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AE6Y March 2011 Aruba Trip Notes – ARRL DX SSB Contest – P49Y

Andrew L. Faber, AE6Y, P49Y

Tuesday, March 1 - Wednesday, March 2, 2011.  Two years ago, my usual redeye to Miami, AA 272, left  SFO at the reasonable time of 11:45 p.m., but American’s continual playing with the schedules resulted in a departure this year at the early hour of 9 p.m., arriving at a sleepy MIA airport at 4:30 a.m. local time.  I was seated in a window seat in coach in an exit row, and was subjected to a very cold exit door.  I actually ended up taking off my sneakers and using them as insulation, one for my shoulder and one for my leg – but then, of course, my feet got cold.  Oh well, at least it was a short flight.  On to the new Admiral’s Club at Gate D15 for an almost six-hour layover for the Aruba flight.  Unlike most times at SFO, the K3 in the backpack aroused no suspicion and didn’t have to be removed for checking (nor in Aruba either).  Arriving about 3:30 p.m., I picked up my Budget Toyota Yaris and  was at the house shortly thereafter.

The house looks beautiful.  JP and Chris have spent the last few months doing a general freshening and refurbishment, including all new interior paint, new ceiling in the living room and front porch, new cushion covers in the living room, new drapes all around, new mats in the bathroom and tablecloth, two new and much nicer light fixtures in the living room, etc.  They also changed some of the wall art, all for the better, particularly removing the dangerous cactus art that had been hanging by the kitchen.  Great job, guys!  The only off note is the living room a/c, which once again seems to have a compressor problem.  It’s probably time for a new one.

Walking outside in the back yard, everything looks fine.  About the only change is that Ed has changed the method of support for the lower leg of the 160m dipole, which now is supported on a small pole, and then tied off to another pole just in front of the tree that used to anchor the far end.  Inside, the Pro2 has been placed as the right radio.  There was an intermittent connection problem for the right radio, which seemed to emanate from the Radio B input at the SixPak; removing the connector and sanding off some corrosion on the center pin restored normal functioning, and I had no further problems.

The weather was typical Aruba: temperature was probably about 85 degrees, a little breezy, with perhaps a bit lower humidity than usual.  There was some standing water at Frenchman’s Pass, and Lisandro commented that it had been raining many days in the past few months.  Of course a positive side effect of this is no power line noise. 

After a telephone chat with John Fore, I headed out for a run on my usual course at Savaneta at about 5:30.   A slow run, but it felt good to get moving after a day of travel.  On the way back I stopped off at Subway to get a takeout sandwich for dinner. Then hooked up my K3 as the left radio.  Chatted with club members K6AAX/VY2 on 160 and with Brad, K6WR, on 20, who was operating a remote station in NM. 

I also hooked up the internet connection and telephones, which Ed had organized and greatly improved.  The modem is now in the master bedroom, connected by a cable that he and JP ran along the ceiling and through a hole in the wall to the radio room, where the router is mounted high on the back wall.  The drill is as follows, following the directions that Ed had left for us: (1) Connect DSL cable in BR to the side of the black connector hanging from the modem (not the end slot). (2) Plug in power to modem.  Four green lights should come on. (3) Plug in power to router. (4) In dining room, plug in phone, and connect phone cord to the phone jack on the wall.

Thursday, March 3, 2011.  Went to bed after 11 and didn’t get up until almost 9, trying to sleep off the redeye flight.  Had some coffee, upgraded the firmware in John’s P3 from 0.36 to the current 1.05 using the P3 utility that I loaded onto the laptop.  Noise levels were fairly high on the radios, with 10 not open at all at 1400Z.  [These effects were both probably the result of recent solar activity, and got better in the contest.]  Then the first priority was shopping at Ling and Sons, with a brief  stop for a chocolate croissant and coffee for breakfast at Huchada’s Bakery in Santa Cruz.

