Ivory Coast (French République de Côte d’Ivoire) is a country in West Africa. Its neighbors are Burkina Faso, Ghana, Liberia and Mali. It lies on the coast of the Gulf of Guinea. It’s a presidential republic with about 24 million inhabitants. There are 35% Muslims, 20% Christians and the rest don’t seem to care about religion much. They speak about 60 different languages but everyone (unlike us) can speak French.
We started to plan our DX-pedition in the middle of the year 2019. Since it turned out that our team was going to be small we decided for a light, one-week expedition to West Africa – Ivory Coast this time. As usual we began by searching for contacts and found the team F6KOP who gave us the contact to the local ham, Mathurin Amoa TU5JZ. We sent him all of the documents needed for the license and waited a month, two months, three months…In the meantime we made another DX-expedition to the Caribbean on San Andres island as 5K0K.
At the beginning of November our expedition team was complete: Petr OK1BOA, Petr OK1FCJ and David OK6DJ. In the middle of November we had found a special offer for flight tickets with Air France, but we hesitated with booking as we still didn’t have the license. Mathurin who had been vainly trying to get it for us, got an interesting idea to use the callsign of the radio club of the local civil defense group TU5PCT. We had no choice, better a long callsign than no callsign. So we set the departure on February 21st and return on March 1st 2020. Then we started solving problems with the LOTW certificate and of course searching for the QTH/accommodation.
Petr OK1FCJ again contacted the F6KOP team who made the DX-pedition TU7C in 2017. They recommended us the same QTH and hotel as they had. At the beginning of December the DX-pedition, TU2R had been announced for the end of March. We contacted ON1DX and asked him how they managed to get the license while we had been waiting for 5 months. It looked like the local telecommunication office issues just one license a year. Mathurin insinuated that the people at the office might have expected some bribe. We already know that from our previous expeditions, no bribe no license. When talking about this Mathurin also mentioned that he would like to be active on the bands, but he didn’t have any TRX. We decided to buy a Kenwood TS570, including the power supply, and bring it to him as a present and a thank you for all he did for us.
In the middle of January 2020 we announced our DX-expedition TU5PCT to the ham radio community. We created the web page www.cdxp.cz and also contacted the sponsors DXNews, MDXC, Clipperton DX Club and others. We started putting together a small setup that three people could carry in two 23kg check-in suitcases and one 12kg cabin suitcase per person. After the experience we had in previous expeditions we decided to take two spiderbeams, monoband verticals for 80, 40 and 30m, INV L for 60m and 160m, and of course about 300m of coax cables.
The final baggage check and packing took place at Petr’s place in Ritka as usual. We met there after almost six months. After weighing the baggage we found out that there was only about 5 kg left for personal belongings per person. Fortunately we were not going to Africa for tourism….
On Friday February 21st finally came the day of our departure from terminal 2 of the Prague Airport. There was only one stop in Paris. Unfortunately that was where they checked us thoroughly and did not like the weight of our hand baggage. We had to put part of our equipment in the check-in baggage and pay 200 euro overweight fee. We prayed that our fragile electronics would survive the transport in the baggage hold.
The flight to Abidjan was quite calm, only occasional turbulence, and at 11 pm local time we landed. First, all of the passengers had to go for a temperature measurement for COVID-19. After standing in line for visas for about twenty minutes, they sent us to another room where E-VISA was accepted. It was a small room, about 8 by 3 meters, and it was crowded with people, bad air and heat. Only 4 counters were open. After an hour, we had the visa stuck in our passports and we were allowed to stand in the next queue to be checked again if we have a temperature. After filling out a health questionnaire we could proceed towards the customs clearance. Since we had been delayed with visas, we had to go to the customs office, where they handed us our luggage with the antennas after another 15 minutes of waiting. It was still not over. We had to stand another line, this time for an X-ray. Fortunately there was only a 10-minute delay there. This year surprisingly, we did not need to unpack the antennas. Finally we were released from the airport. It all took over 3 hours. Mathurin and Frederic met us at the exit from customs. Then they took us to their two cars and helped us load our baggage. We were finally able to head towards the hotel.
