It’s been but a couple weeks since the 7O6T final announcment, and DXCoffee proudly brings its readers a comprehensive, all-inclusive interview with team leader Dimitri Zhikharev, RA9USU.Let’s start with what made 7O6T possible – the license. We know that no license had been issued, in Yemen for the last twenty years. How hard was it to obtain yours?
It took a very dedicated man, Abdul Hameed from “Friendly Yemen Tours” in Sanaa, who didn’t give up in reaching out to the highest people for help in the matter. Major issue is that there is no law or any regulation for Amateur Radio in Yemen, and you have to prove that it has nothing to do with prohibited services in Yemen, such as “Skype” for example. I’m saying – it went as high as a consultant to the former president; also the owner of the local media channel and “Yemen Observer” magazine, the Minister of Interior, Minister of Information, Minister of Communication, Division of Radio in the Ministry of Information, and Vice-Minister of Communication. Original letters from our partners in Yemen were signed by the Ministry of Interior, then sent to all related ministries with supporting documentation. Then, all those ministries had to reply to the Ministry of Interior. With the help of Ashraf (KF5EYY aka 3V8SS), I put together a request to our local partner as to how the form should look. After all that, it had to be sent to Ministry of Information, which is responsible for all internal, foreign publications and media activities conducted in Yemen. Those letters went off to the Ministry of Telecommunications again. They were then signed by the Minister and Vice-Minister with “issue frequencies and callsign” order to the Manager, who requested letters from National Security and three other agencies in Yemen in support of our planned activity, which was provided by those agencies.
How was Socotra Island selected as a location? Was the location choice made strictly from the point of giving OMs in the world an ultra-rare entity, along with a very sought after IOTA reference?
There were few choices – one was the “Burj Al Salam” hotel in Old City in Sanaa, which was the perfect location, but in the middle of the big city, which is surrounded by a wall of mountains. The second was in an “almost safe” zone of 30 km around Sanaa, belonging to one of the Sheikhs in Yemen, but completely blocked to the North by mountains (well, we couldn’t have US operators if we choose that location). The third – Socotra Island, open from 270 to 90 degrees to the North and also had a hotel which could provide us with 24/7 power. Only after we decided to use that location did we realize that it is not only a unique place on the planet, but much needed IOTA AF-28, located in Africa, rare 37th WAZ, and also a unique WFF-programme site. Well, yes… we just had to go to those beautiful sandy beaches!
Then, about the team: we know the core was the same that gave birth to outstanding DXpeditions in the past, but how was it put together in its entirety?
Plans were unknown to the all of the team members. Most of them found out where they were going only a week before the operation. We could have only ten operators and five radios (one extra was planned to be a spare). So we had to do the list of operators. I decided to put 21 guys on the list for formal approval from the Ministry of Information and Ministry of Interior, based on the operators I had ever worked with and their friends. Twenty-one was the number of people we could sort from in the case of some of them couldn’t go because of the immediate launch of the operation. Later, after I spoke with our parters in Sanaa, that list had to be cut to 15, so I had to choose the ones with least probability of coming. I really tried to get Fabrizio, IN3ZNR, and Jose, EA7KW, from ST0R, on the team, but it was just too quick for them. Why so many Russian operators? Well, they were the only ones who could “go anywhere, anytime,” guys who could go without asking where.
I witnessed your first contacts on the 30th April and am able to say your signal was 5/9+ nine times out of ten. How did you choose the gear for the station? Can you describe the station to us in detail?
At the beginning it was decided to have two separate shacks about 1 km apart in two different hotels. Those hotels mostly ran on generators with one of them cutting off the power for 12 hours, from 5 AM to 5 PM local. We had to pay for diesel generator use and fuel. All my previous operations weren’t really pushed for us to do the low bands, so we decided to have 160/80 antennas feeding one of the shacks. Well, when Vlad, R7LV tuned those antennas to full Effective Radiated Power – the RF completely wiped out the other two radios in the shack. Then we had to move that 160/80 to the remote beachfront location at the new Eco-Hotel under construction on Delicia Beach – a more than perfect location for low bands and for operation in general. Six radios, six ACOM 1010s and other gear made up for about one ton of equipment. So, in the end we had two sites with two and three radios respectively and one site for the low bands – heaven for Jeff, K1ZM and Yuri, RL3FT, who stayed there after Vlad, R7LV went home. The only “slight” issue – it gets to about 38-40 degrees in the morning…
And yes, the first hop was hitting Italy, Greece, Spain and Southern Russia. All those stations were 40-60 over S9!
Given the Socotra location, propagation-wise, how was operation organized during the day?
I had experienced almost the same conditions with ST0R, so we operated the first day doing all we could to set the schedule and confirm propagation.