Heading back through Oranjestad, I saw three huge cruise ships and decided the better part of valor was to take the detour, sign-posted at the north end of town, to avoid bumper to bumper traffic in town. 

Back at the house, it was time to check out the amps.  The Alpha 86 seemed to work fine and put out lots of watts with the K3 on all bands.  The old Titan put out up to a kw on all bands, but didn’t seem to tune properly, lacking the usual peaking action.  I checked with our MFJ antenna tuner to verify that it really was putting out the power.  The fan is also much noisier than it should be.  I replaced the RF deck with my home Titan 425 RF deck that I had brought down in the suitcase.  It seemed to have suffered a slight bit of shipping damage, in that the Load control is a little rough in operation, but it worked properly on all bands, and I used it without any problems in the whole contest. [I brought the station Titan RF deck back with me for repairs.]  It was fun running about 250 stations on 10, including US, SA, and some very western EU (CT, EA, EA8, and one lone G).

Incidentally, the computer is hooked up in the usual fashion: laptop on the table at the left; one USB port to the Compaq 4-port expander; two serial ports to the rigs; Y-connector to mouse and keyboard; and USB relay box connecting to R1/R2, Mic/DVK, and PTT jacks on the DXDoubler.  [I actually used VOX throughout the contest, though].  The computer sound output goes from its headphone jack through the W2IHY box to the DVK input on the back of the DXD.

This was an afternoon for socializing.  There was no one home at Carl and Sue’s, so I drove up to chat with John Bayne at Tierra del Sol.  He was left now with just one tower, his 50-foot Universal self-supporting one, on which he’s hung an A3 tribander and a F-12 40m dipole, plus some other wires, all just for the contest.  Then up to Martin and Truus’s at Malmok.  They both seemed well.  They invited me to a dinner Monday night to celebrate Martin’s birthday and their anniversary.  Then into town for a brief chat with Joop and Yvonne.  He now has two Acom 2000’s (having disposed of his Titans to Lisandro) in his shack, which was beautiful as always.  His newest prize possession is a “Chevron” paddle, made in England, very large and shiny gold-colored with almost imperceptibly close spacing.  Time for a quick run at Savaneta as the sun was setting, then back to Carl and Sue’s for dinner with them and Robert at the Radisson buffet, sitting outside on the terrace.   Whew, a lot of running and driving around! They have a flashy new FT-5000, apparently courtesy of Yaesu in the expectation of use by the Admirals. 

Back home after 10 p.m., I checked out the bandwidths of the two amps on our 80 m antennas.  With the 86, the Phone-Low position was resonant at about 3685 kHz, and the amp will load reasonably (defined as 1kw forward power and no red bars of reflected power) from 3665 to 3715.  In the High position, resonance is 3745, with the range being 3715 to 3775.  The Titan has much greater bandwidth (defined as having low grid current, not sensitive to slight tuning variations and plate current below 1.2 amps).  Low works from 3620 to 3750 and High has an amazing range from 3650 to 3850!  I ran a bunch of guys including some EUs on 3799, which is well above the high end for the Alpha.  It’s now 11:47 and time to go to bed instead of playing radio.

Friday, March 4, 2011.  After a cuppa joe, I put on my workpants and boots stored in the second BR closet, grabbed some gloves and the hand branch clipper, and walk out into  the cunucu to trace the new 800-foot feed line that John and Ed had installed on the new EU beverage that John put up last November (because a neighbor had actually complained about our old one that passed near their house, though it was just about invisible in the thorn bushes).  The new feed point is way in the back end of nowhere, and my admiration is unbounded for the work involved in relocating it.  The feedline even runs through a pre-existing hole in the metal fence that rings the pole in the cunucu that used to have a star on it.  It’s another beautiful Aruban day with the temperature about 80 at this time in the morning.  Back in the house, 15 was in good shape to EU, and the Middle East, then it was off to the Hyatt for breakfast.  Today there are not three, but four cruise ships in port – must be the winter cruise season.

