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Antenna/Tower Replacement Party


AE6Y-W6LD-W0YK-N6BT-P43A February 2008 Aruba Trip Notes – Antenna/Tower Refit Expedition [Public Version]

Primary Author Andy Faber, AE6Y, P49Y

Comments by John Fore, W6LD, P40L, Ed Muns, W0YK, P49X, and Tom Schiller, N6BT

3/9/08 [Public Version]

Introduction and Background

This was unfortunately not a contest trip (except for Ed), but rather a work “party” to replace all three towers and all antennas. The key workers were John Fore, W6LD, Ed Muns, W0YK, Tom Schiller, N6BT, and myself. We got a lot of help from JP Lauwereys, P43A, while Andy Bodony, K2LE, P40LE, and Joop Bok, P43JB, also played important roles. We had been hoping for assistance from John Crovelli, W2GD, P40W, but he was hung up on a job in Texas and missed the trip (and the ARRL DX CW contest – as did I, who have operated it from there the past five years).

The three of us arrived on Wednesday afternoon, February 13, 2008, but Ed had been there for a week, having operated the CQ WPX RTTY contest the previous weekend (and apparently, again, turned in the world #1 score). Furthermore, he and JP, with Andy Bodony’s help, had already made significant progress on the tower dismantling.

Here’s Ed’s story of that first week (including the contest):

Tuesday, 5 February. I drove to John’s (W6LD) house at 8:30 p.m., dropping off the machined 6 inch by 6 inch aluminum plates and various hardware from McMaster. I had two checked bags, one 45 lb and one 70 lb. Included was the new Lug-All come-along, 150 feet of ¼ inch SS wire rope, tower jack, leg aligner and other miscellaneous tools and parts. John shuttled me up to the La Quinta Motel near SFO. The hotel has a shuttle service to SFO that runs every 30 minutes beginning at 5 a.m., but offered to provide me a taxi at their expense to pick me up at my room with all my checked and carry-on luggage. (I also had maxed out my carry-on with my three laptop computer systems.)

Wednesday, 6 February. The trip down was mostly normal, connecting through MIA. A near miss occurred when I was sitting near my gate for the Aruba flight, working on my computer when my cell phone rang. The man said he was with American Airlines and was about to close the door on my flight to Aruba! I quickly stowed my computer and ran over to the gate. Guess I need to set an alarm clock to make sure I board the plane. Another lesson out of this is to include your cell phone number on your ticket reservation. The SFO-MIA flight was full, as always, and the MIA-AUA flight was sparsely occupied. I had an entire row to myself. I’ve learned to request an emergency row seat in Coach because there is more leg room and you are included in the Group 1 boarding sequence. I cleared customs, got my luggage and was at the taxi stand in record time. Unlike January, there were taxis queued up so I was at the cottage just 30 minutes after landing. Before retiring, I set up my SOM2 RTTY configuration but didn’t do any testing or operating. Taking a flashlight out to the garage, I took a cursory view of the container shipment of tower sections, F-12 boxes and other various boxes. I exchanged a couple emails with Andy and John about my trip down and miscellaneous comments after arrival.

Thursday, 7 February. Before making a run to Ling & Sons for groceries, I checked the material in the garage more carefully, opening boxes and seeing if everything was there according to my memory. I emailed John for a complete inventory list so I could be sure because there were a number of things, e.g., the tram trolley, that were missing. I also emailed pictures back of the damaged boxes. Several phone calls with JP determined that there was one box in the Tracer back seat, another in its trunk and a couple in the garage closet. Once those were all found and John’s inventory list received, it was determined that the four Rohn thrust bearings were missing along with the phillystran thimbles and end caps. These items seemed to be associated with a missing box, but we later determined that they may have never made it into the container in Miami. (The “missing box” may have been Lisandro’s airplane.)

I finally got to Chris & JP’s home at noon, and JP was there eating lunch on a break from work. I presented each of them, including Andy and Cindy with the P4 Antenna Party T-shirts that I had made up with the photo of the old antenna farm we were about to dismantle. From there, I did my grocery shopping and returned home with the shipping documents JP gave me. He stopped by after work and we carefully accounted for each item and box. There was one box not there and we initially assumed it was the missing parts, but since Lisandro’s airplane was NOT accounted for, we ultimately decided that the airplane box must be the “missing box”, and the parts didn’t make the shipment. However, JP and Chris kept after the local freight handlers to keep looking for it. As well, they still hadn’t delivered the 20-foot mast, so JP was expediting that.

Friday, 8 February. Neither the mast was delivered nor the missing box found. By the afternoon, I emailed John to order replacement parts for overnight delivery in time to put in his/Andy’s/Tom’s luggage for their Tuesday night flight. I also discovered damage to one leg of a Rohn 25G section, it being completely smashed. JP and I pondered how to fix it and he ultimately proposed to simply cut off the bad end and similarly shorten the other two legs, re-drilling the two bolt holes in each. In the afternoon, I unrolled the four radials on the Beverage termination in the north corner of the yard, not knowing until Sunday when I coiled up the Beverage itself, that they actually weren’t connected! Amazingly the three Beverages worked fine for me, providing the directivity and S/N improvement that I needed on 80 meters. I couldn’t use them on 40 because the 80 transmit signal created too much RFI. I tested out my RTTY setup, tuned the amps and discovered that the 87A faulted out with error 01110 after key-up. For CW or SSB, it was fine, but with RTTY key down for more than 2-3 seconds, the fault repeatedly occurred at power levels above 500 watts. That was a bummer, but I ran 500 watts during the contest on 80 and 15 meters. The 86 gave full output with no issues on 40 and 20. Just before CQWW WPX RTTY started at 8 p.m. local, I checked the yard for the 20-foot mast and it still had not been delivered. But sometime after that, it was delivered on Friday night unbeknownst to me and just left outside the front wall.

