9X0R

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)

 

 

 

Guyana 2008 by G3SWH

GUYANA 2008 BY PHIL WHITCHURCH G3SWH

 

Jim, G3RTE and I first started planning our latest DX-pedition in 2004.  The major obstacle was getting the licence.  Back then, my first point of contact was by e-mail with Peter Denny, 8R1WD who was at the time (and still is) the President of the Guyana Amateur Radio Association (GARA).  Peter readily agreed to help me and I duly sent to him copies of my UK licence, passport photo page and a covering letter addressed to the Director of the Guyanan licensing authority, the National Frequency Management Unit (NFMU).  Strangely, even though Guyana is a member of the British Commonwealth, it transpired that the NFMU do not recognise a UK Class A licence as being valid, despite the fact that the local exams are based upon the old City & Guilds syllabus!  Shortly after I made the application, I received an e-mail from the Director of the NFMU stating their official position was that they would only accept a licence issued in either Trinidad or the USA.  We decided to shelve the project at that time and went to the British Virgin Islands as VP2V/G6AY that year instead.

 

ABOUT GUYANA

 

Guyana is the only English speaking country in the whole of South America, although it was first claimed by the Spanish after Columbus “discovered” it in 1498.  The Dutch started to build settlements and trading posts in the interior around 1580, importing African slaves over the next century or so to work in the sugarcane plantations.  The Dutch lost control of their colony to the British in 1796, who formally merged the several provinces into British Guiana in 1831.  A few years later, slavery was abolished and the emancipated blacks left the plantations and moved to the towns.  To fill the labour shortage, thousands of indentured workers were brought to Guyana, mainly from India.  The result is a very cosmopolitan community, with much of the rural population of East Indian or Asian origin and the urban areas predominantly black.  With an area of some 215,000 square KM (83,000 square miles), about the same as the UK the total population is about 850,000, about 70% of whom live in the coastal areas.  Amerindian people make up about seven percent of the total and generally inhabit the country’s interior where they are given a great deal of cultural recognition and protection.  Independence was granted in May 1966 and Guyana was declared a cooperative republic within the Commonwealth in February 1970.

 

Originally named Stabroek by the Dutch, the capital city was re-named Georgetown by the British in 1796.  Located on the eastern bank of the Demerara river where it flows into the Atlantic Ocean, the city is presently home to some 200,000 people.  Known as the Garden City of the Caribbean, it is certainly very green and has some magnificent colonial wooden architecture, sadly much of it in a rather dilapidated state.  Of particular note is the Anglican St George’s Cathedral, completed in 1892 and at 43.5 metres reputedly the world’s tallest wooden building.

 

The northern part of Georgetown stands on land reclaimed from the sea, and much of Guyana’s coastal region is about two metres below sea level at high tide. In the 1870s, Dutch settlers began the construction of the massive concrete seawall, which runs along the shore and then for about 450 KM along the Atlantic coast of Guyana and Suriname.  However, as a result of the silt deposited by the various large rivers of the region, the ocean here is a murky brown and fringed by a muddy stretch of beach.

Guyana has a tropical climate with almost uniformly high temperatures and humidity, and much rainfall. Seasonal variations in temperature are slight, particularly along the coast. Although the temperature never gets dangerously high, the combination of heat and humidity can at times seem oppressive. The entire area is under the influence of the northeast trade winds and, around midday and during the afternoons, sea breezes bring relief to the coast.  Temperatures in Georgetown are quite constant, with an average high of 32°C and an average low of 24°C in the hottest month (July), and an average range of 29°C to 23°C in February, the coolest month. The highest temperature ever recorded in the capital was 34°C and the lowest only 20°C. Humidity averages 70 percent year-round.  Rain generally falls in heavy afternoon showers or thunderstorms.

Guyana as a whole and Georgetown in particular has something of an unsavoury reputation for violent crime.  However, as we would be very much confined to the area of the hotel during our stay, we did not think that anything more than “sensible” safety precautions would be necessary.  Just before we left the UK, we were shocked by the news that there had been a couple of apparent gangland massacres, one in Lusignan, on the east coast and some 16 KM from Georgetown on January 26th, when eleven people, including 5 children were slaughtered and another on February 18th in the mining town of Bartica on the Essequibo River, when the local police station was attached and three policemen killed as well as ten other local residents.

