[CQ-Contest] 8P5A (W2SC op) ARRL CW SOAB (Very Long Story)

Georgens, Tom tgeorgen at lsil.com
Sat Feb 24 17:25:35 EST 2001

8P5A (W2SC op) SOAB CW

160		356	51
80		560	54
40		821	56
20		1067	57
15		1146	58
10		1183	57
		5133	333 ---> 5.13M

I was fortunate to win this contest in 1998 as 8P9JG and was eager to try
this event again.  I knew that good conditions on 10 toward Europe would
hamper my score and it was clear that 5800 QSO's were not going to be
possible.  However, the difficulty in making Q's was far more difficult than
I originally imagined.

The contest was not at a particularly good time for me as I already had week
long business trips to Europe and Cancun this year.  I had a few things to
get ready before the trip with special attention to having an effective
Beverage for 160.  Three years ago, the Beverage worked great but on my two
successive trips I showed limited attention to the Beverage and the results
were poor.  I knew that 160 mults were going to be key if I was going to
compete with the close in guys in ZF2, VP5, and KP4 and I had to be able to
hear.  I made up a terminator and bought a transformer box from K1FZ.

Leading into the contest, I was having trouble getting written authorization
for my special callsign.  Last year Fed-Ex and E-mail were both successful,
but this year there was no response even after repeated phone calls.  It
looked like I would have to deal with this once I was on the island.

The day before my trip I was driving to work when my daughter called me to
tell me that my 3 year old son had hit his head and was on his way to the
emergency room.  I turned around and got the hospital before my wife and son
arrived.  He was eventually OK but not before getting 12 stitches in his

Travel to 8P from San Francisco was long but uneventful.  The first thing
that hit me when I got off the plane is how much cooler and less humid it
was in February as opposed to October.  The last two times I was there, I
was immediately perspiring and light headed but this time was actually
refreshing.  We got through customs with no problem and the car rental
representative was there with our car.

My wife and I got to the shack around 11PM and I began setting up the
station as she went to bed.  The first thing I noticed is that the Internet
access would not work.  The radios worked just fine but the AL1200 I
repaired last time I was there would arc at 500W or more.  My TL922 worked
OK and the AL80A seemed to work fine as well.  I was also  driven to make
the computer control of the radios work this time, something I could not
make happen last time.  When I pulled out my cable, the problem was obvious.
What I learned since the last trip is that the 850 requires hardware flow
control and the cable I made had only two wires.  In searching for a better
cable, I found a box that said "IF-232 replacement" which worked the instant
I powered it on.  I left getting my interface to work as a post contest
exercise which ended up being successful.

With most of the station operational, it was time to go to bed  but, with
the dogs barking and time difference, It was hard to sleep.  On top of that,
I had caught a bug in Cancun, was not feeling well, and was deteriorating

The next day was errands day but I did try the Internet access before I
left.  This time it did connect and my wife sent some E-Mails from her AOL
account.  I use VPN to access my corporate network from my home DSL and
wanted to try it using the local dial up.  As it turns out, it worked
perfectly and, on top of everything else, I had written authorization for
8P5A waiting in my inbox.  To appreciate my good fortune, the VPN never
worked again until I called the IT support line after the contest.  We spent
the rest of the morning renewing my 8P9JG call, getting my cellphone to
work, and picking up PVC support poles and copper pipe for the Beverage.

My wife went off to do food shopping as I tackled the antenna projects.
When I was there for CQWW, the 40 meter beam was broken and I was suspicious
of the Vee beam toward Europe.  I built a special wire array for Europe that
seemed to work well and was successfully used a month later by K4BAI/8P9Z.
My thinking was that I would move this array to point at the US as an
alternative to the Vee beam.  I moved the antenna around but it sounded
dead.  I tried a few things but left it for later and began work on the

I brought wire with me that was measured and marked at 580 and 880 feet.  My
goal was to use the full 880 feet as long as I could keep it relatively
straight.  From my original feedpoint location, I reeled out 650 -700 feet
before I would have to significantly bend  the wire.  I decided to move the
feedpoint back about 150 feet and run out about 820 feet of wire.  The next
step was to hammer in the copper pipe as a ground rod, which was nearly
impossible as the ground is coral about 2 inches below the surface.  At this
point, my wife returned and offered to work on the grounding.  I went out in
the fields and started installing the PVC support pipes.  When I came back,
my wife was pounding rebar into the ground with a sledgehammer.  The best we
could do was 2, 2.5 foot ground rods at the feed point and about 1.5 feet at
the termination.  I thought about radials but passed.  Outside of the short
ground rods, the antenna looked great.  "Anything that looks this good has
to work" is what I told my wife.

I never got the 40 meter antenna to work that day and we went to dinner.
When I got back, I wanted to make some contacts to check everything out.
Things were working well and I was very impressed with the beverage as I
worked may guys I would never hear without it.  Last time I was here, I did
not get much sleep before the contest so I decided to get to bad before
11PM.  I could not sleep as my ears were ringing and was having chills. My
wife felt my head and exclaimed "You are burning up."  She gave me some
medicine but it was still hard to sleep.

