Friday, November 02, 2007

All good things

Before we knew it was Noel Sandy and I weathered its strong winds and driving rain on St. Kitts. After passing us it went on to wreak havoc on Cuba and Hispaniola before stalling. Noel seemed to wait for our return to Miami. Now, it would appear, Noel has followed us home. The Northeast and especially the Massachusetts cape and islands are in for a beating from this storm that, by all appearances, seems to have it in for me. Seriously, this will be the third time I've been buffeted by the same piece of weather. That's just weird!

I said in a post in July that I had begun thinking about future of this blog. At just about 400 entries I believe I've had all the opportunities I need to express those ideas which were most important on this topic. I have discussed the planning, preparation, and execution of personal DXpeditions that were small, medium, large, and now too large. I hope that I have given some of you the thirst to try this for yourself. And, it would please me to believe that your first (or subsequent) attempt was made better by something I've mentioned here. I'm vain that way.
Officially, I am "suspending activity" on this blog. I will not delete the blog, nor will I promise not to make postings to it again in the future. I have simply "had my say" on this topic, at least for now.
My writing days are probably not over, however. I hope to put some of this newly reclaimed free time towards more substantive projects. You may see my name in print again sometime soon. It might also be fun to collaborate with other bloggers and writers out there. There are some very interesting and talented people in our community!

So, while this is not goodbye I understand in my heart that by suspending the blog it will never be quite the same, even if I resume it again someday. For those of you who have taken the time out of your busy lives to read my words, thank you. I have appreciated your comments and private emails more than you can imagine.

With deepest gratitude, your humble blogger...

B. Scott Andersen (NE1RD)

Thursday, November 01, 2007

St. Kitts lessons learned

We are home from our trip to St. Kitts. I thought I would capture some of the more important lessons learned from this trip while these details were fresh in my mind. Here they go in no particular order.

  • Concentrate on goals - I've always been big on setting and making goals for a 100 Pound DXpedition. For one thing, this provides focus during the packing effort as you ask yourself on each decision, "Is this helping me reach my goals?" During the trip the goals help provide a concrete measure of your effectiveness in both your planning and operation. If you are meeting your goals, or on pace to meet your goals, your plan is working. Finally, once you meet your goals you can take a breath and celebrate a bit for your job well done. All of these things make sense if your goals make sense. My goals for this trip did not make sense. The three state goals were:
    1. DXCC
    2. 1000 Qs in the contest
    3. New record for V4 for CQ WW DX SSB SOLP

    The unstated goal was to have a competitive contesting station on the island with just the stuff in my bag, implying the other goals. In truth, a goal of 500 QSOs in the contest with 100,000 points was probably a more reasonable goal. DXCC should have been a stretch goal at this point in the cycle.
    Why did my goals get out of whack? There has been a steady progression of adding more-and-more to each trip. Some of this was to test limits. Some of this was due to laziness and poor preparation on my part. Certainly this trip did not get the same attention and focus that the Montserrat trip got, or that this trip deserved. I let the goals for the trip get out-of-hand and everything else followed soon after.
    Be creative with your goals. For example, I wanted to participate in the CQ WW DX SSB contest on this trip. There are twelve different categories I could have competed: low-power all-band, LP 10m, LP 15m, LP 20m, LP 40m, LP 80m, QRP all-band, QRP 10m, QRP 15m, QRP 20m, QRP 40m, or QRP 80m. The records are listed below. Five of these categories, including QRP all-band, have no record on St. Kitts. I could have chosen to compete in one of those and been virtually guaranteed to have not only won the category but have set the all-time record for it, too!
    The lesson here is simple: scrutinize your goals for your DXpedition well for they dictate, or strongly influence, many of the subsequent decisions you'll be making.

  • Get a local call sign - I am truly shocked by the listening skills of some operators. There will be some operators who will have NE1RD and zone 5 in there log this year because they logged what they wanted to hear instead of what they heard. That was both their problem and mine, though, as my goofy call sign (V4/NE1RD) caused many repeats and much confusion. All of this ate precious time during the contest and cost me several multipliers.

  • Terrain and building must be accommodating - Like the "get a local call sign" point, I covered this in a blog entry this week. A building providing multiple floors and high accessible points is crucial for getting your antennas in the clear. This is especially crucial if you plan on operating on the low bands.

