CQ WW SSB  is now history. Since this was my first venture to operate solo from
outside the US (well, I did operate 4U1ITU many times from Geneva but not as a
contester), I thought it might be useful to document my experience in the hope that
someone might learn something from it or give me some advice. I think there is
plenty to learn and I can always use advice. This is not a happy story nor does it
have a good ending yet I did have a good time and enjoyed operating from VP9.
First a little background. I’ve operated in four CQ WW SSB events, three from here in
PA and now one from VP9. My scores prior to this year all decreased steadily from
1.5M to 1.2M. I hate phone contests and score much better (3.4M) in the CQ WW CW
event. This year, I wanted to improve my score so I decided to go to a DX location
and operate solo. I chose VP9 mainly because every other station I contacted was
already reserved but I was able to lease Ed Kelly’s station, VP9GE, for the contest. A
number of FRC members have been there and gave it good marks. I found Ed to be a
very kind soul with a really interesting background and who was an excellent host.
Any place on the planet that I mentioned in a discussion would prompt a story about
when he last went there that was engrossing and fun to hear. He is widely traveled
and has seen over a dozen total Solar Eclipses all around the world, many of them
Patrick Moore, a famous British astronomer.
The apartment Ed leases is more than adequate for a radio trip and it’s quite
affordable. His complement of antennas is good enough - an A4S plus dipoles for
40m, 80m and 160m. None of these are very high above local ground but his
property is on a very high rise, probably 500 
feet or more above sea level. And the
ocean isn’t far away. Bermuda stretches along a line running South West to North
East and Ed’s station is on the North side of the Eastern end so it has a great shot to
NA, JA, EU and is decent towards SA.
My wife (Miko) and I arrived on Wednesday, got some groceries, a shower and some
sleep. I spent Thursday and Friday shaking down the station and checking the
antennas. Thursday night, we had a delicious meal at the Swizzle Inn, a nice British
style pub, where I enjoyed the local Rockfish. On Friday, as the clock wound down to
0000 GMT and the start of the contest, all was in readiness.
My station consisted of a KX3, a semi-home brewed 90W amplifier, a Kenwood
tuner and MFJ wattmeter. Everything worked fine. I brewed the amplifier last fall
and did spectral tests of it when visiting my friend Norm, WB4YBY, back in
February. Norm found the amplifier was well within the FCC requirements for
spurious emissions. During the summer, I ran 48-hours of “CQ CONTEST” into a
dummy load, not once but twice, and I used it for about 4 hours during Field Day
plus another four hours during WRTC. I knew the risk of taking home-brew gear on
this trip but after all this, I was convinced that it could do the job. I had considered
buying an ICOM 7300 for this trip but I plan to get SO2R going and really want to
have an ICOM 7610 for that. Of course they’re not available yet and I never buy
Serial Number 1 of anything so that’s a purchase that will wait for the May Flowers
of Spring. So I was reluctant to buy a 7300 knowing that what I really wanted was a
7610 and since the little 90W amp seemed to survive everything I threw at it
including high SWR, etc., I decided it would be my VP9 traveling companion to the
KX3. Here’s a photo of me with the rig taken by my host, Ed Kelly, VP9GE.
Friday night, I opened on 40m and had a great run of US and Canadian stations. My
rates for extended periods (from 30 minutes to 90 minutes) ranged from a low of 90
per hour to 150 per hour. Shorter intervals had rates just over 200 per hour. This
was exciting and really got my adrenaline going! Wow! I visualized hour after hour
of this, raking in the contacts and not even breaking a sweat. At 0330 GMT, I worked
CN2AA on 80m and called it a night. I’d laid out a plan based on propagation
forecasts and they showed an opening to EU around 1000 GMT on 20m and 15m the
next morning. So off to bed I went so I’d be rested and ready for a full day of DX Qs.
My fat little feet hit the floor about 0950 GMT and I went straight to the station. There
I heard hundreds of EU stations all calling CQ. They were running between S6 and
S9+20 so I was excited, I planned to put every last one of them in my log by noon.
When I switched to 15m, PJ2T was right there on the dial so I pounced on them
before beginning my assault on new high rate runs with EU, then I moved to a clear
spot and called CQ. And then I called CQ. And then I called CQ. I tried for 15 minutes
to get a run started but never could succeed. Then I pounced on a few more EU
stations and found that I was having trouble breaking into their pileups. This wasn’t
a complete shock given that I was running only 90W. After a couple of frustrating
hours alternating between calling CQ and pouncing on stations and having no
success with either, I gave up and moved to 20m where I was able to get a run going
for an hour or more with NA.
I persisted most of the afternoon with NA and the occasional EU but realized that my
multiplier count was not moving along very quickly. Around the midpoint of the
contest, I had around 300 Q and a score of 200k. So the handwriting was on the wall
as they say - there was little chance I could beat my US based scores on this trip.