PROJECT PLANNING

We revived project following a conversation with Nigel, G3TXF at the 2005 HF Convention, when he mentioned that he had been in contact with Raj, 8R1RPN with a view to obtaining a licence for a DX-pedition of his own to coincide with the Commonwealth Contest.  Raj had indicated to Nigel that he believed it to be possible to get a Guyanan licence purely on the basis of a UK Class A licence, which was quite contradiction to the officially stated situation.  I contacted Raj by telephone, who confirmed his opinion but told me that he was not in a position to help further at that time due to business commitments.  Nigel didn’t pursue those particular plans and I must confess to being more than a little bit sceptical about the accuracy of the information from Raj.  Around about the same time, I decided that it would be a good idea for either Jim or I to get a US licence.   Jim wasn’t keen, and so, after a little bit of studying, I took (and passed) the Extra Class exam at the 2006 HF Convention and became the proud owner of AD5YS.  I must have been one of the last to sit (AND PASS!) the 5 WPM Morse Test, as it was abolished shortly afterwards.

 

After the VP2MTE DX-pedition of 2007, our thoughts again turned to “where do we go next?”  Guyana was one of the possible destinations discussed and I contacted Peter, 8R1WD by e-mail again.  Fortunately, he remembered our previous correspondence and agreed that there should now be no problems in obtaining a Guyanan licence on the back of the AD5YS licence.  The necessary documents were sent to Peter by International Recorded Delivery in June 2007, but failed to arrive.  They were eventually discovered at Peter’s local postal delivery office some weeks later.

 

The licence for 8R1PW came through quite quickly together with the news that Peter was also arranging licences for a pair of German operators (DK6XR and DK8XT) who planed to visit for two weeks in September/October 2007 and a further pair of Brazilian operators (PY2TNT and PY4WAS) who planned to visit for four days in November 2007.  Our own plans were for a week long visit at the end of February 2008 so we were concerned to know how these two earlier operations would affect our own plans.  It transpired that both operations were primarily SSB making about 10,000 QSOs between them, which left us the opportunity to mount a CW only operation.

 

Places from where to operate are always a major consideration.  Initially, we had hoped to operate from Leguan Island in the estuary of the Essequibo River and which counts for IOTA SA-068, but my research could not identify anywhere to stay in what is a very agricultural community with unreliable power supplies. Both the German and Brazilian groups had operated from Peter Denny’s house but we preferred an alternative as close to the ocean as possible.  Georgetown is not very well blessed with hotels and research on the Internet was not terribly successful here either.  I eventually contacted Wilderness Explorers, a travel agent and tour operator in the city and explained what we were looking for.  They came back with several suggestions, including the very up-market Meridien Pegasus within the city itself and the Ocean View Hotel a few miles south and right next to the ancient seawall.  Both hotels were happy for us to put up antennas. The Meridien Pegasus has been the location of several previous operations, is seven storeys high and in a superb location right at the river estuary.  However, there are a number of cell phone antennas on the roof and we were severely put off by tales of high levels of TVI and BCI during the previous operations. The Ocean View is only three storeys high, appeared to be surrounded by trees and was not such a good location.  After much soul searching, we elected for the (considerably) cheaper option and booked the Ocean View.

 

THE DX-PEDITION

 

Flights were booked with Virgin Atlantic to Barbados and then onwards to Georgetown with LIAT.  The outgoing flight was over an hour late leaving, although it arrived on time.  Our connection in Barbados allowed us only 90 minutes between flights, and as we were unable to check the bags through to Georgetown we had to clear immigration in Barbados, collect the bags and re-check them with LIAT.  Needless to say, the process took ages and we arrived at the LIAT check in desk to be told the flight had closed.  Fortunately for us there was another extremely voluble Guyanan passenger in the same situation and it was only as a result of his protests that the LIAT staff actually admitted that the flight was severely delayed and checked us in.  As a result, we arrived at Georgetown’s Cheddi Jagan International Airport almost two hours late.  The arrangements were that Peter Denny would meet us at the airport to smooth over the Customs formalities, but these were negotiated without difficulty.  However, there was no sign of either Peter or the driver from Wilderness Explorers who was to take us the 40 KM to the hotel.  As we were the only white faced people on the flight, we found this strange and when nobody had appeared after a good ten minutes, we took a local taxi on a hair-raising ride. Jim swears the taxi had no headlights, as cars coming the other way were constantly flashing him.  We were also concerned about his eye-sight, as we spent much of the drive on the wrong side of the road.  When he stopped and got out at a sleazy night-club, we really started to worry as to whether we had done the right thing. However, we arrived safely at the ocean View and no sooner had we checked into the hotel and fallen into bed than Peter appeared in the hotel lobby full of apologies and promises to meet us again the following morning.

