AS-167 NEW: Theby Kyun, Myanmar
April 2003 by DL4KQ
On March of 31 I departured from Germany to Myanmar for a stay of about 2 weeks. After my experiences from my last stay at Myanmar in 2002 (Apaw-Ye Kyun, AS-165) I was looking for another chance to activate a new island group there. Fortunately I was still owning some good Naval Charts and after some investigations I decided to activate the “Yangon / Irrawaddy / Pegu Region Group”. But first I had to apply for a radio operation permit at Myanmar and I had to do this very quick, because my plans to go came up just 2 weeks in front of my departure. Using the good contacts of the last years stay I received my permit in an unbelievable short time of only 3 days !
Immediately I started to find more information about the qualifying islands close to Chaungtha situated at the Myanmar westcoast 130 km west of Pathein. Beside the information of my Naval Charts it was quite impossible to get further information about Thebyu Kyun (aka “White Sandy Island”) or “North” and “South Island” (both located at the Calventuras Group). Same for the little beach resort of Chaungtha, which is more a local tourist place than a place for foreign tourists. That means I had to go without any information and to try to arrange all as soon as I would have arrived there. After a long trip (via Dubai and Bangkok) I arrived at Yangon on late april 1. Not a pleasant trip because of heavy troubles with the security control at Dubai airport because of my transceivers in my carry-on luggage and a bad information at my stopover Bangkok that one of my luggages with other items of my equipment was missing ! But on late april 02 the missing luggage arrived at Yangon and with the help of my friends at local ministries I was able to pick it up and to pass the clearance without any problems. What a luck that I had planned to stay for two days at Yangon otherwise it would have been a serious problem in forwarding this luggage to Chaungtha.
During my stay at Yangon I used the time to improve my contacts with the hope that ham license requests would become more simple in the future and also for buying some wires, connectors, plugs and so on. On very early morning of april 04 my spouse and me, accompanied by a liaison officer, went by car to the coast. A long and hard journey on incredible bad roads and we were happy to have a airconditioned car because the temperatures were up to 42 degrees C ! Arriving at Chaungtha we were checked by the local police, which was waiting for us and checked in to our beachside hotel. This procedure took about 2 hours; we found that no rooms were booked for us, all hotels were crowded and fully booked because of the buddhist New Year where all locals like to stay for some days at Chaungtha for celebrating the “water festival”. Finally we were able to get a room with the help of the contacted ministry at Yangon and made a first visit at the beach. And there it was: Thebyu Kyun Island ! Located exactly opposite of our hotel in a distance of 850 m to the beach.
The next day our liaison officer contacted a lot of authorities and the day after we made a first visit on the island for checking the situation. A safe trip, because we were accompanied by police, army and military agency ! At the far end of the village we entered a little boat with a lot of other local tourists. It took up to 20 minutes to go to Thebyu Kyun and our liaison officer wasn`t looking very happy. Too much water were swept by the waves into the boat and he mentioned that he could not swim. What a luck that he did not see that 80 % of the incoming water wasn`t because of the waves.
There were just some nice holes in the boat and one local was very busy to put the water outside again with the help of an old bucket. Finally we arrived safe at the island which appears as a white sand island from a distance view. In reality it is rocky and the centre consists of a hill of shells. On top of this little hill grew 3 trees and the locals have build a little golden pagoda. Also they erected one big and two more little “tents” where they were selling cold drinks. The size of the island had a minimum of 200 x 150 m at high tide and was much bigger at low tide. At the biggest tent we were awaited by the local army district commander, a high ranking officer, and the spouse of his superior which spent her water festival holidays at Chaungtha. Both were very friendly and soon we were in a friendly conversation about Icom radios used by the army there or about local sights and Myanmar traditions. Again it was very helpful to act as an interested visitor with respect to local people and traditions. An aspect most foreign tourists forget and showing quite bad behaviours. A big mistake, not only at Myanmar, but especially there !
