The TO7C story began in Lomé (Togo) airport lounge while the 5V7C team was waiting for the return flight to Paris. We were willing to quickly setup a new "light" DXpedition to an island part of the IOTA programme. The new location had to be close to the equator due to the poor propagation conditions expected in 2005 and be relatively rare. The Salut Islands (SA-020) looked like a good compromise.
The Salut Islands archipelago, located at 14 kms from the French Guiana coast, was named by the survivors of disastrous Kourou expedition in 1764. It is made of: the largest "Royale Isl. (our destination), "St Joseph Isl. and the small "Devil's Isl."
9 months ahead of our departure, we began working on the operation and decided to setup a first meeting after the summer holidays at Bruno/F5AGB ‘s house.
On October 10th, all the main details were firmed-up. The team already knew pretty well each others from previous operations: TM5S, TM5Y, TM5N, TM7R, 5V7C… The group of 10 operators was made of: F4AJQ, F5CW, F5AGB, F5TVG, F5VHQ, F6AML, YL F6EGG, F8BJI, F9IE and OE3GCU. Unfortunately F5JSD and F8BUI cannot join us this time… too bad!
A few days after this initial meeting, we received the callsign we requested: TO7C. Dany/F5CW had an unexpected commitment and was replaced by Matthieu/F5PED. We kept working the details, the web site was online with the help of Pascal/F5JSD, we contacted our sponsors and had ongoing exchanges with Andre/FY5HE who helped us a lot with local logistics. We also contacted the Kourou club station FY5KE and Didier/FY5FY kindly loaned us his power amplifier for the low bands. We booked the Salut Islands resort as well as plane and boat tickets. We were ready for departure!
A friend from the Clipperton DX Club, F5AHO, who stayed on the island some time ago sent us photos of the resort that really helped us planning the antennas layout ahead of our arrival.
The D Day finally arrived and the pathfinder team made of OE3GCU, F9IE, F8BJI, F5VHQ and F5TVG left on March 6th. The other crewmembers were due to join them on the island on March 10th with the remainder of the equipment.
As usual, we only took light transceivers: IC706MK2G, FT100D, TS50, FT897 and TS480. Antennas were a little bigger: V80E vertical and K9AY loop for the low bands, 2 x R7000 and MA5V verticals, 4 elements wire log yagi for 40m and an 11 elements wire LPDA for 10-40m both made by F5VHQ. In addition to this we used a 6m HB9CV as well as a sloper on 30m. Five laptop PCs were loaned to us by OE3GCU’s radio club and F5AGB installed a wireless LAN allowing us to take advantage of the great networking features of F5MZN’s logging software WinTest. The use of band filters was very helpful and allowed us to run up to 6 stations simultaneously without any major issue. Finally, a bunch of tools, connectors and nearly 500m of coax cable completed our luggage along with a few T-shirts, socks and anti-mosquito lotion.
Sunday March 6th
Paris Orly airport: Happy birthday Jean-Paul F8BJI
Most of us met Günther OE3GCU for the first time. After a last coffee, luggage check-in and customs clearance were seamless, French Guiana was only 8 hours away…
Cayenne airport: The pathfinder team received an unforgettable welcome from FY5HE and local hams. After a great dinner with them, a quick drive to the FY5KE club station to pick-up the power amplifier and a short sleep in the "Gros Bec hotel in Kourou, they were ready to take the boat for Royale Island.
Monday March 7th
The team received again a great welcome from Angele the lady managing the Salut Islands resort. She allowed us to setup our stations and antenna farm as we wished. We also quickly met with the Agouti rats and lice as well as with some well sized mosquitoes… We started strongly scraping our legs! The antenna setup was a major undertaking with 35°C and 95% humidity. We kept drinking water all day long and our stock of bottles quickly decreased.
Nevertheless, the first contacts were logged at 1916z, digimodes were running well, 40m SSB was well opened to Europe and the 30m sloper allowed us a few contacts.
Tuesday March 8th
1,000 QSO were in the log at sunrise.
