22 April 2017

Franz Josef Land - A DXer's dream

Last edited: 24.04.2017

A DXer's dream! Franz Josef Land, "Strange islands lost in the Barents Sea", as the archipelago is called by the Ultima Thule blog, shown here in an iconic National Geographic photo with a polar bear on Rudolf Island (source)
All ham operators have a clear recollection of their most special and memorable contacts and moments in amateur radio. Ask any random ham for it and the stories will be coming at you non-stop. Often these special moments are related to a goal or a wish made a long time ago. Probably most hams when they start out in amateur radio, and all future hams still studying for their amateur radio licence, secretly have some goals in mind that they're going to try working towards. And once reached, the achievement, the radio contact, or the resulting QSL card or award feels like a medal for all the hard work delivered to get there, a trophy that fills the radio amateur with pride, recognizing his skills and perseverance. To me, one of these moments was working Franz Josef Land.

The much coveted QSL card from RI1FJ and the book about FJL published by the Norwegian Polar Institute.
One of my goals, or maybe it was more of a wish, or even a dream, from the beginning was making a contact with Franz Josef Land. Being a polar enthusiast, I've always been fascinated by this frozen, barren Russian archipelago at 80º northern latitude in the High Arctic. The archipelago is the closest land to the North Pole in the eastern hemisphere. Just 900 km of sea and ice separate Franz Josef Land from the top of the world. I don't know where the fascination for the archipelago exactly comes from, maybe it's the mysterious sounding name, maybe it's the photos I've seen of the beautiful, desolate Arctic landscape providing the backdrop for the shabby huts of a remote Russian weather station and roaming polar bears, or maybe it's just something undefinable.
Whatever the case, my fascination was already there in the 1990s when I bought the book shown above edited by Susan Barr and published by the Norwegian Polar Institute. I believe it's quite a rare book, as it's probably one of the few books about Franz Josef Land published outside of Russia.

After I got my amateur licence in late 2012, the years went by with Franz Josef Land being shrouded in nothing but radio silence (1). The last time I heard a signal from Franz Josef Land was in the 1990s when I was active as a shortwave listener and had managed to receive Sergei Tsybizov, R1FJZ.

QSL card from R1FJZ received for an SWL report back in 1995.
Then in 2015 the news appeared that soon Eugeny Chepur, UA4RX would be active from Heiss Island, one of the islands of the Franz Josef Land archipelago, signing as RI1FJ. I was excited! In the summer of 2015 Eugeny was delivered to the island by the icebreaker MSV Mikhail Somov, but the months following, Franz Jozef Land just remained hidden in its usual radio silence. Until suddenly in the summer of 2016, not long before Eugeny would depart from the island again, spots started appearing for RI1FJ on the DX Cluster. Apparently Eugeny has had some technical problems, which had prevented him from getting on the air until resolved late June 2016.

But propagation conditions were terrible, and when I tuned in to the spotted frequencies, mostly I could not hear the signals of RI1FJ at all, or they were too weak to be workable. On the rare occasions that the signals were good enough, I just didn't manage getting through the pile-up. Until August 1st that is, the day that luck was on my side, and in the very nick of time! RI1FJ was on 20m CW working simplex and with relatively good signals. The pile-up was big but not extremely, and there were some promising gaps in it. I started keying my callsign trying to squeeze it into the gaps, and then suddenly there it was; Eugeny had picked up my signals on that barren, frozen, mysterious land in the High Arctic, and back he came with my callsign and a signal report! After my reply, the 2-way contact was completed with a 73 from Eugeny. One of the most special 73s I ever got! What a thrill to know my signals reached Franz Josef Land, the northernmost location I've ever made contact with. A look in the August 19 news update below shows that indeed it was a contact made in the nick of time; Eugeny went QRT just a day later on August 2nd! How much more luck can a ham operator with just a simple wire antenna and 100 Watts ask for!?

Krenkel weather station on Heiss Island, Franz Josef Land (source)
Eugeny was active from the Krenkel Meteorological Station in grid locator LR90ao on Heiss Island. The station is built around a shallow fresh water crater lake. Krenkel Station was established in 1957/58 during the International Geophysical Year and abandoned in 2001. It was reopened in 2004 with a smaller modern station set up between the old buildings. The new station is manned year-round by about 5 persons. The old complex of buildings housed about 200 station personell and seasonal researchers.

Iceberg at Heiss Island (source)
Franz Josef Land is IOTA EU-019 , forms a separate DXCC entity, and was an ATNO for me. The archipelago consists of 191 islands. In 2012 president Putin signed a decree on a major clean-up in the Arctic, including at Franz Josef Land. Before the clean-up there was about 90.000 tons of scrap metal left at the old Soviet and Russian Polar stations on Franz Josef Land alone.

