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October 2004 Aruba Trip Notes

Monday, October 25 - Tuesday, October 26, 2004.  I arrived at the unusual time of 1:20 in the afternoon, courtesy of a major change in the airline schedules.  They no longer have evening arrivals, so I had to take a 10 p.m. red-eye from SFO to Miami.  Then, instead of a 6-hour layover for the Miami to Aruba flight, I was scheduled to go to San Juan, P.R., then to Aruba, thus arriving one hour earlier than if I had flown from Miami (this was actually not to save time, but money, since it could be done for 25k AA miles.).  Chris, Cindy and Andy picked me up in our car, which Chris said had been having problems.  It crapped out about a mile south of the airport.  The battery was almost dead.  They had replaced it in July, but it may be the charging system is bad [after I left, JP reported that the dealer had to replace the voltage regulator and fix the alternator, for $300].

Cindy and I stayed there in the heat and humidity, while Chris and Andy went for help, eventually returning with her car.  I gave Cindy her present, a jewelry crochet kit, to help while away the time, and she started in on it.  Chris came by later with our car, having charged the battery. To avoid fights, I then gave Andy his present, a sort of open frame ball, which he seemed delighted with.

I was carrying John’s FT-1000D in a triple box, which, along with a luggage carrier, weighed 77 pounds.  My other suitcase with clothes and misc radio stuff came in at 57 pounds, plus the computer bag.  AA didn’t charge luggage overage either way, but when I got to Aruba, the box had been opened by the TSA and resealed with their tape.  One of my three luggage straps was missing.  I feared the worst, and photographed the box as I opened it, but the radio was perfect, so no harm had been done.  Thanks to the box, I was the only passenger flagged by Aruba customs.  The agent didn’t open it, but grilled me a bit, wanted to see my license, and said that I really should have declared it, paid a refundable deposit, etc.  I professed ignorance, and he let me go.  In discussions with John Crovelli, who had the same weight of luggage in large suitcases, and Jackie, the consensus is that boxes are a red flag, while radios in suitcases cause no problems.  

The outside temperature is about 90 with little wind and some humidity.  The locals are all complaining about the heat, and saying how unusual it is.  After Chris brought the car back, I went shopping at the Winter Garden Supermarket about a mile down the road in Savaneta.  I’ve gotten used to this little place, which is certainly not a fine shopping experience, but is kind of homey.

I turned on the radios for a bit in the afternoon, and conditions seemed good, with EU workable on 15 and 10 open to the US.  Actually, high band conditions stayed excellent for the entire week, including the contest. Low band conditions were probably OK from a propagation standpoint, but we had a lot of noise, due to all the thunderstorm activity in the area. 

I took JP and Chris and John Crovelli out to dinner. We ended up at Brisas Del Mar, since my preferred Marina Pirata is closed on Mondays.  Crovelli has an amazing routine when he gets to the island.  He hooks up all his coax cables, which he takes down and coils up each time, then hooks up two beverages.  This time, in addition, he had made a two element 40m wire beam, plus a 4 element 80 meter beam and another 40m one, all suspended from a rope between his two towers.  He now supports himself partly by doing tower work for locals in New Jersey.  The food and serviced both seemed to have declined at Brisas del Mar, which JP thinks is due to a change in ownership.  Time for a change in the traditional Aruban post-contest dinner location.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004.  Awoke at 8:30 a.m., then after breakfast in the house, spent until about 3:30 in a very tiring endeavor of hooking up the US beverage. This was very hot, sweaty work.  The cunucu is overgrown due to the heavy rains, so I spent a lot of time just trimming thorn bushes and cacti to make walking paths using a pair of clippers found in the storage room and work gloves kept in the tool drawer in the kitchen.  I ended up wearing the same shirt and blue jeans for all outside work for the entire week.  I would come inside from time to time, take them off, and let them dry out in the a/c.  They weren’t very appealing by the end of the week.  Jeans and hiking boots (which I keep there) are really essential. There were no beverage remnants in the cunucu.  I had taken quite a bit down in March, and I guess no one had replaced any. 