  • You don't have to operate on the low bands - I have been trying to bring enough stuff to create antennas for all bands 6m through 80m. In fact, you can have a lot of fun and be very successful if you were to bring just the smallest of antennas that cover 10m-20m. With the exception of a couple of QSOs, that is all I worked on this trip. If I had declared up-front that these were the only bands to be worked I could have saved the weight of two masts (12 pounds), two 100 foot runs of coax (8 pounds), and the setup and tear-down time of these two antennas. Swap the Mosley Mini-32-A tribander for a simple Buddipole (8 pounds) or TW Antennas TW2010 (10 pounds or so) and not only does the weight budget drop, the need for a hard-sided golf bag to handle those long parts is eliminated, too. If you are trying to operate on the low bands it requires the long masts and the golf bag. Eliminating that goal, avoiding 30m-160m, simplifies things greatly.

  • Tools are heavy - I am carrying too many tools. The host can almost certainly provide everything but soldering iron and solder (I'll still carry those). If you are traveling to a villa or home where your host can provide tools it save you from carrying them. I didn't ask my host if tools were available prior to the trip but found a set more complete than the one I brought in a closet. Knowing I could have left the tool bag at home would have saved me about 5-10 pounds.

  • Your operating position is important - Again, because of my experiences on St. John, Deer Isle, and Montserrat, I thought there would always be something I could borrow from the house to make a reasonable operating position. It would be a small table, comfortable yet stiff chair, and so on. No such items were available at the St. Kitts villa. I'm sure the host would have provided one had I asked in advance. I did not. Next time I will.

  • Travel medicines are important - I should have packed Imodium or similar medications on this trip. I spent from 4 O'clock Monday morning until Wednesday morning with symptoms of food poisoning. I was miserable and dangerously dehydrated by the end of it. I spent time reading about oral rehydration therapy and drinking Cool Blue Gatorade. I was really quite nervous about traveling. Luckily, things had run their course by the time the cab came to take us to the airport. It could have been worse--and messier.
    In retrospect, I had not been careful about making sure my immunizations were up-to-date, I had not had a flu shot, I did not carry anti-diarrheal medications, nor did I have or purchase insect repellant (the mosquitos ate us alive), or make other reasonable and prudent medical planning. Between the scores of mosquito bites, two presumed tick bites (false alarms), and the bout of toilet hugging, I think I've finally learned this lesson.

  • This is a vacation ... not an assignment. I've made this whole thing too big, really, trying to push limits, capture audio, create a DVD, blog about it, make a web site, compete with other in the local contesting club, and so on. If I'm not careful, I'll forget this is supposed to be fun and relaxing. In fact, that line was crossed some time ago.
    I do enjoy these trips. I enjoy playing with the radio. I also enjoy sharing what I've learned in the hopes that someone else might happen upon these words and try it for themselves. But, too much of this sharing leads to a life lived in a fish bowl. After nearly 400 blog entries and several web sites, I believe I've shown just about all that needs to be shown to give a reasonably motivated reader a head-start in their adventure. I believe I pushed myself a little too hard on this one.

There were more lessons learned, of course, but these were the big ones. Now that I am home and resting comfortably in my own bed, I can reflect upon these and others. Soon it will be time to plan another 100 Pound DXpedition.

V4 St. Kitts & Nevis record from the CQ WW web site.

Power Call Score Qs Zone Cty Year
A V47KP(W2OX) 6,196,554 4830 125 421 02
28 V47NS(W9NY) 1,230,732 3054 34 119 00
21 VP2KAC 1,783,500 3941 37 137 81
14 VP2KAA 2,011,185 4186 37 150 81
7 VP2KAE 432,942 1600 27 91 81
3.7 V44NK 26,352 353 11 25 97

LA V44NK 127,566 857 33 81 95
L28 V47TV(OH3VV) 857,934 3284 31 95 91
L21 V47NK 67,320 660 16 35 96
L14 NC2N/V44 7,595 127 14 35 04
L7 V49A(EW1AR) 135,408 705 18 75 05
L3.7 V49A(EW1AR) 40,227 298 16 53 04

Q21 V44/EW1AR(NC2N) 15,708 117 14 37 04

MS V47Z 4,758,814 4308 119 402 94
M2 V47NS 11,531,688 7154 134 530 02
MM VP2KC 37,770,012 17767 175 677 79

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


Just a few hours after my last blog entry the flu hit and hit hard. I'm still dehydrated and haven't eaten anything since Sunday evening, but I am feeling better. My plans to casually work 17m after the contest were scuttled as a result. For those of you keeping vigil on the spotting network, thank you--and sorry.
I am very, very behind in email. At this point, I don't think I'll even try to catch up until I return home on Thursday. I do appreciate all the messages I've received, though! Thanks!
This will be the last entry from St. Kitts. 73!

