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AE6Y March 2014 Aruba Trip Notes – WPX SSB Contest – P49Y

Andrew L. Faber, AE6Y, P49Y


Tuesday, March 25, 2014. I had not expected to make this contest, and in fact I had turned ARRL CW in February over to W6LD and W0YK, but having just settled a large case set to go to trial in March, this contest became available to me on short notice. I decided not to take my usual red-eye to MIA, but instead to fly down during the day. Unfortunately, the only way to do that on American was to take a flight leaving SFO at 6:05 a.m., then after a four-hour layover at the Admirals Club at D15 in MIA, the flight to Aruba got me there uneventfully at about 9:15 p.m. I ultimately got about the same amount of sleep the night before as I would have on the red-eye, about four hours, due to having to attend a Planning Commission meeting in Menlo Park the night before and needing to arise at about 3 a.m. to drive to the airport. TSA in SFO was of the pre-check variety, and did not require separate swabbing down on the K3 in my backpack as they usually do there. Hertz in AUA was fortunately still open, and they gave me a Chevy Aveo with no trouble, though the guy said I was the last customer of the night (note that for the return flight, they now open at 6 a.m.).

 The house looks great. I’m totally impressed with all the organizational work John and Ed have done in recent months. The second bedroom is chock full of plastic boxes neatly stacked and labeled, and it’s now a pleasure to go looking for, say, a mouse pad or a key or a coax jumper. Even the tool boxes in the radio room are labeled as to contents!

I decided to have a drink of my only Aruban house alcohol, Frangelico, while unpacking, but noticed that the bottle I had bought last fall was now down to its last ounce (bought another bottle the next day at Super Foods). Hooked up phone and internet and checked that both radios and all antennas seemed to work properly. John had left the shack K3 as the left radio and a 756 Pro2 as the right radio, each hooked up as our recent JA renters had requested as separate stations with separate key, headphones and footswitch. It’s now very easy to hook up the antennas: just attach the antenna coaxes to the jumpers, with barrels already provided for 10-80 (assuming not putting the 4O3A filters in line), plug in the 160m ant to the SixPak, plug in the C31 to the Stackmatch, and plug in the four beverages. All nicely labeled, BTW. To bed at around midnight.

[For reference, internet modem is in the master bedroom, connected by a cable that Ed 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 modem. Four green light should come on. (3) Plug in router in shack. (4) In dining room, plug in phone, and connect phone cord to the phone jack on the wall. (5) Plug in extension phone in master BR. Worked without a hitch all week.]

Wednesday, March 26, 2014.  Woke up at about 7:30 and had a yoghurt that had been left in the fridge – no coffee found, alas. Set up the radios for the CWOps Club CWT events, which are run on Wednesdays for an hour starting at 1300Z, 1900Z and 0300Z (Thursday). I had never participated from home, but brought down the Winkeyer specially for this occasion; otherwise I wouldn’t have planned to operate CW at all on this trip. Before doing that, I swapped the Pro2 in the MBR closet for the one in the shack, as John had reported that one as not having a display that would come on. I wanted to see while the shack was still set up for an Icom whether it would work or perhaps I could fix it, or would need to bring it home. Well, after a bit of dimness, it worked just fine. I ran it for an hour or so and tried transmitting as well, and had no problems. We probably should make a practice of giving both Pro2s a workout now and then. They are easy to connect, as the power supplies now have cables attached terminated with Anderson PP connectors on the table end, and the Icom power cable is set up with PPs on one end and the Icom molex plug on the other. 

Setting up the shack in my preferred configuration, I moved the shack K3/P3 to the right position and put my K3/P3 in the left one, with both hooked up through the DXDoubler (found in a labeled plastic box!) to be controlled by one footswitch, key, headphones, mic. Hooked up the computer and everything works fine. A few adjustments were necessary to the Shack K3: (1) Mic was set to FP.L bias for the CM500 headset. Changed to Rp.L no bias for the Heil Proset. (2) AGC SLP set to 002, and Thr to 12 to give more dynamic range to help in pileups (note that for S&Ping on the second radio it’s actually better not to have so much range, so it works better with SLP at 10-15). (3) P3 baud rate set to 9600 to work with the freq control on the computer. (4) TUN power set to 20 watts, which is a good level for amp tuning.

