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AE6Y March 2010 Aruba Trip Notes – WPX SSB Contest – P49Y

Andrew L. Faber, AE6Y, P49Y

4/4/10  (public version)

Tuesday, March 23 - Wednesday, March 24, 2010.  My usual redeye to Miami, AA 272 leaving  SFO at 11:20 p.m. was full, but the flight was pleasant, particularly as I was flying first class due to a need to use up AA miles and was very tired, so I had no trouble sleeping for the entire flight (plus some more sack time at the Admiral’s Club in MIA and on the flight to Aruba).  Unlike last November, this time I did have to take the K3 out of the backpack, but they swabbed it down and ran it through again without much delay. The Aruba flight even was a bit early, so after picking up my Hertz  Chevy Aveo, I was at the house before 3 p.m.  The house looks beautiful; Chris’s paint job is terrific.  [BTW, this car is particularly gutless, and is a rolling advertisement for the benefits of a manual transmission. It also has a Clarion radio with particularly small buttons and tiny labels that are impossible to decipher, an incomprehensible display, plus (or should I say, minus) no power or tuning controls.  These are on a remote control with a dead battery, so I'm reduced to listening to the preset stations.  Why a POS tiny economy car would have a radio with a remote baffles me.]

Although John and Ed had reported delays at Aruban customs a few weeks ago, I just breezed through and, as usual, the bags were there by the time passengers started arriving at the luggage carousels.  Other than the K3 and usual cables and interfaces, the only extra radio gear brought down were the repaired dummy load that Ed had kindly rebuilt back home and the MFJ 989C antenna tuner to be used as necessary (e.g., on 40 phone), which I left in the closet in the master bedroom. 

Walking outside in the back yard, the most obvious change is the 160 meter antenna, which now is moved about five feet out from the tower with the two legs running way out into the cunucu instead of to the telephone pole in front.  [Never really got the chance to use it on this trip, but it seemed to have exactly the proper resonance pattern (unlike the previous version which was unaccountably flat over the band), so it should work well.]

The weather was typical Aruba: temperature was probably about 85 degrees, a little breezy, with some humidity.  The weather stayed fine for the whole trip.  The island looked very dry, and there was no water at Frenchman’s Pass, a sure sign of a long dry spell.  Lisandro told a sad story of how he had lost some tower sections and antennas due to a brush fire started by workmen doing arc cutting at his neighbor’s property and igniting a brush fire in the dry grass.

I took my usual run on Spanns Lagoenweg from Marina Pirata to La Granja and back, also as usual feeling tired, weak, and hot at this point in the trip but enjoying the exercise.  Lisandro and Lissette came by a little after seven to take me out to Peanuts, the restaurant we had been to once before in the old Tony Roma’s location in Oranjestad.  A very convivial dinner, with the Dutch dish of keshi yena (cheese and chicken) and two pina coladas certainly hitting the spot.  Lissette and Lisandro are both into Facebook, and enjoy playing Farmville, with, per Lissette, some 75 million others worldwide. 

Back home, I listened to the radio a bit, using the left Pro2.  A very good portent for the contest is that 20 was still open to the States.  Made a few qsos on 40 with Europe.  Hooked up the four beverage feedlines, and they all seemed to work.  I had had a scare upon arrival as the router and the modem for internet hookup were nowhere to be found.  They used to live in the dining room, but were in the bedroom last fall – finally did locate them neatly packed away in a drawer in the bedroom night table.  Whew – old Frostholm seems to work fine as usual, and the wireless makes for a far more convenient internet usage than did the old wired system.

Thursday, March 25, 2010.  Woke up around 8 after a very sound sleep feeling quite groggy.  Checking the radio briefly, I had a long chat with YL2GD on 15.  He was a solid S9, though I don’t hear many other EU signals.  Breakfast was a Danish and a cup of coffee at Huchada’s bakery in Santa Cruz, then it was on to Ling and Sons for groceries.

Checking the radios again, the right 756 Pro2, which had seemed dead last night, unfortunately still seemed to be dead.  I even tried direct cabling hookup straight to the antennas, but nothing helped.  I hooked up the K3 and got everything working properly.  Unfortunately, I can’t use the dead 756 as a panadaptor for the K3 as before, because it wouldn’t receive the signals from the K3’s IF frequency.  I spent a few hours on the air with good EU pileups on 15 and 20.  

