Grenada has been on the list for a visit for many years in our family. A search through the web for suitable villas threw up one on the south side of the island in L’Anse aux Epines, which seemed to fit the bill, sea frontage ( a little jetty in fact) open aspect and radio friendly owners.
Getting the licence was also rather straight forward, all the details were on Derek’s (J39BS now J35X) website. I downloaded the forms from the NTRC webpage, filled them in , sent them, off and waited. Sure enough all was in order, they couldn’t issue J3G, Dave G3TBK old call, but how about J34G? Even better, J34 never having been issued. I paid for the licence by bank transfer and after about 6 weeks was told the licence would be issued on my arrival at St George. And sure enough there it was – I was in the NTRC office all of 3 minutes and emerged licence in hand. Really good service.
The villa is about 40m back from the waters edge and about 10m higher. Using Google Earth I had calculated the distance from the villa to the edge of the sea as about 30m so I took 50m of Aircell 7 and this was just long enough to reach to halfway along the jetty.
A 10m pole was fastened to one of the jetty supports over the sea with tiewraps.
The LF antenna was an inverted L for 80 with a parallel vertical for 40, both with elevated radials. The radials streched along the shoreline about 1-2m high. The whole being fed via a balun, of which more later. The choice of Aircell 7 was a good one as I found later that this antenna worked very well on 30 and to a lesser extent on HF.
For HF I used a second 10m pole to support a 10m long centre fed vertical doublet fed with open wire feeder for 20 through 10m. After a bit of fiddling with the feeder length in the garden at home I had managed to get a pretty good match on 20,15 and 10. And these lengths worked first time in J3. A switch box allowed me to insert a bit of extra feeder to reduce the SWR on 10m. The KPA is rather picky on SWR. It likes a flat line or it will trip.The doublet was simple and quite effective. This antenna was mounted as high at the back of the villa as I could manage, so it could ‘look’ over all of the little peninsular where the villa is located.
I have to say that the miniVNA is just perfect for setting up these antennas. It being very easy to work out what trimming and where to change to get the best match. Most of my verticals are designed to be on the short side as when erected it being rather easier to add a bit of wire at the bottom rather than take the whole thing down to snip a bit off the top!
For BERU I normally enter the restricted 100w section with the K3 but this year I thought I would try the Open section and take my KPA500 amp to give my signal a bit of presence. I had to take the KPA as my own light weight DXpedition amplifier had gone with the T2GM gang. I have to say the KPA worked very well with plenty of protection against operator errors!
But the KPA ‘aint ‘arf ‘eavy! It neatly used up the second bag allowance you get on Virgin these days. As it happens I could easily have saved 3-4Kg merely by buying wire locally instead of taking it with me.
.Logging was on Win Test on my Asus Netbook.
Pre contest testing gave me quite a bit of confidence this was going to be a good site and set up. Plenty of good conditions on 10m and the KPA seemed to have been a good idea. It increased the fun factor.
BERU from the Caribbean starts on 80m. However within an hour of the start a number of snags made their presence felt. First was a steady increase in SWR on 80m. Something was getting warm. And it wasnt just the weather.
80m died quite quickly as soon as the sun came up but 40 was in reasonable shape and always repays attention in BERU. VEs of course but also VKs – unfortunately the VKs always seem to get seduced by easy pickings on HF at this point. In the Carib we have to have a bit of patience before HF warms up.
Despite spending the second and third hour on 20/15/10 it was clear that something had changed on the HF antenna. It mysteriously became mistuned and kept tripping the KPA with Hi SWR faults- I never really got to the bottom of why this was except that it probably was something to do with the pole and a broken section. I decided that I needed to sort out both antenna problems straight away. On opening up the LF balun box there was a strong smell of burning insulation, the core had cracked in two halves and the insulation looked as if it had been melted. After about 5 minutes of thought out came the cutters, out came the core and I just dispensed with the balun. It made the SWR a bit worse but at least it could take the power.
Suffice it to say it was nearly 2 hours lost by the time I had sorted both problems out and a sense of humour failure was close. At the same time the gardener decided it was a great time to mow the lawn- images of short bits of coax flying through the air. Luckily Rosemary stopped him in time and told him to come again another day. I never made up that lost hour or so. At the start of these problems I was with 9 Qs of Nigel, ZF2XF, after the 2 hour stoppage I was about 200 or so behind.
Nice openings on HF with some very good signals from all round. Africa was more of a challenge gotaways included 9X, 5X 5H etc – I just never heard them at all. And nothing further east either, except VU2PTT. Its quite an interesting tactical issue in that VE call areas can be worth just as much as some of the African call areas and so a lot of QSYing is the tactic I adopt. Going for as many 5 banders as possible. Late in the evening a very nice quad bonus from 8P6BX except that he gave me the same serial for 2 successive contacts. Leave that one to the adjudicator to sort out.
I dont feel that I was hearing very well on HF either, as I heard Dave J88DR work a VK2 which I could barely hear – more antenna work needed for next year. In fact the trans Pacific signals were few and far between in J3. Some detailed analysis is going to be needed.
In the end my claimed score was 8955 from 845 total Qs. Plenty of actitivity and good to hear 10 well open.
Outside the contest I operated mostly on 30m using the LF antenna, first with the amp and later barefoot. I had a pretty good time on 30 and made about 870Qs but with some 30 dupes. I thought I must be doing something odd to get that level of dupes but some stations seem to have to work you again just to be sure, mostly on different evenings. All of this 30m operating was around 0000 UTC to 0200 UTC so US and Russian stations and I guess my signal probably wasn’t that strong. However what this bit of operating really showed up was the appalling quality of the CW some US stations put out and indeed this was often a rate limiting factor in the pile up, very slow, poor spacing, sent with a left foot etc etc. Something for the US CW gang to sort out maybe! As far as pile up control I sent ‘J34G’ and ‘UPA’ after every contact – no one could have been in any doubt who I was and where I was tuning.
As far as the K3 is concerned I had a problem with zero power out. Despite reloading all the software the problem persisted. Sometimes power would be restored for some reason only to have gone again by the next morning. I found that cycling through the ATU TUNE etc sequence would bring the K3 back to nomality. It appeared as if the K3 decided that there was a bad mismatch and shut down to protect the PA but couldnt then recover. Elecraft were informed but so far the only advice they have come up with was to check that I had VOX selected! Yes well, no comment!