Thirty minutes into the contest, my 40 meter computer locked up. I’ve never had that happen and literally had to kill its power because it was so frozen even Ctrl-Alt-Del wouldn’t work. I lost my excellent run frequency plus five minutes or so of getting set up again. Somehow in all that, one of the three computers picked up the 74 contacts from the practice session the night before and dumped them into my log! I didn’t take time to extract those QSOs, figuring I’d clean it up at my next real break, so it created some temporary dupes with stations I worked again in the contest. A couple hours later, the WriteLog network failed, so then I was giving out parallel serial numbers on 80 and 40. When Europe died down after their sunrise, I took my first break of a couple hours around 5 a.m. local time. My WPX SO strategy is to work 40 and 80 whenever they are even marginally open because my rate only has to be half what it is on the high bands to get equivalent points. Amazingly, my QSOs and mults were slightly ahead of 2007.

Saturday, 9 February. I started in on 40 and 20 around 9 a.m., quickly moving the 40 side to 15. The rate was OK but not nearly what it was in 2007 and barely equivalent, point-wise, to the previous night’s low band point rate. As the day wore on, I lost the lead I had the night before and slipped further behind my 2007 pace. I took an hour break late afternoon for a shower and dinner before beginning another long night on 40 and 80. I noticed that JP was in the back yard sawing and pounding on the Rohn 25G leg, but I didn’t interrupt my contest routine to interact with him. He had opened the kitchen door to get power but otherwise was very discreet about not bothering me in any way. I found out later that he also had moved the 20-foot mast into the back yard. Back in the contest, I was carefully watching my rates and totals compared to the hourly statistics from 2007 I had posted off to the side of the left LCD. I was a couple of hundred QSOs behind, all due to poorer high band performance. When I quit 40 and 80 early Sunday morning, I was just slightly ahead of what I had done on the low bands in 2007. So, overall I was discouraged because I figured the high bands on Sunday would be even lower rate as they were the prior year.

Sunday, 10 February. After a four-hour break, I started up my last 2.5 hours at 10:30 a.m., based on that being the highest high band rate of 2007 and the previous day. What a surprise when the rate jumped to 150 and stayed there, the highest rate across both years! Too bad I couldn’t trade the slower Saturday hours for these much better hours on Sunday. When my 30 hours expired, I stopped and fixed some breakfast at 1 p.m. I called JP, and he agreed to come over at 3 p.m. [Andy: Ed modestly doesn’t mention that he, once again, turned in the highest claimed score in the world, in spite of these operational difficulties!] We first carefully opened and inventoried each F-12 box. I sent the details to Tom/John/Andy via email. It appeared that everything was there despite three of the boxes being completely open on the end. I did request that Tom bring extra hardware, especially ¼” SS for bolting. I rolled up the Beverage radial, the Beverage wire in the yard and the three Beverage coaxes, moving them out of the way of the anticipated antenna/tower work areas in the yard and the cunucu.

We located one of the barrels out in the cunucu for attaching the tram for the Rohn 45G antennas. The backyard garden hose actually reached clear out there, and JP filled it with water. I climbed the Rohn 45G and took down the 80 and 160 wire antennas with JP’s help. The 80 was garbage in our view, but we carefully rolled up the 160 for later use. I assembled the tram trolley and we laid out the tram wire. We unrolled the 600-foot rope and cut it in half, also knotting a loop in the middle of one piece so it could be used for temporary guying as we removed guys. We discussed various aspects of how we expected to work the next two days, using John’s project outline as a guide. We organized material in the garage, but JP strongly advised to not leave tools out overnight on the back patio. Thus, we chose an area in the living room for tool staging. This was the first step to transforming the entire cottage into a tower/antenna workshop!

At this point, I had naively assumed that JP would be the on-the-tower guy, but quickly learned that he was expecting the same of me because he really doesn’t like tower work. He does climb his towers, but only out of necessity. This was a sobering thought, as I realized that somehow I was going to be dealing directly with whatever problems we encountered in getting the severely corroded parts disassembled. I foresaw potential problems and delays, worrying that we would get stuck and not have much accomplished before reinforcements arrived on Wednesday. JP, or course, was ever-optimistic and convinced we’d have it all down by Tuesday night. We knocked off at dusk, I took a shower and went over to Marina Pirata for my contest celebration dinner … alone, of course!

Monday, 11 February. JP arrived at 8:30 a.m., and I took the gin pole up to the top of the Rohn 45. Using it, we pulled up the tram wire and got set up to lower the 20/40. First, though, I disconnected all cables and began descending the tower, detaching them from the legs. K2LE showed up and I asked Andy to start disassembling the cables on the messenger cable, carefully rolling them up by the shack wall. This took a while, and he stuck with it, although since he stored all the cables on the ends of the new Rohn 45G sections they had to be moved over to the house wall later. While Andy was doing this, JP and I readied the tram for bringing down the Yagi. JP had a lot of trouble getting the cotter pin out, then back in, on one of the wire rope sheaves on the trolley. Eventually, he succeeded and we pulled it up to me at the top of the tower. I was relieved when I was able to undo all the U-bolts, and we trammed down the antenna with JP and Andy on the pull rope. Once the antenna was on the tram line, I came down and helped them move the antenna off into the cunucu.

Next, we setup temporary guys 10 feet below the top set of permanent guys. My first attempt to remove the top set of guys was by hacksawing through the Big Grips attached to the ears of the Rohn 45G top plate. After 30 minutes and only getting halfway through one of them, they sent up JP’s grinder and the long extension cord. That made short work of cutting through the Big Grips but showered me with sparks. It also showed that there was plenty of shiny pure steel still left in the grips. As rusty and bad as they looked on the outside, they were really quite fine overall from an integrity standpoint. I had never worked with fiberglass guys and worried how this would go, but it was surprisingly straightforward to lower them with the pull rope while JP and Andy walked them out from the tower. I had JP carefully mark each guy with duct tape and Sharpie notations, plus some notes on a paper in the house. We wanted to remember where each guy had been attached as part of the decision later in the week on reassembly.

