ZF2CA BERU Report 2017
The BERU traveller has a symbiotic relationship with the rest of our community. In return for being a choice piece of DX, as well as better chance of higher points, is the fun of ten minutes of fame with your own personal pile-up, five times over if you are lucky. Three and a half this year of course, but it comes at the cost of the travelling challenges. Now I have visited Cayman a few times I have learned the ropes, however there are always surprises. No-one ever challenges my bags stuffed full of K3, morse keys, switch boxes, two sets of headphones, two dozen cables and adapters, and neither has there ever proven a need for paperwork. I avoid the aircraft hold at all costs as things always get mysteriously bumped. Not so mysteriously if you get to see the bags being thrown and dropped, or the evidence or bad re-packing: my rig has a deep earth pin shaped dent in it from a previous excursion. Once in San Diego it got a bit more intense when the swab test revealed traces of ‘explosives’. But after 30 minutes of total baggage dissection they put it down to ‘soap perfume’. I always allow time for this, but the poor sods behind me tend to get a bit twitched.
Entry via the US this time was a doddle, bags not even opened at any airport after Heathrow, on the way out at least. My biggest concern is of failing to lift my heavy roll-aboard properly into the overhead. The thought of putting your back out with this lot while alone and overseas is not appealing.
So this year’s surprise was courtesy of Expedia, who caused me to think my room booking had been cancelled, realising this 24 hours before arriving while on a business trip in rural Wisconsin where there is no coverage for UK phones. I went to rebook online and incredibly the room was still available – hmmm, this is high season on Cayman so what kind of room was this going to be? While I was booking I noted warnings on the TV of a big NE US storm due for Monday.
On arrival at Cayman airport I am to be greeted by the condo landlord at the Budget car rental office. I’m later than expected now at 22:00 and, paperwork all done, he’s still not to be seen. So I ring: “Yes, I’ll see you there tomorrow at 8.30 p.m.” Agghhhh; thoughts of sleeping in the car loom large. “No, it’s today – I’m here NOW!” “Oh…. Today?…..I’ll come. Gimme ten minutes”.
Ever accommodating, Andrew Eden the ZF1A club station owner/manager let me into the shack at 23:00 to set up beacon monitoring overnight. I fight COM port allocations for an hour, leave Faros beacon monitoring running and get to bed at 01:30. How is 15m going to be and will 10m happen at all?
Friday prep day the station works fine, some cables to make up and I would have liked one more sparring session with Morse Runner in the station environment as I know my pile-up morse is not up to snuff, but the work phone won’t stop ringing and leaves my head in the wrong place. I’m sure Lewis Hamilton doesn’t have this problem. Alright then, Jenson Button.
I started to doubt that Win-Test would score properly so I resort back to SD which has been updated specially, also for its operating simplicity. I consider a bit of SO2R on the club IC-756 but struggle to get SD to toggle the Winkeyer ports. A quick email question to Paul EI5DI reveals that there had been no demand for this feature so it’s no longer supported. Damn. The 2nd morse key will see action after all. Another cable to make up after a rummage around the shack for the right plug for the Icom.
I went food shopping in preparation, counting out every meal and overdoing it as usual. This year my staple diet became ham and cheese sandwiches with added peanut butter (there was a jar in the shack), ‘Waitrose’ mini pork pies (what is this UK brand doing in a Cayman supermarket?), bananas, tropical fruit juice, and the odd Twix as rewards for good pile-ups. And tea, of course. I had provided the station a kettle and thermos flask a couple of years back and was pleased to see a supply of tea bags already present in the shack. But the shops are expensive here –everything is $3.99, $4.99, or $8.99 for a jar of coffee and since Brexit the Cayman Dollar is the same as the GB pound. I can’t fathom the local economy at these prices as there is plenty of evidence of the less well off. I still can’t get over seeing the Queen’s head on Dollar notes.
Preparing the meals in individual freezer bags I was reminded of the micro-ants that ‘own’ the shack. Don’t get me wrong, the shack is well built with a sealed tile floor. Mostly they mind their own business and just occasionally run around individually over your hand, rig and PC – something to watch while CQing. But if you leave the slightest scrap of food they swarm all over it in a very ant-like way. So you must wash up religiously after every snack, even during the contest, including the mug and teaspoon. There is no safe sanctuary and the plate with a few sandwich crumbs left on a racking shelf well off the floor was soon over-run, appearing out of nowhere. They are tiny and must have a tiny range as they soon disappear if it’s spotless. Incredible examples of distributed intelligence via genetic engineering.
