The TXØDX 2000 DXpedition organizing team of FK8GM, JA1BK and OH2BH had to clear several DXCC-related issues on the path to the Chesterfield Islands becoming the next entity on the DXCC list. They worked hard at clearing this path for the past two years, and indeed by March there were no more obstacles in the way. The question of intervening land between the rest of New Caledonia and the Chesterfields was obviously one of these critical issues.
If you visit the National Geographic web site at http://plasma.nationalgeographic.com/mapmachine/ and look for the Chesterfields, you will see an island group which includes a cluster of reefs and islets at 158° but also a massive island at 159° 55' East and 19° 15' South. This is Sandy Island, or Les Ile de Sable on some maps. Observant DXers have noticed that Sandy Island is still presented on some current maps, while other recently updated sources (e.g., The Times Comprehensive Atlas of the World, 10th Edition, 1999) show nothing but open water in this area.
When asked about the matter, Mr. David Miller, Senior Editor, National Geographic Maps, explained that the background on their map was developed by WorldSat International. This background, which indicates ocean depth by various shades of blue, was produced using raw scientific data provided by U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellites.
The land areas (indicated in green) are based on a large collection of original maps, some dating back a number of years, and which are known to contain significant inaccuracies. By looking at the more accurate satellite-based data, it is clear that the ocean in the area where Sandy Island is depicted is actually quite deep, and no islands exist there. Mr. Miller conceded that "our maps are hopelessly outdated for this area" and indicated that they would be updated soon. The TXØDX team suggested that they indeed had better do so!
What was the significance of Sandy Island? It was one of the key issues in determining whether the Chesterfield Islands qualified for addition to the DXCC List as another new entity. It is required that there should be an open water separation of at least 350 kilometers between the westernmost point of FK-land and the easternmost point of Chesterfield Islands. If Sandy Island existed, the separation would not be sufficient, and the bid to make this a new DXCC entity would have failed.
But DXers are a determined bunch, and they are not always willing to take National Geographic maps or other obstacles at face value. After finishing their own investigation, the TXØDX research group concluded that this 6-km long claimed island simply does not exist. You may wish to check out another web site (http://www.clinet.fi/~oh2bn/) to see a set of photographs taken from the Space Shuttle.
You will also find a set of maps, with and without Sandy Island. Notice that the claimed island is removed from the more recent maps. Any cartographer will tell you this is never done without a solid reason. Standard practice is to include any reported obstacle to navigation--no matter how unlikely--until it is proven not to exist. Only then can it be removed from a nautical chart.
It is interesting to note that French, Australian and Japanese marine charts have all been corrected recently, while many U.S.-based maps have not. It would appear that U.S.-based IOTA hunters might seemingly have more options than the local folks!
Additionally, you may wish to exercise your math skills by calculating the actual distance from FK to TXØDX: from the west end of Atoll de Portail at 18° 30' South, 162° 50' East to the east end of Bampton Reef at 19° 08' South, 159° 05' East which is the official determining line for the required open water separation.
The DXpedition vessel also stopped at the Nereus Reefs, roughly midway on their journey to the Chesterfields, since the group had an academic interest to experience these underwater reefs. It was exciting indeed to watch the GPS and the breaking waves, while recording depths of less than 20 meters at times. When nothing could be found breaking the surface, the TXØDX team knew that clear sailing was ahead!
The TXØDX DXpedition group wishes to thank the numerous DXers who took an interest in these remote waters. Now that the issue is water clear, another new DXCC counter will soon surface.