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March 2004 Aruba Trip Notes

Wednesday, March 24, 2004.  I arrived at 9 p.m. on the AA flight from Miami after an uneventful trip.  The plane was exactly on time.  I zoomed through customs, and my luggage amazingly was there already, so I was out the door before Chris and Cindy arrived to pick me up at the airport.  JP and Andy were waiting at the house.  I gave presents to Cindy and Andy, and we all chatted for a while.  JP showed me estimates for fitting new gates to the front and back walls.  These would be fabricated by a guy in his shop.  The estimates were $360 for each gate, including painting and installation, and incidentally straightening out the driveway gate.  I authorized the work.

After they left, I took a quick trip to the local Subway (down the street and turn left before hitting the main road), which was open until 11:30 p.m.  I hooked up the new 17-inch flat panel monitor, which looks great, though it does take up a bit more lateral space than the old CRT.  On 80 meters the 87A seemed to be soft faulting above about 700 watts or so.  Not sure why.  Incidentally, during the contest, I had the 990/86 set up on 80 and had no trouble putting out 1200 watts or so.  I worked 15-20 EUs from a list run by an IZ6, then switched to 20 to run about 150 stations on 14197, mostly US but a number of EUs and even some JAs and Asians.  Chatted a bit with Emily on the air, and asked her why she was up so late.  The answer seemed to be that she was having a great time playing with her new towers and antennas. 

Thursday, March 25, 2004. Woke up about 8:30, turned on the radio and immediately heard the 3B9C expedition S9 on 14195.  After figuring out his listening frequency, I worked him on the second call barefoot.  I went out to do some shopping at the Winter Garden down the road and have breakfast at the Dunkin Donuts next to Domino’s Pizza (does this sound like American chain store heaven or what?).  Fifteen meters was wide open and I worked a bunch of EUs barefoot.  At noon, I talked to Lisandro, who agreed to come by at about 6:30 p.m. to help out with the rfi problem next door.  I talked to Pastor Martinez on the phone then walked over next door to say hello.  The church is more impressive on the inside than on the outside (where it looks like a glorified shed).  It has tiled floors and pews that seat about 50 people, though he claims to have services with 300, which I very much doubt.  There is a “stage” at our end of the building, which is about 80 feet long and 20 feet wide, with the long dimension perpendicular to our property line.

It’s literally built on top of our common wall, which I am told by locals is illegal, a 2-meter setback being required.  Lisandro later told me that his law-student wife has checked and there is no permit to build or operate a church there.  There is a patch panel on the wall near the stage on the street side, and a “snake” feeds microphone and other input wires to the electronics in the office at the far end  of the building.  The snake also contains wires for the two speakers, which seems like a guarantee of trouble.  In the office he has a 16-channel mixer panel and a transistor amp, which takes two outputs from the mixer.  The wires going both ways seem to be shielded, but are of rather small diameter, so the shielding may be of low quality.  Lisandro later says that the amp is pretty good, but the mixer is an old unit that has no rf filtering as newer ones do. 

Pastor Martinez said he had been a NYC policeman, and was called to the church 19 years ago. His father is Jewish, and his “other name” is Markowitz.  It’s a Pentecostal church, the parishioners of which seem to be Latinos, but Martinez claims to speak many languages, including three African ones.  He showed me pictures of his 4-year stay with Indians in Panama. 

Back at the house, I hooked up the computer to interface with the radio, using the USB port for control of Mic/dvk, PTT and R1/R2.  Don, W9EXY, worked with me on 10 meters for about a half hour and was very helpful in getting the audio levels to match on the recordings and the live mic.  This is the first time I have used files recorded using the Heil mic, and they do sound much more the same as the live mic than before.  I worry about the laptop, which seems to have continuous hard disk activity.  During the contest it ran for hours at a time, but seemed to suffer no ill effects.  Here, typing at the airport, I notice no such activity.  Query whether it is triggered by peripheral devices (I am using external monitor, keyboard and mouse, and USB port for rig control) or an AC power problem.  I have done a complete Norton anti-virus scan and even took the risk of defragmenting the disk this afternoon, with no improvement noted. 

I got my rfi kit loaded into the beach bag, and JP and Lisandro come over at 6:30 as promised.  Lisandro brought a friend, Raul Croes, P43RC.  Lisandro is very adept technically, and happens to know a lot about sound systems as well as having general radio knowledge.  Before he arrived, JP and I started out on our house, looking for problems with our TV or telephone.  The TV was completely clean on all bands, even at high power.  There was some telephone interference, which was reduced to acceptable levels, but not eliminated, with a K-Com inline filter. 