Sunday, October 28, 2007


The word of the day is half. We are about half-way through our vacation and CQ WW SSB is behind me. The villa, while beautiful, is about half what I needed. The building is nestled against a hill with the bulk of North America sheltered behind the mass. I had a pretty good shot towards the East and South but the other half of the compass was a compromise at best.
I had deployed antennas 10,15,20,40, and 80m for the contest. A 17m antenna was also erected upon our arrival so I could work before and after the event. Of those six bands, only half were usable during the contest. The tribander (Mosley Mini-32-A) did a pretty good job (with the caveats I'll list below) but the low bands were a bust. There was no way to deploy these wire verticals against this hill so that the radials could be elevated or even run in a reasonable way. As it turns out, 80m was so noisy that lots of us here in the Caribbean had trouble with it. Pounding rain storms and lightning probably contributed to the problems.
I had hoped to spend most of the 48 hours working the contest but probably only worked half of that. My operating position was on the veranda and either rain or bugs were attacking at night. Given the shape of the low bands (and my antennas), it made more sense to watch baseball.
As a consequence of losing half those bands I made fewer than half of the QSOs I had hoped to make. My original trip goals looked to post about 1000 QSOs. I made about 385, with all but 8 on the tribander. Below is the summary of my efforts.

Band QSOs Zones Countries
160: 0 0 0
80: 1 1 1
40: 7 4 7
20: 115 16 44
15: 238 14 31
10: 24 7 8
Total: 385 42 91 Total Score = 79,800

This total is what I expected to have about half-way through the contest. Instead, it is my final (claimed) total. Needless to say, my little wager with fellow YCCC teammate Paul (K1XM) will go easily to Paul's FS/K1XM effort. I heard him running a nice pile-up several times during the weekend. (I just took a peek at the 3830 contest list looking for his post but it has not appeared.)
Now that the contest is over, we'll be relaxing and putting QSOs into the log at a more relaxed rate. Though we are only half-way through the week here I decided to take all the antennas down save the 17m fishing pole vertical. Weather forecasts call for thunderstorms over the next day or so and both Sandy and I were spending half the night going out to the veranda to see if the beam and masts had blown onto the golf course. We both need a good night sleep. I decided it would be better to just disassemble and pack these things up before the weather turned worse and we drove ourselves crazy worrying about this stuff.
This was a 100 Pound DXpedition but even that goal was only met half-way. The total weight of the checked bags exceeded 200 pounds. I hope to ditch some of this weight here on St. Kitts before we head back to the airport. The painters poles, while light, were seriously stressed by the trade winds down here. I'm still looking for a reasonable way to get this yagi in the air. In fact, it was only up about half as high as it should have been--barely peeking over the roof of the villa. I need to think about this problem as the antenna was coupling with the metal in the roof on 20m until I cranked it up a bit (further stressing the painter poles).
I plan on packing up about half the radio equipment in the morning. I'll take the audio processor out of the loop, I've already removed the recording equipment, and I'll probably switch to the Heil Traveler headset just to lighten the load on my head. It weighs about half as much as the Heil noise canceling model.
As of this writing we are about half-way through the Sox/Denver game. I've written more than half of what I wanted to say but I'm too tired to continue. Time to put up my feet, grab something cool to drink, and watch the game. 73 from St. Kitts!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Sense enough to come in out of the rain

My callsign (V4/NE1RD) continues to bollix up operators world-wide. But, even with this minor annoyance I managed to put nearly 300 Qs in the contest log. This is far below the pace I had hope to make. I was able to work a few folks from home including some guys from the YCCC and my local club.
My operating position on the veranda is working reasonably well, at least during the day. Nighttime is a different story. I've been fighting off either mosquitos or heavy rain. Tonight's storm came up quickly and included some very high wind gusts. We scrambled to get the radio stuff inside and I lowered the beam to reduce the stress on those painters poles.
This brings up an important point. Though the 100 Pound DXpedition is principally a portable operation, you still need to have an antenna deployment that is resilient to the elements. Storms and high winds can come up quickly, especially in a place like the Caribbean. Antennas and masts should be guyed or strapped securely to a building or fence. It does you no good to bring a great antenna system only to have it destroyed by the first breeze.
As far as antennas go, the Mosley Mini-32-A has performed very well. I am able to do some A/B comparisons between the beam and my 40m/15m vertical and the beam is much louder (as you would expect). I have made most of my contacts on the yagi. The 40m vertical is up but I had very few options for where I could run the elevated radials. So, this antenna is not performing as it did on Montserrat but is still getting out. I expect to make more 40m contacts tomorrow before the contest ends.
The band that is most problematic seems to be 80m. The noise on this band is consistently S9 or worse. I have overheard others complaining about it, too, so I don't believe it is specific to this location. That's too bad. With all this extra space on the phone band, it would have been handy to have this band open and quiet.
I'll try to rise early to get back on the bands. I'd like to put in a good effort on this contest even with the limitations discussed. After the contest I'll likely pack up the 80m and 40m verticals and stick with the beam and 17m vertical for the remainder of my stay.

