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February 2005 Aruba Trip Notes – ARRL DX CW Contest

Andy Faber, AE6Y

Wednesday, February 16, 2005.  I arrived at 9 p.m. on the AA flight from Miami, after an uneventful trip. AA has rescheduled the usual flights, leaving SFO at 6:58 a.m., changing in MIA. There were two nice surprises: (1) that the tickets were $200 cheaper going through Expedia.com than through AA.com, and (2) that my new GSM cell phone works on Aruba (need to set network to 900, instead of Automatic, then it shows Setar GSM on the main window – to dial local calls, just dial the 7 digits, for USA, dial 001 plus full number, and to call the cell phone from Aruba, dial 001 plus full cell phone number).  Chris and Cindy (age almost 12 now) picked me at the airport and we drove to the house where JP and Andy (age almost 5) were waiting.

After a quick sandwich at the local Subway, I started to check out the radio gear.  The old FT-1000 is on the left, and John’s on the right.  I verify the split receive problem reported by K2LE, Andy Bodony, on the right radio, but it seems to be a problem only on 40 meters.  Note that later I thought that radio had reduced sensitivity, and swapped it out with the spare FT-990.  Upon rechecking on Monday, it seemed to receive fine, except that the S meter didn’t work at all (though the transmit metering was OK). 

Thursday, February 17, 2005.   Woke up before 7, and decided to walk the beverages while it was cool.  They seemed fine.  Either Ed, W0YK, or K2LE had set up the feed points on elevated metal stakes, and John had attached three ground wires to each feed point.  The wires and feeds were intact.  The cunucu was quite overgrown due to last fall’s extensive rain.  I couldn’t find the branch clippers, so I later bought a new pair and some new work gloves, and left the gloves in the kitchen drawer and the clippers (and Ed’s unused machete) in the garage.  The EU feedline was on an orange reel in the garage, so I ran it into the shack through the side window.

I then went to Ling and Sons to shop.  They say not to shop on an empty stomach, and that must be even more true for shopping before breakfast.  It’s a fabulous store, and I stocked up on salads, cold cuts, beverages, junk food, etc., to the tune of $70.  Incidentally, the weather was beautiful today, as on the entire trip, with temperatures in the low 80s during the day and the mid 70s at night, breezy and sunny.

I checked the computer and radio control, then took down the LCD monitor and placed the laptop on the shelf, using its monitor (for clarity).  I have it hooked up with rig control for one radio on Com 1 using my old serial cable, then the USB port into the Compaq 4-port expander.  One line goes to the 2-serial port converter with one radio rig control on one port and one port for CW keying.  I found that rig control only partly works, in that the computer sends commands to the radios but doesn’t receive them. I’m using the two W1GEE interface cables that run from the radios to the new Dell computer John set up.  Later I swapped those out for a W1GEE cable and a K1NU cable of my own, and the problems went away.  It’s not clear what the problem was, since the resident cables worked fine in October.  Both amps work fine.  K2LE had said that the FT-1000 wasn’t keying the Alpha 86 properly, but after rehooking up the keying cable normally (i.e., from the TX GND jack on the FT-1000 to the relay jack on the 86), it worked fine. 

At about 1:30, Andy Bodony stopped by, along with Joe, W1JR, who was in town on a cruise with his wife, Ginny, and we talked radio for a while.  I later called Joop Bok, P43JB, then went over to his house for a beer and to drop off a copy of the book "Hello World" that I had brought down in October to give him as thanks for his hospitality to Holly and her doctor friends last year. Later to Chris and JP’s house to talk finances then I took them out to dinner at Marina Pirata, sitting, as usual, on the deck just a foot from the water.  Back home for a sked with John on 7055 at 11 p.m.  I listened for W0YK and AA6VB, but they weren’t there.  We also did a CW QSO on 80 meters easily.  The FT-1000 wouldn’t set the decoder to the 80-meter position, though all other positions worked fine.  I later traced the problem to a slightly loose band data cable – pushing it in fully at the back of the radio solved the problem. 

