June 05, 2017

Canada C3 Expedition

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On June 1st, the icebreaker "Polar Prince" started on a 150-day journey from Canada's east to west coast via the infamous Arctic Northwest Passage. The expedition is named "Canada C3" and is one of the signature projects celebrating Canada's 150th birthday. The expedition is devided into 15 legs and will stop at a different location every day, including coastal towns and villages, indigenous communities, and nature parks.  And here's your chance to be part of this epic journey, by monitoring for the ship's WSPR beacon on 40, 30, or 20m!

The expedition ship in Prince Edward County, as posted on the C3 Facebook page on June 3rd. The Polar prince is a former Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker and was formerly known as the CCGS Sir Humphrey Gilbert.
Under the leadership of Barrie Crampton VE3BSB, a team of radio amateurs installed a 200 mW QRP Labs U3S WSPR transmitter in the icebreaker's radioroom. Barrie reports that "the antenna is a 46 ft end fed slopping at 62 degrees from the port rail above the bridge to the midship 50 ft tower". The callsign used is CG3EXP. The U3S for the complete duration of the expedition will continuously transmit WSPR beacons, and will allow WSPR monitoring stations to track the voyage.

The Polar Prince departed Toronto on June 1st for the first leg of the expedition to Montreal, and sailed across Lake Ontario to its first stopover at Picton, Prince Edward County. On June 3rd on 40m I already managed to receive some spots from the expedition ship in Prince Edward County, grid locator FN14ka. The RAC - Radio Amateurs of Canada website writes the following about the project:
"Many of the locations to be visited by Canada C3 lie in areas where radio communication is difficult. Phenomena such as “arctic flutter” and disturbances from the aurora have traditionally been a problem in the north. Very few, if any, of these locations will have a WSPR beacon and are thus, until now, outside the worldwide WSPR network. The gathering of information on radio propagation simultaneously by several receiving stations will be of scientific interest – and it will also be fun. The WSPR network of stations meets this need comprising, as it does, a series of receiving sites and stations capable of reporting, in real time, the reception of, and location, of the beacons."

While this project is associated with the Canada C3 Expedition, results might provide “proof of concept” more generally for remote telemetry applications from Arctic regions. With the impending increase in non-commercial adventurers traversing the Northwest Passage, this low-cost technology might fill a need. Researchers following the Canada C3 “whisper” might wish to compare the experience to other ship-borne uses of WSPR as reported on several Internet sites."
I'm looking forward to seeing how far into the journey my simple wire antenna is capable of receiving the CG3EXP WSPR beacon. What a fascinating project! Wishing the Canada C3 expedition Smooth Sailing!

Another photo of the Polar Prince, as found on the official Canada C3 site
Polar Prince WSPR beacon received at PA7MDJ
Polar Prince WSPR beacon received at PA7MDJ
Polar Prince WSPR beacon received at PA7MDJ

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June 02, 2017

What a disappointment, not Mount Athos!

Last edited: 05.06.2017

On June 1st, I posted a blog entry about my contact with SV2/SV1RP/A on Mount Athos. This now turns out to be not Mount Athos at all! What a disappointment!

Today George Vlachopoulos SV1RP made the announcement that his activity on May 27th as SV2/SV1RP/A was not from Mount Athos but from his "alternative shack" in Giannitsa in northern Greece.

Quite a strange story, I must say! Did the mostly negative international attention become too much, and did Vlachopoulos decide it's better to deny having been active again from Mount Athos? Or with the SV2/A callsign indeed used from another location than Mount Athos, was it a provoking action or an action not thought through? Strictly seen the use of the SV2/A callsign by Vlachopoulos from northern Greece away from his home location is correct, but practically no ham operator uses the /A anymore (especially in a contest most hams would decide to omit it). It might be still required by Greek law, but I can't recall ever having seen a Greek radio amateur at an alternative location using the /A before. With the use of the SV2/SV1RP/A callsign, and with his 2015 Mount Athos activation in mind, Vlachopoulos must have expected at least a little that the international ham community would be going to think this was another Mount Athos activation.

The following announcement by Vlachopoulos appeared on the DX News site. Below that is the information that appeared on DX World earlier about his May 2017 and June 2015 activity. I'll let you judge for yourself.

