Kanton Island (T31EU) – Central Kiribati “QRV from a scrap heap”

While enjoying a nice beer at the Hamfest in Friedrichshafen 2018 we exchanged many ideas about our next destination(s). Apart from the fact that we wanted to go to Tonga with a limited team, the first destinations for the beginning of 2019 in the Pacific have also passed the review.


At the end of August, I was asked to join a German team planning to go to Kanton Island, Central Kiribati. At first, I said no, because the boat takes you almost 1 week from Tarawa to Kanton. 2 weeks on the island and 2 weeks sailing including a trip to the Pacific became a little bit too much in terms of my holidays. But less than a week later they came up with the idea to fly to Kanton. Günter DL2AWG had found a company that regularly flies from Tarawa to Kanton. My decision was then quickly made. I became a participant in the 6-man team. We had chartered the plane to fly us to Kanton and pick us up after 17 days.
In total I had to fly 30 hours before I was at our destination, Kanton Island, 6 different flights in 6 days’ time.
Our limited factor was the total weight that we could bring with us during our last part of the trip (+/- 860 KG including people) in a super Kingair 200 airplane.

Our team consisted of: Günter DL2AWG (team leader), Hans DL6JGN (co-team leader), Joe DK5WL, Norbert DF6FK, Heye DJ9RR and Ronald PA3EWP. Norbert joined our team 1 week before our departure as a new operator after Wolfgang DM2AUJ had to cancel this DX-pedition due health problems.

Our goal was to hand out as many amateurs as possible an All Time New One (ATNO), but also focus on Europe. Within Europe it is high on the “most wanted” list, for Western Europe it is even on the 6th place in digital mode.

When the conditions would cooperate, we wanted to try to have at least 2 stations active for 24 hours with the focus on the low bands.
Of course we also wanted to learn more about the Kiribati culture and explore the island.

Canton is an atoll which belongs to the Phoenix archipelago (Central Kiribati). It is located 1,750 KM from the main island of Tarawa, a separate DXCC country for radio amateurs.
The protected area around the Phoenix Island covers 408,250 square kilometers of sea and land in the South Pacific. The Phoenix Island Group, one of the three island groups of Kiribati, the other 2 are Gilbert and the Line Islands. The area around the Phoenix Islands is the largest designated marine protected area in the world. Phoenix Island Protected Area (PIPA) has preserved one of the world’s largest pristine oceanic ecosystems from the coral archipelago, along with 14 known underwater sea mountains (presumably extinct volcanoes) and other deep-sea dwellers. The area contains around 800 known species of fauna, including around 200 coral species, 500 fish species, 18 marine mammals and 44 bird species. The structure and functioning of the PIPA ecosystems illustrate its pristine nature and importance as a reservoir.

Kiribati consists of 4 DXCC countries:
– T30 (Gilbert islands, Tarawa main island)
– T31 (Phoenix islands, Canton main island)
– T32 (Line islands, Christmas main island)
– T33 Banaba (belongs to Gilbert Islands but lies 450 KM west of Tarawa and for us radio amateurs a separate DXCC country)

About 36 people live in Canton, including 20 children. Most adults work for PIPA (Government) and are stationed with their families on the island for 3 years or more.
Tourists rarely come to the island, certainly no longer than 3 days, after which they leave again. These tourists are mostly anglers. The Catholic community on the island has facilitated a kind of hotel for the tourists. There are 2 important items that they have taken action on, a bed to sleep and a normal toilet and shower. The rest is less important. They have created 7 bedrooms and 2 toilets with showers for the tourists.

Chuck, our contact person at Tarawa, has organized a lot of things for us. Without him it would have been almost impossible to organize this DXpedition to Kanton. He has bought many materials for us including a new generator. I also  sent him at the end of November a ski bag from Tonga (A35EU) with several (Spiderbeam) fiber masts and 250m coaxial cables. This was much cheaper than bringing it back to the Netherlands from Tonga and then taking it back to Kiribati. Chuck had been busy for at least 2 months trying to send these materials (food, drinks, generator, table, chairs, fuel and ski bag) from Tarawa to Kanton by boat.
However, he did not find a boat at all that sail to Canton. He was able to arrange additional food and drinks from Christmas Island by boat to Canton. But there was no boat sailing from Tarawa to Kanton.
We had to take the rest of the materials on the plane, which became a big challenge. Chuck himself would also like to fly to Canton with us. Chuck had arranged all the paperwork with Pipa for the authorization to land on the Island and our license from CCK (Telecom). We only had to pick them up there if we were in Tarawa. Because we had to bring the generator and ski bag with us on the plane, there was unfortunately no room for Chuck. The generator was still under discussion because on the island they had 2 generators including fuel for us. Upon my insistence to bring the generator instead of Chuck the team agreed. My decision was quite simple: “it is more important to bring a good working generator instead of trusting on 2 other generators of the Islanders. We would have had a much bigger problem when they are not working”.

