I’d already had a bash in 2014 from Ken VY2TT’s place and felt that an improvement would be possible If I were only able to keep up with the dupes and bonus QSOs, as well as getting to grips with the complexities of the station. Most of the lead-in time in 2014 had been occupied with resolving power and local noise issues, but I concluded that 2 or 3 days clear run-in would put me in a much better state to drive such a complex station. I would also need to find a quicker and more affordable way of getting in and out of PEI. Having used SD in post-contest mode to produce Cabrillo files from hand-written logs for many years, I also felt it was perhaps time to bite the bullet and take advantage of the many helpful features for BERU that have been developed by Paul EI5DI over the years.
Ken has based VY2TT around Write-Log, which does notionally support BERU, but to nowhere near the extent provided by SD. Station Control and automation are also provided by Write-Log and so it would be necessary to re-engineer the station at least to some extent. Not having access to a wiring or even a system diagram of VY2TT, a certain amount of guesswork and probably duplication would be needed in order to convert the station (temporarily!) to SD within the few days available before the BERU weekend. A new straw-man system diagram was therefore produced, from which fell out a set of new rig control, filter control, recording control and keying control cable/interface designs.
Accordingly, a mockup station, consisting of my K3, an old K2, a Winkey controller, a Top Ten selector box, my Sony M10 audio recorder and an available lap-top computer was set up in (and occupied most of) the dining room, the outdoor shack being uninhabitable for any length of time during winter without incurring unacceptable heating bills. The SO2R facility of SD controlled all of this almost perfectly, the main issue being WinKey keying when using speed-ups (e.g. 5NN), which I particularly wanted to annoy Chris G3SJJ by using. Quite a lot of time was spent on this, as well as experiments with direct keying from SD, which worked fine for a lot of the time until Windows decided it was time for some uncontrolled and uncontrollable housekeeping activity. Oh, for the days of DOS and even Windows 3.1 when the operating system did as it was told! Eventually, an acceptable solution was found using WinKey, although there were times when the 5 in 5NN would speed up nicely but the NN would come out at normal speed. I eventually resigned myself to accepting this and hoped that recipients of this rather quirky exchange would be in a forgiving mood.
Quite a lot of packing came out of all this but just within airline limits. This year, Air Transat had started their Gatwick operations in March, so a smooth entry to PEI ensued, via Moncton, NB and the Confederation Bridge. Hmmm. Quite a lot more sea- ice on the St. Laurence Seaway than I remember from last year. I had resisted the temptation to economise on class of hire car and the 4×4 made easy work of the drive to the station.
More snow too at VY2TT and Ken had quite a long list of winter damage, which included the 80m 4-square (now only omni, power limited and needing an ATU to tune, all of 10m except for a low yagi and key elements of the 40m and 20m arrays. In fact the only band where everything still worked was 15m. Both of the receiving arrays were also out of action “Been a really bad winter” muttered Ken, who had suffered quite badly during ARRL SSB the previous weekend.
And so for a quick set-to to rip out the Write-Log control system and replace it with SD and my patent cable set. Everything in that department worked really well. I had even edited the latest master.dta to remove all except Commonwealth calls and that made a huge difference in operation. Ken had installed a new trickle charger for the stand-by generator and there were no major noise problems, although 80m performance left quite a lot to be desired. I had planned a warm-up during the last half-hour of the 80m CW CC on the Wednesday before BERU, but the band opened very late to northern Europe and I only made one scratchy QSO with Justin, who was operating from G0IVZ’s Cornwall station. Loads of loud 9A and S5 stations, very frustrating.
Coming up to BERU, the weather forecast predicted blizzards for the weekend and most of the following week and so my last action before an early night on Friday was to move the car down the drive adjacent to Robertson Road, (little more than a lane really), a quarter mile from its junction with the suburban 46, which itself was another quarter mile from the main E-W PEI highway.
And so to the long-awaited event itself! A few ZLs on 40m before the start and then into the fray. 40m was OK on the remaining beam but 80m was a real struggle – some VEs and a couple of ZLs. All the early numbers were 001 though, which was encouraging!
