My visit to the D4B Superstation in Cabo Verde
A rare opportunity presented itself in July 2004 when I was invited by Alexander, 4L5A to assist him with hardware upgrading at his D4B/D44TT contest location before the WAE CW contest.
SAA flies directly to Sal from Cape Town and Johannesburg so there would be no problem in getting there. Or so I thought! Sal is used as a refeulling stop for SAA on their popular route to Atlanta. Until the end of August the return flight from Atlanta also stops at Sal but after that it flies non-stop to Johannesburg or Cape Town. This meant if I went after 30 August I may have to stay on the island for a 6 month period or come back via Africa on a multi-stop trip which may have included a few bus and pony rides as well!
Fortunately my travel agent was able to secure a seat for the 4th of August returning on the 13th. The flight arrangements was such that I had to fly North from Bloemfontein to Johannesburg, wait 7 hours, board the international flight South to Cape Town, then wait for one hour on the plane in Cape Town after which the flight continues for another 9 hours to Sal.
Arrival on Sal was at 0130 local and I was the only passenger destined for Sal. While walking from the back of the plane I saw several people looking at me with a "did we really have to land on this postage stamp for one guy only?" stare when I disembarked the plane. Another 7 hour wait, which included several failed attempts to sleep on the departure hall benches, saw me on the next leg of the trip to Mindelo on Sao Vicente island where I met Carlos, D44AC.
Carlos Monteiro, also known as Pulь by the locals has a beautiful home with a magnificent view close to the harbour and beach. A picture of the beach and harbour including his house has featured on the front page of CQ Magazine. Carlos is a resourceful man in many ways and he has been involved with Alex for several years building up the D4B contesting station on Monte Verde close to Mindelo. Basically everything required for the station had to be imported and local labour was used to do most of the civil works.
The temperature in Mindelo during August is in the high 20's Celcius with a moderate humidity. During the week prior to my arrival most of the islands of Cape Verde received an unusual amount of rain which caused floods in the city centre as well as country roads being washed away, including blocking the road up to Monte Verde, the D4B QTH.
Alexander was only arriving on the 8th which gave me and Carlos a few days to prepare and test the newly arrived equipment as well as do some work on his own station setup. I stayed the Hotel Porte Grande which is located in the town centre of Mindelo overlooking the city square. Mindelo is the second largest city in Cape Verde with a population of less than 100 000 people. The language spoken is mainly Portuguese with some island spicing added to it.
Although Cape Verde lies close to the equator it is a very dry part of the world. It is dry to such an extent that there are virtually no storm water drains in and around the city. The huge rainstorm the previous week brought a lot of mud from the mountains into the city. The main street looked like a river with water flowing right through the city into the sea. Soldiers from the the Cape Verde Military was visible everywhere trying to open and restore roads that were washed away or covered in mud.
An interesting note about building material on Cape Verde is that the sand used for concrete and plaster originates from the Sahara Desert! Every year the wind blows sand from the Sahara westwards over the sea which ends up on the eastern slopes of the volcanic outcrops on the island. The white sand strips partially covering the small mountains are clearly visible from an airplane.
Drinking water is shipped mainly from Portugal while water for washing and other use comes from a big de-salanisation plant. For a South African like me used to drinking clean water from a tap this was a new and expensive experience.
The only trees I saw on St Vincent island were those planted on the city square as shown in the picture from the hotel balcony. Every night after sunset people from the city aged 1 to 100 gather in groups on the square to socialize and listen to music played from the hotel balcony. A nearby disco that opens at midnight and plays loud music for the whole town caters for the younger generation. Not that the older generation, or the hotel guests, can sleep with the music level anyway! No one seems to complain and the atmosphere in town is very relaxed.
Carlos, D44AC is very well known in Mindelo and driving with him is an adventure. Apart from being stopped by almost everyone in town for a quick chat, his history as a champion rally driver makes him a local hero under the younger generation.
The road to Monte Verde
Carlos and I made two unsuccessful attempts at going to the D4B station site on Monte Verde. While the road up to the mountain top is a 20km stretch of lava rock paved and usually in a good condition, this time we had to contend with huge amounts of mud and rocks in the road. The first day, about halfway up we got stuck in the 500mm thick mud but after an hour of digging and pushing we managed to get his 4x4 vehicle back onto solid ground and we decided to try again the next day.
