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AE6Y May 2008 Aruba Trip Notes – CQ WPX CW Multi-Two

Andy Faber, AE6Y, P49Y


Tuesday, May 20 - Wednesday, May 21, 2008. The trip starts off on an unfortunate note:  I arrive at John Fore’s (W6LD) house at 4:00 a.m. for our 6:20 a.m. flight to Miami, and am in the kitchen talking to John and Toni when  my cell phone rings with a recorded message from AA announcing the cancellation of our flight and our rebooking on a flight at 8:50 p.m. (actually the redeye I normally take).  Ed Muns (W0YK), who is a few minutes away, arrives and says that they have rebooked him on a different routing through NYC.  I get on the phone with AA and while they don’t seem very sympathetic, they do rebook us all on the same flight through MIA;  however, John and I lose our first class booking. 

Of course we are all wide awake, so we talk about our plans for about two hours (and Toni and I chat about her upcoming Kilimanjaro trip), then I head off for a “snow day.”  I vaguely think about going in to work, but since I had cleared my desk yesterday and left an “out of office” message on my computer, I just go home, do some repacking, take a nap, practice with Win-Test, find some Kili materials for Toni and generally fritter away the day.  Ed goes off to Elecraft in Aptos to get some missing parts to allow him to build the sub-receiver for his K3.  Ed and I are both bringing our K3s with sub-receivers, while Denny, KX7M, is bringing Oliver’s (W6NV) without the sub-receiver.  Mine fits easily in a backpack, as it did for WPX SSB in March, while Ed has his in a custom-made carrying case. 

We re-rendezvoused at John’s, and Toni very kindly drove us all and a mountain of luggage to the airport (each of us with two suitcases of about 50 pounds each plus carry-ons). The flight was uneventful, though in my middle seat I didn’t sleep as well as usual.  When I told my tale of woe to the nice lady in the Admiral’s Club in MIA for our five-hour layover, she let all three (plus Judy O’Brien, whom we had run into in the airport) in as my guests, in spite of the normal two-guest rule.  Arriving in Aruba at one p.m., John and Ed took a taxi to the house, arriving at about the same time that I did in a rental Budget Toyota Corolla. 

We got right to work.  Ed started climbing towers with me as his ground crew, while Denny and John were the team to lay out the beverage antennas in the cunucu. Carl, AI6V, had reported that the 20m yagi, installed in February, had opened up when they were using it in April.  Ed quickly determined that the antenna had been rotated in such a way as to pull the coax connector completely out of the balun (the antenna had no rotor loop at the time, as we had not had time to install one in February – I had used it in March without rotating it).  Fortunately, the feed point can be reached from the tower, so Ed made pretty quick work of installing a new balun (a Cal-AV model, seemingly the same as the Force-12 ones), and putting on a new jumper along with rotor loops for both the 20 and 40.

It’s certainly easier to do tower work with two people; in March I had to make numerous trips up and down to get tools, etc., but this time I was able to, for example, solder lugs on the balun and just send it up to Ed in one of our tower buckets while he stayed on the tower.  He had taken up a polypro line and a block, which he attached near the top of the tower, so it was easy to send stuff up and down. 

Ed next went up the 10/15 tower to check out the rebuilt TailTwister that wouldn’t rotate after being installed in February.  He determined that two pins were reversed in the cable at the tower end where it connects to the pigtail to the rotor.  A few minutes work with the connector removal tool and the rotor worked again (though we did note later that it was tending to stick, and probably should be replaced). 

Meanwhile Denny and John were sweating in the cunucu.  They verified that the existing three beverages all worked (after fixing a broken wire in the EU beverage where some refuse had been dumped on it).  They also hooked up the East-West beverage and another brand new one about 600 feet north of the shack, in an attempt to reduce interference. 

We knocked off at about 7:30 p.m., took showers and headed to La Granja for a quick dinner.  After being kicked out at nine, the main item on the agenda  dinner was to test the beverages and do a preliminary evaluation of inter-station interference.  Some interference was noted from 80 to 40 (not the reverse) and from 20 to 10, but not from 20 to 15.  We had a long discussion on optimal station layout, eventually ending up with two K3s on the main table, and another K3 as the run station with a 756 Pro2 as a support station on the folding white table in the corner under the window (with, obviously, the love seat removed).  Not sure if this was in fact ideal, either operationally of from an interference standpoint, but it did work pretty well.

