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AE6Y March 2009 Aruba Trip Notes – ARRL DX Phone Contest – P49Y  SOAB HP

Andrew L. Faber, AE6Y, P49Y
[Public Version]

Tuesday, March 3 - Wednesday, March 4, 2009.  My usual redeye to Miami, AA 272, left  SFO about a half hour after its already late 11:45 p.m. scheduled departure.  The TSA had trouble identifying my K3 in the backpack and the two 3CX800A7 Svetlana tubes that I was transporting for Carl, P40V, so there was some unpacking and repacking, but no real problems.  Slept very well on the plane.  After a layover in the Admirals’ Club in MIA, I was in Aruba at 2:00 p.m. local time.  Picked up my Budget rental car, a nearly new Toyota Yaris and was on my way. 

I had our original Alpha 87A in an Alpha box in the large suitcase.  I had been running it from home for several years, and Ed had kindly fixed the Filament Current Fault that it had recently developed.  Per Alpha’s suggestion, this was cured by opening it up and cleaning a bunch of connectors.  Whew!  It was inspected by the TSA, but carefully resealed, so hopefully is OK. 

The house looked great, though the shack was in some electronic disarray, having been converted from an Icom SO2R operation to a Yaesu SO1R station to accommodate Andy Bodony, K2LE, P40LE, who operated to a Low Power win in ARRL CW two weekends ago.  I made coffee in our new coffee maker that Chris has just purchased to replace the one that went out in November (thanks, Chris!), and telephoned John Bayne, Chris, JP, and Lisandro to make plans.  At 5:30 I went out for a run on my usual course at Savaneta.  The weather looked threatening, with dark clouds, but was actually very pleasant.  The temperature was probably about 80 degrees, with some humidity.  The new traffic circle where our street meets the main road makes it a pleasure to  cross at this hour; it used to be very difficult due to all the commuting traffic returning to the South.  There’s even a new, very high, pedestrian overcrossing.  On the way back I picked up a Subway sandwich for dinner. 

The rest of the evening was spent setting up the K3 and one of the Pro2s.  Of course, nothing worked, and many wires had to be jiggled, reset, rewired, etc.  By about 11 p.m. everything seemed ok and I listened to P40A for a while running stations on 160 CW.  With our beverage receiving antennas, I could definitely hear better than he, particularly to EU [John later explained that he was using a small receiving antenna aimed at the US, since he has no room for anything more elaborate].  A quick check of email, a Frangelica nightcap, and to bed.

Thursday, March 5, 2009.  Woke up around 8 and headed off to Ling and Sons for about $80 worth of groceries.  I intentionally bought a bit less than usual, since I wasn’t expecting to be doing outside work – I later regretted doing so when I was housebound for several days due to my back condition and was running out of food.  Back home, I checked out the two Alpha 86s.  The right one is our original one, while the left one is Carl’s, though it is now using two tubes from my 87A as switched by Ed last January.  The right one seemed to be producing more power, so I later switched the two on the theory that I’ll be running more on the K3 left radio.

Turning on the radio a little after noon, I tuned across 20 and heard John, W6LD, calling CQ, and we had a long conversation.  What a serendipitous find:  his first CQ before heading off to work in the morning, and I just happen to turn on the radio at exactly that time and find him.  I then chatted with a bunch of guys on 20, and the setup seemed to be working well.  Then off to Oranjestad to meet John Bayne for an enjoyable lunch at Iguana Joe’s.  Next to Carl and Sue’s, where they were busy installing soundproofing in the shack.  I give them some MicroHam cables that had been sent to me along with some cash for the workmen, for which Sue wrote me a check.  We had a nice chat in the course of which I helped get their new version of DX4WIN up and running.  Back home and then another run – satisfactory, though for the second day in a row interrupted by a cell phone call from the office. 

Lisandro and Lissette came over at about 8 and took me to Peanuts restaurant, a very pleasant place featuring Aruban food.  It’s a great improvement over the former occupant of the downtown location – Tony Roma’s!  Lisandro had an Aruban seafood combo, while Lissette and I had a Dutch dish of chicken and cheese, along with local standards of corn bread and fried plantains.  Lissette was bubbling over with the news that they had seen Sandy on the Discovery channel.  They weren’t  sure if Dr. Sandra Faber was indeed related to me, but some adroit googling turned up a 1995 bio of her on a UCLA web site that mentioned husband and children so then they were sure.  They were extremely impressed with her. 

