Thanks for the detailed report from the cruise ship, Walt!
<<< In many ways, I was envious of Gary Debock who was safely on the
ground in the Cook Islands while we were heaving in very rough seas north
of New Zealand. With his setup, he could escape the noise completely, and
DX some very awesome targets, that I can only dream about here. On the
other hand, we are traversing many thousands of miles of ocean, enabling
some armchair copy of stations rarely heard, or very difficult catches,
especially while in port. On those days, Iâd let the mp3 recorder run all
day, while on an excursion, so itâs fun to have a 5 to 7 hour recording of
a local MW station (540 Samoa, 558 Radio Fiji 1, 990 Fiji Gold, 621 Radio
Tuvalu to name just a few). >>>
After recalling our email correspondence just before your cruise, I'm kind of kicking myself for not sending out the new 7.5" loopstick PL-380 model through Vancouver Customs, and taking my chances that they wouldn't delay it for a week (like they did with Colin's package in December). After spending over 10 years attempting to chase DX on U.S. Navy ships your description of the challenges of maritime DXing sounded all too familiar. Shipboard radar and other RFI sources made it tough to chase DX at sea, while the salt spray corroded any type of exposed antenna elements.
Even in the Cook Islands our motel was an RFI generator, so it was necessary to walk about 50m down to the lagoon beach for noise-free DXing. But then a bizarre new problem showed up-- the enhanced ocean beach propagation boosted up multiple stations at once, so that they tended to blank each other out. I also tried for 1566-Norfolk Island, but the mega-pest 3NE seemed to own the frequency. When it took a rare fade two other DU English stations mixed at a near S9 level, making it very tough to decipher the programming. These were almost certainly the very low power 4GM and Norfolk Island, but it simply sounded like a snarled mess. I didn't know at the time that Norfolk island was relaying RNZ, or I could easily have checked a parallel.
The sunrise gray line propagation was seriously slanted toward east Asia, but it shut down Japan almost completely. Obscure stations like 693-Bangladesh, 918-Cambodia and 1431-Mongolia sounded much stronger than the ghostly 774-JOUB-- the only Japanese to show up at all. Bizarre! Have a safe cruise to Hawaii, Walt.
> On April 23, 2018 at 6:58 PM Volodya S <email@example.com> wrote:
> *Musings about DXing aboard a cruise ship*
> Having spent a month now aboard the Holland America Line cruise ship,
> the Noordam, and now 5 days out from Honolulu, I thought it might be
> interesting for some to read about my experiences with DXing from a large
> cruise ship on the open ocean. This isnât the first time Iâve DXâd, having
> done so about 9 years ago on almost the same voyage between Sydney,
> Australia and North America. On that first voyage across the Pacific, I
> used a brand new Gary Debock furnished Eton e1 ultralight receiver,
> modified with an external ferrite rod, with an adjustable coil. From
> within the ship, of course, reception is near impossible. On that voyage,
> I DXâd from the aft end of the ship, high up on near the pool, in the open.
> Most of my DXing occurred after dinner, when the area was deserted. I
> recall the noise to be very low, and results very good, especially around
> New Zealand, where I was able to confirm most stations (on MW) on the air. I
> did no recordings, but posted occasionally to DX lists. In those days, SW
> was more widespread, so I also spent some time on those bands (recalling
> Radio Malaysia, for example, on 15295 in English after sunset), using about
> 20 feet of random wire attached by alligator clip to the Etonâs whip.
> Three years ago, we spent 35 days aboard another HAL ship, sailing
> from Vancouver, down the west coast of North and South America, around Cape
> Horn, to the Falklands, and finishing the journey in Buenos Aires,
> Argentina. On that voyage, I elected to bring along my original SDR-IQ,
> with an old Wind small laptop. For an antenna, I brought about a 50â
> length of random wire, through an impedance matcher, and into the IQ. DXing
> was done at the back of the ship, below the pool deck, along a very private
> area that virtually no one used, keeping me away from the many prying eyes
> and quizzical looks! Again, results were very good for more local MW
> broadcasts, and also for reception of LRA 36 on 15476 from Antarctica,
> which I enjoyed daily. Drawback was that I was limited to 192 kHz of
> bandwidth at a time.
> On this voyage, from Sydney to Tasmania, to New Zealand, and then back
> to Sydney, before proceeding to New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Fiji, American
> Samoa, and upcoming to the Hawaiian Islands, and home to Vancouver, I
> brought with me my underutilized Elad FDM-SW2 SDR, and a pretty fast Asus
> U36S series 13â laptop, and a Wellbrook ALA 100 loop antenna. For the
> first time, we have a veranda room on the 7th deck, high above the water on
> the starboard side of the vessel.
