(Original article previous QST’s edition)
Is it possible for a modest field day style station be competitive in worldwide contests? The Cuban station T48K has demonstrated that the answer is yes. This year, they celebrated their 15th anniversary together with friends from Denmark and Finland.
By Raul Verdecie/CO8ZZ
The idea of joint efforts in a multinational operation from our contest station in Las Tunas was born approximately two years ago, when for different reasons I contacted Kenneth/OZ1IKY and Pekka/OH2TA by e-mail. Kenneth had requested contacts on the 80, 40 and 30 meters bands. On the two firsts bands we did it, but on 30 it got postponed even so much I improved the radial system on that band. Kenneth already knew about T48K and our leadier efforts to make our contest station more competitive with our limited resources and he proposed helping us as much as possible. Sometime afterwards I received by post two fiberglass poles manufactured by DX Wire. With them I constructed two VDAs (Vertical Dipole Array) for 10 and 15 meters according to Vincent/F4BKV’s design and we put them to their first use during the 2014 CQ WW SSB. I had met Pekka during his third visit to Cuba in February 2015. He planned a tourist trip to a place relatively close to Las Tunas, the city where I live, so I decided to invite him to visit me. He showed a strong interest in our system improvement. When he visited me at my home, he brought along another 12 meter radial fiber pole and that was the missing part for complete the three VDAs for the higher bands. Already during that personal contact the idea of a next meeting, competing from T48K, began to gain strength.
Las Tunas Contest Crew birthday
Incidentally, Las Tunas Contest Crew/T48K’s birth was the indirect result of another Scandinavian presence in Cuba. In 1997 Carlos/SM0KCO/CX7CO organized the first and still only multi-multi operation from Las Tunas with a big group of Swedish operators, as well as one Danish and some Cubans, during the CQ WW CW that year. T48K’s three founders ( CO7RR, CO8DM and CO8ZZ ) participated and even though it was not our first contest experience in contests, it definitively became the spark of a more constant individual activity since that event. The goal of joining forces in a multi-operator station once a year grew stronger. The first opportunity came during the ARRL DX CW in 2001, when T48K went on the air for the very first time from my house. So I decided that our 15th anniversary in 2016 ought to be a magnificent opportunity to celebrate together with Kenneth and Pekka.
Historically, field day style have been the essence of all Las Tunas Contest Crew operations without big pretensions due to the absence of a technology and not least reasonably competitive antenna systems. Normally we used our same obsolete setups that, when having to change positions to the coast or some other place, we had to dismantled, multiplying efforts. Those days, we always used old Kenwood TS 130s and a Yaesu FT101 ZD until, because of a donation of Union de Radioaficionados Españoles (URE) to the Federacion de Radioaficionados de Cuba ( FRC ), we began to use a Yaesu FT 857 assigned to CO9KAA, our local radio club, and my old but always ready to fight Collins 30L-1. The antennas were wire ones until I made two element yagis for 10, 15 and 20 meters for my home station, these I dismounted and reassembled every time that we did a contest outdoors. For logging, initially we always used CT but more recently N1MM.
During the WPX SSB in 2013 we chose a location that we considered ideal and our our second home ever since. It’s the beach of La Herradura, a small fishermen’s town located at the coast north of Las Tunas. There, less than fifteen meters from the coast, we found a humble house that we rented for more or less reasonable price. More comfortable places are out of bounds with our limited financial resources. Taking advantage of the proximity to the sea, we came up with the idea of doing an experiment with the yagis, putting them up vertically and getting good adding up a total never imagined. Never again we have used antennas with horizontal polarization. This time, thanks to the help of Kenneth and Pekka, we would used DX Wire fiberglass poles for the whole antenna system, leaving aside the improvised and weak supports for the yagis and only using the heavy piping for the rest of the antennas. More than once earlier were they destroyed by storms and winds. Kenneth mailes a few weeks before the contest the rest of needed poles, one of 12.5 meters and another one of 15 meters, and another friend had sent Douglas another one of 12.5 meters, all heavy duty.
Kenneth and Pekka arrived to Cuba at Holguín airport, one day apart. With my fears for what can happen with customs, I received them both personally, carrying temporary import permits issued by the Ministry Of Communications (MINCOM). Fortunately everything was trouble-free and the K3 that Kenneth brought and the MAFET power amplifier lent by the OH DX Foundation that Pekka brought in his baggage entered Cuba together with coaxial, cables, connectives, etc.
On Tuesday February 16, the whole team including Alex/CO8KA, our support man, arrived at our site at noon, skipped lunch and began to assemble antennas. Before dark, the three VDAs and the inverted L for the top band were assembled although only we could raise the VDA for 20 meters, since night fell and a fast deterioration of the weather surprised us. The day before in my house we did a printout from Google Earth and Kenneth and Pekka designed the exact position of every antenna, with the idea of minimizing the interference between them as much as possible. We also decided that in addition to the VDAs for 10, 15 and 20 meters, we would build a Ground Plane for 40 meters and an inverted L for 80 meters, in addition to the one that already was pulled up for 160 meters. All of them would be placed just a few meters from the coast line. In this season the tide is not so high, so the antenna farm would not become flooded totally like in other occasions although the roll of the ocean would make its feet wet at least partially, something that without doubt would benefit us a lot.
It would be our very first experience as a multi-2 entry and despite being only four operators, we always reasoned that would be enough if we worked in an efficient way. In addition we all would get similar doses of fun pile ups. During the first meeting at my home we also decided to take four-hour turns, a tolerable time that also would give us longer and better rests. We determined that one couple would be Pekka and Douglas and the other one Kenneth and me; in that way they would have an available translator during resting periods if need be. On wednesday from a very early hour we continued raising and adjusting the VDAs, using CO8DM’s MFJ antenna analyzer. Being used previously they did not require a lot of adjustments, but this was not the case with the 20 meters VDA, which we had to raise and descend several times. We continued with the 40 and 80 meters ones and by the end of the day all were ready except the inverted L.
