Fantastic & Fearsome Flannan Isles - a remote Island on the Air.
Final Report From The Flannan Team.
Fantastic & Fearsome Flannan Isles - a remote Island on the Air.
The first seeds of an expedition to a remote IOTA were planted in early August 2009. One
month prior I had visited St Kilda (EU-059) intending to activate that particular rare island group
during the IOTA contest. Unfortunately poor weather & sea state thwarted my efforts to remain
there during the contest weekend - I spent only a few hours on St Kilda then returned home.
A few weeks later - and in conversation with another IOTA activator - the words "Flannan"
and "Expedition" were first uttered.
Christian EA3NT and I had longed to form a team to activate a rare IOTA. Indeed, in 2007
we seriously considered Rockall EU-189, but soon realised the enormous effort and danger
involved in this. We looked at many islands and options within the Scottish (GM) coastline and
eventually decided Flannan Isles (EU-118) was worth the effort. Checking various most wanted
IOTA listings, it confirmed Flannan was in demand, especially in Japan.
By November 2009, the callsign MS0INT was issued. (This callsign will be used for future rare
Scottish IOTA activations). A google group was formed and all kinds of relevant info detailing
the Flannan Isles soon appeared - we learned very quickly the history of the place and just how
impressive an island group it is. If you like white sand beach islands, then EU-118 is not for you!
By the end of 2009, our team was formed. All seasoned IOTA activators, we felt the group was
as strong as it possibly could be. Vincent, F4BKV, Simon IZ7ATN, Bjorn SM0MDG, Christian
EA3NT, George EA2TA and Col MM0NDX. Between us, over 100 IOTA activated. Our QSL
manager would be Tim, M0URX with Nico, DD1MAT being webmaster. Things were taking
shape and the excitement rolled on.
Planning and organising an expedition to EU-118 is time consuming and costly, albeit
worthwhile. We had booked our boat charter way back in October 2009 - some eight months
before we would leave for Flannans. Due to the fact our team consisted of six, accomodation
and transport was required. A 12 seater minibus was hired and our base camp on the west side
of Isle of Lewis (EU-010) was situated just two miles from our boat charter; a perfect location.
We would use the base prior to and after the expedition.
February to late May 2010 was constant planning, logistics and organising. A monumental
effort was given to this. Everything from how many litres of water would we need to what
type of generators would work best to power three stations. Norman, GM4KGK based in
Stornoway, Isle of Lewis was a huge help in locally sourcing various items we required to make
the expedition a success. Ant, MW0JZE very kindly loaned us a G3TXQ Hexbeam . Icom UK
supplied us with two IC7000 transceivers and Alloa Hire Centre (AHC) provided 2Kw generators
to charge our battery tanks. GDXF and CDXC (Clipperton) provided cash support. Donations
came in from all corners of the world too. These would greatly help offset costs incurred. Even
the guesthouse at our base camp stored hundreds of kgs of gear ahead of our arrival, thus
saving us flying into the Western Isles with literally tons of kit.
Tuesday June 15, 2010 was when the MS0INT story really began! That evening Christian
EA3NT and George EA2TA arrived at Edinburgh airport. We had a beer and chatted excitedly.
We had also kept a close eye on recent weather conditions/forecasts and formed the opinion we
had a great chance of pulling this off as the wx looked unusually good out in the North Atlantic
for the foreesable future! By next day, Wednesday June 16, the entire team met at Edinburgh
and off we set to Stornoway, full of optimism. On arrival at Stornoway airport we met Norman,
GM4KGK. He handed over all our "goodies" purchased locally - the least we could do was treat
him to fish & chips! Next stop was the local supermarket. Six guys buying food for three days
camping on a remote island is quite a sight to see! By late evening, we travelled from east to
west across the Isle of Lewis on mostly single track road. The surrounding terrain resembled
a moonscape! Soon we arrived at the guesthouse, settled in, checked all our equipment had
arrived and fell asleep exhausted.
Thursday June 17, would see the team assemble and experiment with all equipment.The
G3TXQ Hexbeam worked very well in testing and we were confident in erecting it on the
Flannans. (This is testament to MW0JZE's instructions). Soon MM/IZ7ATN, MM/F4BKV & MM/
EA2TA had pileups as it seemed the waiting world knew our next stop would hopefully be EU-
118. That evening we were all buzzing as word spread that a landing would likely be possible
due to continued good sea state. We retired for the night at 0100 local, ready for the "off" at
0800 on Friday, June 18.
Friday was a truly beautiful day. Clear skies and a gentle breeze. Perfect for a sailing out into
the Atlantic.We left our mooring at 0900 and soon Sea Trek boat charter had us on the high
seas looking for Basking sharks - we saw one or two, adding to our already excited minds. After
90 mins at sea, from the distance the Flannan Isles appeared. At first glance they looked tiny,
then they grew, and grew....
On approach, jaws dropped as we looked up at the sheer scale of the islands. Eilean Mor (main
island with the lighthouse) now made us feel tiny! Our skipper Ian (a very funny guy) surveyed
the best landing site. Either east or west would be possible - most unusual. He opted for the
slightly "easier" east landing as we had a good amount of equipment which needed hauled up
by rope onto a platform just above this particular landing site. We anchored, and then two at a
time on a small hard zodiac, we headed for the east landing. First operator to land on Flannans
was Christian EA3NT, followed by Bjorn SM0MDG. Congratulatory pictures were taken and
instantly sent to Niko DD1MAT, our webmaster in Germany. For some unexplained reason we
never did have cellphone coverage again after the initial first landing picture was taken. Perhaps
this was a curse of the lighthouse keepers who disappeared some 110 years earlier?! That story
is well documented on Wikipedia.Once we all landed, we breathed a hugh sigh of relief and
immediately got to work in hauling up all our gear from the zodiac to the platform.
