Market Reef PA0GAM/OH0/OJ0, the longest call sign ever used?
The 1983 Market Reef DXpedition was undertaken by Kee OH0NA, Lars OH0RJ, Steve G4JVG and Gerben PA0GAM (now PG5M), my first ever radio expediton, which was a great experience which I will never forget and I like to share that experience with you. During this DXpedition to the tiny rock Market Reef in the Baltic Sea, the call sign PA0GAM/OH0/OJ0 has been used which is the longest call sign ever used (at that time). The information provided on this site is collected before and during my trip to Market Reef in 1983 and at present could be outdated or incomplete.
Geography and history
Market Reef (or “Märkets Fyr” as it is called in the Swedish language or “Märketin Majakka” in Finnish) is located at 60º18’10″N and 19º08’3″E and is about 300 meters long and 80 meters wide. The highest point is some 3 meters above sea level when the sea is calm. The island is a bare rock and the only vegetation I have noticed was some small plants in the cracks between the rocks. According to geologists, the rock is about 1270 billion years old.
Market Reef was first mentioned in 1809 in the history books when Sweden and Russia were negotiating in Fredrikhavn about their border lines. It was decided that the border line should run along Market Reef and an exact border was never drafted. Also in later discussions the same expression was used and hence Market Reef became a no-mans land. At present, the border line is exact and has a somewhat unusual shape as can be seen from the map. The left half of the island belongs to Sweden and the right site, including the lighthouse buildings belong to Finland. A heli-view shows the rock with the lighthouse and adjacent buildings as the only man-made structures.
Due to this situation it happened that during our stay on the island, a helicopter from Sweden landed on the island for an inspection of the emergency radio beacon, which for convenience was located in one of the Finnish buildings.
The first “Lighthouse” was a 11 meters high iron pole (old rail bar) with a barrel for the fire on top, which was erected in 1862. It was decided to build a real lighthouse, but soon it was experienced how difficult it was to fight against the elements. Building materials were dropped on the rock and workmen landed and constructed barracks that were ‘nailed’ to the rocks, to be used for their temporary shelter.
When the first storm came, all the building materials and the barracks for the workmen were washed from the rock. Three workmen lost their life and the others were able to get into their boat and fixed it to the still existing old lighthouse pole. Later they could be rescued.
Although in 1836 a real light house was already planned, it was until 1885 when a lighthouse made of stone was built by the Russians, who then ruled Finland. Once the lighthouse was completed, the barrel was replaced by a real lamp, which used petroleum as fuel and the rotation mechanism had to be re-winded every 3 hours by the lighthouse staff.
In 1955, a diesel generator was installed and the lighthouse and adjacent buildings were powered by electricity. In 1976 the rotation mechanism of the lighthouse lamp was rebuild so it could be driven by acetylene and hence it could operate automatically. The lamp itself was also replace and has now a light intensity of 85.000 candela and has a range of 19.2 nautical miles. The lamp is 16.9 meters above sea level and its character is 0.13 + 2.87, which means one signal every 3 seconds. In one of the storage buildings, a large number of acetylene cylinders provided the gas for this mechanism. The old lamp can still be seen in the Maritime Museum in Marihamn, the capital of the Aland Islands. The last lighthouse keeper was Karl Erik Eriksson, better known as Kee OJ0MA or presently OH0NA (Aland Islands).
Because the lighthouse was now operating automatically, no permanent attendance was needed anymore and the lighthouse keeper left the rock. Presently, the lighthouse also maintains a weather station that transmits 23 different measurements to the Meteorological Service Department of Finland.
Amateur radio activities
In December 1969, the first amateur radio operation took place with the call sign OJ0MR and lasted till January 1970. This operation was followed by many other DXpediton type of operations. In 1970, Market Reef became a new DXCC country, thanks to the efforts by Martti Laine OH2BH, OH2NB, OH2BHU (now OH0BA) and OH0NI. The reason for DXCC status was because Market Reef was separated from the main land by another DXCC country, in this case ALand Islands OH0.
