Truth be told - on the way OUT of 7O6T, we all flew (except JT1CO) from
Socotra to Yemen at the same time. Arriving in Sanaa about 6PM, Karina
had a bus waiting and we all went together across the parking lot to
pack our stuff into the bus.
She said (since some flights were at 0430AM the next morning - mine was
1010AM) - that we all should go to a hotel, have a meal together, then
get some rest in a hotel room - for the long flights home. Her driver
would make several early AM runs back to the airport, and we all thought
this was a good idea.
We drove and drove and drove - finally entering the OLD CITY of Sanaa
with super narrow streets, winding turns, and some really shady looking
types peering into the bus windows as we went at 3MPH down some of the
narrowest streets imaginable.
(One guy - I forget who it was - muttered "OK, here we go BLACK HAWK
DOWN!" We all laughed but it was a NERVOUS LAUGH to be sure!)
K3LP asked if we were driving to CAIRO - and I agreed as it was at least
an hour from the airport and I had no idea where the HELL where we were
or what our final destination was going to be.
We FINALLY stopped in front of what was a hotel that looked like a
house- and in fact it was a 600 year old hotel replete with oriental
rugs, wood floors - a tower restaurant and we all took something like an
hour to check in.
Karina then said - "OK guys we will get back on the bus and go to dinner......."
Inwardly I said, NO FRIGGIN WAY - Miriam told me NOT TO TAKE STUPID RISKS and I really am NOT going to do this one - no way!
I politely said NO, I preferred not to go - and DIMA RA9USU came over and said "So ZM, you are a scared rabbit - yes?"
I said "Dima - just tell me where you want me to send the flowers when I
hear on the news that all you guys were blown up in about an hour!"
Dima found this all very amusing but I noticed that K3LP and WD5COV also
declined to go back out into those narrow streets again after dark
(that bus was a perfect target - and I wanted NONE of that - it just was
not worth it...I wasn't that hungry!!!!)
So I checked into my room and called Dave and he and WD5COV and I all
went up to the tower restaurant overlooking the city and we had a great,
relaxed and SAFE meal. Around 11PM the guys did come back unharmed and
I was glad to see them back safe again - but I still did not regret for
a second the choice I had made. Especially when I read that NY Times
headline this morning.
A FEW WORDS AS TO HOW THINGS WORKED AT 7O6T
Dima was the master scheduler - each day he made up a matrix showing CALL, LOCATION and OPERATING ASSIGNMENT.
(Now remember, I arrived TOTALLY EXHAUSTED in Socotra at 5:30PM after
two full days on the road - took a shower, got a shave and a bowl of
soup and then went out to the ocean to do a 14 hour shift on 160M with
RL3FT. After 3 hours in the sack the next morning, I was on the air
again before 4PM and shifts were usually 8 hours ON with 4 hours off -
but sometimes it was 12 hours ON with 4 hours off. Thus we were TOTALLY
BRAIN DEAD most of the time we were there - and the TEAM MEMBERS
usually only had 10 minutes together each day - 5 at breakfast, and 5 at
dinner time - there was NO LUNCH.
Thus I really had little quality time to get to know anyone else really -
except for DIMA who was reminding me all the time that I was late for
my next shift!!!!!
I did know JT1CO from PIRIN FIELD last summer in LZ - and he is one neat
guy - all he wanted to know every time I saw him was whether I had
worked K4ZW and JA1BK on Topband yet??? He was delighted the time I told
him I had worked both of them on 160M.
Yuri RL3FT and I spent the most time together - and he is a young talented operator - with a good command of English.
One guy I had only read about on ON4KST was David WD5COV from far
western New Mexico. I found his company great fun and he asked me if I
had really written DX'ing on the Edge - as he was a died in the wool
Topband Dx'er with something like 238 from New Mexico - uising a full
sized 4 square array.
