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AE6Y March 2008 Aruba Trip Notes – CQ WPX SSB Contest

Andrew L. Faber, AE6Y, P49Y

Tuesday, March 25 - Wednesday, March 26, 2008.  I took the usual 9:50 p.m. AA redeye from SFO to MIA, although this time the plane didn’t actually leave until about 11:30.  I was very tired, so I slept well on the plane in spite of the general discomfort of the coach seats (the exit row legroom certainly helped).  The late departure changed the usual four-hour layover to only 2 1/2   hours, though I had to go back through security due to arriving at Terminal C.  Being famished, I wolfed down an omelet, bagel and cheesecake at the Cuban restaurant in the terminal, La Carreta.  I was taking the K3 plus cables and the camera in a backpack, plus the computer bag.  I had to unpack the radio at SFO to be sent through separately, but MIA and Aruba were no problem.  Also had two suitcases just under 50 pounds each, most of the weight being personal tools, plus a new grinder as a present for JP to replace his old, dangerous one (which served us very well, however, in February).

Carl and Sue met me at the airport, having moved out of the place and now using the opportunity to rent a car and make the car swap.   The car is about the same as before, though Carl (thanks a lot!) did fix the air conditioning, and has in mind to work on the transmission if he can find a place to drop the pan to at least do a visual inspection.  Unfortunately, he and JP agree that there are no real transmission shops on the island.  As usual, the radio, speedometer and driver-side motorized shoulder belt are inoperative.  But the car basically works, though it’s touch and go with the slipping transmission for about the first half mile of each trip. 

Arriving at the house, and still feeling some shame for how badly we left it in February, I was delighted to  see it looked clean and shipshape.  Carl and Sue had treated the place well, even doing some repainting in the bathroom, and Chris and JP must have put in yeoman efforts to put away tools and clean up our uncharacteristic mess.  The yard and the cunucu right behind the fence were in much better shape thanks to a major work effort by JP (two dumpsters full, he said). 

My first goal was to try to get the Force 12 Sigma 180S 80-meter dipole working.  In February Ed had mounted it on the sidebar mount just below the top of the Rohn 45 tower, but the main tuning coils near the feed points were only connected at the inner end, and the relay box and feedline weren’t hooked up (though the feedline, labeled 45-3, had been run up the tower by John, who had taped it up for future use). 

I first checked out the relay box to verify operation.  I had brought two 6-volt batteries, wired together in series, along with some alligator clips, so it was very easy to check out the connections and the relays.  This also worked well up the tower for keeping the main relay closed, i.e., the feedline connected. [ I left the batteries in the second bedroom closet for future use.]  The four-conductor cable wired into the box by Tom Schiller seemed to be only about 70 feet long, so I disconnected it and wired in my 150 feet of “sprinkler wire”, four-conductor cable from Home Depot sold for outdoor use.  I attached the jumpers to the top of the box, but couldn’t attach the balun and hairpin matching coil to the bottom yet, because I wasn’t sure how it would lay out physically on the tower.  I was very worried about dropping one of the nuts or washers up on the tower in the wind, but fortunately didn’t do so (though I did lose my old Tilly hat and one good, pigskin glove to the wind, which blew them God knows where into the cunucu). 

It took a while to figure out how to use one of our new-fangled climbing harnesses, though once understood, it worked pretty well. JP had borrowed my old climbing belt, so I knew I had a Plan B if I couldn’t figure it out.  The chalk bag on the waist strap did work well, as did the tower buckets (and on Monday, I climbed up the North Rohn 25 carrying up the blue tool bag we had which also was very handy; it could actually be put on my chest when leaning back form the tower, forming a very useful bag). 

I made a preliminary climb up the tower to reconnoiter, and found it very windy at the top, though also cooler, as Ed had commented in February.  The tower had some noticeable twist in the gusts, and I noted that the two north guy lines were slightly slack.  They have lots of turnbuckle adjustment, but I didn’t do any on this trip.  I managed with much effort to get the coil covers off on the inside end of the covers, then reattach the safety u-bolts further out to prevent the covers from sliding out irretrievably far.  The inner ends of the coils were bolted through the element, and the outer ones were just loose, though they were supposed to have been attached to the element with u-bolts to be moved to make the basic settings by expanding or contracting the coils. 