Soon after the contact, when Eugeny had arrived back on the Russian mainland, the QSO was confirmed in Clublog and on LotW. The much coveted QSL card took a longer wait though. It was already mailed to me in August 2016 but had gotten lost in the mail. QSL manager Victor Loginov, UA2FM recently sent me another one at no additional charge, and it was finally received a couple of days ago. Spasibo, Victor and Eugeny!



On qrz.com the QSL manager of RI1FJ regularly posted updates on the activities of Eugeny:

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From qrz.com
http://www.qrz.com/db/RI1FJ
 
19 August 2016
Eugeny RI1FJ safely arrived at Archangelsk Port. His 2016 operation lasted  from 27 June 18.31 UTC to 02 Aug 2016, 16.18 UTC. No ham operation is expected from the island until probably next expedition in August 2017 - August 2018.

RI1FJ log uploaded to Clublog.org. Otherwise use OQRS form on this page.


73 de UA2FM

14 August 2016 update
Gentlemen, Eugeny RI1FJ left the island on 5-6th August. He is onboard RSV Somov, sailing home. Watch Somov route at http://194.190.129.43/ships/somov.php As soon he is on the Internet, I upload his log onto clublog.org, and everyone will be able to use OQRS form on this page as well. Please be patient, all requests will be replied! :)

73 de UA2FM


3rd July update
This afternoon I got information (thanks R6AF) that Eugeny stays on the island until end of July. After that he sails home onboard icebreaker RSV Somov. Watch Somov route at http://194.190.129.43/ships/somov.php

RI1FJ goes QRT soon after Somov arrives on the island.

73, de Victor UA2FM


2nd July 2016 update
Eugeny RI1FJ suddenly showed up on the air late June. I have no e-mail communication with the Island, as there are no post/telephone/transportation services there, but company satellite forbidden for private use. I was neither notified by Eugeny of his QRV, nor about problems he had during this season. The only thing I know, - it's him who signs RI1FJ, as many hams worked him reported this.

I do not know whether Eugeny is able to send his ADIF logs through his @winlink.org address as we did in his previous operations. I was told all steel and metal materials and equipment was removed from the island before summer 2015. Perhaps this was the reason of RI1FJ silence.

Gents, please keep working RI1FJ on the bands, but be patient with QSL requests until I establish log exchange procedure. I'll be back with more information as soon I have it.

Thanks, Victor UA2FM


December 2015 update
Dear fellows-amateurs,
Many of you asked me to update RI1FJ info. His license reissued from 01 August 2015 until 31 August 2017. To be honest, I expected that Eugeny would start his activity early August, since he came on the Heiss Island.
He works as lead of Sevmeteo weather group for 2015-2016.
After his arrival on the island, I tried to get in contact with him using non-amateur communication, to make clear why he is not on the air.
There is no direct communication with the Island. The only possibility is to send telegraph message through official Company address, that was what I did. No reply.
After that, I tried to understand the situation in other ways. The last reply I got from Sevmeteo management, is that Eugeny is alive and well, he carries out his duties, but he has no technical possibilities to be QRV.
There is no regular transport with the island until safe Arctiс Ocean navigation in summer 2016. I do not know how I can help Eugeny.
So guys, let’s hope Eugeny will solve his technical problems until the end of his 2016 employment.


July 2015 update
2015-2016 weather team is on the way from Severodvinsk to Heiss Island onboard MV Somov. Look for RI1FJ starting early August.

July 2014 update
2014-2015 season weather team delivered on the island. There are no ham operators among the crew. No permanent ham radio operation is expected from Franz Jozef Land during 2014-2015.

All 2010 - 2013 logs are uploaded to LoTW.
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Present day Krenkel Station (source)
Abandoned buildings at Krenkel Station (source)
FJL shown on a map of the circumpolar north.

Addendum 24.04.17
(1) I understand Eugeny was also active from Franz Josef Land during 2013 though. It may have been only sporadically, as this ARRL news item suggests, at least during the latter part of his stay on FJL, due to poor conditions. I also wasn't active in CW yet, and I didn't watch the DX Cluster as closely as I do nowadays.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franz_Josef_Land
http://www.franz-josef-land.info/
http://ultima0thule.blogspot.nl/2012_06_17_archive.html
http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2014/08/franz-josef-land/richards-photography
https://thebarentsobserver.com/en/arctic/2017/03/putin-visit-arctic-clean-site

http://www.urbanghostsmedia.com/2015/06/10-abandoned-weather-stations-meteorological-bases-world/
http://www.geobotany.uaf.edu/library/reports/WalkerDA2011_yamal_dr20110103.pdf

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