel, I had met Victor in person many years ago. We happened to meet as delegates at the 5th FRC Congress in Sta. Clara, on that occasion I also met Eduardo/CO8EP, father of CM8ZC and who unfortunately passed away some time ago. Eduardo Jr. with his simplicity and good nature, no doubt , he honors the memory of his always well remembered father. After a frugal snack and checking in hotel, we ended up the exhausting day with at least a few hours of rest.
Very early the next day we were all up on our feet. And getting ready to move to the key, however, soon we knew that burocratic problems would delay our transfer. Whilst one part of the group was trying to negotiate with the local municipality government, the rest remained at the hotel building part of the wire antennas to be used and and fraternizing with colleagues and aspirants of the Moa radioclub. At the end of the day , we definetly knew with certainty the next day we would be transmitting from NA-218. The following day, after getting all the the bulky hardware on the truck that would take it to the port, Winston, Eduardo and I passed by Vнctor’s house to pick up some of the logistics and supplies that were still stored there, including electric generators , matresses, tables, chairs and several potable water containers; meanwhile, the rest of the expeditionaries went ahead on a taxi. The stay in the port premises didn’t take longer tan the necessary time for the procedures with the port authorities. We agreed to make two trips to the key because of the volumen of the materials to be transfered. On the first one , I left with two Russian colleagues. At about 10:05 in the morning we weighed anchors to key Moa Grande, approximately 25 minutes after that we got to a dock large enough for the limited use in assumption given. Then we got to know that years before , the key maginifcent beach was a regularly visited place by the Moa population and by that time there was a sea route stablished to the place including several trips per day. Right after landing, while brothers Oleg/R3FA and Andrey/RK7A were unpacking and installing the Multiband vertical StepIR, the rest were figuring out how to set up the tent for the “shack”. An hour later Winston and Eduardo were arriving with the rest of the hardware that had been left by the port, including the generators.
Immediately after the setting up of the tent for the for the shack, another group led by Sergey/RA3NAN started the Workstation Installation, made up by two Elecraft K-3 and a Kenwood TS590, that were in charge of of arousing two ACOM 1000 and a ACOM 1010. Every station counted with a laptop with software to carry out the logs and an interface RigExpert TI-5. Contrary to what Winston and I thought, the N1MM wouldn’t be used for logging, instead of that, they had brought a program I had Heard about and that at some point I had attempted to try, something I had given up, not being that program a free one. The Wintest turned out to be a very similar program to the always remembered CT and that in its essence, worked just the same as all known programs conceived for this purpose, so we quickly got used to it. The transmission was started at about 3:00 pm on the 12th from T48RRC and as the antennas were installed new bands were added to the activity, getting to cover them all in a few hours. The antennas were entirely wire-vertical except for StepIr. An identical one had remained in Frankfurt, during the journey to Cuba, therefore we took advantage of the fiberglass rods for supporting one of three-wire elements, if I recall for 17 meters, and which undoubtedly, worked superbly. The proximity to the sea water and the open Atlantic benefited our high rating signals per hour of QSOs, especially with europe. I was struck by contacting stations in places that usually never heard at certain times and bands.
No discussion without fear of blushing, I can say that I had never starred so busy pileups. In both SSB and CW, it was always necessary to work in Split reaching several kHz wide. No doubt, all the opportunities I had when working with a radio were moments of high levels of adrenaline and in fact, unforgettable experiences. The work schedules were not planned for each operator, when someone was willing to do it ,imply getting close to the work positions would be enough, a place would be promptly provided. Therefore, the operation time was generally not very long and that contributed to a maximum enjoyment of those unrepeatable moments. As expected, Murphy didn’t want to be left out and very quickly began to act up. In the first hours of operation, one of the amps stopped working without immediate solution, so that one of the stations was “barefoot. While in more than one occasion
generators also had problems, which fortunately were solved thanks to the skills, that CO2WF has as a mechanic. Regardless I enjoyed my stay in Cayo Moa Grande doing Radio, I also had the opportunity to do something that professionally dedicate myself to, video and photography. As previously, for the design of the Web page, we had sent some personal information including our professions, that’s why Andy/RZ3EM, kwnowing a was TV camera man, asked me to make images with the cameras they had brought and that would subsequently use for the audiovisual they always dedicate to each one of their adventures. By the way, we had the opportunity to appreciate two of the many they have carried out and they actually have a great quality, definitely above the average. The last day, at sunset, we went together to tour by the eastern end of the beach; Andy with a photographic camera and I with a video one. We tried to take as much advantage as we could of the so called “magic time”, the surreal scenery and the haunting beauty that characterizes this part of the island. When coming back to the camp that day, I decided to make the most of the last hours in NA-218 and except for a brief interruption to eat, the rest of the time was spent doing radio, until about two in the morning, when sleep overcame me, I was in the 40 meters telegraphy. About five o’clock I returned to “hook” in the 30 meters, until we stopped transmitting exactly at 10:56 UTC on Feb 14th. After 40 hours of operation only in CW and SSB, a total of 10,335 contacts was achieved with 105 entities in the bands from 160-12 meters.
The disassembly of the station concluded fast enough approximately at 13:40 UTC to have everything ready for the return to the mainland. Contrary to how we did on the journey to the Key, we did the returning in only one trip. Due to the rush to fulfill the rest of the itinerary, from Coco key and Santa Marнa key, the events happened as in a speed race. After an emotional farewell meeting with Victor, his wife, Eduardo and some other members of the Radio Club of Moa, we left for Holguin; It was needed to pass through the airport to pick up the antenna lost in Frankfurt, leave the tent that had served as shack that had served and continue way Cayo Coco, I would stay in Las Tunas me.Approximately 22:30 UTC on February 14th we reached my hometown. I was already missing it, and my family. The bus left me a few blocks from home, with the farewell, I left good friends and gratitude for giving me the opportunity to fulfill part of my dream. Several days later I could work them from Santa Maria key at 80 meters. No doubt, this has been during my 20 years of amateur radio operator the best experience so far, I become aware right now, hat both the Russian Robinson Club and CO8ZZ, celebrate their twentieth anniversary this year 2013, Would it have been mere coincidence?