[CQ-Contest] K6LA @ VY1JA Travelog (VERY VERY Long)

KWIDELITZ at delphi.com KWIDELITZ at delphi.com
Tue Nov 18 22:57:21 EST 1997

        VY1JA.  The  call holds a mystique to Sweepstakes  contesters.  I 
        don't know if there is an equivalent in any other contest,  where 
        a single QSO with a particular station means so much to achieving 
        a  contesting goal. Unique (pun intended!) I have 9  Sweep  Cups, 
        and in checking, J. has given me 7. I worked him 37 times through 
        And,  though  very  much in the middle  of  nowhere,  J.,  VY1JA, 
        through  the wonders of modern technology, was able to offer  the 
        use of his station, have 20 contesters take him up on the  offer, 
        and, in my 1st email pileup, I got through first.  I got  through 
        first  mostly because I had been checking my email a few times  a 
        day to see CW Sweepstakes scores. I was looking for Dan,  AD6DO's 
        score,  as  we were both competing for the  SCCC  W6UQF  Memorial 
        Trophy, awarded to the club member with the highest combined  low 
        power  Sweepstakes  score,  in memory of  Charlie,  a  low  power 
        Sweepstakes stalwart. Dan, just 17, beat me by 39 QSO's. I got  a 
        few  emails  from SCCC guys asking me "What are you going  to  do 
        about  that kid?"  When I saw J.'s email, I immediately  thought, 
        "What  an opportunity! This is what I'll do with that  kid."  The 
        W6UQF competition isn't limited to 175 miles. I checked with  the 
        XYL and she said, "Go for it." 
        When I emailed J. my interest, he responded that I was first, but 
        the  aurora could flair up and conditions would be poor  if  that 
        happened.  He said with an aurora I would hear signals that would
        S9,  and they wouldn't hear me. If I changed my mind, he'd  check 
        with  the  next  person  on  the  list,  who  had  already   made 
        reservations. I asked J. if I could do a single op low power.  J. 
        said  if  I  came up I could operate QRP all thirty  hours  if  I 
        wanted  to. I corresponded with Bruce, N6NT, who had  visited  J. 
        for Phone Sweepstakes two years ago, see NCJ, March/April,  1996, 
        page 20. Bruce said the same thing regarding the aurora and  told 
        me he thought I would do better from home. 
        Undaunted,  I  told Bruce I was going, and inquired  as  to  what 
        might make an appropriate gift for J. He mentioned that J. had  a 
        small  black and white monitor in the shack, and no DVP. I had  a 
        15" color monitor with a dead computer in the closet. When I  was 
        pulling  the VGA card, I realized there was a sound blaster  card 
        in  there also. I had been thinking I didn't want to do  a  phone 
        contest  without  a DVP, and as soon as I saw the  sound  blaster 
        card,  I  knew  an inexpensive solution was at  hand.  I  ordered 
        Contest Sound Blaster. It turned out I had about 80% of the parts 
        needed  for the interface in the junk box. Trips to  Radio  Shack 
        and MARVAC Dow, a great old style electronics parts place, filled 
        in  the  rest.  In  addition, Larry,  K6RO,  offered  me  an  80% 
        assembled  interface  to take along, and Bill, N6WS,  sent  me  a 
        spare K1EA DVP with cables. 
        I  checked the internet and found flights from LAX to  Whitehorse 
        via Vancouver. It was an American/Canadian flight so I could  use 
        miles  for the ticket. It would have been about $750 without  the 
        miles.  When I called to make the reservations for the miles,  it 
        turned  out  I couldn't go the Thursday before  the  contest.  In 
        fact,  only  business class seats were available  for  Wednesday. 