Down on the ground, I loaded up the two buckets with the relay box, wire, and balun, plus tools including the batteries and the Palstar analyzer.  However, my first approach failed, as I climbed the tower trailing a polypro rope with the intent of using it to pull up the buckets.  This proved to be just about impossible to do, both due to the lack of a block (though I later found ours in the cabinet over the refrigerator) and the wind.  I decided that this would all look more doable in the morning, so I knocked off for the evening and got some dinner -- a huge meatball sandwich from the Subway shop in Santa Cruz.

I decided to tackle the shack in the evening, at the same time getting engrossed in a James Patterson book that someone had left in the house, managing to finish it that night (plus, on the trip three other house books, including the first Harry Potter).  The shack was in a chaotic state  with the SO2R capability having been completely torn apart.  This illustrates a problem in ever keeping RFI to a minimum, since such measures may depend on certain critical cable usage or cable or device placement – but how could that be maintained if we continue to let others use the shack and set up different rigs?  Same with the idea of keeping a shack computer usable. In particular, since I had designed the SO2R, including the custom relay box, I’m not sure anyone else knows exactly how to set it up.   In any event, I started on the rewiring, which included removing a number of extraneous wires.  By about 10 p.m., I had it fully restored using the DX Doubler with the two Icom 756 Pro2s.  I then replaced the left Pro with the K3, and it seemed to be working fine. 

To simplify the antenna connections, I removed all of the coax stubs.  It’s pretty clear which is which, but I labeled each one with stripes of yellow tape (one stripe for 10 up to 5 stripes for 80, with the 160 stub unlabelled). I eventually got all the antenna switching working as before, including using the Stackmatch to switch the C31 and “normal” for the left radio.   I checked email, did a little office work, took a shower, and turned in after midnight of a pretty long day.   

Thursday, March 27, 2008. Slept very soundly, waking up about 7:15.  There was no breakfast food in the house, but I did make coffee and had some leftover orange juice [Ed noted later that I had overlooked the extra Steel Cut Oatmeal left over from February and stored over the cabinets].  I made two trips up the tower, each with one bucket simply clipped to the climbing belt.  This was quite workable, and going down I just put both of them there (of course, they were a lot lighter).  I mounted the relay box on the mast right below the 80-meter antenna, using some heavy parachute cord I had brought along for the purpose.  I have the box opening facing to the cunucu, with the leads to the antenna routed around to the feed point screws (there is enough clearance to do this, and it allows the box to be accessed easily).  Though I had actually brought up some spares from our stainless supply box, I did manage to hook up the hairpin and the balun to the bottom screws without dropping anything, whew!  Also brought up two u-bolts to attach the loose main tuning coil ends to the element, after measuring them to be about both the same length.

The great moment of truth arrived, with the 12-volt battery hooked up to the on-off relay and the Palstar to the balun.  Eureka, resonance in the band!  The steps to tune it were roughly as follows:

  1. Set high phone by closing all three relays (relay 1 is on-off, relay 2 shorts out the small coils – when it is open the resonance is moved down by a “small” increment, relay 3 shorts out the larger coils – when it is open it moves the frequency down by a large increment, i.e., from phone to CW);
  2. Open relay 2 to set the small increment by adjusting the small coils;
  3. Open relay 3 to adjust the large coils for CW;
  4. Adjust hairpin (i.e., spread out the coil) to raise the impedance for best match.

It sounds pretty straightforward, but it’s an iterative process with lots of checking and adjusting and rechecking  -- all in the high wind and bright sun and without dropping anything!  I finally ended up with the resonant points being a bit lower than desired.  The high phone resonance is about 3740 kHz, and the small increment moves it down about 60 kHz or so.  [In the contest, it covered a very usable bandwidth from about 3670 to 3770 kHz].  CW resonance is 40 kHz below the band edge, but with the small coils out,  the bottom 25kHz or so of the band is usable. There wasn’t room in the box to spread the coils more to reduce the inductance further.  The small coils have about 5 turns and the large ones about 17.  The next step, according to Tom Schiller would be to remove a turn, which I assume could be done simply by unwinding the coils a bit, without having to physically cut them and redo the ends (which have soldered lugs).  I was worried about doing that on the tower for fear of dropping a screw from the relay, so I left that for the next trip.

