Sunday, December 16, 2012

ARRL 10 metre contest

I had decided a few months ago already that I wanted to make a serious entry with a view to putting in a good QRP score on SSB, operating portable-style from my usual seaside location.
 
I’d done a lot of prep work with the 10m antennas, trying out 2 element and 4 element designs, with a 2 element phased design in the works. I had the option to use the FT-1000 MkV Field in order to do SO2V, the poor man’s version of SO2R, CQing on one VFO and doing s+p on the other. So I was quite prepared.
 
At the beginning of the week prior to the contest, conditions were very poor, but the NOAA forecast was that it would get better, with an SFI forecast of 130 and low absorption. However it just didn’t happen and on Saturday morning, SFI was at a meager 95. Great for low bands, not so hot for high bands....
 
I trundled on down to the port and set up. In the end I used my Kenwood TS850, since I hadn’t had time to set up the audio on the Field and also it didn’t fit in the car. I set up the quarter wave on the car and the 2 element vertical yagi and had a tune around. Heard JY4NE and called. And called. And called. He finally pulled me out of the noise. No such luck with VK6IR. Or with RT4RO. After an hour, and only one more QSO in the log, I realized that there was no way I was going to get any kind of record on QRP, so I cranked up the wick to 100w. This time I managed to get VK6IR and a couple of others in the log but really not a lot happening.
 
I decided that since there was nothing happening, it might be a nice idea to try out the new phased design. This is based on the notes in the WX0B stackmatch. Basically it consists of two identical half wave verticals, in my case centre fed. If they are spaced a half wavelength apart, when fed together using a 0.41 wavelength phasing line from the phasebox to each vertical, it will give a broadside pattern with 4dB gain over a single vertical. It can also be fed to give endfire in both directions, with up to 6dB gain with a half wave of spacing. With the centre fed antennas, I used a third fishing rod in the centre to support the box. This meant that I was able to get full spacing (5m between verticals and 2m80 lines means the box cannot be on the ground!) and also keep feedlines quite horizontal to avoid feedline radiation. Unfortunately the clamp was too big and I needed to tape it all up provisionally. This is what it looked like:
 
 
How did it work? Well to be honest I noticed very little difference on RX. And there was hardly anyone to test it with on TX. I decided to take it down again and put up the 2 element parasitic I’d started with, on the basis that it was almost less work getting out of the car and moving the reflector every once in a while. This may be a design to think about for a more permanent installation, or for a band where antennas are so big they need to be guyed, or radials need to be moved, etc. But for vertical dipoles on 10 and maybe 15, I think the parasitic design is a better all round solution.
 
The day wore on and we continued to have what Bob K8IA calls “spotlight propagation”. I would hear one loud Finn, for example, for about 5 minutes, but only one. Then a state might come up out of the noise for a few minutes. Some were even less, the exchange having to be quick and not be left with one of us shouting,….”number?...number?....numberrrrrr?????????????!?!?!” At the end of Saturday, I’d worked all continents, 33 multipliers, but only 53 QSOs!
 
And that was how it ended. I got up on Sunday and saw the SFI had crept up to 100, but I decided to spend the time doing other things instead. I kept an ear on the radio at home and heard the states coming in at dusk, but in spite of that I think I took the right decision. Next year will be better, right??
 
Points to note:
 
 - I might try to recreate the 2 ele phased array using end fed antennas, easier setup which would allow the phase box to sit on the ground.
 
- End fed antennas also take out the guesswork on whether your feedline is horizontal enough and if its affecting the performance.

- In the afternoon a strong gust of wind blew the reflector down and the SWR went up. I checked, and on the rig it showed resonance at 29.4. I double checked on the analyzer and it showed the same. Something local affecting the SWR? Or did I screw up when I was labeling the elements after putting away the 4 element last time? 
 
- I plugged in my 12V to 19V DC to DC converter for the netbook and zas! S5 to S9 of QRN. Trying to remember what I used to power the PC last time. And thinking, last time was on 40m, maybe it was making that noise then and I hadn’t noticed? On marginal 10m, you can tune across the band even with S2 noise and think there is no one there. Need to check whether the netbook will charge on 12V straight connection to the battery.

Next contest….um, not sure. ARRL DX for sure, but maybe something in between?

Thursday, December 06, 2012

ZL9HR, finally in the log

Well, I have to admit that I really had my doubts about this one. It's not so much the distance, since in spite of being a long way away (18377km), I still manage to make regular contact with "mainland" New Zealand regularly. It's more to do with the fact that it is a lot further south, 1800km south of Auckland, for example, which makes it a lot more complicated, plus the fact that it's been 13 years since there's been any ham radio activity from there.

The team set out last Monday 26th and was due to arrive a couple of days later. However large storms meant that they had to seek shelter and so were not up and running until Saturday December 1st. This meant that instead of ten days, they would only be there for a week. In spite of having a possible 7 stations on the air simultaneously, the demand for Campbell Island is high and big pileups therefore assured. Also, the NZ department of conservation, in charge of the island, had imposed two conditions that further restricted possibilities. One was that the beach area was off limits, so no low angle verticals on the beach, and secondly, no overnight stays so limited operating times.

Sunday evening I got the news on our HQ whatsapp chat that EA4ZK worked them on 20m SSB. On Monday I heard them on 20 SSB with strong signals, very encouraging, but absolutely no way to crack the pileup. On Tuesday evening a lot of spanish stations took advantage of a brief 20m opening on CW and I am also lucky enough to be in the log.

However what I was really looking for was an SSB contact from the car. Wednesday was a washout, no SSB activity on the long path and then no activity on 40m at nightfall. I went home and checked their web, where there is now enough data to get a good idea of when and where is good to work them. Between that and the spots of the DX cluster, I decided that since today, Thursday, is a national holiday, I had to get up early and take my big 40m antenna with me.

And thats exactly what I did. At around 6.30 I was already setting up the 40m full size vertical and the usual 20m full size vertical on the car, and then sat down to monitor the bands and the cluster. Around 20 minutes later, I started to hear them come up through the noise very weak on 20, and a few calls later 5 kc up, got a call back "mobile??". I gave the call a couple of times, exchanged 59, and gave my thanks for the new one, replied to with a "You're welcome!" I guess the op was Jacques ZL3CW, from the french accent.

Here's what it looked like:


(The spiderpole supports the wire which screws into the hustler mount on the car)

Since I'd gone to the trouble of putting up the 40m antenna, I stayed for a while to see if they would come up, but to no avail. I worked the 5T0SP operators and a couple of stateside stations, and when it was daylight and no real chance of hearing them even if they came on, I called it a day and headed for home.

The crazy things we do for radio.....!

Monday, November 26, 2012

CQWW CW 2012 EA5ON

Two years ago I did 15m QRP in my first real attempt in a CW contest. Last year I had planned on improving my score in the same category, but a cycling accident meant I couldn't do much with the paddle. This year, I decided to see if I could do what I wasn't able to do last year.

This weekend was busy with other things and it wasn't until late saturday evening that I sat down at the rig. I haven't made any CW contacts in a long time, although I do do a bit of practice on morse runner from time to time. So when it came to the real thing, I was pretty slow in picking up calls. I was able to work a couple of brazilians, and very surprisingly, DR1A with a weak backscatter signal, managed to pull me out of the noise, before I headed off to bed.

Sunday morning I got on for an hour and a half and more of the same, it took me ages to decipher calls but got there in the end and managed around 40 qsos. Sunday afternoon I got on again and stayed until the band closed, with 120 QSOs, 18 zones, and 43 countries. So, I didn't beat my 2011 score, but I had fun and worked some nice DX, including the guys at EL2A in Liberia, our Czech friends at C5A in the Gambia, and the lads at D4C in Cape Verde, all in zone 35. I also managed a few nice central and south america QSOs.

So, an uneventful CQWW CW, but at least I'm keeping my hand in with the CW.....

Next contest, ARRL 10m in two weeks time. Watch this space!