There is a real mish-mash of feedlines in the storage room.  We have lots of coax; the main problem is the connectors.  Most of them have CATV connectors, which obviously don’t connect to UHF jacks (though there exist adaptors).  Anyway, I think it is a much better idea to standardize on UHF connectors.  I had brought a crimp tool and connectors, that unfortunately only fit RG-58 or RG-8, but not RG-59 (which is slightly thicker than 58).  I ran out of connectors, primarily due to having put a few on wrongly.  There is no problem with the RG-58 with a solid center conductor (e.g., the Halted RG-58), but the Radio Shack RG-58 has a stranded center conductor.  With it, the trick is to cut off a few strands (presumably not important since we aren’t running power through them), then pull it out through the center hole with pliers.  Otherwise, it is easy for a few strands to get squished in the central pin and short out internally to the body of the connector. And be sure to check each connector before and after crimping with an ohmmeter.

Note that the beverages actually did work pretty well, both on 80 and 160.  I couldn’t hear all that some other Caribbean stations were hearing, but they were a definite improvement over the inverted vees as receiving antennas. 

After finishing the work, I tried to fight dehydration with beer, which I think was actually the first beer I had drunk in the house since buying a six-pack of Heinekens last year. I had two more in the course of the week and left the remainder for Chris and JP.  Dinner with Crovelli at La Granja (just down the road towards Savaneta).  I had vowed not to go out and put up an EU beverage, but he insisted I’d be nuts not to.  I was also urged to do so by listening to PJ2/N4GG working Europeans on 160 at about 10 p.m., and not being able to hear the EUs he was working – and he’s only 150 miles away or so.  The activity was all on CW, and after midnight I could hear better and worked several EUs.  John Fore also urged it at our nightly sked on 7055 (actually the only one we had, thought we talked on the phone 4-5 times later).  I checked out both amplifiers, the 87A and the 86, and both seemed to load up fine. 

Thursday, October 28, 2004.  Not a whole lot went right today.  I had breakfast at 7:30, having decided to put up the EU beverage anyway, even if the feedline issue wasn’t clear.  I laid out the wire using the 500-foot roll of 14-gauge insulated wire John had left here, starting at the stake at the NE corner of the lot, and proceeding out into the cunucu.  Carl used to run it on the outside of the garage, but I took it over the guy wires and driveway and to the back tower before going over the back fence.  I attached it and a ground wire (about 100 feet of wire laid on the ground) to the second K9AY transformer.  I needed about 250 feet of more feedline to match up with the RG-58 left over from the US beverage. The Radio Shack in Oranjestad said that the San Nicolas store had some, but they didn’t know how much, and that it would open at 9 a.m. 

I blithely drove down to San Nicolas with visions of finishing the project well before lunch, but the store was closed.  On the way back, the car exhibited the same electrical symptoms it had on Tuesday, and I barely made it home.  After making a few quick calls, I took a taxi to the airport to rent a Toyota Yaris from Dollar Rent-a-car for $170 for the week.  This is a bare-bones economy car, popular on the island – e.g., it has a/c but no heater. 

I called the Oranjestad RS, who now told me that on Thursdays, the San Nicolas RS opened at 2 p.m.  Having some time to kill, I replaced the old FT-1000 with John’s and checked it out by making some contacts on 10 meters.  It worked fine, and wasn’t a difficult replacement, once I figured out the cabling.  I then drove back to the RS to buy all the RG-58 they had, which was nicely coiled on a spool, but of length unknown.  The sales clerk had a peculiar way of measuring by pulling it out into multiple loops, ultimately declaring it was 200 feet long, for which she charged me $36.  Of course I should have laid out the coax and re-rolled it up, but instead I bumbled through working with this large ungainly coil. 

I put connectors on the good RG-58 and connected it to the transformer, then laid it out as far as possible toward the house, put a connector on the RS coax and joined them with a barrel, then taped it up.  Wouldn’t you know that the RS coax then reached to within about 15 feet of the house!  At this point I had run out of crimp connectors and nearly out of ideas.  Reviewing the available feedlines in the storage room, I found 100 feet of RG-8x that John had marked as good, and that had UHF connectors on both ends.  We had some nice PL-259s lying around in the coax connector coffee can in the shack, so I decided to use one of these with the nickel-plated reducers that also were there.  Since the coax wouldn’t reach the house, I had to do this outdoors, but it looked like rain.  I set up a temporary solder station in the garage, using a ratty old 100-foot-long extension cord that was in the second bedroom closet. 