I then took a bucket down the tower and brought up the portable drill and the SS bolts and nuts (1/4 inch by 2 ½ inches) to attach the far ends of the coil to the element.  Next step was to climb up a bit to retrieve the feedline and connect it to the balun, then a slow trip down unwinding the sprinkler wire inside the tower and taping it every four feet or so as I went.  The whole operation took all morning, and I was very tired and hungry at the end.  I’m not sure the balun is routed as it should be, as right now I just have it hanging vertically below the relay box.  Its top is taped to the tower, and the feedline comes down from above in a drip loop, but it would be better to secure it to the tower more permanently.  This whole system should be reviewed and made permanent in May.

I checked email, then went off just before two to go food shopping, keeping the usually high Ling and Sons bill down by stopping at the McDonald’s in Santa Cruz for a quick chicken sandwich.  I was so hungry that I even indulged in a small chocolate milkshake, the first McDonald’s shake I have had literally in decades, since realizing how bad they are nutritionally – but it sure hit the spot today.  Two minutes after my return, Carl and Sue dropped over to chat and to see if I needed anything.  Carl offered assistance, but with his shorts and sandals wasn’t dressed suitably for my next task, walking the beverages in the cunucu. 

All three beverages were disrupted by our February operations, and it took a lot of time to try to figure out their status. [I was glad I did, however, as I ended up using them pretty much exclusively on 80 and 40 in the contest, where they helped in noise reduction and directivity].   JP had re-coiled the feedlines at the back tower, and each was labeled with duct tape and sharpie.  I walked all the beverages, ultimately finding that the West US beverage was intact, as it should have been, since it runs parallel to the back fence.  The US East beverage was coiled up at the edge of the bushes about 150 feet from the back fence. 

I spent a lot of time looking for the house end of the EU beverage. I could follow the wire from the origin on the far side of the cunucu until it disappeared into the particularly intractable thorn bushes and trees behind our back fence near the garage.  I even went in to those trees from the church side, getting quite scratched up in the process.  About to admit defeat, I finally found the end of it near the back fence, with another portion on the north side of the garage, the wire having been severed there.  To restore that one I had to splice in another section of wire from our supplies in the garage.  I checked out the termination stake at the northeast corner of the yard.  It was quite corroded and the 450 ohm resistor looked shot.  At this point it was after 6 p.m., so I decided to finish on the morrow.  Unfortunately, this means no nighttime testing of the beverages before the contest. 

I turned on the radios and was amazed to find 10 meters open across the US.  [Of course, this was Thursday, and this opening did not recur during the contest.]  I worked a few dozen Qs using the K3 barefoot then with the 87A.  The amp worked fine, though, as has been noted before, its output on 10 seems to be limited to about a kilowatt.  The rest of the evening was taken up with a shower, shave, trip to Domino Pizza in Savaneta to pick up a dinner pizza, wiring up the 80 m switchbox (though it’s hardly a box, with no enclosure or pilot lights), rigging up some new Anderson Power Poles to power it, and hooking up the laptop to integrate with the radios.   The computer is set up same as last time: monitor to jack on computer, Compaq 4-port USB extender to computer, then from its ports one USB output to Y-connector for mouse and keyboard, one to USB relay box (for PTT, Mic/DVK and R1/R2 switches on DXD), one to two serial port box to be connected to each radio for frequency control.  Also W2IHY box from headphone output on computer to Mic in on DXD.

Friday, March 28, 2008. Slept like a log, finally getting out of bed at about 8:15.  After breakfast of cereal, OJ, and coffee, started multiple trips back to the cunucu.  By running the end of the wires for the US East and EU beverages into the shack, I could short each to its respective feed line then measure out in the cunucu at the feed point to verify that feedline and beverage wire were intact.  I also shorted the inner and outer conductors for the US West beverage to each other and measured that resistance at the feed point (the wire end being way out in the cunucu, of course, it was not reachable like the others).  I determined that the US East and EU beverages were OK, but the resistance on the US West feedline was about 180 ohms.

At one point I erroneously decided I needed to replace the EU K9AY transformer, but the new one I put in displayed a resistance of about 11 kilohms from the center conductor of the coax input to the red terminal for the wire output.  The other new one measured infinite resistance.  According to the little schematic that comes with them, they are simply a transformer, with no direct dc coupling, so the one measuring 11 kilohms would appear to be defective out of the box,  I put the old one back on. 