I decided to try lowering the entire top section with rotor and mast rather than spending time up in the air trying to disassemble it. The concern, of course, was its weight, but if we could get it down in one piece, it would save a lot of time getting the tower down. The top section would be much easier to disassemble on the ground. JP then decided to use his old white Toyota sedan on the pull rope, and this was right on because JP and Andy could not have lowered that weight on the pull rope. Again, I was pleasantly surprised to be able to remove the leg bolts and pry the top section off the tower. However, what happened next was the scariest thing on the whole trip. The gin pole slipped in its clamp and the top of it got beneath the top plate of the top section such that the section was jammed and hanging precariously on the top of the gin pole. I thought we had bought the farm at that point because I couldn’t get the section back in place and I couldn’t get it off the gin pole to lower it to the ground. After 20 minutes or so of struggling with it, I managed to break it loose and we lowered it to the ground.

We then proceeded on with removing tower sections and guys. Chris came and got JP for a quick 30-minute lunch while Andy and I took a short break before continuing on. Andy left mid-afternoon, but by 5:30 p.m., the Rohn 45G was completely disassembled. I felt good about that accomplishment and was tired and ready for a shower. But … JP had other plans and wanted to get the 10/15 antenna down! So, we set up the tram using a second barrel of water in a different location. Shortly after dark the Yagi was lying in the backyard, and JP finally agreed to call it a day. I showered and fixed dinner in the cottage: steak, fresh broccoli, red wine and a big garden salad. In the dark I took a few photos and emailed them to Andy/John/Tom with a short summary of our progress.

Tuesday, 12 February. JP again arrived at 8:30 a.m., and we began working on the 10/15 tower. First, though, I had to reach up and get the 6-meter Yagi down, which took some doing. We ran it down the tram line on a pulley without using the trolley. Then we lowered the top section as one piece again. This time the pull rope ran over to a second pulley at the base of the Rohn 45G tower and JP used his car. Later I asked him to start using the Tracer so we could be sure it would work as well for the rest of the week when he wasn’t there. The wind really picked up compared to Monday, so working on the smaller Rohn 25G tower was more uncomfortable. Once I moved to the C31 tower I was VERY uncomfortable because it had such ineffective lower guys and moved around a lot in the wind. I could see that we needed to remove the top north guy to lower the C31, so we installed a temporary guy 6 feet down using the yellow messenger cable rope (or, maybe a similar rope from the garage closet?). I was still worried and we added more rope guying and hoped that the wind might subside a bit.

But it never really let up, so we went ahead and lowered the C31. Now, JP had rigged two extra pulleys on the pull rope to route it around the yard to the Rohn 45G base so he could run the car between the gate and the back wall again. Both ends of the C31 got caught in trees and we wrestled with it a lot before getting it down and resting on the back wall. Also, the water barrel tram line anchor moved, so we added a second barrel tied onto it. We spent the rest of the day trying to figure out how to disassemble the tower in the high wind with its inadequate guying. Furthermore, JP had gotten sick after returning from his quick 30-minute lunch and was barfing all afternoon but refusing to quit. He was determined to get that tower down! Ultimately, though, we didn’t feel comfortable doing so. After showering, I went to Brisas del Mar for dinner.

Wednesday, 13 February. JP had to return to work, but Andy showed up (busting through the front door unannounced as I was eating breakfast!) and we stripped the cables off the C31 tower. I thought I would need more ground support for this job, so I diverted our labor to disassembling the three yagis. We were able to accomplish that in time so both of us could drive to the airport and pick up John/Andy/Tom at 2 p.m. Andy rented a car, and after everyone was back at the cottage I presented them with their antenna party T-shirts and gave a quick tour of the property and the status of things.

(I think this brings the story up to where Andy took over as project recorder, both words and photos.)

Tuesday, February 12 - Wednesday, February 13, 2008. John, Tom and I rendezvoused at John’s house in Atherton at 7 p.m. John had packed two 70-pound suitcases full of hardware, and he and I each took one (we ended up paying $50 in excess weight charges for each). I also had a suitcase full of personal clothing and tools that was just barely under 50 pounds, and John had a second bag full of hardware that we were able to check with no extra charge, though it was a slightly over the 50-pound limit. John also had a hefty carry-on full of parts and clothes in addition to our computer bags. Tom had a suitcase and a hard golf-club carrier full of tools and parts, that, interestingly, never was weighed at check-in.

John then drove us to SFO in his van, which he left in long-term parking. We caught the 9:50 AA redeye to MIA, then had the usual five-hour layover there (only four hours this time, since the first plane was delayed in landing due to Florida thunderstorms). I immediately went to sleep, and had a pretty good nap all the way. I was sitting next to John, who also slept, though at one point I looked up and saw that he had a cheese plate dinner in front of him. Anyway, we arrived on time in Aruba at 2 p.m., and were met by Ed in our car and Andy Bodony in his. I also had rented a Corolla from Budget, which turned out to be a lifesaver, as the house car was frequently in use pulling ropes up towers when we needed a car to go out shopping. I must say that our old Tracer worked fine in that limited duty all week.

Arriving at the house, we saw that Ed and JP (with some help from Andy Bodony) had been very busy in the past three days. The back tower (Rohn 45) and the 10/15 tower (Rohn 25) had both been taken down to the base sections. The C31 had successfully, though with much effort due to snagging in the trees, been trammed down into the cunucu, but the tower was still up. Ed and JP had also spent a lot of time inventorying the shipment, arranging the materials for quick access, and informing us of missing items.

We all got right to work. In the next few hours, John and Ed managed to take down the top and next sections of the C31 tower. The main time-consumer was rigging temporary guys to allow the tower work to proceed safely. Ed commented that he had had to grind off all of the C31 tower leg bolts, which apparently, on that tower only, were non-Rohn, non-galvanized bolts (the Rohn bolts on the other two towers came off OK). Fortunately, JP had lent us a grinder that proved invaluable during the week. To remove the top section, a rope was run through the gin pole to a block at the base of the C31 tower, to another block attached to the tree near the south fence, to another block at the base of the back tower, then attached to the car. After the top section was removed, we just pulled on the rope by hand for the much lighter middle sections.