(Sorry no photos of this test)

Saturday, November 10, 2012

MORE ON 2 ELEMENT VERTICAL BEAMS

A few months ago, I decided to try out using a parasitic element on a tripod to convert the vertical on my car into a 2 element vertical beam (see http://www.ea5on.com/2012/05/welcome-back-after-6-year-delay-to-see.html)

The more recent tests have been using the vertical dipole, 2 element yagis, and 4 element yagis, also reported on this blog.

At my current location in the port, it seems like development is afoot and shortly I may have to find myself a new spot to operate from since they are planning to build a boatyard where I usually operate from. So. before that happens, I wanted to try to operate a contest from there to see how I got on with the beams. I had thought about CQWW CW but my CW is still quite poor, so, since all the antenna trials are on 10m, why not the ARRL 10m contest?

The recent tests indicated that perhaps on some paths, propagation might not always be coming in on the expected path, and that either an omnidirectional, or perhaps better, a rotatable antenna, would be desirable in order to both check the differences, and of course work more stations in the contest! My idea is to try QRP, so every little extra dB counts.

One idea which is under way is to build a simple rotary 2 element yagi using the 6m mast I used for the quad in CQWPX, and making the vertical elements out of telescoping whips. Watch this space!

In the meantime I decided to take a leaf out of the CBers books and try to make a beam on top of the car. If it was to work, it might be a cheap and cheerful way to get some gain and easy directivity without a complicated setup.

I measured the distance from the back ball mount to a point on the roof where I could mount another vertical reasonably straight, it measures just short of a metre and a half, acceptable for 10m. I put the magmount on, measured another vertical a few inches shorter (this time using a 3 foot mast and a 4 and a half foot telescopic whip) and installed this director element on the magmount. SWR was lowered a bit, as expected.

On-the-air tests yesterday with stations in Ukraine, Canada, and the USA, indicated a more or less expected front to side pattern of between one and 4 s units, depending on the station. However since this depends on propagation and QSB (fading), and there was no reference antenna, plus I wasn't in a great place for 360º testing, I wanted to do more on-air tests.

Here's what it looks like set up:



When is an omnidirectional not an omnidirectional?

The answer is, when it's on a car.

This afternoon I made a sked with Victor EA5KV to do a local test with no QSB. Before doing anything else, I wanted to test the single vertical I normally use, to see if it made any difference depending on where the car was looking. I went to a location close by to my normal spot but where I was able to drive around in circles without any problems.

Conventional wisdom says that the best place to put an antenna on your car is in the centre of the roof. If you put it at the back or front, it will radiate better over the area of metal. That is to say, in my case where the antenna is mounted in the centre of the rear, there should be a stronger signal forward over the car roof.

The first noticeable thing was that there was a big difference while driving around in a 360º cicle, including a big null where Vic lost me completely, we hadn't expected there to be a big difference.

The second thing, which we noticed after getting the compass out to confirm, is that the antenna radiated the strongest signal at approx 70º left of forward, and the null was 180º from that. We checked this three times to make sure it was correct. I can think of no reason why it should be that way. Strongest signal was S7.

Having done the single element test we tried the 2 element, and this gave more of a text book result. About 1 S unit of gain above the single element at its strongest, but the direction was correct. Front to side and back were quite noticeable. I wanted to try FM for better S unit reading but Vic has a fixed roofing filter in his FT-1000 which is too narrow for FM use.

I wanted to continue tests against the 2 element vertical yagi on the fishing rods but the rain started getting very heavy and we had to abandon for today.

More crazyness will follow when the sun comes out!

Friday, November 02, 2012

CQWW SSB 2012 ED5T

Rather than repeat it all over again, best check out the link on 3830:

http://lists.contesting.com/archives//html/3830/2012-10/msg02787.html

Also this time I tried my hand at making a video. Being my first attempt, it's not great, but it gives you an idea:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q_fxQEzrsCc

Since Andreu couldn't stay for the test, we took the usual post-test photo before we started!


Seated from left to right, Jose EA5GS, Victor EA5KV, Andreu EC5AA, Elías EB5KT, Juan EA5GIE. In the foreground, your scribe, EA5ON.

Thanks to everyone who called us!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Getting ready for CQWW phone

Once again we are at the end of October, synonymous for many hams around the globe with CQWW SSB, a festival of contacts on the air for 48 hours.

For the fifth year running, I will be taking part in the multi-single team at ED5T with my friends Victor EA5KV, Elías EB5KT, Jose EA5GS, and Juan Carlos EA5UF.

In order for all of this to happen, there has been a lot of preparatory work going on behind the scenes, and apart from the above mentioned, we have counted on the multiple skills of Juan EA5GIE and the helping hands of Belar EA5YI.

This year, we decided to concentrate our pre-contest efforts on an area where we could do with making some improvement and which, if successful, will give a boost to our score. I'm talking about antenna improvements on 80 metres.

Our mainstay antenna at ED5T for many years has been a bazooka, held up in an inverted V from tower 1. In last years CQWW, the antenna failed on us in the middle of the night and was replaced by a half wave dipole which appears to work just as well. In the past, and in an effort to try to improve over the bazooka, we tried a single full size vertical, a two element full size vertical, and a vertically polarized delta loop. None of those antennas worked better than the bazooka.

Based on that experience, we decided to build a rotatable dipole, on the basis that a) the ends would be higher off the ground and in theory perform better and b) we would be able to rotate it to be broadside to wherever we want it.

The design chosen was a helical winding on fibreglass and aluminium tips for tuning. The antenna is 24 metres long. Part of the reason for choosing this design was that we already had a lot of the material available. The drawback is that since it is physically smaller than a full size, it will not be as efficient, and also will have limited bandwith. Also, the use of fibreglass makes proper guying obligatory due to it being extremely flexible.

The antenna was assembled and tested on the ground and looked good. However installing the antenna was not easy and when finally up, the resonance had risen 200KHz. It took another day and a lot of hands to get it to a more reasonable point and to get it back up in the air. In this photo you can see Juan and Victor finalising assembly.



As you can see, it was already dark by the time we finished. Again....

How does it work? Ahhhh, can't tell you that! You'll have to wait until after the contest to find out! :)

Tomorrow, setup of all the gear, including beverages in the forest courtesy of "Magic" Andreu, EC5AA. And at 0000 utc saturday..... CQ CONTEST!


Sunday, October 21, 2012

VERTICAL BEAMS ON SALT WATER - Part 2

Today I finally managed to get round to doing the second part of the experiment with the vertical beams which I started last month.

After the limited success with the 2 element model, I decided to continue with the model suggested by Dave HK1A and make the 2 element into a 4 element by adding two directors. Director number one was tuned for 29.640 and director number 2 for 29.930. Element spacing was 2.07m approx between each element.

Having already done the 2 element version, making the next two elements was a breeze and pretty soon the antenna was up and playing. SWR with the 4 elements gave a good curve although resonated a bit high up the band at around 28.7 MHz.



As in the previous experiment, I did A/B testing with the same reference antenna as before, the quarter wave vertical on the car. Today, the band was mostly open to the states and I worked numerous stations who were kind enough to give me reports on the two antennas. In the previous tests, stateside stations were mostly a bit better on the quarter wave. Today, the stations closer in (east coast) did not notice much difference, some giving a slight edge to the quarter wave and most noting no difference or the beam one S unit better. On the midwest to west coast stations, there was generally more difference in favour of the beam, up to 2 S units in some cases. When N6HD in Los Angeles suggested that propagation was strange and he was getting EU best over 90 degrees instead of the normal 30, I moved the antenna a bit further south and signals improved very slightly on that path.

In summary, the 4 element antenna did not give the improvement I had hoped for, but it was not worse.

There was one case which had me particularly curious and to which I don't have an easy answer. I was called by EA5KV when he was beaming south. I was beaming east, at 90 degrees to him and he logically heard me better on my quarterwave than on my beam. On my receive I noted the same. However when he called in a bit later, with his beam pointing at me (north) there was a very considerable difference in favour of my beam. Does anyone have an explanation for this? He was located about 15km from me and using a horizontal ultrabeam.

The final test will be to use the four elements in a 2 x 2 phased array to see if this gives an improvement over the straight 4 element vertical yagi. Stay tuned!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

MORE DX!

