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AE6Y November 2008 Aruba Trip Notes – CQWW CW Contest

Andrew L. Faber, AE6Y, P49Y
[Public Version]

Tuesday, November 25 – Wednesday, November 26, 2008.  My usual redeye to Miami, AA 272, now leaves SFO at 11:45 p.m. (last year it left at 8:45 p.m.).  At check in, they had trouble identifying both my K3 in the backpack and my new Begali key in the computer bag, so there was a lot of unpacking and repacking, but no real problems.  I got upgraded to first class (not sure of what, if anything, it cost).  Other than a glass of orange juice, none of the usual first class perks applied, but the seat certainly was more comfortable for sleeping.  After a layover in the Admirals’ Club in MIA, I was in Aruba at 3:00 p.m. local time.  Picked up my Hertz rental car, a fairly ratty Nissan Sentra – not in great shape or even very clean, but it worked fine. 

At the station, I noticed that the whole SO2R setup had been torn apart (of course, the ICE 419s had been taken back to CA, and I brought all four back with me).  Some of the SixPak relays seemed to be sticking or not working, particularly the 40m one!  But it’s not hard to set up a single band 40m effort with the K3 as one radio.

At about 4 o’clock, Lisandro called to invite me out to dinner.  I put on my outdoor gear of jeans and hiking boots to check the beverages in the cunucu.  There was a great deal of growth in the cunucu, presumably due to the heavy rains.  We had cleared the area behind our fence for the February work party, but it was now waist high, fortunately mostly with harmless, non-thorny growth.  However, that wasn’t true for the rest of the cunucu, and I spent a fair amount of time with the large trimmers trying to cut my way through the thorn bushes.  All feedlines seemed to be intact, and as far as I could tell all four beverage wires were also, though I couldn’t quite get all the way to the ends of the JA and EU beverages due to the jungle growth.  Since they aren’t terminated, even if there were some problem at the far end, I assumed it wouldn’t matter.  My admiration is unbounded for the efforts of John, W6LD, and Denny, KX7M, in establishing this system in May.  Walking in the cunucu is always hot and tiring for me, particularly in times like today of high humidity.

Back in the house about 5:30, and I  was hungry and thirsty, not having eaten since breakfast, but I also felt guilty about not having run for a few days, so I went for my usual run at Savaneta from Marina Pirata to La Granja and back.  Felt weak and tired, but was glad to get some exercise.  The dirt road by Marina Pirata is full of flooded potholes (and there was standing and flowing water on the road by our house to Frenchman’s Pass also due the recent rains – Lisandro said this has been the rainiest fall they can remember).  

Lisandro and Lissette came to get me and we went to Smoky Joe’s, a barbecue place across from the Hyatt (and right near Texas de Brazil, where we ended up having the post-contest dinner).  Against my better nature, I had two half racks of ribs along with two excellent mojitos and dessert, thus making up for my lack of food and drink for the rest of the day.  L and L were their usual cheerful, lively and interesting selves.  Before dinner, I was on the phone with Scott Redd, Carl and Sue Cook, and Chris Lauwereys, trying to confirm Thanksgiving dinner for the morrow. 

I tried to connect to our wi-fi, but had troubles.  I finally solved this the next day, simply by restarting the modem and router and fiddling with the cabling – the usual way to deal with electronic issues.  Tonight I am embarrassed to report that I actually checked email on a neighbor’s network, identified on the computer only as “Motorola” – hope whoever owns it didn’t mind.  To bed around 11:30.

Thursday, November 27, 2008.  After sleeping very soundly until 8:30, I decided I didn’t have enough time for serious cunucu work before Scott was due to come by at 11:30 to pick up the FT-990, so I drove off to Ling & Sons for groceries; as usual when violating my normal rule of not shopping when hungry, I overbought, spending  about $115 on quite a bit more food than needed.  But it’s such a nice store….

Came  back and started setting up the shack, finding that all antennas worked except 40m, the one that I actually wanted to use.  There were two problems.  Someone had posted a sheet giving identifications for the feedlines entering the shack wall, but the 40m one was mislabeled (easy to correct; in fact, the proper feedline carried a paper tag that I had put on it earlier in the year).  The second problem was some relay issue in the SixPak.  Banging on the side of the box cleared it up, but this hardly seems to be a permanent cure.