Back at the house for a desultory afternoon, napping, working some guys on 10 and 15 to make sure the bands are still open, then at about four I decided to take an afternoon run at Savaneta.  This time I also remembered to bring my Tevas for a short swim at my little “private”  (or should I say “pirate”?) cove near Marina Pirata.  One of the sandals delaminated upon emerging from the water – amazingly the other one did the same thing at exactly the same spot on Monday, so it’s time for new sandals.  I stopped off at the Subway again for a large sandwich, half of which I ate for dinner, leaving the other half for later.  Set out some contest food: four cream cheese and jelly and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the refrigerator, and various candies and drinks in the shack.  This time I decided not to make any sandwiches with the macaroni, tuna, and chicken salads, just planning to eat them out of the containers during the contest to save time.

ARRL DX Phone Contest Saturday, March 5- Sunday, March 6, 2011 – Contest notes more or less as dictated during the contest. 
Warming up the band before the start, I notice that 15 is open, but decide to start on 20 on the assumption that it will stay open longer.  The first hour is crazy fun, with 326 Qs and some 50 or so mults, all right on 14250.  I stay on 20 for about another half hour, then the rate slows and it’s time to move to 40.  A very refreshing start.   In the middle of the 0200Z hour I try 160, but other than finding VY2TT and having W3LPL answer a CQ, it yields absolutely nada in several minutes of cq’ing.  Boy, this can be a long night. 

I notice for the first time that the QSO Stats window isn’t on screen.  Thinking about it I realize that this is because of the shift from the wide screen monitor at home to the laptop.  The position stored in the ini file must put it off of the smaller laptop screen.  I don’t bother to fix this during the contest, but editing of the ini file the next day takes just 30 seconds.  It’s kind of weird to operate a whole contest without knowing the rates or mult count per band (though the new feature added to CQPWIN last week to display actual mults per band for all the bands at once is extremely helpful).

In contrast to 160, there is a  huge pileup on 80 that takes about a half hour to work down (the 0400Z hour is 248 on 80).  At 0501Z, I’m at 1178 by 156 mults.  I try 160 again, with more success By 0557Z I now have 90 or so QSOs and 27 mults on 160, after finally getting some answers to CQs.  But 160 is extremely noisy:  the P3 shows a noise level at about -115 dB, even with the beverages, which is about what I get at home with my constant noise and no beverages.  I record a slow-talking, six-second contest message in M4 on the K3 (playable using the F4 key on the computer using CQPWIN ver. 12.1), since talking fast on 160 doesn’t seem to help [in general, I should prerecord perhaps two slower messages, in addition to two fast ones and the usually TUs.]  By 0616Z I’m up to 32 mults on 160.  Worked W6NL clear as a bell a few minutes ago for the first CA.  No zeros at all so far.  I successfully move K0VXU from 80 to 160 but lose my 80m run freq.  Three more unsuccessful moves also result in lost frequencies.  At 0801Z the totals are 1495/200 for 893 kpts.  I successfully move KI4TZ from 80 to 160 for SC (which mult is very plentiful during the contest, but even common mults are hard to come by on 160 tonight).

At 0932Z things are slow and I’m falling asleep between contacts, so I get up and walk around a bit.  This is my worst hour of the first day, only 57 QSOs.   In general I’m trying to take very short breaks, with just a short bit of food noshing and maybe a bathroom visit.  It’s now 1118Z and 20 is clearly open, so it’s time to greet the new day with a pot of coffee.  After spending the 1200-1330Z time period on 15 and 20, I decide to move to 10 as soon as it seems to be open at all at 1335Z, on the theory that rate should be good, and also since the extent of the 10m openings are unknown, it may be necessary to stay there to get as many mults as possible (John said that in CW, he and Ed had missed some upper Midwest mults by missing about an hour of an opening).