While they were doing tower work, Tom and I built the elements and boom for the new 10/15 antenna, a one-off Force 12 special with five elements on 15 and two on 10 on a 30-foot boom, and started on the new C31. Finishing at sundown, about 6:45 p.m., we washed our hands, using some of the two-gallon jug of hand cleaner that Ed had acquired, took quick showers and ended up at Brisas del Mar for dinner. Brisas, which used to be the standard post-contest dinner hangout until it fell on hard times, is under new ownership and looked quite a bit nicer than it used to. The food was pretty good, though the menu is now rather limited. If one had the time, it would be a very nice place for an afternoon drink on the water.

We all turned in circa 11:00 this night. Sleeping arrangements were Tom in the second bedroom, Ed on an Aerobed in the radio room, and John on an Aerobed and I on the main bed in the large bedroom. As a commentary on the state of American social anomie, we found ourselves dog-tired after dinner each night, but would typically each spend some time on our individual laptops before turning in (the wireless router that Ed had installed a few trips ago worked really well) – shouldn’t four guys on “vacation” in Aruba be playing cards, or hitting the casinos, or at least drinking whiskey and telling tall tales, rather than checking e-mail?

The temperature was in the mid 80s today and relatively non-humid. [Actually the WX was virtually the same for the whole week – excellent, but there was constant wind, including some days where it actually was dangerous up on the towers.]. It obviously hasn’t rained appreciably in a while, as there was no standing water at Frenchman’s Pass.

Note: A huge amount of organizational work had been done to get to this point, mostly by John. He, Ed, and I had had numerous meetings to plan the refit, and John had been in charge of the logistics. Here is a partial summary of some of the supplies needed:

•	Towers
•	Rohn 25, 45 sections
•	Misc. pieces such as rotor plates, thrust bearings, guy brackets
•	Masts
•	Phillystran in four different gauges
•	All shipped from Texas Towers in TX
•	Hardware
•	Big grips for phillystran, fiberglass guys
•	Turnbuckles, shackles, thimbles, wire clips, etc.
•	Tape, NoAlox, Never-Seize, tie wraps, etc. 
•	Nuts, bolts, U-bolts
•	Some from Texas Towers, some bought locally or on e-Bay
•	Fabricated aluminum plates for mounting 80m dipole by W0YK
•	Fabricated Muns-special trolley for tramming antennas, with 150 feet 
of heavy tram wire
•	Coax
•	1400 feet of Bury-Flex from Davis RF in NH
•	Antennas
•	10/15 on 30-foot boom (five elements on 15, two on 10)
•	4-element 20 on 30-foot boom (EF-420)
•	C31XR tribander
•	2 element 40 on 18-foot boom (Delta 240)
•	80m dipole (Sigma 180S)
•	All shipped from Force 12 in California
•	Rotors
•	One NIB TailTwister from Ed, along with numerous pigtails in waterproof 
connectors for that rotor and two existing 
•	Two existing rotors returned to California to be rebuilt
•	Shipping
•	Everything was shipped, including some 250 pounds of hardware and miscellaneous
 equipment from John, to MLR Exports in Miami
•	Picked up in Aruba by Bon Bini Cargo, then cleared Customs and delivered on
 island under guidance of JP to the house
•	One box was discovered by Ed and JP to be missing; unfortunately, it contained
 thrust bearings, but John was able to get an emergency reshipment from TT to him
  to take down in hand luggage. Some boxes were torn open and two tower sections were 
  damaged, but reparable.  All F-12 boxes had been torn open.  Curiously, the 
  C-130 r/c plane kit in the shipment for Lisandro was unscathed.
•	Miscellaneous
•	Two Aerobeds
•	Personal tools
•	Climbing harnesses, tool buckets, webbing, carabiners, etc.
•	Rope, including 600 feet of white ½-inch nylon

Thursday, February 14, 2008. I was the first one up this morning at about 7 a.m., and went off in the rental car to a market in Santa Cruz to stock up on some breakfast-type items as well as some drinks. On my return, I saw that Ed was up and cooking his steel-cut oatmeal (which takes 30 minutes to simmer, and is available at Ling & Sons, the great supermarket north of Oranjestad), as well as his egg soufflé with meat and cheese. [He made the same two dishes each morning. I would normally have oatmeal and some toast or a roll, Tom would usually have oatmeal and some eggs, and John usually skipped breakfast. Many days we worked through lunch, or sometimes stopped briefly for cold cuts.]

During this day, and generally in the week, we broke up into two teams, with Ed and John doing tower work, while Tom and I focused on antennas, feedlines, and logistic support. We were all available to help each other when more manpower was needed, e.g., when tramming antennas. JP worked full time on the weekend, and also came by each evening to help out and kibitz.

Ed and John rebuilt the C31 tower today. Again a fair amount of time was spent on temporary guying for safety, using the come-alongs and rope, but also replacing the prior, feeble Dacron rope lower guys with phillystran. This should be a big improvement. We spent a lot of time learning how to use the big grips on phillystran. This can be frustrating. The trick is to wrap two turns of phillystran on the short leg of the grip, then mesh the grips and wind them both together. That part is pretty straightforward, but the ending can be difficult and require prying with a screwdriver to manipulate each separate wire of the grip to get a smooth termination. [Ed: Then, following the official Phillystran Big Grip instructions, we installed two tie-wraps on the Big Grip ends. This produced a chuckle and sarcastic comments by everyone, since it was not apparent what value this step added.] [Andy: My recollection is that it was even sillier, as the directions called for only one tie-wrap, but we doubled the illusory benefit with two].

JP came by later and showed us the tricks of the trade to use big grips on the fiberglass guy wires. Though the grips are thicker, it is actually easier to use them on fiberglass, since the process is aided by the rigidity of the guy material. His trick to getting the old ones off is basically to knock and pry on the ends with vise-grips to loosen them up a bit, then to pry an end off and unwind. It helps to clamp the head of the grip to a stationary object (or have someone hold it firmly) when unwrapping. To put on the new one, clamp the fiberglass guy into the short leg, then wind the short leg completely around (not just two turns). Then mesh the other leg and pry and pound on the ends a bit if necessary to finish it off. The only difficult part is the initial wrap with the second leg, which can take a bit of force. It might have taken us many hours of trial and error to figure this technique out without his guidance.

