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AE6Y May 2006 Aruba Trip Notes – CQ WPX CW Contest

Andrew L. Faber, AE6Y, P49Y

Wednesday, May 24 - Thursday, May 25, 2006.  Couldn’t take my normal flight through Miami, as I had to delay my departure for one day due to work commitments. For an extra charge of $400, I got the privilege of flying on the 10 p.m. red-eye from SFO to JFK, then a five-hour layover at JFK, then a 4 1/2 hour flight to Aruba, arriving at 4:15 p.m. [Note that in the summer Aruba is on the same time as NYC, as it does not go on daylight savings time, so there is only a three-hour difference from the West Coast, instead of the 4-hour difference in the winter.]  I had bought a special, extra-large suitcase to transport JP’s repaired FT1000D, but had to decide at the last minute not to take it, as my back had been strained a few days earlier, and I didn’t think I could manage it.  I felt very bad about not bringing it, but the decision was a wise one. 

Chris, Andy and Cindy met me at the airport, and JP was at the house (it was a  national holiday – Labor Day – in Aruba).  The house looked in very good shape.  Five minutes after my arrival, John Crovelli called, who had arrived a day or two earlier for the same contest.  He wanted to go to dinner, so we arranged a meal at 7:30 with the two of us, plus Emily Thiel, P43E, and Ann Santos, WA1S, who was visiting Emily so they could practice to be teammates in the upcoming WRTC competition in Brazil in July.  Emily picked a very nice restaurant called Promenade in San Nicolas; the meal and the company were both excellent. 

I did a quick check on station equipment before dinner.  All antennas worked (even our ex 4-element, now 3-element 20 meter monobander).  Although I never was able to walk the three beverages for fear of hurting my back by walking in the cunucu, amazingly, all three seemed to work.  [During the contest I used them on 40, and they were very helpful in cutting down on received noise, and were also quite directional.]  The radios and accessories were fine, except that the Alpha 87A never did work.  Instead, both TUNE lights would flash continuously as soon as it was turned on, indicating, per the manual, a probably control board fault, that could unfortunately not be reset.  When trying serial communications with the laptop, the Alpha acted as though it was turned off (i.e., it would accept only the command set for that status, not the set of operating commands). 

The temperature was in the high 80s when I arrived, though it seemed to cool off a bit later in the trip and overall was very pleasant.  I spent less time outside on this trip than on any other, however, so never really got to enjoy it.  The beverages are now properly labeled thanks to John Fore’s efforts in March (EU, West US and East US).  They are fed into Carl’s old Ameco preamp and a multiband Dunestar filter set up on top of the Alpha 86.  They then go with a simple T-connector into both radios. 

The six main coaxes had to be plugged into the SixPak, which is now a harder job due to all the coax stubs that are left attached.  Same for the C31 Coax, all of which are, again thanks to John, now clearly labeled.

Friday, May 26, 2006.   I felt OK upon turning in, but awaking at about 4 a.m., the slightest movement was agony on my back. It took me about 20 minutes to figure out a way to ooze out of bed in some way that didn’t kill my back, and I spent the rest of the night sleeping in a chair, from which it was a bit easier to arise in the morning.  I called Emily (who was at home for the Labor Day weekend), to see if she could help get me some medical care.  She said she had a friend who used to work in the office of a Neurology Clinic, and would see what she could do.  Well, in an extremely kind action, Emily not only got me an appointment with one of the doctors (one of only three neurologists on the island), but also drove me there, arranged for me to bypass the waiting line to be seen right away, and then drove me to a pharmacy to fill prescriptions for ibuprofen, tramadol (painkiller) and valium (muscle relaxant).  For some reason not explained, the doctor’s visit was free – and the three prescriptions only cost $15.  The doctor, Dr. Jaime Falconi, was great; he examined me and said my back was very stiff, but diagnosed muscle strain and ruled out nerve problems (consistent with my own diagnosis).

The clinic was on Vondeallen street, not far from the DTZ.  Arriving  back home at 11:30, I started the medications, and promptly took a long nap, after which I felt well enough to make my way gingerly to Ling & Sons supermarket to stock up on food.

This was a very gracious act by Emily, and it allowed me to continue my trip and participate in the contest, albeit in something of a drug-induced euphoria that did not help the score one bit.  I called John Crovelli to give up my high power slot in the contest, since I didn’t feel I could do it justice, and offered him the Alpha 86 for the weekend.  He came over later and got it, but it ended up staying in the trunk of his car as a spare for a few days. 