During the contest, I had the computer set up as usual: USB relay box for Mic/DVK, PTT and R1/R2. Freq control from the two serial port adaptor, audio from headphone jack though W2IHY box, PS2 adaptor for mouse and keyboard. Used three prerecorded messages from my 2012 dvk file, though in practice I only used the third one (F3). Recorded a slight longer message on the K3 DVR and used it for F4 for variety. As I have thought before, it would be helpful to add to CQPWIN the ability to use K3 messages on the right radio as well, also a text command SLP to vary the AGC slope on a K3).

The only odd note was a high SWR on 10 on the left radio only (about three to one). But the amp worked fine, so I suspect there is something wrong with the filter or a cable. It caused no problem in the contest. Clearly wasn’t in the antenna.

CWT was a low key event. Didn’t make too many contacts, and didn’t turn in scores or keep a separate log (just part of my general, non-contest log). John Crovelli called in and asked if I was going shopping, and we arranged to go together. I did some legal work after the CWT, then picked John up and we went first to Super Foods, a new, huge store, to rival Ling and Sons. When going to Ling the back way through Santa Cruz towards Pos Abao, instead of turning left at the Ling sign at the Texaco station before getting to Pos Abao, just turn right, and Super Foods is about a mile on the left. It borders on the highway from Oranjestad to the high rise hotels. It’s similar to Lings. More Dutch and European items, not as much “contest” junk food. Not as good a deli section, though there were a lot of good small packaged dips that I bought and enjoyed. JP says there is a fish section outside with fresh fish from Holland, but somehow I missed that one. There is also a café. I later made great sandwiches from some kind of Dutch meat pate and cream cheese-type spreads (all labeled in Dutch unfortunately) on fresh raisin rolls. It’s definitely good competition for Lings. We then also went to Lings because there were a few items that John wanted there (mainly frozen TV dinners).

Ran a pileup of EUs on 10 CW starting at about 1800Z (1400 local time). They were booming in, a good harbinger for the contest. Also worked the 1900Z CWT, then dismantled the CW part of the station for the duration of the trip. One frustration was that in the chosen CW ranges (e.g., 21028-038) it appeared that guys were calling me in response to CQs, but they were really in a split pileup trying to work a DX station a few kHz down the band. I also mostly got answers to CQs from EUs who were not in the CWT at all – so overall, it was fun but not very productive from P4. The exchange is supposed to be just your name and CW Ops number, but I added a 599 to address all the nonparticipants.

Later on I checked out the 91B, and it loaded fine on all bands 10-80, but didn’t appear to put out more than about 1.2Kw on any band, a little more on 80. I ran US guys on 10 phone for a while, a combination of pileup operating and chatting. Went for a slow, weak-feeling run at Savaneta, then was to meet John for dinner at Don Pincho in Santa Cruz, a spot apparently recommended by K9PG and WE9V from their ARRL SSB stay a few weeks ago. I was a bit late, after talking to John Fore on the phone for a while, and when I got there, John said he had noticed that the service was very slow; so we adjourned to B55, where we were the only customers. Both spaghetti main courses and cheesecake dessert were very good. After verifying that the beverage antennas all seemed to work, I ran out of steam at about 9:30 and went to bed.

Thursday, March 27, 2014.  Woke up a little after 7 and brewed a pot of coffee, feeling somewhat better than I had when going to bed. By the way, it was relatively cool yesterday, with the temp about 80 at its height, very windy and dry (e.g., no water at all at Frenchmen’s Pass). John says it hasn’t rained since February. Throughout this trip it stayed relatively cool and with low humidity – very comfortable. Checking the bands, at about 1200Z, 15 was coming to life, worked a 7X3 in Algeria, for example.

My task in the cunucu this morning was to reel in the lower leg of the 160m H-dipole. As before, the rope end was tied off to a thorn bush. Thanks to intensive clearing by Chris and JP, it was possible to walk out the back gate and follow the wire all the way without once getting tangled in the bushes or needing to use the shrub cutter and gloves that I carried with me. John and Ed had done a great job of elevating the wire. There are now four rebar rods in the ground, extending about two feet into the air. On top of each is a yellow 4-foot PVC pipe, and then a 12-foot pipe of larger diameter slips over the smaller one, with the wire put in a slit in the top of the larger pipe, secured by a 3-inch PVC cap that is taped on. It was easy to dismantle this system. I rolled up the rope and wire and tied them off to the base of the tower, put the 12-foot pipes in the garage, and left the smaller pipes on top of the rebar for safety reasons. Hope they are all there next fall when we next need the 160 meter antenna for CQWW.

