D66D: Expedition to Comoros Islands
Beautiful scenery, emerald sea, beaches with white sands and sun rays falling among the leaves of the palm trees while watching the sunset. Villa a few meters from the sea and this is a perfect work of nature, which are engraved in the memory forever. Friendly citizens and our two weeks (amateur radio) paradise are Comoros Islands.
To complete the picture, it lacks a bit of geography and history. Comoros Islands are actually an archipelago, consisting of four volcanic islands and several smaller islets and rocks – greatest of them Grande Comore with the capital Moroni. The official center of the island earned its name „in the heart of the fire“ for the active volcano and also the highest point of the archipelago. Comoros is located in the Mozambique Channel in the Indian Ocean.
Although references and records of settlements are dating back to the 6th century, the Portuguese first occupied islands in 1503. The more than three centuries later the French declared supremacy over the archipelago. Administrative assignment to 5R was carried out in 1912. In 1978, thanks to a referendum, proclaimed the Comorian archipelago neutrality. The only island that remains under the dominion of France is Mayotte. Unfortunately, as in Africa and elsewhere-customary independence of the Comoros Islands kicked off the era of wars and struggles for power and control in the country. Since the granting of independence was already twenty revolution attempts.
How it all began?
The first idea to go on an expedition to the Comoros Islands was born already in 2014. Unfortunately, owing to improper contact, administrative obstacles and lack of response from the Comorian Anrtic (local telecommunication body), we were forced to refrain of this idea; in the focus we got other, equally interesting locations.
A year later, Petr, OK1FCJ during the Z21MG expedition to Comoros again recalled Comoros as next destination. Rushed to contact Ken LA7GIA, who had been in the Comoros and could share the necessary information on how to obtain a license. Ken came back next day, amazing us with the contact to the Secretary of the Telecommunications Authority (ANRTIC). His generous help deserves a big thank you, because it all started. The first email we sent ANRTIC October 5, 2015.
Obtaining licenses and all necessary permits took a lot of emails; total time from first message and filling all papers took five months. After checking the correctness of filling multiple documents and paying the license fee of 11 000 CZK (€ 425), we finally had authorization to operate. The only flaw was the absence of zones 10 and 30 m. We decided to try to obtain additional authorization to place.
It is the end of April, departure is planned for September, and time is slowly running out and we meet in Ritka Petr, OK1FCJ where we should prepare a plan for the expedition. Unfortunately, we learned that Petr, OK1FCJ due to medical reasons expedition probably would not attend. Expedition preparation continues on, but on May 6, Petr announced that this year’s expedition can not participate. This ugly news of the „Three Musketeers“ remained only two – Pavel OK1FPS and David OK6DJ. There are three options: go just two, or cancel the expedition or we get more operators. The third option wins. Ahead is daunting task who fit into the team as an experienced operator and at same must fit with interpersonal behavior and who has at home in a drawer lying about „useless“ 50,000 CZK ($ 2,000)?
Search and team tuning took us about a week. New team members are operators of the Czech HQ team. The entire team is composed of Pavel, OK1GK; Petr OK1BOA; Ruda, OK2ZA; Pavel OK1FPS and David OK6DJ. The standby is still Peter OK1FCJ, who provided us with the necessary equipment – Spiderbeam, K3 and the PA, and his further work on the website of the expedition www.cdxp.cz.
From mid May we monitor airfares, the cheapest option is from Munich via Amsterdam, Nairobi, Mayotte and Grande Comore. The longest journey to the airport has Rudolf; it is 500 km. We bought the flights 16. 6. 2016 – magic sixes or our D66D call sign. There’s no turning back , € 800 flight tickets we have at home. For some of us this will be a long haul flight premiere, but the main thing is that enthusiasm has not abandon us.
At the end of July we meet again in Ritka Petr, OK1FCJ and tune the last aspects regarding expedition setup. Each member has a lot of tasks. We managed to wrap up the antennas and the RX system. Ready are 2 pieces of SpiderBeam, verticals for 40 m and 160 m.
In early September Petr, OK1FCJ announced that he joins the expedition. Although arrives three days later (advantage is that he can bring us forgotten things) and will fly home a day early, but we were all delighted that the team is now really complete.
Amateur radio dairy notes
Friday, the 16/09
It’s midnight. D66D event we look forward whole year is about to begin. Rudolf OK2ZA leaft his QTH. At two o’clock in the morning’s arrival to Prague, where he met with Pavel OK1FPS Pavel OK1GK and Petr OK1BOA. Luggage’s are loaded and we are off to Holysov – QTH David OK6DJ, where we arrived at four o’clock in the morning. We had a final check up and baggage wrapping and at five o’clock we leave to our friend and sponsor Pavel OK1MU who prepares breakfast for us. An hour later, last goodbye to Pavel and we are off to Munich. At ten o’clock we finally arrives at Munich airport, saying goodbye to the driver and we are going to check in baggage. At eleven o’clock in the morning we are cleared and we move to the GATE. At 13.50 we start boarding the plane and the plane 15.35 already landed smoothly on the runway in Amsterdam. We get a number Gate D66 – what a coincidence – D66D expedition. On transfer to a flight to Nairobi, we have 5.5 hours. The flight took off about a quarter of an hour later, at 20.55.