Back at the house and hooked up the computer in the usual fashion: laptop on the table at the left.  One USB port to the Compaq 4-port expander.  Two serial ports from the USB-serial port converter to the rigs, USB connector to mouse and keyboard, and USB relay box connecting PTT, R1/R2 and DVK/Mic switches.  Audio from headphones jack to DXD.  It all worked perfectly with no problems, crashes, RFI, etc., all weekend. 

Friday, March 6, 2009.  Not too much to do today, but miscellaneous verifying that the station is working.  Unfortunately, just after noon while puttering around in the kitchen I felt a sharp twinge in my back, and started to get exactly the same kind of back pains that I had for WPX CW about 4 years ago.  That time I thought I was going to die trying to get out of bed, but Emily, P43E, took me to a doctor who diagnosed muscle spasms, and I ended up operating that contest in a valium-tramadol haze.  This time I recognized the symptoms, and was very careful in my movements.  It never got as debilitating or painful as the prior episode.  I tried taking some painkillers that I had left over in my toilet kit (expiration date 4/2008), but what I really needed was a muscle relaxant, which I couldn’t get without a prescription.  I thought of going back to the same doctor, but eventually ended up taking it easy all day, once I noticed that I actually could sit at the radios without too much discomfort.  However, I couldn’t stand up straight, and could only scuttle around by leaning both forward and to the right.  Fortunately, this is the first trip in several years that didn’t require any outside antenna work.

ARRL DX Phone Contest Saturday, March 7 - Sunday, March 8, 2009 – Contest notes more or less as dictated during the contest.  Twenty meters is great right before the contest as I sit down at 2345Z to warm up the band, but immediately starts to slow and I have great difficulty even reaching 100 contacts and leave after 37 minutes.  After a few minutes on 80, I go to 40 operating split, transmitting about 7047 and listening at various places, 7260 for a while.  Then there is very loud QRM on that frequency, sounding like someone tuning up, but it turns out to be a broadcast station starting a program.  At 0402Z, four hours in, I’m at 20:101/37; 40: 258/49; 80: 91/35; 160: 119/30.  The 160 contacts were in the 0200Z hour at a very good rate.  In fact that hour is my best of the whole night (194 combined on 40 and 160).  It’s going much slower than I thought it would.  First move of the contest, at 0438Z, N0QO from 80 to 160 for Colorado.  Also move VE4EAR (MB) and K5MDX (MS) but fail on K7IA (NM). 

Get up for a few minutes at 0525Z for a bite to eat.  I’m worried about sitting still for so long, though my back has been generally OK.  Total is now 847 Qs, far below the logs I was looking at posted by W2SC from 8P in prior contests.  A move of N1UE (ME) from 80 to 160 seems to have failed, but I realize I was listening on the West US beverage and that I can hear him weakly on the East US beverage.  A strange request at 0725Z.  I’m transmitting on 7050 and listening on 7256 when W6YI stops by and asks me to QSY my transmitting frequency as it is his receiving frequency for working JAs split.  In a contest, this request is really totally out of line, but since he asks politely and I don’t think it will be any trouble to establish a new transmitting frequency I do move.

At 0800Z I’m at 20:101/37; 40:462/55; 80:452/55; 160:184/40. Total 1198 by 197 for 668k points.   I’m pleased by how well I seem to get out on 80.  I noticed the same thing in WPX SSB last year – the dipole seems to work quite a bit better than the old inverted vee.  At 0914Z things are really slowing down.  The 0900Z hour is my slowest of the first night and just about of the whole contest, 57 Qs, bouncing around among all three low bands.  I take a nine-minute break for some food.  Can’t straighten up.  It’s 1058Z, the sun is coming up so I open the side curtain to let in some light.  I’m falling asleep during contacts.  On the second radio I notice that 20 is open to EU from here, which is not necessarily a good sign, since it means the US will be concentrating on working EU also. 

Eight minutes of CQing on 20 gets two replies, so I decide to go back to 40 and work it out for another hour or so, remembering how last November 40 would stay open until about 1230Z, some two hours after sunrise.  I try simplex at 7158, but since the two element beam has a higher SWR here than lower down in the band, I have to run no more than about 800 watts to avoid the amp faulting due to too much reflected power. While running at a slow but steady rate on 40, in the right radio I’m listening to Carl having an extended frequency fight on abut 14273 with a totally obnoxious KZ8, who seems to be taking a malicious satisfaction from it.  At 1208Z, W0TUP calls in with ND, my last mult needed on 40, other than the normally missing LB, NT, YT, NU [actually later I get VE8EV in NT on 40 and 20 – in five ARRL CW contests I’ve never got more than 59 mults per band but this weekend I get 60 on 40 and 61 on 20 (the extra one being VO2NS in LB)]. 