The next morning I wanted to make the 40 meter antenna work.  The first
thing I noticed is that the feedpoint was badly corroded and, upon checking
with the ohm meter, neither the shield nor the center conductor  had
continuity to either leg of the antenna.  It was incredible since the
feedpoint was the typical PVC type product that was new from HRO when it was
installed just 4 months ago.  I replaced the feedpoint with a balun that was
in the store room but the results were not any better.  At this point, I
reasoned that the feedline might also be bad so it was replaced but there
was still no luck.  I had another of the HRO feedpoints and used it instead.
Finally, the antenna looked like it was working.  One adjustment to the
length and the antenna was ready.

Overnight, the PVC pipes in the field fell down.  My wife decided that she
was going to make them more reliable.  I don't know what she did but they
stood perfectly straight until it was time to take them down after the

We went to dinner at the home of our local host that night.  I had the
chills and a cough and was not very good company but they made a delicious
local meal and we had a good time.  When we got back to the shack, I was
going to check out the 40 meter antenna and work on the AL1200.  After about
an hour, the phone rang and we were informed that my son had fallen and once
again was enroute to the emergency room.  Kathy and I just stared into space
for a while as we felt totally helpless.  It was very uncomfortable and we
talked briefly about what it would take to return home on the first flight
in the morning.  My wife suggested that we just work on the amp for a while
until we hear back from the states.  The amp never did work and I decided to
just go to bed without listening on the bands.  The phone eventually rang
and everything was OK but I was still feeling poorly and just wanted to get
some sleep.

Friday was spent just getting last minute things ready like setting up the
computers, marking the amplifiers, and testing all antenna/radio/amp
combinations for interaction and RF.  One thing that was bothering me was
adjusting the sidetone in the 850s.  I scoured the radio and the manual
several times for the adjustment.  I finally found that it was an internal
adjustment and I had to disassemble part of the station to turn down the
sidetone in both radios.

My wife and I went to a late lunch and I could barely speak due to a sore
throat.  If this was a phone weekend, she would have to do all of the
operating.  When we got home, I tried to squeeze in a few hours sleep.
Kathy made me pasta and salad for dinner, I took a shower, and sat in from
of the radio ready to go.

I planned to start on 15 but the band did not sound very good.  I could hear
loud JA's on 10 but was reluctant to start up there as the US did not sound
very loud.  I had my rate sheet from 3 years ago but I knew that better
conditions would dilute attention and I would not be able to match those
numbers.  I also had a rate sheet from last year's 8P9JA multi single as a
more reasonable benchmark.

I was in trouble right from the beginning.  I was calling CQ with no answers
by the third minute.  Eventually, things picked up but I could not sustain
any rate.  I was wondering if I was too low in the band or if the
statesiders were working JA and not hearing me.  I was off to 20 before the
hour was up and finished with 171 Q's.  I was about 25 behind 3 years ago
and 40 behind 8P9JA after a single hour.  20 picked up quickly but the
stations ran out and I was on 40 before this hour was over.  I was concerned
before the contest about spending too much time on 15 and 20 at the expense
of the low bands and now I was already on 40 before 2Z.  40 was not very
good and I had to go back to 20.  I knew I wanted to be on 160 at 3Z so I
QSY'd at that time.  160 was actually very good and the beverage was working
well.  For one of the few times in my contesting experience, I felt that I
could hear better than I could transmit.  Most stations were sending their
calls and exchanges timidly, even though I was having absolutely no trouble
copying.  One thing I need to mention is the colossal signal of K3LR who was
20 over 9 on the beverage.  I probably worked no station the first night
that was less than 20db over the noise.  Clearly, I needed a better transmit
antenna so more of the second tier guys would have called.

At 4Z, I was at 844 Q's and I was nearly 150 behind the 8P9JA pace.  I
actually like the low bands and just hunkered down with lots of CQ'ing and
rapid band changes.  By morning, I had caught up the 150 Q's and was ready
for the high bands to take over.  I knew that cracking into the US when the
bands are open to Europe was going to be difficult but it was worse than I
imagined.  I was rapidly rolling between 10, 15 , and 20 generating Q's
where I could but it was slow.  I told my wife that the winner is surely not
having these lousy hours.

One scary moment occurred at 710Z when I got the classic Windows application
error box and down went Writelog.  After I stopped hyperventilating, I
followed the process I had planned before the contest.  I saved the log on
the networked backup computer and restarted Writelog on the main computer.
I resynched the database with the backup and everything continued OK.
Apologies to N6RO who was trying to work me through the Writelog crash.  My
other problem during the contest was that my CW was erratic.  It sounded
like classic RF (which I never had down there before) but it occurred on
both radio/amp pairs and on all bands.  I installed some toroids during the
contest but they did not help either.  I was wondering if the problem was
actually in Writelog.  It was annoying but never worth stopping to fix it.

