Testing of a solar-powered FT-8900 cross-band VHF/UHF station for deployment to a village that may not have grid power for months

Despite the devastating blow Hurricane Maria dealt to the Caribbean island nation of Dominica, Brian Machesney is optimistic that the recent delivery of Amateur Radio gear to the island will help to expedite ongoing recovery and better prepare Dominica for any similar disasters in the future.

Machesney is recently back from Dominica, where he and others helped deploy the nearly 600 pounds of radio equipment, transported by air, thanks to Dave Bridgham,. Assisting him was Brian Lloyd, who circumnavigated the globe earlier this year.

“I wish we could have accomplished more in the 10 days we were on the ground in Dominica but, as any reasonable person would concede, the weeks immediately following the region’s most devastating hurricane in living memory were not the best time to deploy new radio equipment,” Machesney said.

Nonetheless, the gear was delivered safely to the Dominica Amateur Radio Club, Inc (DARCI).

Many DARCI members lost everything in the hurricane. All of the ham radio gear was donated or purchased with donations. Some of the primary players included the Yasme Foundation, the Foundation for Amateur International Radio Service (FAIRS), and Yaesu.

“The first challenge the hams faced in providing communications after the hurricane was the lack of power to recharge their HT batteries,” Machesney said. “The solar-charged battery power systems supplied by FAIRS were quickly dispersed to stations from Jimmit to Castle Comfort where, in addition to powering ham equipment, they served to recharge neighbors’ mobile devices and further raised ham radio’s profile in Dominica.”

Machesney sees a productive future on Dominica for HF Automatic Link Establishment, a mode widely used by the government and the military. Through a cooperative arrangement with the Dominica Air and Seaports Authority, HF ALE transceivers, purchased by the Yasme Foundation, were installed at a station at Canefield Airport, with a companion station at the larger Douglas-Charles Airport.

A third HF ALE station was set up at the DARCI club station, J73Z, and powered by solar panels. FAIRS provided six solar-charged battery power kits, Machesney said. Yaesu also supplied 10 FT-8900 transceivers and 30 FT-65R handheld transceivers and accessories. Generous donations to a GoFundMe https://www.gofundme.com/hurricane-maria-dominica-ham-radio campaign provided the cash to purchase antennas and other gear.

“All parties are thoroughly sold on HF ALE as a valuable addition to their local and long-range communication capabilities,” Machesney said. “Once the state of emergency has passed, the HF ALE stations will be re-deployed to private amateur stations strategically located around the island.” He hopes that HF ALE will augment the island’s VHF/UHF repeater coverage.

“It was a great, cooperative effort that resulted in an integrated package of equipment that should ‘keep the lights on’ for the foreseeable future,” Machesney said.