Tom and I continued with the C31 building today. This included many more reinforcing rivets (Tom estimated maybe 200 in all), and drilling through the boom-to-element brackets to replace one or more rivets in each bracket with ¼-inch stainless bolts. We put in three bolts on the 20m brackets. Actually more, since on the end brackets, we used one-inch bolts placed inside the boom with the nuts outside instead of through bolts where possible. This practice avoids distorting the boom when tightening the bolts. We also put in either two or three bolts in the 15 and 10m brackets, in place of the normal two rivets per side. On the 10/15 antenna boom, we added a central through-bolt to go with the two rivets. Tom felt that this reinforcing was a bit of overkill, but Ed felt strongly about it, having seen some rivets fail (and noting that the prior C31’s reflector had fallen off and landed on the neighbor’s carport due to eventual rivet failure).

Other antenna issues: we had some defective rivets, the manifestation of which was that the mandrel would break off with about one inch of mandrel sticking out, instead of breaking off cleanly at the rivet head. This necessitated grinding off the excess, and was quite annoying. Also, the boom-to-mast plates on several of the antennas had not been prepared properly, requiring two time-consuming fixes. The first was redrilling to accommodate the U-bolts brought by Tom and John, and the second was the hacksawing of notches in the sides of the mast plates to provide clearance for the U-bolts on the mating boom plates. Tom blamed the supplier.

I drove off in the late afternoon to get more groceries and a whole list of hardware ($104 worth, pretty much all available at the WEMA in Santa Cruz this time), including some stainless nuts and bolts and galvanized shackles and turnbuckles. Joop stopped by in the middle of the day with a German visitor to say hello.

We took the two rotors off the 10/15 and C31 towers; Ed and JP and John had removed them, in a major effort, with the masts intact in the top sections of those towers. We had intended to reuse the Ham-IV on the C31 tower, having understood that it was a rebuilt rotor that John Crovelli had installed last year when he swapped out rotors for us. Unfortunately, it didn’t look to be in very good condition, and the mast bracket was in a heavily-rusted state. We weren’t too pleased with this discovery. Ed did mount the spare TailTwister we kept stored in the back bedroom and a new 10-foot mast on the C31 tower. The old 10/15 TailTwister was reused on the new 10/15 tower. The NIB TailTwister was installed on the 20/40 tower. The old 20/40 TailTwister and the old C31 Ham-IV were taken back to CA to be sent to the Rotor Doctor for refurbishing.

Dinner at La Granja in Savaneta from about 8:30 to 10 was actually excellent, with all of us ordering fish with tasty local “criollo” sauce, and salads. At $80 for the four of us, it’s certainly a very good value, though the ambience is a bit underwhelming. Got a good picture of our winemaker Ed holding up a bottle of Gallo complete with a glass that the restaurant had kindly given us with ice in it! But, hey, the Gallo was only 16 Florins (about $9), so we couldn’t complain. [Ed: Also got a nice picture of John’s tongue!]

Friday, February 15, 2008. This was a busy day. I got much too much sun, and had better start using suntan lotion tomorrow. We all are developing “farmer’s” tans. Everyone arose earlier today. I left before 8 on an errand to buy two more come-alongs to augment the two we had (one from JP and the new high-quality Lug-All one that Ed had brought down). I found two of middling quality at the Kooyman’s near the Banco de Caribe building in Oranjestad. Surprisingly, considering how complex these devices are, they only cost $31 each (about the same price as a large, ½-inch turnbuckle, BTW).

We accomplished a lot today, including adding three sections to the 10/15 tower and finishing the C31 and tramming it up on its tower. Tom and I finished building the C31 by laying the boom along the back wall, then attaching the elements and balun. Rigging the new phillystran truss took close to an hour, and required attaching a temporary mast to get the lengths right. Tom and I also built the 40m elements and boom today, a very simple job with only two elements in comparison to the 14 elements of the C31!

The tramming process worked very well on all the antennas. The basic approach was to attach the steel tram cable to the mast on top of the tower and run the pull rope through the gin pole and appropriate blocks either to be pulled on by hand, or by the car (for the C31 only). The tram cable is tightened with a come-along, anchored to a chain wrapped around a 55-gallon drum filled with water that JP had procured and placed in the cunucu. For the C31, we needed two barrels lashed together, as it was the heaviest of the antennas. They also had to be precisely located to position the antenna between the palm tree on the left (facing the house from the back) and the tall tree along the south fence on the right. To get a better angle, for the C31 we also ran the tram cable over a loose section of Rohn 25 placed near the back wall.

The special trolley for the tram that Ed had had made for us worked like a charm. It keeps the antenna very stable and slides easily. We used it on all subsequent tramming activities, except for the 80, which didn’t have enough width at the center to accommodate the trolley. For that one we just used the old fashioned method of having the pull rope attached to a block riding on the tram cable with the antenna suspended below on a rope sling (which surprisingly also worked just fine, even in the high wind).

With some poking and prodding the C31 got through the trees to the top of the tower, where Ed spent some time muscling it into position in heavy winds (generally described by him as a hurricane at tower height – this led to a peculiar phenomenon whereby we could hear Ed perfectly clearly on the ground, but he had great difficulty hearing us on top of the tower in the wind). John climbed up to help, and the two of them got it mounted by 7 p.m. as it got dark. They hooked up the old rotor cable to the replaced rotor, and we were delighted to see the antenna turn. Ed attached an old feedline to the antenna at the end, but it didn’t seem to be working, so the state of the antenna was unknown as we left for dinner, though there was no reason for it not to be working perfectly.

An very satisfactory Italian dinner at Don Carlos on the wharf in Oranjestad, then a nightcap of Frangelica on the rocks from our house stock, with everyone turning in about 11:30.