The effort was ultimately unsuccessful.  John had bought a huge soldering iron, which certainly had the heat capacity, but it was so large it was hard to apply heat to the braid holes.  The RS RG-58 also has very little braid, and ultimately I got more solder on the connector threads than on the braid, requiring me to trash the connector.  This was all in the wind and rain as well.  After about 20 minutes of this, in frustration I devised Plan B, which was to solder on a male phono plug, which would mate with a male UHF/female phono adaptor I had brought.  This worked fine, and I taped up this klugy connection and brought the feedlines into the shack. 

After a shower and shave, I spent some time reviewing past CQWW logs (PJ2T) and breakdown sheets and zone/country summaries (8P1A), while waiting for Lisandro Arends (P43L) and his wife Lissette to pick me up to go to dinner (I had invited them yesterday).   We went to Hung Paradise, a Chinese restaurant in the Seaport Center in town, where they seemed to know everyone and kept running into friends. Lisandro works for the weather bureau at the airport, while Lissette is a lawyer working for the government in the property office (she’ll be the one to renew our lease in 33 years!).  She went to a law school on the island.  There are no real colleges on the island, but there are three schools that you can attend in the European model to get the equivalent of an undergraduate degree and a professional degree in some technical field (I wasn’t sure about this, and Emily later said it was actually finance, economics and law).  They were complaining about the heat and humidity, which everyone says is uncharacteristic.

 I paid for dinner, then Lisandro bought me drinks at Scandal’s, a Dutch bar and restaurant on the other side of the center.  There, we were forced inside by a very heavy half-hour rain that left big puddles everywhere.  Lisandro pointed out where the heavy rains after Hurricane Ivan had caused massive flooding in that area (the others jokingly blame these rains on him for failing to predict them).  Lisandro speaks very good English, while Lissette is apparently much more fluent in Dutch – this probably results from their education and working environments.  Though they both work for the government, he is in an English-speaking technical field, while she is in the Dutch-speaking legal environment.  It was much drier back at Sabana Basora.   

Friday, October 29, 2004.  Woke up at 8 with the intention to do an early morning shortening of the 80 meter inverted vee (it’s resonant at about 3500 kHz, and the amps won’t load it in the phone band above 3650 or so).  A 20-minute torrential downpour caused me to drink coffee and check email instead.  This area drains really well -- when I went out at about 9 a.m., it wasn’t muddy, though the plants in the cunucu were wet.  I had to remove blue wires that were spliced (just by twisting and taping) on the ends of the wires, then had to shorten the antenna another 3 feet by twisting the ends back on themselves to get resonance at 3775-3800 kHz or so.  Without the blue wires and without the shortening, it’s resonant at about 3550.  The house end is reached by climbing on the porch roof using the ladder, while the other end requires walking the rope to the south to bring the end down out of a large thorn bush, so it can be reached.

Crovelli called offering to take me out to lunch, because he owed me a meal, but it turned out he really needed a ride to the airport to drop off his rental car.  I agreed to do so.  I then drove up to the DTZ to pick up my P49Y license from Pamela.  I left them as a present a copy of Ham Radio for Dummies, after carefully explaining that no insult was intended.  I then went to the amazing Ling and Sons supermarket to stock up on food for the weekend, such as frappucino, gatorade, cold cuts for sandwiches, etc.  On the way back I got some 100 watt light bulbs for the house and stopped in at the great key store (Elimar, to the north of the roundabout where the BMW dealer is) to get copies made of the keys to the car and the storage shed.  Crovelli and I ended up ordering a pizza from Dominos at Savaneta and eating it at the house, then went to the airport and back to his house. 

Back at the house, I decided to take the bull by the horns and swap the old FT-1000 for the 990, which just required moving the decoders outside of the little wooden shelf support, and recabling.  So John’s radio is the primary, left one, with the old one as the secondary, right radio.  This turned out to be a good idea, as it was very convenient when tired to have two identical radios (also the 200 watts would be good for SO2R contacts barefoot if the 86 isn’t tuned to the right band). 