The ride didn’t last long. First we drove along a 4-lane road about 5 km. Then we turned onto the local asphalt road, where we drove about 4 km followed by another turn. Grand Bassam, where our hotel was, is only a large sandy headland. The last part of the ride was an 8 km desperate sandy road that shook us a lot. After passing by the local disco, our car that was transporting antennas got stuck. Fortunately, there were a few local guys there who immediately helped us push the car out of the sand. Our driver tried to avoid the spot where the first car got stuck, but after 100m we ended up in the sand, too. However, the local guys were always happy to help for a small tip and so everything turned out well. The hotel staff were already expecting us. We asked them for water and went to bed. It was 3:30 AM.
We woke up at 9 AM local time. Katherin, the landlord, greeted us, explained to us where we could build our antennas, and how everything would go. After breakfast we started building the antennas, two spiderbeams, one multiband vertical DX Commander and the verticals for 40 and 30m. It looked like we were going to be QRV on four bands at night, but when we switched on TS570 in the afternoon we could hear only noise and QRM S9. As usual David, OK6DJ started the traffic with the CW CQ on 20m, but the result was just one QSO. We tried to switch to FT8 mode. We managed to make a couple of QSOs, but the QRM was heavy. We were thinking about what to do about it. In the meantime we had erected more antennas. The next day we compared the spiderbeam and the monoband verticals standing by the roadside near the HV transformer with the multiband vertical located by the lagoon. The QRM was much lower on the multiband vertical, so we decided to move all antennas including the 80m vertical to the lagoon. We spent two days moving the antennas and finding the optimal layout, but it was not over yet. Another problem cropped up the very next day.
Katherin, the landlord, didn’t like the multiband vertical near the terrace as it disturbed her view of the lagoon. We had to dismantle it and move it to another place. In order not to lose more time we had to work over the day at a temperature of 35 degrees. Unfortunately that didn’t do David any good. After two hours he got sunstroke and so we weren’t able to finish the work before the night.
That was not the end of the problems. The next morning Petr, OK1FCJ switched the wrong band on the PA JUMA and started TXing. The SWR protection didn’t react fast enough for some reason and the PA got broken. To make matters even worse there was a huge bang followed by blackout in the afternoon. David managed to pull out the extension cord to the TRXs TS480 and TS570, but the others stayed connected when the power had been restored shortly. Unfortunately some idiot at the power company put 380V in the power grid. It had fatal consequences. Smoke ran out of the power supplies for the TRXs, laptops, router and the Microham. We were desperate as we didn’t know for many hours how our expedition would continue.
In the meantime, we were looking into the damage. Fortunately only the power supplies were gone; no damage on the TRXs nor on the laptops. We contacted Mathurin who borrowed us two power supplies for the K3 TRX. The next day he managed to buy the power supplies for the Lenovo and Apple laptops on the local flea market. We were lucky that our expedition could continue. It would be a big disappointment to finish with only 10000 QSOs.
We were discussing if we should erect the antenna for the 160m band. There was no suitable space nor any local guy to climb the palm trees. We decided to put preference on the bands from 80m to 10m and also 60m which was activated on FT8 mode from TU for the first time.
The next days passed in the usual DX-pedition pace – shifts at the rig, meal, sleeping. Unfortunately we weren’t able to repair the PA JUMA. Also we didn’t have the final antenna setup until Tuesday. There were only four days left for the normal expedition work and with limited setup. Only two rigs with PAs and one with 100W output. We dedicated the TS-480 for FT8, but we used it only when we were too tired to sit at the rig or when the condition was too bad for other modes.
