Bugsy and the Beverages

This is a true story of what not to do for the sake of DXing. False names have been used in order to protect the guilty. Seriously... this is a humorous story (sort of) but you should definitely not do this!

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Bugsy was a DXer who particulary liked 160 meters. Over the years he had slowly, with almost no budget, managed to build a more or less decent station. He had a shunt fed tower vertical and several Beverages which he was particularly fond of. The Beverages were installed, by permission, on a vacant lot behind Bugsy's property. This lot was unsuitable for building because it was prone to flooding after a heavy rain or with snow melt in Spring. It was bounded by a river to the southeast, south, and southwest and had a small creek running through it northwest to southeast. The land was lowest in the center where the creek was, rising slightly to a flat plateau between the creek and the river on the southwest side, and rising very steeply toward Bugsy's lot and those of his neighbors on the northeast. The lowest part along the creek flooded at least twice a year, sometimes more. Rarely, perhaps once in ten years or so, the plateau between the creek and river flooded also. The entire area was forest, dense in places, sparse in others, particularly along the creek. Falling trees or branches were a constant risk to Beverages here, but having good receive antennas was more than worth the effort required to keep them in good order.

Winter had come a little earlier than in recent years but nothing surprising for such a notherly location. By mid December there was a foot of snow. Then came the Big Rain. Yes sir, it was a real gully washer. Nobody knew exactly how much rain fell, but they knew it was a lot. It melted all the snow. Temperaturs soared into the mid fifties. Why, it was almost summer weather. Bugsy dug out his shorts and tee shirts in order to remain comfortable in this unseasonable heat wave. There was a modest wind with this storm too, and he knew falling trees might take down some of his Beverages. He also knew the river would rise, and there would likely be several feet of water under the center third of the north-south, northeast-southwest, and east-west Beverages.

Sure enough, upon entering the shack and firing up the rig on the second evening of the storm, there were no signals from the north-south Beverage. "By gawd", Bugsy whispered to himself, "there ain't even storm QRN on that'un." No doubt about it, that Beverage was down!

Next morning, Bugsy headed out right after breakfast to see how much water there was and if he could pull the fallen Beverage back up. If it was snagged on something in that center section, where there was certain to be water, repair would have to wait until the flood receded. He strolled through the soggy back yard, past the first tower, then the second. He started down the bank toward the low land, when all of a sudden he froze in his tracks. Bugsy hadn't seen water that deep since the Great Flood of '87. It must be fifteen feet out by where the tiny creek usually flowed. But what had stopped Bugsy in his tracks wasn't the depth of the water so much as the sudden realization that the water extended all the way across to the far end of the Beverages and merged with the river beyond. Moving again, he made his way down the steep, muddy bank, then fought his way along the water's endge, through the dense brush and fallen trees. He could see some debris hanging off the center of that north-south Beverage, but the full horror of the situation didn't hit him until he made his was way over to the area where the other Beverages crossed the creek. There he saw floating debris was about to take out those two as well! To say nothing of the fact the water was still rising! It had come up several inches since he first made his way down the bank. This was not good. No sir, this was just plain bad. Ugly, in fact.

The strain of seeing his beloved Beverages in such peril was too much for Bugsy. He was not going to lose them! Not this time! He had to find a way to get out there and rescue them, but how? He had tried to remedy a situation like once before, using a boat. That was a day Bugsy will remember until the day he goes silent key! He'd been leaning over the side of the boat, reaching into the water to free a Beverage wire from a snag when a mass of floating ice and trees hit the boat from the other side. Next thing Bugsy knew, he was in the freezing water, debris and ice beating him all about! By the time he got out and made his way home he was chilled to the bone and covered head to toe with bruises. No, he would never forget that day. He'd sworn he'd never try that again. Right now, though, he wished he had a boat. There didn't appear to be much current today, though he knew that was an unpredictable variable. It depended on water levels, where, how much, and what type of debris there was, and so on.

Bugsy's neighbor wasn't going to loan him a boat again. Not after last time. Bugsy needed something that would float, and he needed it quickly. Anything that would float! He briefly thought about trying to swim out there... but no, he needed something that floats, not something that sinks like a rock! Besides, the water was cold. He would be out there far too long for swimming in frigid water. He'd be lucky to make it to the first issue which needed attention, let alone get back to dry (well, soggy) land. He ran up the steep bank, past the towers to the big shed. There he began frantically pawing all around, looking for anything from which some theoretically seaworthy craft might be hastily constructed. Then he saw them, way in the far corner. Oh yes, that might just work. There were three medium sized plastic storage containers and some strips of subfloor left over from The Great Kitchen Project. Bugsy reckoned those plastic totes ought to displace enough water to support his weight. He'd build a raft! And build a raft he did. Getting the stuff out of the far corner of the shed took ten minutes; the build only five. It wasn't pretty. In fact, looking at it just then, he wasn't sure it would float and stay upright in the water.