F5VHQ and OE3GCU lost their voice… not due to the pile-up, but more likely due to the contrast between the air conditioning in the plane and the local temperature. Three days ago, the temperature in France was only 1°C, it was now over 30°C. The team phoned Frank/F4AJQ who was part of the second team, telling him not to forget tabs for throat pain…
Traffic began on 10, 12 and 17m and a long pile-up night began in CW, RTTY and PSK.
Wednesday March 9th
At 05:00am the alarm clock rang near Paris, it was now time for the second team to go, F6EGG arrived by train from the south of the country on the day before. F4TTR and F4BUX drove the whole group to the airport. After a quick coffee and some more luggage check-in and custom clearance, the team was in the plane. Travelling with a Titanex V80E weighting more than 20kg is not always easy.
8h30 later, the group arrived in French Guiana. F4AJQ, F5AGB, F5PED, F6AML and F6EGG were welcomed by FY5HE and his wife Marie-Jo, FY5FR, FY0EK and even Daielle & Elli some friends from Paris who relocated to Guiana five years ago were there. The team then headed to Kourou where they stayed for the night like the pathfinders. They bought dozens of bottles of water prior to boarding as the water on Royale is non-drinkable. After a quick meeting with FY1FL, everybody went to bed.
The friends on the island had already logged 3,100 QSO in the evening.
Thursday March 10th
After breakfast and a short walk in the old city of Kourou, Jacques/FY1FL and the owner of the "Gros Bec hotel used their 4x4 to bring our equipment to the harbour. An hour later, the second group was on Royale island, it looked like heaven for us, but it was impossible to forget all the convicts who died in the prison that used to be there.
Franck/F5TVG and two local policemen were waiting for them; Franck's legs were amazing with all the mosquito punctures… We brought all the equipment to the resort using the owner's pick-up. Everybody was pleased to be again as one team. Franck was not the only winner at the mosquito game!
During lunch, the whole group had a briefing on the V80E and the K9AY setup. We also had to install the MA5V. While installing the low bands antennas with F9IE and OE3GCU, Frank/F4AJQ had faintness due to the heat. He felt much better after a shower and a short sleep.
Propagation improved on the higher bands, but conditions remained very difficult to Asia and Pacific.
Matthieu F5PED finalized the V80E matching system for 160m using some electrical cable, a lot of know-how and a plastic bag on top to protect it. It did not look nice, but it worked great! F6AML and OE3GCU had problems with the TX/RX antennas switching system, but had to give-up at sunset as thousands of mosquitoes arrived. The low bands traffic for that night was made using the V80E as a receiving antenna. That was a long night…
Friday March 11th
All the technical issues were fixed, we still had to install the 6m antenna and we were fully operational. Due to the great distance between stations, we had some issues with the wireless LAN, but F5VHQ decided to fix that finding an optimum location for the access point. The night was tuff for F6AML and F5PED on 80 and 160m due to the atmospheric noise, but nevertheless they managed to log 470 contacts on these bands. We now had 4,130 QSO and it was time for breakfast.
F5VHQ and OE3GCU started feeling better, our SSB run rate was about to improve. F8BJI and F5TVG kept running the digimodes stations in RTTY, PSK31/63. Everything went well and pile-ups were nice. F9IE and F5AGB enjoyed running CW while Frank/F4AJQ focussed on 12/17m SSB.
Conditions were good to the USA and Europe but still terrible to Asia despite many efforts to contact this part of the world.
F6EGG went for a walk on the island and brought back a bunch of great pictures.
The beacon on 6m was running, but the band was completely dead.
With the help of the K9AY antenna, some 600 additional QSO were logged on 80/160m during the night.
We began getting used to mosquitoes, sunburns and heat. F6EGG noticed that the level of water was decreasing too quickly and the team contacted FY5HE who was due to visit us on Sunday to bring some more.