It was the last one, Sunday morning. We were gradually shutting down our rigs and dismantling the antennas. We left the FT8 running until the last antenna had been taken off. At about 5 PM we were done. Mathurin and Frederic arrived at 5:30 PM to take us to the airport. Our troubles were not over, yet. About 3 km from the hotel we got into a big traffic jam. It took over an hour before we got on the asphalt road. There was jam, too, but fortunately it was moving slowly at a speed of about 20 km per hour. After one and a half hours, we finally reached the terminal. We were waiting for the car with the antennas, but it got stuck somewhere. We called the driver and found that he didn’t drive to a paid parking lot and was standing on the sidewalk somewhere near the airport. Eventually the driver arrived, but drove to the wrong place and got a wheel clamp. However, we had all of our baggage and we could proceed to check-in. The young policeman asked us all sorts of questions, but he was most interested in whether we had USD or euro cash. He took us into a room without cameras then. It was very clear to us. Our last 15 euros had disappeared in his pocket, we patted each other on the shoulders and the pass was free.
A few insights from the operation.
To no surprise, EU stations were the hardest to work with. Of course even the JA and W stations were less disciplined in the pile-ups, but EU stations were on another level. It didn’t matter that we called an SP2 station for instance, F and I and even OK big guns kept calling over. We had to have the desired callsign repeated several times. The result was that the rate dropped from 200 to 120 and sometimes even to 80. So little would be enough – simply not to repeat the call over and over, but listen and call at the right moment.
It was very hard to work on SSB in the morning. The signals were poor and QRM high. The operator could hear the stations calling, but couldn’t copy them. The lack of discipline was even worse than on CW. The operator was working for instance 5 to 15 up, but only a few stations were calling between these points and of course all were calling over and over all the time. The operator may have looked like an idiot then. The signal was 59+ in Europe, but he was unable to copy any callsign, not to mention his frustration.
QRM in pile-ups
Some stations repeated their callsign with the rate 4 WPM over and over while changing their QRG. They obviously had no interest in making a QSO. Another phenomenon was sending FT8 when we worked on CW. A very strange way to express an interest in that mode.
We used the program MSHV and the usual “classical” frequencies as the DX frequencies were mostly occupied by the big DX-expedition VP8PJ. There was a problem with 60m. There is no unique convention except for the “classical” QRG as there are different band segments in each region. Another problem was the reluctance of the stations to change their QRG. They simply let the program tune the TRX and that’s it. We had the same experience in the DX-pedition 5K0K.
Due to very little interest in this mode nowadays, and only having a small team, we didn’t work on RTTY.
80m band – Vertical 19m with 10 radials. It worked fantastic. We didn’t need any RX antennas.
60m band – It was our first time on this band. We used INV L with 2 tuned radials.
40m band – Monoband vertical with 16 radials.
30m band – Monoband vertical with 16 radials.
Both of these antennas worked better than the multiband vertical from DX commander, but the multiband vertical was not optimally located.
20m to 10m band – Two Spiderbeams. In our opinion it’s the best portable antenna.
40m to 10m band – Multiband vertical from DX Commander. A light antenna; good especially for “one-man-show”.
2 x Elecraft K3 with 1 PA JUMA and 1 PA Expert 1k3
1 x Kenwood TS-570 with PA JUMA
1 x TS-480HX 200W only for FT8
The Kenwood TS-570 weighs more than the K3 and SSB reception is worse. However, CW is much better and with the noise blanker sometimes even better than on K3. About 80% of CW contacts were made on TS-570.
29.335 QSOs, 138 DXCC countries, 3.817 SSB, 12.529 CW and 13.009 FT8. 1.038 QSOs with OK and 301 with OM stations.
It’s a pretty good result for a 9-day expedition considering we had lost one PA at the beginning, had to move the antennas several times, and lost time due to the problems with the mains overvoltage and blackouts. Out of decency, we’re not going to describe the outrageous mess in the electrical installation in the hotel.
We’d like to thank our sponsors for the financial and material support:
DX News.com, Mediterraneo DX club, Clipperton DX Club, FEDXP foundation, Lone Star DX, also all of the individual sponsors and especially Mathurin, TU5JZ, whose help has been invaluable.
Thanks to everyone for the QSO and for the patience which was often needed on both sides. If COVID-19 doesn’t stop us we’ll be looking forward to meeting you on the bands in our next bigger DX-pedition in the fall.