I then soldered separate 450 ohm resistors to the ends of the US East and EU beverages and attached them to the stake in the corner of the yard using a new hose clamp, after first shining up the stake with sandpaper.  Rolled out the ground wires from the stake and routed the wires for these two beverages to try to keep them out of the way.  The EU beverage I ran through a carabiner hooked to the big grip extender on the guy wire for the back tower, then over the tree next to it.  The wire for the US East beverage comes over the fence at the back tower.  I attached a piece of yellow webbing to a guy wire, with a carabiner about two feet below, and ran the wire through the biner, which puts it at a height above pedestrians or the car going in or out of the garage.  Also hung another piece of webbing on the lower guy wire from the back tower to the north tower, just for visibility.  I must say, having all this mountain climbing gear around sure is useful.

By about 4:30, I had all beverages hooked up to the K9AY switchbox and hooked into the radios, seeming to work.  I manage to nap for an hour and a half or so, had some food and make a few contest sandwiches for the future, then was ready to get started when the contest starts at 8 p.m. local time.

March 29-30 (GMT) WPX SSB Contest Notes, more or less as dictated during the contest. I start out with the left radio (K3, 87A) on 20, and the right radio (Pro2, 86) set to 80 for when it’s needed.  Last year I stayed on 20 for the first four hours of the contest making some 800 Qs.  Now I’m on 20 only until 0028Z, with 64 QSOs, all US.  To 40 for a nice run, working some EU on 7098, then split to US.  At 0206Z, I’m at 249 Qs in the log, about half as many as in 2007. Switch to 80 and run on 3744, amid horrible QRM.  After 71 Qs I have to QSY due to a EU running on the same frequency, though I can barely hear him.  I feel much louder on 80 than last year (or in any prior year, for that matter).  The beverages are helping greatly on receive.  I’m using them exclusively, except that when an SA station calls, the dipole works better.

I go back to 40 and at 0354Z, I’m at 421 by 222 (279 on 40 and 78 on 80).  I’m going back to 80, as my goal is to reach 800 Qs combined on 40 and 80, as compared to about 500 last year.  But it’s very difficult with a lot of QRM and noise.  Almost every contact is a challenge.  In 20 minutes, I run off 41 Qs on 3765, then am chased off by DL3TD, who opens up right above me, then QSYs right on my frequency and refuses to acknowledge my yelling at him.  I’m sure he hears me.  [Other than one later fight with some pig farmers, this is the only real frequency fight in the whole contest.] 

Well, it’s 0600Z, and I’ve been slugging it out on 80 and 40, and am now at 64/376/191 but it’s been very tough going.  There are EUs calling that I can’t copy due to the noise.  I take a 12-minute food break.  I have a tough time getting callers on 40, so I bounce back between 80 and 40.  It’s now 0754Z and I’ve had a miserable last hour and a half or so. The rate sheet shows only 38 Qs in the 0600Z hour and 31 in the 0700Z hour (however with 33 minutes off: I was so frustrated I actually got up and read a book – I know, I know, that’s not accepted contesting practice).  The total is 696 by 304 for a little over 1 million points.  There is horrific noise on both 80 and 40 and very little activity.  I debate searching and pouncing on 40 while CQing on 80, but the only stations I can hear are very strong multis, and I’m sure I’ll get them later for the prefix while it would take a long time to make each contact now, so there seems no point to it.  It’s now 0813Z, and while my New Year’s Resolution was to keep slugging it out as long as possible on the low bands, I think I’ve reached that point now. 

So, unhappily I sleep for about two and a half hours until being awakened rudely by my alarm and stagger around, reviving somewhat with half a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, cereal and coffee. 

It’s now 1209Z, and I’m at  206 Qs on 20, running both US and EU.  I try to go below the US phone band to run EU, a strategy that worked well last year, but is a bust right now.  I’m having audio problems with the K3 and 87A.  The symptom is that when I use computer voice messages, I have to turn the W2IHY box up full, to a level that normally causes distortion, and then when I use the mike, the power takes a few seconds to come up [Later:  this appears to be a K3 issue, though not a problem I’ve had with any other radio.  I’m going to do more tests, but it seems to be some sort of impedance matching problem.  It seriously curtails my ability to use the DVK on the K3 though.]

I decide to try EU again at 1412Z, now at 465 Qs on 20.  I get a total of one answer to a CQ, however, so I return to 14241.  At about 1430Z, I’m starting to see signals on the Pro bandscope on 15, even though there is still a lot of noise.  I move to 15 at 1437Z and get a nice EU run on  21270.  I stay there about an hour, then try 20 again and back to 15.  It’s great to be working the EU prefixes. 

