A business trip to New York threatened to make being ready for BERU from home this year a bit of a challenge; How was I going to get back in time? When to put up the antennas? (planning permission limits what I keep erected). What time zone would my body be on?
I had recently chanced into Bob G3PJT at my first meeting of the Camb-Hams group – proudly boasting to be a “club without committee” that meets only in a pub on the first Wednesday of the month and yet managed to come 2nd overall in the 2012/3 AFS Superleague. Hmm, much to be learned here. I’ve known Bob since we worked briefly for the same company the late 80s and of course asked him where he was going for BERU. “Grenada” was the answer.
While the days were fast running out two facts connected in my head; Bermuda is on the way home from New York – well, kind of – and Grenada also decodes as ‘Not Bermuda’ where I know Bob had been last year. So I explored routing and pricing and, of course, owing to the ‘staying over a Saturday night’ air ticket lunacy it was going to save my employer £500 if I went home via Bermuda – a gift that simply had to be exploited. So I mailed Bob and asked how he had found somewhere to operate; “Its easy – you ring Ed VP9GE and he rents you his apartment. He’ll even get you from the airport and help you sort out the licence”. Wow, that easy? I thought. I’ll not exploit his generosity though, I’ll rent a car.
I first made contact with just two weeks to go and the apartment was still free. After a delicately phrased question at home along the lines of “Darling, do you remember that book about the BERU contest I showed you a few years ago by that bloke I know called Bob” followed by the partial acknowledgement “Er, yes…” “Well, I was thinking of becoming one of the travellers. It works out really well with my trip and I won’t have to put those big antennas up yet again….” The decision was made and the trip re-routed. A quick scrabble for my perpetual licence documentation – updating and downloading was quickest in the end – and the licence had been issued care of Ed’s help in just three days. Fantastic.
What to take? I don’t do checked luggage so that helps with the decision process as it must all fit in one roll-aboard and one smaller bag along with my suit and shoes. Ed has antennas up (A4S, 80m dipole, 40 dipole, 160m inverted-L, plus a few more) and a rig for hire (FT920, an FT1000 derivative that works fine). No linear needed – the national power limit is still 150W DC in. Morse key; headphones; lap-top, spare lap top; spare morse key; Winradio Excalibur SDR receiver for band watching; connectors – lots of connectors – can’t be caught out; Oh, and why not another receiver (AOR 7030). And a few more connectors. Will customs or security stop this lot? Let’s trust to luck. It all fits and gets through the UK, US and Bermuda, no questions asked. When all combined with my battery-filled tracking device (tool of my trade) and spare laptop batteries but not a shred of supporting documentation, I was really quite surprised. Bags all a bit heavier than normal though.
So the idea of being kind to my host and hiring a car is put paid to by the rules – cars cannot be hired on Bermuda; probably because no-one would stick to the 20mph speed limit. So Ed comes to get me as promised – “look out for my number plate VP9GE”. I arrive Thursday night which gives me a day to get set up and used to things. Email is fast there so work issues continue to bug me until Friday afternoon but after then it’s all focus on BERU. Getting SD to talk to the rig looks easy; I made sure it was all working fine with my FT1000MP at home and packed everything. Except in the interim Yaesu had changed the sex of the CAT connection. AGGHHHH! Trusty Ed had a spare serial lead though so all was Ok. There was some QRM, some of which was traced to my spare lap-top PSU which had perfect brand markings but awful EMC performance. Beware chinese copies on ebay! Ed had a spare variable PSU so I chopped the DC lead off the noise source and away we went.
Getting oriented with the new great circle directions is a new experience and propagation timing is a bit different nearer the equator. Then I notice that the gusting winds have brought down the 40m dipole. There is about 45 minutes of daylight light left but Ed is straight onto it, dropping his family meal obligations. Fishing line, weights, rod, rope, wire and before the light has finally gone we are up again.
Now, I need you to imagine the picture I failed to take; Ed is a youthful octogenarian, wearing a bobble hat while casting a large 4-oz weight from a short fishing rod across a 50ft tree in a 30- gusting 50-knot cross-wind. He was annoyed it took him three attempts to judge the cross-winds correctly. “Only three?” I thought, also impressed that he hadn’t lost a single weight. “You’ve done that before” I observed. “Well, I’ve lived here a while”. Bermuda, fishing, and weather are all part of an essential lifetime study, especially if you live there. Ed has a Davis weatherstation readout in the shack – for a reason it turns out. “Try to avoid turning the beam when the winds are over 30 knots” he teaches me – “it’ll get stuck or blow backwards”. The winds are barely due to be less than 30 knots all weekend! I was ginger about shifting it.
I’d signed up as fifth member of Team Caribbean and in preparation was being given propagation and band timing tips from the others who know BERU from there – particularly Bob J34G (G3PJT ) and Dave J88DR (G3TBK). Thanks guys.
So then it started; a quick bust of VEs on 80m then to 40m and so on. Should probably have gone to 28MHz sooner. But the runs when they occurred were impressive from abroad; it’s much more like doing 80m AFS multiple times over and where many calls are so familiar. Convincing people to change bands is of course so much easier as a traveller and you also are left with a strong impression of those who are efficient at doing the same (VE3EJ, G4BUO, G4PIQ etc). I’m sure VE6BF was actually laughing when I successfully dragged him from 15 to 20, to 10 and then to 40 all in four minutes.
When to sleep? The 6 a.m. Bermuda start time is great for this but eventually you get drowsy at the wheel. I took one lot of 30 minutes and another couple of hours. I could not fathom though, the last few hours. I’d failed to work many VKs and ZLs and now the path was wide open during early evening for ZL/VK – the few that were there were very loud especially on 20m. My working assumption was that people get tired/bored after twenty hours and/or run out of their 12 hours of operation. So this student is left wondering when he should have worked them? Next time…
After it was over and I had got some sleep I wandered around the grounds and beyond. Bermuda’s archipelago of 138 islands are volcanic, nothing high (260ft peak) but nothing either that is flat. It’s either volcanic rocky outcrops or relatively thin layers of soil that have built up over the centuries. A large field is 200m on a side, probably sloping and stands a chance of also having a solitary cow standing in it. Buildings are well kept and mostly finished in pastel shades. Roads are adequate but narrow, horns being used frequently but mostly as a greeting device. Although it is British Commonwealth it is regarded by Americans rather like we think of the Isle of Wight with a goodly degree of (rather plush) second homes and accordingly the present recession is hard felt locally. Seeing the Queen’s head on the Bermuda dollar note – locked to the US dollar – is itself a strange experience. Golf is big there with two fine courses. Ed had some time on his hands and his hospitality extended to driving me around on a private tour of local historic places. Thanks Ed, most kind.
On my return I spotted what I took as Ed’s NVIS antenna for 80, but then I noticed it had a large, loose attachment, see picture. Known simply as “Go-at” – and apparently by some as G0AT – he is allowed to run his pulley along the length of the cable to keep the grass short and has three feral cats as friends. The evening before they had clearly thought the antenna erection party was for their benefit as they reached up for the dangling fishing weight.