K6IF's Quest - The 2000 ARRL 10 Meter Contest

Part 1: Plan A - "I'm leaving, on a jet plane"

My plan in 1999 was simple.  Go to Guadeloupe with my family and another couple.  Spend a week sitting on the beach.  In the middle of the trip, take 2 days off to operate FG5BG's DX Shack for the contest.  My wife and 2 year old would be occupied by the other couple and their 2 year old.  What could be simpler?

Unfortunately, my plan fell apart.  The other couple had to cancel, and then my own work situation got out of hand.  I ended up staying home - where I had a great time in the contest.  But even after the first night, I was almost 100 QSO's behind K3EST at N6RO's place (Bob always makes a top 10 score phone only, but frequently doesn't send in a log).  Now Bob is a world class operator, and I am just some schlub who has never made the top 10 of anything (not quite true, I won CA in the 1982 ARRL DX SSB, but that was a long time ago).  All the same, I feel pretty good about my phone operating skills and I'm not ready to admit that skill made up the entire difference.  I convinced myself that I needed a better station to really compete.

This year, I got started early.  I extracted a commitment from my wife that I could put on a full bore effort.  Then I sat down with club members N5KO and K6AW, and quizzed them on good locations for this contest.  With their list in hand, I started sending out emails looking for a station to use.  I contacted FG5BG, WP2Z, 8P9Z, P40V, pretty much any quality station that I could think of that was close enough for me to travel to (my wife and I had agreed on a strict time frame).  I struck out completely.  The only station that I could find that was available and sounded remotely competitive was TI2HMG's place near San Jose.  Henry has a great location, but only a 2 element quad on 10 meters.  If I was going to be loud, I was going to need to bring an antenna.

Nevertheless, that was my plan of record for about 3 months.  I made reservations to fly down to San Jose on Thursday night's red-eye.  I would arrive Friday morning first thing, get my license (no license by mail in TI), then head out to Henry's place.  I planned to bring a Hygain 105CA (which I bought in September) with me, which I would assemble and mount on Henry's tower below the quad.  I would also bring my TS-850, but I would use Henry's SB-220.  The whole thing sounded more than a bit scary to me (what if the guy who grants licenses is sick - I will have flown to TI for nothing.  Would I really have time to arrive Friday morning, get my license, put up an antenna, set up the station, and get my computer working, all before the contest started?), but I began to prepare.

In the meantime, I had been getting to know a local ham and fellow contester, Tom Gehman, N6NF.  Tom has a place on the top of the ridge that runs between the Pacific Ocean and the San Francisco Bay.  He has steeply sloping foreground from SA around through US and EU and back over to JA and VK - just an amazing mountain top QTH.

Here is the view from Tom's tower to EU.  Click for a larger image. Here is the view from Tom's tower to the US.  Click for a larger image.

We had been planning a complete rebuild of his tower - removing three old and wind ravaged antennas, and replacing them with a new set of Force 12's.  Sometime in late September, I realized that Tom's tower would be bare during the 10 meter contest - we would have the old antennas down, but the new ones wouldn't go up until the early spring.  An idea began to take form.

Around October 1st, the idea was jolted into reality when I found out that my trip to TI was just not practical due to family issues.  I need to be near home for the weekend, even if I was operating full bore.  I asked Tom if he would let me rebuild his station temporarily for the 10 meter contest and operate from there - and he very kindly agreed.

So, a new plan. Plan B.  A whole new station in 60 days.