In the late afternoon, I went over to Chris and JP's to talk finances with Chris and drop off some presents for the kids.  I had brought Andy a new Wii game, Major League Baseball 2K10, which he proceeded to set up and play.  We were the Red Sox, and got trounced in the game by the Yankees, 17-3.  Andy had a blast with it, and I was amazed at the realism of the experience -- not so much from the Wii action standpoint, but rather from the verisimilitude of the game as portrayed on the screen, particularly the way they had real baseball commentary, even with a color commentator and background crowd and organ noises.  It really was quite amazing.  This kind of game is very good for Andy's English skills.

JP came home from work, and as he was planning to go to Carl's to plan their Multi-Single strategy for the contest, I excused myself after chatting for a while and went off to run.  I finished the run as it got dark, then went for a swim under the nearly full moon at my private rock beach at Savaneta, savoring the tranquility of the ocean.  Dinner was a Subway sandwich at home, followed by more radio work.  From about 11p.m. to midnight, I listened to Russ, K6KLY as P40LY at Carl’s, running a pileup of EUs on 40. It was quite interesting to see how the two of us would often pick up completely different calls from the pileup.  More importantly, I experimented with agc settings for the K3, including trying with the agc off to see what would help separate out the callsigns.  Finally ended up with settings that allowed keeping the agc on (helpful to prevent occasion blasts from really strong signals), but would allow riding the rf gain control to help differentiate the callers.  I used these settings throughout the contest and felt that they were quite effective.   I also tried listening on the Pro2, which initially sounded better than the K3, but eventually got the K3 to the point where it was a bit better than the Pro (and there is no convenient way to use the Pro’s rf gain control, as there is on the K3).  Finally to bed a little after midnight.

Incidentally, the computer is hooked up in the usual fashion: laptop on the table at the left.  One USB to the Compaq 4-port expander.  Two serial ports to the rigs, Y-connector to mouse and keyboard, USB relay box connecting to R1/R2, PTT and Dvk/Mic, external monitor plugged into the side. I used VOX throughout the contest, so I'm not sure that the PTT connection was even necessary.

Friday, March 26, 2010.   Up at about 7:30, some coffee, then off to the Hyatt for breakfast.  Afterwards I walked along the paved path that connects the high-rise hotels on the beach side, noting that they really have set up the high-rise district well: the hotels are connected by paths on the beach and road sides, and, of course, they have been working to make the district ever more self-contained, with a plethora of restaurants and shops within walking distance.  I walked all the way to the new Riu Palace Hotel, which is very large and European looking, with a strongly rectilinear design inside and out. It contains a number of restaurants, and a grand lobby.  I then went to visit with Carl and Sue for about an hour and a half.  Russ emerged from his bedroom at the end of the visit, trying to rest up to get over an intestinal bug.  Their house really looks nice, definitely a better place to spend a few months than their former abode (our cottage).  They've also got a lot of aluminum in the air on their three towers. 

Then on to the California lighthouse for a little leisurely sightseeing.  On the way, I stopped off to say hello to Martin, P49MR, who was just about to go swimming in the ocean, something that only a handful of people in Aruba can do, as Martin and Truus can, out their back door.  Back home after a stop at Savaneta to take pictures of some of the divi trees and cacti (out of general photographic interest), and at the General Store near the airport to get hardware to fix the toilet seat by replacing a broken nut on the seat hinge.  On the radio, a good sign is that ten meters is wide open to the U.S.  I run off about 100 contacts, mostly to the Midwest but also some south and West Coast, and also some EAs and IT9s (Sicily) of all places.  Otherwise a quiet, restful afternoon.  Just before the contest at about 7:30 p.m. local time, I can still hear stateside and South America on ten.  It's been many years since that has been true!  Unfortunately both 10 and 15 have a lot of noise, looking on the 756 bandscope like power line noise -- probably the consequence of dirty power lines as a result of very little rain in the last month. 

