2003: Niger (5U5Z)
The 5U5Z team in Niger, 2003 was:
G0MTN - Lee Volante
G3XTT - Don Field
G4BWP - Fred Handscombe
G4PIQ - Andy Cook
K5VT - Vince Thompson
KC7V - Mike Fulcher
KY7M - Lee Finkel
Rigs: Seven one-kilowatt stations.
Antennas: Five beams, numerous wires and verticals.
Claimed score: 16,694 QSOs; 182 zones; 626 countries = 40.2m points.
Note from team: This was the Voodoo Vontest Grop’s 11th entry into CQ WW CW contest from West Africa. Our euquipment had been stored in Burkina Faso (many thanks to Hugo/XT2HB and Signec Telecom) since November ’02 and was now moved by road to Niamey, the capital of Niger. After the contest we were fortunate enough to find suitable storage facilities in Niamey, so look out again for 5U5Z again in November 2004.
The following article by Don Field/G3XTT appeared in the January 2004 issue of the Chiltern DX Club Digest.
The Doodes do Niger
CDXC members will have read (May 2003. p.34) about the recce trip by G3SXW and G4BWP to Niger, in preparation for this year’s Voodoo Contest Group effort in CQWW CW. The group has been contesting from West Africa for many years now, with TY, 5V, 9G and XT to its credit, and members consider that operating from new locations, rather than simply revisiting the old ones, is half the fun. And 5U is, by all accounts, a rare DX location in its own right, contest or no contest.
Following the recce, when provisional hotel reservations had been made, and the licensing process put in hand, the main task was to put together the operating team. Although the Voodoo Contest Group is very much an ad hoc group of friends, drawn primarily from the Central Arizona DX Association and various G contesters, actual participants vary from year to year as time, finances and other circumstances allow. In the end, the 2003 team comprised Fred G4BWP, Lee G0MTN, Andy G4PIQ, Mike KC7V, Vince K5VT, Lee KY7M and myself, G3XTT. Yes, this was the first year for a very long time that Roger G3SXW didn’t come, though he remained very much a part of the organising team, bringing his many years’ experience of sorting logistics in West Africa to bear on the various issues we faced.
The next matter to be faced was that of obtaining visas. The US members had few problems (though more about K5VT later!) as both Burkina Faso and Niger have representation in the USA. However, neither is currently represented in the UK. We were told that a new, five nation tourist visa was being introduced for the five countries of French West Africa (TU, 5V, TY, XT and 5U) and this would have been ideal. However, the TU embassy in London (the only one of those countries with a UK embassy) had received no briefing on how to issue these new visas. In the end, G4PIQ was able to take advantage of a trip to Paris to get visas issued there. G0MTN and G4BWP had to pay an arm and a leg to do so remotely through a commercial visa service. Fortunately, my own plans were to travel out via Accra in Ghana, where I expected to be able to get visas on the spot (which turned out to be the case).
Final arrangements were made at an informal get-together of G0MTN, G3XTT, G4BWP and G3SXW at the HF Convention at Didsbury, and it looked as though we were all set.
For the past two years the Voodoo equipment stockpile has been stored in Ouagadougou, courtesy of Hugo XT2HB. The plan was to take it overland to 5U and, once there, decide whether to leave it for a second 5U operation in 2004, or return it to XT. Either way, it meant that most of the team needed to meet up in XT. In my case, that meant taking the overnight bus from Accra to Ouagadougou (or flying, but local flights in West Africa are expensive and not always reliable). The bus runs three times a week, and costs about £16 for the 970km trip. It’s long and tedious, but uses a modern Volvo air-conditioned coach, so is reasonably civilised. So, the Sunday before CQWW saw me arrive in XT, to meet up with G4BWP, KY7M and G0MTN who had flown in the day before. Later on we went to the airport to meet KC7V, but there was bad news about K5VT. Vince had received his passport back from the XT embassy with a single-entry visa, rather than the multiple-entry one he had requested. He had promptly returned it, for the error to be made good, but it was still somewhere in the postal service. It wasn’t clear if and when Vince would be able to join us. If not, we would be just six operators (G4PIQ would be flying directly to Niamey and meeting us there), which is pretty tight for a multi-multi, though it wouldn’t be the first time the Voodoos had managed with this number (or less!). The other hiccup was that there was no confirmation of the availability of the bus which we had hired to take us to 5U. However, Hugo XT2HB was on the case, and assured us there would be no problem (which there wasn’t – typically of West Africa, things tend to come together at the last possible minute).