Then, of course, two problems arose.  First, the lpt port didn’t seem to be working, and I couldn’t use it for computer control.  I managed a work-around after 45 minutes of frenzied head scratching by using the serial port for mic/DVK switching, while continuing to use the lpt port for R1/R2 switching.  Then  the left radio wouldn’t send band data properly all the time.  This turned out to be because when it was on split (i.e., set up for split operation on 40), it doesn’t work right.  This again caused me to ponder for a while, but apparently is well known:  when I mention the problem to W6NL at the Miami airport, he immediately suggested that was the reason.

By 6 p.m. I was going stir crazy waiting for the contest to start at 8 p.m., so I went out to the Subway at the end our street for a tuna sandwich, then to Dunkin Donuts for a quick coffee and dessert. 

The CQWW SSB Contest, October 30-31, 2004.  I was always planning to go in the big dog category of single operator, all band, high power.  There tends to be some jockeying for position among the Aruba contest contingent regarding categories before each contest starts.  Crovelli was going to go assisted, as he did last year, using the two meter packet system that they set up for IARU, while P40A was going to be QRP, Jackie 40 SB and Emily 20m SB LP.  This meant there were a lot of P4s on, but I was the only one in my class.  

Crovelli and I had agreed on a 160-meter time sharing, as we did in February for ARRL DX CW.  It only applies to the first 15 minutes of each hour; one night he gets the even hours and I the odd, and we switch the second night (there’s an exception in that you can move a mult to 160 at any time). 

Before the contest, I check the church next door as we had had interference problems in the past.  There is a service going on with the P.A system being used, but there are only 3-4 cars or so outside, so it’s small.  BTW: the entire week, though the house was clearly occupied, I never saw Pastor Martinez.  Anyway, in deference to him, I decide to start the first hour (since the service normally would end at 9 p.m.) low power.  This may be a bad idea, as I have an absolutely horrible first hour.  I make a few Qs on 15, but there is nothing going on and I can’t find a frequency on 20.  I finally work a few guys on 14118 below the American phone band, but have an abominable hour of 60.  I turn on the Alpha 87A after an hour, and the next two are a bit better: 147 and 243 on 20 meters.

A brief break at 0835Z.  I bounce around the low bands.  I’m at 1170 contacts by 228 mults for 781k points.  On 40 I have 44 countries, 29 on 80, 79 on 20, and 3 on 15.  The only off note is the Alpha 86, which isn’t being keyed by  the FT-1000, so I  am debating swapping back in the old 990.  I figure out the problem.  It’s not the radio, but rather my lpt port or the lpt interface, which somehow after years of stalwart service, isn’t working properly to key the DX doubler to change radios.  The workaround is to switch the DX doubler from R1 to R2 manually.  This is fine if I use the second radio for running, but for SO2R contacts, where one just goes to it briefly for the Q, it wouldn’t work very well. 

I’m definitely not an iron man.  I decide to take a nap, but lie down and can’t really sleep.  In the 09 and 10Z hours, I make 27 and 25 contacts, respectively. I get up and have a bowl of cereal and coffee. In the middle of an EU pileup on 15 at 1137Z, I work P40W and P40A and suddenly the band dies and the pileup is gone.  It comes back in about 15 minutes.  I have a solid run of several hundred EUs on 21158 (the 11 to 13 hours are 135, 182, 183), though many of the EUs have their processors turned up so high that the signals are highly distorted and hard to copy.  I notice this even more on 40 meters, where EUs are really hard to copy.  The one exception is the English stations – often a clear, tenor G or M station will cut right through the din, getting through not due to signal strength, but to audio clarity. 

At 1401Z, with 12 ½ hours on the clock, I’m again falling asleep, so I take a break for something to eat.  I’m at 1758 by 312 for 1.6M points.  I have a great EU pileup on 10, which I finally work down after 448 Qs at a rate of 228 per hour.  Then a slightly slower pileup of EU on 15, but very easy to work, one or two calling at a time at a steady rate.  A brief break at 1840Z for an apple and to stretch my legs. 