There was only one way to find out. Bugsy ran into the house to grab some binoculars (for spotting/inspecting problems and surveying routes) and digital camera (to document his adventure). Quickly picking up the newly contructed craft, he made his way to the water's edge, stopping just long enough at the smaller tool shed to find and extricate some plastic paddles he recalled having seen in there once. Bugsy knew just where to launch this craft. There was a small gully that intersected the larger one at right angles; the water would be shallow at the edge there, deepening somewhat gradually as he got farther out. He wasted little time, pausing only long enough at the water's edge to take a good look at dry (well, soggy but not submerged) land, just in case this might be his last look at it. Carefully setting the craft in the shallow water, he climbed aboard and pushed off with a paddle. It seemed stable enough. "Ayuh", thought Bugsy, "this is goin' to work."

There was a lot of assorted debris floating on the surface; grass, leaves, twigs, bigger branches, whole trees, ice, a basketball, various bits of lumber, what appeared to be part of a canoe, and more. It was tricky going. One could not go anywhere in a straight line. It was necessary to navigate amongst still standing trees and all that floating stuff. There were things below the surface too, and Bugsy's craft sat rather low in the water. Low enough to get snagged up more than a few times. Getting going again usually involved paddling in various directions while rocking the craft as vigorously as one dared to free it from whatever was down there. Going anywhere was painfully slow. The paddles were small. One couldn't use one paddle, alternating sides as with a canoe; this very short craft turned too quickly, making it dart from side to side. The only way to make forward progress was to use one paddle in each hand, paddling on both sides at the same time. It was difficult to reach out beyond the sides of the craft with the paddles. There was a lot of water out there. Water, water, water, as far as one could see through the forest in most directions. It had to be more than fifteen deep along where the creek ran, and even on the plateau it was seven feet or more. Fortunately the current wasn't too strong, although he could clearly tell he was being pulled toward the river bounding the southeast edge of the Beverage crop. That was fine for now, since that was the way Bugsy wanted to go anyway. He wondered why the current was not stronger. It certainly had been last time, when he went on that boat adventure! Yet the water was much higher this time. There wasn't much time for pondering such nonsense. Bugsy was on a mission. There was no time to waste. Shifting debris or a sudden change in water flow patterns could cause destruction of Beverages at any moment.

Having made his way to where the north-south Beverage crossed the usually-tiny creek, Bugsy could see what was preventing that wire from being pulled back to its normal position. There was a bit of grass and small twigs draped over the wire, but more importantly it was snagged on what was left of a tree, slightly above water level. It wouldn't be above water for long at the rate it was rising though! The wire had been well below water level before his attempt to pull it back into position, and this debris draped over it had come up from below with the wire. These problems were quickly resolved. While doing so, however, Bugsy became aware remaining stationary now required some bit of effort. The craft continually wanted to go southeastward, toward open water.

It would be wise, Bugsy decided, to go have a look at the far end of that Beverage, just to be sure all was well there. He tried following the wire, more or less, but got snagged up so many times he was getting tired. Finally he reached a point from which he could proceed no further. The water was several feed deep here, but there were so many bushes navigating was impossible. Eventually making his way back to the relative openness of the deeper water, where the creek usually is, he thought it would be worth taking a look to see if paddling up the edge of the river to reach the end of that wire would be easier. He stopped paddling to rest, and let the current pull him along, since he was going the same way it was. His mind wandered for a while, as he thought about the work ahead on the debris jam threatening the other Beverages, and about all the DX he would surely work this season with his soon-to-be-saved receive antennas. This train of thought was rudely interrupted by a sensation of more rapid motion. Quickly looking around, Bugsy realized, to his horror, that he was now being pulled at a substantial rate toward the open water of the river. Not only that, but he could see a large, swift eddy straight ahead and closing fast. This was not good! "I better paddle like crazy and get'ta heck outta here", he thought. "But I'll just snap one quick picture of this first." For some reason Bugsy's hands shook as he got out the camera and took the picture. Paddling as fast as he could, Bugsy turned the craft and started heading upstream, back into the forest. It was hard going. It was barely possible to make any progress. His arms hurt, but now he was driven by adrenaline. He paddled, and paddled, and paddled... and moved about ten feet! Navigating (if you could call it navigating) around to the upstream side of a tree, he put his arms around it and rested for a while. Eventually, after nearly an hour paddling from whence he had turned his litte craft, Bugsy escpaed the evil current. "That was stupid", he thought. Perhaps few would argue the point. Had he been pulled into the eddy current, escape with this craft might well have been impossible. He would have been taken out into the center of the river channel, where, if he was very lucky, he might come around the eddy toward land again. But he could just as easily get caught in the main current and be taken down river toward the bridge. Current there is very swift and turbulent during floods. Bugsy doubted his flimsy craft would survive that.

