Robert de Corday Long
Robert de Corday Long is a PK Porthcurno volunteer. Rob previously worked for Cable & Wireless and spent time working in Barbados during the early 1970s. During a recent trip to Barbados, Rob visited the now derelict site of the Congor Bay Satellite Earth Station – almost 50 years after it was officially opened.
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Recently I was lucky enough to spend a couple of weeks in Barbados with my son who is working over there. One day we decided to visit the old Cable & Wireless sites. We first went to Carrington H.F. Receiving station, deep in the cane fields, and next to a cane factory. I worked there as a radio technician in 1971. I still remember the burnt sugar cane smell to this day, so evocative. It’s still there although it seemed to have expanded a bit. We then travelled to Congor Bay, the site of one of the first Cable & Wireless Satellite Earth Stations. Imagine my dismay when we reached there…the site was in ruins.
Image: Congor Bay pedestal – July 2021
Matura Point – sister Satellite Earth Station
I originally visited the Congor Bay site in 1971 as it was nearing completion, before moving to Trinidad and Tobago, where I was the watch-keeper technician at the sister Earth Station at Matura Point. It was a very exciting time to be in telecommunications, the dawn of satellite communications. I felt very privileged to be a part of it. Cable & Wireless bought 6 or so of these Polygon Earth Stations from Marconi. BT also purchased one which was installed at Goonhilly in Cornwall. They were massive beasts with a 90ft diameter dish, cryogenically cooled receivers and water-cooled transmitters. This is because the early Intelsat Satellites were very low powered and had small antennas so all the hard work had to be done on the ground, picking out a minuscule signal from all the cosmic and other background noise and blasting a powerful signal back up.
Congor Bay Station closes almost 25 years after opening
Congor Bay Satellite Earth Station opened in 1972, some months after the Trinidad station, with Princess Anne performing the opening ceremony. It continued in operational use for 24 years, when finally in 1996 it was decommissioned and apparently abandoned.
In the intervening years, satellites have become more powerful and sophisticated and satellite earth stations correspondingly smaller, cheaper and less complex to operate. Now here we are in the 21st century with most of us having our own satellite earth receiving stations on our houses thanks to Sky!
But to me, it’s a sad end to an important piece of Cable & Wireless and Barbadian telecoms history. Why couldn’t they have preserved it? The main equipment areas were vast and the whole place could have become a museum… the Bajan version of PK Porthcurno no less!
The Equipment Room at Congor Bay
Below, the photo on the left shows how the derelict room would have looked in 1972. Banks of equipment racks everywhere with the antenna and systems control console at the front of the room. You can see the TV monitor on the right of the picture. In the very early days there was only one TV channel available on the satellite so all the news and sports items going between Europe and the Americas had to share this channel. You can imagine how expensive it was to buy time on it!
My visit to Barbados brought back many happy memories, but it was painful to see the Earth Station in such a pitiful state, I wonder how the others in the Caribbean, Africa, Middle East and Hong Kong have fared………?
Robert de Corday Long
Volunteer, PK Porthcurno
Rob joined Cable & Wireless in 1967 and after 18 months of training at Porthcurno set off by boat to Sierra Leone. Then for the next 20 odd years spent time on various islands in the West Indies, Macau in the Far East, Saudi Arabia and some of the Gulf States, plus islands such as Nauru in the Pacific and Ascension Island in the South Atlantic. Rob returned to the UK in 1990 to work on the new mobile phone network that Cable & Wireless were building. He has been a valued volunteer at PK Porthcurno for a number of years.