TY0CDX – TY22DX – TY68F by F5AOV – F5MOO – F5CWU & F4EGD
It all began with the CQ WW DX 2000. The F5KBA (TDXT) team had gathered for a meal when I spoke of my desire to travel to Benin. It’s true dinners are often the source of projects that may or may not be carried out. But, I was asked, why this country? Simply because I have been corresponding with a young Beninese named Victorin who, for years, has been inviting me to visit this country. Terry F5MOO, Didier F5AOV and Sylvain were ready to go with me and at the same time to take up a challenge : to organize a radio expedition to Benin , managing on our own as much as possible.
After we found a common vacation period (august), we had to organize everything : the plane tickets, the necessary equipment, licenses. Everyone began searching for information in magazines and on Internet – special thanks to the many OM’s who offered their help, giving us advice and making recommendations based on their personal experience on expeditions. Yet another example of Ham Spirit!
Benin, located in West Africa, has a population of 5 720 000 and covers 113 000 km². The country is perpendicualr to the Gulf of Guinea and borders Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria and Togo. Benin is one of the smallest countries in sub-saharian Africa, but also one full of contrasts. Its coast on the Gulf of Guinea is made up of fine sand beaches with coconuts palms and quiet lagoons, whereas the interior has savannah, covered plataeus with some forests. The northwest part of the country, which we visited, features the Atakora mountain range whose mount Sagdarao reaches 658 meters at its highest point.
We stayed in Natitingou, a northern town 600 km from the airport. This town was chosen because Father Celestin, the head of the small Saint Peter’s Seminary, could house us for the length of our stay. At that period of the year the premises are empty since the seminarians are away on vacation.
For the licenses we began by checking out tha ARRL website where we found an address, a phone number and a name to contact. After several calls I finally learned that the person in charge of that department no longer held that post. Fortunately sevearl french OM’s with connections over there gave a helping hand and very quickly our license applications were on their way to the OPT in Benin. We were hoping to receive the licenses before leaving, in order to head for Natitingou as soon as we landed. However , a few weeks before our departure date we received a message saying our applications had been accepted, but we would have to pick them up in Benin.
Fo our part, we had to collect the equipment we would need according to the wavebands and modes we wanted to use. Our aim was to please as many OM’s as possible in the different frequently-used modes : SSB, CW, RRTY, PSK, SSTV- and on the wavebands ranging from 160m. Inclusive. Benin is ranked 72nd in the world, 99th in Europe and 58th in North America. All the same, these polls do not actually reveal the OM’s needs, so I conducted my own survey on my website. Thanks to the hundred or so replies I got, we were able to determine that the WARC and low wavebands and the 6m. Were seldom used in that region.
Our equipment consisted of 2 x FT-100. For antennas, we consulted on-line manufacturer’s catalogues in order to find a high-performance antenna covering all the bands from 20m. To 10m. That was lightweight, compact and efficient. Unfortunately, few manufacturers offer this kind of product in small-sized packages. We did have some offers, but the transport costs would have taken too big a chunk out of our budget (our thanks to Titanex and DXSR for thier offers).That’s why we decided to go with 100% homemade antennas. That allowed us to optimize the ratio band/weight. We bought about 30 meters of aluminium pipe in order to make a vertical 27 meter low waveband ( tested during the CQ WW 160 m.), 20 fishing rods that we transformed into a 2 elements (17/20 m.) and 3 elts (15/12/10 m.) quad (all antennas conception by F5MOO terry). The low waveband antenna was cut into two 1.45 m pieces to take up less room. We found a spot for a lightweight 5 elts (for the 50 Mhz conception by F5CWU flo) next to assorted accessories in the package. The whole antenna package weighed 30 kg. No less than 200 meters of salvaged 6 mm coaxial cable, 40 meters of low-less cable for the 50 Mhz and quite a few “just-in-case” things were stuffed in between socks and t-shirts. We also decided to take a 500 W amplifier , Didier F5AOV’s AL 80b, to improve our signal, especially on the low wavebands .
Next we set about finding a transceiver, small lightweight stabilized power supply units, filters and microphone headsets. We e-mailed some sponsors who, much to our surprise, replied favorably to our request. Icom France lent us an IC706 MKIIG, GES: 4 power supply units, Bob K9EID from Heil sound : 3 microphone headsets and adaptaters and May WX0B supplied us with 6 W3NQN band-pass filters. We never imagined manufacturers and retailers would take an interest in our modest expedition. Thank you! Another sponsor, the Clipperton DXclub, helped us financially.