> The first issue was to erect a loop. For this, I had brought some
> speaker wire which I was able to erect in a fixed near square loop oriented
> directly in the plane of the side of the vessel. Drawback # 1: Directionality
> is fixed, wholly dependent on the shipâs direction. The antenna and the
> ALA 100 antenna head have produced all of the issues, and have not been
> totally satisfactory. Of course, thereâs a certain amount of electrical
> noise in the ship, but I think most of the noise Iâm seeing is coming from
> the antenna head itself. Let me explain. On to Drawback # 2: The
> balcony, despite being 7 decks up is exposed to a huge amount of salt water
> spray and up to hurricane force winds. Unfortunately, the salt water
> infiltrated the antenna head, causing it to fail. A quick email response
> from Andy Ilkin from Wellbrook (and with the help of my wife) solved, in
> part, the problem with the salt water contamination. Having been unable to
> find any isopropyl alcohol on-board, I used one of the little single shot
> vodka bottles in the room fridge to soak the BNC connector for several
> hours. After drying, the antenna indeed came back to life. Thank goodness!
> Still, there remains more noise than Iâd like to see, especially in the
> upper half of the MW band, making it almost useless to monitor. The lower
> half of the band remains quite quiet, except for Drawback # 3:
> Whether itâs the ALA 100 antenna head, or just the design of the ALA,
> the position of the wire is VERY sensitive. The noise floor fluctuates
> continuously, with the movement of the wires, and of course, Iâm unable to
> stabilize this sufficiently to eliminate this, due to the constant
> wind. Taping
> to the plexiglass balcony ledge works temporarily but invariably, the wind,
> and saltspray loosens the tape (old white surgical tape), leaving the loop
> to flap in the wind (and with it major white residue marks on the
> plasticâhope no one from HAL notices ;-) . Hereâs a screen capture of the
> MW spectrum and noise floor:
> IMage removed due to size constraints with IRCA
> As you can see, the noise increases from a very respectable â 115 dB to a
> noisy â 90 dBâ.not so good. I might add, that the coax used is a small
> diameter RG-174 50 ohm cableâperfect for the job of fitting under the
> balcony door without damaging either the door, or crushing the cable. I
> wish I had brought another antenna head with me, but alas, I did not. In
> can some of you wondered about making your own loop, I would argue that
> nothing would stand up to the severe winds experienced on the ship, and
> only using the shipâs superstructure is robust enough as an antenna support.
> Drawback # 4: Finding the time to DX. Life aboard ship is very busy!
> While in port, weâre always off the ship, so DXing during those days is
> impossible. On sea days, thereâs breakfast, lunch, and supper, evening
> shows, often lectures in the morning and afternoon, exercise, etc etc.
> too much time in front of the SDR screen is also not conducive to a happy
> spouse, so one needs to be cautious here! Attempting to DX overnight also
> did not work as the flashing lights from the computer and itâs screen
> promptly awoke my wife. Again, not a way to endear myself with her!!!
> Drawback # 5: Some DX targets are passed in the middle of the night. On
> this voyage, returning from New Zealand to Sydney, the following day the
> Captain gave his noon time announcement, mentioning that we had passed
> within 15 km of Norfolk Island (my DX target on 1566)at 4:00 AM. Of
> course, I was sound asleep at the time. Grrr! Thereâs not any good way
> of knowing position, or predicted route. I suppose I could have asked the
> navigation officers, but then, in this world, I wondered whether theyâd
> think something was amiss with a passenger asking too many strange
> questions! I do recall a similar problem during a cruise, circumnavigating
> Cuba years ago. Of course, we went by Guantanamo Bay around the same time
> in the middle of the night, making it a tough catch to hear AFN from that
> Drawback # 6: The record timer function on the Elad does not work for
> me. I only get error messages.
> Advantage # 1 of the Elad: I LIKE the FM function! In Vanuatu, New
> Caledonia, and Fiji, I enjoyed doing an FM bandscan while in port after
> returning from our shore excursions. This is a first for me, as my normal
> go to SDR (which I still feel has the edge) is the Perseus receiver. I
> chose the Elad to eliminate another power source, as the Elad is powered
> directly via the USB chord.
> In many ways, I was envious of Gary Debock who was safely on the
> ground in the Cook Islands while we were heaving in very rough seas north
> of New Zealand. With his setup, he could escape the noise completely, and
> DX some very awesome targets, that I can only dream about here. On the
> other hand, we are traversing many thousands of miles of ocean, enabling
> some armchair copy of stations rarely heard, or very difficult catches,
> especially while in port. On those days, Iâd let the mp3 recorder run all
> day, while on an excursion, so itâs fun to have a 5 to 7 hour recording of
> a local MW station (540 Samoa, 558 Radio Fiji 1, 990 Fiji Gold, 621 Radio
> Tuvalu to name just a few).
> I hope that this essay may have sparked some interest in cruise ship
> DXing. I would love to hear experiences of others that might have done
> similar crazy antics. Please, while on a heaving ship in heavy seas, donât
> get up too high on a chair to secure a corner of the ALA loop like I did!
> 73, Walt Salmaniw, 4 days out from Honolulu and one day from American
> Samoa. 24 April, 2018.
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