Conditions were excellent on 160 and 80 CW, and I worked some EUs.  The beverages are set up with Carl’s old Ameco preamp.  Later, I swapped that out with the K9AY 10-db preamp, which has less gain but seems to have better s/n.  With these quiet conditions, the inverted vee worked about as well as the beverages for receiving.  Later, in the contest, with more noise, the beverages clearly work better, particularly the EU beverage, which covers the Eastern U.S. well. 

Friday, February 18, 2004.  I drove to the DTZ at Ed’s request to get his official license certificate corrected (it was missing a number).  Ken Lovell did it while I waited for 20 minutes or so, and we had a brief chat.  Then to the post office in San Nicolas ( a one-story, bright blue building near the Radio Shack) to pick up the license plates for 2005 for the car.  These had  been paid for by Chris, and were then sent in the mail.  She couldn’t pick them up because the owner’s signature is required (I’m shown as the sole owner, as “Fabar”).

Back at the house, I took apart the ICE 419A filter for the left radio and replaced the three capacitors that ICE had sent me to fix the 10-meter filter.  This solved the problem, but then about a half hour later when fooling around using the FT-990, the 10m position of the right-radio ICE went bad!  I first noticed this as low sensitivity on receive, then as high SWR on transmit.  Wow, must be a bad design, since I could only run 100 watts into it with the 990, and they are supposed to be rated to 200 watts.  Note that there is no visible sign of problems with the capacitors, which look fine. 

I took a nap from 4 to 5, then decided a pre-contest run would be helpful, so I took a 30-minute run from Marina Pirata to La Granja and back along Spann’s Lagoenweg (Spanish Lagoon Road, where the club station is located).  I stopped at Dunkin Donuts on the way back, and took back coffee and a donut to have with my Ling and Sons macaroni and ham salad for dinner.  I got contest food ready: glasses of water and Gatorade, a bowl with cookies and M&Ms, and a plate with two jars of baby food all on the table next to the radio.  I also made two small egg salad sandwiches and two small peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to put in the refrigerator for later use.

The radios seemed OK, but 15m sounded moribund if not dead.  I set the FT-990/Alpha 86 on 40 meters, since the receive antennas are needed on 80 and 160 and they are only connected to the FT-1000.   

ARRL DX CW Contest Saturday, February 19-Sunday, February 20, 2005 – Contest notes more or less as dictated during the contest.  Fifteen isn’t dead after all – I start out with a rush on 15 at 217/38 (last year could only stay on 15 for the first 20 minutes).  Twenty slows after about 200 qs at 0200Z (10 p.m. local).  I’m sending at 39 wpm to speed up the pileup, ID’g every 2-3 QSOs.  A brief restroom break at 0235Z (225/38 on 15, 318/45 on 20).  Forty is bedlam with wall to wall strong European signals, so I try 80, going up to 3564 to find a clear frequency.  After 80 Qs and 20 mults on 80, I decide to try 160 at 0313Z.  Conditions aren’t nearly as good as either last year or last night.  First West Coast is a very weak NK7U at 0337Z, the US beverage definitely helping.  Leave 160 at 0403Z with 128/39 and decide to try 40 again, where so far I only have one QSO.  Surprisingly, the first CA on 40 is QRP N6WG.  I reach the 1000 QSO mark  at 0515Z with 248/47 on 40, and a total of 197 mults. A few more on 160 then to 80 at 0605Z, getting few US calls but also a bunch of DX callers.  I have 34 mults on 80 and 42 on 160, which is not a very promising start on 80. 

