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AE6Y March 2007 Aruba Trip Notes – CQ WPX SSB Contest

Andrew L. Faber, AE6Y, P49Y
3/27/07 [pub. ver.]

Tuesday, March 20 - Wednesday, March 21, 2007.  Just as in February, to maximize time in Aruba I took a 9:15 p.m. red-eye from SFO to Miami, arriving at 5 in the morning. A five-hour layover and one flight later, I was in Aruba at 1:00 p.m. local time.  Chris and Cindy drove up exactly as I arrived. 

Thanks to receiving a very good mileage deal from AA, I actually flew first class coast to coast and business class to Aruba  -- interestingly, in each case occupying the same seat on the same kind of plane (757).  Since I slept all the way to MIA, not sure if there were any first class amenities other than the better seats, but did get a nice meal on the way to Aruba.

The a/c in the car, which had not been working in February was now working somewhat, but Chris said that she had been told that it needed a new condenser.  We drove to the service place (Albert’s, go to Santa Cruz and turn right at Mundo Nobo supermarket, then it’s about a mile on the right) and made an appointment for me to bring it in tomorrow.

When I arrived at the cottage, John Crovelli was already there working on the 20/40.  The 40m reflector had come loose on the boom after I left in February, and was resting against the 20m reflector at the end of the boom.  That element wasn’t about to come off since I had bolted it securely to the boom last fall when the antenna was down; however, I foolishly (as JP keeps reminding me!) hadn’t bolted in all the elements, and now the rivets are pulling loose after 8 years of service. 

To be able to tilt the antenna down among the guy wires, John had already removed and lowered to the ground the 20m director near the mast, and he then took off the 20m driven element, which was only barely doable, as it’s about 4-5 feet from the tower.  He noticed that the hairpin was broken, but I recalled that we had a spare thanks to an abortive attempt to replace it a few years ago (when the boom truck wouldn’t quite reach).  He attached his hoist to the mast above the antenna and took the antenna off the mounting plate, supporting it on rope slings.  I climbed up and together we tilted it down and maneuvered it past the guy wires.  Using our new battery-powered drill, we drilled and inserted three bolts in the 40m reflector, as well as one bolt in the still-riveted 20m driven element.  By then it was getting dark at 7 p.m., so we hoisted the antenna back up and secured it for the night in a slanted position. The whole operation was complicated by windy conditions.  I got some good pictures both from the ground and from the top.

Meanwhile, Jackie Oduber, P43P, came by to pick up his FT1000MP, which I had brought down after Dick Norton, N6AA, had had it fixed in the States.  We chatted for a while, then I took John out to Tony Roma’s, as a special treat (I only went there once, per my mantra that a successful trip to Aruba involves not more than one meal at TR’s, but I believe John ended up there two more times).  Actually, it was pretty good.  Checked email and went to bed around 11:15.

The temperature was in the low 80s during the day and relatively non-humid, so working outdoors was rather pleasant.  It obviously hasn’t rained in a while, as there is no standing water at Frenchman’s Pass.  As a result, there was lots of power line noise. [Actually the weather was virtually the same until Monday when if finally rained.] 

Thursday, March 22, 2007.  Woke up at about 7 and went off to have breakfast at the McDonald’s in Santa Cruz on the way to my 8 a.m. appointment with Albert, but strangely it wasn’t open, so I had a sandwich at Huchada’s bakery just up the road.  Albert’s brother Joselito drove me back to the house.

John came over at about 9 and together we pushed up the antenna and he bolted it into position and reattached the 20m director, struts and feedlines.  The whole process took not much more than an hour.  John and I then drove off in his car to Ling & Sons to do some shopping, stopping by Lisandro’s house for a few minutes to chat. 

Back at the house, I reattached the upper end of the 160m H-antenna to the telephone pole and pulled back up the house end of the 80m dipole.  Also had to shorten the cunucu end by about five feet to get resonance in the phone band.  This involves untying it from its anchoring tree, then walking the antenna all the way around the various cacti, etc, until the end of the dipole is actually close enough to the back fence to reach it.  Looking at the condition of the wires, it should be replaced soon.

