The first stations I had on Little Cayman were nothing but field-day style setups based on wires and an R5 vertical which I set up from a rental apartment. Most of the contacts I made with these arrangements were under my old CI call of ZF8BS. I began using the ZF2NT call in the summer of 1998 and actually made a contest effort in the IARU contest that year. It was a dismal failure, though, because I was completely outgunned. I went back to California and began packing aluminum.
First, I bought an old Volkswagen van to take to Little Cayman. The plan was to drive this van across the country and then ship it on to Little Cayman from Tampa. Thus I had exactly one chance to bring equipment from California, and the amount I could bring was limited only by the weight carrying capacity of this van. The most important item I got into the van was an old Viet-Nam era U.S. Army crank-up mast. This would be the basis of my Little Cayman station until I could get a real tower in the air, and I knew that was going to be some time into the future. In addition to the mast, I packed a 5-element KLM 10 meter beam, a 4-element Force12 beam for 15m, an old Hy-Gain Explorer 14 tribander, plus lots of aluminum tubing. All of this equipment (along with a very heavy load of tools and construction-related equipment) did finally make it to Little Cayman by late October--just in time for Hurricane Mitch.
|The very first thing I did when I began
developing my own property was to build a tool shed and to construct two of the tower guy
anchors. The point where one of the anchors needed to be located would become
inaccessible with a concrete truck after I began working on the house, so that guy anchor
absolutely had to be the first item on the agenda.
The form is for this anchor is 6'w x 3'h x 3'd. As you can see, it's arranged as a deadman anchor. The bottom of the form is 6' below grade level, so there's 3' of rock piled on top the 7000+ pounds of concrete that went into the form. The anchor in this particular picture could potentially end up under water during a severe storm. That's the reason the anchor is so over-designed, at least relative to the Rohn specifications.
After I finished building the tool shed, I was able to tear down the temporary station at my apartment and put together the first station on my own property. It wasn't much, but at least I didn't have to cope with TVI complaints from my landlord. Also, I was now able to use that Army mast to get a beam in the air.
|The shed made for fairly Spartan operating conditions. In the first place, there was very poor ventilation, so it became uncomfortably warm during the daytime. In the second place, there was no screening in the shed. The bugs were a terrible problem, particularly at sunup and sunset. If it wasn't the sand fleas, then it was the mosquitoes. Consequently, I kept a good supply of "Off" at the ready. But whenever I put on the repellant, I also managed to get the stuff on my hands, which caused them to stick to the plastic handles of my paddle. The only cure was also to keep a can of mineral spirits and a rag handy, and many times I had to take a break from operating to scrub my hands.|
The core of the antenna farm was this surplus Viet-Nam era U.S. Army mast I shipped to Little Cayman. I bought this little beauty for about $250 out of the back of a truck at the Visalia DX Convention several years ago, and it was the best bargain I ever made. This thing must have cost the taxpayers at least $10,000. With it, I can put a modest tribander up 50' in the air, on a rotator, by myself. That's the Explorer 14 mounted on it in this picture. Under the beam, I had a pair of inverted Vee's off a common feedline. One was cut for 80m, and the other had a trap in it on 30m and was cut for 30/160.
|In addition to the Army mast setup, I had a 40m vertical with elevated radials, plus a multiband R5 vertical. And that was the station from about December 1998 until early late in 1999. As the house was going up, I finally reached the point that I could pour the main tower base. For several months after that, I had two sections of Rohn 45 up and the R5 mounted on top of that. Finally I decided the tower had to be useful for more than supporting that vertical, even without the missing third guy anchor. There was a large Birch tree which was approximately where the 3rd anchor needed to go, so I decided to use it. At first, I only had 4 sections in the air, with a 15m monobander at the top. By December '99 I became bolder and added a 5th tower section. At the top, I put both a 4 element 15 monobander and a 5 element 10m monobander. It was then that I learned the hard way that you can't stack those two antennas in close proximity The 15m beam worked fine, but it totally screwed up the 10m beam.|
The pictures above show the tower setup during the winter of 1999-2000. It wasn't much of an antenna farm, but it did the job for me. With this setup, I managed a 1st place score (SOAB/HP) in the Commonwealth Contest (i.e., BERU), won the #1 spot for the ARRL DX (CW) Contest (SOAB/HP), and took the 2nd place finish for NA in the FOC Marathon (behind N3RS). During CQWW-CW I managed to break AA5DX's old 10m record for NA, but so did several other people. Despite improving the station over the past couple of years beyond this point, I haven't had as productive a contest season since.
