[CQ-Contest] CQWW CW 8P5A (W2SC op) SOAB (very long)
tgeorgen at lsil.com
Tue Dec 3 10:38:02 EST 2002
8P5A (W2SC op) SOAB HP
160 75 10 16
80 612 16 65
40 1339 26 94
20 1159 27 91
15 1336 27 95
10 1853 26 93
6373 132 454 à 9.34 Meg
All in all, a pretty disappointing outcome. The station and conditions
allowed for a much higher score, but it just proved more difficult than I
The plan for this year was to operate the CW end of the CQWW since I had
done SSB for three years and had the good fortune to have won the contest
last year. Also, this was a year when CQWW did not line up with
Thanksgiving so the timing was perfect.
Barbados experienced a relatively severe storm in October so I was concerned
about whether things had been broken. Since NT1N, W1UK, and WC1M were going
to be operating on the SSB weekend, I decided to join them so I would have
them help in the event that some significant job needed to be done. As it
turned out, we had a very stormy weekend where it rained for all but a few
hours on Friday. When I arrived, everything was in order, but the TH6
failed hours before the contest was to start and, after many rain soaked
trips up the tower, the antenna was fixed and they proceeded to generate a
North American record. In addition to checking out the antennas, they used
much of my SO2R switching system, giving it its most serious workout to
date. With the closing of the contest, it looked like all was ready for my
CW weekend. However, one thing that I did notice was that several of my
coax cables had their jacket gashed, presumably when some maintenance work
was done on the cottage roof. Clearly, they would need replacement.
Travel arrangements were a bit complicated as my wife Kathy and I were to
travel from the Bay area to Barbados for the contest and then up to New
York for Thanksgiving. My three kids were going to fly from the Bay Area to
New York the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. The following Sunday, two kids
and myself would fly home and Kathy and my older daughter stayed behind for
a week to look at colleges. To compound things, Kathy and I were using
miles for our tickets at a time when flights were full. We eventually got a
Sunday redeye flight from SFO to New York and then a morning flight to
This time of year, the time difference between Barbados and home is 4 hours
so, despite leaving on Sunday night, we were not scheduled to arrive until
after 3PM the next afternoon. I was hoping to have enough daylight to erect
the beverage but it did not turn out that way. The plane was about 30
minutes late and immigration took an extra long time. While customs was
uneventful, the car rental had another customer ahead of us and we were
delayed yet again. By the time we reached the cottage, it was dark and had
Step one upon entering the cottage is to check the antennas and rotors. The
rotor check was just fine and the antenna check went OK with two anomalies.
The 160 resonance had moved up about 30 khz for some reason but the bigger
concern was 40. After an initial check out, the SWR went high. I went back
and tightened the loose connections at the amp and all was well. Although
the problem went away, it left me with an uneasy feeling. As it turned out,
no hint of a problem ever came back.
Kathy and I went to dinner and then I started to assemble the station. The
AL1200 amp worked fine and I wanted to make some Q's on 40 under high power
to make sure the beam was OK. Later, when I fired up the Centurion, there
was a big bang. This has happened before so I waited a bit and turned it on
again. This time, there was no bang, but there was periodic cracking sound,
the source of which could not be determined looking through the openings in
the cabinet. We decided to short the interlock and operate with the cover
off. Surprisingly, the Plate and Tune caps were arcing between the plates
when the amp was in standby mode. Not being expert in amplifiers, I could
not think of why the caps would be arcing with no RF applied, unless the
blocking caps were bad or the tubes were oscillating. Since I had two other
amps, I just set the Centurion aside and went to bed.
Kathy and I agreed that we would do the outside antenna work the next
morning regardless of the weather. My last trip to Barbados proved that it
can rain nearly continuously for days on end so waiting for better weather
was not a good plan. As it turns out, there were scattered showers so, we
did get wet but managed to get our work done. The tasks were to install the
European and US beverages as well as install and tune the 80 meter European
array. We are truly getting the hang of this as everything was installed
and tested by noon. Kathy then went food shopping while I took a nap and
tried to get my E-Mail working through VPN.