It’s getting frustrating on 160 and I’m getting hungry, so I take a sandwich break at 0641Z at 210/43 on 160.  First move is at 0814, N1UR in VT from 160 to 40.  At 0913Z, VO1HP obliges with a double move from 160 to 80 to 40, though I can barely hear him on 40. I’m getting flurries of dupes from the big guns, probably due to erroneous spots on the packet cluster (e.g., P40Y instead of P49Y); a big gun W0 has duped me several times already.  At 0938Z I’m getting no answers to CQs on 40, 80, or 160, so I decide to take a break and try to sleep for 45 minutes or so.  I’m at 1486/238 (40: 377/54, 80: 312/53, 160: 254/48).

Just like last year, I can’t get to sleep at this time, so I’m up by 1009Z and have a bowl of Frosted Flakes, and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  At 1137Z, I fail to move VE9DX to 80.  At 1150Z, can’t get anything going on 15 or 20; it must be the Caribbean morning blues, so I stay on 40 till well after sunrise; 40 finally peters out and I move to 20 at 1214Z, using the right radio, with the left one on 15 waiting for it to open.   The front end birdies seem to be getting worse on the old FT-1000, requiring using the tuner to receive, but then having it sometimes cut back power on transmit. Fifteen is full of EUs.  VE2AWR calls in on 20 and I move him to 15, accidentally choosing a terrible frequency.  I have a rate of about 160 on 20 for a half hour or so. 

I’m now listening to P43JB CQing on 10 on the 990 (second radio), waiting for him to get a steady stream of callers, indicating that the band is open enough to go there.  Finally to 10 at 1444Z, and I decide to use the left radio, since it has the choice of the C31 or the monobander.  It’s interesting to note how the propagation develops on 10.  At first it’s all New England, New York, NS, PEI, plus only TX.  Then AR and AL and a very weak IN, then it spreads across the country.  The pileup takes an hour and 27 minutes to work down.  I’m now at 347/43 on 10 meters at 1713Z. 

At 1748Z I have my only frequency fight of the weekend as a KN4 starts CQing right on my frequency. I ask him to leave; he ignores me but eventually departs.  VE5SF calls in on 10 and I move him to 15 and to 20 for a nice double move; I’m feeling I should do more mult moves.  I move MT on 10 to 15 and UT calls in, which I don’t need on 10, but I move him to 15, and feel I’m getting more into the rhythm of the contest.  Moving to 21112 seems to work well (though later on I find that freq busy, but a move works anyway).  Things are slowing down on 10 at 1840Z after a great run, now at 603/54.  The total is 2658/311 with a lot of dupes, for 2.423M points. 

I QSY to 15 looking for mults, of which only 47 are in the log on that band -- my lowest total on any band at this time.  VE4YU  is moved to 20 and then to 10 for a very satisfying double move, just as we did last year.  Back on 15 things are slowing down so I take a break for a quick sandwich at 2027Z.  KD0S in SD calls in on 15, where he isn’t a new mult, but I move him to 20 and 10 for a double mult.  8P5A is directly on my 20 meter move frequency, 14112, but we make the Q nonetheless.  I now have 57 mults on 10 and 15, 56 on 20 and 55 on 40.  After moving W7LR in MT to 20, I now have 57 on 10-20.  In each case I’m missing DC and WY, plus the 4 rare Canadians (which never show up at all): YU, NT, NU and LB.  It’s 2321Z and I’ve had an incredible run on 15, now at 1072 QSOs, so I’m going to take a brief baby food break, then go to 20, which only has half as many Qs.  At the halfway point in the contest, 0000Z, I’m at 3493/327 for 3.346M points. 

I finally get my first DC in the contest as 4U1WB of all people (World Bank in DC) calls in on 20 at 0015Z.  I foolishly try to move him to 15 and lose him – instead I should have tried a move to 40.  At 0145Z things are drying up on 20, so I stop for a moment to eat an apple then decide to go down to 40 on the FT-990, keeping the FT-1000 ready for 80 and 160.  I find another DC, W3DOS, on 40, and move him to 80.  We make what I think is a valid, though ESP, contact on 160, but he comes by later on 40, alas, to say that he didn’t hear me on 160 so that move failed (and I never do get another DC on 160).  More unsuccessful moves to 160: VE2, SD and UT.  The low bands are much noisier to tonight, and it’s rough sledding.  I’m stuck at 48 mults on 160, and even on 80 I’m missing MB, SK and ND. 