The day before our departure we were told by the pilot that the weather was too bad to fly and the flight had to be postponed by a day. After some negotiation, we also postponed our return trip by 1 day (we had 1 additional day on Tarawa on our way back, it was calculated as a buffer). This was not a problem, so we could still be active from Canton for 17 days.

We spent the extra day on Tarawa as a tourist, we went with 3 people by boat to the other island, North-Tarawa. This was a paradise compared to the main island of South-Tarawa.
The inhabitants are also very friendly. We made a tour through a few villages and then had a good lunch in a local restaurant. This day trip was definitely worth it, finally a bit of rest. About 70,000 people live on the main island, 70% are unemployed. The hygiene is minimal on the island. To indicate Chuck lives in a village of about 300 people. There is only 1 toilet. Most residents sit on a wall at the lagoon for their need. That is why everyone advises not to go swimming in the lagoon because it is heavily polluted.

The next day at 6:00 am we were at the airport for our departure to Canton. It takes 4 ½ hours to fly before we were there. We arrived at our destination just before noon. After lunch we decided that our shack was going to be near the airport. There was a perfect building with a lot of space for antennas.
We decided to install the 30 and 40 meter antennas for the first evening/night activities.
One of the generators of the village was installed outside of the shack. After we started this, we noticed that there was no voltage present. Almost completely dismantled the generator but could not find the problem. After this struggle we got the second generator from the village. This was at least better, we had 220 volts. However, as soon as we started and the power consumption fluctuated, the generator stopped working. Unfortunately, we could not use this generator either. After we had exchanged this generator for our own generator these problems were solved.
From that moment on we only worked with our own generator. (Fortunately, we  decided to bring the generator instead of Chuck, otherwise we had to fly back to Tarawa after a few days without operating).
After dinner we setup the shack and we were ready for the first QSOs.
The first night we made some short shifts so that everyone could be active for a few hours.

The next day we installed the other antennas. Unfortunately, we had no time to place the receiving antenna for the low bands. This became a job for the following day.
We had made 2 shifts of 3 operators from the 2nd day on. Unfortunately, we were unable to transmit simultaneously with 3 radios with +/- 1 KW output. Our generator was only 3,800 watts. All stations could make approx. 700 watts.
The propagation was certainly not optimal, but we knew that beforehand. (Who goes to the Pacific during sun spots minimum?). Western Europe was our biggest challenge. The signals from this part of the World were weak or totally not workable at all. The path directly over the north pole was extremely difficult.
Often the signals from Eastern Europe were s9, but to the west from central Germany it was very difficult or not possible at all. The 2nd week we adjusted our shift to 2 operators per shift. We did this partly because the poor propagation, during the late night and the morning only 2 bands were open at the same time. On daytime and in the evening another operator could use the 3rd station, but on low power only. This allowed the other 2 stations to make slightly more than 1 KW. The 3rd station was therefore regularly in FT8.
The antenna park looked like this:

Band Antenna Details
10/12/15 meter Multiband verticale 10m fiber mast
17 meter VDA 12m fiber mast
20 meter VDA 12m fiber mast
30 meter VDA 18m Spiderbeam fiber mast
40 meter Phased verticale 2* 10m fiber mast
80/160 meter ¼ verticale/inverted-L 18m Spiderbeam fiber mast
RX beverage 180m lang Direction north

We focused on the low bands, the chance that the high bands were open was minimal.
All the antennas were mostly into direction of Europe. During the day, we often turned the antenna to North America to be able to operate the weaker stations. The beverage was also pointing north, towards Western Europe.
The chance that we would work a lot of Western Europe at 160 and 80 meters was also very little, but if you don’t try it will certainly not work.
During my own shifts in the evening and at night I was always active at 80 or 160 meters. Unfortunately, we could not combine it because we had to extend the 80m vertically for 160m as inverted-L. The antenna had to be taken down for the band chance. We had to make a choice in the evening before it got dark. Normally it was 2 days on 80m and then 2 days on 160m.