Lisandro, Raul and I then went next door, communicating with JP at the station using the RS walkie-talkies I had brought, which worked well.  Forty, 80 and 160 are almost completely clean, but there was substantial interference on the high bands.  We experimented for hours, the most effective measures being to put split bead ferrites on the leads from the snake as they enter the mixer.  We also wrapped mic leads around larger doughnuts toroids at  the patch panel, and this also seemed to help.  Lisandro even made up some extension cords for mic cables at the mixer, using wire and connectors he had that he fabricated at our dining room table, including soldering the connectors.  These furnished enough cable length to wrap around two more toroids.  We need to bring down more split beads (the ones with the larger inside diameter work best), and large toroids. 

My rfi kit worked very well.  Contents include:  split beads, large toroids ($12 each from Palomar Engineers; smaller ones don’t seem to be very useful),  walkie-talkies, tie wraps to fasten cables wrapped around toroids, headphones to listen at the mixer without speakers, MFJ rf meter,  telephone inline filters, VOM, clip leads, knife, screwdriver, mic extension cords (Lisandro will make these if we give him the connectors to use with his cable), hand mike for use by the station operator.  I left in the filters box on top of the closet in the second BR unused high pass and low pass filters, speaker filters, telephone filters, and an AC line cord filter. 

Martinez claims TVI as well, but Lisandro thinks that is from an illegal splitter he uses.  Emily came over to check out the scene and she and Lisandro finally left around 11:20.    I reported to Ken and John at our 11:30 sked that we seemed to have solved the problem except for 15 meters  (earlier in the evening, the problem was on 20 meters, so it may have to do with resonant cable lengths).  After the sked I hung around on 40, which had a nice low noise level, to work a bunch of EUs.  I agreed with Pastor Martinez to stay off 15 during the hours of his services (supposedly 7-9:30 pm on Friday and Sunday, and Sunday morning 9-12). 

Friday, March 26, 2004. I treat myself today to breakfast at the Hyatt.  On the way back, I stop at the Butterfly Farm for the first time.  Ed, W0YK, had been so enthusiastic about it that it seemed like a necessary detour.  The tour was quite interesting, but I didn’t take Ed’s advice to return early in the morning to watch the pupas turn into butterflies.  Then to Super Foods for some more snack foods and drinks for the contest.  This seems to be a more Dutch-oriented place than Ling and Sons, next door (confirmed on Monday when Yvonne Bok said she did prefer Super Foods). 

On the way I stop at Eagle Beach, the vast beach between the low-rise and high-rise hotels.  I sit out for a while on a plastic chair brought from home then do go in the water, just so I can say I did.  Like all days on this trip, it is beautiful, with temp about 80, sunny and breezy but not very windy.  An afternoon nap ends after a half-hour with a phone call from Martin, P49MR, inquiring about contest plans.  He very kindly offers to sit out the contest if I were using my P49Y call, so I’d be the only P49.  Since I haven’t yet received it from the DTZ (and really wouldn’t want him to stay off the air for that reason anyway), he says he’ll be a single band 10 meter entrant, and that KK9A, P40A, is planning to go low power again.  Martin isn’t too serious about it, as he refuses to use computer logging. 

CQ WPX PHONE Contest, March, 27-28, 2004 [mostly from contest dictation]. I have a bad feeling about how things had been left with the church.  I had intended to start the contest on 20, to avoid 15, and was going to warm up a frequency starting about 20 minutes before the contest began.  But 20 minutes before the start Martin calls again, then I call Sandy, so I don’t get back to the radio till just a few minutes before the 8 p.m. start time. I find a marginal frequency on 20, and warm it up with a VE9, who becomes contact number one  After a few minutes I hear a pounding on the door, and it’s the pastor, who says we are coming in on his PA system.  He says they haven’t made any changes, but I don’t believe him.  But, after 18 Qs, I agree to stay off the air until 9:30.  This is very annoying, to say the least.

It’s now 0329Z (2329 local).  I’ve been on 20 for the last hour and a half.  I have 278 on 20 and 178 on 15. Overall rate is 213 per hour, so it’s been fun once I got back on the air.  It is a bit annoying, however, to have US stations giving me higher numbers than I give them!  Twenty has been great, but the QRN level has increased, so I’m going to try 40.  I haven’t been working any EUs, except for some Spaniards, so I hope to get some on 40.   But 40 is an absolute zoo and it’s impossible to find a clear frequency.  I try 80 on the second radio and make about 15 Qs at a rate of 54 per hour.  It’s hard to get answers to CQs, though people I call do respond.  I finally find a good freq at 3793, and now have 74 Qs at a rate of 87 per hour, but it’s pretty tough going with a lot of QRM.  Some EUs and some West Coast, but copy is difficult.