Otherwise a quiet day. I checked the new battery charger I had brought for our Black and Decker portable drill. It seemed to work fine, but one of the two batteries simply wouldn’t take a charge either with it or with the supplied charger, so I threw it out. Left the charger in the kitchen drawer in a plastic bag next to the drill (it wouldn’t fit in the drill case). Ran some pileups on 10 and 15 phone, mostly EU with some NA also. Checked out the Alpha 86, which seemed to work fine, though it put out a maximum of about 1300 watts (John Fore says the one in the closet has stronger tubes). Hooked up the MFJ antenna tuner to the left radio and verified that it allows usage of the 40m beam in the American phone band as before. The only remaining oddity is that, as mentioned above, the left K3 shows high SWR on 10m, but the amp doesn’t see it. [Note: I neglected to work on this after the contest as I had intended to, so it should be checked out further on the next trip.]

After lunch a guy knocked on the door. Efrain, who didn’t speak English, wanted entry into the yard to finish concreting a small portion of the cinder block wall between us and the church. We walked out there together and I gave him permission in my limited Spanish to access the yard. Had a very nice chat with Mike, OE6MBG, on 15. At about 2:15, I just wanted to get out of the house, and decided to go to the beach. I put one of our plastic beach chairs in the trunk, noting, BTW, that we now have a nice new plastic table and four chairs on our back patio in addition to the old, solder-charred and discolored plastic table out there (thanks, guys). Driving through Oranjestad and stopping at one of the low-rise hotel beaches, I did go in the water, which was delightful. But left after about 15 minutes of reading a book in the sun about 50 feet from the water, as I was getting occasional bursts of sand blasting from the wind. Back at the house, checked messages, then went out for a run, feeling stronger and doing it in about a minute and a half less time than yesterday. Felt very tired afterwards, took a short nap then (I’m embarrassed to say) got Taco Bell takeout, and to bed at around 11.

Friday, March 28, 2014. Spent most of the morning and early afternoon out of the house. Went up to the Hyatt for breakfast (actually, it wasn’t very good, and was expensive, so I may have to start looking for an alternate breakfast place for contest Fridays). Then decided to visit the Alto Vista Chapel, named for its location on a high bluff on the northern coast of the island a few miles from the California Lighthouse. The current chapel was built in 1952, replacing one built in 1750, and was visited by off road jeeps and ATVs while I was there. It’s in a pretty remote setting, with Stations of the Cross along the dirt road leading to it with cactus as backdrops. I then spent the next hour or so on dirt roads driving along the coast to the relative “civilization” of the lighthouse. The roads could be a problem for a normal car in wet conditions, but were easy to drive in such dry weather. It was quite a scenic drive; I stopped in a number of places to admire the coastline and the sizable surf kicked up by the high winds.

Went running a little after two. Felt OK, but the sun was hot (air temp was probably a little over 80, very pleasant). At one point on the run the wind was so strong that I almost wasn’t moving, but that made me think of the book I had just finished, Alone on the Ice by David Roberts, a retelling of the Mawson expedition of 1913 (also written up in Mawson’s book Home of the Blizzard, where they built a hut and overwintered twice in the Antarctica at what must be the windiest spot at sea level anywhere on earth (for example, in one month the average wind velocity for every minute of the entire month was 63 mph, and it was a cold wind! -- made me feel that running on Aruba wasn’t so difficult). Cooled off for a while on our chaise with the new cushion on the back porch guzzling grapefruit juice. Took it easy, tried to nap, etc., had some dinner, then waited for the contest to begin at 8 p.m. local time.