I hardly got to know the Russians (and never met RA3AUU/UA3AB/R7LV and
N6PSE) - as they departed on the plane that we arrived in - so we were
their relief - the 3 other UA guys who were there usually hung out
together at meals and we chatted only now and then - but what they most
wanted to know was why I chose to live in a place like Franz Josef
Land???!!!!! I explained and they all just laughed - but if they had
heard the VE1ZZ signal on Topband, well, perhaps that might have made it
all clear for them - RM2M asked me the same thing as we left - and I
gave him a different answer - I said "Because EY8MM is 599, UA9MA is
599, EX2M is 599 and you can hear GM3POI all the time in January on
In the end, I think there was a still a lack of real understanding - chalk that one up to cultural differences I suppose.....
I roomed with Andy LZ2HM who flew in with K3LP and me - we found him in
our waiting room at the Dubai airport and neither Dave nor I even knew
he was coming. Since I had operated with him at LZ PIRIN FIELD last
July, and had hung out with him at WRTC 2006 in Brazil, I knew him
pretty well and he lives near the giant M/M superstation at LZ9W in
Bulgaria. A young guy and a damned good operator - 160m - to 6M at his
By now perhaps it is clear to you folks reading this that:
1) This was a GRIND from start to finish
2) The co-leaders wanted RATE RATE RATE and MORE RATE
3) A constant comparison was made daily against VP6DX/3B7C and other
major dxpeditions - and the team co-leaders wanted to finish as close to
the top as we could get in 14 days with 10 ops on the ground at a time -
I of course wanted to help but 160m is not a RATE BAND.
4) There was damned little time to read emails - and when there was time, the damned internet did not work!
5) People who wrote me asking for skeds probably thought I was ignoring
them or rude or worse - but I had only a few minutes each day for such
pleasantries - and on some days I could not even gain access long enough
in order to write home to my wife!
6) I did try for skeds with K9FD, several JA friends and ZL3IX - some
skeds worked - others did not - one or two were very unfortunate NEAR
MISSES with no acceptable qso resulting - despite real attempts to make
it a go on special listening QRG's
7) I blew the one chance I had to work Raoul ZS1REC - and I really felt
bad when I listened to a tape of me calling CQ NA only and off to the
side I distinctly heard (two days later .S1REC, .S1REC .S1REC and blew
it off thinking it was a European caller ignoring my directed CQ to NA.
I feel really badly about this one because I did keep up with ON4KST
chat when I could and saw that Raoul had said he had heard me and had
called for quite some time with no cigar. Again, Raoul - I am so sorry I
did not work you - that one was my error to be sure - I thought it was
an S51 or something and was not really paying attention when you called
in. - You were off to the side too and I was listening hard to weak NA
signals at the time - I feel so badly about that one....
8) I never heard a peep from VK3ZL (my cousin Robert Briggs) - who said
he called most every day at his SR - but I never could even tell he was
WHICH LEADS me now to the night of 14 May (15May by zulu)
MY LAST NIGHT out at the BEACH
On the 12th/13th - I saw that my nightly total on Topband was somewhat
down from the day before - and since I had not done any 80 at all up to
that point, I got pulled aside by Yuri - who suggested (politely) that
we had a chance for the #4 or #5 all time DX pedition qso total - and
that it might be advisable after looking for JA on 160M - for me to go
down to 80M from 1930z until 2400z. He noted I had worked about 20
stations the last time during this period - and I realized I may have
been a bit too 160m oriented (my first love and primary objective) - but
that perhaps I had overdone it in my zeal to work the marginal stations
- so I mixed it up the last night.
I got out there right at sunset and listened hard for K9FD - Merv heard pieces of me but no cigar.
Same story with Zl3IX - we both heard each other - but not at the same
time - and even though it was close - Greg felt it was not enough to
call it a good one. He did not hear the report I sent him - and I do
not recall hearing him send me a report but I did copy his call.
After that I worked RA0FF and several UA0's and then it was time for JA.
LET's TALK ABOUT JA (or lack thereof).
It was truly DEPRESSING to try to work JA. I looked at a map and it
seemed JA was no futher away from 7O than the NA mid-west was - yet JA
signals were almost all BELOW my noise level.
I tried PREAMP 1 ON, PREAMP 2 ON, ATTENUATOR ON, AGC OFF - JA BEV IN - EU BEV IN - LISTEN on the XMIT antenna - nothing worked.
