The YASME Book
Available from the ARRL (YASME-The-Danny-Weil-and-Colvin-Radio-Expeditions)
YASME: The Danny Weil and Colvin Radio Expeditions
by James D. Cain, K1TN
Book Review… Yasme: The Danny Weil and Colvin Radio Expeditions
James D. Cain’s (amateur radio call sign K1TN) book is a treasure trove of information about the golden age of DXpeditions, the difficult and often dangerous efforts of traveling to places where ham radio was rare or non-existent. This aspect of the hobby blossomed following World War II, and Cain’s well-researched, data filled, and illustrated book follows its heyday between 1955 and 1993.
Attracting those with a sense of adventure, affinity to other cultures, and a love of amateur radio on the edge, a handful of amateur radio operators became well known as they sailed, flew, and otherwise made it to over 250 different and exotic countries, or areas that counted as a different “counting entity” for an important award in the universe of ham radio operators. The DXCC (DX Century Club) was sponsored and maintained by the American Radio Relay League, the major amateur radio national organization in the world and was a measure of how effective an operator was in reaching other parts of the world with his/her signal.
Cain focuses on three of the most significant people who led the way from numerous locations; Danny Weil VP2VB, and Lloyd W6KG and Iris Colvin W6QL, along with cameo summaries for three others: Don Chesser W4KVX, Dick McKercher WØMLY, and Don Miller W9WNV.
Weil is perhaps the most extreme example of a vagabond traveler, as he leaves England on a small sailing vessel, a 40 foot boat he named YASME, a derivation of the Japanese word “yasume” which means “to make tranquil.” With almost no sailing experience, Weil takes the boat from England down along the West African coast to Gambia, and from there westward across the Atlantic Ocean to the British West Indies in 22 days of late 1954. He meets Dick Spenceley KV4AA, a well-known American ham operator in the US Virgin Islands, hits it off, receives instruction in the theory of amateur radio including Morse code, and takes to it as a duck in water, which for most part he was at this time. Using his British citizenship, he gets a ham radio license in the British Virgins, and the odyssey begins.
Cain organizes his book by switching back and forth, at times almost at random, between Danny Weil and the other main protagonists, Lloyd and Iris Colvin, who are not as completely free spirited as Weil (Colvin is an army officer) but are bitten by the same wanderlust. Their background is covered, and the book begins a back-and-forth account of who goes where in a dizzying array of sweeps and swoops.
It would take much too long to cover the travels, but a super summary would go something like this:
Weil goes through four versions of the YASME as they founder on shoals and reefs, or are done in by a typhoon. One of these boats never makes it out of its initial harbor as it explodes during refueling and is not even granted a name. The other three, which make it into open water, become YASME I, II, and III. During this time, Weil and the various YASMEs sail the Caribbean, the Pacific, and South America (some numerous times with different versions of the craft). Weil, apparently a charming fellow, blends in well with “all he has met,” and weds a woman with who is a true soul mate. She accompanies him on many of these trips until her health fails and she dies. Weil never has a dime to spare and operates under the wing of the Yasme Foundation, a financial umbrella that both supports the expedition and helps replace the various YASME boats as they bite the dust (or waves). Having lost the will to continue alone, Danny Weil calls it quits in 1963, sails YASME III through the Panama Canal from the Pacific, and brings her to Freeport, Texas, where she is sold for $15,000 to settle up the Yasme Foundation’s ledgers. He leaves the sea and moves to San Antonio to return to his original profession of watchmaking. He was alive at the time this book was written, and died in October 2003 as an American citizen. Altogether, Cain’s saga about Weil totals 113 pages.
Lloyd and Iris Colvin had met KV4AA and were well aware of Weil and the Yasme Foundation in 1959. They begin serious DXpeditioning in the mid-nineteen sixties after his retirement from the military in 1960 and a domestic stint in California. In 1959, they applied for various financial grants, including from the Yasme Foundation, with a commitment to “travel to remote sections of the world for the next ten years and operate our amateur radio station in each country visited.” They began their peripatetic commitments with a trip to the UK and Africa in late 1965.
In 1976, following a wild spree of radio operations by the talented but controversial DXpeditioner Don Miller, the Colvins started an almost unprecedented series of travels to a wide range of locations. These included the UK and Africa in ’76, the Pacific in ’76, the Caribbean and Central America in 1976-79, the Mediterranean and Caribbean in ’80-81, and East Africa and the Middle East in 1982.
Lloyd and Iris continued this frenetic pace in 1983-84 in South America, and took some time off for the funeral of Don Wallace W6AM, who was president of the Yasme Foundation. Following that, they embarked on a three-year odyssey of trips including Africa in 1985, the Himalayas and Grecian Isles in 1987-88, and the Indian Ocean and Mexico in 1988.
In 1990 the Colvins departed for Africa and East Asia, covering a wide swath of rare locations, and three years later the final Colvin expedition took place in Turkey, where Lloyd suffered a fatal heart attack in Istanbul. He was 78 years of age. At the time of his death, Lloyd was president of the Yasme Foundation. Iris was named to that position at the next meeting. All together, the Colvins portions cover 152 pages.
The book itself is nearly impossibly packed with facts, which are disbursed and hard to locate at times. The travels and ventures into off-the-main-path locations become nearly mind-numbing, but nevertheless are superhuman. Although the book was published without an index, it could have used one. (Software tools were not available to the author for generating an index, which would have been very useful.) In addition, two comprehensive acknowledgements were removed by the publisher (these are available as PDF files).
Numerous background details are included, and although each and every one is interesting in themselves, they are so numerous that they almost detract from the amazing commitment and fearless adventure of the main characters. Organized around the individual DXpeditions and events, every single detailed episode is fascinating but the overall arc of human adventure is numbed with the explosion of details and backup. This book describes an era of amateur radio that will never be repeated. It’s a jewel even with its flaws, and deserves to be read by every serious ham radio operator who enjoys the thrill and glamour of DX, albeit with occasional agony of human frailty. – JK (Jim) George, N3BB, August 2016
It’s great to read about an important slice of ham radio and DX “history.” My parents were part of the character(s) generation so there is that angle that interests me, and just thinking about traveling the world doing dx-peditions with heavy “boat anchors” is quite amusing. It’s also interesting to read about the DXCC Program and the characters who have helped shape it. Scandal, adventure and history — all good elements in the story. – KY6R
This 320 page book…is an excellent read to get some of the history of DXpeditions in the past. Lots of info, pictures and stories about three people traveling to countries to help make available QSL cards from rare countries. – NØODK
Even though I’ve been involved in ham radio since the early 1980’s, I’d never really heard the whole story of Danny Weil and the YASME expeditions (the Colvin’s were more familiar, as they were still active when I started DXing). K1TN has really done a ton of research on this book and did a terrific job of narrating the story. It’s a LONG book, more than 300 pages, and one of those compulsive page turners: “Is he going to make it, or what?” – recommended as a very entertaining read and worth the (price). – W4PA
This book, commissioned by the YASME Foundation, is truly a fascinating read. It recounts the history of YASME and the many YASME DXpeditions over the years. There are many pictures and an amazing amount of historical detail. Jim Cain, K1TN, obviously did some very extensive research in authoring this book. It’s a must have for serious DXers. – WØVX
I had the pleasure to work the Colvins from their last trip in the early 90s when I received my license. To read their and Danny’s story makes me feel the “good old days” of ham radio when CW was king and DX-peditions were a real adventure. Every interested DXer should read it – OE3SGU
These reviews are republished with the permission of www.eham.net (Search for “yasme” in the Reviews section)