I start to see/hear stations on 15 on the Pro2, so I switch there at 1247Z, thinking that it might be better than 20, assuming that it is worse for the US to EU than is 20.  15 is indeed smokin’ hot, and I run off 64 contacts in 13 minutes (a 295/hour rate) then 152 in the next 57 minutes before going back to 20 for most of the 1400Z hour.  20 is also good, but returning to 15, I have the best two-hour run of the contest in the 1500Z and 1600Z hours, with rates of 330 and 258.  It’s now 1719Z and I’ve got to take a break, as I’m dying of hunger.  Totals now are 15:872/57; 20: 351/54; 40:657/60; 80: 533/55; 160: 204/41, total 2616 by 267 for 2.073M points.  I’m trying to take short breaks, so this one is only 12 minutes. 

Back at the radio solidly on 20 for 7½ hours averaging about 190 Qs per hour.  At 2330Z, almost the halfway point, my total is 3896 by 274 for 3.16M points.  My back has been hurting and I’ve been starting to hallucinate, so it’s time for a major recuperation break (25 minutes).  Back on 20 and it’s a problem finding a frequency.  This time there are JAs everywhere.  I find a good spot at 14302.5, but an emergency net op on 14300 pleads with me to move.  He’s extremely friendly and ingratiating (“I know it’s not your fault, friend, but if you could just see your way clear to move up a bit, we’d be so grateful”) and asks me to move up a bit.  I do move up about a kHz,  but about 20 minutes later the same guy (a KB4) comes back and again asks me to move, saying that my signal is so strong that it wipes him out clear down to 14295.  While we are discussing this, someone else pipes up that my signal is clean.  I tell the KB4 that this request is really off the wall, but he is so polite and insistent that I do move, eventually settling in on 14171 after a few minutes of searching. 

At 0109Z I switch to 80, and basically stay there for the next three hours.  The 80m dipole is resonant at 3680 and 3742, depending on the position of the up/down switch, with a bandwidth of about 50-60 kHz around those frequencies. I stay on 3759 until 0347Z, averaging 102 Qs per hour. Can’t move N7XR (WA) to 160 because it’s too early on the West Coast, but do move VE9GLF in NB (we’re both in darkness).  I can’t get anything else going on 160.  At 0401Z, I have 842 by 57 on 80, having picked up SD and ID on this run. 

After a 15-minute break it’s time for 40 again and I have a reasonable 144 hour. At 0513Z, a very satisfying double move of K3VOA (DC) to both 80 and 160.  I bounce around 80 and 160 unproductively and eventually come back to 40.  I’m operating split, transmitting on 7052, listening on 7262.  The new feature added last week to CQPWIN that allows me to send messages from the K3’s voice memories by pressing the function keys is very handy, as I can easily rerecord a message giving the current listening frequency.  I use this only for M4, though I later also record a general message in M2 (accessible from the F4 and F2 function keys).  A move at 0623Z of KD0S from 40 to 160 goes smoothly, though several other western moves fail, and I also ask a  number of stations that can’t move because of lack of antennas for 160.

It’s now 2:40 a.m. local time (0640Z) and I think I’ll get some sleep.  Interestingly, I’m really not very tired, and actually haven’t felt the need to take any little catnaps as I have in prior ARRL contests.  Totals are 4649 by 280 for 3.85M points. Breaking it down, 15:872/57; 20:1792/61; 40:914/60; 80:850/58; 160:222/44.  Unfortunately I can’t stand up straight, so I don’t really know what is going to happen in the next few days.  I set my alarms on my wristwatch to wake me at 0500 local time, but sleep through both (sitting up in a chair, by the way) – fortunately, I do awaken myself at 0511, so no major damage done.  Feel very groggy and disorientated, but some cereal and coffee help.

I try 7171 simplex, but there’s virtually no contest activity now. A WA8 answers a CQ at 0940Z, exactly three hours after the last logged contact, but then nothing.  I settle on 80 at 3752.  I try unsuccessfully to move VO1BBN (NF) to 160, accidentally picking KV4FZ’s frequency.  Herb is a bit annoyed but agrees to stand by (saying he’s been on that freq for two hours without much action anyway).  But neither of us can hear the VO1.  But I do pick up two 160 mults, moving N7VF (AZ) and N7BT (WA).  A try on K7JN (ID) fails. 

