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AE6Y March 2012 Aruba Trip Notes – WPX SSB Contest – P49Y

Andrew L. Faber, AE6Y, P49Y

3/31/12  (public version)

Tuesday, Mar. 20 - Wednesday, Mar. 21, 2012. This time AA flight 272 from SFO left about an hour late at 10 p.m., which was OK since it then arrived in MIA at the more civilized hour of 6 a.m. instead of 5. Slept pretty well, mainly due to choosing seat 10F, which is the one (like 10A) in the second row of coach with extra leg room. On these old 757s, though, the window panels get very cold, but amazingly AA actually supplied a blanket (can’t recall the last time I saw any blankets in coach). I hung out at the Admiral’s Club at gate D30, enjoying my typical cheese quesadilla breakfast and some napping. The next plane also left about an hour late, so I didn’t get to the house till about 4:45 p.m., in my Hertz Chevy Aveo (with only 1300 km, the cleanest rental I’ve had there in a long time). No questions at customs, though I was a bit worried about how to explain all the stuff I had brought down for Lissette and Lisandro.

I started setting up the station. Fortunately with the new I/O board, the K3 now has pull-up resistors and works properly with the Bandmaster filter system. I also hooked up the internet connection and telephones, which Ed has organized and greatly improved. The drill is as follows, following the directions that Ed had left for us: (1) Connect DSL cable in BR to the side of the black connector hanging from the modem (not the end slot). (2) Plug in modem. Four green light should come on. (3) Plug in router in shack. Worked without a hitch all week. 

All the antennas seemed fine except, ironically, the 20m monobander. John had fixed that one by putting in a new balun two weeks ago, but now it wouldn’t load properly and the PalStar analyzer showed no real resonance dip, indicative of something amiss in the coax or feed system. In addition, the 20/40 rotor only turned clockwise, not counterclockwise. I left it at 30 degrees, afraid to keep turning it.

At about 5:45 I headed off for a run at Savaneta, feeling stronger than I usually do on the first day of arrival. Very pleasant weather: temp about 80 degrees and relatively low (maybe 50-60%) humidity. Hot and humid enough to sweat and feel good, but not bad enough for sweat to sting my eyes. Then off to dinner at B55 with John Crovelli and Lisandro and Lissette. Quite good food with slightly haphazard service (as John says, he never trusts a waitress who doesn’t write down orders). L&L come back to the house to get the stuff they had bought and that I had transported for them, including some heavy study books for him (Seismology, and Research Methodology) and a winter coat for her for their NYC trip in the fall.

Thursday, March 22, 2012.  Up a bit before seven, made some coffee and screwed up my courage to climb the tower to check on the 20. Everything looked ok. No obvious feed line problems, no chafing or abrasion on the jumper. It’s a long lean out to the driven element feed bolts, and I admired John’s ability to change out the balun. I gave each of the nuts a little tightening and headed back down. In the shack, it looked initially as though the problem had been solved, but it immediately reverted to the former state. The K3 would actually load it up, but signals received on it were much weaker than on the C31, so something was obviously still wrong.  

Checking on 10m, I had a nice chat with Jim, CN2R, who is also planning all band, since 10 didn’t seem good enough to him to try a single band. Also talked to 5B4AJC (P33W in the contest); as usual, the opening is erratic and not generally to EU.

Went off shopping at Ling and Sons, stopping first to see John Crovelli, then for an hour-long visit with Carl and Sue. They were without power all day, and their guest op Helmut, DF7ZS, had gone off to the beach. On the way back, I noticed a cruise ship in town, the Adventurer of the Seas, which is absolutely enormous. Also the unusual sight of a three-masted square-rigged ship in port.

Back in the shack, I tried out the recommendations from Brad and Glenn at Alpha to try to get the 87A to change bands properly. If you change bands manually, it tunes itself properly, but it doesn’t change bands. They had suggested removing the bottom access plate and adjusting a little blue pot, and also reseating connectors. Unfortunately, neither procedure worked. But the amp worked fine with manual band change [and, in fact, worked very well throughout the contest, only occasionally faulting in response to some operator error]. The 86 also loaded up fine on all bands 80-10. I ran guys on 10 for about an hour with the 87A and it was rock solid. The computer wasn’t set up and I didn’t log the contacts. So if they send cards, I’ll reply, but unfortunately LOTW won’t help them.

Next step was to hook up the computer. Although at home I had tested it with all serial ports, I decided it would be less fuss just to use the serial ports for rig control and the USB relay box for PTT, R1/R2 and Mic/DVK. It all worked fine.