Finally I was told that I would be permitted to operate from the island and my liaison officer still was negotiating with the members of the military agency. Now I checked the local situation and made some plans where to place the station and to erect the antennas. One of the two little and empty tents were just situated perfect for me. Close to one dry tree where I thought to fix one of my verticals and close to the sea where I wanted to setup another vertical. Finally I was very satisfied with the situation and we shipped back to the mainland. On the next day I was told by my accompanying officer Mr. U Thein that I would be permitted for a one day operation. One day ? But I had planned to go for 4 days ! No, only one day would have been permitted by the military agency was the answer and this operation would have to take place as a day operation. Day operation ? Now I was totally shocked and started to argue about radio propagations. Nothing new to Mr. U Thein, because he just knew this because of my “daily reports” I had to write for my radio contacts from the mainland. The army wouldn`t be the problem I was told, but the local military agency. And all concerned parties would be afraid because of missing comfort and safety for me on the island. Comfort, safety ? The problem is that all would get in serious troubles if something would happen to me, just a simple accident.
Nice to hear that they wanted to take good care of me but now I was restricted because of this and especially of their fear to run in very serious troubles with the Ministry in case of an accident or injury ! What to do ? To postpone the IOTA dx-pedition, to go for a day operation ? What a blame ! I asked Mr. U Thein to arrange a date with the local army command and next day I went, officially dressed which is very important at Myanmar, to visit the high ranking officer which I had met on the island. For the case of problems I still had some gifts in my luggage and this was a problem. After a short visit, where I thanked him for the permit to operate from the island and made use of my gift, I returned back to my hotel with some good hopes. Yip, next day I was told that I could go for exactly 24 h on next tuesday/Wednesday accompanied again by local authorities taking care of my safety.
Great I thought, but know I liked to change the date to a better weekend day. No problem and know I could announce during my operation from the mainland that the activation would take place on april 11/12. Unfortunately not as long as planned but better to go for 24 h than to postpone it or to do some day time operation. The next days U Thein was very busy to look for a generator, fuel, food, bamboo poles, “accomodation” and so on. Especially accomodation and food on the island seemed to be very important for him and most of the time I heard him talking about “pillow and blanket” arrangements. Finally I was happy that he started to arrange all needed items because it was difficult to find a generator at Chaungtha and there were no cars available for rent.
A serious problem, how to transport a hired generator to the far shipping place, how to go with all and heavy equipments from the hotel to the ship ? At least there was a very simple solution. I was able to use the car of the spouse of the army officer, a military doctor. Also I got his private generator, he was sitting in the dark during the IOTA trip !, a table, a chair, bamboo poles and so on. Great, and all arranged by army ! No more problems ? But of course, now the equipment started to make problems. Because of the extremely bad voltage quality of the hotel generator my switched power supply got a damage, the voltage regulation did not work any more exactly. The SSB transceiver, a lent IC-706MK2, switched off during transmissions, the solid state linear amplifier overheated and blew all fuses, also all spare ones, and I had to do some provisional repairs inside. Finally the fuses were replaced by wires and I reduced my mainland operation in the hope that all equipment would be still running until the planned IOTA activation.
On April 11 morning our car arrived at 09:00 am and I carried my equipment to the car. Quite tired because I`ve been still active on the bands during the last night. U Thein went with all equipments to the ship and came back with an important question ” Where are the blankets and the pillows ?”. My wife and me had big problems not to laugh but he hurried to the hotel management for arranging spare balnkets and pillows ! At 09:30 we arrived at the ship, boarded with all equipments and started to our trip. The weather was fine and it was already very hot. Around 09:50 we entered Thebyu Kyun and found that a big 4 kva generator was already there including a lot of gallons with gasoline. Again members of police, army and military agency were waiting for us and I inspected all materials U Thein had arranged. I was very happy to find some very long bamboo poles for my antenna. One was of a length of 11 m ! But first I had to set up the station in one of the tents. Fortunately the table fit into it together with the chair and it took only about 10 minutes to set up the IC706MK2 and the CW rig, a little basic Elecraft K2, the little solid state linear amplifier (up to 400 w rf), a 40 A ps and the big MFJ antennatuner.
During this time I was watched by the local services which were interested to see what equipment I would be using. Especially the guy from the army, his responsibility was radiocommunication at the army, was very interested in the Icom and in my antennas. Around 10:15 am I started to prepare the antennas with the help of the locals, took the longest bamboo pole off 11 m, added another one and finally had a pole with a length of 14.5 m. Now 2 x 7 m wire was simply attached to the pole and midfed by an openwire feederline. This simple antenna for 40/30/20 m band use was erected vertical and fixed at one of the close and dry trees. A quick done job but the open feeder now needed my attention because my helpers did not know how to handle with and it was difficult to make them understand what way an open feeder should be installed. The second vertical dipole attached to a bamboo pole of 8 m length know was erected very close to the sea and fixed by some heavy rocks. Another open feeder with a length of 15 m was attached to this antenna and the station. And let me place an antenna statement here at this early place.