By 11 p.m. I was ready to call it a day, but Denny had Google Earth showing an aerial view of the area (our house and garage can clearly be seen), and is using it to see how to best lay out the beverages in the cunucu.  Great technology – later he and John also used John’s portable GPS to end up with precise directionality of the wires.

Thursday, May 22, 2008.  Off to the great supermarket of Ling & Sons at 7:30, returning with $233 worth of groceries, whew.  Some discussion of plans, then Ed and I spent most of the day working on the 80-meter Force 12 Sigma 180S dipole.  Not for lack of effort, but this ended up somewhat unsuccessfully, and may have proved the adage “better is the enemy of good.”  To recap the history, we had mounted it in February, but not in operational condition.  In March, I had set the large coils, bolted in the loose outboard ends, and jury-rigged the relay switching box, balun  and feedline. It had worked very well in WPX SSB, to the tune of 500 QSOs on 80 phone.

However, it needed permanent mounting of the relay box, and none of us were pleased with the basic design of the element-to-mast plate, which only featured one u-bolt on each side of the center to hold the element in position.  Both Ed and I had had trouble with the mounting coming loose on our Force 12 80’s at home, so he had fabricated a special plate with two u-bolts per side.  He also had made another aluminum plate that would attach to the main mounting, into which the relay box could be attached by putting machine screws through the plate into the threaded holes on the relay box.  Unfortunately, it turned out that these screws used a 10-32 thread.  This is an unusual size (10-24 being the norm), and we had none in our stainless steel supply box.  I did manage to find exactly two such screws in the large “nuts and bolts” coffee can that came with the place, so we ended up using those, after shortening them.  However, in the meantime I had made a trip to the WEMA in Santa Cruz looking for such screws unsuccessfully (for future reference: we later saw them at the General Store, a large, new contractor’s supply place near the Toyota dealer). 

We also had to shorten the large red coils in the relay box that set the CW band.  The coils had 14 turns originally, and after two iterations, we ended up taking three turns off, putting new solder lugs on, and the antenna ended up with low CW at 3530, high CW at 3580, both very acceptable.  Ed also cut the four-wire relay control cable, which I had hard-wired into the box, and installed a detachable jumper, using the same fittings he had used for the rotor cables.  Finally, when we had tested the 80 last night the SWR was about 3 to one at resonance, even though it had been close to one to one in March.  He found that the hairpin coil that bridges the feed line connection at the box had broken.  The coil was new in march, but it had broken at one lug.  I put a new lug on it, so let’s hope this one survives (this just shows the general harshness of the Aruban environment). 

Meanwhile, John and Denny persevered in the cunucu.  Using the technology mentioned above, they put up a new 500 foot beverage aimed at 042 degrees, with the far end near our road just north of the north fence of the house with the red roof (about 4 houses north of ours, the last house before Frenchman’s Pass).  They then spent the rest of the afternoon arranging the shack, per the design described above.

Lisandro, P43L, and Lissette came by  at about 8:30 bearing Chinese food.  We added two bottles of wine and dessert (some  banana bread and fresh fruit).  We all enjoyed a delightful two-hour respite from our labors with them.  They seemed to be in good spirits, and the evening was very convivial.  Then back to the radios, and, as is to be expected, there were all kinds of computer/radio problems to be diagnosed and fixed.  Nothing serious, though, just a question of beating the setup into submission.  It’s now 1:55 a.m. the next day.  John went off to bed a while ago, and Denny and I have been practicing running weak Europeans on 40 meters, getting used to Win-Test.  Ed finally came in and mentioned that we were in his “bedroom”, so we closed up shop for the night (feeling somewhat abashed at our lack of consideration).  Our sleeping arrangements, BTW, are John on the bed in the large bedroom, with Denny on the AeroBed on the floor, Ed on an AeroBed in the radio room, and I isolated for acoustic purposes in the small bedroom.

Friday, May 23, 2008. I get up about 9 a.m.  Ed was awake, and the others were slowly returning to life.  A quiet morning.  A few contacts on 20, Ed made his usual oatmeal and egg soufflé breakfast, and I went back to Lings to get more groceries (mainly drinks).