Oh well, while doing research for the blog entries, at least I learned a lot about the troubled ham radio history of Mount Athos and about the magical place itself. The saga continues...

From DX News 02.06.2017
"SV2/SV1RP/A Not Mount Athos

My name is George.
My amateur radio call sign is: SV1RP

I live a quiet life without nightmares and I have never been hospitalized in a psychiatric clinic.
I usually do not fly in the clouds.
Surprisingly, however, I have read recently on many international amateur pages that at the last WPX contest, where I participated, I was on Mount Athos !!! And I transmit from there !!!
I also found that being on Mount Athos was not only mentioned by one person, but more than that, I was even tough criticized for this.

What I want to clarify is this:
In the last WPX contest, I also took part with the SV2/SV1RP/A call, and I transmit from my alternative shack, which is located in the north. Greece and specifically in Giannitsa City.
So my international scorn was deliberately done by people who acted fraudulently to expose me internationally.
All the necessary legal procedures have already begun, so that those responsible for this deceptive act can apologize to the Greek authorities but also for the complete restoration of the truth.

From now on, be more careful with the "information" you publish, especially when it comes from low-intelligence people and who are moving to the limits of legality.
In any case, however, I am cautious about my next actions.
Thank you.

73, SV1RP, George

Information from Bernie, W3UR The Daily DX"

From DX World
"NEWS UPDATE II – To counter SV1BDO’s remarks below, we now have a new update from Kostas, SV1DPI and we show in full below:

It is shame to post in the DX-World about an operation from Mount Athos when you know (from previous operation) that SV1RP usually has not any kind of license…. Had he a license 2 years ago as SV2/SV1RP/T? Is that operation accepted by DXCC? Of course not…

What is the interest among radio amateurs for an unlicensed operation and you announced it?

Anyway… the (expected?) news is that Holy Council confirmed this morning to several Greek radio amateurs who contacted by phone, that SV1RP has not any kind license from them and they have never given him (or to any other) a license.

You publicized a comment by Sotiris SV1BDO who says among others that SV2RSG’s operation is legal according Greek law. This is totally wrong. Sotiris is not a lawyer, neither me. But this is what SV1RP claims for SV2RSG and himself. ARRL does not accept it after they studied the Greek laws. Do you really believe that ARRL does not know the laws? As I know, ARRL has received the laws translated in English and after this they decided what is right and what documents they need to ask.

Beside this Sotiris’ story is not complete. For example he does not say that all the other Monks who are radio amateurs (yes there are more except Monk Apollo – I know 4 more) have a license from the Holy Council while SV2RSG has not submitted for a license. SV2RSG has a Greek radio amateur license but he needs the Holy Council’s approval also."

From DX World
"NEWS UPDATE I – Sotiris SV1BDO updates readers on recent SV2/SV1RP/A activity:

“As far as I know, George was really in Mt. Athos, operating from Koutloumousiou monastery. On May 27, he posted the following picture in his Facebook profile.

He claims that he has a licence to operate issued by the Koutloumousiou monastery, but still has not a licence issued by the Holly Council, the document that is required from ARRL for DXCC aproval.

Some history now. After DJ6SI Baldur’s operation, the Holy Council (let’s say that is the “local goernment” of Mt. Athos), decided not to aprove all future requests for Ham Radio operations, that will carried by civilian people (not monks). They said that they will issue licences for amateur radio operations only to monks that are residents in any of the 21 monasteries of Mt. Athos.

Monk Iakovos, SV2RSCG, lives permenently in Koutloumousiou Monastery, but as far as I know, he does not have any kind of document regarding his Amateur Radio Activity issued by the Holy Councli of Mt. Athos. His operations are 100% legal according to Greek ham radio laws, but his QSL cards are not aproved for DXCC credit, as he has not submit the documents that are required from ARRL to validate his activity for DXCC aproval."

From DX World
"MAY 27 – George, SV2/SV1RP/A has apparently again been active from Mt Athos, particularly during the CQ WPX CW contest. In June 2015, George signed SV2/SV1RP/T while training some monks on ham radio operating practices, noticeably SV2RSG."