Then next two hours are my best of the contest, running US on 10.  The calendar hours of 19 and 20Z are 288 and 292, with a one-hour stretch in there of about 315.  These are my highest rates ever in any contest. I make a real effort  to talk fast, be sparing of words, and generally sound like a top op.   It’s hard, concentrated work, and I can’t imagine how one would do a 400 hour.  The downside is that after a few hours of this, I am again starting to lose focus and slow down, so I take a quick break.  At 2127Z on 10 meters I want to be sure not to miss JA, so I ask K6XX if he has heard any JA s calling me.  He says no, but exactly one minute later JA9CZE calls in for my first JA on 10.  At the end of the first day, I am at 3824 Qs by 434 mults, for 4.8M points.  This is after a few hours of good US running on 15.

I go back to 20 for 250 Qs, then check 40 at 0101Z.  A few quick mults on 40: 8P1A, SU9NC and A61AJ.  The latter moves me to 80, which wouldn’t have occurred to me so early in the evening.  It’s a good lesson, as we made the contact on 80 fairly easily.  I assumed at the time that he was a multi as usual, but it turned out to be S53R in  a  single op stint.  He ended up with a huge mult total, and undoubtedly this kind of aggressive moving is one reason why.  Inspired, I move a C6 to 80 for a double mult.  Upon calling CQ on 7027, I am flooded with EU callers, but can only work a few due to the bedlam.  There must be a trick to working EUs on 40 phone, but I sure don’t know what it is.  It’s very hard to distinguish the calls, particularly with all the distorted audio, and there is S9 QRM everywhere, including CW stations. Switching to split operation to work the US, it goes better for 50 Qs or so, but I have to change listening frequencies a couple of times due to interference.

Once again, I decide to take a brief nap for 45 minutes, but I sleep right through my wristwatch alarm (hint: need a really loud bedside alarm clock for these times).  I inadvertently end up going QRT from 0356Z to 0556Z, then get a message that Windows had reset my computer from daylight time to standard, time so I end up spending a few minutes thinking how to make sure that the computer and the software are collaborating on the time.  This is my low point of the contest.  I spend about an hour and a half bouncing around 40, 80 and 160, then feel very tired and as though I have run out of good ideas.  The log reflects two hours 20 minutes of sleep time (very deeply, too).  I am awakened by the sound of heavy rain on the aluminum roof.  I’m back on 20 at 1057Z, but am greeted by very strong rain static.  I actually try fooling with the beverages, hooking them up to Carl’s old preamplifier, which covers the high bands as well, while the K9AY preamp I had brought down only went up  to 7 mHz.  It doesn’t help much and it’s quite discouraging.  I can make only a handful of Qs through the S9 static, and at one point even disgustedly leave the radios to watch a few minutes of TV, only to find the cable is out as well.

 But I keep listening, and fortunately the static clears up at about 1140Z, so I can get back on the air.  The rest of the contest plays out to reasonable rates on the high bands.  The last six hours are at an average rate of 233 Qs per hour.  Unlike contests like SS, where one always has the best hourly rates at the start and then spends the rest of the contest watching the hourly rate meter fall, in this contest, I started out poorly and finished strong, so it was fun to watch the rates actually rise as the contest went on.           

And here are the final numbers  [Score: 10.94M points]

























































This result is the 5th claimed score in the world, so it’s nothing to sneeze at.  OTOH, although the QSO total is respectable, the mults are very low, even compared to those scores below me.  I clearly have a lot to learn about finding mults, and about moving them. 

Monday, November 1, 2004.  This was to be a day to play tourist.  I didn’t get out of bed until 10:30 a.m., having gone to bed at midnight and slept like a log, though I was awakened a few hours earlier by another torrential downpour.  I was going to take in the beverage feedlines first thing, but decided to wait until the sun dried up the cunucu a bit.  I did drive into Oranjestad and have lunch at a pleasant restaurant in the pink mall, also bought a bathing suit, some small gifts and postcards.  Back at the house, I was outside taking in the feedlines and taping them up properly, when John Bayne, KK9A, P40A, stopped by.  We chatted for an hour or so.  He’s doing lots of homeowner work, like power washing the house to eliminate mold.  He was all band QRP in the contest and amazingly managed some 3800 contacts, though he struggled mightily on the low bands.