Scott and Donna came by, and we chatted for a while.  It was nice to meet someone face to face that you’ve emailed for years.  He left with the FT-990, a Yaesu TopTen decoder box, the old Ameco preamp and an ICE 419.  After their visit I finished the single band setup, including putting the DX Doubler back in the circuit.  Note that one of the ICE 419s also needs to be in the power circuit system to provide power to the gray relay box necessary for proper band switching (or a separate line can be run to it – I suspect that when we get occasional reports that switching isn’t working it is due to the failure to make sure that all the daisy-chaining is complete to provide 12 volts to both TT boxes, both ICE filters and the relay box).

The setup was as follows:  I removed the left 756 Pro2 and set up the K3 with the Winkeyer and the computer.  The computer has a USB line to Winkeyer, which is set up to also provide PTT for the TX (this is convenient, because it means that when using the paddle plugged into Winkeyer, it also provides PTT with no need for the foot switch).  Another USB port goes to the USB to 2 Serial port converter, with the output cable from that to the K3 for rig control.  The monitor is plugged into the laptop, and the third USB port is employed with the PS-2 Y-adaptor to the external keyboard and mouse.  With the computer itself set up on the card table to the left, this setup works very well.

As before: With the new DSL wireless router, it’s very convenient just to leave the computer in the shack, instead of having to cart it back and forth to the dining room to plug into the landline.  [To use it, just plug in both the router and the hub, and connect to the wireless system called “Frostholm”, with no security at all required.]  Also, my GSM cell phone now works automatically on arrival, with no longer any need to change the network settings.  Furthermore, to call the U.S., it is now no longer necessary to dial “00” before the “1”.

I walked out in the cunucu and hooked up the four K9AY beverage transformers.  Hot unpleasant work crouching down in the cunucu with little bugs biting – by the end of the stay, I was a mass of little bites, presumably due to the uncharacteristically wet conditions.  Back in the shack, three of the four seemed to work fine, but not the E-W one.  Tomorrow I may change the feedline, which Ed Muns has reported as being the problem.  The other feedlines are all solid 800-foot runs of RG-6, but this one is cobbled together from four lengths of RG-6 and RG-58 or even -8X.  I started listening to 40m at about 1500 local time, could hear some EUs by 1530, and could get a pileup going barefoot by 1600  (note that in the contest, I could do some S&Ping starting at 1530, and then could start a pileup each afternoon by about 1625 local.)

After a shower and a shave, I drove up to the Hyatt for our 8 p.m. Thanksgiving dinner with Carl and Sue, Scott and Donna, Jean-Pierre and Chris, and Joop and Yvonne Bok. JP and I concurred that there seemed to be fewer people than last year, but better food.  After a very convivial dinner, I followed JP, who was driving, back to the Cooks’ new house, in the Noord district.  It’s very impressive.  The Cooks and Chris and JP have done a huge amount of work to finish the interior of the house.  There is also a garage/workshop under construction, and three towers are up.  They are Rohn 45s about 65 feet high, with four TH7s and a 40-2CD in the air, along with a four-element SteppIr and a 43-foot Zero Five vertical still in the living room. The lot is about 1000 square meters, per JP, and the house is quite a bit larger than our cottage, with a very nice kitchen, etc.  I commented that I could really see living in that house, which I can’t see for our cottage.  It’s in a solidly residential neighborhood. 

At 2330, just after I returned and started dictating these notes, I got a phone call from John Crovelli, who was stuck in the Bonaire airport due to a delayed flight.  He had been fixing the 40-meter beam at the PJ4 multi-op station.  He asked if I can help him with some antenna work at his house tomorrow. 

