The top ranks are immediately rejected, they are a dream for all of us, the same for the exotic places on the Pacific Ocean, a few solar spots do not encourage such an effort. The range is getting smaller and the number of the possible destinations is now drastically reduced.We spent months to look for contacts and references, there are a number of unknown situations and it is necessary to be very careful.
Rwanda, 9X, was one of our dream, rapidly destroyed by the quick and hopeless replies from the local authority.Even Eritrea, E30, would have been a good target, Alfeo had already gone to Asmara and until a short time ago, to get the licence was not an issue. As far as the logistics, our friend IK2RZP was in contact with a local industrial enterprise. Unfortunately, and in spite of a spasmodic effort to reach the right contact, we got a negative feedback, the evolution in the political situation does not allow to release the radio amateur licence. Time was running fast and we began to be in a rush, we turned our compass East and we focused on Bangladesh S2 as a possible target, even if the low solar activity would not help us. We got immediately a fast and positive reply from the local authority but just in time the news appeared on the 425DX that a Spanish team had already planned activity from S2: we were astonished, minus 3 at the end of August!Again we restarted our search on the net and finally Djibouti appeared, with Moucha island, AF 053.The country was well far from the most top wanted places, being rank 92 and AF 053 confirmed by the 27% of island chasers. Matching the two situations, the country and the island, together with the assumption that on the low bands the rank for the USA would be much higher than shown by the top wanted list, our conclusions were positive.
Once more Alfeo started to seek for the contacts: at the time Eric, J20SAT, a Belgian guy in Djibouti for business, and Jean Claude, J28JA a resident French guy, were active from Djibouti. Immediately they replied to our mails in a very collaborative way. Some more problems arose to find the right channel to the Communication Ministry but finally we got the green light. The decision once taken, we immediately opened the WEB pages and we forwarded the official announcement. Some days later, looking at the guest page, we found a message from Danko, a Bosnian radio ham (we omit his call in respect with his job there) on which he wished good luck and said to be in Djibouti. He immediately replied to our email and in the following time he sent us a huge amount of information, including pictures he took in Moucha island, a very precious stuff for us!
The island looked flat, with rare and low vegetation but, luckily, there was a resort with some bungalows.Unfortunately Google maps do not help us as the area is still in low resolution and it is not possible to get further details. We finally found a local tourist operator who provided us all the necessary details, we understood that in that place we could not expect a night life as in Rimini (a famous Italian summer holiday resort) but we are not looking for discoes or night clubs, therefore the site should have been perfect. Last but not least, we finally convinced the resort to provide us the electric energy round clock, by some big generators. There is no reason to change a winning team, therefore all the operators engaged in the previous DX expedition in 6O, Silvano I2YSB, Alfeo I1HJT, Carlo IK1AOD, Angelo IK2CKR, Marcello IK2DIA and Vinicio IK2CIO, were ready to start again.Only Carlo, IK1HJS, who was at that time tentatively engaged in another important DX expedition could not join us. A new member, Stefano IK2HKT, did it: he was new to the DX expedition but had a huge experience in contests, being one of the IH9P team. And at this point of the challenge Silvano starts to have an headache because of the logistics: to stuff over 400 Kg is not a joke, but thanks to the previous DX expeditions, at the end he succeeds in the miracle. Our departure meeting is on January 31st at 5:30 AM in Mortara, close to Milano: most of us need to drive some hours to get there but a heavy fog is lasting on all the Northern Italy that morning and most of us are late. Finally we can start after having loaded all the stuff into Angelo’s van: our destination is Paris.
As soon as our feet touch the Djiboutian soul, we immediately realize that the down payment we sent to the local tourist operator was a good investment, they were waiting almost under the aircraft, ready to drive us to the island. The moment you cross the customs is always a critic one, a lot of boxes and tubes cannot pass unobserved and sometime easy questions like “where are you going, doing what, why?” not always receive a convincing answer for the customs officer. OK, we know there is nothing illegal from our side, so we are not worried but it may result in a waste of time and a little panic arises when you discover some stuff could not be freely imported. Nothing of that happens in this case, our travel operator has take care of all the stuff and no formalities were necessary: just matter of minutes, than our equipment and us are ready to go to the harbour where a fast motor boat is waiting for us.
Only Alfeo and Vinicio remain on the main land as it is necessary to go to the Communication Ministry to get the radio amateur licence.
The functionaries are very kind and collaborative, all is ready waiting for our documents in original, which we anticipated by email in advance. We ask in advance the call sigh, J20M and J20R but it is a misunderstanding as they can not issue any call sign with a single suffix. We are not aware of it and finally they agree to issue J20MM and J20RR.