        Since  I  was using miles, I decided to go  Wednesday,  returning 
        Monday.  The  day  before I left, J. emailed me  telling  me  his 
        keyboard  died  and to go shopping for one for him as  they  were 
        much  less  expensive  in LA. I was able to shop  in  the  closet 
        again.  Never  has a dead computer yielded so  many  benefits  so 
        Getting to Whitehorse was easy. The cab picked me up at 6am and I 
        met  J.  at  the  airport  at  3:30pm.  The  first  stop  on  the 
        sightseeing tour was the burned out building housing J.'s  office 
        at the power company. The fire took out about 30% of capacity. J. 
        is  a manager in charge of getting the capacity back on  line,  a 
        project  the  contractors estimate will take two months.  J.  has 
        been working very long hours recently and will continue to  until 
        the  project  is  finished.  He thought  the  estimate  was  very 
        optimistic, Nevertheless, J. plans on getting on some for the  CW 
        Next  on the tour, I check into my hotel in downtown  Whitehorse, 
        about 25 minutes drive from J.'s place. J. had offered me the use 
        of  his  shack  for  the whole time, but  since  I  would  be  in 
        Whitehorse  five  nights, I didn't want to impose  myself  longer 
        than  necessary on J. and his family. J. also told me  the  shack 
        was  rather  rustic, with a wood burning stove and  bed,  but  no 
        bathroom or other amenities.
        Leaving the hotel, J. said he wanted to get something to eat.  He 
        started  to pull into a Chinese place, but then decided to go  to 
        the Burger King. He opens the door, sees a woman and says " Well, 
        hi there, pretty lady." Now, I had only known J. an hour by then, 
        but  he  just didn't strike me as the flirtatious type.  It  took 
        about  30 seconds more for me to realize the lady was J.'s  wife, 
        Ann.  Whitehorse is a small, but cosmopolitan town,  with  20,000 
        people  of the 30,000 in Yukon. Still, for them to be so in  sync 
        as  to  walk in the same restaurant at the same  time  without  a 
        prior plan struck me. But they have been married since they  were 
        seventeen  and have five sons aged thirty-four to  fourteen.  The 
        two  youngest boys, Jeb, 14 and Blaine, 16, still live  at  home. 
        Ann  is a corrections officer at the local prison, and works  odd 
        hours. She was going on a three day midnight to eight shift  when 
        we met.  
        On the way out to J.'s shack, the conversation came around to how 
        J.  got into contesting. It turns out in the early 90's, after  a 
        QSO and ragchew, Charlie, W6UQF, had written to J. and asked  him 
        to  get on for CQP and Sweepstakes. They corresponded  and  spoke 
        about  contesting and what it meant to the guys to have Yukon  on 
        the air. As a result, J. got hooked. Then I got to tell J.  about 
        wanting to get my name on the W6UQF Memorial Trophy.
        Once  at J.'s shack, a 16' X 12' building about 150 yards  behind 
        his house, we hooked up the monitor and keyboard, put in the  DVP 
        and... a keyboard error message, push F1 to continue came up.  We 
        pushed  F1 and, no more problem. I loaded the DVPTSR and  NA  and 
        recorded a message on the DVP. It played back but cut off after 4 
        seconds. We put in a RAMDISK, and took everything else out of the 
        computer. Problem gone. NA worked with the radio (except the band 
        map  and  scratchpad  both  wouldn't come  up,  and  never  did.) 
        However,   the  computer  and  monitor  generated  birdies   were 
        terrible. It turned out J. had just put his motherboard in a  new 
        case.  It took a while for J. to change back into the  old  case. 
        Meanwhile,  I  through  ferrite at all the  cables  and  made  an 
        aluminum  foil shield for the monitor. J. turned on the  computer 
        back in the old case, and nothing happened. Turned out the bottom 
        of  the  motherboard  was shorted to the case.  It  had  happened 
        before  to J. with that machine, so it was quickly  fixed.  There 
        were still alot of computer and monitor birdies, but I decided  I 
        would  just have to work around them. It was almost 10pm  and  J. 
        still had to drive me back to the hotel and then go back home. 
        I ought to note J.'s antenna farm consists of a four element quad 
        at 70' for ten, fifteen and twenty meters. He has a vertical  for 
        forty meters that also works on eighty meters  and a low  rhombic 
        for forty meters. 