Friday, November 28, 2008.   Waking up at 0700, I resolved to tackle the E-W beverage feedline.  As measured from the shack the resistance between the center conductor and shield was infinite.  The other three showed about 30 ohms, which I think is all cable resistance.  I started rolling up the feedline at the shack end, first undoing the feedline from the messenger cable then rolling it up on the orange reels. I was intending to replace it all with the new 1000-foot long roll of RG-6 that I had transported to Aruba, but as I went along, I realized that all of the cable looked to be in good shape, so the problem was probably at a connection somewhere.  Without rolling up the feedline, one can’t even spot the splices, particularly in the first 100 feet or so from the back fence where  the feedline is completely lost below several feet of new grassy stuff. Once reaching the rocky part of the cunucu it is pretty easy to follow.

To make a long story short, the problem was at the connection between the two long sections of  RG-6, one of which runs to the feed point, while the next one runs most of the way back toward the shack to connect to two sections of normal coax.  This splice had been made by putting on compression RG-6 connectors on each end, and screwing them into a barrel.  Both connectors were loose, and could easily be pulled off by hand.  I went back to the house to experiment on how to put on these connectors, burning through half a dozen before I came up with what seems to be the best approach.  They seem to be pretty finicky as to exactly how they are done.  Here’s what worked best:  First, using the Radio Shack stripper, strip off about a half inch on the inner conductor.  It will also strip off one quarter inch of the outer jacket, but that isn’t enough.  It is necessary to trim off a bit less than another quarter inch.  Then fold the braid back and straighten it (no need to get the gunk off it), put on the compression connector as far as possible, and compress it.  Then try to pull it off. 

Anyway the whole process took about two and one-half hours, including an emergency trip back to the hose to bandage a small knife cut.  After verifying that the antenna seemed to work and cooling off a bit, I went off to John’s to offer him some assistance.  He, amazingly, seemed to be just about fully recovered from his serious tower accident earlier this year, and clambered up his tower just as in the old days.  I spent a couple more hours in the sun, helping  him replace the 15m coax and work on rotor cables for that tower, all of which eventually seemed to be working. 

On the way back I stopped at the Santa Cruz McDonalds for lunch, then spent a quiet afternoon relaxing and napping before continuing to patronize local businesses by buying a takeout pizza at Dominos, which used to be south of us on the coast road in Savaneta, but now is also in Santa Cruz. 

CQWW DX CW Contest Saturday, November 29 – Sunday, November 30, 2008 – Contest notes more or less as dictated during the contest. 

I stay on 7041 for several hours. At 0400Z  I’m at 724/58/17 (Contacts/Countries/Zones).  The QSO rate is a bit slower than last year. The beverages are working great as receiving antennas.  It’s very helpful to be able to push the buttons on the K9AY switch box and emphasize signals from West US, East US or EU.  The E-W beverage works but isn’t very often helpful.  At 0604Z at 1095/58/20.  At least one new mult is missing because I haven’t updated the .CTY file so E7 isn’t registering. 

It’s now 0813Z and I haven’t gotten up since the contest started.  1401/69/26 is the current total.  Last year I took about 40 minutes in the 0600Z hour to look for mults and later felt that was a mistake, as it probably cost 100 QSOs.  [However this year I do end up with 10 fewer countries and 2 fewer zones, so I think my strategy of emphasizing QSOs over mults may have gone a little too far.]  I’ve been on the same frequency for the entire eight hours.  I intend to do a little mult hunting then take a brief break for a little food.  I’ve been sending at 36 wpm but have just lowered speed to 35 then 34. 

I have a good run going at 0955Z but I’m also falling asleep.  A less than 10-minute break at 1030Z to brew a pot of coffee.  I’m trying to take shorter breaks this year to maximize seat time.  I’m at 1601/79/28. The big JA run is like being on the West Coast but it ends rather abruptly at about 1140Z.  But I keep plugging and work JL1DUE clear as a bell at 1311Z.  That’s 0911 local time and some 2 hours and 40 minutes after local sunrise.  By 1326Z I’ve worked just about everyone on the band.  There are still a few signals, and I can even hear a JA CQing, but I decide to call it a morning.  I’m at 1862/84/28 for 611k points.  Last year at the end of the first night I was at 1616/98/27 for 595k points.  [This pattern holds for the entire contest: more Qs and fewer mults this year]. 

