Learning amateur radio and becoming a country-hopping DXpeditioner

After Danny docked in Antigua he looked for help to get his radio equipment working. Someone had told him to seek out Dick Spenceley, KV4AA in St. Thomas for help. In late April 1955, Danny sailed to Charlotte Amalie, the main harbor of St. Thomas. About a decade older than Danny (then 37) they became friends and created the beginnings of the Yasme story over the next eight years.

When Dick suggested that Danny incorporate amateur radio into his voyage and described the inner workings of DX, Danny was at the feet of a real master. Danny spent the next several months in St. Thomas, learning radio theory and Morse code. He then took a trip to Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands (BVI), where he passed the amateur radio examination and was issued the BVI call sign VP2VB.

Soon, Dick had obtained the needed equipment from US hams to be installed on-board Yasme: two Multi-Elmac AF-67 portable transmitters, an Elmac PMR-6A receiver, and a Hammarlund HQ-129X. Even though Danny was practicing Morse code daily, Dick stated in CQ Magazine that he was not the best CW operator in the world but would soon have lots of practice. Dick was right – as he was not an amateur radio DXpeditioner, but rather attempting to circumnavigate the globe, alone, which had been thought to have been his original driving force since leaving England.


Danny Weil, VP2VB, left and Dick Spenceley, KV4AA, right with actor William Holden in the middle (from Yasme book/K1TN page 29)

Who is this demanding Dick Spenceley, KV4AA? The first Yasme Foundation president, he was born in the Boston suburb of West Newton, Massachusetts in 1905 and lived there until 1924 when he joined the US Navy. In 1925 he transferred to the Navy’s radio station NBB in the US Virgin Islands. He was originally licensed as K4AAN and caught the severe “DX Bug” in 1932.

KV4AA was on top of the DXCC Honor Roll by 1962. He was the DX editor of CQ Magazine from 1952 to 1958. He was a beacon on 14.080 KHz CW every day and was inducted into the CQ DX Hall of Fame in March, 1969. Dick Spenceley, KV4AA, died in 1982.

After three months in St. Thomas, Danny left on August 1st, 1955, headed for the Panama Canal and points further west. Danny maintained daily radio contact with KV4AA. The Yasme was fitted for a longer journey and Dick’s instructions were banging in his head – “The longer I hold a QSO, the less chance I have to natter others, so make ‘em short and sweet and don’t think me rude if I suddenly go off the air.” The learning on the job was well under way.

In Canal Zone, KZ5, the home of 14 US military bases was an intermediate stop for Danny for further fitting out Yasme for the Pacific. Danny was the guest of Dick, KZ5MN and was granted the call sign KZ5WD. A number of DXers worked Danny from the Canal Zone, yet another DXCC counter and Danny was on his way to becoming potentially the first of the country-hopping DXpeditioners.

Yasme sailed out from Canal Zone on October 8, 1955, setting course for the Galapagos Islands and then Tahiti, FO8. Tahiti was to be his furthest destination. He burned 175 gallons of gas while also continuously keeping in contact with KV4AA and Roland, FO8AD.

Yasme sighted Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas Islands in late November 1955, eight weeks after he had left the Panama Canal. He continued to Pape’ete, Tahiti where he landed on December 8, 1955. On that long journey the world had caught “Danny fever” and the QST “How’s DX” column featured Danny as the main protagonist.

Danny and Marie in Tahiti, a friend very hard to leave (Yasme book/K1TN page 36)

The FO8AN operation really brought Danny into the spotlight of the DX world. He spent several hours a day operating, on both CW and AM, while exploring Pape’ete’ s paradise – like life in many of its facets. Danny loved Tahiti and leaving it was very difficult for him. This included his girlfriend Marie and other YLs “with a cooperative and broad-minded attitude regarding the propagation of the species,” as he stated!

It should be mentioned right here how much Danny had hoped the mast would snap or something would happen to necessitate his return to Tahiti. Little did he know that all these things would happen along his journey but that he may not return to Tahiti, as he was set to make many more DX hops.

His fame was building and Art Collins, WØCXX, greeted Danny with a brand-new Collins 75A4 receiver on his arrival at Canton Island in the Pheonix Islands, now Kiribati, where rare VR1B was to hit the air. In those days many of the Pacific Islands were occupied by the military and Canton Island was well attended, manned by the US and the British with unique multiple DXCC status: KB6 and VR1. Danny operated his Elmac and 75A4 from the shack of Howie, KB6BA.

Danny found himself overwhelmed by the radio demand and he became the Marathon Man on the radio. His whole life was devoted to key thumping and occasionally spouting on phone. Danny stayed on Canton Island for a month, longer than he initially planned. This was indeed his first “major” operation as VR1B was definitely needed by many DXers.

Fame took its toll and keeping a radio schedule was increasingly difficult. Danny decided to write a message to Dick with the following wording: “I was able to get on the air for less than 24 hours and soon cleared over 100 QSO’s, about one a minute. I should with more practice get a little faster, I realize this is slow, maybe we shall be able to speed it up a bit.” With this message the true mind of a DXpeditioner was born once and forever!

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