Back to 20 at 0430Z, and the rate is better, but with lots of QRN.  My first break at 0542Z for 9 minutes.  The QRN is up to S9, and the FT-1000 noise blanker is ineffective.  I’m at 723 by 309 for 736k points.  I go to 40 and have a little bit more luck, alternately working US split then EUs on my own frequency.  There’s so much noise and QRM that I don’t try listening on both frequencies at once.  I’m at 7022 listening on 7213, which is miraculously a nice clear freq until another DX station apparently starts sending guys there.  Of course you never know who is doing that and there is no real way to tell him not to (next time I’ll try transmitting on the split frequency and asking the DX station to listen somewhere else).

To 80 at 0621Z, which has quieted down a bit from its craziness earlier.  Reach 1M points at 0650Z.  Back to 40, where I am chased by some bozo yelling at me that I am in the wrong part of the band (not true legally; he may have been referring to the band plan of keeping below 7025 for CW, but, as K0DQ says, the first casualty of war is the plan).  Some Americans do appear illegally on my xmit frequency asking for me to work split again, and I do so, on 7071/7195.  This is a good set of frequencies, but at about 0810Z (0410 local) things start to slow drastically, though interestingly, my last 10 Qs on 40 are:  VK2, VK3, VK5, VK1, VK3, ZL6, AN8, TF3, VK2, VK2. So to 20 at 0823Z, and I give up about 15 minutes later.  I hadn’t been planning to take off time so soon, but there is nothing going on 40, 80, or 20, so I decide to take some off time. 

I go to bed, setting the alarm for a two-hour sleep to 1030Z, but awaken naturally at 1015Z.  I stagger out of bed feeling cold, disoriented and reluctant to wake up.  I have some pudding and frosted flakes, and brew some coffee.  Dawn has just  about broken.  I hunt and pounce about 10 EUs on 20, then set up at 14130 to try to work more below the US phone band.  The band isn’t fully open yet and has S5 noise and weak signals.  At 1123Z, I QSY to the US band at 14184.  To 15 at 1159Z  (1076 by 447  for 1.8M points).  Fifteen is quieter than 20 and I get a very nice EU pileup going on 21164 , with generally two or three stations calling at a time and miraculously no noise. 

It’s now 1619Z (1219 local)  and I’ve been on the same frequency on 15 for 4 hours and 4 minutes having made almost 600 Qs in that time period (1681 by 685 for 4M points).  I’m getting tired, but it has been a fabulous run.   It’s amazing how a contest can be pure agony at times (e.g., 40/80 last night), while at other times you get the sheer pleasure of a quiet frequency and a solid run for hours.  I’ve been using the FT-990/Alpha 86 exclusively for this 15 meter work.  A 16 minute break at 1631Z for some chow, then to try the US on 15.  The US phone band is just jammed, so I go back to the still-available 21164.9 to work more EUs.  After spending a while in the US phone band, I switch to 10 at 1755Z, and stay on 28426 for three hours maintaining a steady rate of just under 200 per hour.  It’s now 2104Z (1704 local),  and I have 630 Qs on 10.  At 2134Z, the halfway point in the contest for me with 18:10 on the clock, I’m at 2600 by 801 for 6.87M points. 

I stay on the same frequency until 2147Z, with 751 Qs on 10, but things are slowing down.  I bounce around 10, 15, and 20 for the next few hours, finally deciding at 0015Z that I need some off time.  With 21:01 on the clock, I am at 3023 by 848 for 8.32M points.  I plan some time management, since I have agreed to take off from 9-12 a.m. local time Sunday morning and also the last hour of the contest, and one must take off at least 12 hours as a single op.  Back on at 0117Z, then make about 60 qs on 40 and 80, but 40 is extremely difficult, though a bit easier when working the US split.  I work a few EUs by turning the AVC off and riding the RF gain control to reduce overload levels.  To 20 at 0225Z, initially working mainly West Coast at a decent rate.  I end up with a great run on 20, two hours of 170 or so an hour with very easy to control pileups. 

It’s now 0435Z on Sunday morning, and I’ve just passed 10M points at the 2/3 mark of the contest with 24:15 hours of operation.  Some interesting stuff has called in, like A61AJ, S9SS,  and VK9NS.  At 0505Z I have a surreal experience of being QRM’d by “myself,” as I ask AE6Y (Tom, W6IXP) kindly to QSY down a bit.  AT 0538Z I go to 40 and then to 80, but can only hear the strongest stations on 80.  I decide to call it a night at 0630Z (0230 local, 3662 by 908 for 11.0M points). 