OH0MA was the call issued in 1972 to Kee OH0NA, to be used on Market Reef. An administrative change was made by the license issuing authorities by not issuing the OJ prefix anymore for Market Reef. In 1973, the club call OJ0AM was on the air for the first time. However, in April 1999 the Finnish PTT agreed that permanent OJ0-licenses would again be issued.
The 1983 dxpedition
On July 20, I traveled by train to Stockholm where I was picked up from the Central Railway Station by Steve, G4JVG. We stayed the night at his apartment and next morning we left Stockholm with a car fully loaded with Ham gear and heading for the Aland Islands. The ferry took us from Kappelskär to Marihamn and by car we drove to the home of Kee OH0NA at Saltvik in the Northern part of the Aland Islands. Knowing that our departure would depend on the weather conditions in the Baltic Sea, we immediately started asking Kee about the situation and possible landing schedule for Market Reef.
Unfortunately, Kee had to let us know that the weather was bad and the wind was coming from the North and waves were wasking Market. In such a condition it was impossible to make a landing attempt, even more because landings were normally done at the Northern side of the island, because there is a steep edge which can be used as a quay. With the current wind speed the boat would certainly be smashed against the this rock with great chance of demaging the boat. For the next few days, the topic of the day was the wind speed figure, which should be less than 6 m/sec and a wind direction preferable from the South. Every few hours, the meteo data was broadcasted and also the data collected on Market itself was announced. We couldn’t get a more precise report on the situation.
Because the departure had to be delayed for at least a few days, we decided to spend our time on the air from the shack of Kee. We could operate on 10, 15 and 20 meters with a TH3Mk3. The 402BA 40 meter beam was already dismantled because it would be used on Market Reef during the DXpedition. For the low bands, we erected a dipole to allow us to operate also during the night.
On Saturday we started packing most of the gear including the 402BA and drove to the house of Lars OH0RJ the fourth team member. Lars had the 15 meter long tower for the 40 meter beam available. In fact, this tower was the base of the 160 meter vertical previously used by the OH0W contest station.
When the meteo data indicated that a landing on Market would be possible, Kee decided we had to make the final arrangements and wamted to make a landing attempt on Monday, July 25. Now we were in a hurry and started to take down also the TH3Mk3 beam and started packing all equipment, food, drinks, fuel, etc.
On Monday morning we drove to Lars and together we went to Störby, where we meet Bruno, the skipper of the chartered boat “Merit”. The wooden boat was about 10 meters long and very suitable for this trip. All equipment was loaded in about half an hour and off we went. The weather was still not favorable and waves were rather high, so a successful landing was not guaranteed.
We passed by a small island where the Coast Guard was stationed and Kee told us that if we would not be successful in a the landing, we would return back to the Coast Guard station for shelter. There was a 50% chance for a good landing, according to Kee. It should be noted that Kee has lived on Market Reef for a number of years and traveled every three weeks from the island to the main land and thus knows the area and conditions as no one else.
After about two hours we arrived at Market Reef and Kee concluded that a landing on the north side would be impossible under the current ciscumstances. After some discussion, Lars, Bruno and Kee decided to make a landing attempt at the South side, which was quit unusual. The boat was anchored about 50 meters from the rock because at that point the sea was only 2 meters deep and the boat couldn’t get closer.
The next thing was to collect a small dinghy from the lighthouse which could be used for the transport of all equipment from the boat to the rock. Lars offered to carry out this unpleasant job. He got the key of the lighthouse and went down in the very cold water and swum to the rock. Once the dinghy was available we started to off load all equipment which was a very delicate operation because we had to avoid any piece of equipment dropping in the sea as this could jeopardize the whole DXpedition. Imagine how to transport 5 meter long tower sections on a 2.5 meter long dinghy! After all equipment was ashore, the “Merit” left us alone and went back to the Aland Islands to return at the end of the operation.
Now all equipment had to be carried up the stairs into the various rooms of the lighthouse. The next but most important job had to be carried out by Kee himself. He needed to start the diesel generator that would provide the necessary power for our equipment. Kee seems to be the only person that knows how to treat the engine and to get them started. Also this time he succeeded and the building up of the stations could be started. The TH3Mk3 and dipoles were erected and two stations were assembled each in a different room. Station one was in the basement of the lighthouse itself and station two was in a storage room, located on top of the room with acetylene cylinders, next to the lighthouse building.
