W8S—An International DXpedition to Swains Island

Motto: “What do you expect to find there? Well, if I knew, I wouldn’t go there!” Jean Jacques Cousteau

On October 4, 2023, a group of 10 ham operators from Germany, the Netherlands, and the United States will land on Swains Island and set up camp for about two weeks for the purpose of activating this rare DX entity with the callsign W8S.

The W8S DXpedition website as well as the Facebook and Twitter pages (@Swains2023 ) have the latest news and additional details and pictures about this complex project.

The Island

Swains Island is an uninhabited coral atoll in the South Pacific Ocean, located about 200 miles north of American Samoa. It is about 0.5 square miles in size and is a territory of the United States.

The island, about 15 feet high with a circumference of about 4 miles, is covered by coconut trees and shrubs and has an enclosed lagoon with brackish (mix of salt and fresh) water.

Jean-Michel Cousteau, the son of the famous French explorer Jacques Cousteau, was enamored with Swains Island and its pristine beauty. In 2014 he created the well-received documentary film entitled “Swains Island: One of the Last Jewels of the Planet.” Below is an aerial view of the island and the Swains Island flag.

Although the marine areas adjacent to Swains Island have been incorporated into the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa (NMSAS) as a sanctuary unit, a less known fact is that Swains Island is actually a private island owned by the Jennings family. The history is a bit hazy, but the story goes like this: An American, Eli Jennings, joined the copra farmers on Swains Island, with his Samoan wife, in 1856. It is said that he purchased the island from a British Captain Turnbull for 15 shillings per acre plus a bottle of gin. So, if Swains was calculated to be 373 acres, the total price paid would have been 5,595 shillings. That would be about $US40K in today’s value—plus a bottle of gin.

Alex Jennings is the current owner of Swains Island. He will be providing the logistic support for the W8S DXpedition.

To reach the island the team will fly to Hawaii and then to Pago Pago in American Samoa. In Pago Pago the team will load its equipment on the chartered 138-foot Manu’atele and sail for about 24 hours to Swains Island.

Swains Island and Ham Radio

At the time of this writing Swains Island KH8/S (CQ 32, WAZ 32, ITU 62) is number 27 on the Most Wanted ClubLog DXCC entity list.

Swains Island became part of the DXCC program in 2006 when a team led by Kan, JA1BK made 16,390 contacts with the callsign KH8SI.

Prior activations of Swains Island:

1994: W5BOS/KH8 – 560 QSOs

2002: KM9D/KH8

2005: KH8SI – Did not count for DXCC

2006: KH8SI – 16,390 QSOs

2007: N8S – 117,205 QSOs (a world record at the time)

2012: NH8S – 105,455 QSOs

In addition to DXCC, Swains Island is also part of multiple other amateur radio programs such as IOTA OC-200 (Islands On The Air), POTA K-9754 (Parks On The Air), and KFF-6575 (World Wide Flora and Fauna).

The W8S Project

After many years of preparation (with setbacks because of COVID), team leader Hans, DL6JGN, and coleader Ronald, PA3EWP, are ready to take the team to Swains Island for an adventure of a lifetime.

Almost one ton of equipment will be unloaded on Swains Island. Some of it was shipped to American Samoa by UPS, some heavy items will be purchased in Pago Pago, and some will be brought by the team members as check-in bags on their flights.

The plan is to set up two separate camps—1,500 feet apart—for CW and SSB as well as an additional sleeping tent. Pileups will be run 24/7 using six stations in CW, SSB, RTTY, and FT8 operating modes.

Planned camp setup location on Swains Island

Swains Island has never been activated on EME, so the demand is high. There will be an additional dedicated station set up for 6m with EME capabilities using a Flex 6700 radio and the popular M2 6M8GJ, an 8-element/6m DXpedition EME antenna with a 12dBD gain. We will be transmitting on 50.190 MHz using the new WSJT Q65-60A pileup mode in the first sequence.

For FT8 we will use the latest version of the WSJT-X software (please make sure you update your software) and operate only in the Fox and Hound mode. If you are not familiar with the Fox and Hound mode please take the time to familiarize yourself with it to increase the chances of getting in the W8S log. There is a link to a simple Fox/Hound guide on our website.

Please take the time to check our Operating Plan and Propagation Prediction pages on our website to improve your chances of working us in the desired modes and bands.

The Equipment

We will be using Elecraft K3S radios, Expert 1.3kW amplifiers, and 4O3A High Power bandpass filters/triplexers, a winning combination that is very popular with DXpedition teams.

DX Engineering, probably the most well-known ham radio store in the world, provided the W8S team with a 6m beam antenna, high-quality coaxial cable, Mix 31 ferrites, and telescoping masts.

The German company RF-KIT provided W8S with two of their popular RF2K-S amplifiers. Those will come in handy for the W8S team to reach the “small pistol” stations around the world trying to make a QSO with a limited setup.

A myriad of antennas will be installed on the island to cover all the HF bands: VDA antennas for 10/12/15/17/20 and 30m bands; Hexbeam for 10/15/20m; phased vertical for 40m; T-loaded vertical for 160m; a vertical for 80m and 60m; and two K9AY loop receiving antennas.

The electricity for the radio shack and the camp will be provided by five gas-powered generators of 5500VA.

The W8S team has met this year in the Netherlands (see photos below) to assemble, test, and pack the antennas for the DXpedition to ensure that all will work well on the island.

Equipment boxes ready for shipping from the Netherlands to Pago Pago
A detailed station diagram and a myriad of antenna pictures are available on our website.

QSO Confirmations

For QSL card confirmations, the team has chosen the well-known QSL manager Charles, M0OXO, to take on the extensive QSL and LoTW managing chores for the W8S operation.

The team will set up a StarLink terminal on the island. If all works well with the satellite internet connection, they will attempt to upload the log daily to ClubLog.

The W8S Team

The 10-member team with extensive DXpeditioning skills is made up of the following operators:

Hans, DL6JGN
Ronald, PA3EWP
Heye, DJ9RR
Rainer, DL2AMD
Adrian, KO8SCA
Max, NG7M
Evert, PA2KW
Martin, PA4WM
Johannes, PA5X
Gerben, PG5M

W8S team members at Friedrichshafen Hamfest in June 2023
W8S team members at Dayton Hamvention in May 2023

Rainer, DL2AMD, is also our team doctor in charge of the well-being of the team on an island where the temperatures hover above 104F (40C) and mosquitos seem to be the main inhabitants.

We also have an extensive team of pilots who will inform the team in real time about propagation conditions and keep in touch with the ham radio operators worldwide to obtain feedback:

Alex, PA1AW
John G4IRN
Steve, N2AJ
Siso, HK3W
Champ, E21EIC
Lee, VK3GK

We would like to thank all the hams, clubs, organizations (especially GDXF, EUDXF, INDEXA, and NCDXF) and corporations (especially DX Engineering) who are supporting us in this endeavor. The W8S team appreciates your support! Thank you!

See you in the pileups starting October 4, 2023!


The W8S Swains Island DXpedition Team

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