John and Denny did more indoor work, including cascading ICE filters to try to reduce interference.  We have four ICE 419s multi-band filters, though by the end of the trip, two need to be returned for repairs (though these are housed in massive aluminum boxes, inside they are pretty fragile, and we have had a lot of trouble over the years with them). 

Ed and I continued to work on the 80, not improving matters overall.  There is a serious arcing problem at the small gap in the 6 inch long PVC tubes that insulate the element from the mounting u-bolts.  In the original design, the gap is oriented diagonally towards the bottom of the  mounting plate, the area of maximum space from any metal.  But our improved mounting included saddles on the inside of the element (i.e., to support the element more securely on the mounting plate.  This is a superior mechanical design, but it means that the gap can’t be positioned as originally, and apparently it was arcing now to the u-bolts.

We went to the General Store looking for some kind of insulating material, ending up with piece of rubber hose that we cut up and Ed inserted over the gap.  Ultimately, this seemed to make things worse, not only not curing the arcing problem ,but also shifting the CW resonance way down (i.e., some 100 kHz below the band  edge; inexplicably, it didn’t seem to affect the phone resonance).  Maybe the rubber has some conductive properties.  As an emergency fix, we took three more turns off the low CW coils; to be so far out of design specs can’t possibly be correct, but we didn’t know what else to do on short notice.  The bottom line, unfortunately, was that we couldn’t run the 80 at more than about 250 watts during the contest.  Surprisingly, we noticed on Thursday night that 80 seemed nearly completely dead, even though 40 was jumping.  In retrospect, we probably should have just put up an inverted vee, but we kept thinking we could fix the problem, and, of course, the antenna had worked properly just two months ago.  Very frustrating!

We took an early dinner at La Granja, discussing the  schedule of operation that John had started.  It very sensibly has two-hour shifts, with all of taking turns at all four positions (Run 1, Partner 1, Run 2, Partner 2).  In practice, these shifts were followed reasonably well until Saturday evening, after which the schedule became much more free form.  After taking showers, we were ready for the opening bell at 8 p.m. local time

Saturday, May 24 & Sunday, May 25, 2008 -- WPX CW Contest, Multi-Two Category. We start out with Denny running on 40 on Run 1, with John helping on Partner 1, and I running on Run 2 on 20 meters, assisted by Ed.  Our first few hours are great, a combined 302 in the first hour, for example (137/165), and about 1100 Qs in the first five hours.  After two hours, I partner with John on 40, then take over the run position on that band.  It’s definitely fun when there is enough activity for us to have all four of us operating and switching positions (this doesn’t last much past midnight however, and doesn’t return until Saturday afternoon). My next shift should be on 80, but we don’t hear very much and are interfering with 40, so we pretty much leave 80 and spend the whole night with the second station on 20.  That band is actually open all night, but the rates become very low.  We only make about a dozen contacts on 80 the whole first night. 

At 0800Z, my first eight hours ends, and I am scheduled to take four hours off.  In the 0600Z hour I make about 30 contacts on 20, and only about 15 in the 0700Z hour.  I’m reduced to working the band map and searching and pouncing.  Thought the band is open to EU, no one answers CQs.  I develop a fairly simple way to work the packet spots: double click on a spot, press CTRL-Tab to enter search and pounce mode, press F4 to drop my call, press INS (or “;”) to send the exchange, press Alt-F4 to return to my run frequency, press CTRL-Tab to enter run mode, hit F1 to start another CQ.  I notice later that John does this more simply, by never leaving run mode, just pressing F2 to send the exchange. 

At 0807Z, as I leave the shack, we are at 771 on 40, 576 on 20, for a total of 1357 Qs by 579 prefixes and 3.667M points.  I sack out for 3 ½ hours, make coffee and have some breakfast, then return to the fray. 

It’s now just before 7 p.m. local time (2300Z) on Saturday.  I’m having some dinner after running for several hours and being relieved by Denny.  John and Ed are about to switch from 15 to the long night run on 40.  We are at 12/913/1216/570 on 80 through 15, for a total of 2720 Qs by 843 prefixes for a score of just over 9 million points.  Last night we really weren’t able to use 80 due to interference to 40, and the SWR problems with the antenna, as discussed above.  Ed climbed the tower again today, but there is no real improvement. 