After several days of methodically weighing all our aquipment, we packed our bags, some of which were made to measure, of course within the maximum limits allowed by the airline. So no less than 150 kgs were divided among the 4 operators. At check-in 10 kg of excess luggage went unnoticed. We also stuffed heavy items into our pockets and under our clothes to avoid overweight hand luggage. Our antics in the airport concourse seemed to amuse the travelers coming behind us. Then our wait began, interrupted by a moment of panic-I had frogotten my yellow fever vaccination record. The matter was sorted out at the Orly medical center, but it was close. The flight was uneventful, for some it was their first!
We arrived at around 11:30PM local time, clear skies, 23°C. Coming off the plane after 8 hours of air-conditioning, the humidity in Cotonou surprised us. We met my friend Victorin, then picked up our bags, somewhat worried about their condition , and walked past the customs officers who did not bother us.
The seminary with 5 els 6m and 4 els 10m
Then we set off on night ride through Cotonou to get to our one-night QRA. The traffic was unbelievable.People seemed to drive without watching out for the other vehicles. It took skill, in fact, because not only do the zems (motorcycle taxis) and cars go around without headlights, but animals and pedestrians appear suddently on all sides.It was quite upsetting. We finally arrived at our destination, and after a night’s sleep with the mosquitos we journeyed across Benin in an overcrowded taxi. It took no less than 10 hours to reach the northern part of the country, speeding through villages, zigzagging around chickens, goats and pedestrians.We arrived around midnight.We were upset during the last 20 mn. On the bumpy, rutted road that was bugging the mountainside we realized we wouldn’t be in a wide-open area. The night was so dark we couldn’t see the landscape. If we had, we couldn’t have slept a wink (I had in fact required about the surroundings.No problem, I’d been told. I’m wiser now).
We unloaded and settled into temporary rooms near the main building. I was eager to try our radio, also worried we couldn’t be able to pick up anything because of the terrain. we unpacked a power supply unit and an FT-100 to listen to the HF wavebands. We improvised an antenna. At first all the wavebands were quiet, but when I turned to 40 m., we picked up our first European signals. Gianni I2ZGC and some other stations on the net came through the QRM-we were relieved. That night we slept well, except for being awakened by a strange noise, like rocks being thrown on the roof.It was just rain. What a racket!
The next day evveryone was up early.Our first look outside floored us! We were in a valley, surrounded by mountains.Not great!Luckily the US and Europe/Asia directions were spared.Then, ignoring this magnificent but far from ideal for radio, scenery, we began setting up our antennas- in between rain showers.We soon had the 5 elts 50 Mhz and the 4 elts 10 m. Assembled. By the end of the afternoon they were up on 8 meter wooden poles that had been handcrafted that day by a team of carpenters.After dinner we made a temporary 20 meter dipole and attached it to the outside guardrail.I was then able to start making some QSO’s. At first the pile-up was weak. After a few minutes it got stranger quickly. The first station in the log is JJ6DGP. That evening were made only about a hundred contacts when the fatigue of our busy day got the better of us.
The following morning the last parts of the 10/12/15 m. Quad were put together.The antenna assembly was completed in the evening, just before nightfall.In the afternoon we installed the vertical low waveband.It took us several hours to put up the 27 m. Aluminium poles.We had to keep from tangling up the stays (600 m. To string).A group of children gave us a hand. At least 10 children took turns, some understood quickly, others just did what they were told.We gave each child a 5 minute explanation of what to do.Despite the difficulties we got the antenna set up without any damage.It was a gamble since we had never tested this type of asembly before.The tests were conclusive.
By dawn the next morning we had the vvertical radians set up. The first tests were what we expected.However the tuning of the quad was not satisfactory.After lengthening the radiator parts of the antenna, we also lengthened the reflectors.That was an improvement, but something was still wrong. After checking everything, we finally found the problem.A coaxial cable was improperly connected in the relay box. The 20 m. Quad was assembled and installed, but some breaks in the coax and the control wires made it unusable . That was a shame because it looked great! We replaced it with 2 dipoles, 17 and 20 meters in slooper.
Around 6 PM we stoped the traffic in order to make some adjustments on the quad.We allowed an hour for the operation.But with the luck we were having, one of the stays slipped out and the quad crashed on the ground.2 of the 3 elts were smashed.Luckily we had the parts of the 20 m quad to rebuilt the antenna.We used pieces of fishing rods as splints and lots of scotch tape.We had a scare , but we got everything up and working perfectly within our alloted time.
