It was early December when I inadvertently announced on a QRZ forum that I was activating 3B8 Mauritius Island in May 2014. I think it was the word activation that triggered the spiral of enthusiasm and before long I was greeting with requests to act as my qsl manager and postings on various DX spotting clusters and news groups of which whose support I am thankful.
For most of us operating abroad is quite simple using reciprocal agreements and CEPT legislation but in Mauritius it is slightly different. Firstly there are two classes of licence, A (full) and B (novice). These roughly equate to Full and Foundation licences in the UK. If you work a 3B8xx it will be a full call and if you work a 3B8xxx it will be a Class B licence holder restricted to 10w.
Mauritius falls into the same area of operation as us so looking at power levels and band plan structures it it all very similar with some minor variation.
To operate as a visitor you must complete an application form, supply a copy of your passport, a set of passport photographs, copy of your UK License, pass certificate of your licence, a written letter or authority to operate from your intended destination and a plan drawing showing position of any antenna installation.
Once you have sent all this off by mail there’s normally a delay of approximately 2 to 4 weeks whilst the application is processed, during that time the Police will conduct security checks on both you and and the location for which you will be operating to confirm your affiliation to both them and the locus. Thankfully for me I have Mauritian family so this was relatively straight forward. On completion of this series of checks you will be notified by telephone or email and arrangements made for you to collect your license and pay an admin fee of approximately £20 to the local authorities on your arrival.
When you receive your licence however, you will note from the terms and conditions you can only operate from your main station address. Portable, SOTA, Maritime Mobile or any other mobile are not allowed. So a trip to the beach with a delta loop in the tree is out of the question.
The local Club in Mauritius (MARS) is currently liaising with the Telecommunications Agency in Mauritius with a view to ironing out some of these loopholes and a degree of the hurdles encountered are simply not fully understanding what Amateurs are and how they operate. I am sure this is a reoccurring problem all over the world.
Most readers will be familiar with wonderful far away tropical destinations used for DXPeditions and how they have 59 contacts throughout the day and everything seemed to go to plan well I have to say my expedition was far from perfect but on the other hand it has gained many positives too.
My sole purpose was to enable home and modest sized stations the ability to work LG89 square with relatively low power using weak signal modes such as JT65 and SSB on 100w. This in itself created logistical problems from the outset in that as a lone operator I have to carry a radio, PSU, beam antenna , Rotator, Coax and Computer equipment for logging.
I was worried from that I would exceed any type of baggage allowance on civil airlines so planned my trip accordingly.
I simply love my TS590 and there was no question that would be going with me accompanied by my Heil pro set plus . Coax was cut into 2 x 20m lengths using RG mini 8. The antenna of choice was the hexbeam so I contacted Anthony MW0JZE and placed an order for that. Incidentally, if you buy a Hex for carriage on aircraft, it all fits nicely in a Snowboard Bag and the bag itself has plenty of padded support too. I also slipped in a 10 m prowhip vertical and a 1/2 size trusty G5RV . Total weight 29Kg!
For the mathematicians amongst you I am sure calculations would not take long to recognise there is little room for anything else so packed one pair of shorts, one t shirt and a pair of flip flops. Total weight 30kg.
Logging was supported by a Dell Studio 17 laptop with Software supplied by N3FjP which I found incredibly easy to customise to exactly how I wanted it and nice easy see big boxes. Software for JT65 was provided by HB9HQX. All this came in at 6kg and formed my carry on baggage allowance. I was quite fortunate the airline I was flying with has a 30kg hold allowance and 7kg cabin carry on allowance. With 1kg to use I stuffed a tablet and charger bringing me nicely up to full capacity.
Now a word of warning for the would be traveller. Airport staff and Customs and Immigration do not like ugly baluns chokes, ferrites or lumps of coiled coax in xray but if you have you licence with you and simply explain it makes the process so much easier. you have to remember airlines transport film crews and scientific expeditions all the time and they have seen most things but just be up front and honest about what you are doing and there will be no problems. When you land at your destination airport make sure you are in possession of your visitors licence if required, prior to baggage reclaim . I was given this tip from a Czechoslovakian who had visited Mauritius earlier in the year. My airline travel went without a hitch and everything arrived in one piece and undamaged. The Airport authorities only seemed interested in the battery in the laptop.
To support the Hexbeam I had shipped in advance a 50m bundle of RG213. A lightweight TV rotator picked up from a radio rally, control cable for the rotator and some simple test equipment and trusty soldering iron. I also shipped a lightweight footswitch but this proved to be more trouble than it was worth so went into the depths of the Mauritius back streets to source a sewing machine foot switch and jack plug, wiring it here on site for use. I have to say it worked rather well. The final item in the shipping box was a Palstar 30A power supply.