Friday, October 26, 2007

A bust?

I had reserved judgement until now but I believe I'm going to have some serious trouble with this location. There is a very large hill between the villa and North America. I have a straight shot to Europe and possibly Africa, but the other directions are going to be a serious problem. At this point, the contest appears to be a "Worked all Brazil" effort with a Trinidad and Grenada thrown in for good measure. It will no doubt be better after European sunrise, but right now I'm not encouraged.
Google Earth probably gave me all the hints I needed to see this coming--but I booked the villa before looking. We had such great locations on St. John and on Montserrat I was lulled into the false belief that they'd all be that good. I was lazy, and it is costing me.
Before anybody starts feeling badly for me, I should state clearly that I'm OK with all this. I'm going to make the best of it and have fun. I might not "kick butt" like I had hoped in this contest, but I'll still do well enough to have fun.
Speaking of "kick butt" (the battle cry of the Yankee Clipper Contest Club members) I have talked with other club members already. The folks working J3A were so loud I needed to turn on the attenuator in order to work them. They've got the right idea: find a great location and keep going back.
The other problem I'm having has nothing to do with hardware or location. My callsign is "V4/NE1RD" Victor Four Stroke November Echo One Romeo Delta. For some reason this has confused just about everybody I've talked with on the air. The mangling and tortured miscomprehension of this simple series of characters has been an eye-opener for me. When I was first assigned the call I made an attempt to get a "real call" like V44RD. My messages were met with silence. I should have pushed harder. The combination of having a stroke in the call couple with a callsign that is somewhat familiar in contesting (NE1RD) has made most of the scant few QSOs I've made an exercise in repeats and fills. The lesson: get a local call. Period. This business of having the licensing agency giving you a call like "V4/NE1RD" is goofy.
Which brings me to another epiphany I've had. If you are thinking of going someplace, get the license first, then shop around for the location. Licensing seems to be the big hang-up in all this. The Montserrat licensing exercise was nightmarish. (No need to repeat all that here. Go read the blog entries from last year.) This St. Kitts thing with the "V4/" for the callsign after a long wait is equally frustrating. At this point, I think my order of assignments would be:
  1. Pick the place you want to go
  2. Get a reasonable license. Can't get one? Go back to step one.
  3. Look for a private, secluded villa on a hill. Can't find one? Go to step 1.
  4. Work out all the logistics. Can you get there easily (and inexpensively)? No? Go to step 1.

Pretty harsh, but I'm starting to think this is the correct approach.

Finally, some common sense perspective. I'm on vacation. I'm down here in a beautiful place with the love of my life. We're both tired and stress out (which is why we needed the vacation). I'm going to relax and have fun. If the radio thing doesn't work out 100% this time, so be it. I brought an excellent book (or two), we have a pool, we have a great view, and we have each other. There will always be another contest.

73 from paradise!
-- Scott

Photos posted

I have added some photos to the DXpedition web site. I'll try to add more today. For those of you with Google Earth, you can get a different perspective by entering these coordinates:

N17.29725 W062.68932

We need to make a run to the grocery store to stock up for the contest. I'll be on the air doing some final system checks after that.

Thursday, October 25, 2007


All antennas are now assembled and tested. I was able to make a run on 17m mid-day before taking the time to assemble the Mosley beam. I wish I could have done more, but the tribander took more time to assemble and deploy than I had estimated.
I was going to use one of the bedrooms for my operating position for the contest but the large table on the upper veranda looked too inviting. So, the radio and associated electronics are now set up outside. At this moment they are covered with plastic as it is raining heavily. I believe the table is sheltered sufficiently to allow me to work there over the weekend. We'll see if I make a frantic move mid-contest.
I hope to get on 17m again in the morning for an hour but I do need to rest up and save my voice for the 48 hour contest.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Live! From St. Kitts!

We are on St. Kitts! We arrived this afternoon and spent some time getting unpacked, doing a grocery run, and settling in. After spending a little time in the pool to cool off, I was able to build and deploy the 80m vertical. (I did not cut and solder the wire at home; I did that here.) I will assemble and erect the other antennas in the morning.
I've not unpacked the IC-7000 yet but was able to connect the FT-817 to the 80m wire vertical and give it a listen It was not encouraging. I have S9 level noise here on 80m. I don't know if it is conditions, the location, or a combination of the two. I'll know more tomorrow.