In the morning hours, Ed and I were on  15, but the band was depressingly dead.  We had rates of 10-15 per hour in the in the four hours 11Z, 12Z, 13Z, and 14Z.  Our collective first good hour on 15 is the 1700Z hour, and our best of the contest is the 18Z hour (116 contacts).  Early on Ed and I can pretty much only hear SA.  We develop an interesting routine whereby he CQs using a four-second repeat interval, then listens for replies on the main receiver on the K3.  Meanwhile, I am tuning the sub receiver, and we are both listening to both channels in the headphones.  When we hear something interesting on the sub receiver, Ed hits A/B, works him, then hits A/B again to return to the main RX.  As we discuss later, it’s a pretty labor-intensive routine for relatively little result, but at least it keeps us busy.  By about 1645Z we end up starting to be able to run EUs, then NAs, then a mixed NA and EU run for the rest of the afternoon. 

Well, it’s now Sunday morning at 0422Z (22 minutes after midnight local time).  I’ve just been relieved by Denny after manning the 40m run station for a little over five hours (our two-hour shift plan having broken down last evening).  Actually, it’s been a lot of fun; I’ve made about 350 contacts in those five hours, and a reasonable rate is continuing. I don’t really feel tired at the moment.  Ed was to be my support, but he was exhausted and went to bed.  John also crashed a few hours ago.  Denny has been the iron man, running on 20 while I’ve been on 40.  He will now continue on 40, with Ed on 20.  We’re now at 3257 by 932 prefixes for a score of 12.6M points.  The 40m run station has been playing well.  I have really enjoyed using the two new beverages, one to EU and one to NA; they both produce strong signals and have good directionality.  The second bit of enjoyment has come from John’s new Begali paddle.  Our other station has our old Bencher, which seems like a piece of junk by comparison.  I have to say, however, that I don’t think I can send nearly as good code with the paddle using the Winkeyer as we are doing, as with the old Logikit keyers.

I sleep for 3 ½ hours, then make some coffee and enjoy a bowl of cereal before returning to the shack.  We’re now at 1413 on 40 and 1390 contacts on 20.  Ed has been running 40, as he and Denny must have switched.  The point total is now 13.9M. I wake up John to allow Denny to get some rest.  After a while, he takes over 40, while I try 20.  I switch to 80 at about 0630Z and manage to work about 70 stations in the next four hours, having an hourly best of 32 in the 0900Z clock hour.  At first I’m just answering CQs, but eventually start doing some running as well, all at about 250 watts due to our antenna problems. In the 1000Z hour, John is having a nice JA run on 40.

The rest of the contest is pretty bad.  20 and 15 are miserable for much of the day. The 20m rate hovers at about 20 from 1300Z for the next five hours, finally breaking out to 62 in the 1900Z hour.  Surprisingly, the last hour on 20, when there is usually a frantic rush of activity, only nets 43 QSOs, and the last hour on 40 is even worse.

We have a noisy, meat-filled, and relatively expensive post-contest dinner for the four of us at the churrascaria   restaurant, Texas de Brasil, across from the Hyatt, followed up by some ice cream from the shop next door, then to bed by midnight. 

Monday, May 26, 2008. Ed and I got up at 4:30 a.m., and I drove him to the airport for his 7:00 a.m. plane departure.  No traffic at that hour!  I stumbled back into bed, then stumbled out again at about 9, to see that John and Denny had already gone off to the hotel area in our car.  Denny had booked a diving half-day, while John wanted to buy some things for the house, including large hose reels to be used for beverage feedlines and, ultimately, a PVC pipe to be used to cut up small sections in the hope that he can replace the rubber insulation Ed had added to the 80 to eliminate the arcing problem. 

Over coffee I got some preliminary score reports on 3830.  The Americans and Europeans seemed to have much better propagation than we did, particularly on 10 meters.  This was just not the contest to be in the Caribbean, though 6Y1V, with their monster antennas, seems also to have out-pointed us, in spite of their having the disadvantage of being in North America.