I had the computer set up in front of the Alpha 87A, hooked up with one USB port to the 4-serial port converter running all radio inputs.  Of those serial ports, one went to CW keying, one to PTT, one to R1/R2 switching and one to a rig control cable feeding both radios (set to separate addresses).  Note that to do this it was necessary to go into the Control Panel/System/Hardware/Device Manager/Ports/Properties area and rename the Com ports that are assigned automatically when Windows detects the extra serial ports.  This is because Windows XP for some reason refuses to release earlier assigned ports, though it will let them be reassigned.  It seems to be OK to assign any numbers above Com2 (Com1 is the serial port on the computer, and Com2 is the internal modem).  In addition, since this isn’t an officially Windows-recognized device, one must have the CD for the converter in the CD slot, and Windows goes through a process of loading the same driver from the CD four times, once for each port.  The second USB port went to a Y-connector attached to the external keyboard and mouse.  The external monitor was just plugged into the laptop.  I still got some “USB device not recognized” popup windows from time to time, but they seemed to be harmless and did not affect CW keying.  It does seem to be necessary to set CQPWIN to delay sending by “5 units” after PTT activated, or the first character is elongated (not sure what would happen if no PTT used, just semi break-in).  It all worked fine.

CQ WPX CW Contest Saturday, May 27 (GMT) –  Sunday, May 28, 2006 – Contest notes more or less as dictated during the contest.  [Note that the contest starts at 0000Z Saturday, which is 2000 local time Friday evening.]  40 is slow at the start.  I’ve been working some stations on the second radio with no trouble at all, so I switch to 20 at 0036Z with only 34 contacts in the log.  I’m using the second radio on 40, then return to that band at about 0200Z  and the rate picks up to about 90 an hour, much better.  The beverages are working well on 40.  All three are good, with marked directionality and definitely better S/N than the yagi.  A brief break at roughly 0300Z.  I’m at 258 by 181 for 192k points (158 Qs on 20 and 100 on 40).  Strangely enough, I haven’t heard any of the other P4s yet. My back, fortunately, has not been bothering me. 

There’s a station about 250 Hz above me on 40. He pretty much disappears on the US beverage, but his key clicks wipe me out on the EU beverage.  I pass 500k points at 0552Z (218 Qs on 20 and the same number on 40, by 262 mults).  At about 0700Z I break and take my three pills.  Maybe not a good idea as now at 0748Z the valium is making me quite sleepy (at 0348 in the morning local time, to boot).   Just before quitting, I work P40W on 40 (who gives me number 864 to my 568) and P40A (who gives me 579 to my 571).  The totals are 573 by 328 for 799 Kpts.  I decide to go to bed for a few hours [strategically, not a very good idea, but not much choice given the circumstances].

I went to sleep in a living room chair, as I wanted to be sure to be able to get myself out of it when I awoke, which turned out to be about 1130Z.  After a quick breakfast of coffee, a cream cheese and jelly sandwich on one of Ling’s wonderful rolls, and a piece of chocolate cake, I’m ready to re-enter the fray.  My back felt ok on awakening but I took a tramadol and ibuprofen (no valium) anyway.  I try 15 and work P40W, but signals are weak, and noise levels high on 15 and 20, while 10 is dead.  For a while I search and pounce on 15, both US and EU, but can’t scare up answers to my CQs.  I start to get answers, but EUs are very hard to copy due to the noise.  I actually try the EU beverage on 15, and it seems to help a little.  Can’t do much with SO2R, since not much is heard on 20, no EUs, but do get a few W/Ks.  Rates are very low, and I’m getting depressed, so at about 1413Z with only 26 QSOs in the log from the previous hour’s efforts, I take another hour and half off. 

I’m back on at 1540Z, and things are improving on 15.  I finally break 1M points at 1601Z with 682 by 363 (totals for 40/20/15 are 264/315/102).  I’m not using the ICE filters, since they don’t seem to be needed at low power, and I’m trying to put all available watts into the antennas.  I’m finally getting a decent rate for this weekend on 15, with 93 Qs in the 1600 hour and 92 in the 1700 hour (though in 2002, high power, I had rates in the 130’s at this time).  10 eventually opens, and I go there at 1816Z to work US only.  It starts to wind down, so I take a 23 minute break at 1940Z (1002 by 450 for 1.66 Mpts).  [This is the kind of break that kills you in WPX; since it isn’t 60 minutes long it doesn’t count as official off time].  Back on at 2002Z, and US is weak and watery on 15, but the C31 pointed to EU starts to pick up strong EUs.  During a 92 hour, I pass 2 Mpts at 2128Z.  In the midst of this good run, falling asleep necessitates another 20-minute break for some coffee. 

After splitting the 2200 hour between 10 and 20, I try 40 at 2350Z, and it seems to be wide open to EU. After the first day of the contest, I am at  1300 by 514 for 2.35Mpts.  Interestingly I have operated almost exactly 18 official hours, so have taken off half of the needed time [Another WPX strategy mistake caused by drugs – generally it’s better to take more time off the second day].  The 0000Z hour is very productive, with 82 Qs on 40 (far better than my best 93 hour on 15, since every 40m Q is double the points). 