WPX SSB Contest Saturday, March 27 - Sunday, March 28, 2010 – Contest notes more or less as dictated during the contest.  Not sure that starting on 10 is smart, but I simply can't resist starting there -- it's so cool that 10 is open an hour after the sun has set here.  A pretty good start with 157 Qs in the first 53 minutes, then to 15, where an S5-7 noise level makes it hard to hear anything.  Relatively slow on 20, it's 0213Z and I'm at 307 by 157.  It's noisy on 20 also.  I've made a few second radio Qs on 40, but the Icom isn't receiving on 80 so can't check that band.  Oops, just realized I had the 80m dipole disconnected (to avoid interfering with the 20m yagi), so that was the problem.  At 0230Z I'm trying to CQ on 80 and getting very few answers.  40 is an absolute circus of strong EUs, and I'm leery of going there at the moment.  I call Tom, 8P5A, on 40 and he gives me number 731 to my 337!  [Later he says he had an amazing start, working 590 Qs in the first two hours on 20.]  It's exactly 2400Z now and I'm having a miserable time on the low bands.  Totals are 157/56/102/71/10 on 10 through 80.  I just worked PJ2T on 80, and the operator wanted to know how his signal was, as they are getting nothing going on 80 either.  I also can't do much on 40, though I have no trouble having my calls answered when I call someone.  A few minutes off to get a bite to eat, and amazingly, 20 is still open.  I run off some stations relatively slowly, but at least am getting some answers, mostly US but also some EU.  I have some luck running US stations on 7249 in the US phone band, then a broadcast station opens up at 0541Z and puts an end to that nice run.

At 0548Z I try 20 and it's still open to Europe.  Cyprus stations C4I and P33W are S9 plus.  II5P at 0557Z says "booming signal."  I then work ZM3T in New Zealand and two VKs, even turning the beam to the west to see what's available in the Pacific.  In the 0600Z hour it's pretty much back to duking it out on 40 and 80.  It's 0924Z and I'm having trouble staying awake.  Time for a one-hour off time. I'm at 776/365 for 1.22M points. 

I take a 45-minute nap, then have a bowl of cereal and some coffee, feeling much better.  But five minutes of CQing on 80 with only one reply dashes my mood.  Starting about 1039Z I get my best run of the evening on 7175.  The beverages work well, though the East US one has a higher noise level than the others (I think it's just picking up some local noise).  Forty dries up at about 1130Z, and I thankfully head for 20 to start the day on the high bands.  By a little after 1200Z, it's to 15 for about the next seven hours.  At about 1300Z I pass 2M points, now at 993/472.  I stay on 21347 for about an hour, then a brief foray to 10 which is open to the US, but not with terribly good rate, then back to hours of running on 15, on 21180 until 1746Z running EUs and the occasional out-of-band US station.  I take a brief break, now at 1582/721 for 4.3M points, including 711 Qs on 15. 

I finally leave 15 at 1922Z and head up to 10 for about three solid hours of running stateside.  Ten has been fun and it's very exciting in a nostalgic way to actually have serious activity on that band after years of silence, but the rate is slowed by a lot of casual operators, to whom you have to explain the contest, ask if you can take number 1 from them, etc.  The operators on 10 are much less likely to be in the contest than on any other band.  There are also a lot of mobiles.  Then to 20 for two hours to run out the afternoon.    It's now 0100Z and I've got to take some off time, since I've only taken one hour off so far, and you must take 12 hours off as a single operator.  The total now, after 24 hours of operation (with 12 left to go, I have to take 11 hours off in the remaining 23) is 2621/880 for 8.2M points. 

After dinner and some relaxation time, I get on the air for about two more hours, quitting at 0414Z (just after midnight local time).  With 10 hours of required off time, I decided to try to go to sleep for about five hours then get back on the low bands at around sunrise, say from 1000Z to 1200Z, then go back to sleep during the morning hours, since Sunday morning is usually very unproductive from Aruba, and start in on the high bands at around 1600Z (noon local time) and run out my then-remaining eight hours on the high bands.    Seems like a sensible plan.

However, as Scott Redd, K0DQ, says, the first casualty of war is the plan.  I sleep soundly, but when the alarm goes off at 0930Z I feel terrible, with a headache and an advanced case of general lethargy -- so I did a quick recalculation and went back to bed.  The new plan will be to start in on the high bands at about 1400Z, though that didn't seem to be ideal a few hours ago. 

It's 2005Z and I've been on the air for 32 hours and 5 minutes.  I'm at 12.5M points after two mediocre hours on 15 and four pretty good ones on 10.  I had a personal jammer on 10 for about a half hour, muttering "shut up, stupid" and the like and whistling into the mic.  I never acknowledged him, so he got bored and departed eventually.  Fortunately he wasn't strong enough to cut into the rate.  Ten has been lots of fun, open to the Eastern US and Midwest, and a bit to the West Coast and then strangely to the Mediterranean: Israel, Sicily, Greece, etc., with S9 plus signals.    Only one EU north of Italy, a weak DL1.  My first caller on 10 was CN3A, a new prefix in Morocco.  He said, "I just wanted to tell you that you are strong in North Africa, but I can't work you because I'm not in the contest."  But I talked him into giving me a contact number one. 