        My plan was to rent a car Thursday morning and get to J's  around 
        1pm  local time, when the contest would start Saturday.  I  would 
        cover  the  sunrise and morning period Friday. I  had  the  radio 
        turned  on  from  5pm  to 10pm with J.,  and  there  wasn't  much 
        happening, although we didn't try hard to make QSO's. On the  way 
        out  the  door,  J. pointed to the  Northern  sky,  which  though 
        completely  overcast,  shown brighter than the Southern  sky.  J. 
        uttered the dreaded word, "Aurora." He said the high bands  would 
        probably be good the next day. 
        After  J.  dropped  me off, I was hungry. The  Chinese  place  J. 
        almost  went to was six blocks from the hotel and open 24  hours. 
        Whitehorse  is  cosmopolitan. It is also cold. It hit  -14  C  (a 
        little  above  0 F) at night and didn't quite make 0  C,  (32  F) 
        during the day. Everyone told me this is very mild for this  time 
        of  year.  It  hit  -40  C last  year,  and  I  learned  at  such 
        temperatures, C is colder than F. 
        The Westmark Hotel was very acceptable at $89 a night (the  whole 
        trip  including  hotel, food, rental car, gifts for the  XYL  and 
        kids and entertainent ran $720, since the airfare was free.)  The 
        Westmark  sported  a good location, large rooms, cable  TV,  gift 
        shop,  restaurant and bar. It is somewhat thin-walled. The  first 
        morning  I woke up to what sounded like a telephone  conversation 
        in the next room. Through the window curtains, I could see it was 
        pitch  black outside. I thought, "Who is on the phone so loud  in 
        the  middle  of the night?" I looked at my watch.  It  was  7:45. 
        Sunrise  is almost 9am. I was able to join a gym two blocks  from 
        the hotel for the three days I was in town. There are two  multi-
        two  screen  movie theaters in town, and I had a choice  of  four 
        first run movies I hadn't yet seen in LA. I saw Mad City Thursday 
        night.  Friday night, after J. and Ann had to cancel  our  dinner 
        plans  due  to  exhaustion,  I went  to  the  restaurant  J.  had 
        suggested  as  the best in town. I had the best  crab  I've  ever 
        tasted.  There  are plenty of stores in town, many  non  touristy 
        places  with  the  essentials. The hardware  store  and  business 
        supply store had everything you would find in LA. There were  two 
        large  supermarkets in town that had almost everything you  would 
        find  in  LA. There were cars and people on the  streets  at  all 
        times of day and night. Whitehorse, cosmopolitan and cold. 
        Thursday  at about 1pm local (2100 UTC,) after stoking  the  fire 
        and  letting the shack warm up, I signed as VY1JA for  the  first 
        time.  Fifteen  was open to large parts of the  country.  As  the 
        afternoon moved on fifteen petered out and twenty was open to all 
        over the country. As it got dark, about 4:30 pm local (0030 UTC,) 
        twenty  died and nothing was heard on forty. I made about  thirty 
        QSO's all totaled, semi-ragchewing style.
        I  got  up early and started the shack warming at 7am  Friday.  I 
        worked  nothing and heard little before the sun came up.  I  only 
        made  two QSOs all morning. I came back late in the afternoon  to 
        spend some time with J. The bands were still crummy. One thing  I 
        wanted  to  do was record the contest. I had brought an  old  VHS 
        video camera for recording the contest. I tested it at home  with 
        my  950 using the phone patch out to the video camera's  mic  in. 
        But J.'s 850 didn't have a phone patch out, or any other 600  ohm 
        output.  A query to the  reflector provided the  suggestion  from 
        Jim,  N6IG, that we use an audio transformer on a  splitter  from 
        the  headphone  jack.  We headed to another  outbuilding  on  the 
        property,  a  big  barn  with  nothing  inside  except  a   small 
        refrigerator  that J. later moved to the shack, and a big box  of 
        PC  boards. J. picked up a couple of boards with  likely  ratio'd 
        audio  transformers.  It turned out the first one  he  hooked  up 
        worked. J. is a resourceful ham.