From DX World 
"June 14, 2015 – The following news is being circulated around the DX world by Sotiris, SV1BDO. This info is an update to Saturday’s news that SV2/SV1RP/T was apparently operating from Mt Athos.

“Hi to all. I just spoke with George, SV1RP by cellphone. George is really inside Mount Athos and claims that he operates 100% legally according to Greek laws. He has in his hands all relative documentation that he is going to officially translate and send to ARRL DXCC desk for validation as soon as he returns home. He signs /T (training), as he trains some monks to Amateur Radio. Operation hours are not fixed as he follows the Orthodox time schedule of the hosting monastery. He will operate mainly in CW. QSL route will be announced later.”
Earlier today, Monk Apollo, SV2ASP/A, the only resident ham operator at Mt Athos, was also active."

Addendum 05.06.2017 
In reaction to Vlachopoulos' announcement, SV1BDO posted the following on eHam. In it he explains how the /A should be used according to Greek law, and how SV1RP used it incorrectly after all.

From eHam
"According to current Greek Ham radio law (article 12.2.1), a Greek ham (in this case SV1RP) that operates from an alternative QTH in a different call area must sign SV2/SV1RP. He must use the /A suffix only if he operates from Alternative QTH that belongs in the same call area of his call. So, signing as SV2/SV1RP/A does not follow the Greek ham radio laws. The same improper signing also aplies for his Mt. Athos operation. The only correct signing according to Greek Ham Law is the SV2/SV1RP/T.

SV2ASP/A signs so, as in his Greek Ham licence has declared that his permanent QTH is located somewhere in Northern Greece (in SV2 call area) and Mt. Athos monastery is his Alternative QTH, so for this reason he signs /A. On the other hand, SV2RSG signed so, as he has declared as permanent QTH Mt. Athos. Hope that this cleared the confusion.

Please consider that there are 2 total different meanings: Correct signing & Legal operation. In some cases (like Mt. Athos) a correct signing does not means that the operation is also legal.

Quote from: K0AP on June 02, 2017, 03:36:57 PM
From the dxnews.com web site:


If he would've informed the DX/Contest community prior the operation began that this will count only as Greece there wouldn't have been any confusion. Of course people would think that he was QRV from SV/A. In fact, the QSL photo on his QRZ.com page indicates that he used SV2/SV1RP/A from Mount Athos, does it not? On his QRZ.com web page he does not specify clearly and undoubtedly that SV2/SV1RP/A counts only as Greece. JMHO...

73 Dragan K0AP

During the WPX CW contest, the DX cluster was full of spots with SV2/SV1RP/A call, allmost all spots saying that he was in Mt. Athos. Does anybody that worked him in this specific contest received any live comment from him regarding his QTH? I guess NO, so everybody thought that they were working Mt. Athos, and probably they would sent him later a SASE with 3-5 USD to receive his Mt. Athos QSL card, that still is not recognized by DXCC. If George made 1000 QSOs, the possible total earned cash should be in the range of 2000-5000 USD, not an insignificant ammount for just a weekend...

George wrote a letter to DXNews, 5 days after the contest regarding this. He is focusing mainy on me while saying: "So my international scorn was deliberately done by people who acted fraudulently to expose me internationally. All the necessary legal procedures have already begun, so that those responsible for this deceptive act can apologize to the Greek authorities but also for the complete restoration of the truth. From now on, be more careful with the "information" you publish, especially when it comes from low-intelligence people and who are moving to the limits of legality. In any case, however, I am cautious about my next actions."


June 01, 2017

Amateur Radio in the Autonomous Monastic State of the Holy Mountain

Last edited: 06.06.2017

Latest news 02.06.2017 - Apparently George Vlachopoulos SV1RP during the WPX Contest was not active from Mount Athos but from his "alternative shack" in Giannitsa in northern Greece. Read more in my blog entry of June 2nd, 2017.

Last weekend during the CQ World Wide WPX CW contest, I finally managed to make my first ever contact with Mount Athos! Ok, "sort of", as you will read later on.