 

At breakfast the next morning, it was obvious that the Ocean View was virtually empty and that there was a lot of refurbishment works under way, although there was a religious conference being held during the following week.  Petal Ridley, the Manager could not have been more helpful and delegated one of her staff to assist us with erecting the antennas.  Our rooms were at opposite ends of the large building, mine on the third storey on the northern end and Jim’s on the second storey at the southern end. Jim had brought a 10 metre fibreglass pole which we erected as a support for his preferred sloping dipoles.  My doublet was erected between the eaves of the building a convenient, but not very high, tree in the grounds.

 

The stations were assembled and Jim made the first QSO with K3ZO on 20 metres at 1523 UTC on 22nd February.  My first QSO was with DL5ANT on 17 metres at 1533 UTC.  I also made the first UK QSO with G4EZT at 1551 UTC, also on 17 metres.  After a few QSOs Jim started to get reports of a T7 note on his K2. A quick check over everything revealed he had done exactly the same as last year and left the PSU on 220V.  Once this was set correctly to 110V all was well and the K2 that Jim had bought from Chris, G3SJJ last summer worked faultlessly for the whole of the operation.  It was good to work Chris using his own new K3 on a couple of bands whilst using his old K2! The pile ups were furious and by midnight UTC on the first day, we had over 1,200 QSOs in the log between us.

 

Next day was a very different story, as there was a very high electrical noise level (about S7), which we identified to be as a result of corona discharge from the high voltage power lines close to the hotel.  This noise made operations during the mornings very difficult and only stopped if it rained, which was intermittent.  Jim adopted 20 metres as his own and continued to work stations despite the noise, whereas my own activities on 17 metres were very frustrating and almost impossible.  I could hear the pile up but couldn’t read any of the callsigns.  It’s the only time in my life that I can remember praying for rain!  Propagation improved in the late afternoons and we were able to run the pile ups despite the noise but Jim’s QSO total crept gradually ahead of mine.   I am convinced that this was mainly as a result of Jim changing his antenna from a sloping dipole to a doublet.  Jim is convinced that it was due to the doublet having nulls in the radiation pattern in the direction of the source of the line noise on 40 and 20 metres, which were quieter than the other bands. One morning we had a power cut and when the hotel generator kicked in the bands were blissfully quiet.  Unfortunately this was only to last for an hour.  Will I ever persuade him that a doublet is better than a dipole?

 

The hotel itself was rather basic but served our requirements well.  Jim had no hot water in his room. I was rather pleased that our rooms were far apart as on a couple of occasions Jim ate some very spicy food.  Need I say anymore?  The food lacked variety and consisted of a choice of either fish or chicken with rice for both lunch and dinner.  As I don’t eat fish, I’m sure that I would have started to sprout feathers after another day or so.  Jim says when he got back he had lost a kilo in weight.

 

Stations calling to make duplicate QSOs are a particular nuisance, especially when you’ve spent a minute or so sorting a weak station from under the pile up only to find it’s a duplicate.  I often wonder which part of “QSO B4” they don’t understand?  As in previous years, Jim and I discussed this over several bottles of Banks’ and I’m pleased to say that Jim is slowly coming round to my way of thinking which is never to log duplicates.

 

I had planned to try to get onto 160 metres and am aware that this had created considerable interest.  Unfortunately, this was always going to be subject to site conditions and it proved impracticable to erect any sort of 160 metre antenna.  However, I did spend a considerable amount of time on 80 metres and worked 649 stations on this band, about 6.5% of the total.  I still need Guyana on 80 metres myself!

 

The path to Japan is particularly difficult from the Guyana and Jim was particularly pleased to find a daily opening on 20 metres between 21:00 and 23:00 UTC although signals were very weak.  We also made QSOs with Japan on 30 and 40 metres.

 

We received several requests for 12 metre QSOs, particularly from GM3POI.  Whilst I didn’t think that there would be any propagation to Europe, I was eventually persuaded to try 12 metres, with surprising results: 122 QSOs with eight DXCC entities in three continents.