I leave ten after about four solid hours on 28424, as the opening seems not to extend west of about MO, so I decide to pick up rate on 15 and come back later in the hope that the opening will extend further west later. At 1733Z, the totals are 3000/281. Strangely I’ve worked lots of CAs on 10 but not a single seven except for AZ.  This seems odd since the CA stations are strong, but that is 10 for you.  And no VEs west of ON.  There’s been an endless well of callers on 10 and with a clear, quiet frequency I can hear very weak ones.  Time for an 11-minute food break, then two exciting hours on 15 (including a 308 hour in the 1800Z hour).  I go back to 10 at 1929Z and start working Western mults, even calling “CQ W7” from time to time.  At 2302Z, almost the half-way point, I am about to desert 10 for a run at 20, with 4388/324 for 4.2M points.  Save for an odd missing mult here and there, I now have almost all the usual mults worked on 10-80, but still need a lot on 160. 

To 20 for the next three hours.  Good rates, but I get chased off 14226.5 by an obscene slow scanner calling me and contesters all kinds of foul names, then ultimately starting up slow scan right on my frequency to deliberately interfere.  I don’t argue with him, but it is kind of refreshing and does wake me up.  QSY’ing to about 14214, I actually get a clearer frequency so it works out for the best. 

At 0138Z I take my longest non-sleep break of the contest,  21 minutes to refresh, eat my Subway sandwich, etc.  I decide to set up the right radio on 160 and just leave it there all night to make it easy to move guys from 40 or 80 as the occasion permits. 

Well, it’s 0510Z and I’ve been on 40 sideband.  BTW all my operations have been in the US phone band using the K3/Alpha with the tuner.  I have moved some guys to 160: VE9DX in NB, AJ4A in KY, N0AT in MN, WC0W in MO, W1WBB in RI.  I’ve been really concentrating on mults, e.g. SD and SK on 80.  At least five more attempted moves to 160 have failed.

At 0606Z I decide to hang it up for 2 ½ hours of sleep time.  I don’t feel terrible, but am having trouble focusing.  It’s a trade off: I still am getting answers on 40 and still can try moving mults, but think there will be more value to being rested for high rate hours in the daytime.  Getting up, some coffee and small sandwiches help out.  Back on the air at 0900Z, I bounce around the low bands, even getting some new mults on 160 by moving  KE5RHM in MS and VO1SA in NF, and a failed move providentially results in being called on 160 by W3DQ in DC!   [He reports to 3830 as a M/S with only 14 Qs on 160]

Back to 20 at 1136Z for some fairly slow Sunday morning hours.  Ten opens a little later today than yesterday, but I go there as soon as I hear reasonable activity at 1358Z.  Like yesterday, I spend about 2 ½ hours on 10, then go to 15 at about 1645Z then back to 10, to 15 and to 20.  Rates are good all afternoon. The last eight  hours average 218 per hour on 15, 10, 15,  and finally 20.  Scratching and clawing yields a final four mults in that period, including a QRP N8HM in DC on 15 and 20 (and later on W3DQ calls in on 15 as well, for 6 bands) and K0VD in SD on 15, ND0B in ND on 10, and VO1TY in NF on a move from 15 to 20.

After the contest, a quick call from Ed, and a shave and shower, it’s off to Carl and Sue’s.  We drive over to a nearby Chinese restaurant, and John Bayne joins us for a friendly post mortem.  I barely make it over to Chris and JP’s, but thankfully Chris drives the rest of the way.  To bed, finally, at about 11:30 p.m.

Monday, March 7, 2011.  A very pleasant day.  A pot of coffee helped get me going, then I worked on my CQPWIN program a bit, to get rate sheets printed ok.  Then posted my score to 3830, packed up the radio equipment, did a noon run and swim, and headed over to Chris and JP’s to chat for about an a hour and a half.  Then off to John’s again to give him the check for his 91B and visit for a while.