This week, I received another couple of those cards I was waiting for, for long forgotten contacts:


And today, in spite of my misgivings about being able to work the T30PY expedition to West Kiribati, all of a sudden today, the unheard of happened: crossing over 14.195 I heard what sounded like a french station working them on simplex. They completed the contact, I called, in spite of hearing them at not more than a whisper, and got a 55 right back! Right after that, I heard Julen EB2AM (owner of the EE2W contest station) work them too. The way things are with the propagation, I think I can count myself very lucky.


Saturday, October 06, 2012

It's been a quiet couple of weeks for me on the radio. This week, I had the misfortune to have my car break down, and since I had a business trip during the week, wasn't able to pick it up from the garage until late on friday afternoon. I had hoped to do a bit more vertical testing on friday, but it wasn't to be....

Regarding the vertical testing, the previous friday was impossible too. We had the wettest and windiest conditions in a long time and no way to even consider any tests. So, let's hope third time lucky and next week I can see about getting the 4 element for 10 working. Watch this space!

The good news is that I was at least able to work 3D2C on Conway reef on 10m and 17m, for country number 303 from the car.





Friday, September 21, 2012

2 ELEMENT VERTICAL BEAM

After the tests earlier on in the year with the 2 element quad and the 2 element which used the antenna on the car as the driven element, it was time to continue with the vertical beam trials.

After finding the folding bases (see previous entries) and getting a couple more fishing rods (from Decathlon, the 7 metre long ones), and then doing all the calculations, it was time to see if it would all work.

Design theory

The theory for today was a 2 element half wave for the 10m (28 MHz), using a driven element and reflector. The reason I chose 10m was because the 7m long fishing rods might have been too short for 15m, the band I was more interested in! The driven element was designed for resonance on 28.500 MHz and the reflector 0.96 x frequency of the driver, in this case 27.385 MHz. Lengths on paper should have been 2.58 metres for each leg of the driven element and 2.70 metres for each leg of the reflector.

I also drew up 2.49m for a first director and 2.46m for a second director, for another test another day.

Element spacing is 2.07 metres

Thanks to Doctor Dave HK1A as usual for all his input.

Setup and tuning

Prior to setup I had prepared about 11m of RG58U with a PL259 on on one end and bare tinned wire at the other. This went into a block connector.


I cut the wire for making the antenna as mentioned above and stripped back a bit of insulation at one end, for fitting in the block connector.

I set up a stand for one antenna and then attached the top reflector leg to the top part of one of the fishing rods. I then attached connected this to the centre core of the coax, and then connected the braid to the other half of the antenna, which continued down to the bottom.



The rod was not fully extended and the bottom of the antenna was about 75cm from the concrete dock floor.

I connected the PL259 and checked the curve on the Rigexpert AA-30 Antenna analyser. It was low in frequency, as was to be expected, so I tuned it by cutting a few centimetres off either end.


I took the rod down, disconnected the coax, and put the antenna away horizontal, far away in order to not affect the driver, which I set up next.

I repeated the operation and set up the driver. Once tuned, I made a quick test QSO with Hamdi 7Z1TT in Jeddah and he gave me a strong 59 report.



I then took a look round the band and heard some south american stations, so took out my compass to check where 240º was, and set up the 2 element antenna looking that way. The centre wires on the reflector were connected together.


The final SWR curve for the 2 element antenna looked like this:





On the air testing

I installed my usual 10 metre quarter wave whip to use as a comparison antenna, using a coax switch for quick change from one to the other. All contacts were made with 100w from the Kenwood TS850S.

First QSO was with a station in North Chile who gave me 55 on the beam and was unable to copy me on the 1/4 wave.

Second QSO with OA4Q, 800 km south of Lima, was 57 on the beam and 53 on the 1/4 wave.

Subsequent contacts in Argentina and Brasil gave average differences of 2 "s" units (12 dB) in favour of the beam.

I then started hearing stations in the USA and moved the beam heading to 300 degrees approx, by picking up the reflector element and moving it. To my surprise, all stations contacted agreed there to be no difference in the signal, or if there was, it was slighty in the 1/4 waves favour.

Finally I contaced a polish station who confirmed a 12 dB difference in the beams favour.

Conclusions

In general the conclusion is that as expected the beam antenna works better than the 1/4 vertical by an average of 2 "s" units. In comparison, this is the average difference between running barefoot and running 400w, and for another time this will be an interesting test to try out.

A possible reason for the USA signals not being different might be that they were not arriving on a direct path and may have been coming in on a skewed path over south america. I did not think of it at the time and so did not try changing the beam heading.

In general it should be taken into consideration that:

- the angle at which the feedline comes away from the centre of the vertical dipole affects quite considerably the resonant frequency.

 - the distance between the reference 1/4 wave and the beam should have been further to ensure no interacion however I had to make do with the 11m coax I had prepared. Results could be affected by this.

 - Tests should be conducted over a much longer period of time to be conclusive.

 - These antennas will work much better over salt water (as is this case) than normal ground.

For more background information and a lot of detail on the subject, visit team vertical at www.k2kw.com

Monday, September 17, 2012

NH8S went off the air yesterday and should be about ready to leave Swains. I finally managed to get them on two bands, 17 and 20m SSB.

There has been a bit of criticism about this operation. For us here in Spain, Swains is a looong haul, and checking the propagation predictions on their website www.nh8s.org, it was easy to tell at a glace that our DX windows were pretty short on most bands. 20 metres was probably the best band, with 40, 17, and 15 also offering reasonable possibilities. However for many days in our morning, they were not on 20 phone and this led to a bit of frustration for those of us who needed Swains for a New One.

On friday morning they did come on, and the rate was pretty slow. More frustration, frequency cops, and one english gentlemen on the TX frequency stating "Terrible operator" "Very slow", and suchlike.

I sat there and wondered to myself, has this guy listened on his other VFO? I guessed not, otherwise he would have known that the band was open from Swains not only to Europe, but also to Japan, west coast USA, and the rest of the pacific. When the operator asked for one station only, the pileup continued to bellow. I can understand that there are times when you are calling when the DX calls someone else and you didn't hear him. But in this case, the DX was deliberately making his reply long so that everyone would have time to hear he'd gone back to someone.

So, whose fault is it that the rate is slow? The DX because he can't pick out a call? Or the unruly pileup who doesn't want to admit that they didn't get THEIR callsign first time?

On the 3830 contest reflector there has been a lot of talk recently about how rate is negatively impacted by packet spotting. Others also argue that a pileup can get too big if your signal is too strong. It seems to me that at times. the NH8S ops deliberately operated at times on bands where propagation was marginal, and that way they were able to keep up a good rate because only the strong stations could hear them.

Let's also take into consideration that apart from the fact that we should show some due respect to some guys who have paid money out of their own pockets, and taken their precious time, to give US a chance for a new one, that these guys are in an extremely hot and humid atmosphere and are starting to get a bit tired. I personally know what it's like to operate in these conditions, and it sure does tire you a whole lot more than sitting in your comfy heated or air conditioned shack!

There will always be those who say, they could have planned the windows better, they have been sponsored by all of us, they weren't the best guys for the job.... To all of them, I say, if you can do it better, please go to a DX entity that I need, so I can easily work you, and I will be very grateful!!

73
Duncan EA5ON

Thursday, September 13, 2012

NH8S is in the log! So far, only on 17 metres SSB, but who knows, maybe will manage on another band or two before they leave. This is a difficult path from Spain so I was really pleased to work them for country number 302 from the car.

Also today got another nice card in the post, from a contact with H44MS in the Solomon Islands, from nearly 10 years ago!

Friday, September 07, 2012

QSLs, more confirmed countries

A month or two ago, I spent some time going through all my old log books, trying to find contacts for countries I didn't have confirmed yet. I found, maybe not surprisingly, that a number of them hadn't been confirmed quite simply because I'd never sent the cards....

This week the postman has been busy and brought me confirmation of contacts from the following countries:

Montenegro (yes, really, I still needed a card)
North Cook Islands
Equatorial Guinea
Annobon Island
Libya
Rodrigues Island
Sint Maarten

All of these are for contacts from the mobile. North Cook was especially nice since it was for a contact made on 40 metres.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

West African DXpedition

I like to keep the stuff on this page more or less original, but there are times where I see things which I would like to share. This is one of them, a 1971 account of WA2AQC's visit to to West Africa, interesting to see how over 40 years later how some things have changed, but others seem to stay the same! I hope you enjoy it (sorry about the hyperlinks being disactivated).

