TS7N, Contesting from Kerkennah Islands
April 26, 2004
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Translation Rein Couperus, PA0R
Edit Andy Lüer, DJ7IK
“To experience the other side of the pile-ups…at least once in your lifetime”, this wish must be common for all DXers. In my case it took 29 years before it came true.
Luck plays an important role, even when you are a ham. I have been working in Berlin for quite a while, and now and again I am a guest at the club gatherings of OV Berlin-Lichtenberg (D26). Its members are amongst the most enthusiastic DX travelers in Germany. Which DXer is not familiar with names like Siggi Presch, DL7DF, Falk Weinhold, DK7YY, or Gerd Uhlig, DL7VOG… Their DX stories got me interested to share such an experience myself! In November 2000, DK7YY, together with DL9USA, a buddy from my early years as a ham, had taken part in a DXpedition to Tunisia, and taken part in the CQWWDX. Using the call sign TS7N the group had made more than 40.000 QSOs from the small Island of Kerkennah (IOTA AF-73). The operation had been initiated by Andy Lueer, DJ7IK. Three years later the operation would be repeated…
The group was looking for CW operators for the contest. Somebody mentioned my call sign, and it did not take long before I got a phone call from DJ7IK. I answered `yes' to his question before he could ask it.
To me the target of the expedition seemed ideal. Tunisia does not belong to the top ten most wanted countries list, so the pile-up would be limited in size - mind you, my only experience with pile-ups at that moment in time was with JA3MAS' simulation program PED (www.darc.de/referate/dx/software/ped519/ped.html). Moreover, Tunisia is only two hours flying from Germany. This is not too heavy a burden on the traveling budget, whilst being in Africa it would bring valuable points for the contest!
With 23 operators plus some non-ham members one could speak of a large team.
Not only would we activate Tunisia in CW on the WARC bands, but also try to log as many digital mode QSOs as possible. Additionally we would support the enthusiasm of the local hams in Tunisia. Some, especially the operators of the scouting club stations (3V8ST, 3V8SQ, 3V8SF, 3V8SM, etc.), were our guests during the whole operation.
Another station was operated almost exclusively by YLs, amongst others Faten, operator of club station 3V8ST. The climax would be the participation in the CQWWDX-CW. Andy, DJ7IK coordinated the whole operation. He designed the web site (www.qsl.net/ts7n) and coordinated the communication between the team members.
During the trip he was accompanied by his YYL, Jutta, who was controlling the financial part of the operation. His daughter Sonja provided medical support. Mustapha, DL1BDF, took care of the licenses, and the contacts to the Tunisian Scouting Organization.
Every team member had to fulfill certain preparatory tasks before the trip. DL9USA and I built two spider beams, designed by DF4SA. The spider beam is a super lightweight 3-band Yagi with 4 elements on 10, and 3 elements on 15 and 20 meters. The antenna is ideal for transportation, and light weight (5.5 kg). Because it is sold as a kit, first-time assembly is a bit awkward. But it is worth it, because on-site we did not need more then two hours to assemble and mount it. Franz, DF9QV and Guenther, DJ9CB were also involved in preparing antennas. Franz had built several low band verticals especially for this DXpedition, including 4-squares for 80 and 40 meters.
Whatever was computer-related came under the hands of Rein, PA0R and Manfred, DK1BT: Hardware had to be networked and software tested and installed.
The “Swiss Guard” was composed of Willy, HB9AHL, Chris, HB9AUZ, and Pirmin, HB9DTE. Further team members were Andy, DL2EAD, and Volkmar, DF2SS, who sponsored part of the equipment (fa. WIMO). The Far East was represented by Jun, JH4RHF, who joined the team from Vienna, where he is employed by the UNO. The YL team included Ruth, IT9ESZ, Evelyne, F5RPB and Ingrid, DL4BO. Erhard, a short-notice stand in for Juergen, DJ2VO who fell ill days before we left to Kerkennah, completed the team. He turned out to be valuable asset when we set up the antennas.
The local hams supporting us were Lasaad, 3V8SM, Anis and Faten from 3V8ST, Midou, 3V8SQ, Ridha, 3V8CB , Bilel, Ashraf and Mohamed from 3V8SF.
