A quick dash across the Straights of Gibraltar with Roger/G3SXW from Algerciras at the bottom of Spain. I’d been to Algeciras before – down the road from here is Tarifa, one of the world’s premier windsurfing spots. But that’s not for my radio web-site I guess.

 

We were very well looked after in Ceuta by Juan/EA9IE, his wife Pilar/EA9AM and their friend Joaquin/EA9FY.

 

Juan has some nice pictures and ham radio stories on his web-site at http://www.qrz.com/db/EA9IE.

 

 

 

Article below was Roger/G3SXW’s write-up in the CDXC Digest.

 

A Weekend in the Sun

By Roger Western, G3SXW

This was a little trip to ZB2 and EA9 to escape the seemingly endless cold weather of our winter. It does not merit the description of ‘DXpedition’. John/G4IRN and I operated from these two locations in March 2006, making some 4,000 CW QSOs, and had a lot of fun. Licences and travel were easy. The challenge was finding suitable operating-locations.

We firstly targeted Ceuta, EA9. This would be an interesting place to see and would provide CW pile-ups for a few days. Ceuta is one-hour on a ferry from Algeciras, just up the coast from Gibraltar. British Airways flies to Gib twice-daily so this made for an easy itinerary.

First Problem

We booked up the BA flights and knew that EA was CEPT, hence no action needed on transmitting-licences. It remained only to choose a suitable hotel. Here started our problems. There are three sizeable hotels in Ceuta, all located in the town-centre. We picked the Parador hotel as being nearest the sea but were told that they could not permit amateur radio antennas to be installed on their roof, at the ‘request’ of the local Military Commander. My Goodness! In all my years of DXpeditioning I had never come across this block before. We tried the other two hotels and were given the same answer.

Whilst battling with this problem I enlisted the support of Juan, EA9IE, who I had met some years previously. Juan couldn’t have been more helpful and was as surprised as we were at this problem. After visiting Ceuta we saw that all three hotels are mere yards from the Military command post. One has to assume that a previous ham-operation has caused HF QRM to military operations.

So, we had our non-refundable BA tickets and nowhere to operate. We turned our attention to ZB2.

Second Problem

Believe it or not, we met pretty much the same problem in Gibraltar. Licences were easy but we couldn’t find a suitable hotel which allowed antennas on the roof, even the Rock Hotel. All operations from ZB2 have been from the Caleta Palace Hotel on the East-side of the rock. This gives great take-off to the East but is completely blocked to the West. So we aimed for a hotel on the West side of the rock, in the downtown area. We eventually found a hotel with a clear shot to the North and West, blocked only to East and South-East. They said that we could happily use their roof for antennas.

A day or two before flying to Gib EA9IE e-mailed to say that he had found a possible operating-location for us. Thus we were back to having two options. We resolved to set up and operate in Gibraltar but to pay a quick visit to Ceuta on the second day to check out the scene.

Equipment

We travelled light. This was hardly a serious ‘DXpedition’ so we definitely wouldn’t need amplifiers. We each took an Elecraft K2/100, laptop, keyer etc. We decided to stick with a known formula of one station operating on WARC bands (usually Nigel/G3TXF but this time John/G4IRN), with G3SXW on the ‘traditional’ bands.

John bought Dunestar band-pass filters for the three WARC bands and I was able to borrow a multi-band switchable ICE bandpass filter from our mate, Fred/G4BWP. There was no way to know how much antenna-separation we would have so these filters were essential.

To get on the three WARC bands John built himself a light-weight triband ground-plane, based on a modified half wave 11mtr antenna, with resonant radials. I contented myself with a 40 metre dipole with 20 metre trap, and with parallel wires for 15 metres, so providing these three bands with one coax.

All of this stuff, plus a few clothes etc came in at about 10 kgs over our airline-luggage allowance and we thought we’d be charged some extra, as airlines are suddenly so strict on excess-baggage these days. But, lo and behold, check-in at Heathrow never weighed our hand luggage or antenna bag.

On the Air from ZB2

On 28th March we landed in Gibraltar. I hadn’t seen the Rock before – I can tell you, it is VERY impressive. A massive lump just sitting there! The runway is built out into the sea and traffic/pedestrians cross it at will (when there are no planes landing, I might add!). It was a balmy 18C and sunny.

A three-minute taxi-ride took us to our hotel. Sure enough we were told to do what we wanted on their roof. So we checked-in and went exploring. We found a vertical stair marked ‘fire-exit’ (and wondered how all but the fittest of guests could manage to climb it). This led to the roof which turned out to be mostly sloping corrugated-sheeting, not at all suitable to walk on. But there was one piece of usable flat-roof and a patio so an hour later we had the two antennas installed. They were only 30-40 feet apart but we kept fingers crossed. We each had taken about 100 feet of coax and by chance this was just barely enough to reach our rooms.

We fired up late afternoon, suffering already from mild sunburn after being on the roof for an hour or so, and indeed had no inter-station interference. All was well for the first hour or two. ZB2/G3SXW logged 200 QSOs on 20 metres, while ZB2/G4IRN pounded away on 17 metres. But then SXW noticed that the SWR had gone intermittent so went to the roof to investigate, only to discover that one of the joints on the telescopic fishing-pole had come loose and dropped, so the dipole was blowing about in the wind.

Much to my surprise I met four men on the roof. These turned out to be Moroccans who were renting an ‘apartment’ up there. I had put it down as a gash storage-area. My antenna was on their veranda and the oldest chap, obviously in charge, was extremely angry. He was shouting in Arabic and spoke no other languages. The other three were friendly and apologetic but the boss was not to be persuaded. I brought the young chap up from the hotel (also Moroccan) to negotiate with him. I offered to pay £1 a day to leave my antenna on his patio, for five days meant £5. He asked for £160. I offered £20. He stuck to £160. I took down my antenna.

