I have received a number of questions about my experience with the CQWW
observer program last November. I have also seen some online commentary
about the performance of the observers. I have let the CQWW committee
do the official communications, but I thought it appropriate that I give
my perspective on the result. I should add that I sent a copy of this
as a courtesy to my observer, but nothing has changed as a result of his
My observer was Gene, W3ZZ. I must admit that I was not very excited
about the process. However, given the concern about a number of recent
contest disqualifications and suspect operations, I understood the
reason the program was instituted and I committed to Gene that I would
cooperate fully. Before the contest, I did not know Gene very well
other than a few brief conversations over the years at Dayton. He and I
exchanged a number of Emails, government documents, photos and a phone
call prior to the contest to make arrangements to meet in Barbados and
to work out logistics.
My station does not lend itself to observers since it is a single small
room with no sleeping facilities. There is a bathroom in the main
building, but it is locked and I am not to go inside otherwise. Gene
was emphatic that he was there to observe and needed access to the
station, but he was to be as unobtrusive as possible and not impact my
operating in any way. We agreed that the best place for him to sit was
outside the shack under a tarp, with a long headphone cord so he could
monitor everything I could hear.
Since I celebrate Thanksgiving with my family in New York City, I fly
down to Barbados on Friday morning and ultimately arrive at the station
at about 20Z. Gene and I agreed that I would meet him at the station at
that time. I got there a few minutes early and started setting up and
testing the station. Gene looked at all of the gear and inspected the
towers, antennas, and feedlines. I have no phone or Internet access, so
that complexity was never an issue. Once the station was working, I
went to my rental house with my wife Kathleen and son Alex to get a
brief rest and dinner. Gene went off to get a meal somewhere.
We reconvened at the station to start the contest. I was inside
operating while Gene was outside under the tarp. Kathleen was with him
for the first hour as I settled in. Gene was indeed unobtrusive. He
would come in frequently to write down my score, but most of the time he
was not visible to me. I generally did not feel his presence except
when he would occasionally say out loud the first name of recognizable
stations that would call in. Fred! Jack! Frank! Etc.
Gene's conditions were hardly hospitable. The island is hard to
navigate, particularly at night. Gene's hotel was some distance from my
station, but close to the airport to make his arrival easier. There
are closer hotels, but the west side of the island is newer, and
probably more expensive. Gene was in a stiff wooden chair that was
hardly comfortable, otherwise I would have been using it myself. I
believe Kathleen brought him pillows during the weekend. The tarp he
was under protected him from the sun, but not the rain. I have no doubt
he felt his share of raindrops. To avoid traveling back to the hotel,
Gene slept in his car, a subcompact.
Gene did volunteer to drive Kathleen and Alex to the airport at 5AM
Sunday morning. Although I could not see him at all times, it is quite
possible that he was at the operating site for all of the contest other
than this trip. He listened to the majority of the contest in his
wooden chair, under a tarp, and sometimes in the rain. On top of that,
he recently had surgery and was noticeably uncomfortable when he walked.
When the contest was over, he was tired and had the long drive to the
hotel ahead of him in the dark.
People have questioned his choice of hotel so far away. Admittedly, it
was distant, but it was convenient to the airport and I suspect it was
cheaper than the closer ones. One top of that, he slept in his car on
site. There was commentary about his car and the cost. Rental cars are
expensive on the island. I should add that the local currency is
Barbados Dollars with an exchange rate of 2 per USD. That may cause
some confusion. The cheapest auto rental is an uncovered jeep, probably
not practical given his intention to sleep in his car. The vehicle he
had was about one step up from this. I actually rent a sedan which is
even more expensive.
I can't speak for anything outside of the operating period but,
regarding the contest observation, I do not know how anything more could
have been expected from him. He was on site nearly the whole time and
listened to a substantial amount of the contest, although I cannot say
with certainty how much. He had a plan for things to look for in terms
of ways an operator could cheat. Fortunately nothing was found and
most potential scenarios were not even feasible given my setup.
I have no complaints about Gene's conduct. He was serious and
professional, yet accommodating. I do not know what his specific
instructions were, or what was expected of him. However, as far as
judging the contest is concerned, I do not see how anybody could
complain about his commitment to representing the CQWW CC.
For me personally, it was a odd experience. I felt a different kind of
pressure than other contests. Since I do not get to the station until
right before the start time and I get little rest beforehand, I do not
compete as intensively in WW CW as I do some of the other events. This
one is mostly for fun. However, being observed, I was aware of the
optics of having a significant score deviation from prior years. This
created some pressure for this contest, when there usually is none. As
it turns out, the score was virtually identical to last year and it did
not raise any unwarranted suspicions.
Overall, I would say that I would prefer not to be observed.
Nonetheless, I am well aware of why this was necessary, and official
observers are welcome at my station at any time, even unannounced. Gene
made the process as painless as possible yet still preserving the intent
of the program. For his work during the contest, he is to be commended,
Heading to Barbados this week for ARRL SSB
73, Tom W2SC 8P5A
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