After so many years being active in the world of ham radio, and mainly realising DXpeditions to different parts of the world, many of you already know us and when we have the pleasure to meet you personally, we always receive similar questions: When are you going to make a new operation? Where are you going next?… And our answer is always the same: We don’t know ! I must recognise that sometimes we do not tell the complete truth, as there is always a project in mind, but lately, when we answered that we were not going to start any radio project at least till 2010, when it is expected that the propagation conditions improve a bit, I can assure that we were telling the truth.
Our last DXpetition experience in Bangladesh, which took place in January 2007 left some kind of bitterness in us, not because of the human quality of the team, but the reason was because it was a bit disappointing that all the effort that we invested in that project didn’t get a reward with good propagation that could have given a QSO to all those who wanted to contact with that DXCC entity. Because of that, Josep and I decided that we wouldn’t plan anything seriously till the conditions improved.
After a hard year of work and after having spent all the summer studying for my competitive exam at my job, December arrived with a good new: I passed the exam. And because we were going to celebrate our 22nd wedding anniversary by the end of January and the 1st of February our “little” child Marc would be 18 years old … we had a lot of things to celebrate and decided that we deserved a good prize: a fantastic journey. As this winter has been quite crude, we wanted to go to a place with good temperatures where we could relax and disconnect from the outside world. I had to be a place easy to reach, as we didn’t have plenty of time for preparing the trip, and quickly we decided that we wanted to go Dominican Republic, as this was a place where we also wanted to go, but for different reasons we always chose a different option. Decided: we were going to the Caribbean. I started to surf in internet, trying to find a good offer and a nice place where to expand our bones! Originally, this was going to be a relax trip, but as many of you that have taken part in a DXpedition, it is hard to go to a far place and not thinking of bringing the radio with you. So we decided that something of radio should be done during our spare time, and contacted with INDOTEL, the ham radio authority in the Dominican Republic, and got a quick response: there was no problem to obtain the licence, but we had to apply for it with no delay, as Christmas Holidays were close and they couldn’t guarantee them. It is recommended to apply for a licence with a month in advance.
We had to take a quick decision. As we were going to do radio, why not operating from an interesting place? . The Dominican Republic is not a very demanded DXCC entity, so we had to find another option, and finally thought that an IOTA reference could be a good option. Those that take part in the IOTA Program will already know that HI has only 2 references: NA-096 for the main island, and NA-122 for all the coastal islands. The second reference had more demand as it was only credited by the 28% of the IOTA participants.
We got it: NA-122 was our option. We remembered that many years ago we already have thought to make that operation, and there was a small hotel in Cayo Levantado (Levantado Key), but finally it was rejected as we were told that the conditions were not very good (it didn’t have 24-hours power supply) and the hotel finally closed. That island was our only option, as all the other coastal islands are inhabited and some of them are Natural Reservation, and you can only stay there with official permit and we didn’t have enough time for all that matter.
Surfing in internet we had a great surprise: a spanish hotel chain bought the old hotel and built a fantastic luxurious hotel which was already inaugurated in 2007. The place was idyllic … but we quickly had a doubt: would they allow us to install our antennas in a place where it is supposed that people go to relax? We soon got an answer from the Resident Manager of the hotel, Mr. Victor Pérez, saying that before giving us an answer he had to know more about what we were asking, as no other guest had asked those things before. We sent him a picture of the antenna that we were going to bring, a Cushcraft MA5B, and after a pair of days he answered that there was no problem.
We had the OK from the hotel and we just needed the licence. If finally arrived before the end of the year, some days in advance of what it was expected. We must say that we always received a great collaboration from Mrs. Patricia Heredia at INDOTEL, who always had a kind answer to all our e-mails.
Everything was in its way, and during Xmas holidays, Antonio (EA3AON) helped Josep to prepare the antennas and invented a system that should let us easily raise the beam. We expected to place the mast directly in the ground, as for the pictures that we could see and after consulting it with Mr. Perez, we rejected to place it in the balcony of our room, because of the structure of the buildings. We had to take a mast not shorter than 7 meters high, and we had to bring it from EA, as we didn’t want to repeat the experience that we had in Bangladesh, where we bought some tubes in a local market and they didn’t bear the weight of the beam and doubled nearly 90 degrees the first time that we tried to raise it.
They worked hard in the adjustment of the beam and in the special hoisting system, which was a system of pulleys placed in the top end of the mast, which finally worked.