The first time I tried for JA - I barely copied JR7VHZ, and JA1BK and about 3-4 more went into the log.
Right at JA Sunrise, I could hear many calling at about RST 119 to 129. A good JA signal was about RST 229 at best.
JA8ISU called me for hours that first day and NO QSO - I never even heard Kaz.
I had JH0BB? in my sights but did not realize it was JH0BBE until he
wrote me an email that evening asking me if it was a good one. (It was
JH7PFD wrote to thank me for the qso and I had to write back to advise that I had not even heard him at all. I said try again.
So here it was - 1730z on my last night and I was determined to work some JA's.
I do not remember them all but I did work JA8ISU, JH4UYB, JH7PFD,
JA5FXK, JA3ONB and quite a few other JA calls not known to me - and I
think they were not busts - I think I had about 20 JA's in all - with
several from the JA6 call area quite late in fact (1940z or so).
After JA SR had occurred, I trekked out to the antenna to switch the antenna over to 3.52 for 80M CW and then headed there.
Mind you, it was a LONG walk to the antenna over large ROCKS, spare
tires on the beach, other rubble and it was hard to see even with a
flashlight and I was ALONE.
It took about 10 mins time out and back and then it took me 5 mins to
change bands and get set up again. This is why I had not moved to 80M
before - I was afraid of making a mistake and if I blew something up,
well it was TOODLES - there was no one to ask for help to bail you out!
I got to 80 and ran JA for awhile - then EUROPEANS - the two bevs were
quite directive - JA's were no copy on the EU bev and EU stations were
barely audible on the JA beverage.
I wound up staying down there for about 2.5 hours on 80CW and managed to put 250 CW qso's on 80 into the log.
Then I decided to take the walk out to the antenna again to switch it
over to 3.750. Again there was about a 12 minute transition to get all
set up again.
I had some real trouble getting that damned K3 so it would produce
UNDERSTANDABLE SSB signals that MY EARS could process - I never found a
setting that sounded like my FT1000D - but I found settings (eventually)
where I could at least understand most signals and on a wild hunch I
set up on 3799. I called CQ for 5 mins and finally a SV3 answered me.
He was good and loud and I thought "OK - so where is EVERYBODY ELSE???"
I asked him to SPOT me and within 30 seconds the roof fell in on me!
That created a JAGOON pileup and I stopped the pile and decided to go
split. I started listening 3780-3795 and soon had to go 3770-3795.
The pile was so thick that at first I still had trouble understanding
ANYONE - especially since we all had turned the AGC off on all the K3's -
something about not having the latest version of the AGC download - I
dunno as the K3 is NOT my radio of choice - but slowly I started
adjusting my ears to what was coming out of that K3 - and the rate
started moving up dramatically.
For some reason, guys all piled up on 3770 and 3795. I kept asking them
to spread out and when a few SMART ones did, they went quickly into the
log. OH6NIO called me and he was 4/4 but he was on a CLEAR frequency
and solid copy - so too were stations from the UK who were 30 db down
from the Italian callers - who, for some reason, were incredibly LOUD
over there on both 160M and 80M.
I stuck with SSB for more than 3 hours and about 2330z VY2RU Ken called
in from PEI - soon followed by his wife ELLA who is VY2PEI.
I forget who was first from NA thereafter - I know K1FZ and N1RJ were
near the start of the opening and I started listening for NA 3799 QSX on
3787 I think. W1QS John Lawrence called in and said "YOU KNOW WHO THIS
IS?"" And since I grew up with John and had had lunch with him in
Maine on the way down (and he too knew I was going to 7O) - I told him
"Wow - you are more than as S unit over the pile which had now stretched
down to MD/VA and Eastern PA.)
I worked NA exclusively for 45 mins and then had a gut wrenching decision to make:
1) I noticed I had worked 250 stations on 80 CW and had picked up the
rate so that I had now worked 500 SSB stations in less than 3 hours on
2) It was almost 0030z and I prayed that 160m might again produce another good opening for an hour or so
3) I knew if I left 75 phone that guys further west would miss out - so I flipped a coin and it was qsy to 1824.6 again
I made the trek out to the antenna one more time and set up again on 1824.6
In that I was really spent by this time, my motor functions were quite
labored but I got it together and was QRV on topband again.
