2023 SSB Sweepstakes (Climbing to Success)

Tanner W9TWJ and John AB5SS, teamed up again this year to reclaim the ARRL SSB Sweepstakes Award for the Southwest Division.  With Covid and babies (congrats Tanner) under control, the W5RRR shack would once again host a this SSB contest on Nov 18-19- essentially a grueling 24 hour activity conducted within the timeframe of Saturday 3:00-Sunday 9:00pm.

Our station, however, had a competitive disadvantage because the club’s Cushcraft D40, 40m rotatable dipole, was broken.  This meant 40m ops would rely on the use of the tower mounted wire sloper which had lesser performance than the rotatable dipole.  This dipole had been a proven performer and reason we had a big signal on 40m, but it had been broken for a few years, with nobody willing nor capable to ascend the tower and execute the repair. 

Enter mountain man Ken K5RG (who had already taken 8 trips to ascend the summits in Nepal). Every club is blessed with having experts, and Ken was one of them- especially in scaling towers and engineering repairs with careful attention to detail.  Ken graciously volunteered, in short order, to climb the W5RRR tower to repair the damage for the team, prior to the SS contest start.

The day before the contest, Ken donned his climbing gear and spent the whole day with John AB5SS, assessing, and implementing repairs to the antenna system which included reconfiguring/aligning and dressing a new feed for the D40 40m dipole.  John served as support crew and as a 2nd climber, while Tanner W9TWJ provided important ground support and materials. 

From Ken:

Repaired the separated coax connection to the Cushcraft D40 40-meter
rotatable dipole.  Coax must have gotten caught on the thrust bearing
platform since the coax was no longer connected to anything (see picture).
Coax connection screws (stainless) in excellent shape, waterproofed the new
coax terminal connections. Installed Maca’s stainless steel tiedowns at the
top of the tower; other tie wraps broke at the touch due to UV exposure for
the last 7 years.  Redid coax balun per D40 manual. Checked out resonance
point which is in the 40-meter phone band.  Reorientated the mast/rotator to
a correct display heading.  Tanner executed some bug elimination efforts in
the shack and around the back door.  Handheld radio intermod at the top of
the tower is very bad (noisy)

Other observations:
1. Rotator control line below rotator platform is in a twisted condition.
See picture but it has worked for years.
2. Had planned to install coax standoffs for the TH7 and D40 coax feedlines
but ran out of time.  Ample loops in the feedlines however.  It is just that
the D40 coax is close to the thrust bearing top platform and it could at
times rub just a little against the platform when the stack is rotated.
Stack was rotated a full 340 degrees and no problems with coax feedlines
3.  Need to safety wire the tower guy SS turnbuckles with stainless small
gauge wire.
4.  Dig ant piles out and away from tower guy wire stakes to allow
inspection at the ground level.
5.  Kill the ant piles around and near to the tower base.

From John:

After we got the coax on the ground, I cut off the old pigtail and made a new one. Used corrosion resistant ring terminals and wrapped all exposed conductors with 3M 130C tape (thanks Tanner) and covered with 3M Scotchkote, then more tape.  Hopefully this will keep the elements from eroding the connection this time :). 

Yes, I had to climb up to the 40′ level to fish the coax out and down the side of the tower.  The uncoiled balun was hanging up inside the tower so I climbed up and pulled it down.  Ken put a rope on the end so he could pull it back up through the tower.  

Quick test on the Flex last night showed SWR’s of ~1.7 on 7.125 and 2.0 on 7.300, lowest SWR was around 7.210 at ~1.5.  Not bad…

Damaged and deteriorated coax feedline

At the end of a weary but productive Friday evening, Ken descended with tower, leaving the W5RRR radio station with a resuscitated operational 40m antenna and it’s realignment to help with improved orientation and some potential performance improvement gain.  A great team effort from Ken, John, and Tanner just prior to the contest!

The SS contest started on Saturday 1500 CST and luckily propagation conditions were favorable in comparison with a dead solar index just 2 days ago. Tanner and John worked the contest though the 30 hour window, with rules allowing operation of only 24 hours within that timeframe. High power, 2 great ops, TH7DX  beam, D40 rotatable dipole, a static 80m dipole= top 15 score at the end of the day. All 85 ARRL subdivisions were successfully made which included over 1200 QSO! That’s a lot of incoming QSL cards incoming for someone to help process – yikes. The traditional and celebratory “clean sweep of all 85 sweepstake sections” photo:

Congrats to Tanner Jones W9TWJ and John Maca AB5SS. We’ll be awaiting the nice metal plaque for their outstanding 1st place score for the STX Division.

From Tanner:

Fun weekend! I’d say we will likely be in the Top 15 of our category (Top 30 overall) after everything is said and done – time will tell with log checking. After taking last year off, I was quickly reminded how much of a marathon this contest is… 30 hours, limited to 24 hours of operating time… that leaves 6 hours off time which is mostly consumed by sleeping.
It was an odd weekend… overall the station performed great (we did find one minor bug in the Flex Alpha that for some reason didn’t like going back to 20m after going to a different band). The TH7 and D40 performed wonderful. Another shining star was the 80m dipole. I think we can officially say this antenna is resolved and the balun was our issue. 
Here’s some data… odd to have hour 2 better than hour 1 and even with that was light. Total Qs is 1207 well short of what I was shooting for (1500+). My feeling was we lost momentum in hour 3 and hour 4 and that is certainly confirmed with the log analysis. Another odd thing is we usually have most of the 5 call area still to get on Sunday – not this year, we had WTX, NTX, LA, AR, and OK all in the log early – interesting. ONN was our last section to log and we waited in line on Sunday to get it… we finally broke through. About 2 hours later on 15m, we had another ONN call us (those were the only two ONN stations I saw/heard all weekend). Speaking of 15m, it was hot and a lot of fun. As they always say, there’s always next year and we’ll be QRV!

Lone cars belonging to AB5SS and W9TWJ in the Gilruth parking lot.

Early morning fog of W5RRR’s 80′ tower with TH7DX, D40, 80m dipole radiating on 2023 ARRL SSB Sweepstakes.

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