Switch to 40 at 1108Z, simplex on 7164, and have a reasonable  (88 per hour) rate for about an hour.  This is all in daylight in Aruba, but I want to stay on 40 as long as possible.  Reluctantly moving to 20 at 1218Z, it’s an absolute circus.  I find a spot at 14306 amid much QRM  You really have to throw your elbows out and try to protect the lane.  A Spanish station starts up right about on frequency, then CU2A about half a kHz below.  After slugging it out for a while, I reestablish myself on 14222 and have a bit better time there until moving to 15 at 1342Z.  That band is in pretty good shape and I have clock hours of 180 and 144 in the 1400Z and 1500Z hours.  Then the band starts to slow down and I move back to 20 at 1623Z.  I have a very difficult three and a half hours slugging it out on 20, first on 14306, then a better frequency at 14245.  Somehow the great pool of strong callers that I enjoyed yesterday afternoon has dried up and it feels as though every contact is a struggle.  For example, the rates in the 1700Z,1800Z and 1900Z hours are 76, 88 and 75, compared to yesterday’s rates of  228, 196 and 233. [Later: This is my only real band-choice mistake of the weekend.  The rate sheet for PJ4G shows that he switched to 15 much earlier and had considerably higher rates on 15 while I struggled on 20.]

Meanwhile, I’ve been listening on 10 on the second radio.  I can hear PJ2T and some SAs calling CQ.  I’m waiting to hear someone answer PJ2T to tell me 10 is open for us (in ARRL CW two weeks ago, there was a brief opening starting at 2130Z on Sunday).  There’s a knock on the door at 1942Z, and it’s Carl and Sue bringing over a pharmacopoeia of pain medicines for me to try if necessary.  I’m in no hurry to get back to the rat race but after 25 minutes I listen to 15 and it sounds great.  I work 242 contacts on 15 in the next 52 minutes (a 280/hour rate).  There are strong signals from all over the country.  I work a lot of 6s, and am hallucinating into believing that I am standing by a radio in California and trying to show the rest of the guys how to run a pileup efficiently. 

At about 2145Z, I suddenly hear someone answer PJ2T on 10.  I immediately QSY to 28406 and have a ball as the band opens up, first to TX, then spreading in all directions.  I work all the states in the second, third (except DC), fourth, fifth, and sixth call areas plus NV and AZ  in the seventh, OH alone in the eighth, IL and IN (but no WI) in the ninth and CO, KS and MO in the tenth.  In the first, I get CT, MA and NH, but not the rest of New England and not a single Canadian.  It’s great fun putting new mults in the log.  I have to remind myself to keep calling CQ.  After about an hour and a quarter, it ends with 221 non-dupe QSOs in 31 mults.   At 2306Z I reluctantly leave the band and finish out the contest with 130 more contacts on 15 and 20.

When it’s over, I call Carl and Sue to beg off our planned post-contest dinner at Texas de Brazil, then make myself a sandwich and go to bed at 10:30, propped up with pillows and cushions and afraid to lie flat.

Claimed Results.  Here are my claimed results (non-dupe QSOs).  For comparison, also shown are PJ4G (Noah, K2NG) on Bonaire, who did virtually the same, though he is submitting his score in the Single Op All Band (Assisted) category; YN2NB (Jeff, N1SNB) in Nicaragua, the claimed second high single op score; and PJ2T, the multi-multi on Curacao with 15 operators.  Conditions should have  been virtually the same for PJ2T, PJ4G and myself.  YN2NB had a longer 10 meter opening, being further west, while some single ops further east (e.g., FS5KA and TO5A) reported little or no opening.


P49Y 2009 SOAB HP



PJ2T 2009 M/M









































Contest Soapbox, as sent to 3830 reflector. 

First ever ARRL DX Phone, after operating it on CW from here in 2003-2007.  Quite an experience, made more interesting by the unfortunate fact that my back went out on me on Friday, with the result that I couldn't really stand up for the rest of the weekend and could barely move (visualize Quasimodo in the Hunchback of Notre Dame).  However, I could sit in a chair, albeit uncomfortably, so I decided to stick it out for the contest. 