After 14 minutes off for some food, I come back to 15, which is closing out, then end up on 20.  It's a zoo at the end.  I have a very poor penultimate hour (just 61 QSOs), then manage twice that many in the last hour, mostly CQing on 14303.  The contest mercifully ends, and John Fore calls on the telephone to download his observations of the contest and the Aruban entries.  After a 40-minute chat, I shower and shave, then head on to the post-contest dinner at Joop and Yvonne Bok's house in Oranjestad.  It is a very enjoyable  evening, with Joop pouring champagne and everyone chatting and enjoying eating Yvonne's home cooking (particularly appreciated by me after two days of contest food).  As Joop says, this  is a much nicer environment for a post-contest dinner and it's a lot easier to communicate than in a typical noisy restaurant.  Their veranda is a particularly gemutlich place, ideally suited for such entertaining.  Of course, the hospitality is much appreciated.  [See soapbox for more.]  I don't get home till about 11:20, then it's to bed for a typical post-contest sleep of the dead. 

Soapbox, as sent to 3830 reflector: 

Having operated HP from P49Y in this  contest a number of times, I thought I'd try low power if condx seemed to be good enough to open up 15 and 10, since LP on just 20/40/80 will give anyone a headache in this contest.  Fortunately, condx did cooperate. It was really fun to be back on 10.  The stations worked there were qualitatively different than on the other bands: many more casual ops, mobiles, and stations not in the contest.  Whenever a guy was not in the contest, I would ask if I could take a number 1 from him, with the result that my log is full of number 1's on ten.  The propagation also was very interesting, particularly on Sunday.  Lots of US, but also a strong but very limited opening only to the Mediterranean, featuring S9 signals from southern Italy, Greece, Israel, Morocco, but just about nowhere else.

Propagation certainly was more fun than in my last effort in 2008.  For example, I actually opened the contest with 157 Qs on 10 meters!  I can't recall the last time 10 was open at that time of night.  And 20 still had strong EU signals at 0200 or so local time Saturday morning.

Aruba was very well represented in this contest, with P40V (AI6V, AI6YL, K6KLY, P43A) as M/S, P41M (DK1MM at P43JB) HP, P43E TS LP, and my first ever try at SOAB low power. P49MR  also handed out mults.

Operating low power from here is a humbling experience!  A big difference with low power is that it is harder to keep a frequency, particularly on 40 and 80.  HP from here usually blows out a little space to live in, but LP does not. To show the importance of the condx, 10 and 40 were equally productive in  points per hour (413 on 10 versus 411 on 40), but it was a lot more fun on 10. On HP, 40 and 80 always have a higher points per hour from here, thanks to the double points.

There seemed to be some very high contact totals out there.  Also more prefixes than in the past (love all those new German ones).  I should mention the good sportsmanship of KL7RA and VE3EJ and a PA whose call I didn't note, all of whom opened up right near me, then moved when asked politely.

Of course, no Aruban contesting experience ignores the wonderful camaraderie of the contest community here, exemplified by the delightful post-contest dinner catered by Joop, P43JB, with libations and wife Yvonne with food at their house, attended by Carl P40V (AI6V), Sue P40YL (AI6YL), Joop P43JB and Yvonne, Jean-Pierre P43A and Chris P43C, Russ P40LY (K6KLY), Martin P49MR and Truus P49MRS, Stefan P41M (DK1MM) and myself. Also a nice dinner with Lisandro, P43L, and Lissette.  In John Crovelli's (W2GD, P40W, not being here this week) honor we went to the old Tony Roma's location in Oranjestad, as John is a great fan of that place. Fortunately for the rest of us, who have never been TR fans, it has closed and got turned into "Peanuts", a nice place serving Aruban and Dutch food.

Thanks are also due to my co-owner John, W6LD, P40L, who left the house in great shape from ARRL CW, and who along with Ed, W0YK, P49X, also fixed the 80m antenna switchbox on top of the tower and rewired the 160 "C" dipole to much better working condition for future contests. 

I used the K3 almost exclusively as the run radio, but often had to switch to the Pro2 to use the bandscope. It's so useful for checking band openings and identifying interference and relatively quiet spots on the band. Can't wait for the promised P3 for the K3.  After quite a bit of experimenting, I got the K3 AGC settings to work so that I could leave the AGC on and use the RF gain control to separate signals quite effectively in the pileups.  As usual, the K3 performed flawlessly, barely getting warm, even when run at full power all weekend.