Inside, I hooked up the Logikit keyer that I had brought from home to replace the one that went nuts during the ARRL contest last month, then connected the computer to the radios.  I have the computer set up on the table to the left of the radio desk, with everything run off one USB port, hooked up as follows: USB cable to Compaq 4-port USB expander, USB relay outputs to PTT, Mic/DVK, and R1/R2 on the DX Doubler; USB to 2-serial port device to the rig control cable for both radios (com4); USB to PS2 to mouse and keyboard; external monitor.  It all worked fine, except that a new problem developed during the contest:  every few hours the keyboard and mouse would freeze up.  This was fixable by simply unplugging the USB connector and re-plugging it in; fortunately, since this always seemed to happen when I was logging a new mult, no rebooting was needed.  The new 19-inch LCD monitor that Ed Muns, W0YK, had brought down had a nice, clear image.

I checked the beverages in the cunucu, and they all seemed to be OK.  It’s not really possible to verify that the feedlines are OK, but all 3 wires were still up, and the connections looked OK.  [Note that during the contest the US East beverage had a much weaker signal than the West beverage, as has been noted before.  Suggest replacing the feedline and transformer].

Joselito came back with the car at about 4:30.  The a/c worked great but the battery light was on.  Albert couldn’t find anything wrong, though he didn’t have electrical testing equipment (he only does a/c work), so I started to get worried.  Radio conditions seemed poor.  10 was dead and 15 was close.  Worse, there was a very high man-made noise on 15 and also some on 20.

I was feeling a little tired, so  just had dinner at home, then was revived by getting on 20 phone at about 8 p.m. local time.  20 was in surprisingly good shape, and I made about 150 contacts, mostly US, but also some JAs.  The 87A has low output on 20 (about 900-1000 watts max), and started to give soft faults, but putting it in default mode (hit Enter-Default) cleared that up, even though it seemed to cause very little retuning, judging from the sounds of the tuning motors. 

Friday, March 23, 2007.   Woke up at 7:30 and email revealed I had a conference call set up at noon, that actually lasted for over two hours.  I printed some documents on our new HP printer, but for some reason had to reinstall it on my computer from the CD (in our Accessories folders in the radio room) even though I had used it in February.  It’s a pleasure to have it there. 

I did notice that the noise on 15 completely disappeared for a few hours starting at about 1300 local, and had high hopes that it will stay that way for the contest. [Alas, that was not to be. It reappeared for the whole weekend and stayed until Monday morning’s rain].

When the call finally ended, I went for my usual run at Savaneta, grabbed a Wendy’s hamburger to bring back, then went home and took a nap for about an hour and a half.  Miraculously the battery light went out in the car on the way.  [It never reappeared, and the car seems fine.  JP thinks that maybe Albert spilled a little air conditioning fluid on the alternator that may have gotten inside it through the cooling holes, then eventually disappeared in normal use.]  I got the contest food ready:  sandwiches in the fridge (peanut butter and jelly, cream cheese and jelly, egg, salmon and chicken salads) and put out a bowl of M&Ms and cookies   Checked the radio gear and I was ready to go.

WPX SSB Contest Saturday, March 24-Sunday, March 25, 2007 – Contest notes more or less as dictated during the contest.  The contest starts out with a bang on 14235, with 50 QSOs in the first ten minutes. The band is wide open to the US, and I stay on 20 until 0356Z, making 797 contacts with 267 mults in that time. [This of course was great fun, but probably a major strategy mistake, cutting short my low band time.] 

After a brief food and stretching break, I make 37 Qs on 80, but the rate is a snail’s pace after the exhilaration of 20.  It’s very noisy.  I go to 40 and work some EUs but end up two kHz away from P40W and can’t hear anything, so I decide to go split and listen on 7196.  It’s surprisingly productive, as I have about 80 Qs in 40 minutes. A strange frequency fight on 80:  I have been on 3769 for almost 20 minutes when I suddenly get yelled at by N0NI and accused of taking his frequency without listening first. 