On the garbage, by the way, the guys in the truck came by at about 10:30 a.m., so Monday does seem to be garbage day.  Our barrel had been turned over and the bags broken into during the night.  I had put the larger items back in the barrel when I went to the airport, and fortunately, they were willing to lift the barrel and empty it that way, even though much of the stuff wasn’t bagged by that time (JP thought it might have been wild donkeys!).  I later cleaned up most of the rest of the mess, as it was starting to blow into our yard and the neighbor’s frontage.  Best to keep the barrel inside the fence until Monday morning in the future. 

Chris called and said, “Hello, strange man…” (i.e., “Hello, stranger”), being miffed that we hadn’t gotten in touch with her.  JP somehow hadn’t told her that we had arranged to have dinner together tonight.  I offered to do marriage counseling.   We had agreed a few trips ago to stop going to our local Marina Pirata in Savaneta, and to try a new restaurant, Tango, but it turned out ultimately to be closed on Monday, as did another restaurant Chris suggested.  I eventually made a reservation at La Trattoria el Faro Blanco, an Italian restaurant located at the California Lighthouse on the northern tip of the island.

Having some slack time, I spent about 20 minutes taking pictures of the guy points and the towers and antennas, to document the current status thereof, in order to update the notes I made last fall in anticipation of our tower refit, entitled “P40L-P49Y Cottage Tower and Guy Information” dated November, 2007. 

John called, and we arranged to meet at the service road by the Hyatt, where one accesses the beach for dive activities.  Denny’s boat came in an hour late, but we had a pleasant lunch at Gilligan’s restaurant a few hundred yards south of the Hyatt.  It’s right on the beach.  On the way back, I drove Denny by Martin’s house, P49MR, and John Bayne’s, P40A, though both looked vacant now. 

Back at the shack, I found that the C31, which John has concluded is now dead, actually worked fine (there was a coax hookup mistake at the Stackmatch – easy to do).  Denny showed me the new beverage layout starting on the far side of the cunucu north of the house.  It really is a superior location, further from the transmitting antennas, and we assume that the use of high quality RG-6 feedline (available cheaply since it’s widely used in cable TV systems) helps also.  John climbed the tower to put in new hacksawed PVC shims to replace the rubber bits that Ed had placed under the 80m mounting plate u-bolts.  I headed off for my first run of the trip, on my usual course from Mirana Pirata to La Granja and back.  It was a beautiful day for a run, but there was more traffic than usual due to the detour onto that road caused by the construction at the foot of our road (putting in a long-delayed and very welcome roundabout). 

Meanwhile, we have been checking emails and internet during the day and discovering that conditions in the contest were much better in Europe and the States than down here.  ES9C reported a score of 19.6M points in our M2 category, with an astonishing 7700 contacts to our 4300. 

Here are some score comparisons:


P40L 2008 M/2

P40L 2007 MS

6Y1V 2008 M/2

ES9C 2008 M/2

P40Y 2002  SO

















































Other contest reflections: (1)  In general, it seems to me that other operators were very good, often making numerous repeats of serial numbers.  (2)  I only had two serious frequency fights, when a DL6 and an NY3 opened up virtually on my established run frequency with loud signals, then refused to leave, even after being asked to.  (3)  Having partners on either the run radio or a separate radio can certainly be very helpful to the run operator.  (4)  Win-Test worked very well, and never crashed.  (5)  The K3s also worked well, and really shone when another strong station was nearby.

I headed off to Chris and JP’s to give presents to Cindy and Andy, and discuss finances with Chris.  John joined us after getting down from the tower.  The five of us had a delightful dinner at the restaurant at the lighthouse, outdoors on the patio  (arriving too late for the sunset, which is an obvious attraction of the site).  Food, service, and company were excellent, and it was a lot quieter than last night’s steakhouse.  On the way, we stopped by Carl’s place in Noord, though it was hard to see too much in the dark.  Denny and I had a lengthy discussion on fine points of contesting until after one a.m., but finally called it a night.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008. We all woke up late today and have been puttering around this morning.  John made an omelette, trying to use up some of our cold cuts and eggs, which was very tasty.  On email, 6Y1V has checked in at 22.5M points, to our 19.3M, so we seem to be in a solid third place.  We conclude that Aruba wasn’t the best place to be this year.  Denny took our car for another dive. I replaced the Icoms and re-setup the station in its SO2R configuration.