20m and 15m were both also OK once daylight arrived but 10m was very disappointing, whether due to the lack of a decent antenna or conditions it was unclear, although the VE3’s seemed to be rattling off the Gs. It was hard to keep any sort of UK run going until around 16.00 but I hung on, ignoring everything else for as long as possible, just taking an occasional look at 15 and 20 in case of any excitement there. Neither 10 nor 15 opened at all in the morning and so I had probably adopted the best strategy under the circumstances.
15m turned out to be the best band, followed by 20m and 40m, which also suffered from lack of the best antennas. A lot of time was spent looking for Africa on 40m overnight but apart from Nigel (a beacon everywhere) very little emerged. 80m was again tough going but did produce some short UK runs (and Nigel of course), but no other DX. One benefit of using SD this year was being able to follow my score, which crept at a snail’s pace in the direction of 10,000 points, to just make it in the last couple of minutes.
A quick snack and then some shut-eye. I was awakened after a few hours by an express train blasting through the site. This turned out to be the promised blizzard, ripping through the lattice towers and accumulating drifts up to the top of the first storey windows.
No sign of the car – visibility was less than 10 yards for several hours. My flight out was early on Monday morning and so most of Sunday was spent glued to the Weather Channel, which was concentrating on the situation in Eastern Canada and in particular PEI. Confederation Bridge closed to all vehicles – unheard of! Most flights from Moncton cancelled! The day went on with no sign of relief. Finally, it became clear that the Bridge to the mainland would not re-open until midday on Monday at the earliest and so it then became a matter of re-booking return flights at minimum cost! Better aim for Friday to be on the safe side . . .
Sunday night and Monday morning came and went with no sign of a letup to the storm. By 4PM Monday, the wind had dropped to the extent that the car could just be glimpsed through the blowing snow and so I donned a full complement of protective clothing to see if I could reach it in order to gauge what sort of assistance would be needed to reach a cleared highway. Neither the drive, nor Robertson Road were recognisable as such, through 6 ft + drifts that had accumulated over the past 36 hours.
The one exception was the car, which was surrounded by drift for sure, but had ended up in a small clear cocoon, which meant at least that the doors could be opened and the engine started. A survey out as far as the 46 revealed that the latter was also impassable but that the main highway showed signs of snow-thrower activity. I accordingly called Ken’s local snow clearing man, who appeared at 18.30 local time with his thrower, shortly before the light started to fade. It took over an hour to clear a narrow exit channel to the main road and a further 30 minutes to clear the bigger drifts which had engulfed the drive (I needed my bags!). I was advised to vacate the Lodge that evening as my escape route would soon be blocked by the blowing snow, if not by any clearing work to the A46, which was so far untouched apart from the narrow swathe cut by my man. A mad scramble to finish packing ensued and I was finally on Highway 2 around 8.30 PM. This had been cleared on one carriageway only and I hoped there would be passing places on the 35 miles to the nearest vestige of civilisation Summerside, the second city of PEI (actually little more than a village but with one hotel that usually remained open during the winter). As it was, the only traffic in evidence was snow-ploughs and throwers, most of which had given up their activities for the night. Navigation through Summerside was quite exciting as GPS had no knowledge of which roads had been cleared and which hadn’t! Eventually Quality Inn and Suites was reached and (surprise, surprise) was just about empty. Eating arrangements in Summerside cease to function around 19.30, however a local Pizzeria employing mini snow-ploughs to deliver their fare came to my rescue.
Apart from another overnight blizzard a couple of days later that closed the Convention Bridge again for a while, that was really the end of this year’s trip. Friday morning, the day of my re-booked flight out, was calm and sunny, making for a spectacular drive across to Greater Moncton International Airport with its 2 aircraft gates, nicely cleared runway and single coffee shop. As for 2016, there’s really nothing like being in proper control of your own station and so I feel another drive – there Restricted Section trip is on the cards. Where? That’d be telling!