The Red Sox and Colorado are on. We're stretched out and enjoying the game. Go Sox!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Pushing limits

When I first got this crazy idea of traveling with the radio I wanted a catch phrase which would convey the approach quickly. The tag line I settled on was, "Go light, work the world." Those words circle my logo for The 100 Pound DXpedition. Everyone works within limits whether they be space, time, money, or, in my case, weight and volume. I'm just more explicit about it.
Each trip I've made has become successively more complicated--and heavy. The general idea of traveling within the limits of checked airline baggage has been consistent, but the bags have been getting fuller and fuller. This trip has pushed these limits to the breaking point.
I don't think I was clear-headed about this until yesterday, when I stared at the pile of bags and wondered aloud, "why is there so much stuff?!" The answer relates back to the trip goals. In previous trips I was happy just to pack a self-contained and workable station within the weight and size limits imposed by the airlines. That, as I hope I have shown, can be easily done. This trip had additional pressures.
I'm heading to St. Kitts in the morning to work in the CQ WW DX SSB contest this weekend. My usual, and modest, goals of bringing just enough equipment to get on the air and participate have been replaced by more aggressive goals of bringing a competitive contesting station. I'm not saying this change in focus and goals has been a mistake, but as I begin thinking about it with a clear head (finally) I don't recall ever considering whether trying to assemble such a station under the 100 Pound DXpedition banner was reasonable. Indeed, as I reflect on the last few days of feverish packing, it may not be. Allow me to explain.
The radio, power supply, automatic tuner, and even audio mixer and cabling for the station fits neatly into a Pelican 1610 case and weighs well under 50 pounds. In fact, because I've used the foam padding liberally when I organized the case, I ran out of space long before I approached the weight limit. This collection of equipment is nearly identical to that brought to Montserrat earlier this year and will likely be the "standard set" I'll take on most trips. This isn't where the problems arose.
Feature creep manifested itself in antennas and accessories. In previous trips I was largely content with bringing a Buddipole which could be configured as a full sized antenna for any single band 20-6m, and some fishing poles or masts for the lower bands. If I needed to change bands, I would take a few moments to walk to the antenna and make the adjustment. Sure, it took time, but the antenna system was light, versatile, simple, and reliable. This seemed like a nice compromise for the time it takes to configure and reconfigure it.
Then I got greedy. I didn't want to leave the operating position during the contest. Being on the air during the contest from a little spot in paradise wasn't enough. I wanted to be competitive! I wanted antennas available for all the contesting bands (save 160m) set up and ready for use. I didn't want to lose time (and points) by fiddling with antennas when I should be running! This is where things started to go wrong.
I convinced myself that a tribander, a light one to be sure, would give me three bands with one piece of coax. A win, right? Well, perhaps. The Buddipole system weighs about 8 pounds. The tribander weighs a little more by the time you add in hardware to mount it. What's a few pounds, right? Then I needed something to mount it upon. I needed a mast. Two 8-foot painters poles would do nicely. Toss in another five to six pounds. Can you see where this is going?
Unwilling to recognize the big uptick in weight, I assuaged my conscience by telling myself I was getting three bands on one piece of coax. Yes. That was true. But I always could have three bands with that one piece of coax--just not simultaneously!
My approach of using fishing poles and fiberglass masts for holding up the ends of vertical antennas for the lower bands has always leveraged the height of a second or even third floor balcony. A 20 foot fishing pole may therefore hold up a 33-foot wire if that pole is fixed to a third story balcony railing. A 20 foot fishing pole weighs about a pound. That's a good deal!
My selection of the villa for this trip was done hastily and, I fear, poorly. No such second or third story balconies exist so far as I can tell. So, my masterful use of that additional height in previous trips cannot be repeated here. It gets a lot harder if you are trying to hold up a 66 foot 80m vertical from near ground level. In previous trips, I was able to get the 33 foot mast (about 4 pounds) up high enough to support the 66 foot wire vertical for 80m. It may have run down at an angle, but it worked nicely.
This trip forced me to bring out the 40-foot collapsible Spider Beam mast. It is a magnificent piece of engineering, but it weighs 8 pounds! And, I still need to bring the 33-foot mast for the 40/15m vertical wire antenna. So, I just tacked on 8 extra pounds to accomplish the same things I've done previously. Do things start to sound like they are out of control yet?
Let's review: I previously used the Buddipole for 6-20m (8 pounds). I've now replaced that with about 16-20 pounds of Mosley beam, mast material, boom-to-mast couplers, and hardware. I previously deployed 40m and 80m vertical wire antennas with 5 pounds of masts; this time it will take 12 pounds of masts to do the same job. This is an increase of almost 20 pounds from previous efforts. Yes, the beam should give me some gain--a little--but is it worth it?
Tucked neatly in my carry-on bag is the FT-817 and LDG Z11 tuner. The accessory kit is for the radio is packed in one of the other bags. I decided that having no back-up radio at all was probably stupid. I had taken back-up radios on almost all of my other trips and I shouldn't skimp here. Note that I don't count the weight of my carry-on stuff in my 100 pound budget. It isn't checked. So, this, too, is extra since it used to be included in the weight budget. Add another 5 pounds to the overage.
Greed is still working overtime. I've had compliments on my audio when operating from various locations. The Heil headsets do a very good job and I'm lucky to have a voice that drives them well. But, the bottom of the solar cycle is upon us and I wanted that little extra punch you get from high-end audio processing. I ordered the W2IHY EQ Plus system with all the cables for Icom IC-746Pro and IC-7000, Yaesu, Kenwood (for my K2). I'll reserve final judgement until we see the on-air results, but initial indications are this system works very well. It also weighs about 8 pounds packed. There's another 8 tipping the scale. DO you see the pattern yet?
My 100 Pound DXpedition is weighing in at about 210 pounds right now. The Pelican case comes in at 45. The two checked rolling bags come in right at 50 pounds (actually, they weighed in at 51 pounds each but the nice lady at the counter didn't ding me on it). The golf case came in at 65 pounds. Sure, the two of us checked all this in so we met the main criteria for a 100 Pound DXpedition: travel only with what will fit in checked bags, but there is too much stuff! Way too much!

This trip can serve as both a positive and negative example. On the plus side, it is possible to bring a very large compliment of gear even within the airline weight and space restrictions. I have all of the above plus tools, antenna analyzer, dacron rope, bungies, a couple of Heil Headsets (both the noise canceling units and the Traveler Dual), and more. It fit. It (somehow) made the weight cutoff. I should be able to deploy an impressive station while on St. Kitts.
The negatives for my execution are numerous and somewhat embarrassing. I did not think through the implications of trying to do intensive contesting. I just started chucking stuff in the pile--the very thing I've been preaching against all this time! I didn't fully understand or explore what tradeoffs were being made, and when I did attempt to do the math, I did it badly. Swapping the beam in for the Buddipole wasn't an even trade, though I kept assuring myself it was. Finally, I just got gadget-happy with the W2IHY unit. Sure, it will do a great job and I'll probably be very glad I have it, but I didn't even consider the weight when I ordered it. I wanted it, I knew it would help, I assured myself that I would "figure out how to pack it later." Duh. Bad plan.

All along I've tried to say what I've done right, what I've done wrong, and what I'd change to make things better. I plenty for all those categories tonight! I believe this is also the last of these major trips I'll take for a while. I was lucky enough to go to Montserrat with a great bunch of guys earlier this year. I'll be on St. Kitts in just hours. I'll have participated in one of my favorite contests from paradise by the end of the weekend. And, I believe I've figured out most of this 100 Pound DXpedition stuff. I hope I've shared enough here that you have figured it out, too. Maybe I just need a vacation from all these vacations! {grin}

I hope to be set up on St. Kitts this time tomorrow. Watch the packet spotting network for V4/NE1RD. 73 from Miami, Florida!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The eve of St. Kitts

The week before a vacation is always hectic. There are things to do around the house, projects to finish at work, and of course all the preparations for the trip. We have one more day at home before our sunrise flight to Miami Tuesday. We'll need the time.
Packing is not yet complete. I had hoped to have this done at least a week ago, but failed miserably.
Execution on this trip planning and preparations has been sloppy at best. I have a thousand excuses but they are all lame. Truth be told, I have not been able to apply the same focus for this trip that I have put towards previous trips. We'll see if the results suffer because of it.
I currently have three bags packed:
  • A Pelican 1610 case with the radio, tuner, power supply, mixer, and lots of cables.
  • A golf bag with the Mosley Mini-32-A, two painter poles cut to be a mast for the beam, a 33-foot mast, a 40-foot mast, a couple of 20-foot fishing poles, and a few 48-inch fiberglass rods that I'll use to hold up radials.
  • A soft-sided long bag with tools, coax, headphones, the W2IHY box, and the Timewave analyzer.