 

Peter Denny visited us every day, introducing us to the delights of Banks’ beer and 15 year old rum.  Peter is a retired diplomat and spent several years in both Moscow and Beijing before heading a department in the Guyanan Foreign Office.  He also took us on a sightseeing tour of Georgetown, including a visit to Raj, 8R1RPN’s QTH in the centre of the city.  Raj has a 100 foot tower with a magnificent multi-band array on it. Olli, OH0XX regularly visits and operates this station in the major contests as 8R1J.  We also ate lunch at a Chinese restaurant that day, which was a real treat!

 

One afternoon we received an unexpected visit from Esmond, 8R1AK, who is well known for his SSB only portable operations from Leguan Island (IOTA SA-068).  Esmond has a house on the island but operates from his car using an ingenious bracket on the bumper from which he can support a 3 element beam.

 

My last QSO was on 40 metres with Nigel, G3TXF at 0701 UTC on 29th February, just before I fell into bed for some much needed sleep before travelling home later that day.  Jim got a full night’s sleep, got up early and was still making QSOs at breakfast time the same day.

 

RESULTS

 

The journey home was long but uneventful.  Even the LIAT flight was on time!  I arrived home to a box full of direct QSL requests and over 1,000 e-mails to download, about a third of which were QSL requests.

 

We made a total of 9,863 QSOs with 112 DXCC entities.  Jim has calculated that there are 5,963 unique callsigns in the log and so, judging from the comments on the Cluster and the demand for QSLs so far, we think we have satisfied at least some of the Deserving.  The tables below give some more statistics.  We both believe we could have made at least 1000 more contacts each if it had not been for the noise. The pile-ups seemed to be just as big at the end as at the start which probably means there is still plenty of mileage left in another CW operation.

 

QSOs by band and DXCC entities:

 

BAND

QSOs

DXCC ENTITIES

80 METRES

649

47

40 METRES

2,608

88

30 METRES

2,273

78

20 METRES

2,761

80

17 METRES

1,257

66

15 METRES

193

21

12 METRES

122

8

ALL BANDS

9,863

112

 

 

The top ten entities by QSO:

 

 

80M

40M

30M

20M

17M

15M

12M

TOTAL

U.S.A.

137

818

548

675

612

134

112

3,036

Germany

113

292

285

419

125

13

0

1,247

Italy

33

130

178

212

81

4

0

638

Poland

29

128

156

120

16

0

0

449

Czech Republic

45

108

116

111

33

2

0

415

England

25

98

103

132

35

2

0

395

European Russia

12

148

86

116

15

1

0

378

France

32

70

68

119

35

4

0

328

Spain

15

48

60

107

35

0

0

265

Canada

4

48

34

46

37

4

1

174

 

 

Contacts with UK etc. stations:

 

 

80M

40M

30M

20M

17M

15M

12M

TOTAL

England

25

98

103

132

35

2

0

395

Scotland

4

14

7

19

2

1

0

47

Wales

2

4

5

7

1

0

0

19

Northern Ireland

0

2

5

3

3

0

0

13

Guernsey

0

1

1

1

0

0

0

3

Jersey

0

1

0

1

0

0

0

2

Isle of Man

1

0

0

0

0

0

0

1

 

 

Copies of the licence and supporting documentation have been submitted to – and accepted by – the DXCC Desk at ARRL.  The logs have been uploaded to and are fully searchable on my web site (www.g3swh.org.uk/8r1pw.html).  Special, colour photo QSLs have been printed and are available direct with SAE and adequate return postage (recommended).  Bureau cards can be requested from the web site and will be processed as quickly as possible.  Cards are also available via the traditional bureau route.  Logs will be uploaded to LoTW after I have weeded out as many of the inevitable busted calls as practicable, probably in early 2009.

 

Our particular thanks go to our XYLs, Cheryl and Jan for allowing us to go; to Peter Denny, 8R1WD, President of the Guyana Amateur Radio Association for arranging the licence; to Delice Rogers at Wilderness Explorers (http://www.wilderness-explorers.com) and to Petal Ridley and all the staff at the Ocean View Hotel, Georgetown for making this DX-pedition possible, as well as to all of our sponsors (RSGB, Chiltern DXC, GDXF, EUDXF and Clipperton DXC) for their support.

 

Stand au salon de la Louvière

Pour la première fois, un stand CDXC sera installé et tenu par F1HRE, F8BJI et F4AJQ à l’occasion du salon de la Louvière qui aura lieu le dimanche 27 septembre. Toutes les infos pour vous y rendre sont ici.