7O6T scored more than 162,000 contacts. That means, in two weeks, around 10.000 QSOs a day! I’d say it’s an incredible amount of work for the team’s operators…
The first day generated almost 18,000 contacts – when the pile-up wore down – it came to a comfortable 150-300 contacts per hour depending on the mode, but our goals were not just to operate on all modes, but to be on at least two bands constantly, to work as many unique calls as possible. Two weeks before the operation most of us dreamed to have at least one contact with Yemen, but now everyone wanted to have RTTY, JT-65, 60 meters along with other personal interests. While we do understand the will and need, we only operated on RTTY for the time at a less than 100 contacts per hour rate. To those who blamed us for not operating on RTTY – we didn’t have a dedicated DIGI operator with passion enough to sacrifice the contact with that low-power newcomer to the “new band/mode” guys.
Such a radio schedule probably left you very little time for visiting the place you were in. That aside, what can you tell us about Yemen? It’s not known worldwide as a tourist spot, but probably a very interesting Country.
Socotra is the most unique place we could imagine visiting. Some of us couldn’t go there to enjoy it, but most of us was planned to visit while we operated. I would like to see the island next time I go there with my family.
From a security standpoint, Yemen ranks in the top 20 of the most dangerous countries in the world. I guess that you had few problems in this area, given the support your DXpedition received from the authorities. However, I’m curious on two points: a) What types of feelings does an OM have before leaving on a radio adventure to a “hot” area? b) Did you plan a security budget?
I think that most of us just insane about radio, so we didn’t even listen to those “warnings” when making the decision whether to go to some places or not. I think that we have the same risk of being involved with trouble here in Moscow as anywhere else. My philosophy is that if you are not messing around with people and do what you want to be done to you – there is a very little chance of getting yourself into a mess. But all that aside – yes, we did have security support from local authorities and police on our route between the hotels, as well as security on the beachfront site. People on Socotra were good to us and we really appreciated it.
Back to radio now – I guess that with more than 162,000 contacts, you covered quite literally all the continents and areas of the world. Are there any QSOs that you rate as particularly “rare” that were made from 7O6T?
We are always happy to work stations we think of as DX. There is no time to mentally switch from your homeland to the remote DX location, so you’re just as happy to work TT8 and VK/ZL’s as you would at home even though they’re now much closer to you because of the azimuthal pattern – suddenly, those KL’s are the toughest ones to work.
DXpeditions like yours take their places in ham radio history. What’s the feeling that one has when such an achievement is realized?
I don’t know. Before the expedition you are excited to get to the most wanted – but then it’s just an operation. And then it’s just remarks of what wasn’t done properly, not enough RTTY, not enough this and that. Right now it’s all about how David is. WD5COV made it home – he got really, really sick and was in a bed for almost two days. His dedication to the Team was just unbelievable. Instead of flying home, he stayed and operated until the last second of our operation. It’s all about how Chuk, JT1CO got back to Mongolia. He got stuck in Germany for four days on the way back. It’s about many other things which just keep me busy and restless. Well, I will think of the achievement when all the cards are sent out, when all questions have been asked. Then I will enjoy the Glory. 🙂 Right now – the stories about our guys. That’s what really has to be noted as part of ham radio history – no sleep, no rest, harsh conditions etc… Soon I will write all that and post it on our website so stay tuned.
You’re now back home. Can, an experience like 7O6T change one’s relationship with radio? Is it true that, when you’re on the radio from your home shack, it can feel different than before leaving?
We had a young guy with us, Yuri, RL3FT – he might could better answer that question. I wished many years ago to be a part of that romantic part of our hobby when I was young. Now, I am paying back to those, who will enjoy it much more than I do. Most of our operators have been in many rare places before and don’t have that nostalgic feeling of being there for you anymore. But we are all learning from experiences like this to enjoy it again.
And no, nobody recognizes your home call from the get-go when you call somebody in a contest or call DX – they still mess up my callsign when I call as RA9USU/3 in the pile-ups.
Yemen was something that an OM would comment in terms of “Ok, I’ll QSO with 7O, and P5, then I’ll go golfing…”. The former has now been activated. Have you ever thought about the latter?
I can’t imagine that someone would give up amateur radio. I’ve been in it since I was eight, so I just can not be as objective on that matter. While I was operating the radio over the last few days, I was called by John, G3UCQ, who was part of the last operations from Socotra back in 1965. I can only imagine his feelings when he worked us. Too bad that I was so quick on sideband and couldn’t say anything about how surprised I was to work him when he mentioned that.
I know it sounds presumptuous, and maybe even premature, but I can’t help myself from asking what’s next for your team…
… no comment. 🙂