We had a lot of static on the low bands, sometimes it was so extreme that it was only possible to make some QSOs in FT8.

In 1850, United Kingdom claimed Canton as their property. In 1937 there was a total solar eclipse on Canton island, many scientists from Australia an America were there. From that moment America claimed this island. After long negotiations, the United Kingdom and America have both ruled the island for 50 years. From 1979 Kanton belonged to Kiribati when it became independent of United Kingdom.
Both the English and the Americans had their own part on the island, separated by the harbor. Only the American part is still inhabited. The airport was built in 1939 and was used for refueling aircrafts when they flew from Hawaii to Australia or New Zealand.

Until the early 1970s, around 1,200 people lived in Canton. After it became independent in 1979, approx. 300 lived on the Island, all the other left a few years before the independency.  At this time, it has now been reduced to less than 40. The entire infrastructure (roads, telephone-, power- and water-distribution) has been left behind by the Americans and the English without cleaning up. All houses, buildings, factory halls, power station, satellite tracking station, telephone exchange etc. are still there, but in such a state that it is too dangerous to walk inside these buildings. Everywhere you look on the island you see scrap. Along the roads, trucks, bulldozers, fire engines, etc. are still in the same place where they were left 50 years ago. You see the same situation on the Island Banaba, one of the other islands of Kiribati.

Most people think that if you go to an island in the Pacific it is tropical, exotic, you will have a luxury vacation. I can tell you that Canton is 100% the opposite, one big scrap heap, no luxury and very unsanitary. But the people are very friendly and welcoming!

The families on the Island prepared in turns for us 3 times a meal per day.
The afternoon and evening meals consisted of 95% rice and fish or fish and rice, the next day they had made a variation, lunch and dinner had been change. The first week there was sometimes meat (brought by the plane). After one week Frank; our contact person on the island; told us that they run out of food because the boat had not arrived since 2 months. This is quite normal in the Pacific, they don’t have a firm sailing schedule and if they say a boat will sail next week, then it can also be next month. From that moment on we only had pancakes in the morning and no more toasted bread. The variation in rice and fish or fish and rice also decreased. Fortunately, these 2 products were abundant, but there was nothing else in terms of vegetables. Fortunately, there was a bottle of chili sauce to give the rice a little flavor. Around November Chuck had also sent food and drinks to Canton from Christmas Island. 40 kg of rice, 120-liter bottles of water, coffee, tea and some other small items. This had all arrived, so no problem. But after 1 week we also run out of water, the coffee became also scarce in the last few days, tea was still sufficiently available. The last week we also switched to drinking rain water, this was fully present because it rained exceptionally a lot. We had also only brought 11 bottles of red wine from Tarawa (we couldn’t find any more), this fit exactly with the total weight that the plane could carry. We ate lunch with the entire team simultaneously every day. The propagation was bad at the time. We agreed that a bottle of red wine would be opened for every 5,000 QSOs. Dinner was always eaten in 2 shifts so that always 3 radios were active. This was the best time for Europe, so we had to be active!

We had 3 complete stations which could be used in all modes.
Elecraft K3 with an HLA1200 amplifier, Elecraft K3 with an Expert 1.3K amplifier, Elecraft K2 with a THP 1.1 amplifier. We used bandpass filters between the radio and the amplifier to eliminate any interference.
Logging was done with Win-test in a network configuration, all laptops could see all the QSOs that were logged. We were also able to set the correct time on all PCs for FT8 with WSJT and/or MSHV.
We had no internet in the shack, on 1 PC the time was synchronized with a GPS receiver and distributed by network to the other laptops.
Internet was present on the island, we had to walk almost 15 minutes from the shack. Internet was only available in the PIPA office. This was also available for the islanders.
Every day we uploaded our log to Clublog, which allowed several amateurs to see that they were in the log and were not duping to be sure they were in the log.
We also sends regularly information and photos through various multimedia channels.