But … what about 40 and 80 meters? And digital modes and CW?…. Finally, what it should have been a simple trip of relax was becoming a full DX-pedition … and finally we decided to travel loaded as a donkey once again. We choose to go with the Butternut HF2V for 40 and 80 meters. And due to the pernicious conditions of propagation we couldn’t forget the lineal amplifier, an Ameritron ALS-600. Well, finally our luggage was overcoming 100 Kg and we had to go on with the preparations. Jorge (EA8TL/3) and Jaume (EA3JW) help us with the software that we were going to use … and we just had to wait for our plane.
Finally the departure date arrive, and on January 20 we started our own marathon: Barcelona, Madrid and finally Santo Domingo. We landed and we just had to wait for our luggage. While we were in front of the luggage belt, we expected that nothing was forgotten in another airport. We smiled when we saw a man coming with our antennas … we were lucky. Luggage started to appear, hundreds of huge suitcases, but no trace of our damned red suitcase where we carried the lineal amplifier and other material. After half an hour we were unlucky … but there were more people in the same situation so we didn’t lose the hope. The belt stopped and everybody thought that no more luggage was coming. We couldn’t believe it: our damned red suitcase was lost once again. That suitcase is damned as it usually never arrives at its destination … but normally this happen on the way back!!! We were resigned to doing the claim, when one of the keepers went into the hole where the suitcases were supposed to appear and told us that something was obstructing the belt. He fixed it, but after 2 or 3 more the belt stopped again. They tried it several times, but finally decided to change to another belt. Chaos and confusion. Another belt was opened and …. eureka, after a while our wonderful red suitcase appeared.
Now, with all the luggage in our hands, we just had to go through the customs. If our luggage had appeared quickly we are sure that we wouldn’t have had any problems because of all the initial confusion, but after having been waiting more than 40 minutes with a skiing bad and a big box … we were not going to cross the customs so easily as the officers had been observing us for a long time. They asked what we were carrying and after a long explanation and showing all the permits, the officer decided that we should leave the antennas and come back in the next morning, as all the offices were already closed (it was 8 pm). Without losing our calm and with good words, we convinced him that that was impossible for us to come back in the morning as our hotel was situated 200 km far away from the capital and we had no way to come back. In the end, he allowed us to pass, not before telling us that although Indotel had told us that we would have no problems with customs, the rules are established by another department and they could decide what to do. So, we recommend that if you want to go to HI land with a radio equipment, you should get in touch with the Custom Department in advance.
After flights, links and waits, it took nearly 24 hours to reach our destination, and we already had 3 more hours of bus from Santo Domingo to Samana, without forgetting the boat to the island. It was dark night and all those who have already visited that country will know that roads are not very good and that native drive in a special way. With a lot of patience, we get accommodated in the van with a pair of couples that were going to the same hotel, and looked at us with some surprise at the vision of a skiing bag in the middle of the Caribbean, so we were a bit obliged to break the ice and told them that we didn’t expect to ski in the Caribbean mountains, but we were going to make some radio and that the antennas were in the bags. ‘How interesting!!!’, was their answer, although it didn’t sound very convincing.
The journey was quite long, although luckily the Government has constructed a toll motorway connecting Santo Domingo and Samana Peninsula and now the trip last 2 hours less. But that fantastic motorways was just a simple road with 2 rails, one for each way, but with good pavement, considering the average situation of the other roads. And the price is so high for local people that there was few traffic. The journey was easy and after some sleep, we finally arrive at our destination.
It was midnight, and we were 2 hours late from our expected arrival time. So there was no trace of the boat that had to take us to the island, and we had to wait for the boat that brought the staff of the hotel that had finished their shift of work, but they were singing and joking. After 15 minutes on the boat, we finally disembarked in the island. We made a quick check-in and took a small electric train (which is the way of transportation for all the guest in the island) to our room. We got a luxurious individual villa, with a TV room, a huge bathroom with jacuzzi, a huge bedroom with another TV and a porch looking to the sea and another external jacuzzi, and we also had 24 hours services. What else could we want?.
While I was strolling in the house, Josep looked for a place for the beam… and in the middle of the dark detected that the only possible place was a small clear in front of the house. Although it was past midnight and we have been more than 30 hours without sleeping, we decided to try how the 24 hours service room worked and ordered a pair of cheese burgers and some drinks, and started to unpack part of the luggage in order to being on air as soon as possible as we only had 6 days for operating.