Saturday, the 17/9
At six o’clock in the morning we land in Nairobi and wait another six hours for the last flight. We are all tired. Last 48 hours were without proper sleep. The flight to Comoros Islands was delayed and instead of scheduled departure at 12.25 we started up at 13:15, so nearly an hour late. At 15.40 we landed on Mayotte – Dzaoudzi . Technical 60 minutes break and fnal 30 minutes flight to Moroni. It is 17.15 and we finally landed on the Comoros Islands, get off the plane and leaving to the terminal building.
After completing the arrival documents we go to the passport control and pay € 30 for an entry visa. The whole team is within half-hour checked-in and waiting for luggage. We met our guide Omar, who ensured the smooth passage though customs. Before leaving airport, we purchase 2 prepaid 2GB data SIM cards. We jumped into the car and kicked off 10 km distance. It lasts 40 minutes. The journey from the airport is very bad and our Toyota RAV4 has to omit a lot of potholes.
Everywhere on the road is dust and smog, at first glance our “dream paradise” is far away. Finally, we drive on bulky road to our house, a € 4,000 quality accommodation is unacceptable. Electricity is not working and it seems that 100% of the time we run on the power generator. We try Internet access. Does not work either, the water flows just cold. We are all a bit in shock, gradually passing through the house, founding various faults. In the bathroom are cracked pipes to the wash-basin, on the corridor lights are broken and the worst thing is our new “friends” in the kitchen – rats. We unpacks luggage and install TCVR. In the big living room we prepare CW and RTTY workplace and in the kitchen with rats SSB workplace.
It’s nine o’clock in the evening, we drink beer and generator ran out of gas. Fortunately, we have local helpers, guy named Didi arranged 10 liters of gasoline within an hour and generator ran again. We still trying internet access to let know families we arrived and we’re fine. None of Czech phone operators have roaming here, we are completely without connection. After eleven at night, we decide to go, after more than 40 hours, finally to bed.
Sunday, the 18/9
Wake up we planned at seven o’clock in the morning, make coffee and breakfast. Of course we start to look around, where to build antennas. Today plan is to have two SpiderBeams, verticals for 40 m and 80 m. Petr OK1BOA pulled from the luggage 500m of coaxial, carefully divided and part identified by the length and the antenna type tag. At 11:40 a.m. is built first SpiderBeam for 20m-10m on the small hill behind the house. An antenna location is not so easily accessible. Antenna setup took longer time. It is quite warm, so we went to sea and planned the construction of the second SpiderBeam for afternoon after lunch. An early afternoon we had our first Comoro lunch – chicken sausages with ketchup and local bagels.
The first D66D CQ in 16:25. David OK6DJ chosen 21020 and UP1. After one minute, he makes Karel, OK2ZI, followed by Lada OK2PAY and within five minutes tremendous pileup of 1-10 kHz UP. We install the second SSB rig, and finally agree that the station will be in the kitchen. Pavel OK1FPS begins operation on 17 m SSB and experiencing the thick pileup. Ruda, OK2ZA and Petr OK1BOA builds vertical for 40m. After nightfall it is assembled. Verticals for 80m will have to wait. Fortunately we have one night band.
Around 10 pm Pavel, OK1GK operates on 40m CW. We are QRV on three bands. Around same time we reach first thousand QSO’s. From the day’s work at the antennas building we are all tired, but despite that we are trying to transmit. Overnight stays Pavel OK1FPS on 40 m, the rest of the team went about half past one to a sleep.
Monday, the 19/9
Pavel OK1FPS was changed David OK6DJ on 40m and Rudolf OK2ZA starts SSB pileup toward east. Later on Rudolf and Pavel OK1GK build 15m VDA on seashore and pulled radials to 80m vertical. We still do not have 160m antenna. Pavel OK1FPS prepares RX receiving system for low bands during rain. We’re still not connected to the internet. We can’t make self spotting and SSB is pure example. CQ on 20m for 20m without any spot on DX cluster; no QSO at all. Once we are spotted there is “hell” on the band. We are wasting time not being spotted. Hopefully we solve it in the near future.
Late afternoon we have finally 160m ready, it was inverted “L” and at the beginning it was not tuning. We installed 6 radials, 2 of them ended in the sea. Let see result in the night. We are running 15m inband operation, both CW and SSB at the same time. We are almost not interfering each other.