Station I was equipped with a FT-902DM and a SB230 amplifier. Station II was equipped with a Drake-line and NRL2000 amplifier. Later, a second position was assembled in station II, which was equipped with a TR7 and Aplha 374 amplifier and was used for RTTY.
Between the two stations, were ran coax cables to allow any kind of combination of antenna and equipment. However, care had to be taken when switching antennas, because a wrong combination could line up an amplifier with a received with serious damage.
Operation had started and Lars and Kee operated as OJ0MA, Steve used G3JVG/OH0/OJ0 and I used PA0GAM/OH0/OJ0 which is the longest call sign ever used (at taht time) especially on CW. The operating schedule was based on the transmission schedule of the weather station of the lighthouse. Every 3 hours, the weather station transmits its data to the mainland via a VHF radio system. During this transmission, that takes 15 minutes, we were not allowed to operate our radios.
The second day on the island, we fixed the 15 meter tower to the rock and erected the 40 meter beam. We were all exhausted when the job was done but also happy to have that impressive beam in the air. It worked great. We had moderate conditions but were able to work around the clock with stations in all continents.
Market Reef is not an island you simply visit when you get the idea to do so. Landing permission is needed and will only be issued when the right persons are accompanying the team. In our case we had Kee along who was the former lighthouse keeper.
Although Market Reef is a barren rock, it probably has one of the best accommodations available when compared to similar locations. The old lighthouse is still in perfect condition and provides lots of room for operation and living.
The red/white lighthouse consists of a basement and three stories and the light on top. In the basement is a large storage tank for drinking water, a storage room and a sauna which still functions. On the first floor are three rooms. One was used for Station I. On the second floor is a kitchen that had still a working stove and refrigerator. Further it had two rooms that were used as bedrooms (beds still available). On the third floor is a small bedroom and the control room for the operation of the lighthouse and the weather station.
To the side is the engine building with at ground level the storage room for the acetylene cylinders and at the first floor the three aged generators. The building has a concrete tower, formerly used for the fog-horn, but now used to support the TH3Mk3 tri-bander.
The next building is the general store where in former days the firewood and food was stored. The basement is now just an empty room. The first floor of this building was divided into another store and a small room that was ideal for an operation position. This became Station II. All buildings are connected to each other by an elevated catwalk. There is a small white structure in front of the engine building which is called the WC. It has an entrance but without a door and is only flushed by the sea on irregular basis. During bad weather it is not available.
Power supply and heating
Electric power is supplied by one of the old remaining diesel generators that are located in the powerhouse just next to the lighthouse itself. The generator provides a fluctuating power with a changing frequency, this all depending on the use of the amplifiers of the stations. Having a frequency of 60 Hz for a European rotator means a rather high turning speed!
There was still diesel fuel in the tanks! No diesel had to been taken to the island for the previous 15 years. There’s nowadays a new generator on the island, that was donated by Finnish Broadcasting Corporation for the use by hams. Lasse, OH0RJ, is the ‘boss’ of the generator.
A very pleasant site effect of the running generator is, that it produces heat. This is absorbed by the cooling system and on its turn pumped around the lighthouse where it is used for the central heating system. Even during the summer, the nights can be cold. Beside the central heating system, some rooms also have their own stove that run on wood.
Food and drinks
All food had to be taken from the mainland. However, drinking water was available from the storage tanks in the basement of the building. Nevertheless, bringing a sufficient amount of bottles of water and other drinks is advisable. Fishing was exercised by Kee and Lars and resulted in some very excellent meals prepared by Kee.
Washing and showering was normally done in one of the pools that remained at various places on the rock after the sea had washed it. Fresh water guaranteed! In case of serious illness or accidents, a helicopter rescue could be called in.
During our 3 days waiting time on Aland I made some 600 QSO’s as PA0GAM/OH0. During our stay from July 26 till August 1st on Market Reef we made about 8000 QSO’s as the whole team of which 3400 as PA0GAM/OH0/OJ0.