JOURNEY TO 5U
Monday morning, and time to load up the bus. This involved going to Hugo’s sister’s house, where the radios, linears, etc. were stored, then to another location where the masts and antennas were in safe keeping. It was 1230 before we finally hit the road out of Ouagadougou. It is about 380km to the border, along a good road, though with frequent stops for checkpoints, péages (toll booths, copied from the French system) and, finally, the various border controls. It was after 1900 (2000 Niger time) before we headed into no-man’s land – it then took almost 90 minutes from leaving XT passport control to arriving at 5U passport control! The road on the Niger side of the border is compacted mud, full of potholes, for most of the 120km from the border to Niamey. A new road is being built with EC funds, but only runs the first 20km or so from Niamey at this stage. Our late arrival into 5U caused some mutterings at some of the checkpoints along the way; in at least one case the relevant official had to be dragged from his bed! But Fred G4BWP who, throughout the trip was our spokesman, translator, and general facilitator, said all the right things and we were eventually on our way. Even so, it was after midnight when we finally crossed the Niger River and looked up to see the lights of the Grand Hotel no more than a mile away. However, fate still had one final trick to play. We were stopped by police at the roundabout at the end of the bridge and, while they were checking our papers and passports, the bus engine died on us! Only some serious manual pumping of the last few dregs of diesel enabled us to struggle fitfully to the hotel and dash into reception asking, not for our rooms in the first instance, but for cold beers all round! We learned that G4PIQ had arrived safely, so went to hammer on his door to put to rest any fears he may have had about or non-arrival. Instead it turned out he had been fast asleep without a care in the world!
LET THE ERECTIONS COMMENCE
Roger and Fred had done their homework well. The Grand Hotel in daylight looked an excellent contest location, with expansive flat roofs suitable for our antennas and the ground falling away westwards towards the Niger River. The town was bustling, with the occasional train of camels crossing the bridge, reminding us that we really were in one of the world’s more exotic locations. The hotel were extremely co-operative in allowing us free rein for our antennas, and once the bus was unloaded and on its way back to XT we set to in the hot sun, assembling towers and antennas. By day’s end we had the four high bands ready to go: 4-element Force 12 on 10m, on 20ft of tower, 3-element Force 12 on 15m, on 20ft of tower, 3-element Force 12 on 20m, on 30ft of tower, and Cushcraft 40-2CD on 40m, on 20ft of tower. All these towers were on the flat roofs of a series of “chalets”, two of which were to serve as our operating shacks.
That evening we had an invite to the home of Jim Bullington 5U7JB. Older DXers will recall Jim’s days as US ambassador in various African countries, from which he operated as N4HX/TT8, TYA11 and 9U5JB. Nowadays Jim is Director of the Peace Corps in Niger, co-ordinating the activities of some hundreds of young volunteers who live and work in remote villages. Jim and his charming xyl made us extremely welcome, entertaining us to an excellent supper. What most impressed us, though, was Jim’s antenna installation, all made up of wires, with fixed beams and loops for all bands and all main directions. A real reminder of the good old days of ham radio!