I was unsuccessful in getting the VPN to work so, upon Kathy's return, we
decided to run new feedlines to replace those that had been previously
damaged. My broader plan was to run a messenger cable from the cottage to
the tower in order to take some stress off the cables, which were draped
over a 60 foot, span. I wanted to run the new cables and test them before
taking all of the old cables apart. After a few hours, the new cables were
run, connected, and weatherproofed (I hope). One last experiment was to
install a "T" antenna for 160 to compare with the inverted V. This was done
in a hasty fashion as the rain started to fall intensively. With this
complete, I spent over an hour on the phone with corporate networking to get
my VPN to work and, astoundingly, we were successful. My general experience
with Microsoft networking is that it works the first time, or it never
works. In this case, the IT guys did a great job solving a problem neither
one of us could explain.
It was now dark after a full day of work and it was time to try out the
antennas and amps on the low bands. Things seemed to be working well as the
pileups on all bands were instant and I worked a couple Europeans on 160.
It was gratifying to see a 160 spot from Europe on DX Summit that said "good
signal and good ears." In the mean time, Kathy took apart the Centurion and
cleaned it up a bit in hopes of solving the problem but was not successful.
She replaced the tubes with a different pair but there was still some, but
noticeably less, crackling. We decided to go ahead and apply RF but we got
grid current but no output. Once again, we put aside the amp. Much of the
remainder of the filter and antenna switching was installed that evening. I
went to bed a reasonable hour but set the alarm for EU sunrise for some
With the new feedlines installed and tested, we decided to go ahead install
the messenger and route the remainder of the cables the next morning. We
considered waiting until after the contest but decided that things were
going well enough to attempt this job now. We basically stripped all the
damaged wires off the tower, ran the messenger, and attached the feedlines
to the messenger wire. The last step was a big pull on the cable bundle to
snap a carabiner onto a cleat on the side of the house. With the line
attached and some tightening of a turnbuckle and the cables were in place.
With this job done, we went to lunch and did a bit of sightseeing. The
Atlantic batters the very north end of the island and the ocean has etched
away a number of caves and arches in the cliffs. It was very picturesque
and worth the trip. When we got back, I decided to scrap the T antenna
experiment for this trip and had to spend some time doing some work for my
job. One problem that needed solving was to find a way to reduce the RF in
the noise reduction headphones that I intended to use. After some
experimenting, I was able to completely eliminate the RF with a couple of
toroids and replacing the unshielded extension cord that comes with the
It was now the end of the day on Wednesday and the station was in decent
shape. On Thursday morning it was time decide which of the backup amps to
use and, in the course of the testing, I found an RF problem on 10 meters.
We found in the SSB contest that the leading edge of each transmission
generates some kind of noise pulse that can be heard on the other bands. It
turns out that its manifestation on CW is to elongate (or hang) the leading
CW element. Turning on the antenna tuner made the problem go away. There
were no issues on the other bands. I also set up the networking between my
two computers and installed the latest CTY and DTA files and DX Atlas on the
resident machine. I also began to experiment with recording. The
soundboard can record on two channels so I was sending the sidetone from the
W5XD keyer into one channel and my headphone audio into the other. For some
reason, getting the levels set appropriately to avoid distortion was much
more difficult than on SSB. I finally found a position that seemed
With almost everything complete, Kathy and I went to the beach. One thing
hanging over me all weekend was the fact that my mother was having Cancer
surgery on Thursday morning. Despite all the work and preparation, this was
never far from my mind. While at the beach, my sister called to say that
the procedure was more extensive than planned but was successful and my
mother was doing well. It was a huge relief.
When we returned, there was one last thing to check out. The prior station
setup limited the Beverages to one of the two radios and I always wanted to
make the station completely symmetrical. On the SSB weekend, my setup did
not work. Basically, I have modded my two 850's for external RX antennas.