Mount Athos forms a separate DXCC entity, and let me tell you, it won't be easy to find one that's more mysterious, mystical, magical, obscure, and controversial! Mount Athos is a mountainous peninsula in northeastern Greece stretching out for about 50 km into the Aegean Sea, its width varying between 7 and 12 km, and its highest point reaching about 2,000 m. Although land-linked, the isolated, rugged region is practically only accessible by boat. Spread out over the peninsula are 20 Eastern Orthodox monasteries. Alhough considered part of Greece, Mount Athos is a self-governed, autonomous region, known officially as the Autonomous Monastic State of the Holy Mountain. It's commonly referred to simply as the "Holy Mountain", or "Agion Oros" in Greek. Mount Athos is governed by the "Holy Community" which consists of the representatives of the 20 Holy Monasteries.

Map of Mount Athos showing the locations of the 20 monasteries. Click to enlarge. (source)
Part of Mount Athos peninsula seen from the air (source)
Travelling to Mount Athos is like travelling back in time; for over 1,000 years, practically nothing has changed in the "Garden of Virgin Mary" as the Monks call the territory. The monasteries of Mount Athos were founded many centuries ago, some of them have a history going back even more than a 1,000 years, and many of them are fortified with thick walls and towers that had to keep pirates at bay. Mount Athos still is on the Julian calender, which means their date runs thirteen days behind to that of the rest of the world. The number of daily visitors is restricted, and a special limited-period access permit has to be obtained before entering the Monastic State. Visitors have to abide by a dress code and rules including not smoking. Women and children are not allowed to enter the territory at all, and even female animals are banned from the mountain (except for female insects, female songbirds, and female cats)!

One of the 20 monasteries of Mount Athos. About 2,000 monks call Mount Athos their home. (source)
Another Mount Athos monastry. A list of all monasteries and photos of them can be found on Wikipedia. (source)
Of course a contact with such a unique DXCC entity has always been much sought after by ham radio operators around the world. Luckily, since a couple of decades, Mount Athos has had its own resident amateur radio operator, the famous Monk Apollo SV2ASP/A, operating from the Docheiariou monastery. This is quite a unique situation for such a small and special DXCC entity!
Monk Apollo first came in contact with amateur radio in the middle of the 1980s when his monastery had remained without telephone for over five months and during which a medical emergency occured. When a doctor heard the story, being a radio amateur himself, he suggested somebody at the monastery would become a radio amateur operator, in order to guarantee continued communications during an emergency.
By the end of the 1980s Monk Apollo had obtained his amateur radio licence. But the working days at the monasteries of Mount Athos are long and hard, Monk Apollo's free time is scarce, and his time spent on amateur radio is little. The chances of catching and working Monk Apollo on one of the ham bands are quite slim.
So, not surprising, for many years radio hams have been trying to set up DXpeditions to the Holy Mountain to activate the much sought after entity on the ham bands. In the past, a group of Greek radio amateurs with the help of Monk Apollo were granted permission, but all applications thereafter by other radio amateurs were denied. There have been some hams operating from Mount Athos however, but their operations were "secret" and declared illegal by Monk Apollo and the Holy Community, as there might have been permission from one of the monasteries, but not from the Holy Community! According to Greek law, to operate a ham station from Mount Athos, a written permission is needed from the Mount Athos Holy Community.

Monk Apollo, SV2ASP/A (source)
Of the various hams that were operating from Mount Athos "illegally", the most notorious probably is DXpeditioner Baldur Drobnica DJ6SI. Just Google for DJ6SI and Mount Athos and you'll find plenty more on this particular episode of the Mount Athos ham radio history. Although the operation of DJ6SI from Mount Athos in 1991 was declared illegal by Monk Apollo, it did get DXCC validated!
In May of 2015 a group of Latvian hams were on their way to Mount Athos to get on the air from the Monastic State as SV2/YL7A. They claimed to have received oral permission for their ham radio activities from one of the monasteries. The group had permits to enter the Monastic State as pilgrims, but as soon as Monk Apollo and the Holy Community found out about their real intentions, access to Mount Athos was denied, the group had to return home, and the DXpedition was cancelled.