WEST AFRICAN DXPEDITION
George Pataki WB2AQC

The following travelogue was written in 1972, after a six weeks, 11 country DXpedition, with my wife Eva WA2BAV, to Mauritania, Senegal, The Gambia, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Togo, Ghana, Niger, Benin (that time called Dahomey), and Cameroon. The dream of almost every amateur radio operator is to go on a DXpedition. Combining the thrills of being a rare DX with a pleasure of a trip to an interesting country, is what makes the DXpeditioner get up and go.
Taking in consideration the financial possibilities of the average American ham and the very easy way of today’s travel, it is quite amazing how few amateurs are enjoying this kind of fascinating adventure.
To organize a DXpedition three things are needed: money, time and the desire. It is also advisable to learn a few things about the places one is going to visit, by reading a few books about those countries. If there are some local amateurs, they can supply with important information about licensing, transportation, customs, hotels, etc. Tourist offices, the Consulates and the Embassies of those countries to the US, and the American Embassies in those countries sometimes can also provide some useful advice.
To acquire the operating licenses it is necessary to write for application forms directly to the Ministries of Posts and Telecommunications of those countries. It is important that all the correspondence with the foreign authorities should be done in their official language. Very often it is helpful if a local amateur or the American Consulate contacts the proper authorities and checks from time to time on the progress of licensing. In some of the places, mostly in the developing countries, the waiting period for a license can be 6-12 months. A constant reminder and push is essential to overcome the prevailing enormous bureaucratic red tape.
It is very important to check out all the equipment before leaving. The transceiver has to be used for a few days; the antenna must be assembled, tuned, marked, and tried out. It is also necessary to take along a few basic tools, a VOM, and some spare tubes.
The best way to carry your ham gear is in flight bags, taken on the plane as carry-on luggage. Transceivers and power supplies are very heavy and checking them in will result for sure in overweight and a lot of extra expenses.
And I guess an amateur will take better care of his rig than a baggage handler.
We also hand carried the aluminum tubes of our antenna and nobody ever objected to it.
The customs generally do not present any problem, especially when is emphasized that the gear will not be sold in that country but will be brought back to the States.
I found that the best gifts for the local hams are little hard to get but useful items like hand mikes, connectors, tubes for their rigs, etc. Their wives will be happy with a nice silk scarf. We distributed about 20 colorful world maps (we met a lot of people) with the amateur radio prefixes, and on our return we made several gift subscriptions to amateur radio magazines.
For our DXpedition we chose West Africa because it could be reached easily, most of the countries had very few active amateurs and the places and people seemed to be interesting.
Our itinerary was decided mainly by the possibility of obtaining licenses and the available time. In some places we stayed with local amateurs, or in hotels recommended by those hams.
We have visited 11 countries and for the best connections and cheapest fares I collaborated with my travel agent who booked the whole trip with Pan Am.
For six weeks we did what we enjoy the most: amateur radio and travel. Here is our travelogue.
5T5
NOUAKCHOTT, MAURITANIA

From New York we flew with Pan Am to Dakar, Senegal, then switched to Air Mauritania to fly to Nouakchott. We were already airborne when the Mauritanian pilot saw that one of the propellers was not rotating. He turned back the plane, landed, took from his cabin a little stepladder and a big hammer, tinkered for a while on the motor, got back on the plane with his rapid maintenance equipment, and started the engine. This time both propellers worked but all the way to Nouakchott I couldn’t do anything else but watch the troublesome propeller and wonder if at that high altitude above the desert the trouble starts again, where will he place his stepladder to reach the engine with his hammer.
At the Nouakchott airport, Alban 5T5AD, a Frenchman working for the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, and his XYL Josette, 5T5YL, welcomed us and took us to the Hotel Oasis. The owner knew about amateur radio and gave us room # 6 from which other DXpeditions worked successfully. One of the DXpeditioners left there a long steel mast and we quickly used it to install our 12AVQ vertical antenna.
As soon as the installation was finished, we turned on the NCX-500 transceiver. Alban came with two licenses; my wife Eva got WA2BAV/5T5, and I got WB2AQC/5T5. We started to work; the propagation was bad but our callsigns helped creating nice pile-ups.
While Eva was operating I went sightseeing with Alban 5T5AD. Later I got a chance to work, while Eva and Josette 5T5YL toured the city.
You can describe this country using three words: sand, sand, and sand.
Nouakchott is a very interesting little city; it has a few brick buildings surrounded by hundreds of large, black tents. Every tent has a large family of Berbers, a very friendly Moslem nation.
I asked Alban if there is anything to export from this country.
“Sand for sand clocks,” was the answer, “but lately the Swiss watches are undermining our economy.”
We made 800 QSOs. While operating we were visited by Jacques, 5T5CJ, another Frenchman. Jacques was working at the airport and was very active on CW only.
Do not expect sophisticated tourist accommodations but the French cuisine is good and one should also try some local specialties.
6W8
DAKAR, SENEGAL

From Nouakchott, with a short stop in St. Louis de Senegal, we arrived in Dakar where Jacques, 6W8BL, was waiting for us at the airport. He took us to the Hotel Mon Logis where we got a room on the top floor.
The antenna went up fast and easy and we created the most confusing pile-up we ever had. The reasons for the mass confusion were the callsigns assigned to us: 6W0/WA2BAV for Eva, and 6W0/WB2AQC for me.
I tried to argue with the authorities telling them that 6W0 should be after our call signs and not in front of them. That was the way in most other countries, I said. I was told that I am wrong and most of the other countries are wrong too. Later this opinion was reversed but in the mean time we had to listen to hundreds of amateurs teaching us how to use our calls. Many hams asked us if we were from Senegal operating portable in the US or vice-versa.
In one instance Eva heard an English station - an old friend of hers - calling CQ. She called him giving her callsign 6W0/WA2BAV. The Englishman was quite happy and said: “How nice to hear you Eva. Let me turn my antenna to New York.” So he did, and got lost for good.
As it turned out, the postal authorities of Senegal were right; it was the time when the rules to place the prefix of the place of operation were changed from the end of the call to its beginning.
We had many visitors: Dany, 6W8BE; August 6W8AU; Guy, 6W8ER, and of course Jacques 6W8BL, who arranged the licenses for us. With Guy, 6W8ER, we went sightseeing in Dakar and visited the island of Goree, a former slave trading and shipping post.
One evening, a local amateur Paul, 6W8EY, attracted by our unusual callsigns, called us, questioned us, and being very suspicious came over to inspect our station, and ... invited us for dinner.
In Dakar we found a large number of active amateurs; if many Ws still need a 6W8 contact it is because most of the hams in Senegal speak only French, and it is not easy for them to handle the American pile-ups.
I recommend the Hotel Mon Logis, it is not a luxury palace but $6-7.00 for a double room, excellent French cuisine and a good antenna location is what counts.
When photographing the natives - most of them are good looking and dressed very colorfully - I recommend using a telephoto lens. In many of these West African countries the local people don’t care too much for being photographed. Some claim that taking their photos, they can loose their souls, however, if they are financially compensated, they quickly forget about this superstition.
When shopping for souvenirs I don’t recommend paying more than one third of the asked price.
ZD3
BATHURST, THE GAMBIA