To protect the radios, I bought two ICE RX protector boxes to limit the
signal to the front end. However, the amount of RF returned on the beverage
(or other antennas) during transmit was unknown so I built two Beverage
switching boxes with built in fuses. During SSB, the 1/16 amp fuse was
blown and I did not have any bigger sizes. Interestingly, when I got all of
the switching working, it performed as expected and I did not blow a fuse
all weekend. Unfortunately, in the process of connecting the cables, I
knocked one the Dunestar cable loose and created an RF problem that took an
hour to debug.
We had dinner that night at one of our favorite restaurants and I was
beginning to feel ready. When I got back, I marked the band settings on
both of the amplifiers and went to bed early.
Friday morning was spent doing a quick final test and cleaning up and
organizing the shack. I like to have as little clutter as possible. In the
course of my testing, the SWR on the European 80 meter antenna had changed.
I went out and trimmed the length a bit to get it back where I expected but
it seemed to respond to length changes to a greater degree that I would have
thought. With that done, I focused on the shack. I will have pictures up
soon on my website but the operation position consisted of 3 rotor boxes,
two radios, two amps, two wattmeters, a computer and master control box.
All other cables, switches, boxes, etc. were off the table. The master
control box has been years in the evolution and is now is the functional
equivalent of an SO2R controller, dual Top Ten Devices box, WX0B stack
match, WX0B 8 pack, beverage selector, and W5XD keyer all in one box. It
has now performed flawlessly for three contests. Unfortunately, I have a
list of new functions that I would like to include.
We spend the morning driving around the central and east side of the island
enjoying the scenery. Upon our return, I retired to get an afternoon of
pre-contest sleep. This routine needs to change as I typically spend the
afternoon letting paranoia rule as I think about everything that has not
been double and triple checked. One thing that I reflected on was how much
work Kathy had done. She has made conscious and significant changes in her
life and was a bundle of energy all weekend. She has always been an
indispensable help but this time she was incredible. At one point, she told
me that she wanted to climb the tower.
It was now closing in on contest time and all was ready. I was well aware
of the dismal conditions leading up to the contest but I was hoping that
would work to my benefit. My biggest concern was my own skill level. I had
not copied CW since SS 2001 and that was a halfhearted effort for the club.
My last real CW operation was ARRL CW 2001. While this produced a first
place world score, it was 21 months ago. To reduce the rust, I made more
precontest QSO's (500) than usual to get in a groove.
My typical starting band was 15 although almost everybody has told me that
20 is a better choice. A month earlier, in the SSB contest, we started on
15 to great success. This weekend conditions were so poor that 20 was the
only real option. About 10 minutes prior to the contest I started warming
up the frequency, a ritual that I hate. I do not use any paddles during the
contest so these QSO's are very awkward with my stilted CW using Writelog's
0000 rolled around and it was time to go. The first hour was the exact
confidence builder that I needed as I logged 221 Q's followed by a 200 hour.
Being able to produce high rate hours was going to be key as I was using the
K4BAI/8P9Z breakdown sheet from his North American record as my benchmark.
I felt that I could beat his multiplier total but I was concerned that rust
would prevent me from matching his rates. After two hours, I was 50 Q's
ahead and had an hour that was 15 better than John's best hour the year
before. I was really feeling it at this point as the operating seemed
effortless. On top of that, I even had some time to listen on the second
radio when the last 10 rate dropped to 200.
One of the strengths of the station is the lowbands and with sunrise so
early (945Z), it is important to give the lowbands their time. In the midst
of the 200 hour on twenty, I could hear on the second radio that 15 was
truly dead so I went directly to 40. 2Z and 3Z produced 178 and 169 hours
but the pileups were brutal, a sign of things to come. One thing of note is
that RU1A had a signal that could knock birds out of the sky. I had never
seen a 40 meter signal, commercial or otherwise, that took the 850 S-meter
to its limit. After getting tired of the pileups, I decided to make a
quick, and unproductive, run at 160 before settling in on 80 for European
sunrise. 80 also generated a big pileup but the most difficult part was
that the Europeans had trouble hearing me through their own pileup. I was
tempted to go split a few times but eventually persevered. Some time after
6Z, I noticed that the European antenna would occasionally go deaf. It
continued in this mode for about 15 minutes when the SWR went sky high.