Although I had carried enough equipment to get on air immediately, i did not plan on the shipping arriving at it’s destination 3 weeks late and this caused all sorts of problems for me. I was at one point seeking to local purchase a 4×4 heavy duty battery and an optimal charger similar used to keep motorcycle batteries at tip top condition over winter months.
Prior to my visit however, I had made contact with a local expat Ham, Clive 3B8CW who kindly loaned me a 30A switched power supply which enabled me to at least get on air with JT65 using simplistic antennas brought with me.
The beam was assembled with assistance of extended family members here and sat perched on a patio table for some two further weeks until the boxes cleared through customs. For any of you shipping items be sure your packing list is correct and expect to pay VAT and local agency fees too.
As the photographs show, building space was tight to say the least and it took some balancing to finally erect the antenna but it all went smoothly. Switch on and the first tests were done on 14.070, as I knew that PSK 31 was not coming through well at all previously. The computer display illuminated and the bandwidth was full of Russian and European operators. This was a positive indicator that all was well. I did have a little problem with beam headings though in that the tablet gps compass had a conflicting idea on where it thought North should be. This was rectified using Google Earth and plotting my position on GPS. The tablet was rotated to line the house and road up with line of sight, similar to using a map and compass . My heading was about 90 degrees off. Once the mast was rotated in the TK brackets I was all set.
Operating in a residential area, my next concern was that of EMC and if the guys back at North Wakefield RC have taught me anything it is always make sure you have a clean signal and don’t upset the neighbours. Even running at 100watts I wanted to be sure there were absolutely no problems at all as I was after all a visitor in their Country. Rest assured all was fine.
Keen to call CQ I was still not ready and wished to test my audio and Mic Gain settings. Clive 3B8CW was about 20 miles North of me so we had sone ragchewing initially to tweak it hear and there. The audio was set using the Mic Gain control and the built-in TX processor of the 590. I found using the monitor function that the hb1 setting worked well. I disabled VOX intending to use the footswitch only.
Prior to departure from the UK, I had checked on best frequency allocations for expeditions and published them on QRZ . I expected a demand so planned to operate split where possible. I had found a little spreadsheet macro program on air called MEMSET that allowed me to rewrite all my 590 memories with sections for beacon tracking, split SSB operation, RTTY, PSK . I am not sure if this is available for other Radios but for me I am very grateful indeed to the author Ian Wade, making my operating easier on the front end. I did however have some issues when working in Memory mode and then trying to quickly select a spotted station in HRD6 cluster in that I had to disable memory mode before I could do it. Once I had that sorted though it was a breeze.
Solitary spot in the middle of Indian Ocean and I was getting out!
For anyone that doesn’t use any form of beacon tracking I highly recommend that you do as it really is a real time indication what conditions are like on a specific band at a specific time. For this i used W6NEC Beacon Tracker Software which is free to download. I set up memories for each band and simply switched on the software, pointed the beam where I wished to work and listened for the repeater burst. It is as simple as that. For EU I was using the OH beacon in Finland. I had a disadvantage as i had a clear sea path to the NW but a large mountain behind me which despite best efforts created some issues for me.
During the first two weeks, I found myself working JA, VK, ZS, and most of Europe on JT65HF. I even managed a contact with Conrad G0RUZ at 5w on his rather impressive new Anan10. I found that despite being a weak signal mode, traces coming in were quite clearly not. A useful tip for readers venturing into JT65 is to have a look at the DB Power calculator referenced at the foot of this article . It is a very tool to ensure you only tx the minimal power to achieve a good report. I achieved some good 5 w contacts from here and on other days i had to increase to as much as 20w.
Week 3 turned to SSB but unfortunately conditions locally were very poor indeed,and had very few opportunities but managed a run on 10,12,15 and 20m. I switched to data modes and pretty much the same but did quite well on RTTY. During the last short burst on 20 metes, the QSB was very deep and signals faded quite quickly, a kind comment was however received by email the following day from Gerry VE8GER in Nothern Canada saying I was very weak in the noise but he could make out everything I said on air. Conditions however were not good enough for him to reply. For me this was an uplifting email and replied to Gerry arranging to send him an SWL QSL card.
QSLing was another topic that I looked at quite closely as I was expecting more contacts than what I actually did. I elected to use the services of a third party qsl manager who removed all the headache from me and alleviated the RSGB bureau from being swamped with cards. Any QSL Manager could have quite easily performed the task but I chose David EB7DX in Spain. David arranged design and printing of any cards, LOTW registration, Club log and OQRS. All David required from me was a series of photographs from the expedition so he could make a tri-fold QSL card. His policy was then posted on QRZ.