I set two watch alarms to wake me by 1030Z, but sleep through both and wake up at 1138Z naturally, feeling miserable, tired and without any time for coffee or food.  Fifteen isn’t open to EU yet (it’s 0743 local), so I have a desultory hour and a half on 20, then 15 till 1247Z.  I sleep until about 1520Z (1120 local), waking up a bit more refreshed, have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, an apple and some java.  Outside I don’t hear a church service next door, but there are six or seven cars parked in front, so something may be going on.  Back on the air at 1605Z, I immediately work D4B on 15, who depressingly gives me number 4997 to my number 3758.  Looks like déjà vu all over again.

I hang out on 21157 working EUs on the FT-990, with the FT-1000 ready to go on 10 when it opens.  I seem to be in the tail end of the EU opening on 15 but I want to stay with it as long as possible for the mults.  To 10 at 1700Z.  At 1826Z I work CT9A and give him 4065 to his 4064.  He says he’s HP AB, so here’s another competitor.  If we stay tied in Qs, I suspect he’ll win out on mults due to his near-EU QTH.  FY5FY is also about 400 Qs ahead of me.  I also hear P40A; it’s a bit like being stuck in traffic – the other lanes always seem to be moving faster.  Propagation on 10 is spotty, but since I have many more Qs on 15 due to yesterday’s emphasis on that band, it seems like a good idea to stay on 10. 

At 1907Z I do switch to 15 which is mainly US, then to 14130 to work more EUs, then eventually bounce from 10 to 15 and run out the contest on 15 with a 183 hour in the 2200-2300Z slot.  I had agreed to stay off the air for the last hour in deference to Pastor Martinez, but I decide  to eke out a few more contacts, so I turn off the 87A, turn the FT-1000 RF power down all the way (10 watts or so), turn the C31 to the South, and start looking for South American mults.  It’s kinda fun, and I make 24 Qs with 9 new mults in the last hour. 

Here’s a comparison with last year:


P40Y 2004

P40Y 2003

FY5FY 2004





































Monday, March 29, 2004. This has been a day for socializing.  After sleeping like a log until 9 a.m., I had breakfast at the Hyatt again, then drove over to see John Bayne, KK9A, P40A (take the main road north of the hotels, turn right at the Y-intersection, and he is on the right, with an easily visible tower – Martin is just slightly up the road if you don’t turn right at the Y).  He has quite a nice house, with a Rohn 55 tower about 65 feet tall, all very workmanlike.  Homemade 15 and 20 meter long-boom yagis on top and a 10 on a TIC ring lower down.  He was installing drapes, getting ready to leave the next day.  It’s a nice area with expensive houses near the Tierra del Sol golf course.  John isn’t too happy about the contest and says he ended up with about 4500 Qs by 950 mults (of course, this is actually a terrific low power score).  I stop by Martin’s house on the way back, but they are out.

I then stopped in to see Joop Bok, P43JB.  His house is right behind our notary’s office (J.W. Bodeker) just off the main road on the south side of Oranjestad, easily recognizable by a new 65-foot  self-supporting AN tower in the backyard, with several OptiBeams on top.  He and his lovely wife Yvonne were most hospitable, insisting that I join them at the lunch that they were just sitting down to enjoy, including the first of three or so beers.  Joop and I spent three hours together, talking, admiring  the tower and radios, etc.  He and Jean-Pierre just finished putting up the tower and they are in the process of assembling a very strange Titanex 30/40 meter beam that will go up next.  Joop made a blanket offer to let me operate his station, even in a contest, lend us radios if we need them, etc.  He said people drop in from all over the world, since his tower is readily visible from the cruise ship terminal. 

He has an extensive collection of telegraph keys of all types and vintages, probably at least 100 in all, but claims not to own a microphone.  The radio room in his garage features a multitude of radios, antenna tuners, antenna switches, etc, all very neatly arrayed.  He is partial to Ten-Tec, and his newest toy is an early Orion, which we tried out briefly.  I made a CW Q on 17 meters with a French station, and must say that it is not an intuitive radio to use.  The house is a colonial structure with extensive shade and garden, obviously designed in the days before air conditioning.  Joop was the director of the electric company on the island, and Emily says that there is a row of similar houses all built for company management.  Before that, he did the same work in Indonesia, Surinam and Curacao – a genuine Dutch colonial in the best sense of the word.