WPX SSB Contest Saturday, March 29 - Sunday, March 30, 2014 – Contest notes more or less as dictated during the contest. Well, it’s 0327Z and I’ve been on 20 the whole time. I have 579 QSOs by 379 prefixes for 629k score. It’s been extremely difficult. Much EU QRM and I can’t keep a clear frequency. It’s very hard to copy anyone. This is very frustrating. No fun at all, frankly. The hourly rates for the first three hours on 20 are 175, 135, 194; for comparison, in 2012, they were 230, 196 and 190 (that’s 112 more QSOs in 2012 in the first three hours!). I’m going to take a break for a minute or two and check out 40. That band feels very slow, but the 0400Z clock hour nets 110 Qs on 40, which is actually very good. At 0745Z, I’m at 979 by 566 for just over 2M points. Band totals are 10m: 2 QSOs, 15:120, 20:629, 40: 228. 10 was actually open and I worked A61BP at 0705Z -- that’s 3 a.m. local time! I was actually running EUs on 15 about 20 minutes ago -- an amazing experience in the middle of the night, but the rate was only about100 an hour, so I went to 40, but also had low rates there. I ran out of takers in the American phone band. So this is a weird situation: 15 is wide open to Europe now, but with these rates there is no point in running stations there. 20 is probably also open, but since I can’t get rate it’s time to take several hours of off time, as this is just too frustrating. The condx are so superb that it’s actually hard to work guys. I sleep for about 3 hours, setting three alarms for about 1045Z, and surprisingly wake up without alarm assistance about 5 minutes ahead of the scheduled time.

After coffee, a bowl of cereal and a chocolate pudding snack, it’s back on the air. Now at 1749Z very strange. I’ve been having a great run on 10m with 1033 contacts on 10 and 213 on 15, and the total is 2103 by 899 mults for 6.193M points, but the band suddenly went totally dead. I’ve been on the same frequency of 28512 for the last six hours, and suddenly there are no signals on 10, 15, or 20. So there must be a solar flare or something, which I guess gives me a chance to take an hour off and get some food. [Later: this was apparently an SID, sudden ionospheric disturbance, and was worldwide.] Actually, after two quick sandwiches I checked the band, and conditions seem to have improved again, so I decided to get back on the air even though I’ve lost 20 minutes of off-time that doesn’t count as off-time because it’s less than an hour. But I don’t want to lose this nice 10m run. I spent 9 1/2 hours on 10; the 1600Z hour is my best clock hour of the contest at 209; the 1700Z hour, with 12 minutes of off time due to the SID nets only 142 contacts. It’s now 2131Z and I’m getting up for a few minutes. Just aimed the antenna south to try to pick up a few SA mults -- got 9 new ones. Now at 2662 by 1011. The 10m total is now 1592; time to go to 15, where I only have 213 contacts.

At a little past the half-way point, 0117Z, I’ve been on 15 for the last three and a half hours all on 21386 and added 660 or so contacts to the log. It’s been a pretty productive time; the total now is 3324 by 1100 for about 11.5M points. I have a total of 22 hours of on time now, and I think I’ll take an hour off now, then return for a few more hours before taking a long sleep time. I have 14 more hours of operating left. While running on 10 I used the C31 pointed NW and the 15/10 pointed NE and would switch back and forth (many guys during and after the contest pointed out the big difference switching made in signal strength). The main problem has been EU QRM, so it’s been helpful to null them out somewhat when working US/VE. On 15 I’ve also tried reversing the two antennas to possibly get a little lower radiation angle from the higher 15/10 antenna when working weak JAs. Not sure if it made a difference or not. On ten even though the antenna is only 2 elements, it seems to have a lot of front to side discrimination.

OK, I decide to knock it off at 0449Z, with 24 hours, 23 minutes of on time so far. I was on 40 for a while, couldn’t get any runs going. Did get some points and mults by search and pounce, but it was slow and unpleasant. Went to 20 and had two good runs on 14341 and 14288. Now at 3633 by1140 for 13.148M points. The average rate is now 148 per hour. It peaked at 151/hr when I left 15 at 0116Z to take the hour off and then go to 40.

Back on the air. At 1220Z or so, it’s pretty slow going working EUs on 15, so go to 10, which seems better. It’s 1419Z, at 3844 by 1179 for 14.3M points. I’ve been on ten for an hour and a d half and it’s very difficult with EU QRM. I’ve been on 28466, moving around a little due to QRM. I go to 15 for about an hour, then back to 10. I find a very quiet frequency, amazingly at 28310 near the low end of the band, then after about 20 minutes and some 40 contacts, HK1X opens up on the exact same frequency. I yell at him for several minutes while he pretends not to hear me. Finally he says he’s been on the freq for seven hours! Well, he may have been there earlier in the day, but he’s been absent for the last 20 minutes, and can’t claim to own the frequency. Nonetheless, in the face of such unworthy behavior I do leave and find another good run frequency at 28616.