Saturday March 12th
8,115 QSO were in the log at 0800z
Everything was fine; F4AJQ and F5TVG went for a visit to the former prison and found some poles allowing us to raise the R7000 antennas 4m higher, hence improving their performance. At the same time, we enjoyed the first openings to JA, VK and ZL. F5VHQ and OE3GCU voices were now fully operational and the SSB rate was amazing despite deep QSB on 10, 12 and 15m. F8BJI kept offering many new ones in digimodes. During that time, F5AGB and F9IE remained silent, but the CW pile-ups were huge and they logged many contacts.
Everybody got used to tropical propagation and to the rhythm of the dx-pedition keeping focused in order to reach at least 20,000 QSO. For F6AML and F5PED, the conditions on the low bands were good despite the high level of static noise. The 6m beacon was still transmitting, but nobody replied.
Sunday March 13th
We had 11,707 QSO logged at sunrise. We were happy to contact many friends in France who kept motivating us. As everyday, John/F5VHQ phoned Pascal/F5JSD, our pilot station, who gave us feedbacks and helpful real-time propagation simulations prepared with the help of Dany/F5CW. Pascal then updated daily our web site.
Conditions to Europe remained difficult on the higher bands, but we finally had nice openings to Japan on 17 and 30m.
It was already time to welcome our friends FY5HE and FY5FU and their wives who landed with the morning shuttle. We spent a great day with them celebrating and discussing future radio projects. It was a bit more difficult to let them go… as one knows, it takes 5 minutes to a ham radio operator to say "hello and 3 hours to say "goodbye"!
Before sunset, we turned the 40m wire beam to Japan and the results were worth the effort. We had a strong demand for 80m CW and we logged an additional 600 contacts on that band during the night.
Monday March 14th
Following the daily phone call to F5JSD, F5VHQ prepared as usual the daily planning; we now focused on 10/20m CW as well as WARC bands. We spent a lot of time turning the 11 elements wire LPDA to Japan and moving the K9AY to a new location with a better take-off to Europe and North America.
The low bands planning had been published on Internet and the new antenna location showed significant improvement, we now had 15,923 QSO. A good opening on 15m even allowed Jean-Paul/F8BJI to run SSTV, he made 40 contacts in that mode, even forgetting lunchtime. He really heard many "thanks for the new one on that afternoon. Openings to East Asia/Pacific remained very short, nevertheless we had 198 JA, 22 VK and 23 ZL contacts to date.
The "magic band was still desperately dead and we kept trying several beam headings.
Tuesday March 15th
Our target was 20,000 QSO, and we were now at 19,329 contacts, so why not offsetting our target to 25,000 QSO? The whole team was still very motivated despite a small storm that damaged the 11 elts LPDA as well as several other antennas. This kept a large part of team to fix this while traffic kept running on 15/20m CW and 12/17m SSB. Our run rate was good with a strong improvement on the higher bands, 10m was open all day and F5TVG even made a few contacts in FM on that band.
During the evening, a great opening to Japan on 17m allowed us to reach 410 contacts with this country. We ran a bit in RTTY on 80m during the night and Bernard/F9IE remained focused on 30m while fighting with the mosquitoes. Six meters was still closed.
Wednesday March 16th
At 0900z, we had 21,987 QSO in the log… we were all anxious to reach 25,000.
This was the day prior to our departure and F5VHQ kept optimizing the wireless LAN. Conditions were good and we still had 5 stations running simultaneously.
During this time, a part of the team went for a visit of the prison where thousands of convicts such as the famous Seznec, Captain Dreyfus or Henri Charriere were jailed. This last one was also known as "Butterfly due to his many attempts to escape from the island.
As the coming night was the last one on the island for us, F6AML and F5PED decided to give a try to 160m SSB. In the afternoon we finally had one contact on 50MHz, unfortunately, this was not a DX… but our friend FY1FL who was in Kourou, 15km away from us!
During the afternoon, we began packing some equipment, and started thinking where to fit the bottles of rum we decided to bring back. We decided to stop all traffic for a few hours on that last evening in order to celebrate our dx-pedition. After dinner we were all surprised to see a big cake and two bottles of champagne coming… Happy Birthday Jacky/F6EGG !!!