Since the European run was nearly complete, I just switched over to the
other 80 and eventually moved back to 40.
At 9Z, with sunrise approaching, I was feeling OK about the first 10 hours
with the exception of the 80 meter antenna. I was about 60 Q's ahead of the
8P9Z record pace and, although I was behind on mults, I was mostly missing
garden variety Europeans on 20, but was actually doing better on 40 and 80.
There were only 11 Q's on 160 but I was not that worried.
I had tried 20 several times during the night to no avail but started to
make some progress in the 9Z hour with a European run. As it turned out, it
would be one of the few European runs all weekend on 20. I could hear on
the second radio that 10 was starting to open and I QSY'd to start running
guys at the noise level. 10Z yielded a combined 170 Q's and the bands were
just heating up.
As it turns out, the contest for me went down hill from this point forward.
When the band opened wide, the pileups were overwhelming, and I could not
sustain the rate. I have never experienced anything that resembled these
pileups and no combination of filter settings, RIT adjustments, or even
turning off the amp could tame the pileup. It seemed that every hour that
went by, I fell another 25 to 30 Q's off the pace. The effort level of the
pileups was exhausting and absolutely precluded use of the second radio.
With the rate failing, I was reluctant to hurt it further by moving guys (it
seemed logical at the time) and the multiplier total was also impacted.
When Kathy woke up, I told her that I was struggling and my frustration was
evident. I also told her about the 80 meter antenna and she asked if she
could fix it. I said that it would require climbing the tower about 15 feet
but later realized that she would need to reach the feedline at about 50
feet. Kathy was still game so I gave the instructions on what I thought she
needed to do, basically replace the balun and feedline. About an hour later
she reported having taken care of it. While operating, I took the feedline
and plugged it into the antenna analyzer and the SWR was still about 8:1. I
told her to forget it and she took off for the beach.
All day long the pileups raged and I could not get the rate any better than
165. Under different circumstances, that would have been a good number but
it was much less than the number actually calling. When 10 died out the QSY
to 15 yielded more of the same in terms of the pileup. At 17Z, the
realization was setting in that this was turning into a poor effort so I
capitulated and turned the beams to the US and maintained a 200/hr rate for
the next three hours.
At that point Kathy returned home from her day beaching and shopping and my
frustration was obvious. I also asked if she had any interest in trying to
fix the 80 again. I gave her a couple of experiments to try but everything
still looked OK. I eventually went out to look myself and climbed the tower
to make sure nothing was touching at the top of the tower but everything
looked fine. I decided that I had wasted enough time and sat back down in
front of the radio very hot and sweaty. At this point, with the added
effort on top of the grueling day of pileups, I had little hope of finishing
the contest. Kathy replaced the balun yet again, and the antenna checked
At the midpoint, I was about 300Q's behind the 8P9Z pace with a much lower
points per QSO. On the multiplier side, I was equal despite have done very
little on 20 meters toward Europe. Deep down however, I knew that I had not
done much SO2R and I knew that I was not doing well on high band
multipliers. The old CQWW rule of thumb of doubling the halftime score and
adding ten percent yielded an 8.4 Meg total. Not happy with that total, I
decided not to give up, like Kathy thought I was going to do, and just push
on in hopes of learning skills for next time.
I pushed the second radio harder the second night and was pleased with the
low band mult totals. Unfortunately there was very little in terms of 20
and 15 during the darkness hours and very few mults were added on those
bands. 160 sounded better and I worked zones 33 and 35 but could only
manage EA6IB as my one EU QSO. The 80 meter antenna saga continued as the
antenna developed a high SWR again but not as bad as before. Kathy went out
in the rain again and said that it was very windy and the antenna was
tangled in a fence. She tied it off and it looked OK. When I went to 80
and tuned the amplifier, once again the SWR went sky high and I gave up on
it for the rest of the contest. For all of Kathy's effort, I only made one
QSO on it after the first night. It was hard to tell how much I missed the
antenna but I did not feel as loud on 80 the second night. In the course of
the evening I did take two 15 minute rests. Judging from my E-Mails, there
are more and more top ops going to the short nap method rather than the
convention multiple of 90 minutes.