Strangely, I felt lethargic on my usual run at Savaneta, and actually took a minute more than yesterday. I then picked up John and we drove to the Radisson for a very pleasant buffet dinner with Carl and Sue, JP and Chris, and Helmut. John offered to help out with the tower problems and suggested that I run the resistance checks described in the TailTwister manual on the rotor. Back at the house I did so, and it failed a number, most notably “one half motor” and “the whole motor” (the other half of the motor checked out ok).

Friday, March 23, 2012.  After a cuppa joe, off to meet John at 7:30 at Huchada bakery for breakfast. In a marvelous act of true ham spirit and friendship, John spent about three and one-half hours on the back tower. First he disconnected the balun and came to the conclusion that the 10 foot jumper cable that we use to form a rotor loop was defective. He said that water came out of the connector, and the outer part could be rotated on the coax [later I ran continuity checks and it seemed OK, but it must not have had a good connection under power]. We had a spare jumper, which I sent up in the bucket. With it, the PalStar showed it working properly [and indeed it worked fine all weekend]. Next step was to look at the rotor. John doesn’t appreciate the elegance of Ed’s industrial waterproof connectors, so he cut them off and ran some continuity tests up there, convincing himself that the motor was shot. He then proceeded to swap it out for the CATS-rebuilt TailTwister that we fortunately had in the house. It was difficult to loosen screws on the upper thrust bearing at the top of the tower, but he got one or two loose, and managed to raise the mast with our good come-along (the one John Fore had brought from home in 2008, and which John Crovelli thought was a very high quality unit). I tested the rebuilt rotor first in the shack, and it worked fine. A couple of tower notes from John: (1) he apparently used a u-bolt as a bearing above the lower thrust bearing above the rotor; (2) the rotor cable now terminates in a molex terminal strip (i.e., with screw-in terminals), and one of Ed’s eviscerated pigtails then goes from that to the rotor. John prefers these because it’s easy to run tests; (3) John thinks the tower should be painted. 

Anyway, for John it may be a normal morning at the office, but I thought it was an amazing effort, for which I was most appreciative – we celebrated with lunch at the McDonald’s at Santa Cruz, then John went off to take a pre-contest nap. I tried to nap also, not very successfully, had dinner, set out some contest food, had a shower and shave, and checked the station out again at about 7 p.m. ready to start the contest an hour later.

WPX SSB Contest Saturday, March 24 - Sunday, March 25, 2012 – Contest notes more or less as dictated during the contest. I start off running on 14283 and stay there for 3 ½ hours. At 0334Z I’m at 715 by 290 for 613k points, all on 20. I can’t stay here forever, as I do need the 6-point Qs on 40. The first hour on 20 was a very good, 230 contacts, and I’m still amazed at how 8P5A managed 330 in 2010. 

After a short time on 40 I have a near-disaster and lose 19 minutes sorting it out. I start to get reports that the audio is breaking up, and notice that the 87A is showing rapidly varying amounts of reflected power. I try using both K3s barefoot and the same thing happens. I fear the worst – a broken feed line or problem with the 40m yagi. Since the PalStar is lying on the table in the shack, I unplug the 40m feed line at the SixPak and put it on the analyzer. Wonder of wonders, it looks perfect! So I retighten it, and everything is copacetic again! It must have been an inadvertently slightly loose connector [the same thing happened to me in an ARRL contest on 160; you’d think I would have learned my lesson and tightened them better.]

At 0600Z I’m at 950 by 438 with 232 on 40. I spent about a half-hour in the American phone band using the tuner, then went down to 7035 to run EUs. I get some intentional CW QRM, then settle down on 7049 to a difficult run with lots of QRM. Back to 7248 for a good US run starting at 0607Z. In fact the 0600Z hour yields what is probably my best ever 40-meter phone total in this contest at 139 Qs.

After a bit over 2 hours running US, I decide at 0822Z to take some time off. I’m OK and the rate isn’t bad, but since I have to take off time eventually, it seems a good idea to start now. Totals are: 494 on 40 and 11 on 80; in all 1220 QSOs by 497 mults for 2.5M points. In the 0700Z hour, turning the beam west yielded some VK/ZL prefixes.  

After two and a half hours off (including a nap, some coffee and a bit to eat), I get back on 7195 at 1051Z for a while. I work Helmut, P41P, who is also running US, and we are about 30 Qs apart (he says: “a close race”).

On the second radio I can see on the P3 that 15 is opening up, so I move there at 1136Z. The strategy is to try to hang out below 21200 to get EU prefixes in the log. It’s difficult with QRM and some intermittent ignition-type noise (which mercifully doesn’t last long). I stay on 21178 from 1136Z to 1457Z. [An interesting comparison: the rates on Saturday in the 12, 13 and 14 hours running EUs on 21178 are 137, 153 and 128. On Sunday in the 14, 15, 16 and 17 hours on 21174 the rates are 162, 172, 162, and 146. Not sure exactly what to make of that, but a major difference was a much quieter freq on Sunday.] By 1458Z there are 450 Qs in the log, almost all EU with a few out-of-band Americans. I’m hearing signals on 10 now, so will go there.

