2017 Cabo Verde DXCC D4

The D44TU Story

Though Cabo Verde (D4) had been activated on 2 m EME before it is still a very much wanted DXCC. So we decided to travel for another EME activity with their improved new setup. This consists of FT-857, Tajfun High Power SSPA by VH Electronics/italab.sk, MGF1302 LNA and a home-made pair of 8 elements DK7ZB yagis, both for hpol and vpol. Also Frank’s newly developed logic box to switch V/H plane and avoiding hot switching came into use.

When looking for a DXpedition QTH it is always good to ask fellow hams who already were QRV from the same area. So we approached Hermann DL2NUD. He had been QRV 23 cm and up as D44TVD from Santiago island, Cabo Verde in May 2016. When asked he suggested to become QRV from the same place he was working from: a private house of which the owner was very ham-friendly since one of his friends is a German radio ham who also works from there every now and then. Moreover some kind of full board is offered tehre: You do not need to care about the food. So the contact was established and everything went without problem. José Almeida, the owner, even collected the license which saved time: We could start right after setup and did not have to waste time waiting in an office for getting the license paper.

Flights were booked from Berlin (DH7FB) and Dusseldorf (DF2ZC) via Lisbon to Praia, the capital of Cabo Verde. When Frank and Bernd arrived on April 29th at midnight (actually it was early morning April 30th) they were collected by José and his wife and taken to their house where all soon went to bed, for a short night’s sleep.

Early next morning we looked for a good place to set up the antenna. The roof garden was not suitable since it was too small and partly had had a metal roof. Hence, we decided to set up behind the house, close to the pig and chicken house. That place was at a hillslope (which later caused some trouble as the yagis could not elevate >75°) and the entire QTH was in a valley which resulted in a minimum elevation of some 15° needed both at moon rise and set. As a consequence sadly no Eastern Australia and New Zealand could be worked.

No local QRM!

While Frank set up the antennas in the burning sun Bernd had the better part, builing the shack inside. Around 1215Z (1115 am local time) everything was ready to go, a final test followed and all was working fine. Most importantly no local QRM was noticed, the band was rather clear from birdies, noise etc. D44TU started to call CQ on 144,114 MHz and soon there was a pile-up. I3MEK was the first station worked at 1234Z. That meant a big relief – one never knows if everything is working ok until the first QSO is made! That afternoon conds have been very good as many stations were heard audible! The end of the day saw 65 completed QSOs. And all equipment worked as it was meant to. As we had to take a dinner break: José's wife is a great cook. We never had so good food since we are going on DXpedition together.

However, we soon noticed something wrong when txing vpol: After 15 secs good SWR suddenly the return power went up to 90 watts. A problem with the relay and no spare relay (which certainly will never happen again). So D44TU could rx both hpol and vpol but tx hpol only.

Amp Reboot after Voltage Change

The next day, May 1st started at 1313Z with a contact with DK3BU. Conds were not that favourable now as sigs were not as loud as on the 30th. At 1830Z suddenly the amp shut off, 18 seconds after start of tx. It restarted and the last 15 seconds of the sequence could be transmitted again. That happened many times in a row so, always shutting up some 18 secs after tx start. We decided to take a break and investigate into it. However, an hour later the effect was gone and we could continue working the pile-up.

Only, that happened also on May 2nd, a strange effect. More or less the same time 1830Z, shortly before sunset, the amp shut off after about 18 seconds tx time, repeatedly. When speaking to the house owner about this he explained that he produces his own electricity by means of sun collectors. When the batteries become empty around dusk the electricity is switched to the local electricity company. And this was the reason for that effect: As soon as the voltage dropped below a certain level the electricity was switched from local to company. That switch made the amp go off and restart. After amp shutdown the voltage went up again and the power was switched back to local. Then the next tx sequence the amp drew current again, the voltage went down , the power was switched, the amp shut down etc etc.

In the meantime the power had switched back to local. Only after permanent switch-over (when the local voltage stayed low) everything was stable again. That process took ~90 minutes every evening; 90 minutes we could not be QRV. And when the moon was >75° after these 90 minutes two more hours of being off air were added. That cost a major part of operation time. Apparently it was not possible to manually switch to the electricity company – or the house owner did not understand when asked about this.