I pass the 4000 QSO mark at 0330Z.  I ask VE5UF to move to 80 from 40.  He warns me there is no propagation, and sure enough the move fails and then I lose my run frequency on 40 – this is what can go wrong during an attempted move.  Andy, VE9DX,  whom I’ve already worked on 40, comes by and asks for a QSY to 80 for a new mult of NB.  That one works, but a try at 160 is yet another failure.   It’s 0623Z and I’ve been falling asleep in the middle of QSOs, so I think it’s time to take my first real sleep break of the contest.  I’m at 10: 607/57, 15: 1072/57, 20: 948/58, 40: 914/59, 80: 480/57, 160: 270/48 -- overall 4291/336 for 4.238M points.  I decide to try to get a full 2 ½ hours of sleep and set the clock radio, and my wristwatch, and my Palm alarms, since last year I slept through my wristwatch alarm alone. 

It’s 0930Z and I’m ready to hit the radio again after 2 ½ hours of dead-to-the-world sleep, some breakfast and coffee.  I’m expecting some slow hours ahead, as last year the next six hours were deadly.  I have a 39 hour (29 minutes) and a 56 hour, both split between 80 and 40, then find that 40 is doing reasonably well, and I stay on it until 1156Z.  This is 0756 local time and at least an hour after sunrise, but the 1100-1200 hour produces 84 Qs on 40.  I set the right radio to 15 and go to 20 on the left radio, expecting some slow times as the East Coast concentrates on EU.  I basically have to slug it out on 20 for a few hours until 10 or 15 opens up.  The next three hours are 57, 60 and 56 on 20. 

Once again, I’m listening to P43JB on the second radio calling CQ on 10. He is single band 10, and I wait until I hear him get a steady stream of replies, then conclude that 10 is ready for me at 1457Z.  At 1520Z I finally work DC on 10, as W3/OM2KI calls in, and I move him to 15 also, so I finally have DC on all bands except 160.  The pileup is steady on 10 at 160 per hour.  At 1647Z, I finally get a WY caller, KO7X, whom I move to 15 and 20 also, giving me 59 mults now on all three high bands.  Things are slowing on 10 but I stay on it as long as possible.  At 1708Z the rate is picking up again, with a steady stream of one or two callers at a time, as I’m just about to break 5 million points. 

A nine minute break at 1916Z, then to 15, where I can’t seem to get anything going on 21088.  The band is full of EUs, but I find an open spot at 21016 and start to get callers.  I run out the last two and a half hours of  the contest on 20, feeling very tired and having trouble concentrating.  I’m having to make a real effort to copy callsigns, and often find myself confusing 8 and 9 in my mind, sometimes having to sound out the callsign letter by letter to get it right.  Although these afternoon hours feel really slow and there is never a big pileup, the rate  actually averages 143 per hour for the last 9 hours, which is about 10 per hour better than last year.  On the plane from Miami to SFO, 8P5A (Tom, W2SC) comments that this is quite a bit better than his Sunday afternoon, though since he finishes with 6004 Qs, 180 more than I have, it’s obvious that his rates were higher earlier in the contest.  My slowest hour is the penultimate one, at 117, as I find myself losing focus and really working to make contacts.  The final hour is 159 as activity picks up a bit and I regain my concentration with the end in sight. The final totals are 5937/341 for 5.957M points.  That QSO total includes dupes, though I stop working dupes on Sunday morning.  The non-dupe QSO total is 5824.