Thirty seconds after returning home there was a knock on the door -- Humphrey, P43HM, with a friend, Ludwig, P43LM.  Humphrey had come to collect his video tape converter box that I had bought on eBay at his request and brought down.  We chatted for a while, I showed him our SO2R setup, and he offered to help solve our rfi problems.  As he left, he reiterated, “You have a friend in Aruba.”  He was very pleased with the book I sent him for his 75th birthday. 

In the late afternoon I went out into the cunucu to bring in the U.S./Canada beverage and some old wire from a former EU beverage, all of which I threw out (except for the blue wire I had added as a counterpoise last month, which I coiled up and put in the storage room).  The feed line had a CATV connector that came apart in my hands about 10 feet past the tower, so I’m not sure how well the beverage was even connected to the radio.  I did coil up about 150 feet of feed line in the storage area also, which needs new connectors.  There are three spools of black-insulated wire suitable for beverage or dipole use in the storage area (provided by John?):  each is a 500-foot spool, one 14-gauge and two 16-gauge. 

I talked to Martin again on the phone, and he reported making  about 800 Qs as a single band 10-meter entrant.  Unfortunately, it looks as though we aren’t going to be able to get together on this trip, due to their busy social calendar, maintained by Truus.    Then on to dinner with Emily at Scandals, a pleasant open air bar/restaurant in the Seaport shopping center right next to the cinema.  The shrimp caesar salad was tasty and a good antidote to the junk food I had been eating all weekend. She had also been on in the contest with her brand new station, making about 3000 Qs by 860 for 7.8M points. 

Tuesday, March 30, 2004. After waking up a little before 8, I climbed the back tower to take down and discard the 17-meter dipole, both ends of which had come loose, and the coax for which had already been disconnected and coiled up, so it was pretty easy work on a lovely, calm morning.  I left the house about 8:45 to do something I had always been meaning to do -- climb the Hooiberg.  This is the prominent hill between Santa Cruz and Oranjestad that shows on my QSL card.  On the north side, there is a set of some 550 or so concrete steps leading straight to the summit, about 180 meters high.  There’s not much up there other than some telephone antenna facilities, but there is a panoramic view of the island.  I was up and down in half an hour, including photo-taking time.  I then drove down to Seroe Colorado and stopped at a lovely beach (Boca Grandi) just below the prison, where I was the only person in sight.  Sunned and took a  brief swim before returning home to shower, pack and wait for Chris to take me to the airport for the 4 p.m. AA plane back to Miami.   Unfortunately, I stupidly lost my car key in the sand (not a problem since I had another, but will have to get it replaced). 

General observations: 

    • Radios were fine. 
    • The FT-1000 front end continues to be a problem.  The automatic tuner has to be left on for quieter receive operation.  This is no problem, but suggests that something has failed in the front end or in the tuner itself.  Glad we have a spare radio (BTW, JP mentioned unsolicited that he’d be happy to lend us his MP in a crunch.) 
    • I didn’t make many second radio QSOs, but it was very handy to have the two radios for checking band activity, facilitating finding a clear QSY frequency, and even searching for rare mults.  All of the automatic switching gear worked perfectly.  The filters sometimes allow one radio to be heard in the other, but most band combinations are OK.
    • I usually left the 990/86 tuned to 15 in the day and 80 at night. 
    • Both amps were rock solid, though the 87A hard faulted once, perhaps due to operator antenna switching error.

To bring. 

  • replacement rfi filter stuff
  • beverage feed lines
  • CATV connectors and crimping tool, if used for beverage feedlines
  • beverage transformers
  • beverage spare preamp
  • tool belt/bag for walking in cunucu and climbing
  • ¼ inch  socket wrench set (the one we have has only a screwdriver for a driver – need one with 4 inch driver).  Will need a 3/8 inch set for tower work.
  • coax crimp tool with dies for small and large coax and connectors.
  • 3/8 inch reversing drill (the one there is pretty ratty).  A portable one might be a good idea for outdoor work.

Station to do. 

  • Hook up new beverages.  Arrange simple coax to leave as rolls on the tower and be hooked up to coax for beverages when they are strung.  Label the beverage coaxes.
  • Install computer/radio control interface.  Note that the DVP control cable is attached to the computer that I removed and placed on the shack floor.  There is at least one LPT cable, and maybe also a serial port cable still in the rat’s nest behind the radios; one or both may still be hooked up to the FT-1000.  The two new serial port cables from John are on top of the spare computer on the operating table.  They can be hooked up to a laptop.