With this delightful insight, I had dinner. When I returned to the radio to put in
some more time, I found that the 90W amplifier wasn’t amplifying. I spent about an
hour looking into it hoping it was something simple but I couldn’t find anything that
could be repaired. This was too much for me so I turned in and slept for 9 hours.
I hit the floor at 1000 GMT on Sunday morning and wasted an hour checking the
amplifier to be sure it wasn’t something stupid that I was doing. Unfortunately,
there was no remedy - the little amp was dead. No doubt our flight from Philly to
Bermuda must have passed through the Bermuda Triangle.
Without the amplifier, I could get around 12W out of the KX3. So I moved up to 15m
where it would have the best chance of being heard (10m was never open) where I
started pouncing and trying to run. Again, it was EU Paradise but like a sailor adrift
in a dinghy, it was “water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink”. I never was
able to get a run going with EU.
So I moved down to 20m and then to 40m where (believe it or not), I was able to
have a nice run with NA using 12W. The rate wasn’t anything to brag about but it
lasted for a couple of hours. It was the finale of the event for me, I quit 2 hours early
because it was just too frustrating to continue. I had 1100 Qs and a score of 470k.
This is the lowest score I’ve ever posted in CQ WW SSB.
The high points of this were:
• When I was able to get runs going, the rate was exhilarating. I think this is
addictive and is why W2GD, N3AD and others keep making their trips south.
They’re addicts and this is where they can get their fix. In spite of the
problems I had, I may be addicted now too.
• On Sunday, after the amplifier died, I worked KL7RA at 2024 GMT. It was
amazing, a total miracle. I called him one time on 15m and he returned my
call saying I was “booming into KL7”. I told him I was using 12W and I’m not
sure he believed me but it was true. He then asked me to move to 20m where
they needed VP9 so I did and we were able to QSO there as well.
[This is not a 'miracle', it's the greyline path to KL and JA and occurs regularly]
• A little later, while running NA on 20m around 2150 GMT, JH7ZFN made it
through the pileup and I worked him also using 12W. What a shock that was!
I had similar experiences with KH7M and KH7XS who called me on 20m and
40m respectively. This reminded me of a Dayton Contest Dinner a few years
back where W2GD performed a skit pretending to be “The most interesting
man in the World”. John said, “I don’t often work the DX - but when I do, I
prefer that the DX call me”. I understand why he prefers that, it’s pretty
• Overall, operating with 12W was a challenge that I never expected to face.
Possibly I could have done better had I prepared for it mentally. I didn’t
devote myself to keeping my butt in the chair like I would have done here
because it was clear that my score was going to be very low. To some extent,
this became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Here are some things I learned from this and will consider before my next trip:
• Be prepared for the airline to take away legal-sized “Carry On” suitcases and
stuff them in the hold with the Gorillas.
• Never take home-brewed equipment to a contest operation no matter how
much you’ve vetted it. Commercial equipment can fail too but it’s less likely.
• Never go to an island where the power limit is 150W. Even when conditions
are good and you can make plenty of Qs with 150W, you can make more of
them and make them faster with 1500W. This is especially true when
propagation isn’t great. So pick your island carefully. As Teddy Roosevelt
said, “Walk softly but carry a big amp”. That is what he said isn’t it? My
memory is failing….
150W is more than adequate from VP9.... this site holds World records in CQWW!
• Be prepared to suffer from HRA (High Rate Addiction). As contesters, we all
know that rate is everything. Once you experience it and the exhilaration it
brings, you’ll want to go back for more.
• While many of you consider the KX3 to be little more than a toy, I found that
the receiver in it is quite good and was more than enough for the demands of
CQ WW SSB. The problem is the power level.
Lastly I want to thank all the FRC stations that worked me. That includes John
W3MF, Bob K3PH, Peter W2IRT, John P40W, Sig N3RS, John K3MD, Mark NK8Q,
Noah and Dave PJ4G, Tony N2TK, Dave K2XR, Pete KU2C, Doug K3UW, Chick NW3Y,
Keith W3KB, Steve NE3F, Pat W3FIZ, Chas K3WW and Alan N3AD. If I missed you,
my apologies and thanks for the contact! Also thanks to the Big Guns I worked
including Randy K5ZD, Frank W3LPL and Tim K3LR as well as everyone else that
makes CQ WW such an exciting event. Special thanks to my host Ed
Kelly, VP9GE, who made it a very interesting and enjoyable stay. Ed is a great host!
Kudos to K3PH for reviewing this article and my sweet wife, Miko, for going with me
and feeding me during the trip. She’s a “keeper”.
73 es Go FRC!