In the Caribbean you start on 80m working VEs, then perhaps to 40m prior to the first G opening on 20m at 11:00 GMT. The pile-up is such that at its peak your scoring rate is slower than when it is quieter as it is impossible to make out any but the canny few that call a little bit off-channel.
15m seemed more open than people realised and I got many of my contacts by QSYing people there, usually without trouble copying. Slowly I am learning to QSY people as a habit, like BUO does and BJ means to.
10m was not totally closed as LUs could be heard contesting, but I never heard any BERU traffic despite trying with several likely stations.
The balance of calling versus S&P is hard to get right. My low count of Far Eastern stations is I’m sure partly due to not spending enough time looking. But watching the rate meter falling like a stone is not good for the spirit either.
I’d been working a steady stream of VK/ZLs and VEs on 20/15 and so arrived late to the party that was the 40m G opening at around 23:00 and paid for it with a mob that slugged my rate to less than 40/hour, I could hardly believe the screen. This was an Aloha system in saturation. So what came to the rescue was decades of G-contesting and recognising snippets of callsigns: Is BK TBK or EBK? Is BU BUO or BUE? WW stands out as do careful senders like WGV. And of course school/college friends ZM4G and G4WGE/P or mates from my first club (Sutton and Cheam RS, joined when I was 9) G4ERW and G0KBL.
I hit the station airbed between 01:30 and 04:00 as I was falling asleep at the wheel, increasingly failing to make it to the end of each QSO still conscious. Apologies if that was you. But it wasn’t an easy choice as the rate was still quite high. I considered the bottle of 5-hour energy on the shelf, but that seemed somehow like an ‘illegal substance’ and not in the spirit of Unassisted.
The LF Grey line opening to ZL/VK was the best I’ve known and stayed open to VK until the end.
The non BERU callers remain a bit pesty. There was one N4 that drove me nuts as he called over and over and 20dB louder than everyone else. For a moment I lost it with the morse key. But I learned a new trick from VE3EJ: politely apologise and send a quick one-way 5NN, and they mostly go away.
During the contest I noticed that the Pro-67 was showing significant heading errors with stations 10-15dB down when on the great circle bearing. I was wondering how I was going to politely explain to Eden (as he is known) that his beam was 60 degrees off. It wasn’t until after the contest that I went back and measured things in the cold light of day to find everything spot on. So both the VE and EU signals were arriving miles off their true bearing at night, G peaking on SSE! In turn the Log Periodic – a monster rebuild of a ham model upgraded to survive hurricanes and that visitors are encouraged not to abuse with frequent turning – was probably never pointed correctly at night either. I expect half the people reading this know of his but it caught me out. Does this explain the Bermuda triangle? Fortunately during this Sunday testing I caught a conversation about the US clock change two weeks earlier than in the UK. Good job, I would not have known and now had the early flight Monday to miss the storm that would surely wreck plane schedules.
This year’s new club station toy was a Shared Apex Loop Array from Array Products. This allows instant switching at 45 degree angles and on LF is a particular godsend as the 80m 2-ele rotation rate is not high. The array is claimed to be good from LF to 20m. Its ultimate noise floor is not as good as a full sized antenna, but in the Caribbean night the limiting factor is the constant S8 QRN so its directionality is the key. However I discovered its benefits too late as it required mastering the K3 second receiver diversity function and internal headphone switching during the contest and via the config menu tree. A headphone mixing box is overdue. These loop arrays are claimed by some to be as good as a Beverage. I can’t comment, but the switching speed and apparent polar plot if properly assembled are impressive and it certainly helped weak signals on 80m. Christmas is coming…
Departing back into the US for my next leg to Denver was made slightly more complex as my ESTA had just run out. I duly arrived at 05:15 for the 06:53 flight giving time to fix things. Frantic phone calls to my UK office (there 9:15 am) reveal that my replacement ESTA had been applied to my old but still valid passport number – agghh. Standing at the counter using cranky airport wi-fi made applying for a new one very hard work, with repeated crashes and multiple repeated page entries. It must have taken fortyfive nerve racking minutes working on the new one as boarding time rapidly approached and I was not through security yet, though the counter assistant was very chilled. Finally made it into the departure lounge and noticed a similarly chilled approach to boarding too. Very, very chilled. Then someone I was chatting with said “You know they don’t change the clocks on Cayman – right?”
80m 126, 33
40m 190, 61
20m 273, 55
15m 107, 54
Claimed score: 7515