In the morning we went to Dakar airport to take the scheduled and prepaid flight to Bathurst and we had our first disappointment. We were told that the flight was canceled. Simple like that.
“When is the next flight?” I asked.
“Tomorrow or after tomorrow, but nothing is sure,” was the official answer.
“But I have to get to Bathurst fast, it is urgent.” I tried to sound convincing.
“Nothing is urgent here, this is Africa,” came the authoritative answer. Jacques 6W8BL suggested a taxi.
“A taxi from one country to another?”
“There is no other choice.”
Indeed “the show must go on,” so we hired a taxi. The driver took advantage of the situation and demanded four times the usual rate.
During the ride the driver raised again the price. Who could argue with one carrying a big machete, in the middle of a jungle road? He did not even take us all the way to Bathurst but left us at the ferry boat, which took us across the Gambia river.
The same ferry boat - two weeks earlier - lost its way during a sand storm and drifted into the ocean. There were about 30 terrified passengers on the boat and they tried to pray but because of the sand storm they could not figure out which way was East. So they divided into four groups, each one praying in a different direction. It looks like one of the groups made the right connection because 24 hours later the tide brought them back safely.
We had reservations at the Wadner Beach Hotel, outside Bathurst. Quickly installed our vertical antenna and started to operate. We did not receive our licenses (they were sent to us after we returned home) but Cecil ZD3D, a local amateur, found out the assigned calls; ZD3R for Eva, and ZD3S for me, and passed this information to us via radio while we were in Dakar.
After about one hour of operation, an energetic knock on the door, made me regret that we started to operate before we received the licenses. I opened the door, two gentlemen stepped in looking with visible interest at our transceiver.
“What would the guy from Mission Impossible do now?” was my thought.
“Hi.” said one of the visitors. “I am Cecil, ZD3D.”
“Oh, you just don’t know how glad I am to see you,” I said and I was very honest. Cecil introduced his partner, Ron, G3WYY, who was visiting but not operating in Gambia.
We went sightseeing with Cecil, then chasing a big group of baboons in the jungle. I tried to photograph them but they were hollering and running away, throwing sticks and stones. As we followed the baboons we reached a small village and asked some questions. The natives spoke only French because we entered Senegal. The Gambia, a former English colony, lays on both sides of the river Gambia but is surrounded by Senegal, a former French colony.
I recommend applying for license at least 6 months before operating time and sending letters from time to time to the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, reminding them of the problem.
I don’t recommend the same hotel we stayed at because it is far from the city of Bathurst, and has a bad antenna location.
9L1
FREETOWN, SIERRA LEONE

The US had a Reciprocal Operating Agreement with Sierra Leone but because of a delicate political situation, it seemed that we could not get licenses to operate. I asked several times for application forms from the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications in Freetown but got no answer. Neither the American Embassy nor the Embassy of Sierra Leone to the US could be of any help.
What was not possible through diplomatic channels, was made possible by the work of private amateur radio operator: Ray 9L1RP. He obtained application forms for us and took care of everything.
When we arrived at the Lungi airport, somebody gave me an envelope with a note from Ray and two licenses; 9L1EP for Eva, and 9L1GP for me.
From the airport it took us by bus about 1 1/2 hours to Freetown. We crossed the bay on a ferryboat, then we continued by bus to the center of the city. From there was still a long taxi ride to the Cape Sierra Hotel which was very expensive, far from the city but excellent for radio communications. It is at the end of a small peninsula, surrounded from three sides by salt water.
The first day we were visited by our benefactor Ray, 9L1RP (also GW3MTL) and by two very friendly Englishmen, Ross 9L1GG (also G3DYY), and Mike, 9L1MF.
Operating from Sierra Leone was a success; we made 900 QSOs. With Ross and Mike we visited an animal farm, photographed ourselves with chimpanzees, various snakes, a baby elephant, etc. Everybody was quite delighted with this visit except Ross who got the scare of his life. He was posing with a large sleeping snake and while Mike took the photos, the snake woke up and made some threatening sounds. Ross dropped the snake and retreated so fast that he almost stepped on a crocodile.
I recommend visiting Sierra Leone if you are sure you’ll get a license.
I cannot recommend the Cape Sierra Hotel because it was the most expensive of all the hotels we stayed in Africa.

EL2
MONROVIA, LIBERIA

Here we were invited to be guests at the homes of two amateurs, Robert EL2DF who was working near Monrovia on a B.F. Goodrich rubber plantation, and Lee EL2CB who was with the communications center of the American Embassy. Robert and his wife Helga waited for us at the airport, so we stayed with them first.
Before we left for the plantation we went to see Sam Watkins, EL2P, to get our licenses. Sam, a very nice person, besides being an official of the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, was an active ham. I met him on the air from Gambia and he gave us our callsigns: EL2AV for Eva, and EL2AU for me.
At Robert’s place I was amazed to see a house in the middle of the rubber plantation, surrounded by jungle, with all the modern conveniences you can imagine. Robert is a Dutchman and he is always in the Dutch net helping the low powered PAs to work some good DX.
We operated quite a lot and after three days we were transferred to Lee’s house. Lee, EL2CB, worked from a few places around the world. At home he was W6MNH.
At the end of his tour of duty in Liberia he will go probably to another good DX location to continue his successful contest activity. I told Lee about the healthy climate in Albania (I needed ZA) but I don’t think I could convince him.
In Liberia - for the first time on this trip - I saw many African amateurs, like Pete, EL2CY; Sam, EL2P; and others. In many other places in Africa only foreigners - Europeans and Americans - were amateur radio operators and the attitude of those local governments towards amateur radio was not encouraging at all. One of those officials even said:
“Oh, amateur radio, that is the white men’s toy.”
If you are not an African I don’t recommend that you drive a car on the streets of Monrovia. A local super-patriotic policeman could stop and search you for no known reason.
TU2
ABIDJAN, IVORY COAST

We arrived at Abidjan with an early morning plane and we were welcomed by Sully TU2BX; Joe TU2AZ, the president of the amateur radio association, and Michel TU2DD, a French marine biologist. Sully invited us to stay with him. He was the secretary of the ham association and he was instrumental in getting the licenses and gave us the assigned callsigns well in advance: TU4AB for Eva, and TU4AC for me.
From the airport all the way to Sully’s house, the three cars of the welcoming committee were in constant contact on 2 meters, a new technique in TU2-land.
Abidjan is beautiful indeed. Built around some large lagoons, was the nicest and the most modern city I visited in Africa.
I was invited by the “Radio Television Ivorienne” to give an interview about our DXpedition. The conversation was supposed to be in French, but I was confused and spoke mostly Hungarian mixed with Romanian.
The first day I expressed the desire to eat “typical African food.” Sully, TU2BX, and Michel, TU2DD, took Eva and me to a “typical African restaurant.” We finished our dinner in about one hour but the “typical African stomach ache” stayed with us three more days.
One morning Michel, TU2DD, took us sightseeing outside Abidjan. We saw the former capital of Ivory Coast, and some coconut, banana and pineapple plantations. We visited Joe, TU2BC, and his wife Jacquie who just got her call; TU2DN. Both were active, but mostly with French speaking amateurs.
The last evening we were invited to a dinner party at the house of Joe, TU2AZ, where they served mainly African specialties. A large group of local hams; Felix, TU2BB; Dan, TU2CY, with his XYL Andree; Michel TU2BN; Paul, TU2DA; Jacques, TU2CW; Sully, TU2BX; Michel TU2DD, and others created animated conversation, like a real pile-up; everybody was talking at the same time, and you couldn’t even take them by numbers; everybody was a “2.”.
I recommend visiting this country; the TU hams are very friendly and happy to meet foreign amateurs. The license with all the extras was quite expensive but required a lot less red tape found in other African countries.
I don’t recommend relying only on English’ before the trip; one should take a short but intensive French language course. One never knows when will be interviewed on television and if he or she can not speak neither French, nor Hungarian or Romanian, that can be very embarrassing.
5V
LOME, TOGO

