DXpedition to Togo
5 - 13 March 2004
The idea of an expedition in Africa organized by the F6KOP club station came during a conversation between Flo/F5CWU coming back from Benin and Frank/F4AJQ during the annual meeting of the Clipperton DX Club in September 2003. Togo seemed a good balance between its rarity for the ham community and the difficulty to setup such an operation. Frank immediately started phoning a couple of friends already knowing each other from previous operations (TM5S, TM5N, TM5Y, TM7R…).
In a few days, a team is brought-up. It is made of:
F4AJQ/Frank, F5CW/Dany, F5JSD/Pascal, F5TVG/Franck, F5VHQ-OE5TGL/John, F8BUI/Romain and F8BJI/Jean-Paul.
Among the usual group, F9IE and F5AGB would love to join us but are forced to stay in France due to previous commitments.
From l-to-r F8BUI, F5TVG, F4AJQ, F5JSD, F5CW (down), F8BJI, F5AGB et F5VHQ-OE5TGL (down).
A quick search showed that Togo is ranked 97 on the DX Magazine most wanted list on a world-wide basis. The demand is stronger in Asia, Pacific and America. Previous activities were mainly oriented on "traditional" bands as they usually went there to participate to major contests. Therefore, we decided to focus on WARC bands, 6m, digimodes, and generally speaking maximize the opportunities to contact remote areas.
During our first meeting, we decided this would be a "light" operation, i.e. with compact all bands transceivers, barefoot and wire/vertical antennas. The choice of dates allowing optimum propagation conditions was crucial as we were close to the end of the solar cycle. Roger’s G3SXW book "Up-Two" has been of great help to us, particularly the chapter on his numerous trips to Lomé signing 5V7A. We found out that the spring equinox period was the most adequate. This will be the end of the major dry season; we should have nice weather too.
We naturally splitted the roles within the team:
F4AJQ: Global trip logistics, French sponsors follow-up
F5CW: Low bands stations
F5VHQ: Hotel accommodation
F8BJI: Digimodes stations (RTTY/PSK)
F5TVG: QSL manager
F5JSD: Transmitting license, foreign sponsors, PC network & log
F5AGB: Webmaster, Pilot coordinator
F8BUI: Medical care
After a few weeks, we selected the Sarakawa hotel which already hosted several times 5V7A. It is a 3 floor building with a massive flat roof 200m long and 20m wide, only 300m from the ocean.
In the meantime, Jean-Paul/F8BJI learnt he was not able to join us due to mandatory professional commitments. This was a serious issue as he is our digimodes guru… Franck/F5TVG decided to take care of this on his behalf and made his first ever RTTY contact in early November 2003. The clock was ticking, he only had 3 months to master logger32 and all the tricks of RTTY.
We chose Win-Test as a logging software. Olivier/F5MZN its author kindly adapted it to DXpedition type of traffic in a few weeks.
Pascal made the first calls to the Togolese ARTP in early October 2003 in order to apply for a transmitting license. We had a warm welcome, but the ARTP is a young administration created in 1999 and ham radio is not well known. Even if there was no major roadblock, we had no local champion to help us and more urgent commercial requests seriously delayed the processing of our application.
In late November, hotel and airline tickets were booked, it was impossible to cancel the trip and still no news on the license… As a Christmas present, Pascal identified a new contact, Mr Gaba who is in charge of transmitting licenses and ham radio management. Then, everything went faster; we got the possibility to choose our callsign. On the 22nd of December we were assigned 5V7C, but we had to wait until early February to receive a fax copy of the document and a letter allowing us to smoothly go through the customs with the equipment.
As we wanted to quickly get on the air upon our arrival, John/F5VHQ and Franck/F5TVG decided to leave two days earlier in order to discuss with the hotel manager the possibility to access the roof and install antennas "as we like".
On the 22nd of February, we had the last preparation meeting at Franck’s F4AJQ. We collected the whole equipment. We finally took:
We had 40 Kg of excess luggage.
Thursday, 4th of March:
John and Franck landed in Lomé in late evening without problems. The climate was hot (35°C), very wet and our friends the mosquitoes were there too.
Friday, 5th of March:
Our pathfinders spent most of their day talking to the hotel staff to get access to the roof and borrowed poles to use as antenna support. In the afternoon, they installed the 11 elements wire log-periodic in a sloper configuration beaming USA.