Well I’m falling asleep and am desperately hungry. It’s 2004Z and I’ve been on 28436 running US and some EU for the last 5 hours, with 963 contacts on that band. Total is 2681 by 878 for just under 8.4M points. I need a break but don’t want to take a full hour off because I’ve been running at very good rates for some time, so I reluctantly take an 18 minute break to wake up and eat. I’ve been switching between the C31 aimed NW mostly for US and the 2 el monobander NE for Europe.

At 2209Z I think I’ll end my 10m run with 1290 Qs. Since I only have 450 on 15, and they are virtually all outside the US, it should be fertile ground for a late afternoon W/VE run.

OK, I’ve been running on 15 from 2212Z and it’s now 2356Z, almost the end of the first day. Time to go to 20 for a few hours then back to 40 and see if 80 will work at all tonight. Four hours later at 0357Z, almost midnight local time, and 20 has been a lot of fun the last few hours. Some rare DX has called in: e.g., JT5, 9K2, VU3. Now at 1310 on 20 and have had a pretty steady 150/hour rate.

My plan had been to start the off time at about 0600Z, and it’s now 0553Z and I’m ready to quit for the night. I’ve been on 40 for about an hour and a half, mostly in the US band. I did try 80, but it was very noisy and CQing didn’t seem productive. 40 was much better, and I found a pretty nice spot at 7208 to camp out on. Total: 4106 by 1043 for 14.8M points. I really wanted to get above 4k Qs before quitting and was pleased to do so.

Some food, then sleeping the sleep of the damned to wake up a bit before 1300Z, feeling lethargic. But coffee helps. My original thought had been to simply stay off until about 1515Z, thus using up all my remaining off time. OTOH, I still need EU prefixes and I suspect that 15 is wide open to EU now. I decide to try 15, and have a marvelous run from 1405Z to 1803Z all on 21174, which stays very quiet and interference free. I only have to chase away one guy, an ON6, who opens up nearby. Now 1459 Qs on 15, mostly EU. The run was really fun with highly proficient operators and a constant flow of new prefixes. Just when you think you have worked every German or Italian prefix, a new one pops up. Score is 19.4M points, several million above my highest score in this contest. The pileup has been very well-mannered and cooperative in helping me dig out calls (see soapbox below). This whole run has been on the right K3/Alpha 86, to give my K3 and the 87A a rest. Some odd stuff called in, like an HS0, a bunch of YBs (actually, since they are antipodal that isn’t unusual), two 9V1s.

  At 2042Z, I’ve just finished a run of US/VE on 10m. The band didn’t seem as solid as yesterday, lots of QSB, signals would pop in and out of the noise, etc. In the 18Z hour I worked a bunch of EUs also, then turned the 10m monobander to the SE to pick up a number of SA stations. Now at 4153 by 1244 for 21.5M points. I now have to take my remaining 76 minutes of off time, so I decide to resume at 22Z. I have a good hour on 15 (204) then perhaps unwisely switch to 20 and then to 40 to finish out the contest.

 The contest mercifully ends. A quick shave and a shower, then off to pick up Crovelli and head up to Tony Roma’s for our post-contest dinner, attended by Carl and Sue, Helmut, and a surprise visitor, Mike, K9NW, who is in Aruba on business.

Soapbox, as sent to 3830 reflector: 

A very enjoyable contest. Condx here were pretty good, except that 80 for some reason seemed to be a noisy bedlam, and I could never get anything going there (in contrast to a WPX phone a few years ago when I had 500 plus Qs on that band).

There were three high points of the contest for me:

1) 10m Saturday afternoon, during which we had our usual Mideastern opening. It's hard to be blase about being called by 2 JYs and an OD5!

2) 20m Saturday night (circa 0000-0400Z) which was open all over the place at various times and produced a steady stream of interesting callers.

3) 15m Sunday morning (1400-1800Z), when I had a delightful 4-hour run of EUs on 21185, with a clear, quiet frequency, many new prefixes, and a very well-behaved pileup (e.g., if I said something like: "the station ending November", which usually produces bedlam in an EU pileup, this time it really worked and only one or two stations would come back). Then I switched to 10, and it was like going to the zoo -- with many casual, not-in-the-contest "Just stopped by to say hello, what do you need from me?" operators. The contrast was amazing. But you gotta love them also, since they put points on the board.

