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AE6Y March 2013 Aruba Trip Notes – ARRL DX SSB Contest – P49Y

Andrew L. Faber, AE6Y, P49Y

Tuesday, Feb. 26 - Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013. My usual redeye from SFO to Miami, AA 272, left SFO at 9 p.m., arriving at MIA at about 5 a.m. local time. After a 6-hour layover at the Admiral’s club at Gate D30, the flight to Aruba was completely uneventful. As is now the norm at SFO, the K3 in the backpack had to be removed for hand checking (but again as usual, not at the Aruban nor TSA security at the Aruba airport upon departure). There was no line at customs, the suitcase was waiting for me, Hertz was very efficient, and I was at the house by 3:20 p.m., only about 25 minutes after the plane arrived! The car is the highest mileage rental car I’ve ever had in Aruba, 67k kilometers, a Suzuki SX4 with quite a few dents and scrapes – but it worked fine.

 The house looked great as usual – a combination of Chris’s housekeeping and the customary neatness with which John and Ed left all the radio equipment after ARRL DX CW two weeks ago. Connecting up the modem, I noticed that the old black connector for the DSL line in the master bedroom has been replaced with a new, two-input tan one. One input was conveniently labeled “DSL”, so that seemed to be the appropriate one (and it worked fine all week). Plugged in the modem and then the router in the radio room, and we were in WIFI business. After some unpacking, a conference call with the office at 4:30 and checking email, it was time to set up the K3 and P3 that I had brought with me. The shack K3/P3 had been left in the right radio position as I had requested. By the way, while on the conference call I was also setting up the new ATT answering machine and portable handset that I had brought down. It works fine, and is a big improvement in audio quality over the former one.

 By about 6, I decided to head off for a run at Savaneta while it was still daylight, and to finish the setup after dinner. A very slow, unpleasant run, due partly to my usual Wednesday day-of-arrival lassitude and partly to not having run much in the past two weeks. Dinner was purchased at the drive-thru at Taco Bell at Santa Cruz, not very appetizing but it filled the bill and didn’t take much time. I then finished setting up the radios and computer. The usual computer setup: headphone output on laptop to W2IHY iBox to the DXD mic/radio input; Compaq USB 4-port expander to the (a) two-serial port rig control, (b) USB relay box with outputs to R1/R2, Mic/DVK, and PTT inputs on the DXD, (c) PS-2 adaptor to mouse and keyboard; external monitor.

  I don’t actually get on the air, but the radios and all antennas seemed to be OK. I put the MFJ antenna tuner in line with the 40m antenna, so that it can be used with either radio on 40 phone. Conveniently, the lower leg of the 160m H-dipole was still up as Ed and John had left it; it was very luxurious not to have to go set it up as I had in CQWW last year. Incidentally, I did not use the high power filters, just the Filtermax system. I heard absolutely no interference from one radio to the other in the contest, though in fairness it has to be admitted that I did much less two-radio work than in a CW contest. There was one unusual problem: when playing recorded messages using VOX, the radios seemed to hang up (or maybe the VOX got retriggered) for a short interval (less than a second, but long enough to be obnoxious) at the end of each transmission instead of returning right away to the receive function. This has never happened before, and is not a function of the VOX Delay setting. Without VOX, everything is fine, but I did want to use VOX in the contest. All this took until about 11:30, at which point I called it a night and went to bed.

Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013.  Slept like a log until about 8:20 in the morning. At the radio, 10 and 15 seemed quite dead except for high noise levels. It hasn’t rained in a few weeks, and it is extremely windy, both of which may contribute to power line noise on the island. BTW, the temp during the days varied from 27C in the evening to a high of 30 C in the afternoon (80-86 F), with not too much humidity. Off to Ling and Sons for groceries, stopping at Carl and Sue’s. Their gate and house were unlocked but it was dark inside, so I retreated (Sue later said that Robert and Carl were both asleep after late night radio work, and she was out back). A record shopping tally, just under $200, but in fairness about 40% was aloe for gifts and a bottle of Frangelica. As usual, I way overbought on snacks and junk food and thankfully (for my physical, if not financial, health), had lots left over when I departed.