FT8 was mainly used in Fox/Hound mode, but if there were only a few callers we used the normal mode. If there were to many stations calling we QSYed to another frequency for the Fox/Hound mode. We usually used the MSHV program for normal mode here. You can work up to 3 stations at the same time. FT8 was definitely not the main mode for me. I only made use of this mode when there was no activity in the other modes. I myself have no problems with FT8, but I’d rather make the QSOs myself than have the computer make them for me.
I was surprised that it was possible to let the computer log 170 QSOs in one hour in this mode. The signals must be loud, it was only possible with Asia and NA.
It is very frustrating that there are often no more activity in CW / SSB or RTTY but only in FT8.
The signals are loud enough for a QSO in normal modes.
The advantage of FT8 is that many amateurs in the other modes in the past could not work DX, now their computer can work DX with the same setup. Hopefully these amateurs will quickly switch to SSB or CW and will make the QSOs themselves again, certainly if the propagation increases in the coming years.
Because the propagation was poor, we had an extra challenge in SSB. Norbert had the disadvantage that he only does SSB, he was often calling for 4 hours for less than 20 QSOs. After a few days we had made the shifts in such a way that there was always one band open for the SSB operator. This also made it more fun for Norbert.

We have regularly visited the local school. Of the 20 children, 16 were separated in 2 classes. We spoke a lot with Monita, the teacher. She explained us a lot about the island and the people who live there. She also has given us an explanation about teaching at the Canton. Both Joe and I also told the children about Europe, Germany and the Netherlands and everything they wanted to know. We all had a great time.
A half year ago Monita’s house burned down, she taught the children from home. They were given another shelter for the school, but there was still a lot rebuilding to do within this shelter. A lot of school material had also been lost during the fire. Joe and I have given a personal donation to the school among the other things we donated. We hope they can make the roof waterproof again.
One of the last afternoons the whole school visited our shack for a radio demonstration. We all enjoyed it.

The last day we dismantled all the antennas except the 160m antenna. In the evening we were invited for an appreciation party by the locals. After the party we would be active for a final night including sunrise at 160 meters.
The party was beautiful. Especially Joe will never forget this evening, it was also his birthday and this had to be celebrated! All children have sung for him in English and in the local language. All residents were present during the party, they had all prepared some food. There were several tables completely covered with lots of rice and fish, but also 2 large lobsters and a small pig, which they had slaughtered that day. For them it was also a feast. There was a lot of singing and dancing by the children. At the end of the evening Frank took the guitar (which we donated to the people) and all the residents started singing. An evening to remember for a long time.

Then we started with 3 operators our last 160 meter shift. The static was so huge that it was impossible to make QSOs on 160 meter. Heye had started, then Joe. When I relieved Joe there were less than 40 QSOs in the log. I started my shift in CW and soon realized it was impossible to continue. Then I went to FT8 and the computer logged about 30 QSOs including a few southern Europeans. Very unfortunate about the static, I saw about 10 stations calling during the European greyline, but the computer could hardly decode anything because of the static.
After the last QSO was logged, I started to dismantle the station. After breakfast we took down the inverted-L for 160m and made everything ready for departure. Before we left the Island all of us had to plant a new coconut tree as a tradition. At 13:00lt we flew back to Tarawa.

We are satisfied with the result, just over 39,000 QSO’s, 17% of which with Europe. The best bands were 30 and 40 meters for Europe. For more statistics visit www.clublog.org


The QSL cards will be ready in April and sent out as soon as possible. All amateurs who have donated have received the confirmation via LOTW.
The QSL manager is Günter DL2AWG.The fastest way to get a QSL card is via OQRS (www.clublog.org).

We had brought several materials for the islanders including the guitar. For the children also a lot of toys, clothing, pens, notepads, caps and especially for the girls: chains, hair bands, bracelets etc. We also left our generator and some other materials on the island. At the PIPA office and at the weather observer’s house we have made and adjusted dipoles so that they can communicate with their base in Tarawa and Christmas Island.

Early in the evening we were back in our motel on Tarawa. After a varied meal (with rice) and a few cold beers and Kawa (yes, that’s another story) we ended the evening. The next day we had to be at the airport around 7:30 am for the journey back home.
The trip back home went without major stops. But it still took me just over 2 days before I was home again.

There are too many individual sponsors and DX clubs to mention that have made us a financial contribution. I want to make one exception and that was our main sponsor: GDXF the German DX Foundation. Thank you all!
For more information see our website: http://www.kanton2019.de


This is one of the DXpedities I will not soon forget. The propagation was minimal but the entire adventure was very impressive.

Ronald, PA3EWP

Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Comments are closed.