        The  Saturday morning of the contest, I checked out of the  hotel 
        and  arrived at VY1JA about 11am. J. already had the fire  going. 
        J. had just gotten a file in that had been reconstructed from one 
        of  the fire damaged servers at work. He had to work, would  join 
        me  for  the start of the contest, but then had to go  teach  Tae 
        Kwon   Do.  He  and  Ann  are  double  and   triple   blackbelts, 
        I  started warming up a frequency for the contest.  Since  you've 
        read this far, you deserve to learn the secrets of working VY1JA. 
        J.  has  his favorite frequencies. My favorite  frequencies  have 
        always been ones where I have a good run going and little QRM. J. 
        likes  frequencies that end in 7. This being a phone contest,  he 
        told  me  I should operate 3777, 7837, 7177, 7227  14177,  14227, 
        14237  and  21337.  I thought, "I'll operate anywhere  I  find  a 
        hole," but out of respect for J. I started at 14227. This  secret 
        is good for CW also. J. CQ's at 3527, 7027, 14027 and 21027. 
        Twenty  meters was open to the midwest and south. I  didn't  have 
        any problems working one station after another. On fifteen meters 
        I  didn't hear a peep, checking at 2030 and 2045. So I told  guys 
        who came by on 14227 to come back when the contest started.  With 
        a  minute to go, I called roll. Jeff, N5TJ was #1 (but  isn't  he 
        always.) The first time the last 10 rate meter came off 0 it went 
        right to 186. I put 4 Qs in the log in the 2102 minute. Roll call 
        was over. The pileup was relatively small. The 2105 minute  ended 
        with 15 in the log. Then the propagation switch got turned off. I 
        didn't  make another Q for 4 minutes. I made one and then  didn't 
        make another for 12 minutes. I was dying. At 2130 I tried fifteen 
        meters.  I  made  1  Q. I heard some 6's  working  the  east  and 
        midwest, but I didn't hear anything else. 
        I went back to twenty meters and wound up the first hour with  35 
        QSOs. Miserable. Just after the first hour I tried fifteen meters 
        again. I worked two buddies, Arnie, N6HC and Dave, K6LL, who both 
        were doing pretty good. I on the other hand, couldn't be heard by 
        anyone else I heard on the band, and I didn't hear anybody anyone 
        else I could hear was working. 
        I went back to 14227 despite the QRM, because J. had asked  VY1AU 
        to  look  for me there Saturday afternoon. My  second  QSO  after 
        returning  from the excursion to fifteen meters was VY1AU, or  as 
        J.  calls him, "Yukon Gold." I got a little run going again,  but 
        finished the hour with a 33 rate. The next hour was worse, at 24. 
        I  was reduced to S&P and not even getting through to 75% of  the 
        stations I called. 
        Finally,  late in the 0000 hour, I got propagation to  the  south 
        sitting on 14321 (not one of J.'s favorites, but I had a run  and 
        little QRM.) I must have been very weak even though I was spotted 
        on  packet at 0110, 'cause in the next hour I heard some  chatter 
        on frequency like, "Yeah, Joe, he's in there. He's on number  148 
        and  his check is 60." The run ran its course, as did  the  band, 
        and I moved to 7152 at 0130. The 01 hour finished with a 54 rate, 
        far and away the best so far. I was on a roll. It was all  uphill 
        from here. 
        At  0200  the lights went out. I made 12 QSO's  the  whole  hour, 
        mostly  S&P,  all west coast, except VE8EV, who have  me  #5  and 
        emailed  J.  it  was the worst conditions he had  ever  seen  for 
        Sweepstakes. It got worse. Here is my log from 0250 - 0631:
        0250 VE8EV
        0332 AI6V
        0455 W6NL
        0525 W7VJ
        0631 N7PP
        While  CT  counts much of that time as time off, in  fact  I  was 
        calling  guys over and over and over on eighty and forty  meters. 