Rigs: K3, 756 Pro2

Ants: 2 el 10, 5 el 15, 4 el 20, 2 el 40, 1 el 80 (all Force 12), C31.

Software: CQPWIN ver. 12.0

73 and thanks for all the QSOs,

 Andy, AE6Y, P49Y

Here are some comparative scores, from the three primary Aruban entries this year.  For comparison, my score from 2008 shows my last entry in the contest.  Also shown is my 2004 score, as representative of the last time I was in the contest when 10 meters was usable.  One obvious change from former years is that the prefix count has gone way up.  This was apparent during the contest, and also can be seen in the various score reports, particularly for EUs, as the major growth in prefixes seems to be from new European ones.  Also, 40 meters was an important band this year (though not very good for me), while 80 was much less populated than in 2008.


P49Y 2010 LP

P41M 2010 HP

P40V 2010 M/S

P49Y 2008 HP

P40Y 2004 HP

















































Monday, March 29, 2010.   A day of mostly puttering around.  Coffee in the morning, then a walk in the cunucu to reel in the lower leg of the 160 C-dipole.  I rolled it up and taped it to the tower.  To reconnect, unroll it and put the eyebolt back in the hole on the pillar about eight feet away from the tower (not the pillar closest to the tower), then tie the insulator at the end of the lower leg to the white rope that I left coiled over a branch in a thorn tree at the edge of the trees at the back of the grassy area behind the house.  Good job setting this up, John.

Incidentally, the grass was pretty brown and much lower than it had been in November, undoubtedly due to the lack of rain.  In general it was pretty easy to walk in the cunucu without having to hack through the bushes.  I checked out the full beverage feedlines and took some pictures of the feed points for the website.  Everything looked fine. 

I took the covers off the dead Pro2 and wiggled connectors, etc., but couldn't see anything obviously wrong, and my fiddling seemed to have no salutary effect.  I then took apart the Titan, to replace the 160m 470pf high voltage capacitor that Ed and John thought was probably blown out and which had been giving them trouble in ARRL CW and possibly also was the cause of my 160m problems in CQWW CW last fall.  The fix, outlined in a QST article from 1993, a copy of which had been with the instruction manual, had already been made.  So there was a 15 KV capacitor in a new hole to the right of the factory hole.  Nonetheless, I replaced it with one of the ones that Ed had found and given to me, and took some pictures.  The Titan seemed to work OK on 160, with a stable output of 1000 watts after the repair -- earlier I did notice that it seemed to cut down suddenly to about 300 watts, exactly the behavior I had seen last fall.  It has more gain on the high bands, easily putting out 1500 watts on 20-10. 

I replaced the K3 with the old FT1000D, as I am taking the Pro2 home for repairs (fortunately in the factory box it does fit in my suitcase).  I played with it a bit and remembered how nice it sounds and how smoothly the controls all work.  I then went out to get gas for the car and took my usual run and swim at Savaneta, starting the run at about 4 p.m.  It was quite a bit hotter than at the later hour in which I normally run.  I was reminded of the Noel Coward line "Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun" when I observed that the several dogs that had given me chase last week didn't make an appearance this time.  Actually, one of them did, barking lackadaisically from his yard without giving chase, so maybe he is only half-mad. 

Radio notes:  1)  The 15m relay in the SixPak for Radio B (the right radio)seems to be erratic, and should be cleaned.  2)  The coax from the Titan to the Radio B connection on the SixPak had a defective connector on one end, as could be observed by pushing it.  This is a Cable Experts prefabricated cable.  I replaced it with a new one that I happened to have brought down as a spare. 

Tuesday, March 30, 2010.  A very uneventful trip back, starting with turning in the car at 6 a.m., then the 7:45 a.m. AA flight to MIA, a three hour layover in the Admiral's Club, and a very pleasant first class flight back to SFO.  This time the flight was on a relatively new 767 with excellent food and drink the larger, multi-adjustable seats not found on the ancient 757s that AA usually flies on this route.  Then a quick pickup by Anza Parking, and I was back home for dinner before sundown.  That's really amazing, when you think about it.  Like last November, I ran into Tom, W2SC, and Kathy at the Admiral's Club, and we swapped contest stories.  He made some 24M points and over 6,000 contacts from 8P5A on Barbados.  This is more than a thousand contacts more than any other single op in the contest (how does he do it?), but he is second to CN2R's posted score due to the points penalty Tom pays for being in North America.