The verticals were doing an excellent job from the island ! It is always hard to compare stations/signals/antennas but the verticals were producing much, much better signals then my G5RV up to 20 m height at the mainland ! My decision to make use of openwire feeder also was a good one. Antenna setup was done very quickly, no real antenna tuning was needed. No other antennas would have been erected in such a short time and with such a low weight ! Vertical and saltwater location ? DO IT ! Openfeeder systems ? DO IT ! At this time it was getting hotter and hotter. Temperatures reached now about 40 degrees C and also the locals had to make some breaks during work. I was really happy to have their help, otherwise the job would not have been impossible but surely would have taken more than double of time.
The sun was burning so hot that I started to get a sunburn and was thinking about the temperatures in my little shack and much more important about the heat problems for the solid state amplifier. A fear which was not necessary, because some wind started and I always had a fresh breeze which was cooling the amplifier more perfect than the little fan. At 11:30 am I was ready to do the first contact but was stopped by U Thein who arranged warm meals and there was no way to say no. First the lunch then the operation he said. Ok I said, hurried into the big tent and had an excellent lunch with local food my first and last cold bottle of local beer and then I asked to switch the generator on. A quick check showed that the voltage was ok and I switched the transceivers on. 20 m ?
No, too early, 17 m no copy of signals, just on 15 m I heard two or three weak cw signals. I started to get afraid of “Murphy”, bad condx and no contacts but tuned the antenna for 15 m use and tried a little anxious “cq de XY4KQ” in CW. What happened afterwards I will not forget ! A pile-up answered my short cq which was just unbelievable. It surely must have been up to 100 stations answering my call. I could not understand, they must have been monitoring and watching the band waiting for me. SM5CXS was the first contact from AS-167 and the pileup was growing from minute to minute. My wife had a lot of fun to watch my happy face and shaking of my head. The next hours I was running only in CW on 15 m and the band was open with good signals to Japan and increasing signals to Europe. At this time and especially because of the good discipline of the japanese IOTA hunters it was easy to run about 150 contacts per hour. But where was G3KMA, I still needed the new IOTA number. I thought to change to SSB mode but the pile up was to big and it made too much fun to work it.
At 09:52 UTC, exactly 2 hours after starting, Roger G3KMA was able to break the wall and told me the new IOTA number. AS-167 now with official number ! Around 12:00 UTC I thought it would be time to change bands and mode, because all the SSB guys would be getting angry when I would not give a chance to them, also I wanted to take care of the 20 m window to NA. I went down to 20 m and started again in CW, because I wasn´t sure about the condx and for bad NA condx CW was just the better choice. A good decision as the NA signals were quite weak and difficult to copy here. Sound was very “watery” and I had a lot of problems when asking “only NA”. A lot of Eu`s wasn`t very patient and started to call again and again. I tried my best but now the qso numbers were really decreasing and a lot of unfriendly stations tuned in my rx window, kept on calling me or just made problems on my transmitting ferquency. It seemed that I would have a good “friend”, both transmitting frequencies on 15 m and on 20 m were heavily interferenced by a North Italian station, I1JQJ`s (the Italian IOTA manager) call was heavily misuse for interference reasons and wrong messages were placed in the cluster.
Just a luck that I did not know most of this things at Myanmar and it must have been extremely difficult to work me during this time. But a good 80 NA`s found the way into my log, because I was not willing to accept Eu at this moment . Next 3 hours I worked on 20 m in CW logging stations from NA, SA, Europe and Asia. Two or 3 times an hour I asked for some patience to give stations outside of Europe a chance and still some NA made the contact also at quite unusual times beside some SA or African stations. After a session of 750 CW contacts it was now really time to change to SSB before the SSB guys would like to send me some explosives to my home address and IK4WKU had the luck to be the first SSB contact with Thebyu Kyun.
