VK9RS Page 2


The Rowley Shoals are located in the Indian Ocean, in the tropical far north of Western Australia. They are large emergent shelf atolls rising from depths of between 440 and 230 meters along the edge of the continental shelf. They lie between 300 and 379 kilometers due west of Broome, a tropical town, home of the largest salt-water crocodiles and center of a large cultured pearling industry. Broome has a moving population of 12,000 and it is very busy this time of the year. Big offshore game fishing and casual holiday-making is in progress and accommodations are booked out 12 months in advance. The Shoals are ranked as one of the most remote and pristine marine areas in the world, and are part of a great Marine Park established in 1990. It is managed by the West Australian Department of Conservation and Land Management (CALM). At low tide the water forms ponds within reef walls, gushing over them like waterfalls and our little island is only 1.5 meters above the high-water mark.

The Rowley Shoals consist of three atolls. We are on the most southern, "Imperieuse Reef', that is approximately 18 kilometers long and 10 kilometers wide. The only semi-permanent land in the atoll is Cunningham Island at the northern end of the reef. Captain Rowley named Imperieuse Reef after his sailing ship, in 1800. The island itself changes shape and size often due to the seasonal cyclones which can be very severe sometimes. The lighthouse which now stands in water was originally built in the center of the moving island.

Arrival and Setup

After a 20 hour sea voyage from Broome, luckily for us on a very smooth sea, we gradually haul our DX cargo from the beach, to the middle of the little sand island. Our immediate aim is to establish our shaded area and this was a large tent-like, square structure that could be raised and lowered, made of green 90% shade cloth.

The tent was over two meters in height and 7.5 meters square with open sides. This was our home !! The "Rowley's Cafe". Originally there had been plans for two tents, one for the SSB station and one for the CW station, as well as individual tents for each of us. Due to the intense heat, these plans were changed. Only one tent was erected for the SSB stations and the CW station was squeezed onto a small table in "Rowley's Cafe", which became a combined sleeping, recreational and storage area. In one corner, a field gas burner represented the kitchen and eating area. We had a short flag raising ceremony at 0430 UTC, or just after noon local time. The flags of Australia, Portugal and the United States of America fluttered in the breeze, whispering to our silent friends. 

We continued with the installation of the 20 meter, 4 Square antenna. With temperature of 40 plus Celsius in the open, only 20 minutes of work in the sun was followed by a short pause in the tent, where the 32 C in the shade was a welcome relief. The level in our individual 20 litre drinking water barrels started to recede, we were sweating and feeling dehydrated. In addition, one of the team was still suffering the effects of a food poisoning bug which he picked up a few days before our departure. All three generators were now working and the chemical portable toilet was in place. The afternoon was spent on laying power and transmitting cables and the shape of the vertical Butternut antenna started to emerge from the evening dusk. The length of the dusk in the tropics is very short and at 1810 local time it was pitch dark. The great moment finally arrived after 12 hours and Rowley Shoals, VK9RS was on the air. The first contact was made with KD1CT on the 20 meter band at 1139 UTC. Floodlights, brought with us, came into action to complete the remaining setup and at midnight local time - after the hard work we were all ready.

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