During a QSO, Fern, 5VZYH, invited us to Togo. When we arrived in Lome, he picked us up at the airport and took us to his house.
I was anxious to get on the air, so we went to pick-up our licenses. At the Dept. of Telecommunications where we sent our applications many months in advance, we were told that the approval from the police did not arrive yet. We started a long journey, visiting a lot of dignitaries, each one sending us to another one. We explained the purpose of our expedition again and again to high-ranking officials who never heard of amateur radio before. They did not say it but I could guess their thoughts: “They seem like spies, but why are they asking for licenses? They must be crazy.”
Finally the vicious circle was closed and we went back to the Dept. of Telecommunications. There we found out that we are getting the licenses but they did not issue callsigns; every applicant picks a call himself, hopefully one that was not picked earlier by somebody else. They did not have an evidence of previously used callsigns.
We wanted to get 5V2AA for Eva and 5V2BB for me. They insisted on the 5VZ prefix instead of 5V followed by a number and they showed me some very bad carbon copies of the instructions, and the number 2 could be misread as the letter Z. That was the reason that other previously issued licenses also had 5VZ prefixes.
The Minister of Telecommunications of Togo was complaining to us:
“I don’t like to be the Minister of this department. I was the Minister of Tourism and that was fun. I didn’t have much work and every month I went to Paris for documentation. I like the Rue de Pigalle (in the Red Light district). My cousin was the Minister of Communications, but my uncle the President likes him more and switched us; now I am stuck with things I don’t like, and I can not even go to Paris anymore for documentation...”
We operated quite a lot in Togo where we stayed five days. We went sightseeing and later met another amateur, Garland, 5VZGE. We even got involved in a street fight. On a tour through the city, Fern, 5VZYH, spotted one of the local workers of his company playing the slot machine in a bar, instead of being on the job. Summoned to returned to work, the angry worker gave Fern a chase, first around the car, then through the streets. We ran a few blocks, back and forth, Fern leading the way, the angry Togolese after him, followed by me taking some excellent action photos, and by hundreds of local people ready to intervene, on one side or another. Everything ended in a mass confusion when other Togolese started to chase “ours” because some past disagreements.
I recommend applying for a license at least 6-8 months in advance and reminding them every month that you are coming soon.
Do not rely on the efficiency of the local administration.
9G1
TEMA, GHANA

Ghana initially was not included in our schedule because it seemed that we cannot get any license. Emile, 9G1WW, and his wife Tara, 9G1YA, invited us to visit them so we took a side trip. We left Lome with Fern and his wife Laura, and in 2 and half hours we got to Tema, where Emile was working for Valco, one of the world’s largest and most modern aluminum plants.
To illustrate the state of affairs in some of the West African countries, I’ll describe my “border incident.” We arrived to the Togo-Ghana border where we stopped for the formalities. On one side of the border was a big sign “La Douane Togolaise,” on the other side was large arch with a “Welcome to Ghana” sign. I walked to the border barrier with my camera. On each side of the barrier, a guard was watching me closely. I stepped on the Ghana side and tried to photograph the welcome sign. Suddenly the Ghanian (or Ghanalese?) guard jumped in front of me, waiving his submachine gun and yelling:
“It is strictly forbidden to photograph this side.”
There wasn’t any military installation there but I learned early in my life that a man with a machine gun is always right. I turned around slowly and stepped over the border trying to photograph the Togolese side. Now the Togolese guard jumped eagerly and said:
“Il est defendu de photographier ici!”
“Pardon monsieur capitain” I answered politely. The guard was a simple soldier but I thought it won’t hurt giving him some rank, and I asked:
“But can I photograph the other side?”
“Of course monsieur.” replied the guard. “As long as you wish.”
Standing on the Togolese side, 10 feet from the Ghanalese guard, I photographed the 9G1 side, then I stepped again over the border and I said to the man with the machine gun:
“I know it is strictly forbidden to photograph this side but can I photograph the Togolese side?”
“Certainly, Sir,” came the polite answer, “you can photograph Togo, we won’t stop you.”
Ten feet from the Togolese guard I took several shots of the 5V2 side. Fern, who just finished with the paper work, came by, I jumped on the car waving good-by to the two very strict but confused border guards and drove away.
On our way to Tema, we had to pass through several military check points; it was an uneasy feeling.
In Tema we met Emile and Tara and then we continued our journey to Accra, to see if we could get licenses. At the Dept. of Telecommunications we were informed that it was not possible to issue callsigns at such short notice (it takes many months), but we can work “portable 9G1” from a licensed station. This was the way WA2BAV/9G1 and WB2AQC/9G1 were born.
Emile, 9G1WW, a successful contester, and Tara, 9G1YA, an active and much solicited DXer, had an exceptionally good station, we used it for more than 1,100 QSOs.
My recommendation to apply for license at least 6-8 months in advance is valid here also.
I don’t recommend arguing with men in uniform, they may shoot first and ask questions later.
5U7
NIAMEY, NIGER

Walter, DJ9QT, the famous German DXpeditioner advised me to visit Niger and I am happy I did. I wrote in advance to Jacques, 5U7AH, a Frenchman working for the Dept. of Telecommunications, asking his cooperation. He was not active anymore but was very helpful in getting our licenses.
We left Lome and with a stop in Ouagadogou, in Upper Volta (now called Burkina Faso), we arrived to Niamey, the capital of Niger. We went directly to the Hotel Les Ronniers, then to the Dept. of Telecommunications to see Jacques, 5U7AH. There we heard again the old story: “The police did not send yet their approval.” We went to see the Minister of Interior, the Director of the Security Police, and many other people. Finally we received the answer: negative. We started the visits from the beginning, we told once again the same story to the same people; the answer: positive. The logic, the reason? Don’t look for logic in this part of the world. Personally I think the Minister thought if he refuses me the second time, he’ll have to see me the third time and listen to explanations he did not understand the first time. I know my calm French is not a pleasant thing to listen to but my angry French is just awful.
As a matter of fact Gus Browning W4BPD, the former DXpeditioner, printer and author of several travelogues, wrote me: “You can expect to camp for 2-3 days near various Ministries, and wait for days for a simple signature.”
At the end everything was OK; Jacques 5U7AH, called us up at the hotel, giving us the callsigns: 5U7AV for Eva and 5U7AU for me. This was quite a coincidence because in Liberia Eva got the same suffix AV and I got AU. We operated a lot from this location, giving a new country to a large number of amateurs. The whole country had just two active hams; Paul 5U7AW, a Frenchman from Marseille who talked mostly with French speaking amateurs, and Dave, 5U7AK, a missionary.
We had dinner in Paul’s house and operated his TR-4. His wife Huguette had a license, but she was not active at all.
Nicole, 5U7YL, the XYL of Jacques, 5U7AH, took us sightseeing and we saw fascinating places. At a huge, colorful and smelly market I photographed the most picturesque characters south of Sahara. I saw a man walking his pet; a large hyena; another man carrying on his shoulders a 10 foot long snake. I saw Bedouins high up on their camels, with their faces completely covered except the eyes; Tuaregs with sharp spears, various nomad tribes.
I recommend visiting Niger. Write all the correspondence in French; even a bad French is better than a perfect English. And this goes for all the former French colonies.
I don’t recommend the Hotel Les Ronniers; it is too far out from the city and has no good antenna location.

TY
COTONOU, DAHOMEY

(now called Benin)