By 10Z, I was now about 400 Q's behind the 8P9Z pace but about 15 mults
ahead. Nonetheless, I knew I was in big trouble with respect to high band
mults. The daylight hours were much like the day before with huge pileups
reducing the rate. However, moving mults became the top priority which
depressed the rate a bit more. I had some excellent multiband moves and
several times found new mults lurking on the usual move frequencies. I
spent much of the day with the amps off but it really made no difference.
With the pileups raging all day, there were limited lulls for weak
multipliers to call in. While I did stop the pileups often (with reasonable
compliance) to listen for true DX, it was generally not fruitful.
My most difficult fatigue periods are the time between local sunrise and my
normal waking time in California. This three hour period was tough both
days but, once complete, it was clear sailing the rest of the day. I was
amazed on Sunday that I was not at all tired and sleep deprived delusions
Around 21Z, I heard the roar of an engine outside of the shack. There are a
number of tractors located about 100 feet from the operating position but I
thought it odd that they would be active on a Sunday afternoon. The engine
was so loud that I had to go out and take a look. It turns out that a
member of the plantation staff was mowing the lawn around the cottage. I
immediately got the driver's attention and pointed to the beverage feedlines
that were lying on the ground - which he had already crossed several times.
He smiled and waved. I went back to operating and remembered that the new
feedlines I ran had not yet been dressed along the outside of the cottage
and were lying on the ground as well. I was just getting up when I saw that
Kathy had just arrived from the beach and was pointing out the cables to
him. After a marathon mowing session, he was finally done.
As the contest was closing in on its conclusion, I had a much better day and
was ahead of the halftime score estimate. I was also thinking that this was
the first time in quite a while that Writelog went a whole weekend without a
crash but I spoke too soon. About 90 minutes from the end, the computer
crashed and required a full reboot. I should add that the networked
computer crashed early on in the contest when DX-Atlas failed. I went to
DX-Atlas because GEOCLOCK used to hang the machine. Unfortunately, when I
restarted the networking machine, the soundboard muted the line-in port and
ruined my recording. I basically have about 1GB of files consisting just of
The contest ended with a furious pileup on 20 which I left a few times to
move guys. 0000Z finally rolled around, I was over 9.3 Meg and was very
disappointed in my performance. By contrast, I felt great mentally and
physically and could have gone another 10 hours.
We were up early Monday and quickly took down the beverages and the 80 meter
array. I saw that the feedline was wrapped around one of the legs of the
driven element and I was sure that was the source of our trouble but there
was no obvious sign of damage where the wires touched. The remainder of the
day was spent doing tedious maintenance jobs that take too much energy
precontest. We replaced rusty bolts, finished dressing the feedlines into
the shack, and painted two of the towers. As a lark, Kathy wanted a picture
of herself at the top of the tower and she proceeded to climb.
Once complete with the teardown and maintenance, we spend the remainder of
the days at the beach and enjoying some down time. On Wednesday, we left
for New York to meet our kids and spend the holiday with our families,
including my mother who had now been released from the hospital.
Looking back, I am still not happy with my performance but I learned a great
deal and will be better prepared for next time. Congratulations to Jose,
Scott, John, and (presumably) Felipe who put in better scores under
I would like to especially thank my wife Kathy whose contribution to this
effort far exceeds those she has done in the past, which were already quite
significant. This has been an extraordinary year for her as it was just 7
months ago that we toured Disneyland with her in a wheelchair. She was a
tremendous help and her accomplishments this weekend exceeded my own.
All in all, it is the humbling nature of this game, be it technically,
emotionally, mentally, or physically, that make the victories and successes
that much more meaningful. While the disappointment will wear off, the
lessons are well learned and will help me next time. Thanks to everybody
for the QSO's and moves.
I'll be back!
QSL via NT1N
73, Tom W2SC 8P5A 8P9JG
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