Mauritius is a very small Island and from time to time I would pick up radar on 17m across the whole portion of the band. I am unsure if it was from Airport navigational radar or maritime radar. The hill behind my QTH was called Signal Mountain and presumably for the reason suggested in the name. I am not 100% sure what it was but most likely belongs to the Coastguard as a Maritime Monitoring Station for the abundant fleet of long line Tuna Fishing vessels that operate from here.
Always expect the unexpected, yes easy to say when packing spare plugs and coax but one thing I didn’t plan for was tropical infection. I had visited my own GP prior to travel and was up to date with vaccinations and advice but I have appear to have an attraction to mosquito bites. Sure thy love fresh tourist blood but I had quite a nasty reaction to a bite which became infected and disabled me for about a week quite rapidly. I had to swallow my pride and attend at hospital as infection if not managed effectively in tropical climates can spread and take time to heal no matter how good your immune system may be. I was touch and go as to whether they were going to admit me on an IV drip but opted for heavy duty antibiotics which worked well. If you are planning your trip to a remote location you may not have the services of a local hospital so be sure to take lots of repellant and anti histamine. My best advice is travel in a team.
Most Expeditions are sponsored events and have a team who can seamlessly operate multi band, multi mode 24 hours a day. There is a degree of pressure to deliver and many requests cannot foresee and comprehend the conditions facing you at your end. This again is where it can at times be more than one person can adequately deal with when juggling family commitments and other local issues. Any real expedition in my eyes would need a team of 5 minimum to maintain constant operation. That said, I had a great time and congratulations to all the QRP that called in
DB Calculator for JT65 by WY5R & David KJ4IZW
MEMSET for TS590 by Ian Wade G3NRW
Amateur Contact Log by N3FJP
Update 30 april. I have arrived at QTH but shipping is stuck at container depot and due to public holiday cannot access until after this time. I am therefore going to commence station setup on 1May in peparation to being QRV 2 May as originally proposed. Any problems I will update as required.
Push comes to shove Ill just get the family stuff done earlier and reschedule as required. Im a little disappointed at boxes left uk in February and should have arrived. It’s only the PSU really Im waiting on and if no joy by the end of the week Ill buy a heavy duty battery and charger an run from battery.
Weather is hot humid and full of flies so it may take a while to acclimatise yet.
Updates via qrz, facebook and twitter
Thursday 1 May Update
Today is a public holiday over here so I cannot get into Customs or the shipping agents. I have there utilised time trying to build the hexbeam but a partition wall has been built since my last visit in 2009 making it very difficult to assemble the antenna.
This was planned to be done on the flat roof of the kitchen but there are so many obstacles I have had to do it in the very tight garden space. Just like the club, if you want an antenna up you need to lob some trees back and this was done with assistance of the extended family namely my brother in laws James and Mike and nephew Chris.
The weather is unbearably hot at about 30 degrees. My poor scalp was starting to feel the effect so had to make a makeshift Arab Headdress from a damp tea towel. I looked pretty pathetic but amongst family and friends so why not. I recall Jersey being difficult to work for long in the heat but I certainly under estimated how difficult a simple task becomes in such conditions.
Thankfully I managed to source an old weathered patio table to ease construction and got the elements installed. The only problem was the 6m element which I pulled too hard causing breaking of the insulation in one part. This was quickly fixed with amalgamating tape.
The plan now is to build the cubical quad tomorrow when my bamboo has been cut and more assistance gained from the community here.
The hex will stay where it is until power supply and rotator arrive with me. If the delivery is unrealistic I may have to resort to batter power and a fixed beam heading.
Port Louis Mauritius
Update Monday 5 May 2014
i have visited the shipping office here in Port Louis and there is a discrepancy between what the agents in UK have advised and what is actually correct. It has transpired tge ship that was due on 29 April has not even arrived from Singapore yet and is now expected to arrive on 7 May with 3 days thereafter before I can collect. This unfortunately falls on a Saturday and they may not be open until 12 May.
This is nothing to do with customs as first advised.
I am trying to source a good battery source and charger today and commence makeshift qrp operating using a vertical. It may well be at least I can achieve some JT65 and allow operators to work the square.
I have a 10 m prowhip and a 1/2 size g5rv which I am able to setup on a 5 m scaffold pole so will do for temporary use. I have no plans to raise the hexbeam without rotator as simply too difficult due to limited space. I will have to get two people stood on a wall, lift the beam and turn it 90 degrees on to insert the stubmast into the pole. I would rather wait and put the rotator on first as I am reliant on available assistance of others.
For those following twitter and facebook, I will keep you posted with regular updates.
ROLF DK7NO pays a visit to the station 12 May 2014
+Rolf has been staying in Trou Aux Biches Mauritius for the past three weeks on vaccation and was keen to come and meet me here at the station. I have arranged a schedule to try and work him on SSB at the weekend.
I wish Rolf and his wife a safe trip back to Germany or the ‘Refridgerator’ as he calls it