I take an 18-minute lunch break at 1618Z.  I’m at 141/508/402/244, a total of 1297 by 486 for 2.7M points.  At 1635Z I get back and decide to do a little trolling for EU prefixes, since it’s hard to work the US now as they are working EU.  I keep this up till 1706Z, at which point I move to 21241 for a good  run that starts EU and morphs into US.   It’s now 1847Z and the last hour rate meter shows 201, all on 15.  I take a 14-minute break because I’m falling asleep at the switch.  The line noise has pretty much gone away, which is nice.  15 opened to EU before 20 for me, so I did get a bunch of EU mults. 

Back on, I work a few SA on 10, hoping it will open to the US as it did on Thursday [of course, that never happens.]  It’s 1919Z and 15 has pretty much dried up, so it’s time to hit 20.  Finally get an EU run on 20, staying on 14103 from 1925Z to 2126Z, for a run of 280 stations.  I notice that 15 isn’t really dead, so I head back up to 21307 for a US run for an hour, then the noise returns and the signals get weaker, making copy rough.  At 2228Z, I’m at 2114 by 700 for 5.68M and I’ve been on for 19 ½ hours.  I’ve only taken three hours of official off time, so I have to take nine more in the next day. 

I go to 14194 for the late afternoon US run (including a few SA and a few over the pole Russians), and stay there from 2230Z to 0030Z, working exactly 400 stations in the two hours, and the score has just broken 7M.  I take an hour and a quarter off for dinner, enjoying an egg salad, pepper cheese and relish sandwich plus a delicious combo of an apple with Jarlsberg cheese, a cuppa joe and a few cookies for what passes for a pretty good mid-contest dinner.  It’s nice that this is a 36-hour contest, so you can eat and relax without begrudging every minute as a lost opportunity to add to the score. 

My strategy now is to work 40 and 80 as best and as long as I can, then take an extended break to try to avoid the early Sunday morning Caribbean doldrums as much as possible. I manage to stay on until 0642Z, working some 395 stations, mostly on 80.  The first two hours on 80 are the best, with a 111 clock hour in the 0200Z hour,  a mixture of US and EU with a few SA thrown in.  At 0345Z, I now have 448 on 80 and 402 on 40, and am pleased to have at least met my goal of 800 total low band contacts.  OTOH , I just came across Tom, 8P1A, on 40 on the second radio running EUs that I can’t hear.  And while I’m giving out number 2719, he’s giving out a number in the 3700s!  How does he do it? 

As I tune across 40, I hear JP running simplex in the American phone band, so I decide to give it a try and camp out on 7207 for about 60 Qs.  The antenna seems to load pretty well, and even the 87A, notoriously sensitive to SWR, has no problem at that frequency.  [In retrospect, not sure why I didn’t stay longer on this frequency.  Sometimes when the rate slows down temporarily it looks much worse than it is, and I see in the log my last ten minutes yielded 15 contacts.  Sometimes the grass seems greener on another band.] 

Unfortunately the EU beverage has gone silent, though it worked fine last night.  I actually walk outside with a flashlight, but can’t see anything wrong in the yard and am not about to venture into the cunucu in the dark!  At 0612Z I have a fight with some pig farmers on 3740;  they think I’m interfering with their rag chew, but instead of asking me to QSY, they sit there making snide comments and grousing about it.  I yell at them a bit, feeling foolish (but staying awake by doing so), and then move 5 kHz up.  Things really start to slow down, so my idea of staying on until 0800Z has fallen by the wayside, but I hang it up for a long sleep break until 0642Z, still several hours later than last year.  Totals are 2989 by 810 for 9.4M points.  (6/638/1224/504/537 for 10 through 80).  I’m very pleased to have more than 1000 Qs on 40 and 80 combined, roughly double last year’s total. 

To bed immediately and wake up before the alarm at 1230Z (0830 local) feeling oddly flat and not even hungry.  Make some coffee and sit outside on the patio for a while reading the first Harry Potter book.  I know the story from having seen the movie, but in reading the book one can see why ten-year-olds around the world were enchanted with the series.  A PBJ and a shower and shave revive me a bit.  Back on the radio at 1426Z on 20.  Can’t run EUs (five minutes of CQing on 14110 yields only one EU plus one out of band US) but work a number search and pounce. 