During the night, conditions on the topband were tuff, SSB contacts were difficult and only a few European stations managed to break through the North American ones in this mode.
Thursday March 17th
The last day finally arrived, were we about to reach 25,000 QSO?
The whole team was very busy packing-up all antennas while 3 stations kept running. Everybody was exhausted due to the lack of sleep and the heat. The temperature was already over 30°C at 08:00am local time. As time passed, the number of active stations began decreasing. It was time to take some pictures of the group and ask Angele the manager of the resort to use her pick-up to bring the equipment back to the small harbour. Our new friends from the local police visited us to say goodbye and told us they really enjoyed our presence and hobby.
After the final lunch, we started negotiating with Günther/OE3GCU and Jean-Paul/F8BJI to stop SSB and RTTY pile-ups, we only had a few minutes left to pack their stations and run to the boat.As soon as they sent the final QRT, John/F5VHQ began compiling logs.
We loaded all the equipment on the boat and headed back to Kourou where John was pleased to announce that we made 25,247 contacts with 126 DXCC entities. We were all very happy about this. FY1FL and the owner of the "Gros Bec hotel were waiting for us in Kourou and we ran to the showers once we had collected our rental cars. During the evening, we decided to go for dinner in the centre of Kourou and got lost… fortunately, FY1FL helped us once more! During the dinner, we debriefed and got an overall positive result of the operation.
Friday March 18th
We all woke up early, as this was our recreational day; we bought tickets to visit the Kourou space center. It is hard to describe what you feel when you enter the Ariane 5 rocket control room and particularly when you visit the launch pads. We really felt small.
We made a last visit to FY1FL who works in the space center at the end of this 3 hours guided tour. We then met FY5HE and FY5FU and their wives who brought us the souvenirs we asked them to buy for us. We then headed to the restaurant where we met FY5FR and FY/F5PPO.
Franck and John noticed a small island a few miles away from the restaurant, but Thierry confirmed it is impossible to activate this one because access is strictly forbidden, as landing it is too dangerous.
We then headed to the airport where we had some difficulties during check-in due to excess luggage and also during custom clearance where we had to explain what all this aluminium and electronic equipments were for…
It was time to say a final goodbye to our hosts, it is sure we will never forget them.
The flight back to France was really tuff and we could barely sleep. Prior to landing, the fog in Paris was so dense that the pilot was close to divert the flight to another airport, fortunately he found a narrow window and we were all happy not to spend a few hours more in bus transfer! We had a hard time getting off the plane with only 5°C external temperature, but our friends were there to support us: F5JSD, F5CW, F5ABI, F5IWO, F8BTP, F8CTY, F8BUI and Micheline (YL F9IE). Günther/OE3GCU quickly ran to catch a correspondence flight to Vienna in another airport 60km from there. We could now get back home after a breakfast all together at the airport.
This operation shows it is possible for a team of motivated operators to setup a serious dxpedition while keeping a lot of room for fun and only using a limited budget.
We would like to thank our sponsors:
F6KOP, Clipperton DX Club, REF-Union, REF 77, UFT, UKSMG, Nanchatte DX Akoukai, ADL325, GES Paris, GES Savigny, DXSR, Radio 33, Win-Test, The City of Provins, The "Gros Bec Hotel, The Salut Islands Resort and Net Immeuble.
As well as the following individuals for their various but essential help:
F4BUX, F4TTR, F5JSD, F5AHO, F5JFU, F5NQL, F5IWO, F5LEN, F5CW, F8BBL, F8BTP, FY5FU, FY5FY, FY5KE, FY5HH, FY1FL, FY0EK, FY5FR, OH3XR, SP6NVK, The TO4E team, Jean-Pierre, Daielle, Elie, Marie-Jo, Laurence and all those who supported us on the air.
Finally special thanks to Andre FY5HE, without him, setting up the logistics of this expedition would have been much more difficult.
We already have several projects for next year and started working on them, so stay tuned!
The TO7C Team
We dedicate this dx-pedition to Noah