We still had some SWR problems, which we traced to two defective ICE 419 filters, out of our total stock of four.  We’ll take them back to be sent to ICE for repair.  This shows the difficulty of keeping a station like this in perfect shape.   We leave in a third filter for the left radio with a peculiar defect: it shows an SWR of 2.0 to one in the 20m position, but only with the filter out, not with it in.  Go figure… The weaknesses in the other two are defective 10 or 15m positions. 

Near 2 p.m., with Denny still not back, John and I decided to go to Baby Beach for an hour or so of quality sun time.  We stopped for ice cream at the little place on the road next to the Kooymans and the Wendies, then got a hamburger/hot dog at a little shack at the beach.  We took a swim/water stroll (it is Baby Beach, after all), then went for a walk along the beach before heading back, feeling quite refreshed. 

The three of us then went over to visit Joop Bok, P43JB, who treated us with his usual outstanding hospitality, including a bottle of champagne.  Denny and John had not seen his station or amazing telegraph key collection, so they were predictably awed.  We all went out to a local Chinese restaurant, the Universal Bar and Restaurant on Wilhelminastraat, for a very nice meal, followed by dessert at Joop’s (unfortunately, Yvonne was back in Holland, so this was guys only).  Some final inside work back home, including testing the two new beverages that Denny hooked up this afternoon while John and I were off at the beach. 

Wednesday, May 28, 2008. A busy morning, before John and I left for the airport at about noon for our flight back to MIA then SFO.  John spent it on the towers carefully labeling the various feedlines, while I got up early to go for a run, then spent the rest of the time ripping out unused feedlines, most of which got coiled up, labeled and put in the storage room.  A few I threw out.

Notes on Multi-op Station Design. Here are some notes on the station design used in our multi-two operation.  I take virtually no credit, as a novice in the area -- I give lots of credit to the others, particularly to Denny’s advanced networking knowledge.

  1. Software
    1. We used Win-Test, for the first time for all but Denny. 
      1. Pros
        1. Very stable and reliable in network use, no crashes among our four computers
        2. Lots of nice features
        3. Good basic ease of use, mimicking CT
        4. “Partner” mode is great.  The partner can enter a callsign or exchange in the partner window, and the run op can pick up the call simply by hitting Alt-1, etc., up to ten lines.  We had each station set up with a Run computer and a Partner computer.
        5. The program deals with the cursor focus very well, even when other windows are in use.
      2. Cons
        1. The CT-emulation has some drawbacks, particularly for those of us who didn’t grow up using CT.  For example, the 599s in the log area are silly.  It is easy to hit TAB, instead of Space Bar, to go between fields, but if you do, then you inadvertently end up putting the exchange in the report area, and it takes a while to untangle the mess.
      3. Suggestions for improvement
        1. AE6Y:
          1. In WPX, allow the operator to enter the serial number received right after the call, without requiring moving to the exchange field.  I sometimes would forget to move among fields, and would have to correct the log.
          2. Eliminate the 599s.  Just allow the operator to input callsign and exchange.
  2. Receive antennas
    1. The two new beverages were excellent.  Two possible reasons are their distance from the shack and the use of high quality RG-6 feedline.
    2. Note that after the contest, Denny set up four separate beverages, all from a common feed point area north of the “star” in the cunucu.  He left the wires up, but each operation will have to run four separate feedlines of about 600 feet each, albeit through a pretty reasonable stretch of cunucu. 
  3. Radios
    1. K3s worked great.  Some improvements, that will hopefully be in the works, include allowing more buttons (particularly RIT CLR) to be pushed during TX.
    2. We ran Winkeyer 2s, using them to send CW from Win-Test, as well as having a paddle input.  They also asserted PTT to the run radio (and to the second K3 as well, so it would go into TX mode, in the TX TEST mode, thus not actually transmitting, but protecting the front end).
      1. The Winkeyers sent perfect code from Win-Test, but I can’t send as good code using a paddle as with the Logikit keyers.  We could simply set up the Logikit keyer as a stand-alone keyer paralleled into the Key input in the radio, and just use Winkey for software sending.