11 elements wire log-periodic 20m to 6m made by F5VHQ
The work was hard due to the heat (40°C) and the "Harmatan", a local brown dust wind totally unusual in this season. At 1630z, 5V7C was on the air, John made his first calls on 10m SSB to test the station. He instantly QSO LU5EK and EA8/DL7AU, reports were fine despite the QRP setup. They immediately stopped the traffic and got back to install the 40m sloper between the roof and a coconut tree in the garden, just in time before the sunset. After diner, back to the shack and John began operating SSB at 1900z on the log periodic. While he was warming-up the pile-up, Franck installed the digimodes station and made a first test on 40m SSB at 2100z. It was a success, he contacted JA8BOF, but this was a long exhausting day and only the high bands station kept operating up to 0100z. 150 QSO’s were in the log.
Saturday, 6th of March:
After a good (but short) night, our pathfinders kept negotiating with the hotel staff and got back operating the high bands at 1100z. At the end of the day, 625 QSO’s were in the log.
In the meantime, everybody woke up early near Paris as we had decided to meet at 09:00am at the airport. The departure hall was crowded, with a huge queue in the middle of the terminal… After a few minutes, Dany came back with bad news; all flights to Lomé and Cotonu on the previous day were cancelled due to a major sand storm over Sahara desert. All passengers came back on Saturday with priority for boarding. Air France proposed to refund our tickets and proposed us to leave on Sunday… or Monday! Dany got back negotiating; this was not easy as we had oversized luggage and extra weight. After a short panic, our boarding was confirmed, but we had a non planned stop in Benin to drop passengers.
Departure from Roissy CDG, from l-to-r F4AJQ, F8BUI, F5CW and F5JSD
We finally landed in Lomé at 2300z and glad to see that… all the equipment was there! We cleared customs procedures without trouble and met Franck/F5TVG who brought us to the hotel. After a quick chat, Pascal/F5JSD made an attempt to connect to the Internet via a local provider, but the phone line was so bad that the modem did not synchronize… This made it more complicated to communicate with the pilots.
Sunday 7th of March:
Everybody woke up at 0600z, we had to install the antennas before it got too hot.
A first station began operating on the log periodic. Traffic on that day was mainly oriented on CW. A second station got up and running in the early afternoon, as soon as the MA5V was installed.
Team 5V7C from l-to-r F5JSD, F4AJQ, F5TVG, F5VHQ, F5CW & F8BUI
In the meantime, we installed the MA5V on an air conditioning chimney, the 30m dipole sloping from the top of a cell phone tower located in the middle of the roof and the two elements yagi for 10-15-20m on a pole on top of the elevators control room. Dany/F5CW began looking for a nice place to install the V80E for the low bands. The day was quickly over as the sun sets early.
The hotel's roof and some antennas. Front MA5V, back 2 elts 10-15-20m
Around 1800z the low bands opened. We now had 3 active stations: 30m CW, 40m CW and 17/20m SSB. The propagation was good and the piles were building-up. Pascal/F5JSD found a strong pulsing QRM on 30m, around S9+20dB every 30s. The QSO rate was seriously impacted. We had the same QRM on the Yagi but not on the other antennas. We quickly identified the source of the QRM… It was coming from the lifts engines. Hopefully we had less problems after midnight.
The 30 and 40m stations kept operating all night long.
Monday 8th of March:
2350 QSO’s were in the log at the sunrise.
We had 3 active stations, 1 being in digimode. Franck/F5TVG had a problem with Logger32; he could not activate the auxiliary RX window and the split mode of the software. The RTTY pile-up was huge and the stress was seriously coming. Franck called F8BJI by phone and checked the whole software setup but was not able to find the issue, he kept operating simplex.
Frank/F4AJQ and Pascal/F5JSD went to the ARTP office to collect the original license document. No problem there, but Mr gaba was not in, they took his phone number to invite him later in the week. In the meantime, John/F5VHQ found a "cyber café" in the hotel, we quickly nicknamed it the "Six Beers Café" due to its proximity to the bar and the VERY slow PC’s. However he managed to leave some news on the 5V7C website guestbook and picked-up the Webcluster spots.
In the early afternoon we moved the 30m sloper and the 2 elements tribander far from the elevators. We installed the HB9CV, powered the 6m beacon and installed the Titanex V80E on the ground in the garden of the hotel.
We kept operating 4 stations during the night. Dany/F5CW made the first contacts on 80m.
The grey line openings to Asia and North America were short but strong. Propagation to Europe was good for much longer periods.
Tuesday 9th of March:
5000 QSO’s were in the log.
This was out best day with 5 stations active in the day and 3 all night.
We found a dirty fix to the RTTY issue, Franck/F5TVG had to manually handle the split using the TS50 second VFO. This was definitely slower than managing it through the software, but it highly improved the QSO rate.
