[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
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
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:
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
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