Constant obnoxious noise on 40, S7 even on the beverages. I bounce around between 40 and 80 for several hours then decide to take 3½ hours off at 0739Z.  [My rates for the previous hours had been 88, 101, 76 and 39 (39 minutes only).  Since the next morning on 20 the rates for the first 6 hours averaged about 85, this was a mistake.  That was even more true on Saturday night.  In retrospect it would have been much better to keep slugging it out on the low bands to avoid the low rates on the high bands in the morning.  OTOH, if the noise level had been lower, the morning rates would have been quite a bit higher].  I have 209 Qs on 40 and 89 on 80, but haven’t worked nearly as many EUs as I had hoped.

I’m on 20 using the right radio and the 86 feeding the monobander to EU.  The band is not wide open but I get a steady stream of callers and it’s great to see the EU mults roll in.  It’s tough going with generally weak callers, though.  I can hear 15 starting to open, but there is still horrendous noise clearly visible on the band scope.  I go there at 1245Z.  Propagation is to the East Coast and a little bit of EU.  The 1300Z hour is my best of the whole contest on 15, with 138 Qs on 21156.  I listen some of the time on the EU beverage.  Some interesting Middle Easterners call in: 3V8BB, 9K2HN, HZ1GW, A45WD, 4Z5JM.  JP comes over to the house to borrow the climbing belt at about 1445Z and confirms that the noise is present at his house also.

A milestone at 1506Z:  1500 by 550 for 2.95M points.  Crovelli stops by on 15 and we are 3 QSOs apart out of 1740.  [I started out the morning ahead of him because he had 500 Qs on the low bands on Friday night, but he gradually overtakes me then steadily pulls ahead].  I take a 12-minute break at 1511Z, then return on 20.  EUs aren’t answering CQs, so I do some searching and pouncing to work them.

After several hours on 20 and 15,  I start to hear a little activity on 10 on the second radio, so I go there at 1806Z (at 1802 Qs by 596 for 3.7M points), but manage only 16 Qs, US and SA only before returning to 15 at 1826Z.   Stay on 15 working US until 2015Z, when I take a 17-minute break to make some coffee and grab a bite to eat.  I come back to 20 and have good EU runs on 14127 and 14117. Back to 15 at 2143Z to work the US, running 120 stations in about an hour.  To 20 at 2246Z, where I camp out on 14199 and have a very hectic two hours running the US, with a 210 hour in the 2300Z slot. 

At about 0000Z, the contest halfway point, I am at 2579 by 761 for 6.46M points with 20:26 hours of on time so far out of the allowed 36.  John comes by to swap figures and he is ahead by about a 150 Qs and more than 100 mults.  The mult difference is probably because he went to 20 earlier in the afternoon to run EU [Note that I mostly caught up on mults on Sunday, when I spent a lot of time running EU].  That’s pretty depressing.  One of the best things John does is to almost always be in the right place at the right time; I’m hoping that a lot of that skill is just experience.  One use of the second radio is to help figure out what he’s up to at any given moment. 

I take about an hour break for dinner and just to rest up at 0107Z.  John keeps coming by and reminding me to take a break for some reason; not sure if he is playing a mind game [as he was throughout the contest when he told me he’d be in the Tribander/Single element class, but it turned out he was using all his antennas.  I couldn’t understand how he could do so well on the low bands just with dipoles, but it turned out he had put up his 3 element wire beam for 80, which must be why he thought 80 was so fruitful while I thought it was horrible].

At 0212Z I’m back on 40 working EU on 7025 where I finally find a clear frequency, then after about 40 minutes start to listen split on 7178.  The progression on 40 is predictable.  For a while the EUs call in reasonable quantities and it’s easy to work them, then perhaps due to a packet spot they all go crazy and one is frustrated trying to pull any recognizable characters out of a plethora of weak signals, many of whom have highly distorted audio – that’s when it’s time to go split and look for US in the US phone band.   Some CW guys intentionally jam me, sending “QSY” and “CQ”; they aren’t in a QSO on the frequency, just trying to assert dominance over it.  Then, they even start to jam my split frequency, both in CW and with heavy breathing (no kidding).  This is a first.