At the end I feel quite a bit better than last year.  My sleep regimen seems to have been successful.  John, W6LD, calls on the telephone as soon as the contest was over and we chat for a while.  He reports my signal strength being as good or better than the other Caribbeans.  I then shave and shower and go off to the post-contest dinner of non-junk food at Scandals in the Seaport Center near the movie theaters.  It’s only with Emily, P43E, though it turns out that Martin, P49MR, had come by and missed us, as we got there about a half hour later than the scheduled nine o’clock.

Monday, February 21, 2004.  Slept like a log until 10 a.m., and felt quite logy upon awakening.  Then had breakfast at the house and checked email.  Unfortunately there is a score posting from 9Y4W that is at 5.987M points, which is 30k points higher than my total (a difference that represents about 12 minutes of operating time).  He says he was on for 46 hours, compared to my 44 hours, so maybe the sleep strategy wasn’t optimal after all, though it’s hard to say what would have happened if I had tried to put in more operating time—it might have been counter-productive.

I have a number of station activities, including rechecking out John’s FT-1000 and retrieving the beverage transformers and feed lines, since it appears that no one will be at the station for ARRL phone in two weeks.  Having missed the cool, early morning hours in the cunucu, I turned on the radio for a few phone QSOs on 10 and 15 with various non-contesters in the U.S., though I did get a chance to thank KO7X for the double WY move.  I then went out into the cunucu and reeled in the beverage feedlines, removing the K9AY transformers also.  Stupidly, I dropped one of the transformers in the tall grass on the way back and never could find it again (fortunately, I had brought two spares).  Later I put the new license plates on the car, and got the information from the lawnmower, as it needs a new dead-man switch. 

I took a shower then drove up to the Hotel District for my last night’s dinner at Bingo Restaurant (ex-Captain’s Corner, on the same street and side of the street as the McDonald’s, about 3 blocks inland) with Martin, P49MR, and Truus, P49TR.  We had good seafood sitting on the patio.  The weather was perfect, temperature in the mid 70s, and I drove back with the a/c off and my arm out the window, to finish packing for my flight back in the morning.

General observations: 

  • I was planning to play in the big dog category of single operator, all band, high power, as I had for the prior two years.  This year there was less Aruba competition, only P43JB as SB 10, a part-time P43E effort, and P40LE as a low power entrant from Playa Linda.  There was going to be a lot of other competition from great stations, including:  9Y4W, ZF2TJ (N6TJ at Bruce’s), 8P5A, and other Caribbeans.  D4B was supposed to be on.  He killed us all last year, but actually didn’t show this time.  Here’s a comparison of claimed scores for P49Y this year versus P40Y for the past two years, as well as 8P5A (W2SC) for 2005 and P40T (N6TJ) for 2003.  Last year, P40Y was third worldwide; in 2003 P40T came in second and P40Y fourth.  It looks like this year 8P5A will be the overall winner, with P49Y as second or third, depending on log-checking, and ZF2TJ in fourth place with a claimed 5.750M points.



P49Y 2005

8P5A 2005

P40Y 2004

P40Y 2003

P40T 2003


















































  • As compared to prior years, my QSOs were up about 450 (the total for 2005 is without dupes; actually I worked 5937 raw QSOs, including 113 dupes, before I stopped working dupes on Sunday morning; the total for 2003 includes about 100 dupes, and for 2004, there are 15 or so in the log).  Mults were up by four on the high bands and down by six on 80 and 160.  160-meter conditions were good Friday night (though not as quiet as on Thursday), but very noisy on Saturday, when I only managed four 160-meter contacts.  In retrospect, I should have been more aggressive in moving mults to 160 Friday night, since all 160-meter moves failed on Saturday, including VE2AWR, W3DOS (DC), SD, and UT.  Other than that, I was reasonably successful moving mults and had a number of pleasing double moves, including VO1HP, VE4YU, VE5SF, KO7X (WY), KD0S (SD), and W3/OM2KI (DC). 
  • Sleep strategy was much better than last year, when I was a zombie by the end of the contest.  I basically took only a few short breaks and one slightly longer (from 0936 to 1013Z Saturday morning) until Sunday morning, when I took off three hours from 0631 to 0933Z.  I actually slept for 2 ½ hours of this time, then made coffee and had breakfast.  I felt much better after that sleep than after a shorter sleep last year.  I was hallucinating mildly towards the end, but not nearly as badly as last year, and I did feel pretty much in possession of my faculties throughout, notwithstanding the occasional dozing off during a QSO.