Saturday, February 16, 2008. When I arose at 7:15, Ed was already brewing his oatmeal, and had made a very welcome pot of coffee. I had a quick breakfast of a cream cheese and jelly sandwich then drove off to Ling & Sons to do a major grocery shopping expedition, including two special requests from Ed of more steel cut oatmeal and baguettes for lunches. Also bought lots of other supplies, including many kinds of drinks. Some were standard issue American, like Mountain Dew soda, but some were European, like flavored milks and milk-based “power drinks.”

JP joined us for the full day, and we basically just hit it hard all day. Accomplishments included building the rest of the 10/15 tower, courtesy of John, Ed and JP. It’s now 10 feet higher, approximately 54 feet in all. The main improvement, other than the extra height, was to the guying system. The problem had been that the guys to the north wall and to the southeast corner of the property had an included angle of only about 170 degrees, instead of 120 degrees. In other words, there was very little guy tension to resist a wind from the southwest.

The solution was to run the north wall guys to the base of the back tower instead. This gives a much better guy spacing but has three hopefully minor drawbacks: (a) It doesn’t seem like a good idea, fundamentally, to guy one tower to another, though the base of the Rohn 45 seems very solid; (b) All three guys to the 10/15 tower are now arranged at a slight angle to the tower legs such that, while the spacing is good, they are all pulling in such a way as to impart a slight twist to the tower; and (c) The lower guy can be hit by a pedestrian walking close to the back tower. They spent a lot of time on the guy wires, including putting new grips on the ends of the fiberglass guys and crafting extensions for the top guys, necessary due to the additional height.

Tom and I continued our antenna building, starting with the four-element 20. We reinforced each element with 20 extra rivets. The largest tubing joint would get two rivets spaced 120 degrees around from the existing three in-line rivets, plus a third rivet opposite the three. The smaller connections would get two more rivets, and the tip connection just one. We also reinforced the elements of the 40 and the 10/15 antennas and added bolts to all the boom-to-element brackets. In the afternoon we built the 10/15 on the back wall as we had done for the C31.

We knocked off at 7 p.m., then had a pleasant dinner at Marina Pirata in Savaneta. It’s now 11:43 p.m., and Tom and I have just finished making two coax jumpers to be used for the 10/15 antenna. The two 10-meter elements are a driven element near the end of the boom and a nearby reflector, so a jumper needs to be about 12 feet long to get from the balun to the mast area. The 15 has one reflector and three directors, so its driven element is closer to the mast on the other side, thus needing only an 8½-foot jumper. Meanwhile Ed and John were working on rotor cables to the old Ham-IV and to the TailTwister removed from the 10/15 tower. To bed after midnight.

By the way, after considerable experimentation, Tom and I devised a pretty good method for putting PL-259s on Bury-Flex. The cable is tough to work on because it is stiff, the jacket is tough, and there is both a braid and a foil shield (these properties, of course, help make it an excellent feedline).

Here’s our final method: (a) Make a circumferential cut with a utility knife about 1 1/4 inches from the end, trying not to cut any of the braid [Later, at home, I decided that using the tubing cutter to start this cut, then finishing it by hand with the knife works well]; (b) Make a cut from the first cut along the length of the coax part way out to the end; (c) If the cuts are clean, flexing the coax a bit will allow the jacket to be pulled off; (d) With a tubing cutter, cut into the braid, foil shield, and dielectric, leaving about 5/8 inch of braid on the coax; (e) Pull off the cut braid and dielectric, exposing the center conductor (with pliers, wire strippers, etc.); (f) Carefully trim back all braid and foil shield so that no stray bits can touch the center conductor (this is the single most time-consuming part of the process); (g) Place the barrel of the Pl-259 on the coax and screw the connector onto the jacket, using pliers if necessary and making sure that there is braid visible in the solder holes; (h) Place the coax in a vise, check for shorts, and solder the four solder holes with a soldering gun. Since the braid is tinned, they solder easily with enough heat. It helps to have a second person turning the coax; (i) Solder the center conductor; (j) Screw on the barrel and again check for shorts. Whew! Tom and I found that working as a team, we did 20 connectors in three hours on Tuesday night.

Sunday, February 17, 2008. I woke up about 7:30 to find Tom and Ed already up, Ed in the midst of cooking his usual repast. A relatively quick breakfast then outside to work on an absolutely beautiful day.

It’s now 2:15, and we have been raising the 10/15. JP has returned after going home for lunch. John and Ed are having cold cuts, while Tom and I will eat while the 10/15 is being finally attached to the top of the tower. As a one-off design, it wasn’t naturally balanced in the middle like most F-12 designs. We had to move the boom-to-mast plates to the other side of one of the 15m directors. It still didn’t balance, so Ed ended up taping/tie wrapping a foot-long piece of pipe under the light end of the boom. After moving the plates, of course we had to redo the truss cables that had been set up for the old location.

We moved the barrel anchor point for the tram about 15 feet to the south to rig up the tram line for a clean lift, then trammed it up uneventfully. On a temporary feedline, both the Palstar antenna analyzer and the radio indicated a resonance at about 21,460 kHz, which is just above the top end of the band. The 10m antenna, OTOH, was resonant almost a megahertz below the band. So we lowered the antenna, and Tom shortened the 10m driven element and lengthened that for the 15m. Partway back up the cable gave inconclusive Palstar readings (we suspected because of AM interference when used outside). At the top of the tower, the 15m was resonant at 21,310 kHz, while the 10 was spot on at the CW part of the band and quite flat up to 28,700 or so. So we lowered it again to lengthen the 15 about another inch. It’s quite easy with an unobstructed tram lift to raise and lower the antenna without risk of damage. [Tom: As it turned out, the difficulty with measuring 15 before mounting to the tower was that the steel tram line was going through the director portion of the antenna and acting as an “element” of unknown value(s).]

Meanwhile, earlier in the day, JP, Ed and John did a great job straightening the legs of the damaged Rohn 45 section. This was accomplished by using the scissor jack from the car pushing against a block of wood (an example of JP’s mechanical inventiveness) to straighten the legs where the cross-bracing had been bent.