The steps at the east landing are not in good condition, although considerably better than
the west side!. One small slip could have been fatal so we really had to be aware when we
ascended. As we climbed further, the steps were in better condition. The climb itself is steep
and tiring. It takes 45 mins from landing to reaching the island lighthouse, some 88m ( 264ft) in
height. We had to do this trip three or four times with heavy equipment, food, water and outdoor
gear all hoisted on our backs, with each arm stretched out carrying other pieces of equipment. I
think adrenalin covered the fact we were hurting carrying all this gear.
We quickly realised the lighthouse was a perfect base. The take off for all antennas was ideal.
Ocean upon ocean with no obstacles in our way. The area below the solar panels of the
lighthouse would be our "shack". Three lightweight tarpaulins were used to provide a waterproof
shelter/roof. Remains of an old outhouse building next to the lighthouse would now be our
cooking area. Near to the ruined chapel we pitched tents. The Hexbeam was the first antenna to
be erected thanks to Vincent F4BKV and Simon’s IZ7ATN efficiency. We decided not to begin
operations on three bands simultaneously as the main target was to give out as many Qso's as
quickly as possible. To wait until all stations were complete would waste valuable "on air" time.
Shortly after 16:30 local on Friday June 18th, Christian EA3NT was first to transmit on
14260Mhz. "CQ, CQ, MS0INT, EU-118 Flannan Isles". Instantly, Ukraine was first to make the
log, followed by JA8MS. Within one minute, and being spotted on the DX Cluster, the pileup
was as we expected - HUGE! The first 100 stations were logged in no time. By end of day, two
stations were on air, and we quickly made 2000 QSO's. The opening to Japan on 20m was
particularly pleasing as we knew how much EU-118 was needed there.
CW ops were EA3NT & SM0MDG. A special mention to them for working through the following
nights as the SSB camp slept! By Saturday morning June 19, we had two HF stations and
6m (50Mhz) on air. Pileups were impressive and we noted how well behaved/controlled the
callers were. Deliberate QRM appeared non-existent, which was pleasing to say the least. By
end of Saturday, 4000 QSO's in just over 24 hours were made. We were delighted. Oh, and
we got sunburt too! However, by late Saturday afternoon, poor weather soon approached. A
party from the Hebridean Book Trust were due to visit and land the Flannan’s on the Saturday.
Sadly for them the sea state was too rough to land. For us, we knew that landing on the islands
at all was lucky - to depart three days later without any issues would be exceedingly lucky!
Sunday, June 20 was a difficult day, weather-wise. The wind was blowing from the north making
it feel nothing like summer! The rain and low level cloud added to an already miserable weather
day. Coupled with this, the seas were far choppier than previous days, and I personally believed
we would not get off the island on Monday morning such was the change in conditions. Of
course we couldn't do anything about this, so continued to operate 24/7. 10m was going great
guns on Sunday. Whole of Europe seemed like they were calling in. Split operation was a
necessity until the pileup eased a little. Other bands continued to impress, with JA being worked
easily on 17, 20 and 30m. By end Sunday, we erected the 80m dipole as we knew some ops
needed EU-118 on this band for an all time new one. Propagation was not good on 80m -
daylight never really left us - but we soldiered on and made approx 100 QSO's on a seemingly
dead band. After midnight on Sunday, we continued to run 3 stations, and with contacts being
worked so very quickly, the QSO count reached 7000 in 55 hours of operating.
1am Monday morning, June 21 Bjorn SM0MDG and Col MM0NDX are working 30 and 40m
respectively. NA, SA all loud. A small amount of whisky continues to keep us warm, as Christian
EA3NT prepares to take over the 30m CW station at 3am. Everyone else is now asleep!
A few hours later, three stations back on air, and I'm amazed at the number of stations still
calling in. 20m has a pileup which resembles the opening of MS0INT operations three days
earlier. Unbelievable! Sadly, we had to take two stations off air at 0800z on Monday morning.
The boat was coming and already visible on the horizon as we disassembled. 20m SSB would
keep going until the last minute. At 1000z local, MS0INT ceased operations.
Once packed up, we had to carry all gear back down the steep descend of Eilean Mor. This
was no fun as we learned we would not be using the platform used to haul the equipment up on
arrival. We would need to use the broken steps at the bottom of the east landing as our return
boat was a RIB (we used motor vessel Lochlann on the outward journey to Flannans . George
EA2TA was the mainstay of this "operation" as we passed gear down to him who inturn passed
onto Bjorn who was already on the RIB. Suffice to say, a little bit of the Atlantic soaked George
as the swell kicked up!
Finally at 11:05z on June 21 we left EU-118. Happy. A total of 8194 QSO's were made in 66
The journey back to EU-010 was very fast aboard the RIB. By 12pm local were back on terra
firma, unloading. Our hire bus was at the pier so we quickly got organised and drove to our
base camp a few miles south. A much needed shower was the order of the day! Nobody felt like
transmitting that evening! We had smoked salmon, wine and some beers, and then hit the sack,
still high on adrenalin after a brilliant three days on Flannans.
The team wishes to thank everyone who called in, no matter how many times you made the
log. Every QSO was welcome and we're delighted EU-118 is now so much less wanted,
particulary for Japan. Special thanks to CDXC (Clipperton), GDXF, F5CWU for the loan of band
pass filters, Norman GM4KGK for local support, Niko DD1MAT for maintaining & updating our
website, AHC, SeaTrek and everyone who kindly donated. We also acknowledge the Sea Gods
were with us!
QSL cards will be available within the next few weeks. Planning for our next trip has already
On behalf of MS0INT Team