When I started to think of a Greek DX-Pedition outside of the country it was just before New Year’s Eve 2007. On doing research among countries near or far away, rare or semi rare, Syria soon became one of my best attractions. Firstly it was not that far, secondly it was rarely activated especially on the WARC and the low bands, thirdly, I knew Omar (YK1AO), the national society president, since we have had met in Davos in the year 2005 and at least he could offer me a guidance. It proved afterwards that he offered me a lot more.
My first approach was to operate from Damascus for about ten days. The answer came soon; there was a possibility of acceptance, so I started to put all pieces of the puzzle together. While making some preliminary discussions with local hams, one of them had a better idea, why not activate Arwad Island which was a new IOTA reference number but never been activated before. A new question had to be posted again over to Damascus, was that idea possible? Again the answer came soon, yes it was! The only term was that we should be accompanied by a member of SSTARS and by a member of the S.T.E. (Syrian Telecommunication Establishment) during all of our days of operation.
So this is all how the YK9SV, the first ever all Greek Dx-Pedition out of the country, was started. It took more than ten months to have everything carefully planned and leaving only just very few details without consideration. To have a better picture from the area of the island where we should operate, Cliff SV1JG made a 3 day trip to Damascus and Arwad Island to inspect the place and decide whether we could operate from a house on the island or from the sea side in tents.
When he came back it was decided to operate from two tents using generators which could be installed on the south east part of the island. Fortunately we never operated from there, as you will see below.
After making some rough calculations regarding costs involved for the operation it came out that for a team of 7-8 persons the total cost should be around 25.000 Euros. This involved also some equipment to be left at SSTARS (the Syrian National association) as a help which could result in some more activity from them after the DX-Pedition was over. The concept presented to the others wishing to join the operation, was very clear; we will go even if there is not a single Euro donated to our team.
Some preliminary research to find operators for the trip resulted at first in 7 people. Then two more were added raising the number to 9. Finally and for reasons beyond their control, two were not able to make the trip, which made the crew revert to the original number of 7!
During the period of preparation a lot of e-mails were sent to various DX organizations, companies and other associations in an effort to raise help and perhaps some financial support. Then, a site was created and some useful information about the island, the country and the operators was put in it. Little by little we added some more information, operating plans, frequencies, estimated propagation charts, vote casters and some pictures from our preparations.
Finally, the radios, antennas and amplifiers had to be chosen from what was offered by companies or from what we had available in our individual shacks. Fortunately Yaesu and Kenwood (local dealers) responded immediately offering a number of radios, two of those with 200W output. The latter proved an excellent choice for stand alone stations. Unfortunately the main sponsor of IOTA activities, ICOM never offered anything!
Just to be on the safe side, two Ameritron AL-811X amplifiers were also added to the long list of equipment. As for the antennas we would have three spider beams and three spider poles for making vertical or supports for dipoles etc.
As we added this and that, the total weight rose uncontrollably to finally reach a sum of 450 Kgs.
A month before the trip we got together to install and familiarize ourselves with the spider beams also to check computers and software working with the radios. Things went smoothly during these tests.
As we were approaching the departure date I was preparing and sending regular e-mails to the members of the team with information of our status as well as information regarding Syria and our accommodation plans.
On October 31st at about 1200 local time we all met at Eleftherios Venizelos, Athens International airport. After we had cleared the equipment through customs and checked them in, we were ready to go on board Royal Jordanian plane to Amman first and then to Damascus. Here I must thank all people of Royal Jordanian Company for not charging us for the full load but for a mere 100 Kgs.
We left on schedule at 1530 hours and reached Amman 2 and a half hours later where we had to spend 3 hours before we catch the next flight to Damascus. My problem was if all equipment and the luggage would have found their way safely to the right plane. To our best interest they all did!
We arrived at Damascus around 11PM. After we had collected all equipment and luggage we approached customs where we had a little problem explaining what all this convoy with 8 full loaded carriers was about. Fortunately Omar YK1AO and other members of SSTARS were there and cleared the situation for us. Soon we were all on a bus heading for Sheraton Hotel in Damascus. This night all radios were kept by the Syrian Telecommunication Establishment (S.T.E.) people on a small truck and they promised to have them on the bus first thing next morning before we left for our next stop, Tartous city.