On November 18th the team flew from Nuremberg to Monastir. For the captain of the flight it was, as he put it, the heaviest flight ever with his 737-800. Additionally to our normal luggage we carried almost 1 ton of overweight equipment.
In Monastir our transport to Kerkennah waited for us, a small coach organized by the scouts, which did not look like it would hold both the equipment and ourselves.
We simply could not imagine how this would work over a distance of 170 km. But with some `engineering' they managed to fit all equipment in, and on top of the vehicle. After that the 23 team members were put into the remaining space and swaying and moaning the fully overloaded car started its journey south.
After about 3 hours we reached Sfax, the 2nd largest city in Tunisia. There we took a ferry to Kerkennah Island, which is about 21 km away. Around 9 p.m. we arrived in hotel “Cercina” in Sidi Fredj.
The next morning we started building up the antennas. Tourist season was over, which meant we were the only guests in the hotel. Additionally to our own apartments we had hired four bungalows. The largest one was destined to be the main shack, with 2 stations. A second bungalow accommodated further stations. One of them was confiscated by the YLs; the others would serve for the digital modes. The 6 meters station was located in a third bungalow. When there was no propagation on 6, we were active on 30 meters. We had booked the fourth bungalow in the “Residence Club”, about 300 meters down the beach. During the first week we had only one station running there.
During the contest we would operate the 2nd running station there in order to minimize interaction between the 2 stations.
At hotel “Cercina”, our base location, we first put up the Konni Yagi for 6 meters and the Butternut HF9V, directly at the waterfront. At 11:00 UTC TS7N gave its first beep. The other antennas followed quickly. First we put up one of the spider beams (20-15-10), followed by the WARC beam (Optibeam 4-2-WARC).
Then we put up the Titanex V160E vertical for the low bands (40-80-160 meters). We raised it during ebb-tide so that it would stand in the middle of the salt water most of the time, providing the ideal ground such a vertical needs.
The location was such that no antenna was more that 50 meters away from the Mediterranean shore. With these antennas we could work all bands, and we could start working the pile ups. All stations were operating simultaneously, with linear amplifiers, but never on the same band. To guarantee this we had one band filter each for every band, which was used between the transceiver and the amplifier. If somebody wanted to work a certain band, and the band filter was not available it was clear that the band was already in use.
After the base location was finished, Franz, DF9QV showed us how to build the 4-squares for 80 and 40 meters at the second location.
A hex beam for 20-17-15-12-10 followed. The antennas stood on the beach, no more than 40 meters from the shore line. We now worked with 5 stations simultaneously, around the clock.
Our YLs were mainly working SSB. They transmitted from the base location with the HF9V vertical. Often Faten, the operator of 3V8 was on the mike. After some time it became clear that a separate antenna for 30 meters would be a good idea, as the HF9V was constantly in use for SSB. So we made a simple dipole for 30 and put it as an inverted vee on the roof of the hotel, using a 10 meters long fiber glass stick as a mast. It worked so well that at the end of the expedition we had over 4000 QSOs in the log on 30.
Now we could operate 6 stations in parallel on hf. The conditions were varying during our stay. On some days we had nice runs into USA and Japan. EU was always present, lying `on the doorstep'.
Unfortunately there were some problems on 160 and 80 meters. We produced a big signal almost everywhere, but we had severe problems with reception. A 220 V land line with bad glass insulators covered the horizon from north to south. Also the heavily charged atmosphere presented problems. We did build some EWE and KA9Y antennas looking towards USA and EU but the narrow notch at the rear of the antennas was useless against the broad multi-source noise covering the whole horizon.
On the morning of the third day the view from the balcony into the sea had suddenly changed. The Titanex vertical was gone. A flood wave which was a lot higher than calculated, combined with wind force 8 had knocked down the crate supporting the base of the antenna.
Fortunately the antenna itself had made a soft landing in the water and did not take any damage. We re-erected it with a different supporting structure, and it stayed there until the end of the DXpedition.
After the first week Willy, HB9AHL, Ruth, IT9ESZ, Volkmar, DF2SS, and Jutta and Sonja had to leave us because of QRL. Hermann, HB9CRV joined us instead.