I promptly hit the sack, setting my alarm for 1830Z, but actually waking up at around 1700Z (1300 local) and am not sleepy any more.  I worry that this may have consequences later.

Back on the air just before 1900Z.  I can hear some EUs CQing in my face at  about S2 or S3.  I call P3F for several minutes before finally getting his attention. I manage a few other mults, LX8M, 3X5A, etc., then suddenly at 2025Z start to get answers to CQs from the EUs.  A sudden  flurry of dupes at about 2045Z, undoubtedly due to a P40Y packet mis-spot.  VE2XAA/2 calls in for my only zone 2.  First JA of the evening JA6BZI is worked at 2221Z. It’s a bit after the halfway point at 0026Z at 2404/100/32.

At 0136Z, the score breaks one million points, at 2548/103/32.  I get off the frequency briefly, go mult hunting, have a quick bite, and end up back on the exact same freq.  I only find one new one, 6V7N. 

I have the beam pointed a little east of north and hang out on 7050.70 for four hours, until 0437Z while the rate stays steady at 120-130.  I’m at 2901/104/32 for 1.146M points.  The  rate has been holding up well, but I’m getting hungry so I opt for a 16-minute food and biology break.  After the break, I end up falling asleep at odd moments.  This is about the time that I took 2 ½ hours off last year, but this time I vow to keep on working.  To show how wide open the band is, at 0759Z (i.e., 4 in the morning local time) I work in successive contacts JJ3LLT (Japan), AD7KG (US West Coast), F5LQ (France) and ZL1BYZ (New Zealand).

By 0852Z my run slows down greatly, probably due to EU sunrise.  At 1020Z, I pass the 28-hour mark, which was the total time I put in last year.  I have 3288 contacts now, which is virtually the same as I ended up with in my 28 hours of total operating last year.  But mults are still down.

The rate slows and I get progressively sleepier.  In spite of my vow to stay up until 1300Z (which would represent about 18 straight hours of operation), I am semi-hallucinating and falling asleep at the radio at about 1225Z, so I pull the big switch.  I immediately hit the sack for a nap; the next thing I know it is 1630Z and I don’t think I moved once in those four very restful hours. 

Outside its an absolutely gorgeous Aruban day. The weather has improved continually while I’ve been here (maybe I brought the good weather). By the way, before I quit, the totals were 3388/112/32 for 1.415M points.  This is virtually the identical score that I ended up with last year after losing some 10% of my score in log checking.  I treat myself to a brief walk outside and some lunch, then rejoin the fray at 1922Z, when I am able to work a weak G5W.  I catch a few other EUs and CQ with very low rate for a while, until just like yesterday at about 2020Z the rate suddenly picks up to EU.  I run out the remainder of the contest with hourly rates of  108, 123 and 87, but with an infuriating number of dupes.  Final totals are 3784/118/32 for about 1.6M points.  The QSO figure without dupes is 3626.

After a shower and a shave, I pick up Crovelli and we have a very nice post-contest dinner at Texas de Brazil with Scott and Donna, Carl and Sue, Yvonne and Joop, and Jackie Oduber and Katrin.  Both John and Scott did very well, John HP and Scott LP, at about 9 and 8M points, respectively.  I think Scott will have won LP and John will be in the top 10 HP. Carl also did well, making 2800 Qs as a 20M single-bander from his new QTH. 

Back home close to midnight.  The power had gone off at John’s just before the end of the contest and was still off, so I offered him our guest bedroom, which he gratefully accepted. 

Soapbox, as sent to 3830 reflector. 

These are preliminary numbers, as my program didn't seem to understand new mults like E7.  As compared to last year, Qs are up by 350 or so, score is just slightly up, but mults are down by 2 Zones and 10 countries.  Don't know why, but although I seemed to have worked every ham in DL and YO, never heard a single Zone 1!

But conditions were excellent with the band open from solidly from about two hours before sunset until two hours after sunrise.