I think VE1ZZ called in again - but OH CRAP - he was much weaker - only 569/579 at this time.
>From there onward, it was grunt and groan - but a few good things
happened. I did work a few guys who really needed me still including
N4RJ/K5UR/VE3CSK and about 15 more NA stations.
When the signals again went STAR WARS around 0152z - I kept calling cq
and I could hear guys in there still calling - but by then all I could
mentally deal with was a bunch of echo/doppler shift and flutter.
The sun again popped up out of the ocean between the two freighters again - and my stint on the lowbands at 7O6T was history.
In the end I think 229 NA stations were worked - I truly wish I could
have done more - I had pieces of AT LEAST 50 other calls but they got
away from me - Mainly because they were callsigns I had never heard on
I noticed that many of the calls I logged were stations that are not
160M regulars at all - guys like K1BD/AA1V/many W2's and W3's I do not
recall hearing on the band at all - but they all came down to Topband on
May 11th and many of them got into the log by calling away from the
THAT LAST MORNING was a KILLER!
Normally, Aisa, Abdullah's brother, would come to collect me at 0730 AM.
Since sunrise was at 0502 local time, I would spend two hours lying on
the sand on a mattress and try to sleep. But once the sun was up,
temps went from 88F to 110F within minutes - and I found myself sitting
in a POOL of SWEAT until Aisa got there - and sleep was not particularly
easy to come by in that kind of setting when you are soaking wet!.
About 8AM Aisa, Yuri, Alexy and one other UA showed up and Yuri said we had to take all the stuff down which took about an hour.
I wanted to go back to the hotel and crash - but the rest of the guys
wanted to swim and then go out for a BOAT RIDE with one of the local
I politely smiled, loaded up Aisa's TOYOTA land cruiser with all the
gear they had assembled - while they were out on the ocean - and then
just sat in the shade until around 0930 when they all came back in. I
would normally have loved to take a swim - and go on the boat ride - but
it was so FRIGGIN HOT and I felt like CRAP - that I do not think I
would have enjoyed it very much personally.
On the way in we stopped at Aisa's home to off load the generator, Yuri
gave him my operating table lamp and the FAN from our operating position
and we took a tour of Abdullah's and Aisa's home.
Socotran families live for the most part in simple open concrete and
cinder block homes with several rooms - rooms are open to the air on one
side usually - with windows but no glass - and a walled in compound.
Most have goats (and I will tell you some goat stories in the next
A typical Socotran family has 20 children and several generations all
live together in the compound. Since most Yemeni women are required to
wear complete cover when out in town, I did notice that Aisa's sister
was uncovered since that is allowed at home and she was the only Yemeni
woman I saw without full cover - and she was beautiful! We were told
that it is forbidden to take photos of Yemeni women - that is a real NO
Finally, after the stop over at Aisa;s - I thought I was almost going to
be back in my room with good A/C - but Yuri wanted to drop off our gear
at the Taj Socotra (which was not the CW hotel where I slept) - as soon
as they went inside I asked Aisa to drop me down the street and then
come back in 5 mins for them - as I could no longer stand it any more!
I got into the Summerland lobby - wolfed down some OJ, a few pancakes
& some vegetables and then hit the sack. (Dima would awaken me at
4PM for my last stint on HF - but all I could think about at that point
was getting HORIZONTAL and fast!)
I did run into DIMA and K3LP in the lobby of the Summerland Hotel and
they asked me "So how did it go? Did you actually make some qso's out
there last night? I smiled inwardly and said - "Yeah guys - it was a
good night - I got 250 on 80CW, 500 on 80SSB and 50 on 160M - total of
800.......howz that grab you?
They were a bit surprised to say the least - and I knew I had partially
redeemed myself for my prior night's performance of around 140 total all
in on 160M - I hit the sack feeling as if I had DONE GOOD in the eyes
of my peers - remember - their objective was RATE and overall 7O6T qso
total. Mine was to work the boys on topband - and somehow we managed an
acceptable harmonization in the end.....
I will comment on the FOOD and the GOATS in the next segment.