  • The station played very well and everything worked.
    • The front end on the old FT-1000 continues to deteriorate.  The tuner must be left on on the low bands, and sometimes on the high bands as well, to avoid birdies, etc.  But occasionally leaving it on would suddenly result in a power cut back on the high bands.  Sometimes reducing power or changing antennas would stop that behavior, but there was a spell on 10 on Sunday when I had to keep turning the tuner on to receive and off to transmit on every QSO.  The FT-990, as usual, was rock solid.
    • I didn’t make many second radio QSOs, but it was very handy to have the two radios for checking band activity and facilitating finding a clear QSY frequency.
    • The filters didn’t seem to work as well as last year.  Something we have done is causing more intra-station interference than before (and much more than I get at home with the same filtering and switching setup).
    • Antennas:  All worked fine.  The EU beverage was generally better for US.  It seems to be pointed to about 010 degrees.  The US beverage was generally better for the West Coast.  As always, there is some interaction between the C31 and the monobanders that varies with pointing directions.  It’s reduced by pointing the C31 to 360 and the others to 300-330.
    • Both amps were rock solid with no hard or soft faults whatever.  They are quieter than the air conditioner.  I used Ed’s muffin fans on top for additional cooling.
    • I set the laptop up on the top shelf, using its monitor instead of the external one (only because at the laptop’s best resolution, it has a sharper image).  The keyboard was on the desk, then to the right of it the paddle, then the mouse, with both the keyboard and mouse run off the laptops’s PS2 port with a Y-connector.  The keyboard tray under the table mainly got in the way; I taped up the protruding metal ends to avoid leg injuries!
    • Beverage Information
      •  Feed lines:
        • There are two RG-59 feed lines from the shack to coils on the back tower.  The one labeled EU isn’t used and hasn’t been tested.  It has CATV connectors at the tower end.  The one labeled US is to be connected to the feedline for the US beverage.  That feedline is about 200 feet of RG-58 on an orange reel in the garage.  It has UHF connectors tested good (in fact I replaced one of them).  I also replaced the UHF connector at the end of the tower on the US feedline, as it was defective, having been put on with the wrong crimp connectors.
        • The EU feedline is a single 500 foot long RG-58 coil on an orange reel in the garage, tested good.  It is used simply by running one end into the side window.
      • Supplies
        • I turned the Stanford Law School canvas tote bag into a “Beverage Supplies” bag, and put it on a shelf in the 2d BR closet.  It contains 3 K9AY transformers, an extra K9AY preamp, the card of 450-ohm resistors, the crimp tool set, crimp connectors for RG-58, RG-59, and RG-8x, and written instructions.
        • To use the RG-58 crimp connectors, crimp the barrel with the .213 die, and crimp the center conductor with the smallest die on the same set of dies.  This works for the Halted RG-58, which has a substantial, multi-strand center conductor (cable with a smaller center conductor might need to be soldered).  For RG-59, crimp the barrel with the .256 die, and solder the center conductor, since the RG-59 in use has only a single, 22-gauge center conductor.
        • I also left behind an Alpha Delta 4-position coax switch, handy for testing combinations of radios or switching antennas.
      • Preamps
        • I found the K9AY preamp to be quieter than the old Ameco preamp that came with the station, though the latter is in the second BR closet and can be used.  I set up a K9AY preamp on top of the Alpha 87A.  To use it, just plug in its power wire into the Rig Runner on the table.  It can also be used outdoors.