When Matthew and I first starting talking about operating from the boat, we'd discussed the possibility of operating for a fairly large portion of the 36-hour contest. We'd operate through the night, sleep on the boat, and get started again during the morning, eventually heading back to the marina before sundown on the second day. However, we both decided that would have been just a bit too much time out at sea, so we then figured we'd operate until maybe 9 or 10 PM then head back in. However, after Matthew started feeling ill, we figured that we'd be a lot better off heading back a lot earlier than that, and we decided that we'd stop operating in time to take the antennas down before dark. That was probably one of the best decisions what we made during the entire trip.
As difficult as it was getting the antennas installed, taking them down was even harder. Maybe it was because we were tired or maybe it as because we weren't as careful as we should have been, but the elements on the 2m beam got pretty badly damaged on the way down. Matthew tells me that he'll be ordering his third set of replacement elements for that beam.
More importantly, as Captain Karl pointed out, if there had been any significant wind, or if the seas had been more than the foot or two high that they were, it would have been nearly impossible to take down the antennas because of the motion of the boat. Under those conditions, we might not have had to worry about taking them down, they might have come down on their own. As I mentioned, when we initially installed the antennas we set up the bottom five foot mast section first, then attached the 2m antenna to one mast section and the 6m to the remaining section. We inserted the section with the 2m antenna on it into the base section, then inserted the remaining section into that. Bear in mind that this is all taking place on a boat.
To insert the uppermost section, it has to be lifted a few inches above the ten foot height of the combined two lower sections. By using the railings on the upper bridge, it was just possible to raise yourself up enough to do that, but it's not easy; even without any wind, the mast is quite top-heavy because of the antenna attached to it, so it really takes a lot of effort to get it into place. On top of that, you have very limited access to the mast because although you've got the railings on one side, there's nothing but water on the other side.
Remember back in Part III where I talked about how the beams were moving in separate directions and that Captain Karl managed to secure them? Part of that was done with duct tape, but part was done by forcing the middle and upper mast sections together more tightly. It was hard enough doing that, but it was a lot harder to undo it. In fact, it was so hard, we couldn't undo it at all, at least not while the mast was still vertical. What we wound up doing was taking the top two mast sections (that's 10 feet, or about 3m) along with the attached antennas down as a unit. I guess maybe that's why some of the 2m elements got pretty badly bent. Once down on the deck, Matthew removed the antennas and it was a lot easier to separate the two mast sections.
In my "day job", I work on a lot of different technology projects. One thing we do at the end of a project is get together and try to figure out what worked well and what could be improved. We call that a "lessons learned" session, and I thought I'd close this series by doing the same here.
What worked well
- Advance planning reduced the number of forgotten items to ... zero!
- Publicity (via QST and various reflectors) had folks looking for us
- The weather was terrific! (Ok, we can't take credit for that, but it sure helped make it fun)
- The team -- Matthew, Captain Karl and I all had our jobs and we all got together terrifically well
- Not trying to operate as a Rover -- We considered operating from more than one grid, but with the limited time we had, we decided our time would be better spent operating entirely out of FM39. (Also, trying to operate with the boat at speed would have been impossible).
- Although the 2m antenna did work well, the 6m antenna didn't. We're not sure why, but we should do a short test run to try to figure out what was wrong and fix it
- The antenna mounting system had some difficulties (as described). We need to figure out a better way to mount the antennas, preferably with a real rotor
- The propagation didn't cooperate (ok, we can't take the blame for this, but it matches the weather on the other side)
- Being out in a rare grid at sea means that people with beams have to point in your direction to hear you. (Unless there's a big band opening to Europe or Africa, most folks on the east coast of North America aren't looking west, and without propagation, it doesn't help if folks farther west are aimed that way). Although we did have people looking for us, not enough did, resulting in lower QSO counts than we would have liked. Perhaps even more publicity would have helped here.