We woke up very early, before 7 am and after checking that, in fact, the clear that Josep had discovered the last night was the only possible spot were to install the beam. After a good breakfast, we immediately started to build up the beam. Personally, I could never see the hoisting system before so I had quite curiosity to see how it would work. At a first glance, the system was simple. We mount the mast, with the pulley and the system of flying ropes and fixed the beam to it. We started to pull up … but it didn’t work: we had tighten the beam to the PVC tube that it had deformed a bit and the tube wasn’t slipping. We slackened and finally, not without effort, we could hoist it. The system worked, but Josep took note of its failures and decided that it should be modified if we wanted to use it in future activities.
The beam was well tied, so we could start to be on the air. We connected everything and checked that there were some European station in the 20 meters band. We decided to send our first CQ de HI9/EA3BT on 14.260, the IOTA frequency but… no answer at all. He sent several CQ but no answer at all, so we started to be a bit upset … Was anything wrong? We chose for the easiest solution: calling Antonio for checking if he could hear us. Luckily it was lunchtime and he was at home, so he quickly appeared in the frequency and could checked that we were crossing the ocean and could be hear at EA3 land. But we had a small problem: the switched power supply that was supposed to work with 110 V it didn’t work properly and the equipment couldn’t work with 100 W … so we had to use just 40-50 W and then the lineal amplifier just showed 300 W output. That was a nuisance as the propagation conditions were very poor and we needed as much power as possible if we wanted to reach EU or … even JA where NA-122 is one of the most wanted references as it is nearly in its antipodes.
Josep decided that the only easy solution would be trying to find a car battery to connect it between the equipment and the power supply. The equipment would have 12 V from the battery car and this, while connected to the power supply, would get charged without interruption.
But we had to get the battery. I left Josep with a good pile-up, organized after Antonio put the first spot in the cluster, and went to the lobby in order to greeting Mr. Perez, the director, for his kindness and for the great emplacement that he gave to us … and also asking him another thing: achieving a battery. His answer was affirmative, but there was a problem: it was holiday in Samana and all the shops were closed so he couldn’t buy it till the next day.
Resigned, I went back to the villa and told Josep that we had to wait till the next day, but showing a nice smile he told me that we didn’t need the battery any more. Just when I left, the chief of maintenance came and asked him to tie the ropes in a different place from the lamppost as it was a bit fragile and he couldn’t guarantee that it would resist, and he was also interested in all what we have already installed, as no other ham radio operator had already been in the hotel since it was opened again. Josep explained him the problems that we had and he told him not to worry anymore as he would send an electrician to put us a 220 V direct line to feed the station. We were lucky again … although the electrician didn’t appear till the next day, but we finally achieved full power with our lineal amplifier.
Later, I started to operate so Josep could continue mounting the vertical antenna for 40 and 80 meters as we wanted to be on the air in those bands as soon as possible, and so we did that night.
We must say that during the six days that the operation lasted, the pile-ups were continuous and the signals in 20 and 17 metres towards Europe were very good, so we could work a great amount of EA stations and from the rest of Europe. Obviously, we could enjoy the best conditions with North America, the Caribbean and some parts of South America, but we must say that every afternoon, just before de sunset, we had very good openings towards Japan, and some of them lasted several hours, so the JA friends could make a QSO with this wanted reference, but only in the 20 meters band.
We were active in all bands, from 10 to 80 meters, except 30 meters, mainly in SSB, but Josep also operated in RTTY and CW. Daily, thanks to the collaboration of Xavier, EA3BHK, the logs were available online. We totally made 5.066 QSO, and, although it seems impossible, we had no problem at all during all the operation, except a pair of tropical storms with heavy rain and winds, very common in those places.
Unfortunately, good things always arrive at its end and we had to finish with the operation. The disassembly was quick and easy, we packed the antennas and equipment and got ready to start our long way back, which was placid … So we just can wait for our next adventure!!!!
We don’t want to finish without thanking all the staff of Gran Bahia Principe Cayo Levantado Hotel for their kindness, and specially to Mr. Victor Pérez (Resident Manager) for allowing us to stay in one of the best places of the island and Mr. Joan Pizá (Subgeneral Manager) and Mr. Ivan (Chief Engineer) for all the facilities. Also Antonio (EA3AON), Jaume (EA3JW), Marcel (EA3IN) and Jorge (EA8TL) who helped us with the technical stuff before our departure, and Xavier (EA3BHK) who took care of our online logs. We also want to thank URE, Clipperton DX Club, DX4DX Team, Lynx DX Group, Consell Terriotorial URE Catalunya, Sección URE Barcelona-Baix Llobregat and Sección Comarcal URE Garraf for trusting in us once again. And, of course, we cannot forget our beloved son Marc, who, during his 18 years old, has always encouraged to do what we like to do: RADIO. TNX to all.
Núria Font, EA3WL