I have my first [and only, as it turns out] frequency fight of the contest when a UA6 intentionally lands about 100Hz below my frequency at 0033Z; before that I had a nice, quiet frequency on 40 for the  last 45 minute.  I yell at him for a few minutes, and he eventually leaves.  I’m using the beverages exclusively as my receiving antennas; curiously, even for US signals the EU beverage right now is much quieter than either US beverage.  40 starts to slow down, so I make a sweep from the bottom, finding lots of new stations and mults.  I pass 3M points at 0248Z (1457 by 552).  I can continue running at about 60 per hour, finding that by slowing the speed down to 27 wpm, I’m getting more answers.  I’m running out of steam at 0536Z (1616 by 593 for 3.778 Mpts).  This is my lowest score by far at this point in the contest (comparing to P40Y in 2002 and VC1R in 2003), but at least I have 580 Qs on 40, which doesn’t seem too bad for low power. 

I sleep the sleep of the damned, again in the chair, until about 1000Z, then have breakfast of frosted flakes, coffee and chocolate cake with cream cheese.  I’m trying to work JAs on 20 but it’s a slow morning with few answers to CQs.  I slouch past 4 Mpts at 1146Z (1675 by 607).  At 1158Z I decide to take a nap and rest my back.  I’m off the air for almost an hour and a half, oversleeping due to the valium, and then it isn’t any better.  There’s horrendous noise on both 15 and 20 and I’m using the EU beverage on 20 trying to dig out Europeans.  I’m feeling the effects of the valium and having trouble staying awake – a depressing few hours.  I’m taking off time in 20-30 minute chunks and at 1500Z I give up again for another nap. [This is definitely the low point of the contest.  Sunday mornings are always slow, but this is ridiculous].

Back on 15 at 1608Z and finally get a short-term rate of 120 – my best rate of the contest.  I stay on 21032.7 for almost three hours. At about 1810Z the band changes from EU to US.  At 1851Z I take a short food break.  I’m at 1923 by 664 for 4.8 Mpts.  P41S and P40W are already on 10, and it seems to be opening up, so I start up on 10 15 minutes later.  For some reason I just can’t get a run going on 10, so after 24 QSOs I go to 20.  I’ve been on 14033.88 for two hours now.  It’s now 2206Z, and with a little less than two hours to go I’m again falling asleep in the middle of contacts, so I take a 24 minute break.  I finish out the contest bouncing back and forth between 40 and 20. 

This is without doubt the worst contest I’ve ever done in Aruba.  I took a shower and shave, then John Crovelli came by to drive me to the post-contest dinner at Tony Roma’s.  Also present were Emily, Ann, and John Bayne.  Listening to them talk, I think I actually have come in last place in Aruba – how embarrassing!  John Crovelli did a great job in the Tribander-single element class, ending up at 12M, while John Bayne will have beaten my score with 1600 Qs 40M HP.  Emily and Ann seem to have gotten about 2500 Qs in their experimental multi-op.  Of course, I was drugged up and they were all high power, but still….  Back to the house at about 11:30, and to bed (chair, actually) by midnight.

Soapbox, as sent to 3830 reflector. 

This was my 10th contest operation from our P49Y-P40L QTH, and by far the worst. I had been planning to go all out high power, but got the trip off to a bad start by throwing my back out a few days before departure.  I got down there OK, and felt generally OK on Thursday, but must have spent 20 minutes getting out of bed on Friday morning. Thanks to the extreme kindness of Emily Thiel, P43E, who seems to know everyone on the island, I got to see a neurologist right away (she even drove me there).  Unfortunately, I spent most of the rest of trip, including the contest, in a slightly euphoric, drug-induced haze.  I wasn't sure what I'd be able to do, so I called John Crovelli, P40W, up and offered up the Alpha 86 to him to use as a spare, figuring that I couldn't justify keeping my high power slot.

Anyway, I vaguely recall feeling much weaker (signal-wise, that is), than usual from Aruba, and generally unhappy with the state of the contest. As an example, I seemed to have a lot of trouble getting runs going, and for the first time ever, actually did not have a single hour with over 100 Qs. As the contest wore on, I started to take more and more small chunks of time off out of general dispiritedness.

Other than me, the station worked fine.  Especially useful this time as receiving antennas on 40 were the three beverages that W6LD and the team had set up last fall.  Miraculously, they were all still intact and worked very well to reduce the noise level on 40. 

As usual, there was the normal enjoyable socializing that characterizes Aruba contesting, with P40A (KK9A), P40W (W2GD), P43A, P43C, P43L, and P43E, plus a newcomer Ann, WA1S, who was practicing for WRTC with Emily.