The US phone band is an absolute zoo of wall to wall strong EUs and strong NAs working each other.  I eke out a slow living below it on 14125 until 1544Z when it seems that 15 is opening up.  At 1547Z  I start a run on 21252 that lasts five and a half hours until 2117Z and includes 835 contacts.  The big ionospheric switch seemed to turn on at about 1630Z, and the rate suddenly picked up and held good for those many hours.  The frequency has been pretty quiet and free from interference, but band noise is starting to reappear.  I’m starving, and desperately want to stop to eat, but every time the rate slows down, a new burst of callers appears and keeps me there.  This is all using the Pro2, Alpha 86, and our new, temporarily non-rotating 5-element 15-meter yagi, and the combination seems to be working well.

It’s now 2118Z and I take a 14-minute break for some dinner.  There are two and a half hours left to go, and I’m at 3798 by 907 for 12.9M points.  I run out the contest on 20, which is now closed to EU for NA stations, so it’s a good time for me.  With a few minutes to go, I notice that I’ve now operated 2 minutes more than the allowed 36 hours, so I’ll have to not count the last four contacts (but keep them in the log, so they get credit). 

Here is the breakdown as compared to prior years.  Note that the total score is actually up by 2% over last year.  Contacts are up a bit, and mainly there are many more 6-pointers on 40/80, offsetting the 10% reduction in mults. All these scores are SOABHP.


P49Y 2008

P49Y 2007

P40W 2007

P40L 2006

P40Y 2004

P40Y 2003


















































Here is the Continent breakdown for 2008:

    QSOs  10     15    20    40     80   160   Total
    US    0      1129  1149  397    410   0     3085   (73.56%)
    VE    0      62    93    15     30    0     200    (4.77%)
    NA    0      17    19    11     15    0     62     (1.48%)
    AF    0      3     3     2      2     0     10     (0.24%)
    JA    0      0     2     0      0     0     2      (0.05%)
    AS    0      6     6     2      1     0     15     (0.36%)
    EU    0      234   382   63     68    0     747    (17.81%)
    OC    0      3     2     2      1     0     8      (0.19%)
    SA    9      17    15    11     9     0     61     (1.45%)

And here it is for 2007.  Note that 2007 featured more contacts not only with EU, but also with other parts of the world, which probably accounts for my prefix decline in 2008.  Strategy note:  probably should have done more searching for other areas, including VK/ZL on 20 late at night (JP says he worked a bunch close to midnight local time).  Also need to try harder (again!) on 40.

    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%)

Right at the end of the contest, both Carl and JP showed up on my 20m frequency, and we chatted for a while.  Lisandro also called on the phone, and we arranged to go to Kowloon, a Chinese restaurant in Oranjestad for a post-contest dinner.  Carl and Sue very kindly picked me up and we drive to Lisandro and Lissette’s house to admire the C-130 that we had shipped down to him in our shipping crate.  It sure fills the dining room table. Can’t wait to see it fly (which will be while, since right now it has no engines or control systems).  Dinner with the five of us (JP begged off, and John Bayne, P40A, had also when I mentioned it on the air to him) was very pleasant and was hosted by Lisandro in a very nice gesture.  Back home after 11 p.m., checked email and to bed.

Radio notes: As usual, the Pro2 and 86 were rock solid.  The K3-87A combo also worked fine except for the odd audio problem mentioned above.  The next day I ran some tests and determined that it was definitely a K3 issue, not an amp problem.  Might have to do with audio impedance matching, though I’ve never had this problem with any other radio.  Same symptoms regardless of using the front or rear connector.  The new antennas worked fine, and particularly I enjoyed 80m for the first time that I can remember in this contest.  Switching back and forth between the C31 and the 4 el 20 showed the latter as always equal or superior. 

Soapbox as sent to 3830 reflector:

Kind of a tough contest this time, with fewer EU than last year (mults down by 10%), and substantial power line noise for good parts of the contest.  But score is up 2% over last year due to many more 80 and 40 QSOs.

We did a lot of tower/antenna replacement at the P40L-P49Y station in February (thanks W6LD, W0YK, N6BT, P43A) and have all new Force 12 antennas on new towers.  Unfortunately, we didn't quite get it all done, so there was some work left for me, most notably tuning the Sigma 180s 80m dipole, which is side mounted on the tower.  It worked really well, and for the first time, I actually felt reasonably loud on 80.

As usual, contesting on Aruba is also about socializing, this trip with P40V, P41YL, P43A, P43C, P43JB, P43L.  A great local group!