        They were S9+ but they didn't hear VY1JA calling and calling  and 
        calling.  I did take two legitimate 1/2 hour breaks  during  that 
        period. I was SO depressed I walked over to J.'s house. He looked 
        outside  and pointed out the aurora, still hidden by  a  complete 
        cloud  cover. While he didn't put it in these words, his  message 
        was,  "Welcome to the Yukon." He consoled me by reminding me  the 
        high  bands should be good the next day. He told me to get on  at 
        0700 and work as long as I could, then get up at 6am local  (1300 
        UTC)  and  look for an opening on twenty meters. He  said  if  it 
        wasn't  there, go back to sleep till sunrise. I put in a call  to 
        my  XYL, Heidi.  
        I  trudged back out to the shack. It was bad. I couldn't  make  a 
        QSO.  Nobody could hear me. 0300, 0400, 0500 I had an  astounding 
        rate  of  one, yup, 1, uno! And a was killing  my  voice  yelling 
        VY1JA at 59+ guys, not alligators, but victims of aurora. If only 
        they knew they were being called by VY1JA in the Sweepstakes.  J. 
        told  me he has spend as much as 45 minutes calling  one  station 
        because  he  knew the operator to be a serious  contester  and  J 
        wanted  to be sure he got a sweep. J. is serious when he says  he 
        contests  mostly to help other contesters. Things  improved  only 
        slightly, as the next three hours produced rates of 12, 18 and 7. 
        I turned off the radio and went to sleep, setting my watch  alarm 
        for 5:30am local (1330 UTC.) I woke up fifteen minutes before the 
        alarm  was  set to go off. I got on twenty meters, made  a  quick 
        QSO, then nothing. I tried forty meters. Nothing. Back to  twenty 
        meters. Then a nice little run on the east coast sunrise peak.  I 
        worked a bunch of 2's, my first of the contest. Just after  1400, 
        the  opening closes. At 1500 I try again, nothing. At 1530 I  try 
        again, nothing. The 1600 hour is good for 8 QSO's. 
        At 1711 the band opens, about fifteen minutes after sunrise.  I'm 
        on 14227. The pileup builds. At 1733, the last 10 rate meter hits 
        178. Then the rate starts to slow. Too many fills. Guys are still 
        calling  when I come back to the next station and QRMing me.  For 
        the  first time in my life, I decided to work split. I  told  the 
        pileup  I was going to work split and to hold on while I found  a 
        listening  frequency.  I spun the dial up and it  sounded  fairly 
        quiet  at  14232.  I  set the other  VFO  and  announced  "VY1JA, 
        listening 14232." The VOX cut off and the pileup was just as big. 
        I  had  to check the radio to make sure I was  listening  to  the 
        right  frequency, as I was surprised so many guys could go  split 
        to  the correct frequency so fast. I got the rate back up to  the 
        140's. The 1700 hour generated 100 QSOs and I got my contest best 
        of 109 in the 1800 hour. At the top, the last 100 meter was  128. 
        Even  with  AGC off and riding the RF gain, at times  the  pileup 
        sounded like mud. At 1823 my listening frequency got QRM'd and  I 
        went back to duplex for the rest of the contest.
        Things  slowed  somewhat,  QRM  got  worse,  fifteen  meters  had 
        north/south propagation only and I had worked all the 6's and 7's  
        I  was hearing on fifteen the night before. 1900's rate  was  76, 
        but  then  I got squeezed off of 14227 and in the 2000  hour  the 
        rate dropped to 40. I then plied 14337 and later 14187 for  rates 
        of  66 in the 2100 hour and 62 in the 2200 hour. I  slipped  into 
        14228 (close enough to 14227) at 2215. I stuck thereabouts a long 
        time  making  102 QSO's in the 2300 hour, including  having  KP3L 
        call in for the sweep at 2317, three minutes before J. came  back 
        in  the shack. J. had been in and out all day Sunday.  He  missed 
        the working split hour, but was in for some high rate periods.  I 
        was  highly  complimented  when  J.  told  me  he  learned   some 
        techniques  to try out to get his rate higher. 