Ashes to Ashes, Amp to Amp

May 3rd started with swapping the 2 m elements for 70 cm: DK7ZB had calculated a set of 70 cm elements fitting the same boom length so that we did not have to bring separate 70 cm booms. The 2 m elements were taken down, the 70 cm elements (17 each, now hpol only) were put on the boom, the yagis were moved to the correct stacking distance, the 70 cm phasing lines connected and they were QRV on 70. The entire process lasted just one hour only. Sadly the 70 cm amp broke before a QSO with HB9Q was completed: That is very annoying and really bad luck! The illfated amp was buried some 100 m behind the house, with stones like in the Wild West. You can see this in the pictures area.

So after another hour D44TU was QRV on 2 m again and continued working the now smaller pile-up. At 22.25 UTC F6BKI was the last station worked. There was caller for the next one hour so we went QRT.

The overall count of QSOs was 187, not quite bad given the fact that no ZL/VK could be worked, that only one JA station was logged and that every day some 2-3 hours of good moon were lost due to the effects described above. Highlight was working DL1VPL on May 2nd, who runs a single 12 ele M2 and 750 watts out. Too bad that many well-known call signs were not even copied calling and even worse that though sending OOOs at two different times to OK1TEH with his 10 ele and <1kW Matej could not be worked.

The Dancing Moon

Another unusual experience was noticing the moon dancing: Up to elevations around 70° the azimuth always rose. Then suddenly the azimuth declined again while the elevation was rising further. At one point then the azimuth then rose again. Anyone can simulate this with the usual EME software by entering a locator close to the equator. That was very unusual for people living at around 50° latitude and having the moon always in the South and never >65.

At least on May 4th some tourist activity was possible. Since the island is very dry and only consists of stones we wanted to go to the sea side. However, there were not much tourist things available there, not even in the capital Praia. Finally we found a restaurant in Cidade Vehla where wecould have lunch and have some beers, watching the waves. Late in the evening that day we travelled to the airport and left at 00.55 h local on May 5th.

At home all equipment was again undamaged. And now the lessons learned list can be worked before we go on tour again. DH7FB however will be travelling by boat in the Aegean in June in KM26/KM27/KM37/etc, running the FT-857 with 50 watts out to a HB9CV: When there’s sporadic E it should be sufficient for a fair number of 2 m QSOs.

Exact Coordinates of the QTH

Our QTH was in a remote part of Santiago island. Locator was HK85FA, longitude and latitude are -23,5215° W; 15,01665 N. With these data you can easily find the house in Google maps, just enter "15.01665 -23.5215" into the search window.

A Word about TAP Portugal

Luckily we were not charged any premium for overweight or bulky baggage. When flying to Crete in 2013 the same baggage cost some 250 € extra. That was the good experience with TAP Portugal.

The bad one was that only by chance three weeks before departure we had noticed that the return flight originally planned on May 4th was cancelled. So we had to reschedule for a day later – which was not that bad as it meant one more day of activity. In hindsight we feel very lucky having got knowledge at all of that cancellation.

Only, we do not regard TAP Portugal being a very service oriented company. At first they offered us a another flight which meant we had to stay one night in Lisbon. However, they were unwilling to refund the hotel charges.

After some further discussions and escalations by us they at least found a direct flight to Berlin for Frank on the 5th. For Bernd they said there are no economy seats available any more from Lisbon straight to Dusseldorf. Instead of that they booked him from Lisbon to Munich and from Munich to Dusseldorf which cost four hours more travel time, let alone the stress having just 45 minutes after landing in Munich to catch the connecting flight, inclusive of changing the terminal. And the machine from Lisbon was 20 minutes delayed!

At the end everything worked out and the plane was reached. And now comes the best: the TAP Portugal person confirmed that they had a number of available business class seats in the direct plane from Lisbon to Dusseldorf. So TAP preferred to fly with empty seats and making the journey many hours longer for their customer and making him run through Munich airport trying not to miss his flight. For a cancelled flight which was in the sole responsibility of TAP.

THAT is "great" custome service.