From Niamey we flew to Cotonou and at the airport we were welcomed by Robert TY1ABE, his wife and his son; and by Armin TY3ABF. Robert is a French military instructor for the local Rangers, and Armin is an electronic engineer from Germany who was installing a broadcast station. Both were extremely helpful to us in preparing this trip as well as during our stay in Dahomey.
I was warned that in Dahomey one has to apply for licenses 6-8 months in advance. We applied in December and in May, when we arrived in Cotonou, the licenses were not ready. We had to waste precious time visiting local officials, explaining the purpose of the DXpedition to some high officials of the “Surete” (the Security Police) who never heard of amateur radio before, but they were the ones who were suppose to approve it. They were very suspicious; in their mind every foreigner is a possible spy. If the foreigner has a radio transmitter, the possible becomes probable. But the fact that we were pushing for licenses, confused them very much.
The problem is the constant change of governments, most often by force, and of authorities who suppose to run the country. By the time they learn a little what to do and how to do it, they are replaced with new people. We talked with the Minister of Telecommunications who had no idea how radio works. Most governmental departments in the former French colonies had French technical advisers who knew and did the work. When I explained to the Minister what ham radio is and I asked for two licenses and two callsigns for Eva and me, the Minister said:
“ Two licenses? That is impossible. You realize the two transmissions will collide in the air and will be a catastrophe.”
I thought that he was joking, and when somebody in high position tells a joke, even a stupid one, you have to laugh, so I did. The French adviser standing behind the Minister made desperate signs not to laugh. Quickly I changed tone and said:
“You are right Sir, I did not realize that. Now I know why you are a Minister, it is because you know so much. What we will do is one day I will operate with one of the callsigns, and my wife will go sightseeing, next day I will go to see the city and my wife will operate using the other callsign. This way won’t be any collision and catastrophe.
The Minister was pleased that somebody appreciated his vast knowledge and approved the licenses. So we solved the problem, installed our antenna on the roof of the Hotel Pam-Pam in the center of Cotonou, and started to operate.
The owner of the hotel Pam-Pam was a former communications officer of the French army and I think that besides the three existing hams, he was the only one in the whole country who understood what amateur radio is all about.
We visited Armin, TY3ABF, and operated with success his excellent and powerful station. With Robert, TY1ABF, and his family, we went sightseeing, Eva and I together, not one by one as I promised to the Minister. Robert was at the end of his tour of duty in TY-land and Dahomey was losing its most active ham, who made many thousands of QSOs, both on CW and SSB.
While Eva was operating in Armin’s house, I started to read a book about World War II, written in English but published in Germany. During the war I was living in Romania and I was an eye witness to many events. Then the Russians came in, and many books about the war were published. However the events described in those books did not match the reality as I saw them. Later when I arrived to the US I read a couple of other books about the same subject. It seemed they were describing a completely different war; the villains and the good guys were reversed, and describing some of the same events, their presentation and conclusion were dissimilar. The German book presented World War II from a completely different perspective not only from the Russian inspired ones, or the American version, but also from the reality as I saw and perceived them. So much for history books.
The city of Cotonou is without any interest but one has to see Ganvie, a lake dwellers village. The homes are built on stilts, right on the water and the population, all fishermen and their families, spend all they life on the water. They are moved to solid ground only when they pass away.
One should not go to Dahomey without first getting a license. We could not get any help from the local American consul; he knew about ham radio about as much as the Minister did. The only factor which may solve something is time, lots of time.
5N2
NIGERIA

Getting a tourist visa for Nigeria was no problem but I was informed by several sources that it is impossible to get there a ham license. In the middle of March I received an answer to my inquiry from the Ministry of Communications in Lagos, saying: “I am directed to acknowledge the receipt of your letter dated 31st of December 1971 and to inform you that you may wish to apply for amateur radio licenses when you arrive in Nigeria in April-May.”
I did not understand the meaning of this letter. Do they want to give us licenses when we arrive in Nigeria or they just want to inform us that we “may wish to apply for amateur radio licenses?” About this wish we knew even before receiving their ambiguous letter; we informed them on the first place. My unanswered question was not when can we apply for licenses but when can we get them. Their position was so confusing that we decided to just skip the 5N2-land. Another reason was the almost constant tribal warfare going on there.
TJ1
YAOUNDE, CAMEROON

From Cotonou we flew to Douala, but because we did not know any active amateur in Douala, we continued to Yaounde, the capital city where Haim, TJ1BF, was helping us in getting our licenses.
The customs inspection was easy. I stuck my passport in the face of the inspector and said: “American tourist.” He looked at my bush jacket and cowboy boots and asked with suspicion:
“Do you have any guns?”
“No, just a bazooka,” I answered seriously.
“Okay, go ahead,” was the satisfied answer.
I wonder what will be his delayed reaction if he would ever look up the word in a dictionary.
I have to emphasize that from all the 11 countries we visited during our six week DXpedition, from amateur radio point of view, Cameroon was the worst. I did not listen to those who wrote me that it takes very long to get a TJ license and one has to have connections to the right people. We applied for licenses five months in advance, I contacted the Ambassador of Cameroon to the US and I asked him to help us in getting the licenses in time. With all the correspondence, the interventions and promises, when we went to the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, the licenses were not ready. Here again I had to talk, argue, explain and push. But while in most of the other African countries I had to accelerate a slow moving bureaucratic process, in Cameroon the process was not moving at all. Finally after we cut through the tremendous red tape, we were left with very little operating time.
We stayed in the Hotel Mount Febe outside the city, but spent lots of time with Haim TJ1BF operating his station. Haim is a “Sabra” (native Israeli), also known as 4X4RH. He, as a communications technician was working closely with the local Dept. of Telecommunications, but it took him about a year to get a license.
In Yaounde, like in many other African cities, the power voltage fluctuates quite a lot and sometimes is turned off completely. One night working the pile-up, while I got a half of callsign; “...9AA,” the lights went off. About 25 minutes later when the power was turned on again, I called:
“9AA, this is WB2AQC/TJ1, are you still there?”
“WB2AQC/TJ1, this is JA9AA, thanks for coming back, you are 59,” said a calm voice as there is nothing unusual to wait half an hour for an answer.
In Yaounde the climate is better than in Douala but like in Douala there is nothing to see. In the city the tourists are constantly annoyed by souvenir vendors. On the street they follow them, at the restaurant they sit at their table, and talk, and talk, and talk. The asking price is 3-4 times the selling price.
While for the other countries like Togo, Dahomey, etc. I recommend applying for licenses at least 8-10 months in advance, and constantly pushing for them, for Cameroon I recommend completely avoiding it. One can spend a lot of money and time going to Cameroon only to face ignorance and hostility.
CONCLUSIONS

In a DXpedition there are only three periods of hard work: preparing the trip; during the trip; and after the trip.
Getting all the necessary information, applying for licenses, choosing the most advantageous itinerary, making reservations in hotels with best location for radio communications, checking out thoroughly the equipment, are only part of the pre-expedition work. Taking a short but intensive language course is not only advisable but it can be fun and useful.
It has to be emphasized that preparing the trip, in special getting the licenses, the biggest and best help one can get is from local amateurs, if there are any.
During the trip, presuming that the licenses are already in hand, the most demanding job is working the pile-ups for long hours.
After the trip, answering thousands of QSLs, is a dull, routine task which sometimes can be transferred to volunteers.
Why hams go on DXpeditions? There are many reasons. Some find pleasure visiting new countries, meeting interesting people and learning about their lives. Others enjoy doing something unusual, different from their everyday life and unlike what other people are doing.
Many find satisfaction giving a new country to fellow amateurs, while others enjoy the spotlight they get even for a short period of time, the attention what is missing from their everyday lives.
Last but not least, some will go on DXpedition only to get away from their wives. No matter what is the reason, my recommendation is to go on DXpedition and go as soon as you can. Prepare it well, but don’t delay it. I had the best time of my life even though I took my wife along!






EA5ON/1

My wife's family are from northern Spain. Her father was from a mountain hamlet called Peñalba de Cilleros, in the province of León. A few years ago we made some improvements to the house there and now are able to spend more time enjoying that wonderful area of Spain. The village is at 1300m (approx 5000') above sea level and surrounded by high mountains, which means cool nights in the summer and cold, long, and snowy winters. It also means its a not a great place for playing radio, but I do have a small station in one of the stone outbuildings and can hang antennas from the trees across the road.

This summer I was able to go for a week. On my arrival I set up the station and then went to see how the antennas were. This is what I found:


This is a 10 metre vertical dipole and a 20m end fed wire, all wrapped up in the rope that had held it up in the trees before the winter storms. Oh well. I spent a while unravelling it all. At least the rope was still up in the trees and I was able to hoist it back up again. And before long, making contacts, here I am in QSO with Ross, 2M0XAT in Cumbernauld:


If you worked me in the Spanish DME contest, the reference is 24142.

But with all those mountains about, this really is SOTA country:



So for my next visit I may programme a few mountain tops into our schedule, if we have time. Watch this space......

But in the meantime, it's back to the coast and time to enjoy sunrises like this one:




 



Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A quick PS regarding the IARU contest: On sunday morning, a chap with a camera came around and filmed us in action, here's the link:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H20ib211YEs&feature=plcp
Warning: don't watch if you are prone to seasickness!

Monday, August 20, 2012

IARU 2012 @ EF5HQ

BACK TO MAINLAND SPAIN

After several years of absence, the URE (Unión de Radioaficionados Españoles) decided to field once again a multi-station team distributed throughout peninsular Spain as their representation in the 2012 IARU HF championship.

It was with pleasure that the organizers decided to invite the ED5T team (Torrent Contest Club) to participate in the contest, and we soon came to an agreement that we could best serve the cause by operating 15 metre phone.