Front : F5TVG, back F5CW
We regularly went to the "Six Beers Café" to send news to the pilots and taste the "Flag" a local beer brewed in Lomé… highly appreciated due to the heat!
Wednesday 10th of March:
10000 QSO’s were in the log.
We had our first 6m opening at mid-day, 80 QSO’s with ON, CT, F, EA, I, IS, 9H and EW. Missed SV and S5.
The k magnetic index rose and the higher bands propagation became hectic. We had four stations operating all day. We made our first 160m contacts.
One of the hotel's crew
Thursday 11th of March:
13000 QSO’s were in the log.
Conditions became poor with strong fluctuations on the high bands and a lot of atmospheric noise at night on the low bands. We all felt the lack of sleep at this stage, but the team spirit was still there. John, the Austrian part of the group kept remembering us to rehydate… with a good Flag!
Friday 12th of March:
15000 QSO’s were in the log.
This was our worse day from a traffic standpoint. All bands were closed except 20m.
We had a small 6m opening at the sunset and only managed to make 10 contacts.
John, Frank and Pascal went to Lake Togo for a bit of tourism and found a nice place for a future operation…
In the evening, we invited Mr Gaba from the ARTP and his brother for dinner and stopped all traffic for a couple of hours. We used this opportunity to present ham radio as they knew very few about it and explained the process our friend Robert/5V7BR from Sokodé engaged in. Robert is creating a club station and setting-up training courses in order to allow Togolese people to become ham radio operators. This is still today impossible due to the lack of official exam. We convinced Mr Gaba to help Robert in his activities. In order to help, we gave our FD4 antenna to Robert as the first club station aerial.
Clipperton DX Club flag gived to Mr Gaba (ARTP)
After dinner, we organized a demo of the various communication modes for our visitors. Mr Gaba seemed most interested in SSB. It would have been ideal to find a French speaking station for this contact, but it was not easy at all at 2245z. John started calling on 17m in English and we were very surprised to get a reply in French from Pierre/FY5FU in French Guyana. Signal was strong just at his sunset, a good 59. Mr Gaba was impressed and Pierre kindly accepted to run the typical demo QSO during ten minutes. We then called again and got a prompt reply from FY5HE, Pierre’s neighbor, still as strong. Mr Gaba was really surprised by the possibilities of ham radio and the professionalism of contacts. We left our visitors around 2330z with our heads full of hope for the future of ham radio in Togo, just before restarting operating low bands for the whole night.
Demo digimodes to ARTP, from l-to-r Mr Midjrato, F8BUI, Mr Gaba
Samedi 13 Mars :
Saturday 13th of March:
It was already time to get back home and we had to leave the hotel around 1800z. We decided to keep operating a CW an a digimodes station up to 1430z while we began packing.
Team 5V7C from l-to-r F8BUI, F5CW, F5VHQ, F5TVG, F4AJQ & F5JSD
We logged 17903 QSO’s with 8524 different stations in 137 DXCC entities.
Among these, 123 contacts (all CW) were made on 160m and 90 on 6m.
11 stations contacted us on the 9 HF bands.
The operator who contacted us most is F8BBL (9 bands CW, 7 bands SSB and 3 bands RTTY).
We left Lomé in the evening and landed in Paris at 06:00am on Sunday. Our supporters were there to welcome us: F5AGB, F9IE & XYL, F8BTP, F4DNN and F8BJI.
This operation shows it is possible for a small group of motivated friends that do not all have a huge experience of such trips to setup a successful DXpedition with a limited budget.
We thank for their material help our sponsors: Clipperton DX Club, EUDXF, OHDXF, NDXA, SMIRK, F6KOP, REF-Union, REF-77, UFT, GES, Radio 33, DXSR, Zach Antennas, Win-Test, Dunestar, Groupe Accor, Iles & Voyages, the city of Provins, Mr Gaba from ARTP, the Sarakawa hotel staff and particularly Mrs Olga Ahouansou.
We also thank for their various but essential help: F5AGB, JA1ELY, UA0MF, N5FG, ZL2AL, F9IE & XYL Micheline, F4DNN, SWL Jean-Pierre, F5NQL, F8BTP, F6BFH, F5CWU, F5MSR, F5ABI, F4DTN, F8BJI, F4BUX, F8CTY, F5LEN, F5FG and F1ECN.
Finally, special thanks to our wives who kindly accepted to let us go so far away and really assisted us over these past months.
We already started thinking to our next trip on Saturday evening in Lomé airport and are currently preparing it. So see you soon from another location.
The 5V7C team
F4AJQ, F5CW, F5JSD, F5TVG, F5VHQ & F8BUI