Didier F5AOV, Thierry F5MOO, Victorin, Flo F5CWU and Sylvain
Once the antennas were up, we were able to relax a little.We wree feeling tired.Our nights were devoted sleep and the low waveband traffic.But our streak of bad luck wasn’t over yet. Every night during our stay big storms broke out, lasting from 8PM to 6:30 in the morning.The 27 m low waveband antenna was the highest point in the valley.For safety’s sake, we often had to disconnected it.On some occasions when the storm seemed to be in the distance we wre active on the 30/80/40 m.Static was a problem, though.Some 300 m beverages were installed in direction of Europe and Asia but the static was really too loud.That was too bad because during the 2 or 3 nights the waveband was quiet we were able to make a lot of QSO’s.In the morning the storms were over.We were able to contact staations in the uS with very strong signals on both sides.Unfortunately, these good conditions didn’t last long.We were on the air every morning practically, except a few days when the alarm clock failed to wake us.
The European indiscipline on the low wavebands was a problem.It often ended with “QRT because of the indiscpline”.Near the end of our stay these difficulties were about settled, but the static was still just as noisy.I guess we hadn’t chosen the best time of the year!On top of everything else, a boy scout troop bunking in the same residence hall wouldn’t put up with any noise between 10 PM and 7:30 Am.Every night we were asked to lower the volume.On the other hand, when the scouts rang the bells at 4 AM, we weren’t supposed to say anything!
The traffic on the night wavebands was going well.Our first contact was on august 18 with the 9th stations, which are well-known european barriers.The following days we had contacts with a few limited areas in Europe.We had about 400 QSO’s.
F5AOV on 10m – Flo F5CWU operating on 15m
We had contacts in RTTY, PSK31 and SSTV modes, despite the difficulties.We were supposed to have 2 or 3 computers to keep a log of our QSO’s but we found on our arrival that none was available.3 or 4 days later some brought us a computer that was in very bad condition.When we opened the cd-rom , we found a pile of dirt.There was tar everywhere.The worst was on the inside.We spent an afternoon cleaning it with dsinfectant from our first aid kit.After transferring the files one by one, thanks to the one disk we had with us.We were finally able to imagine the possibility of a digital operation.Despite our efforts, the results were disappointing.We tried changing the sound card , but the audio was still unsuable.It sounds incredible, but with some ground wires and strapping tape, we got it to work.
We experienced electrical outages daily-the electrical filtings and wiring in the seminary were not up to standard.We finally decided to hook up directly at the electric meter.So while the whole seminary was in the dark, our equipment was still running.Smetimes the tension at the mains jumped from 110 to 380 volts, so we had to shut everything off.It was hard to beleive the multimeter reading.
Thierry F5MOO is waiting for 6m opening
During our 2-week stage we spent several afternoons visiting the north of Benin.It was the rainy season, the landscapes were green, the vegetation dense and diversified.We enjoyed the fresh fruit an dvitamine diet.We have especially good memories of our visit in Kotopounga, a small village high up on a plateau, where we met the chief of the lands.We tasted the local products: fruit , vegetables and spirits.Some of us particulary remember the warm feeling we got after sampling the local alcohol beverage called “Tchouk”.We ended the day at Kotta Falls, a very scenic spot in the north of Benin.What a great time we had on that excursion.During our stay in Benin we learned that taxicabs are expensive, overcrowded and in bad condition.A Zem (motorcycle taxi) is a better net.The fares are variable but the ride is worth it.On several occasions we gave demonstrations of our hobby in front of enthusiastic young people.In fact, one TY resident should be on the air soon-Victorin!The aim of our trip,of course,was to operate an amateur radio station, but also to spend time with the people.Since we were guests we couldn’t hide away in the residence and play with ur radio for 2 weeks without discovering the rituals and customs of the beninese people.Moreover, several times a week we were invited to lunch or dinner.At these meals we tasted many local specialities which we found delicious.
On the 27th in the morning we went QRT after sending a last message to Jo, F5IPW who could tell our families that we were heading home.We said our goodbyes then left for Cotonou.On the way we made a stop in Parakou in the center of Benin, then in Ouidah where we visited a slavery museum. Just before our flight, we were able to visit Ganvie, a fascinating lakeside village on piles.
During our stay we discovered that Benin is a very diversified country.At least 30 dialects are spoken. The people enjoy life and know the meaning of the words generosity and hospitality.The first expedition outside France was an enriching experience for us all, and we hope to visit other countries someday.We were happy about our radio communication ( about 15 000 QSO’s). Certainly, each of us will treasure the memories of this fantastic adventure.
Text & Pictures by F5CWU