Congratulations, by the way to all the other Aruban entries: P40W who really smoked, P40A (SB 40), P41S (WA1S and P43E), and thanks to Joop, P43JB, for giving out the P43 mult.

Equipment:  IC 756 Pro2 X2, 2 el 40, 3 el 20, 4 el 15/10, C31.
Software: CQPWIN ver. 10.2 (whole contest run off one USB port, BTW)

73 and thanks for the Qs,
Andy, AE6Y, P49Y

Monday Friday, May 29, 2006.  I woke up at about 5 a.m. with my back hurting, took some medicine and decided I’d be better off in bed, where I remained until 11 a.m., the latest I’ve ever slept in Aruba.  I was having coffee in the kitchen (after dropping a full cup on the floor) when Lisandro dropped by.  I gave him the two DVDs that I had brought for Lissette, the latest Harry Potter and Star Wars installments.  He immediately called her on the phone, and she was overjoyed.  We went over to see how the reconstruction of his house was coming.  Since February there has been great progress. The walls are all done and the interior is almost complete except for painting and the installation of the kitchen.  There is a very nice patio taking shape in the back for sitting around and drinking Balashi.  The garage with ham shack on the second floor is still in a future Phase 2.  Lisandro is very proud of it.  His mom, whom I had met in February and who lives right around the corner, came by to feed the cats. 

A very pleasant dinner with JP and Chris at our usual haunt: the Marina Pirata. 

Tuesday, May 30, 2006.  I woke with lots of plans: to take in the three beverage feedlines, buy a DVD player for JP and Chris, etc.  However, my back was worse than on Friday.  I eventually got out of bed, took some medicine, and sat around for a few hours in a haze.  I even called Dr. Falconi back, and he suggested I go to the emergency room at the hospital to get a pain shot.  But a little later I started to feel better, and used the window of opportunity to disconnect the cables on the radios.  I wanted to make sure the Alpha 86 still worked after Crovelli had brought it back, so I set it up with the right radio and spent about a half hour talking to guys on 20 phone.  Great pileup, with guys calling simultaneously from US and EU (this is how it should have felt during the contest).  The 86 sure is a solid, reliable performer, with none of the computerized quirks of the 87A.

I took the cabinet off the 87A, but couldn’t see anything obviously amiss inside.  I left the cabinet on, but unscrewed, with the screws in a cup on top.

At 3:40 p.m., I was feeling sufficiently revived to think about going out shopping again.  I went to PriceSmart, spending 50 florins to join and buying a DVD player.  In the evening I drove over to JP and Chris’s, chatted with them and went over finances, and gave them the DVD player, DVDs for Andy and Cindy, and one for the adults.  JP gave me a nearly new FV-102DM (companion vfo for the Yaesu FT-102 series) that had been given to him, with the request that I try to sell it in the States, something virtually impossible to do in Aruba.  Back home, I packed in the evening and could fit the FV-102 in the suitcase, provided I left the original box behind and wrapped it in clothes.  I could lift the suitcase (close to 50 pounds) with little trouble, but was worried about the morrow. 

Wednesday, May 31, 2006.   Hung around till Chris came by to take me to the airport.  Uneventful flight home, fortunately on the normal Miami routing, starting on the 2:41 p.m. AA flight from AUA to MIA, and a long flight to SFO, arriving at 9:30 p.m.

General observations.  I felt weak all weekend, and John Fore said I was indeed weak and had few packet spots.  It was very frustrating never to have an hour about 95 QSOs, particularly since in 2002 I had averaged 100 QSOs per hour for the entire contest.  According to the reported scores, I actually came in first LP in SA, and second (to CN2WW) in the world.  I obviously should have managed to stay awake during the early morning hours to rack up points on 40, and stayed off the air Sunday morning when high band rates were so slow.  I actually operated only about 30 hours of the allowed 36.  Here’s a comparison of scores:


P49Y 2006 LP

P40W 2006 HP

P40Y 2002 HP

































Suggestions for station/house maintenance:

  • Fix screens on windows
  • Fix slow leak on bathroom water tank
  • Rebuild kitchen drawers where the two large tool drawers are jammed against each other because the divider between them is broken (they were very nicely arranged by John, BTW).
  • Re-bulb lamps and overhead fixtures. 
  • Fix roof leak that has caused a hole to appear in the overhang of the front porch near the front door.
  • Bring down small computer printer, paper, 3-ring binders, and hole punch.  This will let us keep a binder of operation and maintenance notes for us and visitors.
  • Bring down replacement Heil earphone felts and a wind-blocker for the mic.
  • Fix 87A
  • Fix ICE 419A and MFJ Analyzer and return.