Antennas are approx 120 meters apart. Around 8pm there are three operation positions and the rate climbs up to 476 contacts. About an hour later we had a little problem with the local natives. Pavel OK1FPS partially installed low band RX system in his garden, for us it was abandoned land. Omar, our guide, helped us to solve problem. RX system will try to finish the next day.
Tuesday, the 20/9
We work simultaneously CW and SSB on 20m and 15m, but bands behave very oddly – between 5-9 AM UTC morning it looks like someone turn “off” bands. We made only a few QSOs per hour. Bands are opening finally about 10 AM UTC. After 48 hours of operation, we have 7200 QSOs in the log. During days we were building antennas and operated mainly 2 stations. So far total numbers of QSO are not bad. During the day, we prepared 4th operation position. We will see if we can operate 4 stations ON AIR simultaneously.
At 18:00 for the first time we operate on 4 positions simultaneously. Peter OK1BOA runs 15m SSB 500W, Pavel OK1FPS is 15m CW 300W, Pavel OK1GK 17m 100W and David OK6DJ alternates 40m and 80m 800W. David tests the RX system, which was finished by Pavel OK1FPS today. Before 8pm arrived the last team member, Peter OK1FCJ. We are complete.
9000 QSOs are in log at 21:45, we hope to reach 40000 QSO, which was our goal that we set before DXpedition. We’re trying to install multiple modems for logs upload. Works only one from Vodafone, the other one can’t be properly setup. Modem we install at the first floor and every day early in the morning, regularly update log.
Wednesday, the 21/9
Rudof OK2ZA has a new and, unfortunately, too friendly “friend”. Such a wake up none of us wished him. „I got a tickle on the thumb of the hand first, I thought it is tired hand, the feeling is repeated even when changing position and at full vigilance. What is it? Rat! Rat in bed licking my thumb at hand ! “
Another morning where bands are almost “dead” QSO rate is 39 per hour. Rudolf OK2ZA stretched further radials for 160m invert L. PSV was improved from 2.5 to 1.25. We hope to see result at night.
No running tap water. Troubleshooting brings us to the container, which is below one of the buildings. It’s almost empty. We pull out by buckle out the last remaining water.
Thursday, the 22/9
All day we focus only on operation on radio except Pavel OK1GK. Pavel prepared 20m VDA. We can operate upper bands simultaneously on 4 radios. At 18.30 we got visit an official from the Telecommunications Authority. We negotiated with him a license for 10 m and 30 m. We agree to visit their office next business day to pickup license.
We still struggle with luck of running water. We pay € 100, we are promised that water would flow into two hours. The fact that we are without water already complicates the situation. In the kitchen there is almost no clean dishes, body cleaning applicable only in the sea (fortunately, is just 100 m). Flushing toilets using buckets filled with sea water.
Friday, the 22/9
Mobile water tank brings finally water. We have tap water after thirty hours! Pavel, OK1FPS; Petr OK1FCJ and David OK6DJ departs at 8:30 to Moroni to pickup a license for 10 m and 30 m. The journey takes half an hour, our local guide Omar accompanying us. We walk through the reception and lounge area, we are dealing with the most senior in the country and discuss the extension of authorization. Within half an hour we get verbal consent and official „paper“ get later on. Although we have to pay another 120 €, but we’re all excited.
Rudolf, OK2ZA makes quickly homemade verticals for 30 meters. In the afternoon we are QRV simultaneously on the new 10 m band CW and SSB. On the first day we manage 730 QSOs. After dark, we are starting the last 30 m band and through midnight 760 QSOs in log.
Saturday, the 24/9
At three o’clock in the morning local time we begin the CQ WW RTTY contest. Unfortunately, we find that one K3 does not want to run other than 1 kW PA, which is used at night to work 80/160 meters. So we stopped the cqww up until daylight and stop bottom band operation. At six o’clock, linear is being changed and CQ WW RTTY with full steam.
Sunday, the 25/9
20 meters is only opened band in the morning, so David, OK6DJ runs RTTY and Pavel, OK1GK CW. Rudolf, OK2ZA tested 17 and 15 SSB, unfortunately, without a great results. The upper bands in the morning are closed. From leftover material Rudolf OK2ZA makes dipole for 30m. He uses a sling to place it between palm tree and a house. We were able to run simultaneously on 15m CW SSB and RTTY. CQ WW RTTY ends with a result of 2,008 QSOs in the log.
Monday, the 26/9
Unfortunately, today’s conditions are more than bad. Morning we are unable to establish a communication at any higher rate band and moves only in the tens of QSO per hour. Even we have no RF transmission for about two hours. David, OK6DJ with Petr, OK1FCJ went for a new 10m and 30m backdated license.
