DXpedition to Rwanda—9X0R
by Fabrizio Vedovelli, IN3ZNR-WH0Q
The seeds of the DXpedition to Rwanda were sown a long time ago, in mid 2006, when we returned home from our Western Sahara effort. Many emails went back and forth between me, Tony Gonzalez (EA5RM) and others talking about possibilities for our next trip. We chose to go to Rwanda. This particular DXCC entity attracted us for several reasons. The last big operation from there took place several years ago and it had moved up in rank to #45 on DX Magazine’s “most wanted” list of DXCC entities. Moreover, after 14 years from the start of the terrible civil war there, the country was finally a quite peaceful place. For all these reasons, we believed Rwanda would be a wonderful adventure for our old “Desert Patrol” of Western Sahara. We were excited about the possibilities of our adventure, but the hardest obstacle was still in the middle of our road to success—yes, that little magic document called a “license”. After a lot of faxes, emails, and useless phone calls in January, Tony decided to travel to Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. This decision was the key to our success! In fact, after a lot of meetings with the Rwandan officials and the collaboration of Peter Stabuch 9X5SP and Colonel Diogene Mudenge 9X1AA chief of RURA offices, EA5RM came back with the licenses for all of us, opening also the door for others. In the meantime, our group of amateur radio operators, with the help of RURA (Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Agency), would try to establish the Rwanda Amateur Radio Union (RARU) as National Amateur Society. Main RARU aims will be to promote Amateur Radio in Rwanda. For that reason, as part of our DXpedition, we planned on donating a transceiver to Kigali University, teaching and training new amateur radio operators, to help build a new radio club. So the good news from Rwanda coming to us in mid-January was that 9X0R was to become a reality. While Tony was still in Kigali, we decided to go there as soon as possible. In only two and a half months, we put together our team, prepared equipment, arranged accommodations and fulfilled the logistical needs for our twelve multinationals operators.
The nucleus of the crew was to be the Western Sahara’s veterans. We planned to have more CW operators for this DXpedition. We were aided in this decision by DXers everywhere. The survey of desired bands and modes completed by DXers using our website showed that you wanted contacts using digital modes and CW, and you wanted to work us on Low Bands, too. The operator team consisted of: Tony (EA5RM), Javier (EA5KM), Bernard (F9IE), Javi (EC4DX), Gerard (EA3EXV), Manuel (EA7AJR), Dima (UY7CW), Robert (EA2RY), Manolo (EA4DRV), Ruben (EA5BZ), and Fabrizio (IN3ZNR). Surprisingly, all these people were able to schedule themselves for a mid-March departure. With the offer of help from “SteppIr” antennas, we planned to set up at least three different shacks, possibly four. That became a reality when we finally arrived in Rwanda. Our idea was to prepare four operating positions: one each for CW, Phone, Digital, and the last one mixed modes. All four positions were furnished with 1 Kw amplifiers, because of the sponsorship by “SPE” of Rome, Italy. SPE loaned us the use of three brand new “Expert”1K-FA (fully automatic), all solid state amplifiers, the smallest kilowatt on the market. Moreover, we were happy to have the owner of the SPE factory Gianfranco, I0ZY, as a member of the DXpedition.
Having Gianfranco along gave him an opportunity to see his product in hard use and it gave me the chance to speak sometimes with someone in my mother language, HI! Ninety percent of the operators were Spanish, so the “official” day-to-day language of crew was Spanish, while the Rwandan official language was incomprehensible to all of us. Another widely spoken language in Rwanda is French. Some people, specially the young people, understand some English. It can be very tiring to hear three different language, then translate all in Spanish—all the while keeping a conversation going.
During February and early March, day by day our equipment list grew, and a mass of 300 kg of material was carried and stored in Madrid awaiting our departure date. Finally everything was ready to go. We all joined together the morning of 15 March in Brussels Belgium. That same day, after an easy trip, the crew reached Kigali Airport in the late evening. The next day we had a long check out by Rwandan customs, and also a careful inspection of our transceivers by RURA (the FCC in Rwanda). By early afternoon everything was clear, and we were able to travel to the Akagera Lodge.
Our QTH was in the middle of beautiful Akagera Game Park, near the Tanzanian border. Being a small state, to reach Akagera was only a two hours drive on very good roads. The Lodge was on top of a hill, with beautiful paths in all 360 degrees. A real dream location for hams! Moreover, our elevation was about 5600 feet above sea level, so luckily not a mosquito was seen. Before darkness fell, (as planned), we were already active with two stations on the air with one yagi and one vertical at full power.
After the first CQ, “9X0R, QRZ”, we were suddenly faced with immense pileups. It seemed as though the world was awaiting us! The pileups continued to be large for the first days. The number of callers were more than we ever imagined, suggesting Rwanda was higher than number 45 on the list. Shift after shift we operate almost all night long on the first night, although we were very tired from the trip and the station installation duties. Early the second morning, all the crew not involved in their shift at radios, were working hard to finish the antenna set up. Two more yagis, the verticals (BigIr by SteppIr) and other verticals—inverted “L” for 80 and 160 meters were erected in one day and half. Weather was mostly overcast because we were at the beginning of the rainy season. So luckily the antennas job was not unusually hot, but we had a strong rain beat on us for an hour or two. After that rain, the equatorial sun at a high altitude was burning our skin.
With very good pass band filters we were able to keep three (and very often four) bands on different modes on the air at the same time. After some troubles in the first days, we were able to upload our website with our log data. We used a very complete logging system which has been used by several recent DXpeditions. It is rich with interesting statistics for the DXer as “how many contact with” for mode, for countries, or CQ zone. Perhaps this kind of “classified result for DXers”, increases the pile-up for different modes or bands not even really needed for DXCC. Our goals were: to work many North American and Asian hams; to use CW and digital modes longer than phone; and to increase low bands contacts. For these reasons, we paid attention to the Americas whenever the propagation would help us. Moreover, we were on the air very often with two stations on CW, one in digital and only the last on phone. We reached our goals for the first two targets. For low bands, unfortunately, we discovered what many have come to call “Equatorial noise”. Almost all nights some stormy weather with thunder and lightning filled 80 meters and 160 meters with a lot of scratches and crackling. The third day we set up a “beverage” to USA and EU, and this helped our top band specialist pick more stations out of the noise. I guess we got a little too far into the rainy season. December and January would the better months on the Equator for the Low Bands.
Accommodations and meals were good enough for the team, but we were always tired. Keeping three stations on the air 24 hours a day with only 11 operators is very hard work! There were very few guests in the Lodge, apart from monkeys! Yes, a group of “baboons” were always using the garden of the Lodge, as a playground. Our antennas were there, and one morning, two monkeys were jumping over our beverage playing with wires. I screamed a lot to scare the group but was not always successful.
Our target number of QSOs was at least 60,000. We did it, reaching 62,300. The last day and night we had a lot of power line failures. I believe that without these failures, our grand total of QSOs would have been at least 5,000 greater. Luckily this happened only at the end of operation. If it had happened in the first days, our morale and mood would not have been nearly as good. But the big pileups kept our energy high to serve the deserving.
When on the airplane on the road back home, we already began talking about our next steps. Stay tuned, a new DXpedition with the “Cuadrilla” (Squadron) is on the way! In the name of the 9X0R team I want to thank all the sponsors that helped us go to Rwanda, and particularly EUDXF, CLIPPERTON DX CLUB, GMDX Group and CHILTERN DX CLUB with their Board officers, for their support. We don’t never forget the help they give every big dx-speditions all over the world.
See you in the next pile-up! Fabrizio, IN3ZNR (also WHøQ)