It’s now 8:15 p.m., and we are taking showers preparatory to going out to eat. We worked until after dark by flashlight finishing guy lines on the back Rohn 45 tower, which Ed, John, and JP managed to erect from the base section up to the top in about three hours – a grand effort. It’s now a very impressive 66-feet tall, 10 feet more than its prior height. For tomorrow, the mast and rotator, which were put inside the tower after the second section was bolted in, have to be stepped and the top plate attached. Ed tried unsuccessfully to attach the latter as the sun disappeared in the west, but it seemed to have fitting problems.

While this was going on, Tom and I finished the 40m antenna and Tom worked on the mounting plates for the 20m. The 40m is completely ready now except for the last minute installation of the two small hairpin coils, one on each element. I got a good picture of Tom actually reading the instruction book for the 40m (to remind him of the proper tip lengths he says). As the “official” expedition photographer, I’ve been taking lots of pictures. Only problem today was a gash in my left hand in the webbing of the thumb. Fortunately Tom had band-aids (the house supply was about out), but I’ll have to go buy more tomorrow.

Another good and cheap dinner at La Granja. This time I had lomito, and Tom and John shared barbecued ribs and grilled pork while Ed stuck with the fish. We were all exhausted after a long day, and turned in at about 10:30 p.m.

Monday, February 18, 2008. Woke up with my alarm at 6:30, made some coffee, and watched the rain, which fortunately stopped in about half an hour. The sun came out and dried up the ground so that it turned out to be a normal work day.

The first order of business was the Rohn 45 top plate. Ed had found last night, unfortunately at the top of the tower, that he couldn’t get any two legs aligned. The plate has three tubes, each about eight inches long, designed to go over the legs of the previous sections. The Rohn 45 sections had been fitting together so well on the ground that the crew yesterday, in the rush to get the tower finished, hadn’t tested the fit of the top plate. The tubes seemed to be splayed out perhaps 3/16 of an inch, just enough to make a fit impossible. After much pondering of alternatives, none attractive, we came up with the idea of running a phillystran line around the three tubes and compressing it with a turnbuckle. Worked like a charm, and Ed took it up the tower and with some hammer-banging managed to fit the plate on pretty easily. A good tool to patent.

Ed then stepped the mast, which weighs 140 pounds, and installed it with the rotor. [Ed: The 20-foot mast had been set into the bottom 2-1/2 sections of tower before the rest of the tower was installed. Then the pull rope in the gin pole was run through the top thrust bearings and through the mast so that it could be pulled up through the middle of the tower, and into the thrust bearings. Then, a series of steps with the come-along and U-bolts raised the mast into position so the TailTwister rotor could be installed.]

Tom and I made up a 14-foot Bury-Flex jumper for the 40m antenna, long enough to go from the balun at the driven element a good way down the mast. We trammed up the 40 uneventfully, and in the afternoon did the same for the 20. For these, we used a single water-filled barrel set well to the south in the cunucu, and they went up easily (though the 40 had to be lowered twice for some surgery on the tip lengths – once to lengthen the tips and once to cut off a few inches to move the resonance up to 7040 kHz). While Ed and John were finalizing them on the tower, Tom and I started building the 80. As the light faded, the 40 and 20 were both seen to work, and the extended guy wires were rigged to replace temporary guys secured with come-alongs. Also, a long-term itch of John’s was scratched, as we replaced the old, sagging yellow nylon “catenary” or “messenger” line from the house to the back tower, to which feedlines had been taped, with a new piece of very taut phillystran attached to the 10/15 tower and the back tower. Though I had kidded John about his obsession with this line, I have to admit the phillystran really is an improvement. Here’s a pome about that:

The messenger drooped in decline.
(John hated that yellow rope line.)
Now new philly’s tight,
“Cat” purrs with delight.
Our feedlines run true and look fine!

I took a brief break in the mid afternoon to go to our local botica (drug store) just down the road to get more band-aids and some antiseptic cream for my cut hand, and also some more drinks at the Winter Garden Supermarket.

After working past sundown and taking quick showers, we ended up a bit late for the 8:00 p.m. dinner that Andy Bodony has arranged at Azzurro, the restaurant at his time share development, Playa Linda. It was a convivial meal, shared with Jean-Pierre, Joop and his wife Yvonne, Andy and his wife Agnes, Martin Rosenthal, P49MR, and his wife Truus, P49MRS, and a Canadian friend of Martin’s, George, VE3YV, and his wife Karen. We had to excuse ourselves before dessert to get back home at a reasonable hour, and enjoyed a nice drive down the coast on a very pretty evening with a full moon. The antennas looked striking in the moonlight. But we were too beat to enjoy the view for very long, and were thinking of all that was left to do, so everyone turned in right away.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008. Today was the day to mount the Sigma 180S, the one-element 80m dipole. But we didn’t even get to try to raise it until about one p.m. The delay was caused by the need to rework the side-mounting system that John and Ed had designed. It used four aluminum six-inch square plates to support two five-foot pipe sections sticking out horizontally from the tower, then two more plates and another pipe section vertically to support the antenna. As Ed said, it was conceptually simple, but had a lot of parts, primarily U-bolts. We unfortunately were missing a bag of U-bolts of the proper size to fit the holes in these plates, so to make do with other U-bolts that were available, new holes had to be drilled, existing holes enlarged, etc. All very time-consuming and tedious.

The plan had been to cut up the old masts into sections to use for the pipes mentioned above, but Tom convinced us to use the 1/8-inch thick-walled aluminum center part of the old 20/40 boom instead. As the designated wielder of the hacksaw for this operation, I was very pleased to be applying said tool to aluminum and not steel.

We were greatly aided today by Joop’s visit at nine a.m. with his local handyman, Frank Johnson. I had been talking to Joop at dinner about our doubts about drilling through the concrete block walls of the house, and he had said that he had the right man with the right tools for the job. That would be Frank and his ½-inch drill. He drilled 12 holes big enough (after we did some filing work on them) to pass feedlines with coax connectors installed. One of us would stay in the shack with a vacuum cleaner as the drill broke through to control the mess. Frank stuck around and helped out for a few hours on other tasks as well. Not sure what we would have done about the feedlines without him.