In fact, this whole adventure was starting to seem unwise. Bugsy was tired, and still had some paddling to do to reach the debris threating the other antennas... to say nothing of more paddling to get back to dry (well, soggy) land. Was DXing really worth it? What if he hadn't been able to escape the swift current? What if he capsized? "Didn't I learn anythin' last time, when the boat capsized and I got all banged up?", he asked himself. "Apparently not" was the only conclusion he could draw.

There were, as it turns out, three separate bunches of floating dead trees (and other stuff) in the immediate vicinity of the the other two affected Beverages. For the most part our paddling DXer was too tired (and maybe just a tad grouchy) to bother with pictures at that point, so there is little recorded history of the work to clear it. By the time that work was finished, Bugsy had been on the water more than five hours. This would have all been a lot easier, had he just rememered to bring a saw on this trip! Trying to chisel away at branches (the ones that were sticking up from floating dead trees, thus threatening to snag wires, pulling them down if and when the debris moved) with a pocket knife, while keeping this tiny improvised craft upright in the water, was not the most fun Bugsy ever had. In fact, fun didn't seem to enter into it!

Bugsy was happy to be heading home. He even hummed a tune for a bit. Having reached an impass on his journey, however, he suddenly realized he hadn't completely thought this adventure through before embarking on it. In particular, it occurred to him now that he had not taken into account the possiblility of ever-shfiting debris blocking his return path while he was out rescuing antennas! But there it was. Bugsy paddled south, north, east, west, in circles and zig-zags... but there was no way back to that shallow area where he had launched his craft earlier in the day. The water had risen at least a foot during his journey, and appeared to be still rising. Finally reaching dry (well, soggy) land after deciding to just get out at the first available spot, he realized something else he had failed to take into account earlier. Getting off this craft was going to be a lot trickier than getting on it. He was at one of the steeper parts of the bank. With one side of the craft bottomed out in a foot of water, the water was four feed deep on the other side. Bugsy tried to stand up on the craft. That wasn't going to work. He tried pulling himself up and off by hanging onto a tree. That almost worked, but just as he got onto his feet, the tiny craft lurched and flipped on its side. There was a big splash as Bugsy fell into the frigid water. The air temperature was forty degrees. The water temperature was unknown but it felt cold. How warm could it be? There was ice floating all around!

Bugsy dragged himself out of the water and up the muddy bank. Then went back down the bank to pull his somewhat battered craft out of the water, lest it float away. It might be needed again someday. He would have liked it better had he been sure he would never do this again, but he wasn't sure of that! Beverages must be protected at all cost. He would make some changes next time though. A piece of tubing to join those paddles into one long, double-ended one, such as would be used for kayaking, would help immensely. A kayak! That would be a great thing for work like this, but beyond Bugsy's budget. It didn't matter. The home made craft was as cheap as it gets (free!) and it worked well enough.

The media card from the camera survived the disembarkment mishap, so there is some recorded evidence of one ham's soggy antenna rescue adventure. It is not known whether the camera and binoculars survived, but it seems likely the camera didn't.

Several days later, Bugsy revisited the Beverage crop to inspect for damage. The water had mostly receded, but the forest looked bizarre. There were "rings" of ice clinging to trees at various levels. The water had frozen several times as the level dropped, each time leaving ice clinging to trees and bushes. The water had evidently dropped a few feet before the first freeze, since the uppermost rings of ice were below where the water had been during Bugsy's raft adventure. The uppermost ice was thin; lower ice was thicker. In places fallen trees and irregularities in the ground had caused vast sheets of ice to remain intact and somewhat elevated as the water receded underneath. In places the ice was strong enough to hold Bugsy's weight when he walked on it; in others it broke away under him. It reminded Bugsy of the Plates of Woe in the movie Ice Age 3. Walking on this stuff was quite interesting (or woeful?), as he could never tell when it would break way, how far it (and he) would drop when it did, or what was underneath. Bugsy was starting to realize just how much icy cold water he had been floating on days earlier. He stopped and stared at the old tree stump the north-south Beverage had been snagged on. What had been sticking only inches above water then was the twelve foot tall remains of a birch tree. This was not even where the deepest water had been! It had to have been several feet deeper in many places. But there was no Beverage damage to be found. He had saved the entire crop from certain destruction! Nothing else seemed to matter.

Last update December 4, 2011

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