On Thursday morning we finished the 160 meters antenna adjustment and installed the two contest positions. At position # 1 put on the ICOM IC756 Pro-III with the MAFET linear and at the position # 2 Kenneth installed the K3 with my Collins 30L1, the one for which that Pekka had brought three 811A which no doubts improved its performance. The two stations networked through a router and the program Wintest on two laptops. Unfortunately one of two power sources of the MAFET was not working. After checking and deciding that no solution was in our hands, we used it with half power, just 250 watts. The initial test showed that interference between the stations was not a big problem. The good placement of the antennas, at a prudent distance one from another, and the filters brought by Pekka blew away worries from other operations from the same place. When everything was ready, Pekka and Kenneth started to call.
At sunset, Mr Murphy visited us: an unusually low load at the AC network. When checking the installation we found a lot of junctions affected by corrosion, so we decided to rebuild it. Once that job was finished, the problems were transferred to the AC pole outside, where evidently also serious bad connections abounded obviously out of our reach. I immediately phoned persons I thought might fix the problem and much to our surprise the repairmen did not took an hour to arrive. Back to normal running, we continued working and listening well into the early morning. The antenna for 160 meters showed promise above expectations.
Friday dawned with the VDAs for 15 and 20 meters damaged, because the connections between several rod sections had yielded to the strong night winds. Also the GP for 40 meters looked affected by humidity and salt in its feeding point which we resolved with more protection on it. Meanwhile, Kenneth and Pekka continued operating, waiting for some other problems to appear.
We had agreed that the first turn would be taken by Pekka and Douglas on 40 and 20 meters. Just few minutes before 19:00 local time (00:00 UTC) both sat down by the stations and occupied frequencies. Based on the 2015 results of the category, we felt that to be among three first worldwide we would meed to break the barrier of 8 million points. That meant more than 8000 QSOs and between 59 and 61 multipliers per band, without doubts a difficult task for a station like ours in a category that in general is ruled by fixed “plug and play” super-stations in the Caribbean or Central America. Multipliers are very important in the ARRL DX. Thinking about it previously, I printed a list of those multipliers that historically had turned out to be difficult to work. That way we would try to give priority to these stations, passing them on to other bands when it was possible.
The average of QSOs in the first four hours was 289 contacts per hour with a peak of 296 in the second hour. When Kenneth and I had took over at 04:00 UTC, we already had 1156 contacts on 80, 40 and 20 meters. Our shift focused on the two first bands and 160 meters. For this band we had to dedicate station number 1, because the 30L 1 does not have it. This way, we never used more than 250 watts there; nevertheless, the inverted L looked very effective and when I finished my first 4 hours into the contest we had the first 225 contacts in 160 meters and 1911 all in all. Fortunately, during the rest of the contest Murphy stayed away and everything developed without setbacks.
Propagation was acceptable except on 10 meters. We closed down there on Saturday with 600 QSOs, but could only make 119 contacts on Sunday. The bad propagation on this band was no doubt the deciding factor in missing our initial goal of 8 million points In my opinion, we had never before had such a “flow”. The initial strategy to maximize the number of multipliers worked on all the bands. Except on 160 where we had 56 worked, we managed to work between 59 and 61 provinces and states. During the last 24 hours of contest, and making good use of low rate periods, we requested stations to make QSY to the other station’s frequency, regardless of they were new multipliers or not. This way, we got some contacts that otherwise would have been missed. At last, right after 48 uninterrupted hours of operation, T48K finished with 7239 valid contacts and 356 multipliers, for a final score of 7,731,252 points. A good “debut” for our modest station in such a difficult category. With these numbers we ought to be included in the Top Ten and, probably, make ourselves a continental leader.
On the following day Pekka continued his tourist journey around eastern Cuba, while Kenneth and his wife Anna who accompanied him all the time returned to Las Tunas, allowing me to debut as tourist guide during all that week. I showed them the most interesting places of the town and some sights around it. They shared my family life and even celebrated together my son Xavier’s 13th birthday. The day before Kenneth’s departure, he reminded me of the pending contact on 30 meters. So we decided to build a ground plane with another DX wire 10 meter pole, wire and the material for that purpose which he had brought from Denmark. That night we tried out the antenna successfully, making contacts with numerous North American and European stations. Weeks after, being he already back in Europe, finally he achieved his much sought after QSO with magnificent signal reports, approximately two years after the first attempts.
Few human activities make possible of so immediate and deep way the flowing together at a same place of so necessary feelings for the human growth like friendship, the lack of interest or the collective job. How else would varied personalities and with so many geographic and socio-cultural differences be able to join up in pursuit of a common objective? Without doubts, it is a ham radio privilege, and in a special way to those who take part in contests. They were those unforgettable days that strengthened a friendship that had began earlier. My thanks go to Pekka and Kenneth with Anna for their help and their opening us the possibility of becoming more human beings. I am sure that the effect was reciprocal. Thanks also for how in one way or another the following made possible this happy operation: to engineer Pedro Rodríguez/CO2RP, national president of the FRC, to the Mincom, to Idelfonso Rodríguez/CO8IR, president of the Subsidiary of the FRC in Las Tunas, and to our families who tolerated our absence for so many days. Thanks also to ARRL for a great contest and to all our gratitude and see you on the air and to Goran/SM0DRD for help me with english edition of this article.
Note: We finally finished in 3rd place world and 1st in north america