Low points:  (1) Got off to a depressingly slow start Friday night.  20 was open for less than an hour, and then it was time to slug it out on the low bands with the EUs for hour after hour.  (2) After an initial quick 100 or so Qs on 160, very few responses were received to CQing on that band for the whole rest of the contest.  I did move about 10 mults there in the course of the weekend, but also had at least a half dozen unsuccessful moves.  Thanks to the guys in both categories!  (3) 20 was miserable at times, with endless QRM, particularly when wide open to EU; though of course it is much more fun here in the late afternoon and early evening after EU is closed to NA.  I wasted a few hours on Sunday afternoon fighting on 20 when I should have gone back to 15, which was in better shape.  At that point in the contest, however, I wasn't thinking very clearly and didn't realize that I should have moved.  Since I couldn't get up and walk around to clear the cobwebs from my mind, I think I was less internally coherent than usual.  (For example, I remember believing that the many VE3s calling in, and only the VE3s, were calling to ask my permission to go to a landfill, and that by working them I was giving them that permission -- I couldn't understand why there were so many landfill customers, but fortunately I never said so out loud!)

High points: (1) Some very good hours on 15 (in fact, my only hour over 260 was a 330 hour, 1500-1600Z on 15 on Saturday).  (2) And, of course, the brief 10m opening Sunday evening.  I listened on the second radio a lot to PJ2T and LUs calling CQ on 10, waiting to hear someone who was answering them, but it didn't happen until about 2145Z on Sunday.  Then had a great hour and a quarter of high excitement, with mostly East Coast mults, but also CA, NM and NV and a number of AZ. 

The usually crowded Aruban social calendar has been reduced by my back situation, which sadly made me cancel the traditional after-contest dinner planned with P40V (Carl) and P40YL (Sue), but I did have a pleasant meals with P40A (John) and P43L (Lisandro) and Lissette, and will be seeing P43A (Jean-Pierre)and P43C (Chris).

Rig: Elecraft K3, Icom 756 Pro2, Alpha 86X2

Ant: F12: 1 el 80, 2 el 40, 4 el 20, 5 el 15, 2 el 10; C31XR. 160 H-dipole. Beverages.

Software: CQPWIN ver. 11.1

Thanks to everyone for the activity and the Qs (and to P40V for lending one of the 86s).

73, Andy, AE6Y, P49Y

Monday, March 9, 2009.  I don’t think I moved once until awakening after 12 hours at 10:30 a.m.  As usual, I felt groggy and sluggish for a while, but the bed rest seemed to have helped my back, and I felt distinctly better, though certainly not cured.  I spent some time on the internet and reported my score to 3830.  I note that PJ2T, with 15 operators, had only four mults more than I did, and that my QSO total was about 70% of their multi-multi total.

Trying to conserve my back I canceled tonight’s planned dinner with Chris and JP.  Chris came over in the afternoon and we chatted a bit.  I slowly undid the K3 and reconnected the station as a two-Icom SO2R station.  The hardest part was lying on the floor to detach the K3’s power cable and re-attach the Pro2’s, but it was doable, slowly.  It was an absolutely gorgeous beach day, but I was afraid to even leave the house for fear of aggravating my back, though I did go out and sit in the car to verify that driving would be possible.  To save weight, I decided not to put my normal suitcase inside the now-empty enormous blue suitcase that I had brought the Alpha in, instead just leaving big blue in the house.   Working gingerly, I even managed to bolt the Alpha 87A transformer into the unit, which was sitting on the dining room table. 

At about 7 p.m., JP came over and Carl and Sue shortly thereafter.  We spent several hours dealing with the amplifiers and socializing.  The net result was to put our 87A on the left and our 86 on the right, as before.  Carl got his 86 back, having taken out the two tubes (for me to take back to California to put in my 87A) and replaced them with the two Svetlanas that I brought down from Alpha.  The replacement took quite a while, as the anode caps on the new ones were slightly smaller in circumference than the old, a situation Carl remedied by carefully wrapping the anode caps with some bare wire.  The 87A seems to work, though it needs its defaults reset for the Aruban antennas; I was too tired to do it, but left a note for the next user, and also left a photocopy of the manual in the blue accordion file in the MBR closet. 

Since Carl and Sue still owed me a dinner, I asked that they bring back a Subway sandwich, and they returned about an hour later having had to go back to their house to get something they wanted me to mail from the States.  We had a very pleasant dinner with our sandwiches, and polished off the Frangelica.  They left after 11 p.m., and I went to bed, knowing that I had to get up before 5 a.m. to return my car [the Budget office says they open at 5:00, but when I got there at 5:30, I had to wait a few minutes for someone to show up] and catch my 7:35 a.m. flight to MIA.