The following day proved to be just as disastrous but we were at least able to get 100m closer! Afterwards we fully understood why someone left a spade standing upright in the road to stop traffic...
This time I decided to walk up to the station to gather some of the equipment we required to test before Alex arrived. A 40 minute uphill walk brought me to the the D4B station, at the time (afterwards I learned it is like this most of the time) covered in a thick mist as shown in the picture below. When I returned Carlos had, after summoning a Donkey to try and pull him out, managed to convince the local roads authority that they had to send a bulldozer to pull him out of the mud and clear the road. After this we had free access to the D4B site by vehicle, about a 15 minute drive from Mindelo.
The D4B Station
This picture shows the three multiband quad antennas (40/20/15 and 10m) on as well as the four 40m high supports for the 3 element wire quads to Europe and North America. Two 160m dipoles are also hiding somewhere in the mist.
A commercial radio station mast is also visible and acts as a support for the feedpoint of one 160m dipole. Another commercial tower installation not visible on this picture is used as the support for the end of the 160m dipole facing East West. A large portion of the 160m dipole is over a cliff effectively putting the antenna about 600m above ground!
The 3 element wire quad antennas for 80m are static in their directions but can be manually switched between the CW and SSB portion of the band. Most of the ground beneath the antennas are still used for agriculture adding to the antenna "farm" feeling of this super contest station.
The view over the ocean when below the mist is spectacular. Visible on the side of the mountain are numerous levels of small pieces of land being cultivated by the locals. A very dangerous job indeed. The picture was taken in a northeasterly direction towards Europe over Baia Dos Gatos, the town where the local Carnival is held once a year in typical Rio style.
From the D4B station there is is not much in the way of the antennas in any direction which shows clearly in the signals reports Alex is getting during contests. The full 180 degrees of the property to the North is close to the side of the mountain which gives an effective 500m+ almost vertical drop. The three multiband quads are mounted within meters of this steep ridge!
Compared to D4B my home station is in a deep valley surrounded by high mountains! After hearing the signals from Europe, South America and North America so strong on all the bands I realized that ZS is for sure the original black hole!
Picture of Monte Verde taken from just outside Mindelo. The D4B masts are clearly visible on the ridge.
Closer picture from below Monte Verde showing the ridge where some of the Quads are mounted. The North America and South America towers are visible on this picture.
The building housing the D4B station equipment is a 2 bedroom house with a large radio room including a kitchen complete with electric stove and refrigerator. The view from the front of the house is in the North American direction and provides spectacular views over Mindelo town, harbour the sea and an adjacent island.
A generator room housing an 85 KVA 3 phase generator also forms part of the complex. The day-to-day supply is from the local grid which also feeds the Telecom and military installations on the mountain. During contests the radio equipment is run from the generator which can be started remotely from the shack. All equipment is properly earthed from a central earthing point in the shack and there are no traces of RFI at all.
A picture of the SO2R operating station with the two IC-7800's interfaced to the Super Combo Keyer II.
Wireless Amateur Radio at its best! Three Array Solutions Stackmatches are used to connect the multitude of antennas to the two radios. On the right hand side of the picture are some of the band filters and a switching unit. The centre of the picture shows the common earthing point to which all equipment is connected. [ZS4TX photo, 2004-8]
The operator: "Al" 4L5A, D44TT, D4B
Alexander Teimurazov, has in a matter of a two years and a handful of contests risen to be one of the leading operators in contesting today.
Alex became a member of the Georgian National High Speed Telegraphy team at the age of 12 years. He also frequently operated at the UF6KAF club station. In 1968 he also became one of the members of the Caucasus High Speed Telegraphic team. During his early ham radio career Alex was also several times the High Speed Telegraphy champion of the Caucasus countries (4L,EK,4J).
Alexander is also a member of the VHSC, SHSC and EHSC club. High speed exchanges in the contests have become a trademark of the D4B operating style. Having callers with signals 20 dB+ for 48 hours of a contest sure helps to keep you awake and probably does not require QRS operating much as it would be the case from e.g. South Africa where weak signals and QRN are the norm, especially on the low bands.