On the way back, I followed Chris’s suggestion and drove into the JP’s Toyota dealership to check out the two BYD (Build Your Dreams -- a Chinese car company whose wares are now being sold by them) F-Zeros parked out front.  The dealership was actually closed, as were just about all businesses for the “Carnival Monday” holiday, but the gates were open.  It’s a very cute, small 4-door hatchback  with a three-cylinder 70 hp engine, starting at about 18k florins ($10k).  They also have two larger models that JP says are more or less copies of the Toyota Corolla and Camry.

Then back in the car to drive up the Windows restaurant, in the Divi Beach and Golf resort in the Low-Rise Hotel District, to help Martin and Truus celebrate.  They had a group of about a dozen people, including Carl and Sue, as well as Martin’s son Joel, who had as a surprise flown down from Toronto along with his 10-year old son James (a very articulate and bright kid).  It was an excellent meal (e.g., lobster and brandy bisque followed by chateaubriand) with interesting conversation at a very high class place.

Contest Soapbox, as sent to 3830 reflector. 

Now that was fun! Two comparisons with the only other time I have done this contest from Aruba, in 2009: (1) Then starting on 20 only resulted in 100 Qs before having to QSY to 40; this year, the first hour on 20 netted 326. (2) Then ten opened up only for about an hour, right at the end of the contest; this year, it was open delightfully all day both days.  How nice to be able to spread out and not all be crowded into 20 and 15.

The only contest off note was the great difficulty hearing (even with our very good beverages) and being heard on 160, presumably due to the high noise levels. Friday night was a horror, with probably fewer than 30 mults worked.  By dint of a lot of hard work on Saturday night I managed to get the mult total into a respectable range but still missed many that should have been workable.  Thanks to the guys who successfully moved from 40/80 and also to the considerably larger group that tried in vain.

Actually there were two other brief operating annoyances: A slow scanner started cursing at me in particular and contesters in general using words that would get him fired from a commercial radio station, then maliciously started up right on my freq of 14226.5 to chase us away from their hallowed ground at 14230.  I was also blessed with a personal jammer on 10 for a while, who tried heavy breathing and music playing, but fortunately got bored after a relatively short performance.

The house looks great thanks to the recent efforts of Chris and JP, who put in new ceilings, did internal repairs, painted, refurbished furniture, replaced the old drapery, etc.  Thanks to both for their hard work.  Also thanks to co-owner John (W6LD) and Ed (W0YK) who braved the cunucu (the public property, full of cactus and thorny vegetation behind the house) to get our 160 antenna and beverages redone for ARRL CW, so all I had to do was show up and operate two weeks later.  Check out the place at www.arubaqth.com

Aruba was well represented in this contest, with P40V in M/S LP (AI6V and W5AJ), and P40A (KK9A) QRP in his swan song from his sold QTH.  Even a short trip allows for a great ham social life, including visits with Chris (P43C) and JP (P43A), Carl (P49V) and Sue (P40YL), John (P40A), Joop (P43JB) and Yvonne, Martin (P49MR) and Truus (P49TR), Lisandro (P43L) and Lissette, and Raul (P43RC).  What a nice group!

Finally, thanks to all the US/VE hams for their enthusiastic participation in this great contest.

Rig: K3, Pro2, Alpha 86, Titan 425
Ant: 2 el 10, 5 el 15, 4 el 20, 2 el 40, 1 el 80, C31 (all Force 12), vert dipole and 4 500-foot beverages for 160.
Software: CQPWIN ver. 12.1
73, Andy, AE6Y, P49Y

Here are the claimed scores of myself, and the two higher reported ones: PJ2T (K6AM) and 8P5A (W2SC).  Also shown for comparison is my contest-winning, but much lower, score from two years ago.


P49Y 2011 HP

8P5A 2011 HP

PJ2T 2011 HP

P49Y 2009 HP