As usual, contesting from Aruba is a social event. We had an excellent post contest dinner last night with W2GD (P40W), K0DQ (P40Q) and Donna, AI6V (P49V) and AI6YL, P43JB and Yvonne, and P43P and Katrin.  Not to mention Thanksgiving with some of the above plus P43A and P43C and ribs with P43L and Lissette. 

 The new Force 12 2el 40 at 75 feet played well, and our 4 new beverages with a common feedpoint 800 feet from the shack were terrific receiving antennas. Thanks to KX7M and W6LD for spending many hours in the thorny "cunucu" behind the house to set up that system.

 The K3 also worked FB.  It's great to be able to operate very close to other stations and not be bothered by them (unless they have key clicks, in which case even the roofing filters of the K3 can't help).

  73 and thanks for all the Qs,

  Andy, P49Y, AE6Y

Rig: K3, Alpha 86, Force 12 2-el yagi, beverages

Logging: Cqpwin ver. 11.1

Monday, December 1, 2008.  It’s 1530 local and I’m inside in a sudden downpour.  Fortunately the weather was beautiful till now, since I spent several hours of it outside in the sun.  Slept until 8 a.m., then had a quick breakfast.  John went out and brought back a cuppa joe, that was greatly appreciated as our old Mr. Coffee seems to have chosen today to give up the ghost. 

My main outside job was  to reinstall the 160m vertical dipole that Ed and JP had taken off the back tower at the start of our antenna party in February.  This ended up taking me three and a half  hours, but would have been a much quicker two-person job, due to the difficulties of dealing with so much wire and trying to avoid getting it into a tangled mess, particularly when on the tower. 

I think I did it about as efficiently as possible, first climbing up the tower with one end coiled up then attaching it at the top of the tower with a rope at the existing wire loop in the dipole wire.  The spare feedline was taped up at the top of the tower, so the tricky part was descending while carefully paying out the coiled dipole wire and rope, while simultaneously untaping the feedline, lowering it down inside the tower, and then retaping the other feedline that it had been paired with.  I then attached the upper end of the wire to the halyard on the telephone pole and pulled a bit on it.  This sounds easier than it was, with the wire getting stuck a number of times in the bushes in the corner of the yard. Another trip up the tower was necessary to attach the feedline to the balun, and then the lower wire could be attached at about the 10-foot level and also run over to the telephone pole.  I tied and taped a webbing to the balun and attached it to the middle guy wire running to the south – this was just to keep the vertical part from running into the northerly guy wire. 

Back in the shack, the antenna seemed to have an SWR of about two to one at the lower band edge, with resonance at about 1900 kHz.  I didn’t have then energy to make any adjustments, but did leave a note for Ken saying the he might want to extend the lengths a few feet.  The lower end had about five feet folded back on itself, so extending it would be simple.  While taking a break I posted my score to the 3830 reflector and checked packet spots to find that I was spotted as P40Y seven times and as PV9Y twice. Finished the outdoor work before the rain shower by reattaching the fixed E-W beverage feedline to the messenger cable from the back tower. 

I spent much of the rest of my indoor time resetting up the radios in the old SO2R setup.  I went to Chris and JP’s at about 1715 and spent an hour and a half or so there chatting, going over finances and admiring JPs new FT-2000.

I verified the faulting status of the Alpha 87A, which seems to have gotten worse.  It gives fault code 10001, for future reference.  Also, the instruction book doesn’t seem to be there, so it should be returned or we should bring down a copy.  I typed up a note for Ken and Kay, along with a power of attorney for Chris to sell the car (of course, thanks to Bill Gates, this required about a half hour to download new Vista drivers for the printer  to use my laptop).

Tuesday, December 2, 2008.  To MIA on the 0830 flight on AA, after dropping off the car at Hertz (fortunately they were open at 0630, even though the web said they opened at 0730).  After an almost 5-hour layover in the MIA Admirals’ Club, arrived in SFO at about 7:30 p.m, picked up the car at Anza Parking, and was home in time for a late dinner.  Ran into Trey, N5KO, and Steve, K6AW, returning from HC8N at the Admiral’s club, had dinner with Trey at the Manchu Wok, then encountered Tom, W2SC, and family at the gate coming back from 8P5A.   Long day.