This year’s travel had a late change meaning it was in the end a more direct flight from Heathrow to Cayman, my usual Chicago leg instead occurring afterwards. Lucky perhaps as the US weather took a big hit at the time I would have been there and could easily have floored me. This still means I arrive at Cayman airport somewhat overdressed with my anorak over my jacket, as straight afterwards I will be driving three hours North from Chicago into Wisconsin to a regular customer and it can still be wintery there. They can only predict their weather a few days ahead at this time of year. On the last hour of that drive the local radio stations’ knowledge of The Good Book is something to behold. Think rural Essex, but much, much bigger, and with a few big humps as you go further up. But back on Cayman the customs guys just cannot get their head around my dress code and laugh out loud at this silly Brit. But I digress.

The ZF1A club station continues to be improved by its team of US regulars as a combined year-round contest site but now always with full remote capability, IT managed from the US by Marty and Bill who fortunately are on hand to help me fix things. During these moments I am the local tech, pluging and replugging as I am told. Covid drove this evolution and my 2019 picture now looks remarkably dated. This year there are the requisite big screens as seen in so many shacks, four indeed. I chose to operate the two K3s as SO2R from one PC and on one logging screen as the DxLog User Interface is designed to do this and networked handling of serial numbers has never been without at least small glitches, for me anyway. In the end even despite this there was one when I tried to enter things rapidly knowing I could put the callsign in the field after the fact: DON’T DO THIS – it remembers the last serial you had used on that line – which was 8 back – and sends it. So that old serial also gets used twice.

The sea air and winds here means there’s usually at least one antenna with rotation issues, but not this year, I think for the first time. There were a couple of software issues that were most likely RF-induced – who knows? It seems that I am the only regular op who turns the beams shack-wards to point at VK/ZL. The US regulars achieve their world leading scores in the big 48 hour events without doing this. However, after application of a big ferrite there was nothing fatal apart from one of the radios lost its amp part way through (it ‘logged itself out’ – different from fusing or sticking relays I guess!), and the beverage selector stuck. So the last few hours was SO1.5R.

The first ten minutes on 80 said everything I needed to know about LF conditions – I’ve never heard VE3EJ quiet on 80 at the start here, ever. So it was slow. And moving to 40 was slow too, until time to move to 20, or even further HF. The game became: not missing where the action was going to move to by the time the sun comes up. As usual there were big scores ahead of me by that time. Would I catch up during the last hours as often happens? – I guess we’ll find out.

The good HF conditions meant I was able to hear more VKs/ZLs than usual and a bunch I have never previously heard. Some seemed to have antennas for 10m only – what is it they do when there are no sunspots? 10 and 15 were at times equally high rate while 20 was potentially oblivion for the people I led there.

By afternoon tea time – I stay on UK time for eating and sleeping – it was clear this was a quiet year for the micro-ants. They never found my coffee cup (and I wash up my plate and any cutlery immediately) but stayed busy on a bit of horizontal conduit seeming very involved with a spiders web behind a switch box. I decided to leave them to it and just watch when things were slow.

So I spent a long time on HF working until for the first time some of the bonuses started to dry up before making to move to 40m for the UK opening. But the HF opening had started very slowly – I could see from the map that the sun was high over me and well up over ZL and then Eastern VK but no activity. I really wonder if it was just that – no activity – I’m not sure they get out of bed that early. And maybe who can blame them as their average tally can be twenties or thirties for the whole event, like for some in the UK but even more so. Remember when this contest lasted a whole week – what must it have been like tuning and tuning and tuning?

So to 40, but wow, what was that all about? Weak, watery raspy signals when they would normally have been really clear and loud. But a few were really clean – e.g. G4BUO – were you on your T-vertical Dave with no high angle? Then I switched to the on-ground Beverage – and that cleaned up the signals a treat. And still 70% of pile-up callers on zero Hz offset – AGGHH. The smart money at 50-100Hz off win every time.

80 was worse still, with a thin blanket of QRN. This was going to be a long night! So I went back to use up what I could of HF until it was time to get my 90-minute nap. Alarm set properly this year! It was great though to work G4NBS on 20 at 01:20.

When I awoke 40 was now working pretty well, and 80 somewhat better, though still a bit thundery making me have to work slowly and carefully to hopefully keep the error rate down on received serials. I know there were some weak ones hiding in the noise, apologies. There isn’t a SW beverage – an improvement for the future.

I remember reading in ‘Reflections in a Rosebowl’ Dave BUO had said words to the effect of ‘never make the mistake of moving to 20 on the Sunday, it’s not worth it’. Up to now that has always been true, but not this year. Everyone was there having a ball just after 07:00 until in the last hour or so when they had all moved to 40 again. It was a difficult balance whether to look for bonuses really slowly by dipping onto 80, or stay on 20 where the raw Q-rate was so much better. Force of habit was fighting against the lack of action. Doing both was not really an option on account of having the listen so carefully on 80.

I’ve not yet been here in a sunspot high year – is it always like this? I hope next year I will find out more.

I saw G5WS comments about non-BERU callers – it was an averagely challenging year for me, I would say, with callers insisting they are deaf. Even once you get the message through they are back 20 minutes later. I too heard the W sending BERU – thought I’d made a mistake in my tiredness. The last three hours always involve micro-sleeps, often during QSOs. I think three during one QSO was the peak – what must it seem like at the other end?

I know far too much about S versus H versus 5, having H at the end of my home call. It’s no coincidence that my contest call ends with an E. Although on balance I now think I is best – IIY is so easy to read, don’t you think?

Noise is creeping up year on year, and even noise at night on HF is a challenge with conditions open later. Interestingly, the ‘80/40 beverage’ made for better RX clarity even on 20m.

Its great fun having all the HQ stations – thanks to all those who sacrifice their own entries to do this.

One more year on and the Covid thing is seemingly totally over, even here, and the stats are no longer reported. Apart from airport staff, I think I only saw one mask over the five days. However, I paid a visit to my favourite restaurant, the Lighthouse, with its private jetty to watch the sunset from, only to find they had obviously let the gardener go. And the head chef.

I am still invited to drink water out of jam jars with thick, coarse threads. I told this story somewhere and was told “You are supposed to use a straw – silly!” But I’ve yet to be offered one.

Band      Qs           Bonus   HQ          Points

80           61           11           6              300

40           140         36           12           700

20           221         50           10           1105

15           201         53           7              1005

10           243         56           8              1215

Total      866         206         43           9305

73, Colin ZF2CA, G4CWH, M3E