To 80 at 0311Z and work about 80 stations there in the next hour, then bounce around between 40 and 80 for a while, finally calling it quits at 0519Z for the evening.  [The rate sheet shows that I worked 89 stations in the 0300Z hour and 64 in the 0400Z hour. Quitting now is a major mistake, done in the expectation of high rates on the morrow, which unfortunately don’t even remotely materialize.]  I’m at 3004 by 833 for 8.7M points. 

A pretty good night’s contest sleep after a shower and shave, then back on the air at 1234Z, and 20 is simply miserable. I have to search out EUs as I can get nothing going for a run.  I’m actually calling some guys on the second radio on 15, but the 13, 14, and 1500Z hours yield paltry rates of 37, 45, and 41. CQing on 15 is tough because I have great difficulty making out the replies through the noise.  As the signals build on 15, I finally get a rate of over 100 per hour starting about 1610Z, both US on the monobander and EU on the C31.  I go back to 20 at 1817Z and pretty much stay there for the rest of the contest, save for a brief 28-QSO foray back to 15 in the 2100Z hour.  I  stay below the US phone band for several hours, then switch to 14179 at 2145Z to close out the contest on the US.  I have a 150 hour in the 2200Z hour, but slow down near the end.  [Apparently, per John Fore later, I am actually QRMed by WP2Z and should have just QSYed, but in my tired state in the last half hour I try to get something going on 40 with no success, then move to 80 for the last two contacts needed to put me over 14M points.]  The final total is 4022 raw QSOs by 1040 mults for 14,000,480 points.  

John Fore calls on the phone and says he was chatting with John Crovelli after the contest on 20 and that the latter will be picking me up shortly.  We go to Texas de Brasil, where we meet Martin Rosenthal (P49MR) and Randy Geerman (P43W), both of whom I had invited to dinner on the air during the contest.  It’s a very pleasant churrascaria dinner, but I am surprised when the bill arrives to see that it is a prix fixe dinner at $43 per head.   Back home I check email briefly, then to bed a bit before midnight.

Soapbox, as sent to 3830 reflector:
    Not the most enjoyable outing, primarily due to high noise levels, including power line or other man-made noise that made 15 very difficult to use, plus high atmospheric noise on 40 and 80.  John Crovelli (P40W) and I were hoping for rain to wash down the power lines, but it didn't rain until Monday morning, about 3 days too late!  I found the contest itself difficult, mainly due to the noise levels and also the lack of 10 meters.  My measly 16 QSOs on 10 contrasts with my first DX WPX experience, at ZF2AF in 2002, when 10 produced 3000 QSOs!

 Nonetheless, it is always fun to operate from Aruba.  More than a day was spent in antenna repairs, primarily assisting John on our 20/40.  One of the 40m elements had come loose and we had to tilt the antenna and put in some bolts to hold it.  Sounds straightforward, but it was a lot of work, particularly in the constant wind.  Our antennas seem to be close to reaching the end of their useful life, having been struggling with the Aruban air for 8 years now.  One nice feature of the island is that, I guess by necessity, all the local hardware stores have excellent stocks of stainless steel nuts and bolts.

The only other off note this weekend was conflict with the CW guys on 40.  I found a clear spot at 7025 Friday night, but was constantly jammed by CW ops sending CQ and QSY.  Then, to make matters worse, they even jammed my listening frequency! CW guys often claim to be of a higher moral standard than phone ops, but this was simply malicious interference. 

  As usual, the ham community is very welcoming on Aruba, and this short trip featured visits with Jean-Pierre (P43A) and his wife Chris (P43C), Jackie (P43P), Martin (P49MR),  Randy (P43W), Lisandro (P43L) and his wife Lissette, and of course John (P40W - W2GD).