QSL card from the controversial SY/DJ6SI DXpedition of Baldur Drobnica (source)
The latest episode in the history of "illegal" ham radio operation on Mount Athos is the one of Greek radio amateur George Vlachopoulos SV1RP which back in June 2015 operated from the Koutloumousiou monestary using the callsign SV2/SV1RP/A (1) and SV2/SV1RP/T. The /A is usually added when an amateur station is operated from an alternative location, but here is added as it traditionally has been for operations from Mount Athos. The /T stands for "Training". According to Greek law, under supervision of a licenced ham operator, and with the /T added to his callsign, people without a ham licence are allowed to use his ham radio station for training purposes. Vlachopoulos claimed to have been legally operating from Mount Athos training several of the resident monks in amateur radio practice, most noticeably Monk Iakovos who as a result in 2015 obtained his amateur radio licence and has been operating from Mount Athos since with the callsign SV2RSG (No /A added, read the story on his qrz.com page). Monk Iakovos is a permanent resident of the Koutloumousiou Monestary. Vlachopoulos claimed he was in the possession of official documents which should give the operation DXCC approval, but as far as I know, both him and Monk Iakovis so far seem to have failed in getting DXCC validation.

Monk Iakovis is presented his radio amateur licence in the presence of the Koutloumousiou Monastery abbot and George Vlachopoulous, SV1RP (first from the right) (source)
My contact this weekend was with SV2/SV1RP/A on 20m CW. So it seems George Vlachopoulos again has travelled to Mount Athos. At this time I don't have all the details on the operation, but it's reported on the DX World site that Vlachopoulos again was active from the Koutloumousiou Monestary, from which he also got permission for the operation again. I'm curious how the story will unfold this time, but I bet this is another "secret" operation without the authorization of the Holy Council. At the moment I made the contact, I was unaware of the "troubled" ham radio history of Mount Athos, which I first learned about when doing research for this blog entry. Also I was under the impression I was working a 100% legal Mount Athos activation. The contact most likely will not give me DXCC credit for Mount Athos, but my signals were there, in that magical place (just look at the photos!), I made contact with one of Mount Athos' monasteries, and I'm thrilled about it!

Olive trees at Koutloumousiou Monastery, the QTH of SV2/SV1RP/A (source)
After the "illegal" operation on Mount Athos of DJ6SI, now more than two decades ago, and other ham operators which, in the words of Monk Apollo, "tried to fool the Monks", the Holy Council and Monk Apollo still seem to hold a grudge, and all applications for amateur radio activities from Mount Athos are structurally denied. Some accuse Monk Apollo of swinging a big hammer in the Holy Community Council and at the DXCC desk, and say he has built for himself on Mount Athos an amateur radio monopoly which he tries to protect.
But Mount Athos is more than just a much coveted, exotic DXCC entity alone. It's also a sanctuary of peace, a sacred place, a different world where time stood still, a home where Monks lead a simple life, away from the hectic, modern, and complicated lifes most of us live today. And such a place is fragile, and maybe that's the only thing Monk Apollo is trying to protect.
What puzzles me though is that resident Monk Iakovos still hasn't managed to obtain the required documents for DXCC approval, but I don't know the whole story here, and thus for now I'll have to refrain on any further comments on it.

The attitude of the Holy Community and Monk Apollo towards guest ham operators, with which they've practically closed the DXCC entity to non-resident ham operations, and the resulting voices raised by some in the ham community to therefore better delete Mount Athos as a DXCC entity, lead to some controversy of which good examples can be found in the discussion threads on eHam as linked to below. There's also much info on the activations of DJ6SI and SV1RP in there.

I for sure hope Mount Athos will never be deleted from the DXCC list, and hopefully with some luck and a lot of DX Cluster watching, I'll someday get the chance to work the elusive Monk Apollo himself. And to be honest, I wouldn't like to see it any other way; some places should remain shrouded in mystery, some places on the ham bands should remain shrouded in elusiveness.

You can listen to a recording of my contact with SV2/SV1RP/A below.

Addendum 06.06.2017
(1) I'm not sure but I believe the SV2/SV1RP/A callsign in 2015 never was used on the air, only the SV2/SV1RP/T callsign. Vlachopoulos' 2015 QSL card does mention the /A though.

QSL card SV2/SV1RP/A/T (source)

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