So, that night ZB2/G4IRN carried on operating while G3SXW watched television. Not good! But there was literally nowhere else to install the antenna. This roof is not a suitable location for ham antennas.

EA9 Recce

Next morning we got a taxi to Algeciras and the ferry to Ceuta. This goes hourly and is very civilised. We were met by Juan and his friend Joaquin, EA9FY, and whisked away into the hills, five minutes drive, above Ceuta to a Complejo Rural (Rural Complex). This was a small resort with cabins for hire, restaurant & bar. They also did horse-training there and had free range poultry, however the poultry was all caged up because of the bird-flu threat. It didn’t stop the cockerels making a racket in the mornings though!

Everything about the place was charming, set in a bowl, looking down on the town. Even the building-works seemed not to matter. The problem was the looming hill which would completely block signals to the West (USA). But we took an instant decision to move from ZB2 to this location, and this turned out to be a very good move,

Early the next day we checked out of our hotel and went by taxi to the Spanish border. Taxis don’t cross over the border so travellers must walk over it, go through customs checks and then take a Spanish taxi on the other side.  The x-ray machine at customs brought a K2 in one bag and band-pass filters in another straight to the attention of the customs official. All the bags had to be opened and they asked for receipts for the gear. We played dumb to it all, shrugging our shoulders and showing our licenses. The official escalated the issue to her manager who then escalated it to a military official. The issue was quickly resolved, we showed him our licenses and he waved us on. We could have done without the stress but more importantly, we had missed our targeted ferry and would have to sit around the terminal for an extra hour. That’s no fun when you want to get on the air!

A couple of hours later and we were back on the ferry heading for Ceuta We made a quick stop at a hypermarket for essential provisions and then headed for our base-camp. Night-times it got quite cool, but around the middle of the day the temperature was reaching 20-22C. Very pleasant.

QRV in EA9

So we both hit the airwaves, having quickly installed the two antennas with the eager help of our EA9 friends and again with barely no inter-station interference. Now we could settle down and run some serious CW pile-ups.

Over the next 48 hours we each made approaching 2,000 QSOs and thoroughly enjoyed the operation. EA9 is hardly DXCC-rare but anyone firing up with a rather unusual call-sign and running snappy 5NN contacts can command a pile-up for a couple of days.

Of course, there were no sunspots during our operation: nil, zilch or should I say nada. I made the grand total of FOUR contacts on 15 metres. There were just no signals. In fact, we also had midday absorption, with weak signals on 20 and 17 metres. But 30 and 40 metres were in very good shape at night.

We had done a little shopping, so had some snacks to keep us going, and some excellent Spanish red wine for about £0.70 a bottle. Ceuta is a tax-free zone. Ah-ha! Then we also went QRT both evenings for a really excellent dinner in the Complejo Rural restaurant.

QSOs

Callsign

40m

30m

20m

17m

15m

Totals

ZB2/G3SXW

199

199

ZB2/G4IRN

465

265

730

Total ZB2: 929
EA9/G3SXW

900

602

4

1506

EA9/G4IRN

1518

244

1762

Total EA9: 3268
Totals

900

1983

602

509

4

Overall Total: 4197

 

Socialising

As mentioned earlier Juan/EA9IE was a magnificent host. He couldn’t have been more welcoming. He has a long list of DXing and Contesting achievements. His charming wife, Pilar, is also an active ham, EA9AM, and they both speak excellent English.

 

We also enjoyed the company of Joaquin, EA9FY, who had lived and worked in UK. A fun character, bubbling over with enthusiasm. We were invited to lunch at Juan’s house, Moroccan cous-cous, delicious. There is much contact and influence between Ceuta and Morocco of course. One of the strange difficulties is that Spain is one hour ahead of GMT but Morocco is on GMT so there is always one hour time-difference at the border. Then when Spain goes to summer-time (which it did whilst we were there) and Morocco stays on GMT throughout the year, there is a TWO-hour time-difference. We found the whole issue of time very confusing!

Ceuta is one of two Spanish enclaves in Morocco. The other is Melilla, some distance down the coast. The obvious question is whether Spain would give these back to Morocco in the way that they are demanding UK give them back Gibraltar. I guess the answer is a big, fat NO. So, the Spanish position is entirely illogical.

The biggest single problem is that this is the edge of the EU and there is a constant battle to keep out illegal-immigrants. The high barbed-wire fences are a blot on an otherwise beautiful landscape.

In Closing

We had a lot of fun on this trip. In the normal course of events our ‘DXpeditions’ would be organised in far more detail ahead of time. This time things were left to chance, to resolve on the day. But that’s OK – it added some spice to the adventure. And the target-countries were hardly rare enough to be needed by serious DXers, so if we took two hours off to enjoy a wonderful dinner then so be it. This trip also gave us a break from the long, cold winter in UK.

Both EA9 and ZB2 are highly-congested places, everyone living on top of each other, clogged by traffic and horribly noisy. Spanish people seem not to know how to speak – they only know how to shout! There are hotels to choose from but for the visiting ham there are few places to operate. The CaletaPalace in ZB2 works fine, but in Ceuta it’s even more restricted. Bearing in mind the lack of DXCC-rarity and therefore the lack of demand on the bands it might be best to leave ZB2 and EA9 alone and head instead for HB0 or GJ or SV9.

But touristically they are both very worthwhile visiting. They each have a remarkable character: Gibraltar with its fish and chips, unimaginably cheap booze and roaring pubs . . . . Ceuta with its fine wines, superb cuisine and screaming Spaniards.

Muchas gracias, Juan y Pilar y Joaquin. Hasta la vista!