Two Hams (WA2USA & DL1SX) - River Cruise Europe March 2014

Ham radio and luxury cruising seem like opposite sides of a vacation experience.But I was able to combine them on a recent trip titled, ďGreat Rivers of EuropeĒ on Grand Circle Cruise Lines.On March 12th, my wife, Colleen and I departed for our trip.We left Evansville Indiana for Detroit and then on to Amsterdam, Netherlands. In Amsterdam, we boarded the river ship M/S River Rhapsody for a two week cruise down the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers, ending in Vienna, Austria. On this cruise, we would stop at the cities of Cologne, Koblenz, Rudesheim, Wertheim, Wurzburg, among others. The River Rhapsody, 366 feet long by 38 feet wide, has a capacity of 140 passengers in 70 cabins, all with outside views. There is a spacious sun deck that is equipped to accommodate passengerís topside... From the top deck, one gets a 360 degree view of the countryside passing by.

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River Rhapsody

River cruising was not new to us.We have been on two previous cruises. But I had not taken any ham radio equipment because of concerns trying to get through Security with a QRP radio, antenna and batteries. (And I didnít want to risk the wrath of my wife, who was concerned that I would get too absorbed in making contacts.)This trip I was determined to combine the cruise with amateur radio.My plan was to take a QRP rig complete with Lithium Polymer batteries and an Alex Loop to operate from the deck of the ship. Based on previous cruises, I had an idea what I could use for an antenna. I could use bungee cords to attach a loop antenna to the railing on the Sun Deck? We did some checking with the Grand Circle office in Boston, and they said they never had a question about ham radio before.They said I was free to operate as long as my equipment didnít interfere with the shipís equipment and that I would seek permission from the Captain of the ship.

Taking the advice of Guy N7UN I packed the Alex Loop, with three 1 foot pieces of Ĺ inch PVC pipe and couplings, inside the Alex Loop carry case and packed it inside my checked bag and my radio, batteries, key and external speaker inside my backpack to pass through Security. I put a QSL card and a copy of my license and CEPT, Public Notice of Reciprocal Licensing agreements inside the Alex Loop carrying case and my backpack. All went well.The Alex Loop arrived with my checked bag and airport security allowed my radio equipment to go through X-Ray without a hitch. Hurrah!

We arrived and boarded our ship.The next 2 days were touring Amsterdam using our ship as a home base.

On March 14th we were finally underway from Amsterdam to the southern border of the Netherlands and Germany.It was great weather with several hours of cruising, so after consulting Captain Henry, I set up Ďset-upí a station on the Sun Deck. In less than 10 minutes the Alex Loop was resting on top of a 3 foot Ĺ PVC pipe bungee corded to a deck railing. See Photo1 taken while transiting a lock south of Amsterdam.

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Photo1. PA/WA2USA

You can see from the smile on my face, the plan was working. With a cup of coffee close by, compliments of River Rhapsody staff and good propagation, several contacts were made on 20 meters using an HB1B. Seven QSOís were conducted and one in particular to OK/OM6TC/P from a SOTA (Summit on the Air) mountaintop, OK/ZL-040 in Slovakia, a QRP to QRP QSO.

The next morning, we sailed into Germany.We began the first of many stops to tour cities with churches, castles and shops while partaking of local spirits and cuisine. There were many memorable stops along the way, the most memorable, from an amateur radio point of view, occurred when we stopped at Wertheim on the River Main, (pronounced like the word mine) a charming fairy-tale town located at the meeting of the Main and Taube rivers. It was here I met Albrecht Englert, DL1SX.

It all started after my wife and I hiked to the imposing ruins of its castle, set on a hill overlooking the town. See Photo2.

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Wertheim on the Main with Castle Ė Photo2

Off in the distance on the other side of the Taube River was an amateur radio tower in the backyard of a clustered neighborhood of stucco homes. It didnít take much to convince my wife Colleen to do a recon of this quaint QTH. Off we went not knowing what to expect but at the very least exercising our legs and touring additional areas of the town. We eventually found the QTH and tower, complete with wire antennas. There was even a German flag flying atop the tower. See Photo3.