Next morning, November 1st found Cliff , Omar and myself, running through the streets of Damascus to get the Generator and the tents. We cleared all matters at around 11AM and hit the road to Tartous where we arrived at 2PM and registered in Shahin Tower Hotel. The next thing was to load all equipment onto a small boat and leave for the island. Weather was excellent and nothing was foreshadowing of what would follow in a few days. We arrived at the island at 3.30PM, while unloading the equipment from the small boat we were informed that we were offered two rooms on the local S.T.E. building thanks to the Mayor of Arwad and Governor of Tartous. Well that was quite an unexpected change. No tents, no generators, no gasoline would make things easier for us!
Time was running so we moved everything to the S.T.E. building where we left two people behind to shape the rooms and unpack and most of us went on top of the building to start building and installing the antennas. Soon the first spider for 10-12-15-17-20M was up followed by the 40M dipole.
Operation started at around 1414z, the team offered me the first QSO which I made with DF2NS on 14190MHz. During the first hour of the operation we faced the first problems. The S.T.E. people in the building were picking rf interference in a telephone used to check the quality of the phone connections between Arwad and Tartous. Very quickly George SV1QN solved the problem by installing 2 ferrite beads at the long unshielded cable connecting the phone with the check point.
YK9SV was on the air and pile up was really huge, the first station operating on 20M followed another one operating on 40M band.
Now some operators were left on the island for the night and the rest took the boat to Tartous to spend the night at he hotel. They had to come early next morning to install the rest of the antennas. Next day November 2nd we installed the WARC spider beam and dipoles for 80 and 160M overlooking the sea. Soon and after we rearranged the two operating rooms we were able to have 3 stations on the air in various bands and modes. Pile up was holding nicely and logs started to fill.
Saturday morning Cliff SV1JG, Spyros SV1RC and I, prepared and installed a quarter wave vertical for 80M. The antenna was working excellently, unfortunately not for long. Up to Tuesday evening everything was running smoothly and the logs were filling nicely. Tuesday evening Cliff saw a slight difference in wind speed and send an SMS to the operators on the island to keep an eye on the weather and antennas. Around 0300 AM local time Wednesday morning the wind blew the 80M vertical which fell on top the WARC spider beam. Nothing happened to the 80M vertical but the WARC spider broke into several pieces. Its aluminum pole was also damaged from the fall.
Next morning we tried to recover whatever we could and install a 30M dipole to keep working on that band. The 80M Vertical could not re installed for the moment, still the wind blew wildly! We were starting to emphasize on RTTY as there was a lot of demand for this mode. The weather situation did not change till Friday when the wind finally quietened down. We installed the 80M vertical again on Saturday evening. It was not meant to last. Early Sunday morning the wind blew so hard (100-110 Km/h) that now the pole broke at two joints. So did the pole which was holding the 40, 30 and 17M dipoles but remained in place. The wind also transformed the 5 Band Spider beam for 10-12-15-17 and 20M into a “Spider wreck”. Sunday morning there was nothing left except the dipoles!
This day we could not reach the island to replace the night shift (3 operators). We spend most of the day in Tartous looking up (the sky) and down (the sea) in an effort to diagnose when the weather would allow us to go to the island. It seemed impossible for that day, now we hoped at least to be able to make the trip the following morning as this was our dismantling day.
Hearing to our prayers, the weather got better on Monday November 12th, so we managed to get to the island first thing in the morning. Operation ended at 0557z while George SV1RP made the last QSO with JR1TNE on 17M CW.
We took all antennas down and packed the equipment, at around 1 PM we had everything loaded to a small boat. We sailed for Tartous to meet the Bus at 02:30 PM. After lunch we headed for Damascus, “Game Over”!
Next day was for rest or for seeing Damascus and its Souq Al Hamidiyeh (market of Al Hamidyeh). Around 1300PM we met for lunch with SSTARS members and the president of the Syrian-Greek community. After that most of us return to Souq Al Hamidiyeh. Finally we all met at the end of the day around 9PM at Sheraton café to discuss and prepare ourselves for our return back home. We think after all, that the operation was successful, considering weather and propagation conditions. We operated for10 and a half days from the island which resulted in a total of 25000 QSO’s.
Next day we were early at Damascus airport. Due to the state of security almost half of our equipment packs or luggage was opened. Apart from this delay, we flew to Amman and after spending some 4 hours in Amman’s airport, we headed for Athens where we arrived safely at around 3.00 PM local time.
As a team we would like to thank the National association of Syria, SSTARS, its president YK1AO and all members we met or not for their valuable help and assistance. We would also like to thank the Syrian Telecommunications Establishment for their offer and hospitality while on Arwad Island and also the Mayor of Arwad and Governor of Tartous for their kindness and help. Finally, the crew and officials of the Royal Jordanian Company for their sponsorship and leniency of our weight allowance!
STATISTICS FROM THE OPERATION: