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