We got again check from local telecommunication authority. They took pictures of all the antennas and the workplaces with equipment. They stay about an hour.
Tuesday, the 27/9
Half past eight in the morning we set out for a day trip. We see such a beautiful country mired in the garbage that are everywhere along the roads, but also in the city. It intrigued us that there are a lot of unfinished homes. We visited the museum, looked into the middle of the island and finally we went to supposedly the most beautiful beach on the island – by the way, it was location of the D68C 14 years ago.
After return, we are greatly tired and shaky from the local roads, which apparently had not seen maintenance since the departure of the French in 1978. Unfortunately Rudolf, OK2ZA and Petr, OK1FCJ are not feeling well and have a higher temperature. For sure, they lie down in bed, and we hope that the next day will both be fine.
Power generator we start manually, battery is discharged. We are again without water. David, OK6DJ and Pavel, OK1FPS test in the dark water pump. After a thorough inspection they find that the tank again run out of water.
Wednesday, the 28/9
At 18.30 UTC our goal 40,000 QSO’s are was achieved! We made QRX with glass of Whiskey. Just a pity propagation conditions do not help us.
Everything comes to an end and we have to slowly pack. We decided to disassemble part of antennas and wrap up a day early. Peter OK1FCJ; Peter OK1BOA and David OK6DJ dismantle one spiderbeam Pavel, OK1FPS RX system and Rudolf, OK2ZA verticals for 160 m.
Around half past three in the afternoon leaves us Petr, OK1FCJ and heads off to the airport. It makes rest of us envy that he was going home. We’re all tired, local food (or rather raw materials) is not worth much, and even if we cook, the food is always the same taste.
Antennas for 80m, 30m one spiderbeam and VDA 15m and 20m are on. We sit back to transceivers to make another pileup.
At seven o’clock in the morning we go QRT and dismantle the rest of the antennas. At eleven o’clock we have finished packing, cook last lunch and last swimming in the sea. At 13.00 arrives for us 3 cars and take us to the airport. We are saying goodbye to our guide Omar.
Dodávka pro nás přijela na čas a hurá domů. Poslední se domů dostane Ruda, OK2ZA, a to v neděli někdy kolem třetí hodiny ranní.
Comoros style airport check in. What we do in Munich for 30 minutes takes in Comoros 3 hours. We were not spared of bullshit about the weight of hand baggage; we were forced to move things among themselves. Finally, everything is OK. At 18.10 we leave half hour later than planned to Kenya. Here we have a layover of 12 hours and as a reward we go into the Turkish Airlines lounge. Then we will have an eight-hour flight to Amsterdam and Munich. Our pick up transport arrived on time and go home. The last one to reach home is Rudolf, OK2ZA, on Sunday around three o’clock in the morning.
Total number of QSO’s: 42762 QSO (1947 OK) a 14453 unique calls, 67, 5 % with EU 17, 6 % NA
CW: 26412, SSB: 12745, RTTY: 3605,
Daily rate: over 4000 QSO/day, max. peak over 4800 QSO/day
160: 483, 417 EU, 35 OK
80: 2150, 1291 EU, 100 OK
40: 4150, 1993 EU, 142 OK
30: 4493, 2967 EU, 231 OK
20: 9332, 5833 EU, 363 OK
17: 6022, 4414 EU, 298 OK
15: 9774, 6549 EU, 405 OK
12: 3447, 2763 EU, 201 OK
10: 2954, 2633 EU, 172 OK
160/80/40 – HI Z 4 RX system
160 m – inverted L, spiderpole 18 m
80 m – vertical, spiderpole 18 m
40 m – vertical
30 m – vertical, dipole
20 m – 10 m 2x Spiderbeam
20 m – VDA20
15 m – VDA15
Coax: over 500 meters
Sponsors are inevitable for such project, I would like to thank them very much and also I hope I have not forgotten anybody. Sponsors are not always with money but also through borrowed technology.
We thank you to companies:
We thank you to individuals:
4L5A, OK7GU, OK1FPG, OK1MY, OK2ZI, OK2FB, W6SZN, OK2PDN, OK1TN, DF4SA, N4II, VE3QAA, K4SV, OK2EW, KI8JP, KA1R, OK1MP, W4DAO,, W3LPL, N7NR, N5KUC, W0SZ, KI8JP, W9EWZ, SP5EWX, WC7Q, OK1TP, W6RS, NH6Y, OK1VK, OK1MR and….
QSL manager is David, OK6DJ, we prefer QSL via OQRS
Conclusion: It was an amazing 16 days, when a group of radio amateurs met as friends, and after 16 days as friends left to their homes. Everyone is looking forward to the next project.
Written by D66D team