As I prepared again for the trek I try to make sure I have thought of everything. To help with this over the years I have been coming here I have been leaving more and more bits and pieces so I do not have to carry so much through the airports. This year it will be a homebrew antenna switchbox in a diecast box; I can build another one easily enough. Slowly I am learning, though mostly the obvious:-
If you want to get through an airport fast: “Take everything larger than a cellphone out of your bag”. It’s as easy as that. K3, MicroHam router, diecast box, laptop, spare laptop, a main radio PCB and enough stuff to last me two weeks away. It took five trays, and some very funny stares, but guess what? – straight through with no searching. I am sure the guy watching the monitor has no idea who each bag belongs to. As I always make this part of a business trip (honest!) it means normally 6-7 goes through security so getting it slick is important; two down 5 to go. I continue to worry about lifting cleanly into the overhead as doing my back in travelling alone would slow me down considerably. I never put things into the hold if I can possibly avoid it as the chance of damage or it finding alternative routing are far too high. However this does meaning avoiding certain airlines such as Virgin or Malaysian to name but two, owing to a 10kg weight limit. My one challenging decision was the anorak or not. ‘Properly dressed for Cayman?’ said the customs guy laughing with that Caribbean lilt. “It was minus 10 when I left Chicago this morning” I say apologising for my inappropriate dress code.
The club station as ZF1A has a few bits that visitors can use so I pressed an elderly FT-767GX into service as my second radio and a positively vintage Collins 30L-1 amplifier. No CAT control but it worked a few of you on whichever band was quieter. There was more power coming out by the end – I think the valves quite enjoyed the outing!
Conditions were interesting with reasonable 80m QRN – unlike last year and in spite of recent storms, though not enough that I could sit back and relax – a lot of you had to send the numbers a lot of times. Good conditions on 40, reasonable on 20 and some fine signals from time to time on 15. But nothing on 10 other than some LUs and PYs. At one point I had been calling constantly on 15 into a ‘dead’ band when ZL3PAH nearly blew the 767 off the table (had the audio up a bit loud). Bob’s graphs do help make the point about when the bands are open and I can’t work an open band if there is no-one at the other end. It’s not only me that is learning.
My son is an avid Formula-1 watcher and it seems the all the F1 drivers get thousands of laps in in their cars during the winter period, really getting to know it inside out and backwards and what all the buttons and menus do. I just turn up with a few hours to go after putting busy work and family stuff to bed for a few days and expect to be slick on my radio, and Win-Test and the microHAM router and antennas and all, and in pile-ups. Fat chance. So Saturday afternoon when Win-Test suddenly locked up solid I was flummoxed and getting very cross very quickly. ‘Should have done more bloody laps with the kit’ I thought. Must have pressed a Win-Test button I don’t know about – but which one for heaven’s sake??
Tens of minutes were slipping through my fingers but the F1 button would only send ‘C’ and not ‘CQ de…’. Rebooted Win-Test, the MicroHam router driver (it takes FOREVER), the router itself, Win-7, all several times. Just ‘C’. Played with the plugs, re-booted again. Still just ‘C’. Then found it was only on the FT767. But it’s being used dumb , how can this be? No CAT, just a key input. Then I twigged – I had just switched to the West pointing beam – right at the shack. 20m RF into the router! A big ferrite ring on the USB lead fixed it.
I can’t do 24 hours without stopping but Gary ZL2IFB once pointed out that 90 minutes is about the optimum amount of sleep – one deep cycle. It works, it’s just when to pick it? It’s generally quietest 01.30 to 03:00 UTC, so it’s then. Or in other words, after the 80m to G adrenalin rush wears off and anyway leaves me flat. There’s a big blow up mattress stashed in the shower here that gets thrown on the shack floor that I unceremoniously lie on (its 20:30 local time). I leave the radio playing away to itself and it seems only seconds before the alarm is waking me again.
Eating is getting slicker too. Breakfast 90 minutes before the off (so 3.30 a.m.). 4 rounds of sandwiches pre-packed Friday evening, a few bananas, Flask of coffee, water, fruit juice and two Twixs that are rationed as rewards after big openings, and some breakfast bars. Mostly I can eat and operate through the quiet periods. As usual I overcater – didn’t touch a single breakfast bar – and eventually will leave stuff behind for other visitors. I mark it as ‘ZF1A Free Issue’. Everything from last year went except the tea bags seem untouched. Hmmm. Proper PG Tips bought at great expense from Fosters supermarket, where everything seems to be $4.99, or $5.99 or more provided it ends ‘.99’. It’s unbelievable.
I’m learning about the local politics. It seems Billionaire Kenneth Dart is buying the entire island bit by bit to the extent that he has citizenship is changing planning laws so the he can build high rise accommodation on the West Bay for the world’s super rich. The wealth gap here is staggering. And a 1 bed condo anywhere nice can’t be had for less than $1m. My local born host is genuinely worried about it. I begin to understand why hotel prices are always so high here (higher than London) and so much so that I consider moving out for the Saturday night itself. In the end too much faff, of course.
On the other hand, the rental cars always amuse me. Normal pricing but 50k miles on the clock, A/C that is essential but needs re-gassing and shot suspension. As ever the special insurance that they push so hard on a daily rate appals, multiply the 365 and its $10k per annum.
Non BERU and a few DQRMers were sometimes a problem. When it gets so I think I’m losing more than about 30% efficiency I QSY to the other radio. One W just would not take ‘No TY’ for an answer so eventually I became ratty and sent ‘NO NO NO NO’. I felt bad about being rude but equally there were a lot of weak Oceanics who were trying really hard to get through – and he could hear this – so it seemed justified. It’s not as though ZF is rare or hard from W.
Andy PIQ complains of domestic harmony challenges. Andy, tell your better half that one of those travellers’ wives has her birthday on 14th March. Every year.
Once it’s done I go back to the hotel and shower before hitting the sack. After 24 hours at the sharp end morse always seems to emanate from the shower noises though I can never decode it. I’m sure it’s not just me?
BAND QSO DUP DXC HQ PNTS BONUS AVG
80 141 0 19 8 705 720 10.11
40 247 2 30 12 1235 1420 10.75
20 249 5 27 13 1240 1240 9.96
15 72 3 24 6 360 920 17.78
10 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.00
TOTAL 709 10 100 39 3540 4300 11.06
TOTAL SCORE : 7 840
See you all next year!