Friday, April 02, 2010

The NA-034 operation that almost wasn't, Part IV

If you haven't read Part I , Part II and Part III first, you might want to do that.

As I mentioned previously, once I got the power problem figured out I was able to easily make contacts with other stations, which is what I'd planned to do in the first place. In the first half-hour of operating, I made contact with about 25 stations. Compared to rare DX stations this is very slow, but my operation was very low-key and I'd often spend a bit of time to briefly chat with the other operators, so this was far from the typical "K2DBK you are 59 thanks QR Zed" that you hear in those operations. I was having a great time working stations, and after a while I started to hear folks in Europe calling me, but they were covered up by the US callers. I figured that I'd try to work as many folks outside North America as I could, so I asked for only stations outside of North America, and worked 9 stations in as many minutes, all outside the US. I worked folks in Italy, Poland, Spain, and Belarus all in fairly quick succession. Thanks very much to the folks in North America who very politely stood by while I worked the other stations. Not one single person from North America called when I was asking for the other folks. (By way of explanation, it is an unfortunate fact of life that all-too-often hams will "call out of turn" and ignore requests from contacts from specific areas. When they do that, it just slows down the process.)

After I had contacted the folks outside North America, I went back to working any station that was calling me, and I picked up a mix of both US stations and some more DX from Italy, Serbia, and Belgium. I had a couple of other chats during a few lulls with Larry, KH6ITY, and finally shut down for the day at around 4:45PM local time to head back to have dinner with the Sharon in St. Armands.

The Legendary Salty Dog
The following day I got somewhat of a later start than expected, but I did want to stop at The Old Salty Dog again, this time to have what is one of the most delicious and presumably most unhealthy foods in existence: Their signature "Salty Dog". A Salty Dog is a jumbo hot dog dipped in beer batter and deep fried. It is indescribably delicious. Of course, it must be washed down with a nice cold bevarage (a Bass Ale for me, thanks). 

When I arrived at the park, the parking spot I'd had the first day was taken, and I was having trouble finding a place to park where I could be close enough to be able to set up on a picnic table, but as I was walking around (I'd parked temporarily "out of range") someone left and I was able to pull in close to a different table, this time right out in the sun. The only downside to this location was there there wasn't another table nearby so that I could set up the antenna on a different table, but I was able to set up the antenna on one end of the table and operate from the other without any issues.  Well, not at first.

Buddistick set up for 20m with counterpoise thrown
over a tree branch
I started off working stations on 20 meters and worked a number of US and Canadian stations, as well as a station from Slovakia and one from Hungary. I'd been trying to set up a contact with Scott, NE1RD, who was now operating from the island of St. Thomas (as KP2/NE1RD) on and off for a while by this point. I emailed Scott from my BlackBerry that I was currently on 14.260Mhz and Scott quickly threw together an antenna for 20m, but by the time he got on the air, I'd lost the frequency that I was using and we didn't make the contact. "Losing" the frequency means that I was using it to make contacts, but due to the way that propagation works, sometimes two (or more) stations will be using the same frequency, both unable to hear each other until the conditions change, then usually one of the stations will wind up "taking over" the frequency. This is what happened in my case, and I "lost".

As it turned out, Scott had already built a 2 element beam for 15 meters using the Buddipole gear that he'd brought, which would provide a much better signal to me. I reconfigured my antenna for 15m (very easy to do), and coordinating once again via email we were able to contact each other. Neither Scott nor I consider ourselves as "rag-chewers", which are folks who prefer to get on the radio and have a nice long chat with someone. I've certainly done that in the past, but most of my current interest is in working DX stations and contesting, both of which  require very brief, specific exchanges of information. However, Scott and I found that we had a lot to talk about, so the contact was not a brief one. About 10 or 15 minutes into our conversation, I got another visit from Mr. Murphy.

As we were talking on the radio, I thought that I noticed the odd sound in my headset that I'd heard previously. This didn't make any sense, since the car was still running (as you'll recall, the battery alone was unable to provide sufficient power to transmit at full power). Scott then commented that he could hear my signal starting to distort, so it sounded like the problem was returning. We both tried to figure out what might be going wrong, and while trying to figure out what could have "broken" while operating (nothing had been touched since I originally got on the air that day), I thought that perhaps our relatively long chat had caused the power cables to heat, which in turn would increase the resistance in the cables, reducing the power available to the radio. I felt along the length of the cable but didn't feel any warm spots. I was about to rule out the wire heating up when I realized that I'd closed the hood on the car almost all the way and when I opened it, obviously (in hindsight) the portion of the power cable that was closest to the battery, and under the hood, was quite warm. It hadn't heated up solely from transmitting, but also because it was a warm day and with the engine running and the hood closed, the engine compartment was quite hot. The solution to the problem was now quite simple: Leave the hood of the car open.

After just a minute or two, the power cables cooled enough to allow enough power to flow so that my radio was again transmitting normally. Scott and I finished our chat, and I decided to stay on 15m where I worked stations from Puerto Rico, Italy, Portugal, and the US, finally finishing up with a nice chat with Andy, AE6Y who was operating from Aruba as P49Y, having just arrived there prior to the WPX Contest that was coming up. When I finished with Andy, it was time to shut the station down to head back for a final family dinner, since we were leaving for home the next day.

In all, despite losing a day of operating due to the power problem, I would rate this as a successful operation for a number of reasons. First, I did finally get on the air and made contact with 16 different DXCC entities (countries) and at least 10 different states. (It was almost certainly more than that, but I didn't always get the name of the state for the station that I was talking to.) Second, I was able to give back a bit to the hobby by talking to, and with Larry, KH6ITY's class. If even one of his students goes on to get his ham license that would really be a wonderful extra benefit. Third, I've made a number of new friends both as the result of both my operation on the air and the attempts to troubleshoot with the wonderful folks from the Buddipole Users Group. Fourth, I've learned a bit more than I already knew about troubleshooting this type of problem. Finally, and perhaps most important, despite the issues that I ran into, I had a really good time doing this.

I have really enjoyed writing this series, and I want to thank those of you who've commented about how you've enjoyed it as well. There is a bit more information that I want to share that I'm going to write as an epilogue to this series, please look for that soon.

Until then,
David, K2DBK

Update: I've posted the epilogue.


  1. Boy, that hot dog does look good! Thanks for sharing the story (and the picture of the salty dog).

  2. Ha. Great story. You are a very good writer, David. You should consider writing mysteries. No one who reads the blogs would consider not reading the next one. SUSPENSE. SUSPENSE. What was the final outcome?

    Loved it.

    Budd W3FF

  3. Anonymous9:28 AM

    N9AJ - Thanks for the very interesting article. Really enjoy your writing, and I learned a few hamming things as well.. 73, Rick, Orlando FL

  4. Robert3:55 PM

    That was a great story. I have had it in my reader for a bit, and I kept marking it unread so I could come back and read it. I'm glad I did. It's nice to hear stories about coming up with solutions to problems when working out in the field. Your troubles (and triumphs) will help others who undoubtedly have the same issue in the future.

    Oh, and that hot dog really looks good!

    Thanks for a great article!

    73, NE7Q, Robert, Salt Lake City Utah

  5. Thanks Robert, I'm glad you enjoyed the posts. I've set up a "short link" which points to the first article at in case you want to pass the whole series on to someone. Each part has a links at the top and bottom to the previous and/or next in the series.