 I wasted most of the afternoon chasing my tail trying to solve the VOX problem on the K3s. I even reprogrammed CQPWIN to turn VOX off before each message and then turn it back on again. This took a bunch of time to remember where it goes in the program, to experiment with adequate command delays, establish new commands, etc. This could not have been necessary, since this same combination of program, interfaces and K3 has worked for years, and it also violated Dave Leeson’s maxim to not change the spark plugs before the race, but I did it anyway. To make a long story short, after several hours, the system cleared itself up and returned to normal. I still have no clue what was going on, or what fixed it. I remarked out all the extra code, and everything worked splendidly for the whole contest. Go figure…

I talked to Chris, who was out shopping, but Cindy was at home in the late afternoon babysitting (Chris is now babysitting for the three-year old son and 9-month old daughter of her niece during the days). On the way to run at Savaneta, I stopped by to drop off various stuff for them, mostly computer parts requested by Cindy. The run was much more enjoyable than yesterday’s. After some refreshments and a shower and shave, I tried out both amplifiers, the 91B on the left K3 and the 86 on the right one. Both tuned up just fine on all bands. With the 91B, the 80m Phone-Low position allows the amp to load full power from 3675 to 3710 kHz. In the Phone-High position, the range is about 3725 to 3760 kHz. This is a bit narrower range than with the 86 two years ago, but maybe I was just being more conservative.

It was Sue’s birthday, so she and Carl, plus Robert and I, celebrated with an 8 p.m. dinner sitting by the water at Marina Pirata. We all ended up with beer batter shrimp, and it was fun to throw the shrimp tails (along with bread and Aruban pancake parts) to the fish. There were quite a few pretty large fish swimming around (circa 3 feet long). Dinner was later than originally planned, as Robert and Carl had been working all afternoon trying to shunt feed a tower for 160 – I got the impression later on that pretty much nothing worked for Robert on 160, since he was low power. (160 was miserable for me also, but I was glad to at least have the extra 10 dB). When I returned, our internet was down, though the lights on the modem and router looked normal. Restarting the system immediately restored it to normal. To bed at about 11:30.

Friday, March 1, 2013.  More checks on the mysterious noise. It comes and goes on 15 especially, varying by about 20 dB (as seen on the P3), from about minus 120 to minus 100. The latter level is awful. It was also apparent on 10, at a lower level. But by 29.000 MHz, where I had been conducting my sound checks, it has decreased all the way. 20 is pretty much OK but I was very worried [with good cause, it turns out] about 15 in the contest. After a long phone chat with Lissette, I headed off to the Hyatt for my usual breakfast by the black swan pool. Afterwards I drove out to the lighthouse to make a reservation for dinner Monday night with Chris and JP, then visited for a while with Martin and Truus on the way back. They are well, but not happy with a massive, blocky two-story house being built right next to them to the south. Back home, after a short nap, I could see the 15m noise was clearly repeating on the P3. I fooled around with various NB settings on the K3, eventually ending up at DSP = t3-1 or -2 and IF = Nar 7 to Med 3 as the best compromise. I run some guys in the 19Z hour on 15, NB on, and at least the band was open across the whole country.

Checking emails showed all sorts of problems at work, and I had a 6 p.m. conference call about one of them. Lissette and Lisandro come over later for about 40 minutes; unfortunately, this was the only time we had available, as Lisandro is leaving for Rio de Janeiro on Monday for a tsunami warning conference. I set out contest snacks, and made a few PBJ and Cream cheese and jelly sandwiches for the weekend, then started warming up 20m about 10 minutes before the 8 p.m. contest start.

ARRL DX Phone Contest Saturday, March 2- Sunday, March 3, 2013 – Contest notes more or less as dictated during the contest.  A great start on 20. It’s 0247Z and I’m at 845 Qs on 20 and all 59 normal mults (i.e., not LB, YU, NT, NU). I don’t think I’ve ever worked so many mults so early. Wisely or not I leave 20 with an overall rate of 303! To 160 for about a half hour on 1852, yielding 54 contacts and 19 mults. Very noisy and hard to hear. Even S9 noise on the beverages. I decide to try 40. At 0450Z, leave 40 with 361/49, all on 7210 kHz, and go back to 160 for a while. It’s 0604Z and things are slowing down after a run on 80. The contest is one-eighth over and I’m at 20:844/59, 40:361/49, 80:159/38, 160:93/26. Total 1457/172. 160 is very difficult, but 80 has been very nice. At 0638Z I try my first move, VE9ML from 80 to 160, unsuccessfully and I lose my 80 run frequency in the process. But the new occupant, N5DX in AR, is a new mult, so I work him and move to 40.