At 14Z, the rate jumped from 50 to 130 as I was finally starting to put some
calls in the log.  10 meters peaked with a 190 hour (after 600 Q's were
already in the log) and it was time to go back to 15 where I only had about
200 Q's.  20Z was a 199 hour and I was starting to feel better.  In this
period, I had a QRATE best 60 minutes of 215 Q's.

At the half way point I had 3224 and was about 30 ahead of the 8P9JA rate.
The 8P9JA Sunday did not look that impressive and I was thinking about 5400
Q's.  I just need to keep up the high energy and continue the rapid band
changes.  I also realized that I had not had any caffeine and I was feeling
great.  I decided to forgo caffeine (Coke) the rest of the way.  I drank
juice, Gatorade, and water.  While my precontest chills went away, I was
struggling with a cough and runny nose all weekend.

The second night on the lowbands actually seemed better than the first and I
was pleased with the progress being made.  I had bad experiences with sleep
deprivation the last two times I was in 8P so I  was looking for a time for
a pit stop.  The rate stayed steady but I was tiring and took a half hour
off at 845z.  The rate resumed as soon as I returned.

I got asked to move several times to 80 and 160 but declined since, in each
case, the sun had been up over an hour.  I also disappeared in the middle of
a QSO from a station asking for a sked.  I was standing at the time and
bumped the knob reaching for a pencil and did not know where I was.  I think
it was N6RT that asked and I apologize for disappearing on you.

Despite the time off, I was over 100 Q's ahead of the 8P9JA rate by 12Z and
I was thinking that 5500 Q's was in range and that would likely be a winning
number.  However, the next 9 hours were the most frustrating I can ever
remember in my contesting career.  I was busting my butt but I just could
not make Q's happen no matter what I tried.  I was rapidly changing bands
and antennas but I just could not raise stateside interest.   12Z yielded 24
Q's and 13Z produced 33, the two worst hours of the contest.  It only
improved slightly after that even though I was trying everything I could -
band, location in band, and different antennas.

Even the good hours I had on Saturday were unproductive on Sunday.  Finally,
when it was time for 10 to produce high rate, it seemed like the bottom fell
out of the band and I was convinced that there was some type of solar
disturbance.  The loud stations were S7 and the second tier virtually
disappeared.  I listened to ZF2NT call 15 unanswered CQs and I just figured
I needed to tough it out.  I don't know if the other Caribbean stations
heard this, but 10 and 15 seemed disturbed to me.

I did not produce a 100 hour until 21Z when the bands seemed to return to
normal.  I went to 20 after 22Z and a massive pileup ensued.  This was the
only time it ever seemed like there was a pileup of any depth.  I just rode
out the rest of the contest on 20.  The highlight of this last band change
was having VO1MP call in and move to 15 for two new mults.

When the contest was over, I listened to the awesome domestic scores get
reported but was genuinely disappointed in my result.  I told my wife that
there were too many unproductive hours to be a winner and this was likely
the year of the close in guys.  Barbados is 1500 miles from Miami and much
further away than most of the other islands with correspondingly different
propagation.  I also felt that I missed an opportunity on 160 since I could
have worked more guys if I was louder.  I also missed OK and NV as mults on
that band.

I took a shower, had a nice dinner, and went to bed.  I felt good about my
effort and decision making but could only shake my head over my score.  The
uncertainties of propagation and strategy continue to make this game
interesting and great fun.

I also need to tell a packet story.  I was working guys when all of a sudden
the band exploded with a typical packet pileup.  The first station was a
well known multi and was a dupe.  The next station was a well known multi
and was also a dupe.  A third dupe followed by a fourth dupe and a fifth
dupe.  I paused at this point to take stock.  My first reaction was that I
was now or was previously logging on the wrong band but that was obviously
not the case since I could see the previous QSO's and there were no missing
bands.  My next reaction was that may be the Writelog crash had lasting
impact.  I was getting nervous as a sixth and seventh dupe entered the log.
Then I worked W3BGN for a good QSO followed by a few others.  All together,
there were 11 dupes out of 15 contacts.  I finally reasoned that a busted
spot was posted and everybody thought they were working a new mult.  My only
objection here is that I signed my call after virtually every QSO and I sent
my call at least 12-15 times in the period of these 15 QSO's.  This was
going to happen again later in the contest when I dropped and sent my call
at 20 WPM and the pack disappeared as fast as it arrived.  I have no problem
with stations stretching to copy contest speeds but the stations in this
pack need can copy the code and need to be more careful.  Lecture over -

QSLs are via my home address.  Likewise, with the passing of my dad W2NY
last summer, I will be handling my prior 8P1A QSL's as well.  I have all of
the cards that were sent, please do not send new ones.

73 and thanks for the Q's

Tom  W2SC 8P9JG

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