On the Wednesday we pressed on with the antenna installations, adding the Force 12 loaded vertical dipole for 80m, the Force 12 linear-loaded vertical for 160m, and a 400ft Beverage plus a K9AY loop for low-band reception. The K9AY loop was one which Tony G0OPB had built for us to trial pre-3B9C. I had had good results using it briefly from home, and was looking forward to seeing how it performed in the tropics. Meanwhile the indoor team (mainly G4PIQ and G0MTN) were busy putting the stations together: IC-756 on 160, TS-930s on 10, 40 and 80, TS-850 on 20 and Elekraft K2 on 15. Linears are all Alpha 76 and 78. Everything that had been left in XT still seemed to be working, though there was a valve to be replaced in one of the linears. As always, the biggest technical challenge was the CT network, which required some innovative engineering, and plenty of decoupling to keep out unwanted RF. Sadly, despite trying various possibilities, we were never able to get a local Internet capability, so we would have to be without packet spotting for the duration. Maybe for 2004 an RF link back to the UK or elsewhere would be the solution (such a link, alternating between 12 and 17m, back to K5TR, had worked well the previous year when I had been at HC8N).
Thursday and Friday were spent adding the finishing touches – a delta loop for 80m, Force 12 C-3 tribander for multiplier spotting, etc. We had also learned that Vince now had his passport back and would fly direct to Niamey on Friday, so would be there in time for the start of the contest. Fred was a little taken aback on the Friday to be asked, while checking the Beverage feed point, if all these antennas were to do with the Prime Minister’s visit! Sure enough, police started to converge on the hotel, the waiters appeared in their finest outfits and the red carpet was rolled out. Then the limousines started to arrive, with their police outriders. They brought the PM and his ministers and advisers, plus delegates from most of the French West African countries, as well as the US ambassador and representatives of the EC and other major bodies. It was bizarre to see the US ambassador’s official car parked right next to cars from Iraq and Iran! We kept out heads down, and were not entirely sure what the event was, but at least we weren’t asked to take our antennas down or otherwise inconvenienced.
Contesting from West Africa is a case of running hell for leather on the high bands, which are open pretty much round the clock (yet again, we saw several hours of long-path propagation to JA on 10m through the night), and a struggle to work reasonable totals on the LF bands during the hours of darkness. This latter is due both to the high noise levels in the tropics, and also to the difficulty of being heard, especially in Europe and North America, where the low bands are wall-to-wall with loud local stations. Actually, noise levels weren’t too bad from 5U, and we were able to hear quite well on the Beverage (which worked best on 80m) and the K9AY loop (which worked best on 160m, probably because the Beverage was too short for that band). In terms of being heard on the low bands, it is usually a case of CQing into the void until someone works us and spots us and at that stage, all being well, a pile-up will start and we can run, at least for a while. So from dusk to dawn we need to have six stations manned, while during the day this drops to three and any operators not sleeping are best utilised in manning a spotting station (we had things set up so that both the 160 and 80m stations could be used for this purpose during the daylight hours).
We ended the contest with a new Voodoo record in QSO numbers, but our multiplier total was lower than in recent years, probably due mainly to the lack of packet spotting, though it was noticeable that there were a number of countries (e.g. HC 8R PZ T7 C3 GD) which simply didn’t seem to be around or were activated only by single-band efforts.
We encountered very few problems as the contest went on, despite much of the equipment only getting used once a year, and being stored in hot and dusty conditions in West Africa. The major snag was a couple of power cuts of around 20 minutes each, which lost us a few hundred QSOs and probably some multipliers. Towards the end of the contest I was operating on 10m, when the grid current on the linear shot up. Andy G4PIQ came to fault-find, and decided the antenna had gone open circuit. The obvious culprit was a barrel connector, which he decided to replace. However, when he grabbed it he leapt about three feet in the air. That was obviously where the watts from the linear had been ending up, and it had become rather hot!
The table shows our claimed scores. Once again, HC8N was a major competitor, and we were conscious or PT5A, but there were relatively few other big multi-multi entries likely to challenge our score (the ZA1A effort was huge – their signals were way above other Europeans on the LF bands from 5U – and are likely to have set a new European multi-multi record, but with EU QSOs at one point each there is no way they could compete at the global level). Maybe the drop in big multi-multi entries in recent years is because of the logistical difficulties of putting a big multi-multi on the air, or because the new multi-two category is drawing some of those who might otherwise have gone multi-multi.