I went over to Chris and JP’s and we chatted for about an hour.  I gave her some cash and she gave me her usual summary plus bills.  We also loaded up JP’s lightning-damaged FT1000 in John’s case, and taped it up to take back to the States to try to get fixed by Yaesu.  JP agreed this was all to be at his risk.  Hopefully, they can get it done in time for John to bring it back down for CQWW. 

Then to Emily’s house, where she gave me QSL cards (fortunately only a few hundred) for me and John, and drove us to a classic Aruban restaurant (that bills itself also as an art gallery, with many watercolors and oils on the wall), called Gasparitos.  It was almost deserted, but we had good food (I had a Dutch dish involving meat and fish between cheese layers).

Tuesday, November 2, 2004.  Not much activity today, just packing and straightening up the place as I got ready for my 2:40 p.m. flight to Miami.  That one was uneventful, but the flight to SFO was delayed by several hours, including gate changes, and even getting on a plane, then having to leave it for another.  Dave  Leeson, W6NL, and Barb, K6BL, were on the same flight, so we swapped contest yarns, as they were returning from a multi-multi effort at HC8L.  This was election day, and we happened to be sitting in the Miami airport at 8 p.m. local time as the polls closed.  There was (premature) whooping and hollering in the airport as the early exit polls were announced implying that Kerry had won.  Sandy met me at SFO, and we didn’t get home until close to one a.m.


  1. New 100 foot extension cord.
  2. New wire strippers. The screw fell out of the old one, and we should have one with different sized slots
  3. RG-58
  4. Beverage/Dipole wire.  The Home Depot black insulated stranded copper 16 gauge seems to work well (with perhaps 14 gauge for dipoles).
  5. Crimp connectors for RG-59 and 58.

Beverage Final Status:

  1. The wires are both still up. Each is about 470 or so feet long.  The wires that I had used as a “ground” at the transformer end are still lying on the ground.  Each beverage is terminated to an existing metal (aluminum?) stake through a 470 ohm resistor.  The US one is in the cunucu, and the EU one is in the NE corner of the lot.  Generally speaking, the US beverage runs parallel to the back fence, and the EU one is at maybe a 70 degree angle to it.
  2. The K9AY transformers are in the second BR closet
  3. The K9AY preamps are in same place, with the weaker one marked 10- and the stronger one 10+.There is also one power block for the two preamps, since I am bringing the other one back to be fixed.
  4. Feedlines:
    1. The old beverage feedlines come through the wall of the shack, are marked on the inside, and are coiled up on the back tower.  These are RG-59 with catv connectors at the tower.
    2. My new ones are coiled up in orange reels at the back tower.  The bulkier one is the EU beverage feed, and will reach to the end of the EU beverage; the other is the US beverage feed.
    3. The new ones run along the catenary, and are coiled up outside the house under the eave over the shack air conditioner.  The thicker coax (RG-8X) is the EU one and the RG-58 is the US feedline.
    4. The  US feed should be ok.  It is the Halted (HSC Electronics) RG58 with crimp connectors.
    5. The EU one should  be changed.  It consists of three pieces.  Closest to the shack is Crovelli’s 100 feet or so of RG-8X with UHF connectors on each end.  Next is about 200 feet of Radio Shack RG-58, which doesn’t seem to be nearly as good as the Halted coax. The inward end of the RS has a soldered phono plug, which goes to a phono-uhf adaptor, to a double female UHF barrel, then to the RG-8.  The outward end of the RS coax has a uhf crimp connector, and is connected with a barrel to the third piece of the feedline, which is another 200 feet or so of the Halted RG-58, which has crimp UHF connectors on each end. 
    6. Unless we want to cut new holes in the walls, these are simply run through the edge of the north-facing window in the shack.
  5. We should have on site several rolls of 16 gauge black insulated wire for new beverages (the US one is 16 gauge; the EU one is 14, but 16 seems adequate and is a bit lighter.)   The wire John had brought down is great stuff as it is so flexible that it can’t be tied using normal rope knots.  This certainly aids in setting up the lines.
  6. Also, at least 500 feet of spare RG-58U and crimp connectors for it.