Equipment: 756 Pro2 X2, Alphas 87A, 86
Ant:  4 el 10-15-20, 2 el 40, inv. vee 80, beverages
Software: CQPWIN ver. 10.6

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

Monday, March 26, 2007.  Slept till about 8 a.m. – unlike the 48-hour contests, one isn’t as wiped out by the shorter 36-hour operating period of WPX.  It was raining, so I just stayed home and did some housekeeping and internet chores before another noon conference call.  The rain completely dispelled the power line noise; it surely would have been more helpful if the rain had come three days earlier.  Also did a bit of outside maintenance, including rolling up the three beverage radials in the yard and putting the three beverage feedlines in a plastic bag attached to the tower so the shack window can be closed.  After the conference call, met with Chris to go over finances then to Plaza Books (opposite Kooimans on Fergusonstraat) to buy some books and off for my usual run. 

I had arranged with Lisandro and Lissette to have dinner, and they picked me up at 7:15 to go to the Captain’s Table at the La Cabana Resort timeshare complex near Eagle Beach, where we had a very pleasant dinner also with JP and Chris.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007.  Packed and checked email and the internet, until Chris and Andy came by to pick me up a little after 10 for my flight to Boston.  Going through Boston was not my choice, as it adds about 3 1/2 hours in the air, but now at last I see the benefits of business class, as I can use the Business Class Lounge at the airport (not a full Admiral’s Club, since it has no bar), and have a seat on the plane with no seatmate, so it’s a lot easier to work on these notes on the plane.  Not to mention real food and drink.  Then back to CA on the 7:30 p.m. AA flight from Boston to SFO, arriving at 11:00 p.m.

General observations.  My main mistake in the contest was not spending enough time on 80 and 40 on both nights.  In particular, Saturday night I went off the air at about 1:30 a.m. local time, and got back on at about 8:30 a.m. local time in the morning.  I had 4 miserable hours on 20 and 15, with rates of 27 (partial hour), 37, 45, and 41, starting with the 1200Z hour.  Yuck!  It would have been far better to have stayed up for two or three more hours slugging it out on the low bands, even though that is no fun.

Physically, I felt pretty good during the contest.  Now that I have been doing real 48-hour contests, the 36 hours of WPX doesn’t seem to be quite the same grind I thought it was a few years ago.

Here is a comparison of my scores for the last three times I have done this contest here, along with the scores of P40W and 8P1A for this year, and John Fore’s score from the cottage as P40L for last year.  Note that P40W, 8P1A, and P40L all did better on the low bands than I did.  Gotta get tougher!


P49Y 2007 HP

P40W 2007 HP

8P1A 2007 HP

P40L 2006 HP

P40Y 2004 HP

P40Y 2003 HP


















































Continent stats are interestingly similar to 2004, with actually more EUs by percentage than in 2004 (mostly caused by the fact that 10 was more usable in 2004, but only to the US):

    QSOs  10     15    20    40    80   160    Total
    US    9      784   1422  193    149   0     2557   (63.58%)
    VE    0      52    131   21     10    0     214    (5.32%)
    NA    0      14    33    11     8     0     66     (1.64%)
    AF    0      13    12    2      2     0     29     (0.72%)
    JA    0      0     11    0      0     0     11     (0.27%)
    AS    0      9     7     7      2     0     25     (0.62%)
    EU    0      194   710   98     27    0     1029   (25.58%)
    OC    0      8     9     3      0     0     20     (0.50%)
    SA    7      20    29    5      9     0     70     (1.74%)

Here is 2004, P40Y:

    QSOs  10    15     20    40    80    160   Total
    US    1010  765    990   171   112    0     3048  (64.10%)
    VE    61    72     86    15    7      0     241   (5.07%)
    NA    17    17     24    12    7      0     77    (1.62%)
    AF    3     8      9     0     1      0     21    (0.44%)
    JA    1     30     13    0     0      0     44    (0.93%)
    AS    0     20     21    2     0      0     43    (0.90%)
    EU    21    680    310   78    16     0     1105  (23.24%)
    OC    12    10     32    11    0      0     65    (1.37%)
    SA    32    40     21    9     8      0     110   (2.31%)