I made about 650 contacts in SSB and beside my regular asks for “outside Eu” I started again to take care of the next NA opening around 23:00 UTC. I earned again some angry Eu comments, especially a German comment that it would be unbelievable to work and prefer NA when having such a strong signal at Germany and that it would be a shame that I (a German) would not work the home country. Ham spirit ? No ! Yes, I preferred again the difficult and time limited path to NA and worked a number of NA`s now in SSB which was extremely difficult as most of the signals was extremely weak and their watery sound made reception difficult. Useless to mention that the number of Eu callers made it more difficult than it could have been. But another 70 Na`s were copied or should I say 85 ? Some NA`s were calling in again and again. Ok I thought, some may want a “security qso”, but 3 times, 4 times ? I did not show reaction on this behaviour because it sometimes needed time to complete the calls before I saw that they were a dupe. This time now NA behaviour decreased the number of possible contacts. At 01:10 UTC the band now was rapidly closing but it was still to early for some other frequencies. I used the time for a short refreshing, breakfast (rice and curry) and some coffee. But until 02:38 UTC no bands were open and I was lucky to hear the first JA signs on 17 m. The signals were still weak, but readable, and it was no question to start again in CW and JE1DXC made it into the log. I had a very nice JA pile-up and because of their excellent discipline I was happy to go with a rate of 150 qso`s per hour. It was a really fun !
03:27 AD5A was able to break the JA wall of the callers followed by N5UR. A quite unusuable time and I started to listen regular again for NA or other stations outside of Japan. But nothing was copied and both NA had a great lucky day to be the only NA contacts from AS-167 on the 17 m band ! Around 05:30 UTC some weak Europe station came through and I hoped for another good “last minute” pileup because my operation was permitted until 06:30 UTC. Unfortunately it was still too early and only a few EU´s had the luck befor I had to go qrt exactly at 06:30 with JA0DAI as worked last station from AS-167. Immediately I started to check the log and found that 1765 contacts were made from the island. Not bad for a 24 h operation which was heavily interferenced. Without this and with more discipline a total of more then 2000 contacts would have been surely possible. I was very curious to check the number of NA contacts because I had promised to take care of the band openings and my final showed me 217 contacts during the two short openings on 20 m. Would like to have a better rate but under this circumstances it was the maximum.
Meanwhile my helpers started to set down the generator and I wanted to do the same with the station and antennas. A short look at me feet showed me a problem. They were now swelled to a double of their original size. I have had some problems with this also during my mainland operatrions. A health problem that my feet swells painfully to double size when sitting too long without moving. The 24 hours at Theby Kyun now were too much and I thought to get into competetition with some elephants feet. At least I was happy that I only had to repack the station and that all other jobs were done by my helpers. It took just 45 minutes and all was set down, repacked and ready again for back transport with the a arriving ship. But no chance to go, U thein had arranged a warm lunch coming with the boat and pillows/blankets/warm regular food is very important for him. After this last and really delicate meal we entered the boat again and only the big generator needed to be raised on board. 4 men were necessary to carry the heavy generator, the water was deep and the shipwall was high. They tried to raise the generator several times and we went to one side of the ship that it would be lower down in the whater and raising would be more simple. Suddenly one of the men slipped and it was a miracle that we did not lost the generator in the sea. It took another 10 minutes and finally it was onboard. Around 02:30 pm local we left Theby Kyun and went back to the little harbour at the very far end of the beach of Chaungtha.
When leaving the boat one of the army members lost his Icom in the water and started to dive for it immediately. With some more help he did find it in 8 feet deep water and wasn´t looking very happy when “cleaning” the radio with sweet water. I recommended to open it for drying in the sun before new switching on and don`t know if this was folowed. U Thein just mentioned that in case of a defect some hard punishment wouldfollow and I hoped that the radio would work again. Again the car of the military doctor was waiting for us and the driver, a sergenat, brought us back to the hotel where I immediately repacked the station and made it ready for further use. Unfortunately I had to wait until 06:00 pm when the hotel generator would be switched on. My wife called me a fool but at 15:00 UTC I was operating again, without having any sleep, in 20 m SSB with another nice number of NA contacts. But the mainland operations are another story. Thebyu Kyun, AS-167, is history now and it will be hard to activate the group and especially this island again, the local restrictions are too high. But more than 1750 contacts with an AS-New were made, about 12.5 % of them by NA stations. Next year I am thinking to go again, not for a second operation from AS-167 , but for another Myanmar AS-New ! For this operation I have to thank I.R.E.F. very much for the support and also all stations which I had a contact with. Thanks for your patience and discipline and I hope to find you again the next years log !