Immediately we forward the news to the pilot and to some friends in Italy to start our activity without delay and confusion in the calls.
To land to Moucha island we have to sail for 10 miles, a fast boat takes 30 min. approx, we run alongside Maskali island, in the same IOTA group, which is not fully accessible being some military installation. Before getting into the Moucha lagoon we have to avoid the reef and some seaweeds banks.
From the boat the island looks exactly as we imagined it to be, thanks to the pictures we got from internet and from Danko before our departure. A dozen of nice brick-bungalows, just in front of the sea on the Northern part of the island, some building for the personnel and for the services, generators and equipment to purify the salted water.
Unfortunately no trees, just shrubs and, in the resort area, some ornamental green and a couple of palm trees, imported from the main land. On the Southern part there are some mangroves as well.
The first job, once we are on the island, is to install the SSB station which consists of a IC-7400 transceiver, an amplifier ACOM 1000, a 2-element Stepper suitable for the band between 6 and 20 meters, a vertical antenna for 30, 40 and 80 meters, a 200-meter long Beverage north oriented. In the afternoon we are ready and the operation from Moucha island can finally start.
The second station is ready before the sunset: it is a low power station, almost a spare one, with a IC-706 MK2G barefoot and a vertical antenna build by I1UJX, which covers 7 bands from 10 to 40 meters, 3.5 kg weight!
No activity on the air during the night, we are all tired because of the trip and the job during the day, we need to have our rest.
The following morning, after a sweet rest, even with ears plugged because of a certain local “noisy background” coming from some of the operators, just after the sunrise we start to install the CW station which consists on a IC- 756 PROIII, amplifier ACOM 1000, antenna Spiderbeam 5 bands (4 element on 10 meters, 3 elements on 15 and 20 meters, 2 elements on 12 and 18 meters), a vertical quarter wave length on 30 and 40 meters, build by Silvano I2YSB, a Battlecreek for 80/160 meters. This last antenna has been successfully experienced by us in Somalia last year, today’s version is lighter and stronger as we have used high resistant aluminium pipes which we procured in the USA thanks to Piero W1NA. The result is a very light 15-meter high antenna, flexible as a fishing pole.
To avoid bad surprise on site, the antennas were assembled and tested in Italy by Silvano, I1UJX and IK1IZB on a paddy field. When reassembled on Moucha island, we are not able to find any resonance pick or a decent S.W.R. on our MFJ antenna analyzer.
We scroll all the theories, from the false contact to the failure of the trap capacitor which is on top of the tubes, we drop and lift the antenna several times under the Djiboutian sun, without any result but getting more nervous and irritable. At least we understand that the problem is the MFJ, perhaps some strong broadcasting signal on the area makes the antenna analyser crazy once we connect the radials! In fact, once we connect the antenna to the radio directly, the S.W.R. is ok and the resonance pick just in the band. That it is not the end as we can get a reasonable S.W.R. only when 4 radials 40 meter long are connected, by connecting also the 4 radials 20-meter long fot 80 meters, the S.W.R. rises to an unacceptable level.
Our conclusion is that the Mucha island soil, which is made of fossil shellfish and coral, is such to influence the antenna features.
We pay a peculiar attention to the receiving antennas, knowing that our signals would be quite robust thanks to being so close to the sea but the noise would be strong as well.
We have the chance to compare the features of the EWE and the K9AY: the impression is that the former is more efficient in our case. Perhaps the soil propriety affects the receiving antenna performance. Being the K9AY rather small, it makes this antenna interesting when a large area is not available.
We have amazing pile up, huge on all bands, the feedback from our pilot station and the spots on the cluster confirm our impression that our signals are strong on all bands, the result of this being that all are calling us, both the big gun and the “little pistol” who, reading strong signal on the S meter, are encouraged to qso with us.
From our side, the result is the S meter nail stick over 9 and we are often in trouble to detect the callsign out of the noise floor ! We are forced to use all the possible tricks, to call by numbers, switching on the attenuators, to spread out the split etc. to catch some call out! Furthermore in most cases the indiscipline and the lack of witness by the callers make the situation even worse.
We have no internet connection on the island, which means we have not a real time feedback, we get used to sail to Djibouti every 3 – 4 days to upload the logs and to download the mails and the spots from DX Summit but the information are late and not enough useful.
On the high bands we have been careful to exploit the propagation openings, we are able to operate with both the SSB and CW stations on the same band and often, as soon as we realize that an opening is in progress, and we have some very goon on 10 and 12 meters, we are present in both modes at the same time.
