A One Man Dxpedition.

John Warburton, C56/G4IRN.

 

Having got back into amateur radio last year after a break of 20 years, I soon found that I was suffering from a serious case of the DX bug.  Indeed, the seriousness of the outbreak manifested itself in a conversation one evening (over a few beers, of course) with Roger Western, G3SXW, when I said to him that I was thinking of prescribing myself some convalescence on a DX holiday. The Gambia quickly came up as a prime candidate: not been active on CW for some time (my preferred mode of operation), easy to get a licence and relatively cheap getting there.

 

I thought about my objectives. Since this was my first Dxpedition I wasn’t sure how I’d cope with the pileups. Roger suggested that I set myself a target of about 5000 QSO’s for a one week trip, that’s about 1000 a day allowing for some time off for sightseeing, getting the licence, lying on the beach etc. I was well experienced at travelling alone in third world countries, so wasn’t worried about that.

 

Next step was to make more detailed plans so I searched on the web and DX Summit archives for previous activity from C5.  This brought up three likely contacts: Steve G3VMW, Hans DL7CM and C56RF.  The latter turned out to be Ron G3NKO, more about him later. The contacts provided me with very useful information about where to stay, licensing and antenna possibilities. An email off to Mr Sita Cessay at Gamtel brought me a quick reply; a visit to his office on the Monday morning of arrival would get the licence. All three of my contacts had stayed at the Senegambia Beach Hotel and could recommend room numbers to operate from. I emailed the hotel seeking permission to operate if I stayed there. They not only obliged but offered assistance in putting antennas up too. I liked the sound of that!

 

After a trawl of travel agencies, ‘The Gambia Experience’ came up as the only tour operator that flies to The Gambia out of season and the Senegambia Beach Hotel was in their brochure. I planned to travel in early September, the rainy season, not the most popular time of year for most visitors but probably better for me as it was cheaper and less crowded.  I took the plunge and booked, requesting to be put in upper C block in a room suitable for amateur radio.

 

I was a little concerned about the licence as my arrival was planned for a Friday and the Gamtel office wasn’t open until the following Monday. I suggested to Gamtel that I sent a cash payment and paperwork in advance so that everything was in order on my arrival. Even though I sent it registered post, Mr. Ceesay claimed it never arrived. He told me via email, however, that it was alright for me to operate straight away on my arrival and I should pop into his office on the Monday. Asking if he would like a ‘gift’ brought over from England (purely to oil the wheels of beaurocracy, of course) he stated that he would like some Lynx deodorant spray! I guess he must have seen the advert where the scantily clad young ladies crawl all over the man wearing it!

 

So all was packed and prepared and I checked in at Gatwick on Friday September 6th. The weight limit on the baggage was stated at 20Kg. My suitcase weighed in at 37Kg but after seeing some of the boxes and huge suitcases that the travelling Gambians were carrying, I realised that my case was small fry and it was checked in without a blink. I was also carrying a ski bag with a couple of fibreglass telescopic poles and a rucksack with personal effects and a laptop computer.

 

I arrived at the hotel at about 7pm after a short coach transfer. I had a sched planned with my father (G4IRM) on 20m SSB at 9pm so I had time to get the antenna in place and get the kit set up. When Steve, G3VMW was staying at the same hotel, he used a doublet between two trees with the centre held up with a similar telecopic pole to the one I was using. I had planned to do likewise, but to get me going quickly I simply ran a wire up the fibreglass pole and a single radial of the same length sloping down to a tree. I fed them with 450 Ohm ribbon cable through an ATU ( a semi vertical doublet?). With everything in place, a quick CQ on 21MHz and the pile-up started! Unfortunately, when I came to the sched with my father, RF in the shack caused the PSU to close down. Although we missed it that night, we were later able to chat on the phone and arrange a sched on 15mtrs SSB.

 

 

I was glad to have contacted Ron G3NKO prior to my departure who’s a part time resident of Gambia (C56RF).  He offered me the phone number of his driver who turned out to be very useful, not only knowing the exact whereabouts of the Gamtel office but able to give me a tour too. Mr Ceesay at Gamtel waived my licence fee due to the ‘lost’ application that I’d sent and the conversation ensued onto life in England and the demise of Manchester United.  I handed the Lynx underarm deodorant to him and he promptly proceeded to spray it on his face and wrists! I didn’t have the heart to tell him, but he seemed well pleased with his gift from England.