During the 80's Alex operated with calls such as UF6FFF, UK6FAA as well as RF0FWW under which he became a well known DX'er with a big signal from Georgia. 1997 saw the change to 4L5A, a call which Alex holds until today.
Ham radio did not see much of Alex in the 90's while he was setting up his very successful Telecommunications business in Moscow and other parts of the world. His first real comeback to Ham radio and contesting was from Cape Verde during the 2002 WPX SSB contest where he set up a new world record.
During August 2002 Alex started construction of his superstation on Monte Verde, Sao Vicente Island. His first contest from there during the same year was the October CQWW SSB and the result was a new African Record in the assisted category.
As the station grew bigger and the operator more experienced Alex achieved outstanding results in the following contests:
2003: ARRL, 3rd place SOAB HP in the CW and SSB leg of the contest.
2003: CQ160 CW, New World Record
2003: CQ160 SSB, 2nd World, 1st Africa
2003: WPX SSB, New World Record SOAB HP
2003: WPX CW, New World Record SOAB HP
2003: CQWW SSB, 1st Place with the second highest SOAB HP score ever.
2003: CQWW CW, 2nd place SOAB HP
2004: CQ160 CW, World Record in the Low Power category
2004: CQ160 SSB, 2nd Place in the High Power category.
2004: WPX SSB, New World Record SOAB HP (Broke his own 2003 record!)
2004: WPX CW, New World Record SOAB HP (Broke his own 2003 record!)
2004: ARRL CW, 1st place World SOAB HP with the second highest score ever.
2004: WAE CW, Claimed World Record!
2004: WAE SSB, Claimed World Record!
What makes the above results even more remarkable is the fact that Alex has up until the 2004 WAE contests so far not made more than a handful of 2nd radio QSO's during all the contests together. Station setup, hardware and switching issues were largely addressed after my August 2004 visit to the D4B station.
Lots can still be done to automate the operation but with his Super Combo Keyer II and new radios fully interfaced Alex managed to pull of a remarkable new World Record score of 3.2 Million (Claimed) in the 50 year old 2004 WAE CW contest!
Analyzing the log shows that about 1000 of the 2800 QSO's were made on the second radio! The Radio B QSO's were clearly made while simultaneously running a huge pile up on Radio A. This style of operating is not the classic SO2R style of operating where the second radio is mainly used to hunt for multipliers but rather a high level of dual band CQ and pile up control to the extent I have not seen before.
After setting up the new equipment in his shack on the mountain Alex and I went through the procedures of typical SO2R using the extensive features of TRLog. When we got to the Dual CQ he said "let us try it on the air". Within 5 minutes Alex had two pile ups going, one on 10m CW and one on 15m CW and the rate meter was touching the 200 QSO per minute level! After 30 minutes and 100+ QSO's we counted a QSO ratio of 60/40 between the two radios. This was an excellent start keeping in mind he has never listened to two radios at the same time! Did I mention he was just running 25 Watts on both radios at the time?
Alex is a remarkable operator who sets high standards to himself and his equipment. His only support on the island is from Carlos Pulь, D44AC who makes sure he does not starve during the contests. In contrast to his high tech station and operating prowess it was odd to see the type of chair Alex has selected for his 48 hour contests. Three white plastic chairs (visible in the picture with Al at the station) on top of each other for extra strength provides the seating in the D4B shack! I have seen long discussions on contest reflectors about the best type of chair for contesting but it appears not too important to Alex at all!
Maybe being uncomfortable is a clever way to stay awake! Not that sleep is a great factor in Alex's life. After a 56 hour plane trip from Moscow to Mindelo with little or no sleep it took him another 40+ hours on Cape Verde to think of sleeping.
Despite of being on track to become one of the worlds biggest names in contesting Alex shows a willingness to learn from anyone and to challenge old ways of doing things. Being a natural at learning new tricks while still remembering the old ones that worked for him will hopefully bring him a few more world records in the bag!
Al, 4L5A with Bernie, ZS4TX at the D4B Superstation [D44AC photo, 2004-8]
Al, 4L5A with Carlos Pulu, D44AC at the D4B Superstation proudly wearing their South African Rugby T shirts!
Copyright 2004: ZS4TX