        Speaking of the sweep, when I went to sleep early Sunday morning, 
        I  didn't think it would happen. But I was down to  only  needing 
        five  mults  when NE called in at 1900. A VE1 called  in  shortly 
        thereafter.  Needing  just NL, PR and SC (SC?) I  changed  my  CQ 
        message  to "looking for ..." At 2050 someone came  on  frequency 
        and  said,  "VO1MP is on 14195." I went down there and  called  a 
        number of times. Finally, someone said "VY1JA is calling you."  I 
        think it was George, W2VJN, who also might have been the one  who 
        told  me where VO1MP was. At 2134 KB4GYT called in from SC.  That 
        left PR. I changed the CQ message to "CQ Puerto Rico, this is the 
        Yukon, VY1JA." And then KP3L called. A few minutes later  another 
        station  told  me KP4 was on down the band,  but  having  already 
        bagged one, I kept running. I told J. I'd send him the sweep cup, 
        but he said the sweep cup he wanted was the one he made single op 
        himself. He'll do it too. 
        To finish up the contest I made 78 Q's in the 0000 hour. AT  0016 
        the  last 10 meter hit a contest high 204. At 0130 twenty  meters 
        died and I was pretty much done. 0100 was good for only 42 QSO's. 
        I made 14 QSO's in the 0200 hour, but the last one was at 0222. I 
        was  back to no one hearing me on forty meters, and there was  no 
        one  on  twenty meters left to work. I finished up at 962  and  a 
        sweep, probably good for the VY1/VE8 low power record. Even  with 
        good conditions I wouldn't have beaten AD6DO. What am I going  to 
        do about that kid? I guess I have to hope he goes away to college 
        J.  had  to head up north early Monday morning. Yes, there  is  a 
        north  from  that  far  north. So  we  said  our  goodbyes  after 
        listening for 3830 for a while. I had the wood stove down pat  by 
        Sunday night and slept in till 8am. I had overheated it  Saturday 
        night  and  awoke  sweating to a 90 F room. Maybe  that's  why  I 
        didn't  need my watch alarm to wake up early. It was easy  Monday 
        morning to drive the rental car back, catch an 11:15am flight  to 
        Vancouver and get back to my house by 6:45pm.
        Overall, Sunday made up for the miserable Saturday. I got quite a 
        kick from all the clean sweep excitement I generated, including a 
        few  who said I gave them their first ever sweep. I  enjoyed  the 
        experience  of operating split. I was pleased to make a sweep.  I 
        enjoyed  meeting  J.  and spending some time  with  him  and  his 
        family.  His boys are really into Internet gaming and  I  learned 
        about it from them. 
        My respect and admiration for J. has increased considerably.  The 
        patience  and  determination it takes to operate in  such  an  RF 
        unfriendly  environment  is substantial.  Would I  do  it  again? 
        Let's  put  it  this  way, I had my chance  to  be  VY1JA  for  a 
        sweepstakes weekend. I will cherish the experience, but I'll  let 
        the other 19 guys who wanted to go have a chance.  

        I might add that while J. was very down in the dumps regarding
contesting after CW Sweepstakes, he was much more upbeat during my visit. J.
has an offer that will take care of his linear tube problem about which he
is very excited. He has plans to put the rhombic higher and fix some tower
sections. He recently received a promotion that he expects will keep him in
the Yukon. He will be building the CVB interface and have a DVP available.
We will be hearing VY1JA with J. at the mic in contesting seasons to come. 

73. Ken, K6LA - Ken Six Los Angeles, KWIDELITZ at DELPHI.COM

CQ-Contest on WWW:        http://www.contesting.com/_cq-contest/
Administrative requests:  cq-contest-REQUEST at contesting.com

More information about the CQ-Contest mailing list