By late spring (2000), I had the house sealed against the weather. My goal for the year was to get the house to the point that I could live in it during the following year's building season. To do that, I had to have a working sewage system on the property. So that finally brought me to the last guy anchor I needed for the tower:
|Here's that third guy anchor--my septic tank! There's over 20,000 pounds of concrete in this thing, and the base is a little over 6' below grade level. Once in use, the tank has over 1000 gallons of brew in it. Since the guy anchor rod is tied into the rebar cage, the whole thing would have to come out of the ground as a monolith should we ever get a storm strong enough to dislodge the anchor. I doubt I'll ever be able to get cable strong enough to do that!||
|The very last thing I did during the winter of
1999-2001 was to relocate the station from the tool shed into the house. Here's a
view of the operating position just after I moved it. I only had a short chance to
sample using it before returning to CA in May of 2001, but it was clearly a big step up in
the world for me. There was ventilation, and screening to keep the worst of the bugs
By the way, that isn't wood paneling in this picture. Those are framing studs, with the sheathing on the far side of them. The winter of 2000-2001 was dedicated to improving on that decorating scheme.
When I returned to Little Cayman in October of 2000, I arrived just in time to make some station improvements for CQWW-SSB. Mark Perrin, N7MQ, and Ron Vincent, WJ7R, came down from Eugene, OR to operate the contest. Mark would be SOSB/80 as ZF2MC, and Ron would be SOSB/10 as ZF2RV. Before the contest, we spent a couple of days putting up a full-size vertical about 70' back from the water's edge. Since this had elevated radials, the full height of that thing was about 75'. Yes, "was"! It was a thing of beauty and it played exceptionally well for mark (at least when transmitting!), but it didn't survive even the first good blow we had after Mark went home. We had the antenna guyed at three levels, but the tubing simply was not strong enough for the compressive forces on it once the winds picked up. I still have lots of that tubing left, but it's obvious to me now not to try to go so high with it.
Before Mark and Ron left, they gave me priceless help for a few days with some tower work. We took down the antennas that were up there, plus the mast and rotator, and then added the remaining sections of tower I had waiting to go up. Alas, two of my sections were so bent that we could not get the legs straightened enough to use them. Thus the 80' tower I had planned became a 60' tower instead. Perhaps someday I'll ship down another couple of sections of Rohn 45 to bring it up to the planned (i.e., authorized) height, but I don't see that happening soon.
In addition to completing the tower, we went back up with a new beam: a Bencher Skyhawk. This is a big, heavy tribander, and early in the game I realized I was going to have to assemble this beam on the tower. When I finally had all the elements attached, Ron went up the tower with me and we tilted it over to attach it to the mast. The whole operation was as slick as could be, and now I had a real beam!
|Later in the fall, Bob Warmke, W6CYX, came down to
operate CQWW-CW with me. That gave me an opportunity to use Bob's help to
complete the installation by raising the mast up to it's fullest extent. Then I went
back up the tower with a second beam in hand--a tiny little 6m beam. Once installed,
all that remained was to try to keep it all working for the rest of the season. That
wasn't easy, I discovered, because I kept having problems with corrosion on the limit
switches in the rotator.
This photo shows me on the way up the tower with the little six meter beam. It looks tiny now that it's up in the air, but while I was threading my way through the guy wires it didn't seem very small at all!
Just off the top plate you will note a side arm. That arm is holding what is still my 80/160 meter inverted vee. I'm still searching for a better solution to the 80/160m antenna--and still unwilling to pay the big bux it would take to put up a Titanix vertical!
I use the word "current" loosely here, because things are never static while I'm on Little Cayman. I'm constantly trying new arrangements and experimenting with different configurations. Thus all I can do here is describe things as of this moment, which is December, 2001.
|The radio room is now done. There isn't a
single thing left to do, aside from improve the electronics. This picture shows the
operating position as it is configured in winter, 2001-2001. The rig to the left of
the monitor is a FT-1000MP, and everything appears to be working correctly. Left of
that I have an Icom 706, which I use for 6m. Then there's a K2, which is what I turn
on when I really want to hear! The amp is behind me in this photo, so it
doesn't really show. But all the controls for it are on the small remote control
unit sitting on top of the computer (right of the monitor and rotator controls).
There are only two coax runs which enter the room: one for the 6m beam and one which goes to the Acom automatic antenna switch under the floor.
As a result of bitter experience with corrosion problems, I now keep the radio room sealed to the outside, and the door is always shut. I run the air conditioner whenever I'm in the room, and generally try to keep the air in there as dry as I can.
The antenna configuration at present is still as described above. I have the Bencher Skyhawk at about 65'. Since Hurricane Ivan destroyed my A3WS WARC beam, I replaced it on the old Army mast with the Hy Gain Explorer. Running between the two of them is a 30m dipole. Off the main tower, I have a 160m inverted V, an 80m inverted V, and two 40m inverted V's--one facing NE/SW and the other NW/SE. For a high resolution photo of the main tower, with the Army mast in the background, click here. This photo was taken December 14, 2004.
|Here is an aerial view of the property so you can see how much salt water I have around me. All of that salt water does more good than another 100' of Rohn 45 would ever do for me!|
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