I promised to relate the 7O6T story as I have time to do so and tonight I
will begin the process. I'll do it with a series of segments as it
would take a very long message to do it in one fell swoop.
I attended VISALIA for the first time at the end of April and, while
there, I saw Hrane Milosovic YT1AD, Paul Ewing N6PSE and Dave Collingham
K3LP all speak from the dais at the Saturday night banquet. Little did
I know at the time that each of them had just been secretly advised
hours earlier that final approvals for a gov't approved license for 7O
had just been relayed to them from Dima RA9USU.
HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?
It seems that a large measure of the credit for securing approvals for
this operation goes to RA9USU who travelled to Sanaa several times over
the past two years. A new government and some fresh thinking among
ministers led to a few cracks in what for a very long time was a shut
door. Others like JY1 King Hussein, OH2BH and A61AJ had tried in the
past to secure a license and permits to come operate from Yemen and all
had been turned down in the past. But this time there was good news!
It was expected that the window of opportunity was likely to be late May
or early June - but out of the blue, the word arrived that it was a GO
from May 1 to May 15th 2100z to 2100z exactly - and there was damned
little time to get ready on such short notice.
A team had been quietly assembled including - 8 Russians, 4 Americans,
JT1CO one LZ and one YU - and you should note that I was not on this
HOW and WHY DID I GO?
Like everyone else, just prior to 01 May I opened my Daily DX and read
the announcement - and almost fell out of my chair. I read over the
list of operators and it sure looked like the familiar names that I have
often seen going out together to YI9PSE/ST0R and other places recently.
One name curiously was MISSING - this crew did not include Krassy
I let it go initially but a day later I decided to contact Krassy. I
called him up and said "Hey buddy - I see all the boys are going over to
7O and this one surely looks like it should have your name all over it -
how come you are NOT going?"
I should have kept my mouth shut as I was saddened by the answer I
received "Jeff - I was supposed to go on this one to do the lowbands -
but my older daughter Zoe just had cancer surgery and I have to stay
here in order to be with her. I got the news of this while at JT5DX for
WPX SSB and it has occupied all my time ever since then. But how
would you like to go in my place if I can arrange it?"
Now - this was quite an offer - and I had already planned to go to K1ZM
in Mass in order to work the boys for my own 160M DXCC. In fact I was
planning on leaving the next day for the US so I gave it some real
consideration. Also, one of the co-leaders was K3LP whom I had
accompanied a year earlier to Palawan on the way to DX0DX - Spratly -
and since I knew Krassy would start with Dave for approval, it seemed as
if I might be granted permission to join the team. I asked my wife and
told Krassy to contact K3LP.
That is how it started. David contacted RA3AUU Harry - and three
things were in my own personal CRITICAL PATH in order to make this one
1) I needed approval from K3LP, RA3AUU and RA9USU
2) They needed to get me a Yemeni VISA (like ASAP)
3) I needed to find a REASONABLE airfare to get there and back - one that was not going to totally break my budget
It was a YES from Harry and David. Harry asked his support team in
Sanaa (Karina) to work with me to get the VISA and I had to send over my
US passport pages and my license. It turns out the license was not
needed - only the passport was really necessary.
Meantime, I asked David to send me his exact itinerary - because I
wanted to DUPLICATE it if I could. Since 7O is not necessarily a
routine destination for Americans these days, I preferred to travel WITH
K3LP - so each of us could enter Yemen together. My wife actually was
quite insistent on this aspect for my being allowed to go from HER SIDE!
A few hours on PRICELINE.com allowed me to find what I needed for a
great price - but then I needed to figure out how to get from Sanaa to
Socotra. I spoke with David and Karina by email and it seems there is
something called FELIX Air which does the routing between Sanaa and
Socotra - and by a minor miracle there was seating on David's flights in
and out of Sanaa to Socotra and return. It was actually starting to
I left on a Friday at 0200 from PEI and stopped on the way at K1LZ in
order to see if I could work 7O6T that next evening. Then I spent a
night on Cape Cod to prepare.
Initially I wanted to bring a few accessories that might be needed for 160M including:
My ANC4 Noise Canceller
My Bose noise cancelling headphones
A Beverage Xfmr
A beverage termination
A 160M Preamp
Some interconnecting cables
Some coaxial adapters
An email from RA3AUU quicky dashed these ideas as it read "Jeff - don't
bring anything related to ham radio - and DO NOT bring your FCC license
either. Doing so risks deportation, incarceration or confiscation!