On the low bands we are on air almost every night with two stations on SSB and CW. We have also an intense activity on 160 meters, sharing the time with the operation on 80 meters CW, looking for Japan and USA during the grey line period. According to the predictions, we verify a worse propagation and a higher noise on the low bands in coincidence with the days during which we have a good opening on the high bands during the sunlight.
Sometimes on 12 and 15 meters the bands are blocked for quite a long time, 10 to 20 minutes, by a very strong jamming, some high speed pulse at least 50 Khz wide: taking into account the numerous military installation on the area it is not surprising that some electronic countermeasure specialist wants to test its rigs on our skin!
The low power station performance is surprising, just barefoot with 100W power and a ultra light vertical antenna we log almost 8,000 qso being 3,500 of them on 30 meters in spite of the fact that the IC706 front end suffers the overload by the strong signal.
Talking about the weather, the temperature is around 40C° (104F°) but thank God some breeze is blowing all the time which helps feeling comfortable. Not feeling so hot, we do not realize how strong the sun is close to the equator, we cannot not avoid some burn on our skin but once at home all our friends will be envious of our suntan.
Surprisingly, we have not to suffer any mosquitoes attack, no mosquitoes on the island, we can stop the malaria prevention cure.
Night time the temperature often decreases to 25C° (77F°) and sometimes it is necessary to put on something warmer.
The sea is calm and clean all the time, once or twice per day it is nice to swim in the warm water to recharge our batteries. Amazing tade range: almost 1.5 meters!
There is nothing to do on the island, no entertainment but scuba diving. Just during the week end, that falls between Tuesdays and Friday in the Islamic area, some visitors reach the island, some tourists come there just for diving, some groups of French or American soldiers to spend some free hours. In few occasions some visitors stay on the island overnight just for one or two days.
Once, during Friday, Jean Claude J28JA comes to see us together with his wife, it is a real pleasure to spend the whole day with him!
An unexpected meeting is the one with J28AD, Emo, an Italian guy who has been living in Djibouti for 50 years, amazing and indefatigable in spite of his 76 years of age. He is together with general Christian Estripeau, the commander of the French military hospital in Djibouti, a bright and friendly guy, who surprises us when he invites us as guests to a party at his house Tuesdays night, just before our departure to Paris.
The 2 weeks are fast to pass, it seems yesterday when we arrived and now it is time to leave, suddenly we dismantle all our stuff to sail to Djibouti.
We are sure it was the first time that a 7-guy group stayed for such a long time on that island, we believe it will not happen again soon, our relation with the personnel was getting friendly and now that we are leaving, we feel a little nostalgia, we will miss the solitude and the quietness of the island and the rush of the pile up, they will miss, perhaps, the vivacity of the 7 Italians that, for a while, put poles and wires everywhere.
To reach the French general’s house we must enter the French army base: Emo comes to pick us up in Djibouti and gives us the formal invitation to show to the base post guard.
After 2 weeks of Djiboutian food, finding French cheese and wine on the table full of huge quantities and varieties of food, has been an enjoyable experience!
The aircraft to Paris is almost empty, a good opportunity to occupy more seats to lay and sleep deeply. Of course we might expect some inconvenience, leaving the Paris airport, one of the main roads to cross the city is blocked for a crash and it takes us more than 5 hours to get out of Paris!
We have learnt a lot from this DX expedition, both on the technical and operating fields, it has been a great living experience as well, 2 weeks together without a single disagreement or polemic between us. In the end, we logged more than 48,000 qso, it was heavy but we are happy as we are convinced we did our best to make happy the highest possible number of friends around the world.
A special thank goes to all the sponsors and to all the friends, very numerous again: thanks to their support we were able to conclude in a very successfully way this challenge.
NCDXF, INDEXA, GDXF, SDXF, EUDXF, ARI SCANDICCI, SWODXA, TCDXA, CLIPPERTON DX CLUB, LA DX GROUP, GMDX,CDXC, ARI CASALE MONFERRATO, ARI BRONI STRADELLA, DX NANCHETTE, ARI BERGAMO, RIZZIE ELETRONICA, TASTI I2RTF, ECO ANTENNE, D.A.E., CUBICOM, SPIDERBEAM, CAVEL, VIAGGI DELLO ZODIACO , A.R.I. DX 425NEWS, IS0VSG, W5BXX, W1NA,W6OAT, IK2DFZ, IZ2CPQ, I1FQH, I2UUA, I1KFH, IZ5BRW, IZ2DPH, IK2HFE, I2WOQ, IK2BLA, IK2UTT, IK2UWR, IK1HJR, IZ1HJA, IK1LWK, DD3JA, DL1EKO, DK8NC, DD0NM, M0CSD, JR1NHD, JM1PXG.
73,J20RR J20MM Team