The total weight of the above is about 150 pounds, still less than 100 pounds per person, but more than I would prefer. And, that doesn't include the things I pulled out tonight including coax, the backup radio (FT-817), and the small Buddipole system. The last item is most troubling. The Buddipole has always been my safety net. I can make an antenna for any band 80-6 with it and its tripod eliminates needs for external supports. If there is room (and weight) available in the fourth bag, I'll try to sneak it in. It would be too weird without it.
The ARRL had an announcement for me which in the ARLD043 DX news which read like this:

ST. KITTS AND NEVIS, V4. Scott, NE1RD will be QRV as V4/NE1RD
from St. Kitts, IOTA NA-104, from October 24 to 31. He plans
to run QRP power in the upcoming CQ WW SSB contest. QSL to home call.

Well, I'm not planning on running QRP, but the rest is good. I'm not sure where they got the idea I'd be running QRP. Perhaps they read my goals section on the DXpedition web site where I mentioned QRP, or maybe because I'd been QRP in the last couple of years they thought I'd repeat on St. Kitts. For the record: I'm planning on running Low Power (100 watts) unless the IC-7000 dies. If it does, I'm down to the FT-817 (assuming I find a way to bring it) and I'm back down to QRP.

Sandy is packing clothes and books while I type this. I still have that task ahead of me. My next entry will likely be from St. Kitts on Wednesday. I'll try to post pictures of the installed antennas.

Monday, October 15, 2007


If you've not been visiting you've been missing... nothing. The Sun's face is blank today. The Sun's face was blank yesterday. The Sun's face was blank the day before yesterday. Are you sensing a pattern? I'm new to the hobby. This is my first solar minimum. Somebody! Please tell me this isn't forever!
To paraphrase, "Everybody talks about the space weather, but nobody does anything about it!" Well, today I did... sort of.
I received a couple of notes in response to my post "I am a junk-box junkie" asking me if I had considered the high-end audio components from W2IHY Technology. Specifically, the EQplus unit provides processing that adds compression and depth to the audio to give it a very nice "DX punch". I had seen these units at Dayton but had dismissed the boxes as unnecessary. I am lucky to have a reasonably good voice for HF and usually have no trouble being heard, but the extremely poor conditions at the bottom of the cycle, and my friendly wager made me reconsider this option. At this point, I believe I could use all the help I can get!
I called W2IHY just after noon today and caught Julius Jones just as he was trying to slip out for lunch. I could have placed the order on-line but I wanted to be sure that I ordered all of the right stuff the first time. After all, I leave in just a week! I'm really glad I did this over the phone.
The conversation started out easily enough. Mr. Jones is quite personable and put me at ease immediately. I reciprocated, of course. He asked, "what is your call sign?" ""NERD!"," I said. "N E 1 R D." With that he laughed out loud and it took him a few moments to regain his composure. "I bet you're an engineer", he said, still chuckling. "Indeed I am!", I replied.
Now it was down to business. As long as I'm doing this, I got all the cables necessary to drive all the radios I own: Icom IC-746Pro, Icom IC-7000, Yaesu FT-817, and Elecraft K2 (with Kenwood microphone wiring). I arranged for quick shipping (though he normally sends things Priority Mail which is reasonably fast). It should arrive in the next couple of days.
The new audio "solution" also generates a new "problem": I have no place in the big Pelican case for the new gizmo. Ah, the challenges of packing never end.
I'll report here what I discover about this wondrous device before, during, and after the trip.

