Although I was myself also a ham, I had not heard of
Dr Don Miller W9WNV. He arrived in early August
accompanied by Bill Rindone WA6SBO, and I was introduced
to the inside world of DXpeditions. At first sight Don
appeared to be a personable roly-poly individual, but
with an inner streak of extreme intensity. His
organizational abilities became apparent when he cleared
his huge inventory of equipment through Mauritius strict
customs without getting caught for duty.
So it came to be that a grossly overloaded trimaran headed out into the trade winds for the island of Rodrigues. Our first problem was that our skipper Jack found that his left arm had become paralysed, to the extent that he was unable to help operate the boat. As we beat along the Mauritius shore I could see that Bill Rindone in his soaking wet bunk was beginning to wonder if the journey was going to be worthwhile, and he very wisely asked us to put him ashore on the Northwest corner of Mauritius. Don's determination to reach Rodrigues was undiminished, for he was anxious that he should reach there before expected competition from a German radio ham aboard the catamaran World Cat due from the direction of Australia; he gave little credence to the seriousness of Jack's medical problem.
Back into the trades we beat, but after two or three days one of our two forestays broke, and the jib tore. After emergency repairs we gave up the attempt on Rodrigues, and fell off on a close reach to St Brandon, another island on Don's list. A couple of days of fraught navigation found us amongst the Cargados Carajos shoals, looking for tiny Raphael Island. Approaching from the West we anchored in sight of the fishing and meterological stations. There at anchor was the fishing supply ship m/v La Perle II. Jack almost did himself in whilst getting into our dinghy, and since Doctor Don was unable offer a cure, a decision was made to send Jack back to Mauritius on the soon-to-depart La Perle.
So it came to be that Don and I moved into the Raphael Island Fishing Company's guest shack along with two Collins S-lines complete with 30S-1 linears, Hy-Gain TH-3 tri-bander & Sears Roebuck generator. Also along on the trip was a Galaxy-V transceiver from one of Don's sponsors, but that was strictly for a photo-opportunity - the front cover of CQ1 magazine.
31 years ago St Brandon was base for a line fishery
from small boats manned by indentured Rodriguans
& Seychellois living under very primitive conditions.
An interesting facet of a fisherman's life was that
he was prevented from leaving the island if he was
in debt to the company store. The meterological
observer (who was in radio contact with Mauritius)
and the fishery manager were helpful and friendly,
and I recall big fish-tasting omelettes made from
seabird eggs from the islet breeding colony nearby.
Soon the operation was underway, making lots of contacts with hams who had missed the very limited previous VQ8BBB operation. Notable however were his contacts with Sonia PY2SO in which strange coded messages were exchanged. Over a period of about four days thousands of contacts were made, except of course with those on Don's NJDXA blacklist. For a ham who had never been rare DX, the experience of operating alongside the World's leading operator from one of the rarest places was mindboggling!
Cargados Carajos shoals cover a wide area in the shape of a crescent with breakers, and with tiny sand-spits, some of which have a little vegetation. Raphael has a few maritime pines and palms. In their tiny boats the fishermen venture up to twenty miles along the reef whilst line-fishing for reef and pelagic catches to be brought back for drying. At night I would walk around the tiny (approx 1km around at high tide) island talking with the fishermen using the little patois I had learned in the Seychelles. Some were living in palm-frond shelters, others in shacks. After a gale which threatened Edward Bear at anchor I discovered on the beach a purple murex shell which turned out to be a rarity, and which I later gave to a leading collector.
Finally after certain messages had been passed to Sonia we were ready to sail back to Mauritius. This was not going to be easy, because Don would have to do half the steering. Very welcome was the gift of a roast of beef on which Don and I lived for the two day passage.
Back in Mauritius we found Jack with Margie his Mauritienne girlfriend well on his way to recovery and later marriage. His problem had been diagnosed as 'Saturday-night paralysis'- a psychosomatic reaction to being parted from a loved one!
1 CQ magazine, January 1968
(The above was posted to VE7TCP DX mailing list May 10, 1998).
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(Images fetched from the W7HR QSL Gallery)