SØ7WW : Journal of the June '98 trip

DX-pedition to Western Sahara - SØ7WW by ON4WW

Being stationed in West Algeria close to the border with the Western Sahara, I had the opportunity to travel to the Republica Arabe Saharaui Democratica.
My ultimate thanks for the first SØ7WW operation goes to Julio, EA5XX, Mulay, SØ1M, El Arbie and Mohamed Mehdi. Without them this event would not have been possible.
Obtaining the SØ7WW license went smoothly through the help of these people.
One day, El Arbie and Mohamed Mehdi, both operators at SØRASD, showed up at my work location with the Saharui license, written in Spanish. We communicated in a mixed language consisting of French, Spanish, English and Arabic. After explanation that my equipment hadn't arrived yet, they kindly loaned me a TS-440, an electronic keyer and a 9m telescopic mast. I was also missing my interface cable for transmitting CW from the keyboard. One word was enough for them to produce this cable at once (on4un kindly provided the pin layout) ! A broadband dipole was available for 10 to 80m band. I bought some wire locally and made an inv-L for 160m with six radials, each 16m long.
All this was done with the idea one day the trip could be made to SØ-land. And it happened. We had to make a six day working trip from 7X through 5T to S0.
On 20 June 1998 all equipment, food, water, and other necessities were loaded into and onto the 4x4 vehicles. Early morning Sunday the 21st we set off. The trip to Bir Lahlou normally takes about five hours, but due to our workload along the road, it took us 14 hours. During a stopover in S0-land, I couldn't resist and worked five stations on 15m SSB, S58AL being the first in the SØ7WW log.
We continued the trip and arrived dead tired after 20h local time at famous Bir Lahlou. I managed to persuade some people in helping me to set up the mast and antennas. The 160m inv-L was too low in frequency, my calculations were right, because I made it too long just to be on the safe side. A cutter and a good guess later, the antenna was resonant on 1827.5 KHz, hurray ! After a meal (forget about the shower, the long awaited moment to activate S0 in full, was in sight), and installing the rest of the equipment, take off was at 2134z on 17m CW, AD1C being the first one in the log that evening. At 23z a quick jump to 30 and 160m was made with QSL manager ON5NT. Some others made it as well that go on 160m, output was 100W, not to talk about losses in the antennasystem...! A great feeling, knowing it would be possible to log some more later on. At 2315z a run was done on 30m, and at 0050z on 40m CW. Around 0250z three more were logged on 160m., returning afterwards to 30m until 0423z. The big hammer had hit me several times before, but this time I had to close my eyes. I slept on the floor 'on' my sleeping bag, staying close to the so dear equipment. During the pileups I had noticed a scorpion running around the place, disappearing near my bag and equipment boxes. Never knew if he paid me a visit when asleep; if he did, he must have appreciated me being tired and left me alone. One and a half hour later, the alarm went off, time to take down the antennes, mast and pack the equipment. A shower was allowed this time, just before hitting the road again. Our trip took us further into SØ-land. The next place we stopped overnight, I felt the big hammer still pounding my head, and decided to hit the sack. The following day, some more road was covered, but we arrived early afternoon at our destination. No mercy for the assistants. Several pleas were made to wait until the sun would be lower to put up the antenna system, but time was too much limited to delay any further. Under a burning desert sun, we put up the mast and antennas. My tongue felt dry like leather, and I had to drink and drink again, and rest for half an hour, before hitting the bands again at 1430z, this time on 15m CW. At 1500z, 12m yielded some Qs, and 10m was tried at 1530z. From there it went back to 12, 17, 30 and 40m. At 0055z on request we went to 12m, to find the band marginally open to NA. At 01z some more were logged on 160m, returning to 12m at 0115z for NA. After that run, back to 40 and later 20m, until 0240z when 80m yielded some Qs in a 15min run. Back to 20 until the 05z sked for NA on 160m, six made it in the log. At that time I had a power problem, output being only 60 W ! Hit the sack for three hours, back on the road. This time the antennas could stay up, as we would stay overnight on the same spot.
After the day's work, fired up at 1745z on 12m. Propagation and requests took us from there to 10, 15, 17, 20, 80, 20, 160 (at 22z), 30, 40, 160 (at 00z), 20, 80 until 0034z, when it was BIG hammer time again. The hammer made me sleep through my alarm clocks tingeling, which made I missed the 05z sked for NA. At 0550z the eyelids decided to start appreciate daylight and at 0554z 20m was activated until 0601z (hi), when the antennas had to come down again. Hit the road, Jack. Well, not really as in the song, sure I am welcome to return anytime.
So we returned to Bir Lahlou, where we put up the antennas for the last time in this operation. At 1920z the excursion through frequencyland took us from 15, 20, 15, 160 without any succes at 22z, 17m back to 160m at 23z, where only SM5EDX was logged after which the sh.t hit the fan. An intermittent power output problem occured just after the Q with him. I could hear lots of EU calling, but had to find a solution to the nil output first. Armed with only a screwdriver, I opened the 440 looking for loose contacts. Nothing appeared to be faulty in that rig. Then I remembered we made a quite nasty shute with the 4x4 that day and I had found the bag where the power supply was kept in, upside down in the vehicle. Maybe that was it ? Yes it was ! I opened the PS, but had no tools whatsoever to fix the problem. However the screwdriver kept things going, hitting the box whenever the output dropped. A la guerre comme à la guerre.
NE8Z made the following remark :"It almost sounded like he was running off of a small generator...I could hear it spit up from time to time...it threw an exotic sound to his CW!!! HI It brought back memories of 3B8CF out at VQ8CFB in the late 60's with his DX40 XMTR and long wires up in the trees". That was before my time Rick, but sure enjoyed reading your comment.
At 2330z I was back on the air, but the EU topband gang had left. Back to 20m, with another try in between on 160 at 00z, without luck. Then 30 till 0134z. Hammer time. No sign of the scorpion this night. Sked for NA this time was at 0530z, did make it fortunately for WD4JRA and K3JJG, who were the last two NA in the log on topband.
40, 30, 20, 30, 40, 20 and 17 after that until 0657z, antenna break down time. On July 7th we made another short trip to S0, where activity was only for an hour in SSB on 17, 12 and 15m bands.
In 30 hours of operating time, a total of 3.193 Qs were made, with the following breakdown (without dupes):
160 cw : 40 - 80 cw : 29 - 40 cw : 375 - 30 cw : 564 - 20 cw : 559
20 ssb : 3 - 17 cw : 698 - 17 ssb : 125 - 15 cw : 359 - 15 ssb : 34 - 12 cw : 320 -
12 ssb : 28 - 10 cw : 38.
I would like to share some remarks on things I noticed during this operation.
Using CT software with the laptop hooked up to the transceiver for CW transmission, I repeated my callsign after every QSO, and indicated qsx UP. This takes down the rate of Qs a bit, but on the other hand I never noticed any deliberate jamming. What could help from the deserving end to speed up the rate is the following :
· give your callsign only once when calling in a pileup. A lot of people give their call 2, sometimes 3 times. Very frustrating to have a callsign on your screen after the first call, and not being able to make the Q immediately.
· always give your full callsign. Even in CW this bad habit of partial calls made its entree.
· when you hear the DX copied your call correct the first time, do not repeat your call again when you return to him/her, just give a report.
· In this case I was using CT logging software, and a 59 or 599 is preferred to a 'real' report. Real reports are fine in a normal QSO, but when time is limited as in this operation, it is better to give the 599. Why ? Because once your call is copied correctly, I usually press ENTER and try to listen for a next call. When I hear you give me 579, I go up again to the previous line, use TAB to correct your report, and attention is diverted from copying the next caller in the pileup. Bottom line here is that your real report takes time away and frustrates the time limited operator. I do appreciate however if a 'real' RST is given under normal QSO conditions, don't misread me, it just takes time away for me 'personally' when using logging software, this observation is probably not applicable to other operators.
· Giving just an RST report is sufficient. Some people like to exchange something like : s07ww de xx0xxx, ur rst 599 599, 73 es gl de xx0xxx tu. Sorry guys, but you are taking time away for two or three additional Qs. This I consider not very good operating practice to work an expedition, although I can appreciate your accuracy and good wishes.