Friday, October 12, 2007

I am a junk-box junkie

I am planning to bring my Yaesu FT-817 to St. Kitts as my backup rig. Should something horrible happen to the IC-7000 I would still be able to make some contacts. In fact, if I were to enter the CQ WW DX SSB contest in the QRP category I would set the record for that category on St. Kitts by default as no QRP entry has ever been made from there!
One problem with the FT-817 is the lack of a speech compressor. Speech compression can make an enormous difference in putting punch in your signal, especially at QRP levels.
A few years ago I purchased two of the DYC-817 compressors from Box 73, a web site associated with FUNK Amateur radio magazine. I assembled them both and gave one to a good friend Steve (W1CTO). We then traveled to Maine to the house of Steve's in-laws to operate Field Day QRP. The units appeared to work fine for the first hour or so, then Steve's unit died. About an hour later, mine died. I can't explain it. {sigh}
The failure of the DYC-817s was pretty disappointing. And, I still had the problem! I next opted for the W4RT One BIG Punch, a circuit board inserted into the hand microphone for the radio. This works very well! I could just use this hand microphone but I would much rather use my headset and foot pedal. So, I'm back to where I started: I would like to have a speech compressor available for the FT-817.
I started looking around for a solution to this problem again last weekend and stumbled across the FAR Circuits SSM2165 kit. Well, "kit" is a little bit of a stretch. FAR Circuits sells the board bundled with the ICs, one of the two voltage regulators, and an inductor. The ICs and inductor are surface mount devices. The other components: resistors, potentiometers, capacitors, connectors, and enclosure are left to the builder to scrounge.
The board and ICs arrived today and I began the scavenger hunt this evening looking for the passive components. I had most of the resistors and capacitors in my junk box but came up empty on the circuit board-mounted pots and connectors. I'll drop by Electronics Plus in the morning to pick up the remaining parts. Perhaps I'll have a working stand-alone compressor for the FT-817 complete by the end of the weekend.
Or, perhaps I'll have a non-working stand-alone compressor by the end of the weekend. That's the problem with junk-box projects of course: they don't always work first time. If it doesn't work first time, it will likely sit until after my return from St. Kitts since I've got very little time left before we depart and there are many unfinished tasks still on my list. Cross your fingers.

Finally, a few quick notes out to my fellow bloggers:
  • Jeff (KE9V) mentioned my videos in his Long Delayed Echoes blog. Thanks, Jeff.

  • Steve (K9ZW) mentioned my MFJ Cub Transceiver pages in his With Varying Frequency blog. Thanks, Steve.

  • Scot (K9JY) got a well deserved call out from the ARRL main page today for his Amateur Radio Contesting blog. Yeah, I'm repeating myself (I mentioned this earlier) but Scot's blog is really good stuff! Thanks, Scot.

More talk and a another tip of the hat

I received another invitation to present my talk The 100 Pound DXpedition last night. So, there are two chances to hear me in November. I will be presenting at the Montachusett Amateur Radio Association meeting on November 14, 2007. I will also be presenting at the Nashoba Valley Amateur Radio Club on November 15, 2007. Meeting details may be found on the corresponding web sites.

Congratulations to Scot Herrick (K9JY) for being spotted by Stan Horzepa (WA1LOU) in his Surfin' column this week. Scot's contesting tips are superb and Stan's posting will give it the attention those tips (and Scot's blog) deserve. Well done.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Station wiring drawing revisited

I had forgotten that I had made this drawing for the Montserrat trip. For those of you wondering what the wiring diagram looks like for the radio, computer, mixer, and so on, here it is:
tedious wiring diagram
The only differences between this diagram and the setup I had the other night are (1) no Whattmeter, (2) I routed audio out from the iPod back to the mixer instead of taking it from the computer, (3) I'm using the RIGtalk serial adapter instead of the Icom CT-17, and (4) no external microphone (I decided I didn't need it).

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Contesting tips by K9JY

I got a note today from Scot (K9JY). He posted a summary of his excellent 30 Ham Radio Contesting Tips and wondered if his fellow bloggers might wish to weigh-in. Of course!
First, a big tip of the hat to Scot for pulling this list together. I have advocated many of these things but did not have them so succinctly stated or well-organized in my notes, or this blog. His observations about using QRP operations to sharpen your skills are dead-on, for example. I can attest that this approach has helped me a great deal in the brief time I've been in the hobby.
Many of the items on the Scot's list also appeared in the presentations at Contesting University, but Scot left off one very important point that was emphasized during those classes at Dayton: successful contesting requires that you keep your butt in the chair. If you are not in the chair, you are not scoring points. Stay in the chair. Stay focused. Keep working.
Another common mantra in contesting is, "If you're not CQing, your losing." As somebody who works contests at low power or QRP power levels, I find this a bit harsh, but there is wisdom here. Search and pounce (S&P) can provide a steady stream of points, but calling CQ and establishing a run is the only way to win those big contests. While you can't do this the whole time when you run low power or QRP, there are times when this is possible. In one contest I found an empty space on 80m and started calling CQ. After a few minutes I had a nice run going. The contest required the exchange of power levels (perhaps it was ARRL SS, I forget) and contact after contact received my exchange--including the indication that I was running QRP. One fellow, quite amazed at what he heard, asked for a repeat of the exchange and then asked, "you're QRP and you're calling CQ?" Amused, I replied, "Sure! You heard me fine, right? Why not?!"
That one thing: learning to be heard, might be the most important skill contesting will help sharpen. Whether it be in a contest or trying to break that pile-up for that rare DX station, learning how to be heard above the fray is an extremely valuable skill and contesting might be the most fun way to hone it.

Again, my congratulations to Scot for a fine series in September. Thank you!