Rig:  K3, Pro2, Alpha 87A, 86

Ant: 2 el 10, 5 el 15 (this is one antenna, no kidding), 4 el 20, 2 el 40, 1el 80

Software: CQPWIN, ver. 11.0

Thanks to everyone for the Qs and the many repeats required due to QRM and QRN.

73, Andy, AE6Y, P49Y

Monday, April 1, 2008. Woke at 8:15 feeling pretty rested.  Ah, the benefits of a non-48-hour contest.  Checked some scores and as usual was amazed to see many stations with high totals I had never heard, such as PJ2T which had 7000 Qs or so as a multi-single.  Of course this is more likely in WPX where you are running almost all the time, and not spending much time tuning around.  To show how tired one gets in a contest, yesterday afternoon I was thinking I really should switch the amps to see if the audio problem was due to the K3 or the 87A, but I decided I didn’t want to lift the heavy amps and risk injuring them or myself.  It didn’t occur to me that I could simply switch the antenna input and PTT cables instead of physically moving the amps, but I did so this morning, thus verifying that the problem is with the K3, not the 87A.

Trying to diagnose the problem with the 10/15 rotor, I shorted each block of four conductors in the cable, then climbed the tower and checked at the other end of the long cable.  Everything checked out ok, but I couldn’t check at the rotor itself, since the pig tails then go into a single plug that was sealed with gunk, as opposed to a visible terminal strip like on the Rohn 45.  The colors of the cables coming out of the pig tails don’t match the cable from the shack, so I can’t tell if something is miswired (probably not, since Ed had said that the rotor worked in the house using the same pig tails).  The tower felt very solid, but the usual hurricane was blowing.  I can’t believe that antennas can last in that constant jet stream.  Earlier I had made resistance checks from the shack, following  the process in the instruction book, and they seemed to indicate some problems with one of the cables.  Also found a broken white wire on the long cable at the shack end, but crimping on a new connector didn’t solve the problem.

I did a bunch of shack cleanup, including removing the K3 and all my computer lines and re-establishing the shack as a SO2R station with the two Pro2s.  I coiled up all the beverage feedlines at the back tower, but decided to leave the beverage wires all connected, since there is enough clearance under the US East beverage now.  The ends are in multiple plastic bags and the three cables have their original labeling with duct tape and sharpie.  I added stripes of colored tape for redundancy: one red stripe for US West, two yellow stripes for US East and three green stripes for EU. 

After a shower and shave, it was off to Joop’s (P43JB) for a late afternoon beer. Joop and Yvonne displayed their usual hospitality in their wonderful outdoor sitting area (love that gracious old house; Joop says he should write a book called “The Last Colonial”).  Joop has lots of new projects including an inverted L for 160 running up his tower and fed through a homebrew wooden box with a homebuilt capacitor and a variable coupling inductor featuring a rotating copper tubing coil inside another one.  It’s beautiful craftsmanship. I told him it looked like something from the 1920s, when experimenters were using wood chassis for projects.  He’s also proud of a new magnetic receiving loop for 80 and 160 made of copper tubing also.  Joop’s shack is beautiful, full of Ten-Tec gear including two Orion IIs, and many accessory devices and switching including automation using a MicroKeyer (which took him months to square away and integrate).  It’s not air conditioned, as Joop feels that the humidity doesn’t bother the electronics, except if it is air conditioned and you turn off the a/c, thus encouraging condensation.

Carl and Sue showed up and we shared some drinks and stories until  a little before 7, when I excused myself to go over to Chris and JP’s.  We talked finances for a while then had a nice dinner at Don Carlos on the wharf. Very good Italian food.  After returning to the house, quite stuffed, after 10, I spent the rest of the evening putting tools away and generally straightening up to get ready to leave.

Tuesday, April 2, 2008. I got up early and went for my first run of the trip.  Then breakfast and packing, and Carl and Sue came by to move back in and to take me to the airport and return their rental car.  Joop and Yvonne advised getting to the airport three hours early. We didn’t quite manage that, but I did have quite a bit of time to kill, since the whole check in process, including US customs, two security checks and eating a pizza before the US Customs took only about an hour.  There are now a lot of shops upstairs at the departure gates, so one can skip the ones below.  I treated myself to a Cinnabon and some coffee ice cream.  I’m on the 2:10 flight to MIA, then to the Admiral’s Club in MIA for a while, waiting for the 8:10 flight to SFO.