 

In practice, my vertical antenna was excellent with States–side and European signals very strong across the sea paths. Many JA long path QSO’s were made in the mornings and I was also called by some quite choice DX:  KH6, WH0, ZL, VK, VK9N; I also had a QSO with the special event station W2002WTC on Sept 11th. I didn’t bother with the doublet in the end as the vertical was going great guns and QRN on the lower bands was a problem, especially with it being the rainy season. On the subject of rain, it absolutely poured down for a short period every day with some quite magnificent electrical storms.

 

Local time in The Gambia is the same as GMT. Most days I was operating from around 07:00 when I woke up, with a break for breakfast around 08:00 for 45 minutes, then another two to three hours before the bands died down. That was the opportunity for a lie on the beach before getting back into the operating again in the mid afternoon until 19:00, a couple of hours off for evening meal and a few beers and then the final session until I dropped at around 00:30. There were several other people at the hotel who were travelling alone, so it was quite easy to find company for eating out, going for a beer etc. I could have really boosted my QSO total (and %age of North American contacts) by staying up later into the early hours but I found my CW was getting a bit ropey by midnight, particularly after a few beers! The biggest pileups were on the weekend; things got a bit dead during the day whilst Europe was at work.

 

This being my first Dxpedition, I wasn’t sure how I would manage the huge pileups. The best ones were with the US stations: short and snappy replies allowing me to keep up at about 200 QSOs/hour. The European stations tended to procrastinate somewhat bringing QSO rates down to almost half that at times. During the one main excursion I had onto SSB (once I had uncovered the microphone!) I found that operating simplex I was holding the rate at about 130 QSOs/hour.

 

The final day soon arrived and I had to dismantle all the gear and pack my bags. The X-ray machine at the airport wasn’t working so all suitcases were being searched by hand during check-in. I was all ready to explain the 25mtrs of ribbon cable, bits of wire, plugs and sockets, duck tape, boxes of electronic wizardry etc. to the army officer, but in the event he wasn’t interested; I think he thought I was just a little mad for carrying all that rubbish on holiday!

 

Looking back on my first Dxpedition, I can say it was a complete success in terms of meeting my target 5000 QSO’s and also an enjoyable holiday. The key to its success was definitely in the planning and preparation: especially making sure all the gear connected together and was working beforehand and talking to previous visitors to get hints and tips.

So where to next? I ask myself…..

 

Some C56/G4IRN statistics:

Transceiver: Kenwood TS-50S (100 watts)

Antenna: 10mtr vertical wire with a single sloping radial fed with 450 Ohm ribbon through an MFJ 971 ATU

Toshiba 486 laptop running SDX by www.ei5di.com

Samson ETM9C keyer

Nikei switched mode PSU

 

Breakdown by Band:

 

SSB CW Band SA OC NA EU AS AF

40m

0

177

177

2.8%

0

32%

64%

0

1.2%

30m

0

292

292

5.1%

0

13.7%

77.4%

2.8%

1.0%

20m

3

1265

1268

2.0%

0.6%

18.6%

72.7%

5.5%

0.6%

17m

0

1057

1057

3.8%

0.2%

15.7%

72.6%

7.1%

0.7%

15m

315

1926

2241

4.3%

0.2%

17.1%

74.7%

3.0%

0.7%

12m

0

379

379

5.5%

0

18.9%

71.8%

0.8%

0.3%

10m

1

362

363

6.3%

0.3%

16.8%

74.7%

0.8%

1.1%

Total QSO’s

319

5458

5777

3.9%

0.3%

17.7%

73.5%

3.9%

0.7%

DXCC entities worked: 98

Further Details:

 

Senegambia Beach Hotel: www.senegambiahotel.com , Tel – +220 462717 /8/9

GAMTEL contact: Mr Sita Ceesay – sita@gamtel.gm, Tel – +220 229296

The Gambia Experience:  www.gambia.co.uk