We first tried to raise the 80 by hauling it up the tower vertically, the theory being that Ed and John could add the end sections and the 18-foot T-bars on the tower. This is Tom’s normal construction technique, but it proved unworkable in the high winds after almost an hour of trying. Plan B was to finish building the antenna on the ground and tram it up from the cunucu. That was a piece of cake by comparison, even in the wind, and even though we couldn’t use the tram trolley due to the lack of central space on the boom between the large coil covers.

Tom and I spent a few hours in the afternoon fabricating 10 12-foot Bury-Flex jumper cables to go around rotors. The concept is to have a feedline going up the tower, then connect to a “sacrificial” jumper around the rotor that can be replaced if necessary from time to time, and which then connects to the jumper going to the antenna feed itself. Our system outlined above worked well, with my doing the cable and braid cutting, Tom doing the careful trimming of the braid, and my doing the soldering with his assistance positioning the coax. We had some problems with the soldering gun, solved by removing the tip, filing the ends to bright metal, then making sure the set screws were really tight.

John and Ed spent some of the afternoon truing the various towers by adjusting guy wire tensions. I went off for yet another hardware run in the late afternoon. After stopping work at about 7, Tom and I made a brief visit to Lisandro’s house to see the C-130 that we had shipped down in the container. Raul, P43RC, was staying in their house in Lisandro’s and Lissette’s absence, and he showed us the plane. Pretty impressive – can’t wait to see it in the air. We then stopped by JP’s to say hello to Chris and leave some presents with Cindy and Andy.

Joop had invited us to his house for beer and Chinese food, but we reluctantly turned down what we knew would have been most excellent hospitality, and ended up instead having a quick meal at the KFC in Santa Cruz. Not a bad meal for $38, but a greatly inferior ambience to that of Joop’s house. OTOH, had we been drinking beer, I’m not sure what we would have been able to accomplish later.

We returned to the house at about 9:30 to continue work. Before dark, we had measured and cut feedlines for the various towers (five for the back tower at 143 feet each, two for the C31 tower at 95 feet each, and three for the 10/15 tower at 90 feet each). Tom and I spent until after one a.m. putting connectors on the ends of all of the cables, including labeling the cables, checking for continuity, etc. We used the card table from the radio room set up at the end of the dining room table, with the cables fed through the back door. Meanwhile, Ed and John worked on rotor cables and general tidying up of odds and ends. It’s now 1:30 a.m. and I’m going to bed. My fingers are very sore and I can barely clench my fists or move my hands. I think we are all getting really beat up by this project. John and Tom hit the sack a little while ago, while Ed is still fussing with his computers in the radio room.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008. When I arose at 6:20 on our last day, Ed was already at work in the kitchen on his eggs and oatmeal – I assumed he had slept, but it can’t have been for very long. We were all out by 7 frantically racing to accomplish as much as possible before heading off to the airport for our return flight. Ed and I ran the feedlines (the C31 feedline, a spare feedline and the rotor cable) though the rafters to the C31 tower, then Ed taped them to the tower as well as doing some tidying up at the top.

Our plane was to leave at 3:10 p.m.; at about noon I drove Tom to the airport with his luggage and mine, then came back for John and Ed to completer the transfer. After turning in the rental car, we all reunited at the check-in counter (no overweight luggage this time!) and started the return flight home.

We had left the place in something of a mess, however. JP cheerfully referred to it as a “shambles” when we called him from Miami. I was reminded of the scenes of people clinging to the helicopter skids as the American forces left Saigon in 1975. Lots of stuff wasn’t put away, parts were strewn about the garage, and the interior of the house was much dirtier and more messed up than any of us normally leaves it (Sorry, Chris – we’ll try not to do that again).

Nonetheless, all of our major goals were accomplished, though not everything was completed. We had a nice drink in the Admiral’s Club in MIA to toast our successful expedition. The flights were uneventful, and we arrived back at John’s house a little after midnight.

Status of Towers and Antennas

1.	Back Tower
1.1.	Guys complete
1.2.	Rotor
1.2.1.	Hooked up, but not tested
1.2.2.	Functional (maybe but untested)
1.2.3.	not calibrated, and the antennas are oriented northwest
1.3.	40m 2-element
1.3.1.	Fully mounted
1.3.2.	Hooked up, temporarily to feedline labeled 45-5
1.3.3.	Tested with an old feedline, not the new one
1.4.	20m 4-element
1.4.1.	Fully mounted
1.4.2.	Not hooked up
1.4.3.	Tested with an old feedline, not the new one
1.5.	80m  Dipole
1.5.1.	Needs to be tuned
1.5.2.	Needs to be hooked up
1.5.3.	Needs to be tested
1.5.4.	Need to install relay box
1.5.5.	Need to replace element-to-mast mount and rotate PVC insulators to 
prevent high-power arcing
1.6.	160m C-Antenna
1.6.1.	In the garage
1.6.2.	Feedline on tower
1.6.3.	[John:  Discuss replacing with inverted L and raised radials]

2.	C31 Tower
2.1.	Guys complete
2.2.	Rotor
2.2.1.	Functional and OK
2.3.	C31
2.3.1.	Hooked up 
2.3.2.	Tuned ? [John:   A little high on 15 meters; might want to consider lengthening 
15 meter driven element;
 however 1.6 to 1 SWR at bottom of band probably acceptable.]
2.4.	Anything else? [Ed:  No, other than enhancing the truss U-bolt hardware 
(washers) and safety-wiring the turnbuckles/shackles and siliconing.]

3.	10/15 Tower
3.1.	Guys complete
3.2.	Rotor
3.2.1.	Hooked up
3.2.2.	Not working
3.3.	10m 2-el
3.3.1.	Feedline attached
3.3.2.	Tuned OK
3.4.	15m 5-el
3.4.1.	Feedline attached
3.4.2.	Tuned OK