After some time even the hard-core DXpeditioner gets enough of antennas and amplifiers. For this case Mustapha Landoulsi, DL1BDF, offered an “entertainment program”. With a small coach we visited the tourist attractions of the islands.
The Tunisian archipelago of the Kerkennah Islands is made up of both main islands, Gharbi and Chergui, which have been connected by a dam during the Roman Empire. Nowadays a asphalt road exists between the ferry harbor Sidi Youssef on Gharbi and the villages on Chergui.
Lying outside the main tourist area, Kerkennah is ideal for persons in search of tranquility and solitude: sun, beach and sea, fishermen mending their nets, and palm trees and olives in the background.
In Remla, the main village of the islands, two worlds meet - youths in modern clothes, and traditional older fishermen, farmers and craftsmen. The people are warm, tolerant and show a great degree of hospitality.
The islands are dry and flat, the highest point being only 15 meters above sea level. Palm and olive trees, wine bushes and high hedges made from fig cactus separating the properties are the only green you will see. Now and again a few sheep or a goat crosses your path, that's all the agriculture there is. Most of the inhabitants live from catching fish - mainly octopus, and call Kerkennah “Octopus Islands”.
The second week was more dedicated to preparing for the CQWW-DX CW contest, which was one of our main goals. Rein PA0R gave us instruction about the peculiarities of the multi-two category. In this category two running stations try to make as many QSOs as possible, whereby any of the stations is only allowed to make eight band changes per hour. It is therefore important to do the band changes in such a way that the multiplier score is optimized. The goal was to make 10.000 QSOs and 26 Million points during the contest.
The antenna team built a second spider beam at the remote location. Most of the work, however, was done by the computer team consisting of DK1BT and PA0R. They had to network the laptops is such a way that CTWin would run. This sounds easy but it was a real challenge. The available PCs had many different operating systems: even a laptop with a French Windows XP was successfully integrated. In order to get a stable connection between the two sites that were 300 meters apart they built up a WLAN network with WIMO directional antennas. From within the hotel we had connection to a DX cluster via the internet. Long before the contest we fixed the two teams. At the base site DK1BT, JH4RHF and PA0R would operate RUN1, and at the remote location DJ7IK, DL5CW and HB9CRV would take care of RUN2. Also on the contest team were DF6QV, DJ9CB, DL9USA, HB9AUZ and HB9DTE. The running operators had a 2 hour shift.
In the end, the target was not quite met. The log at RUN2 showed `only' 9999 QSOs and 23.8 Million points. Especially on 160 and 80 meters we had a hard time working the multipliers.
On Monday morning after the contest we started dismantling the stations, which did not provide any problems. We got some unexpected help taking down the 80 meters 4-square. Two free running horses came galloping through the antenna farm and broke a few halyards. Fortunately they chose to come after the contest, and the only damage was some bent Aluminum. At noon, everything had been taken down, and the only task left was to pack everything for the journey home.
On Monday evening we had a farewell party with a barbecue, with the unforgettable performance of two local musicians. With their traditional instruments they succeeded in creating such an atmosphere that nobody could resist visiting the dance floor.
The next morning the coach, this time accompanied by a separate luggage van, took us back to Monastir airport.
On the way up we visited the QTH of 3V8SQ, where we left part of our equipment behind to express our thanks to the scouting organization. At the airport customs opened a special check-in terminal for us. We had no problems to pass all checkpoints. After two hours flight we landed at Nuremberg. The airport had meanwhile been decorated for Christmas.
For me this was the first confrontation with the other side of the pile-up. I was very pleased that the basic principle of amateur radio - tolerance and friendship across country borders - is put into practice, and is not just words.
With the 53.800 QSOs in the log, our QSL manager Andy, DL9USA will be quite busy in the time to come.
But the number of QSOs made is not the only indicator for the success of the expedition. We have won new friends, and have made an important contribution toward supporting amateur radio in Tunisia. As a result of this two more club stations can be built up and the Tunisian amateur league Astra (http://qsy.to/astra) can be strengthened in its goal to eventually make individual licenses possible.
We thank all companies, DX associations and OMs who have supported us.
We will never forget the hospitality of our Tunisian friends.