WPX Phone is a real test of phonetics. I hereby suggest greater use of the geographic phonetic alphabet. For example "Mexico Germany" is much more intelligible than "Mike Golf." Similarly the numbers in Germanic languages (e.g., English) are not differentiated enough for intelligibility in the presence of interference. Thus, "five" sounds like "nine" and the others are too monosyllabic also. It is obvious that, for example, Spanish and Italian work much better. My modest suggestion is that we should all use: zero, uno, due, tres, quattro, cinco, six, siete, otto or ocho, nova or nueve. Doing so would lessen necessary repeats and up the scores considerably.

Back to reality, I can't say enough for the efforts of neighbor W2GD, who spent several hours on our 65-foot Rohn 45 tower Friday morning. With bumbling assistance from myself as ground crew, John not only diagnosed and fixed a bad jumper on the 20m monobander, but also diagnosed and swapped out a broken rotor! In return I helped him on Monday to take down his temporary wire antennas in his nasty cunucu (the cactusy land in Aruba), but that wasn't skilled labor at all. Thanks, John, for help in the true amateur spirit.

As always, Aruba is a great place for socializing, this time with dinners and camaraderie with Carl and Sue (P40V, P40YL), JP and Chris (P43A, P43C), John (W2GD, P40W), Lisandro (P43L) and Lissette, Martin and Truus (P49MR, P49MRS), Helmut (DF7ZS, P41P in the contest), and a surprise post-contest dinner visitor on business, Mike (K9NW).

73 and thanks to the organizers and all participants,

Andy, AE6Y, P49Y

2xK3/P3, "manual" Alpha 87A and 86

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

Software: CQPWIN ver. 12.5

73 and thanks for all the QSOs,

Here are some scores for comparison:


P49Y 2012 HP

P40W 2012 LP

P40L 2011 HP

P49Y 2010 LP

P49Y 2008 HP

















































Monday, March 26, 2012. As usual, Mondays after a contest are enjoyable in Aruba. I awoke from a leaden sleep that easily could have lasted a few more hours at 6:30, because I had agreed to help John take down his feed lines and wire beams this morning. I felt a bit better after a pot of coffee and a PBJ sandwich for breakfast. I spent about 2 ½ hours there, tramping through the cunucu (for this purpose I keep a pair of long cunucu work pants and old hiking boots in the closet). It’s at best semi-skilled labor. Feed lines for both his towers were coiled up at the base of the tower, the beverage feed lines were coiled and taken inside, and the wire beam elements (14 in all: 4 elements on 40 and 3 on 80, all times two) were coiled, taped to the catenary and hoisted back up into the air. John was very appreciative and I was happy to be sweating in the sunshine after a cooped-up weekend. Since I was hot and sweaty, after a quick check of email, I decided to take my usual run and swim at Savaneta in the noonday sun (“Mad dogs, Englishmen, and hams…”), parking at the second pullout south of Marina Pirata. The run was slow, but it still felt great to be outside.   

After a shower and shave at the house, I headed off to socialize a bit. Had a coke with Martin and Truus, who were just finishing lunch on their patio overlooking their private beach. What a nice spot. We had a very pleasant chat. They are heading back to Canada for the summer in a week. Then a few hours at Carl and Sues, most of it consumed with a long chat with Carl and Helmut about radio and EU contesting. Helmut treated me to two Amstel lights from his collection that had to be used up before his departure the next day. We verified that the Alpha 86 that was on the operating table (they have another in a closet) put out full output on all bands, and I agreed to buy it, giving Carl some cash as a down payment with a check-in-the-mail promise for the rest. The only odd thing was that the tune indicator stayed way to the right, but the amp seemed to put out full power with low grid current, so I assumed that was OK. I took it back to the shack with me. 

Then to Chris and JP's. Jean-Pierre was still at work, but I left behind an assortment of small metal project boxes from Fry’s for him to play with; JP had complained that they were no longer available at the island’s Radio Shack outlets. Also, a dvd for Chris and Cindy and a walkie-talkie set for Andy (who seemed delighted with it). I had brought double-A batteries instead of triple-As, but he scrounged some smaller ones from various remote controls, and they seemed to work fine. We had been talking about dinner, but I canceled out due to the need to do some legal work this evening. Chris very kindly fed me some pizza a coke instead.  

Tuesday, March 37, 2012. The usual smooth sailing from Aruba to MIA to SFO and back home by 9:30 p.m. or so. Tom (W2SC, 8P5A) and Kathy were in the row ahead of me, so we shared some contest tall tales. I had agreed to take back one of Joop’s Orion II transceivers for Carl/Yvonne, so I had that suitcase to lug back in addition to me two (though I managed to fit one of mine inside the other and pack my fairly small amount of possessions inside the smaller one, so no worries, mate).