Repeat - bring NOTHING except your clothes and when you and K3LP arrive,
all you say is that you are on HOLIDAYS and you are staying at the
SUMMERLAND HOTEL in Hadibo, Socotra - I cannot emphasize enough the
importance of your doing EXACTLY what I say - and nothing else - you got
Meanwhile - Karina had written saying she would have my VISA the next
day - and send it to me via email. I would pay for it on arrival in
Sanaa and she booked me on the same FELIX air flights as K3LP. I left
the next morning heading South stopping in NYC for lunch with my father
in law and a short supper with my daughter in Philadelphia. I called
Jon AA1K and asked if I could spend a night there - en route to
Dulles/DC airport from which K3LP and I would fly out the next evening.
It was good of Jon Zaimes to put me up and I listened to the 7O6T signal
at his place that night. Jon hears extremely well from his place -
7O6T was good copy for almost an hour and Jon let me call from there -
and after listening to R7LV answer K1Z? for 10 mins and then get
confused as to who he had worked - well I wasn't at all sure if I had a
qso or not - but there was no time to worry about that until another
day. I actually printed out my VISA at Jon's house that night and now I
was finally QRV with all the necessary paperwork in order to make the
trip - yippee!
I left the next morning for Maryland and VA - and since I had some time
on my hands, I looked up W3UR's place on mapquest and dropped in on
Bernie who was finalizing his Weekly DX. He was busy but had a few
minutes and I told him where I was going and my plans as to what to
expect from me on 160M once I got there. I asked him and Jon to keep a
lid on my participation because after the DX0DX fiasco, I just wanted a
bit less pressure on me - just in case this did not go well.....
I hooked up with K3LP for a dinner meal at Dulles and both of us
immediately came to the same conclusion - that 7O6T had one fairly
serious design flaw in its configuration. Since 80m and 160M shared the
same antenna, it was not possible to do BOTH bands at the same time.
Also, there was RX noise at the Summerland Hotel - and there was also
station interaction when xmitting on the lowbands - which locked up
keyboards at at least two other operating positions when 80M was keying.
OUCH! This is not roger at all......
A NEW PLAN ARISES
While we were travelling, the boys on site realized they needed to make
some changes and even as we were in the air, the team was moving the
80m/160M vertical from atop the Summerland Hotel to a remote site on the
beach - 13km from town on a totally isolated beach - with a fantastic
shot to EU/NA and JA - and while primitive at best - it could be managed
complete with two 600 foot beverages - one on EU/USA and one aimed at
JA. Both looked out over the open ocean and there was NO NOISE out
there - in fact the nearest ANYTHING was about 5km from this site.
We were not aware of this move until we landed in DUBAI and checked out our emails.
FACT AND FICTION
Contrary to what appeared on ON4KST, there was NO ON LINE INTERNET
anywhere at 7O6T's operating positions. Poor service existed only in
the lobby of the Summerland Hotel. There was no SKYPE and connections
were abysmal at best to say the least.
The CW and SSB operating positions were 600m apart - and could not talk
to each other - so when people started asking " Hey what about RTTY or
10M Moonbounce etc etc - these requests could not be accomodated. We
could not talk to each other and out at the beach there was NOTHING. No
electricity save for one small generator - no food - no real place to
sleep - and it was nearly 100 degrees in the day and close to 90F at
night. Operation out there was from a small bunker - it did have a roof
and open windows - with mattresses on the sand for sleeping. If you
did not remember to bring a roll of toilet paper with you out there,
well you were SOL (literally) - if you got caught short!
Also while we were enroute, the team put a second 80m vertical atop the
Summerland roof - but it too trashed the other positions - so the
Dxpedition never could again operate the lowbands from in town in HADIBO
- 80m and 160M operations shared the same antenna out at the beach -
which meant operation on 80 was at the expense of 160M and vice versa
for the remainder of the expedition.
OUR ROUTE IN
It was Dulles/IAD to Frankfurt - then a short layover in FKFT and on to
DUBAI with about a 6 hour layover. Dave and I hung out in a wine
cellar, had a meal and checked out EMAILS for news.
We learned that R7LV and UA3AB had had a better night on the lowbands
out at the beach and that the new site seemed to work far better than
having the antenna at the SUMMERLAND HOTEL.