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DL1SX - Albrechtís Tower - Photo3

 

I rang the door bell but there was no answer, a mailbox near the door identified the name of the occupant: Albrecht Englert. Later that afternoon on the ship, using the Internet and QRZ.COM, I found Albrechtís call sign DL1SX.With a few hours of spare time before dinner, I took off from the ship to try once more to meet Albrecht. Thoughts raced through my mind: how am I going to introduce myself to someone Iíve never met : from a country I donít even know the language? I had no idea who Albrecht was based on his call; he could be young or old working or retired. One thing I knew was that, all hams have a common bond - the willingness to communicate. I brought my card, not my business card mind you but my QSL card.I rang the doorbell and low and behold an elderly woman (Albertine, Albrechtís wife) unlocked the door. I introduced myself as WA2USA and with that I met Albrecht DL1SX a 90 year old retiree, who is still an active operator.The stately, yet cordial old man shook my hand with vigor as we exchanged greetings in our native tongues. With an infectious smile and warming manner Albrecht enthusiastically invited me into his home and his radio room on the second floor. In the corner amongst shelves filled with books and a table overflowing with stacks of papers was Albrechtís ham station, with barely enough room for two people.

But here is the bonus: At the age of 18, Albrecht joined the German 19th Army Staff Headquarters in 1942 as a Funker (Morse code telegraph operator) which fought the American 3rd Infantry Division from the shores of France, up the Rhone Valley, across Germany and into Austria. See Photo4 of Albrecht in uniform and Albrecht in later years.

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Photo4.

Albrecht and I instantly became ham radio friends. We never got around to discussing amateur radio or his station but instead we lit into his exploits as a young CW radio operator with the 19th German Army. I discovered Albrecht made many friends both German and American after becoming a historian for the 19th Army. One particular friend was Staff Sergeant Al Brown who Albrecht met while Sergeant Brown was station in Wertheim as part of the post war occupational forces. Staff Sergeant Brown later wrote his memoirs, a book about his experiences with the 3rd Infantry Division, which Albrecht was given a copy.In Sergeant Brownís book is an anecdote told by Albrecht which I find fascinating and worth repeating.

 

As a radio operator in the 19th Army Headquarters, Albrecht was privy to many historical events as they unfolded. One story he shared with Sergeant Brown was his part in saving the lives of a group of fairly high-ranking German Officers. This particular incident took place a few days before the official German surrender on May 8, 1945. This group of officers, appalled at the useless slaughter of their men, in a cause whose outcome was inevitable, appealed to the top Generals of the 19th Army to permit them to surrender. The appeal backfired and each officer was court-martialed and found to be guilty of treason and sentenced to execution by firing squad. However, because the condemned were officers, the court-martial board did not have the authority to carry out the executions without approval of the highest army command. Their request for execution was given to Albrecht to transmit to the higher command. Exercising stealth, Albrecht signaled his assistant to turn the transmitterís power to its lowest setting. His transmitter was capable of 1,000 watt at its highest setting and could reach any station in Germany with no trouble but, at its lowest setting, its range was just a very few miles.

Albrecht sent the message. The generals stood behind him waiting for a reply but when no reply came back, they ordered Albrecht to send it again, which he did. Still there was no reply. Several more attempts were made, but none brought a reply. The Generals finally gave up thinking that perhaps something tragic had happened at the high command headquarters. A few days later, Germany surrendered and there was no legal authority to carry out the executions. Beyond any doubt, Albrechtís actions saved the lives of those officers. In so doing, he put his own life on the line. If the Generals had discovered what he had done, Albrecht would have surely been executed with the officers.

Albrecht had more stories but unfortunately for me, Albrecht had another engagement that evening and I needed to get back to the ship. We departed friends promising to stay in touch. How lucky I was to meet an amateur who was a German CW radio operator, an aging veteran from my parentís generation, who today are literally a dying breed.It was the highlight of my ham radio river cruise adventures.

Later that evening our ship set sail for southern Germany and Vienna Austria. More contacts were made along the way both in Germany and Austria, 21 QSOs in all from 11 different countries.

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Our ĎGreat Rivers of Europeí cruise was memorable having had the opportunity to operate ham radio in Europe and of course meeting Albrecht, DL1SX.