A quick wrap-up and off to bed. Then an early start on the Monday to dismantle everything and clear the shacks. The good news was that we wouldn’t need to take the equipment back to Burkina Faso. Jim Bullington had kindly agreed to make some storage space available at the Peace Corps headquarters in Niamey, and we had organised a truck to move everything. Naturally, we were happy to make a modest donation to be used towards any Peace Corps projects as appropriate. By the evening it was time to relax and enjoy a team meal at a local, and very good, Chinese restaurant we had discovered the previous week. Andy then went off to catch his flight back to London via Paris. Vince would be travelling in the bus with us, back to Ouagadougou. Which, on the Tuesday, is what we did. The journey took a little less time than on the way out, partly because we made it in daylight, and partly because the bus wasn’t burdened with all the gear. There were still the frequent stops, of course, for checking of papers and other pretexts. Most took only a few moments when the requisite exchange of 1000 CFA (about £1) had taken place. Back in XT, some of the guys, still not having had enough of the pile-ups, commandeered top-floor rooms in the hotel to air their XT calls for a few days, making around 1,000 QSOs, before heading off back to the UK and the USA.
Why do the Voodoo Contest Group go to so much effort each year for CQWW? It’s hard enough running a multi-multi at the best of times. It’s even harder when you have to build up the station Field Day fashion each time, as those of us who have been involved with M6T over the years are well aware. But to then compound that by doing so 3,000 miles from home, taking the equipment across obscure international frontiers and then having to build everything up in 40 degree plus temperatures may seem total madness. There are several answers, of course. Propagation is better from those southern latitudes, so the pile-ups are bigger and better than from Europe (and the scoring system favours stations located outside North America, Europe and Asia but with good propagation to all three). But it’s more than that. The sheer challenge of pulling it off is half the fun. The teamwork and friendship. The experience of visiting new places and enjoying the ambience of West Africa which is so unlike day-to-day life in Europe or the USA. For my own part, it was interesting to contrast my 2002 HC8N experience, where I flew in, operated a working station, and flew out again, with the 5U5Z experience which encompassed so much more than simply operating the contest. In many ways the 5U5Z approach is more satisfying, but it’s hard work, so it’s undeniably very nice occasionally to be involved in a contest where you can just turn up and operate! It’s certainly clear that we made a lot of people happy with 5U5Z. The QSLs started arriving at G3SXW’s just a couple of days after the contest was over, with people pleased to have a new band-country, new prefix or whatever. Several members of the team had also taken the opportunity to get 5U callsigns of their own: G4BWP/5U7WP, KC7V/5U7MF, KY7M/5U7LF and K5VT/5U7VT. These calls were used outside the contest to add a few thousand more contacts to our totals so that, all in all, we probably made 20k+ QSOs during our 5U sojourn. A good number, though it won’t have pushed 5U very far down the Wanted lists, and the Voodoos can be sure of some fierce pile-ups once again in 2004.
A few words about Niger, which is relatively unknown to the world at large. The UN rates it, by GDP per head, as the second poorest country in the world (Sierra Leone is bottom). Niger enjoyed brief prosperity in the 70’s as the third largest uranium producer in the world, but the bottom dropped out of the market after Chernobyl and Three Mile Island. The population is around 10 million and growing fast. There are almost 1 million cases of Malaria each year. The Niger River supports crocodiles and hippo, and giraffes roam the open spaces. Politically, the country is currently stable, and relies heavily on international aid to keep the administration functioning.
CQ WORLD WIDE DX CONTEST — 2003
Category: Multi Multi
Power: High Power
Band: All Band
BAND QSO ZONES COUNTRIES
160 178 14 56
80 701 25 81
40 2640 34 112
20 4624 37 128
15 4778 39 134
10 3773 33 115
Totals 16694 182 626 => 40,200,424