I am not sure what they were able to do into NA on Topband - what I was
aware of FOR SURE were only a handful of QSO's made with
W4ZV/K8PO/K4SV/N4IS/K1UO and perhaps one or two more. VY2ZM was in the
log but not yet VE1ZZ....
ARRIVAL IN SANAA
Dave and I arrived in the early AM in Sanaa - our flight out was delayed
two hours but we used the time for a guided tour with Karina of the
sights of the 2.5 million inhabitant capital city since we had some time
to kill. I really liked our driver and I asked him about Al QUAEDA in
Yemen. His reply surprised me when he said "WE HATE THOSE GUYS....If I
ever ran across one I will kill him!"
So I asked "Okay, I know why we Americans don't like them - why do you hate them?"
Again I was surprised by his logic "He said Jeff - we are a poor country
but we are trying to improve. Those guys just want to bring us down.
They are not real Islam - and they aren't doing us any good at all!"
I came away with a new perspective - here was a young guy who GETS IT -
so there is hope in that part of the world going forward,,,,,
ARRIVAL in SOCOTRA
We flew out of Sanaa on an Embraer regional jet making a short stopover
in MUKALLA in NE Yemen (near OMAN). From there it was a 90 minute hop
to Socotra and from the air one could see it is a LARGE ISLAND - over
100 miles long in fact. Larger than Bahrain A92 even.
Our driver Abdullah met us at the airport with a 7O6T tee shirt on - and
it started to rain. On the drive in we saw a lovely rainbow as it was
close to sunset. Upon arrival at the SUMMERLAND Hotel, I took off my
stinking clothes - had a shave and a shower - and Dave and I looked up
RA9USU who was our team leader at supper. Dave and I pleaded with Dima
to let me go out to the beach to join RL3FT who was operating out there
Dima was at first reluctant - but in the end said OKAY for ONE NIGHT
only as it was not efficient to have two operators out there - since all
the bands were open all night long - and they needed one of us in town
after that - but for one night only it was okay.
Abdullah's brother took Dima and me out to the beach site and we arrived
just as the sun was setting. I got a tour of the antenna, the
operating position - walked the beverages and had a short
meeting/planning session with Yuri RL3FT who is one of the mainstays at
RL3A in Moscow and a WRTC competitor at boot - he is a great operator -
and fortunately we knew each other from Moscow 2010.
Yuri was gracious about letting me join him but rejected Dima's request
that he go back into the city - he really wanted to stay out there and
operate the lowbands (which was understandable) - so my suggestion that
we do it together that first night seemed to win the day and that's how
it went that first night. So basically we shared operations/split time
together and one keyed with the other listening sidecar on a second of
phones - I enjoyed pulling familiar calls out of the noise and that
seemed to work well - it was a good teamwork approach to getting some NA
into the log. There was no second chair - so I sat atop a suitcase with
a pillow on it and by morning - my butt and back were pretty sore - but
0000Z Arrives - The band was open to EU and near Asia from sunset until
NA time - about 2345z it is possible to hear VE1ZZ and sure enough, Jack
called in with a rock crushing signal - which sets the stage for the
rest of NA to follow - if there is going to be any opening at all.
About 0010z the first American signals appeared and they were BEYOND
WEAK. I have all of this on file and even listening again and again to
the signals, I can barely detect W3UR/AA1K/W3BGN/AA1V/N1IW and others
who made it into the log that first night. Basically, there is VE1ZZ
who is consistently 589/599 - and then THERE IS EVERYBODY ELSE!
I think we worked 29 NA stations in all - with the last being K1GUN/W1JR
and KV4FZ who I copied at least 10 times that initial night. Most
signals were 349 to 449 to 549. - with maybe one or two peaking to 559
for a second or two.
WHAT IT SOUNDED LIKE
Signals had doppler shift on them, a pulsating kind of fading and as
sunrise neared - well it is almost impossible to put into words - you
just have to listen to it to appreciate what it was really like.
Signals do NOT weaken and then fade out. They become TRANSPARENT as if a
human form were to do a LAP DISSOLVE INTO INVISIBILITY and they start
sounding like they are coming from outer space - with all kinds of echo
on them to boot.
In the moments before true SR (which I could see out on the ocean as the
sun rose between two freighters which was kinda neat), you could hear
plenty of 229 CW but to get a callsign out of that noise just was
impossible - at least for me. Signals sounded near normal until about
0145z but after that, only a few miracle contacts took place with NA0Y
and K0LW (both in Missouri) who were worked right as the sun popped out
of the ocean.