The organization of a contest of this nature is quite complicated. It requires a calculated choice of 12 stations, on each of the 6 HF bands, one on SSB and another on CW. URE decided that they would place emphasis where possible on consolidated contest stations, that way ensuring both competitive stations and experienced operators.

PREPARATION

Preparation started many months ago, and after an initial selection and distribution of bands and modes, we set to work. One of the big handicaps we had to deal with was the callsign. Spanish regulations do not make it easy, and while URE did everything possible to try to get a single unique callsign, the authorities turned down our applications and eventually we settled on the EFxHQ format. This has a distinct disadvantage, since IARU rules state that on one band, the CW and the SSB station must have the same callsign. This means that we were not able to make the best possible use of the stations available, and that we were not able to make use of alternative stations in other parts of the country to take best advantage of propagation.

Apart from the callsign issue, one of the biggest problems was the IT, although to be fair, it only seemed like this because radio-wise, all stations were pretty much up and running on a regular basis. Based on previous experience, we decided to use WinTest, in part because many stations already use it, and also because it has a special HQ station option which allows all the stations to be connected online via a private internet connection, allowing real time scoring and multiplier checking between stations on the same band. The connection method used was Hamachi, which had previously been used successfully by the EF8HQ station.

This caused a headache for some of us. Running a successful contest station means that stations are often located at sites which are good for radio, but sometimes deficient in other aspects such as for example internet coverage. As already described in this blog, it took many visits to the station and a lot of head scratching and work before we were able to get a stable link with enough speed to handle the constant traffic of 12 online stations and corresponding DX clusters. In the end our solution was to use a Wifi link using a home-made bi-quad antenna, to our club president’s ADSL at around half a kilometer from the station. Similar solutions were adopted by other stations.

ED5T is designed for eminently multi-single use and so we had to make a bit of a change to adapt it to make full use of our hardware on one single band. There were two things to take into consideration. First was how to use more than one high power transceiver on the same band, if possible, without blowing the receiver of the other station, and second, how to make best use of the existing antennas.

The first problem was solved after speaking to fellow team member and friend Imanol, EC2DX, who made a station interlock system for us. This system is based on relays which means that when one station keys up, the antenna and amplifier going to the other station are disconnected, that way avoiding input of excessive RF energy to the receiver, and possible amplifier failure too. I would like to take advantage to publicly thank Imanol for making this for us in a short timeframe!

With regard to the antennas, our first idea was to phase the two 11 element Optibeam tribanders. However this required knowing the exact coax length of the antenna on our fixed tower, which was impossible due to tower climbing restrictions imposed by the club. We do not discard this option for some future occasion however. Our second idea was to install a 2 element vertical quad several hundred metres from the main towers, where we normally install the K9AY receive antennas for the low bands, and this idea was carried out.

The only other novelty for this contest was the use of two new rigs, an FT1000MkV Field, and an FT2000D with the AC0C 3 KHz roofing filter installed.

THE DAY OF THE CONTEST

We arranged to meet on the Saturday morning at 9am, I was a bit late after having to load lots of things in the car and when I arrived Juan EA5GIE and Elías EB5KT were already preparing the 2 element quad and Paco EB5TC and Jose EA5GS had cleared out the bunker, ready to install the rigs and amps. First in was the Field and Acom 1000, second the FT2000 and then we had to wait for Victor to bring his Acom and the patch leads needed to connect up the interlock. Vic had unfortunately had to work on Friday night until 5am so we let him get at least a bit of beauty sleep! In the meantime, we tried to wade our way through the outstanding updates on the logging system, not an easy task and we got a bit frustrated at some points.




Finally Vic arrived and we installed the rest of the station. In the meantime Elías had finished installing the quad, all looking good on the antenna analyser. Once the shack hardware was installed, it was time to test the interlock. First time, nothing happened. No noise from the relays made us realize pretty quick there was no DC power, a quick change of PSU and the familiar clunk-clunk of relays. Sighs of relief. Then, looks of worry since there was noise on the receivers that were supposed to be cut off from the antenna, but in the end we could tell that the stations really were getting cut off so it was working ok. But….hot switching on one of the Acoms, seems the relays were too slow. We took stock of the problem and I decided that with an hour to go before the contest, the best solution was to put the Acom back in its box and put our trusty old Ameritron AL1200 back on the bench. Problem solved.





Then, after connecting the quad to the sixpak and checking everything, back to the computer and phone calls to Jose Ramón EA7KW for help. At the start of the contest, I started running on the mult station since we still didn’t have super check partial or the updated .dat files on the run computer! Not a great situation to be in. After 10 minutes I switched over to the run station, then my first problem with Wintest…how do I edit the call field??? I hit the tab bar and it takes me through the reports and exchanges but not the call…help! Vic to the rescue: “Hit space bar!”. After an hour running I feel I need a break, it’s been a long and frustrating morning so I hand over the running and go to hit the sack for an hour or two.

I wake up and check the whatsapp chat on the phone that Jesús EC1KR created for the event. Seems like everyone else had time for a proper lunch and was prepared and are now running like crazy. I make myself a cheese sandwich and wander over to the bunker. Running is good but I see that our CW partners have extended their lead and are nearly 100 QSOs ahead of us. Other stations don’t appear, it seems from the whatssap chat that there are internet issues at some stations, and then its us that have a temporary disconnect. But as the afternoon progresses, everyone returns and we can see progress. The running is fast and furious and its difficult for the mult station to manage to find a moment to first listen and then make QSOs. But Jose EA5GS is a trained mult hunter and little by little, between his efforts, the calls we get on the run, and our CW partners, the mult counter creeps up.




Our next worry appears on the horizon: a CME (solar Coronal Mass Ejection) is heading our way and due to hit earth at some stage during the afternoon/evening. How will it affect conditions? On 15 we notice a drop in signals, it starts to get really hard to hear the weak stateside stations (as opposed to just hard). We struggle on, noting that our 20m colleagues have had a blackout for about an hour. José and I decide that the best thing to do is leave Vic to suffer and head to the McDonalds drive in…..

At about 2 am local time the band is now dead. We have around 1350 contacts in the log. Taking into consideration the dead hours ahead of us, plus the CME, we reckon we will have a hard time making our target of 2000 qsos. We take advantage of the dead time to figure out how the digital voice keyer works and hook it up to writelog. Ahh, long live the F1 key! I have already slept so Vic and José get some shut eye while I entertain myself with the F1 key.

The band doesn’t come to life again until 5 hours later when we finally bag the India HQ mult. The only station we heard all through the night was DA0HQ. I leave the guys to get cracking, go and have some weetabix, and off to sleep. Short lived sleep, as my inflatable mattress now has a slow puncture. Oh well, back to the station I go, strong coffee in hand. The rate is agonizingly slow, but we see a decent score now, the night shift on the low bands has shown its fruit and now Imanol has packed the 40m SSB station in his car and gone off to work portable from a Trig point to see if he can rustle up a bit more interest locally, now that we are in daylight there’s no more DX to be had so, why not? We plod on, there is little to be had in the way of DX on 15 either and its one zone 28 contact after another. We keep the stints short and rotate the operators, there is little to be had on the mult station but Jose keeps at it and finally works a zone 32 out of the blue who is not spotted on the cluster. In the last hour, we are caught off guard when a P29 calls us from Papua New Guinea, in amongst a pileup of Germans.

And finally 1200 UTC comes around again, we take the headphones off and we check the score. We didn’t reach our QSO goal, but we did reach our multiplier goal, together with our partners on 15m CW down in Alicante at EA5RS’s place. Our colleagues had varying success too, but all in all we did OK.



And then our usual teardown routine. The quad was already taken down beforehand, so it was a case of taking out the rigs and amps and putting back the usual rigs. The Torrent Contest Club is based at URE Torrent, so we have to combine our activities with the rest of club members, half an hour later the door was closed and it was as if nobody had been there all weekend….

My contest reporting is never complete without giving thanks to those make all of this possible. As always, thanks to our families, the tech team, and our colleagues at URE Torrent. In this particular case, thanks are also due to URE for counting on us for the contest, to Imanol EC2DX for the Interlock, and to all of the team colleagues at the other 11 stations who made this an unforgettable event!