Usually I give QSL info every 5 minutes, but due to the very limited time in this operation, I did it every 10 minutes. Rarely got any question about qsl info; internet, packet and other means are doing a great job here. At one stage, the CW interface cable went faulty. No spare parts at hand, so I used the borrowed electronic keyer with which I was not familiar. Being very tired didn't help avoiding keying mistakes, but the Saharui key sure kept the Qs going. However, I did not give my call after every Q compared to when using laptop keying, mostly said TU UP. Due to lack of time, tiredness, etc...I didn't precise the split window.
At one time, I started SSB on 17m, but decided to go back to CW as most of todays SØ operations are in SSB, as far as I know.
I hope to go back, maybe also activate Mauritania. August, September, unknown at this time.
Those who have been there, can appreciate the difficult environmental conditions the Saharui people are living in. To give you an idea, beginning of July we measured 53 degrees Celsius, in the shade. While we appreciate the comfort of air conditioners at work and in the vehicles, they cannot. The hospitality and friendly reception they convey time after time to visitors, is admirable and food for thought for the crazy rush-rush world most of us live in today.
In all, this first SØ7WW operation has been a wonderful experience. I loved it and hope you enjoyed it too. Further thanks go to the Saharaui people, all of you for the Qs, Ghis, John and last (which should be first) but not least, my dear wife and son.
73 - Mark - SØ7WW/ON4WW

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