It’s 1938Z and I need a break to stretch and have a little food. Now on the air for 31:38 hours, and at 4521 by 1276 for just over 18M points. Time to go back to 15, though it’s much more crowded. I run out the last four hours on 15, and the contest mercifully comes to an end. I take a quick shower and shave, then pick up John for our post-contest dinner at Tony Roma’s, ribs for him and filet medallions for me. Back home a little after 11, and I don’t feel very tired. Check scores, prepare a rate sheet, etc. BTW, near the end of the contest CQPWIN crashed when I entered LB3NG as my 1301st multiplier. A quick look at the code showed that years ago I had capped the size of the PFX array at 1300, which then had seemed way out of reach. Well, not today. Lost 11 minutes diagnosing and fixing the program to go to 1500 (may expand that back home).

Monday, March 31, 2014. After a good eight-hour sleep I woke up feeling as usual on Mondays a little logy, but was refreshed by a pot of joe. Checked 3830 score reports and submitted my own. Dismantled the station, moving the shack K3 to the left position, and leaving the right position vacant on the assumption that it might be filled by another K3 for WPX CW (or by a Pro2 if John or I elect not to bring our own K3 for that contest). A pretty quiet day. Drove to the Toyota dealership to swap contest yarns with JP (who had been SB 15, though I never heard him in the contest, thus missing the P43 mult -- I also missed the P49 mult, though JP said P49MR, Martin, had called him).

After an unaccountably very slow run at Savaneta, I went over to JP’s and Chris’s, gave presents to the kids (including Robin’s earrings to Chris and Cindy) then we drove to Ruth’s Chris Steak House, in the Marriott Resort. I had never been to one in the U.S. The meal was probably the best meal I’ve ever had on Aruba, though certainly not cheap. Back to the house to finish packing while indulging in a last Frangelico, then up early to fly back to MIA and SFO. The flight from MIA to SFO was about two hours late, so Tom (W2SC -- 8P5A) and Kathy and I hung out in the Admiral’s Club and chatted. He didn’t enjoy the contest either, and, like me, finished lower than his previous score. For the umpteenth time in these contests, I learned of a second place finish while at the Miami Airport, as he and I appear to be one-two in the world.

Soapbox, as sent to 3830 reflector: 

The amazing conditions translated for me into a more difficult contest experience and a lower score than the last time I did this contest, in 2012. There were two adverse factors: First was the wall of EU QRM that made it difficult to find and keep a clear frequency. Second was the fact that since the US and EU could work each other at all hours on the high bands, our usual late afternoon high-rate US runs were much weaker than normal.

I also made an unfortunate tactical choice to start out on 20 as in the past. After several hours battling it out on that band, I worked 8P5A on 40, who gave me a number that was literally 50% higher than mine. When asked how he did it, Tom replied that he had started on 10. Oh well, if these condx ever return in our lifetimes, I'll know better...

Related to the EU QRM issue is the tendency of many EUs to overdrive their processors, which leads to audio distortion and splatter on adjacent frequencies. Even the K3's superb filtering can't remove splatter that really is in the passband. I kept asking one guy for repeats while guessing at his call. Finally giving up in disgust, I returned to the pileup, whereupon someone said: "Not even close!" The audio problems seem worse on southern EU stations; in contrast virtually without exception UK and JA stations had clean audio that could be understood even at very low signal levels.

Thanks to all for the very impressive worldwide participation in this contest. It was truly exciting to work 75 JAs (a very high total from here), not to mention VUs on both 10 and 15 sounding like locals, and lots of other interesting DX. Congratulations to neighbors P40W (W2GD) for a great LP score, and P43A for a similar effort on SB15. As usual, thanks also to W6LD and W0YK for all their recent efforts in station maintenance and upgrades to the house and station. Everything (except the operator) worked fine.

Rig: 2xK3/P3, Alpha 91B and 86

Ants: 2 el 10, 5 el 15, 4 el 20, 2 el 40, 1 el 80 (all Force 12), C31.

Software: CQPWIN ver. 12.7

73 and thanks for all the QSOs,

Andy, AE6Y, P49Y

Here are some scores for comparison:


P49Y 2014 HP

P40W 2014 LP

P40L 2013 HP

P49Y 2012 HP

P49Y 2010 LP