At 0907Z, things have slowed to a complete halt: 80 has stopped, 40 is slow and 160 hard. I keep the right K3/86 parked on 160, and have moved a few guys: K1JB in ME from 160 to 80, AA1K in DE from 40 to 80, W7IWW in MT from 80 to 40, VY2ZM in PEI from 160 to 40, but no moves to 160 yet. Low band totals now are 40:572/54, 80:284/50, 160:131/31. My first over-10 minute break now is 11 minutes for food. At 0920Z, I try to move VO1KVT from 80 to 40 and can’t hear him, but VO1SA shows up on the frequency for a new mult, having said earlier that he would find me on 40, and indeed he does. One more noise clue, on 80, the West US beverage is much quieter than the East US beverage, the latter picking up a lot of artificial noise. It’s 1150Z, almost the one-quarter point of the contest, and I’m getting off the low bands, with totals: 40:650/57, 80:402/52, 160:132/31. Overall 2029/199 for 1.2M points.

It’s very hard on 10. I have a lot of noise, about 20 dB. Using the right radio, the NB is on the whole time. At 1411Z, on 10 it’s 299/33, 15:35/15, 20: 865/59. I was only on 15 for a short time. But I’m not getting new mults on 10, since propagation seems to be limited, nothing heard west of MO, no 6s or 7s, no NM or OK among 5s, and no VEs, so it makes sense to go back to 15, then to return to 10 later. A short break at 1525Z as I’ve been falling asleep. Food break and get up and walk around. 15 is more wide open than 10 and easier to hear stations, provided they are above the noise. Now at 15:325/44. Back to 10 for a really good run with better propagation. It’s 1805Z, and now at 971/49 on 10. On the general theory that it’s time to go back to 15 in the late afternoon before ending the high bands on 20 for the evening, I go to 15, where I’ve heard on the left radio that the noise has stopped.

But after just a handful of Qs, the 15m noise comes back big time and I’m forced back to 10; after an hour on 10, 15 sounds OK again, so I try one more time. It’s now 2230Z, and time for a few minutes off before going to 20. Totals are 10:1156/58, 15:1116/59. Total is 4321/316 for a little over 4M points.

OK, it’s 0212Z and I have a sked with W3DQ at 0300Z on 160 and I’ve been telling others to look for me on 160 about that time. I’ve had a delightful run on 14240 for the past few hours, starting with about 865 Qs and now having 1794, all with a manageable pileup and without using a recorded CQ message even once. Usually, you get the feeling that a pileup has been worked down at some point, but this hasn’t happened in this run. It’s been really incredible. I take a 16-minute food break. I’m very hungry, but have been afraid to take a break earlier so as not to jinx the run. I resume on 80. W3DQ calls in at 0234Z and we decide to do our 160 QSO right then, instead of waiting till 0300Z. Right after, VA2AM also moves to 160 for me, and I have to mention W1HI in RI, who stops by at 0403Z on 80. We had a failed 160m move yesterday, he felt bad about it and mentioned it on the high bands, so we tried again and this time it worked. I work a number of CA stations easily on 160, starting with N6ZZ (at N6RO), but generally don’t hear West Coasters. But moves work for KY, SD, NE, UT. I had asked W0BH in KS on the high bands to look for me on 80. He does so and we also easily make a 160 QSO in addition to the 80m contact.

Well it’s 0855Z, and I’ve just had breakfast after a sleep break. Last contact was at 0543Z on 40. This is exactly what happened in 2011. There were still guys to be worked, but it was so frustrating, that I end up thinking it’s just no fun, and that if I don’t take a break I’ll probably not survive the morning. It’s very difficult to deal with 40 and 80 in the middle of Saturday night, and 160 is just not productive. This is where it would be really nice to have a fresh relief operator to take over. I just plopped into bed without even changing clothes or washing. Totals are 10:1156/58, 15:1116/59, 20:1794/59, 40:761/57, 80:563/56, 160:203/42.

After resuming on 40, I make my only true second radio Q of the contest, hearing VE1ZZ in NS CQing on 160. Generally, the pileups have needed my full concentration, and I just haven’t been able to look for mults on the second radio. While CQing on 160, I set INT5 on the program to give a 5-second interval on repeating CQs, instead of the two seconds I use generally. I also use a special, slow-talking 6-second CQ recorded earlier just for 160. After about an hour running at slow rates on 7206, at 1147Z it’s time for the high bands once again. I can’t use 15 due to horrendous noise, though I actually try using the beverages to some effect. They are also quite directional even on that band as I notice on some EUs.

At 1307Z, the noise has just started up on 20 in a very obnoxious way. I run out the rest of the contest with a 31/2 hour run on 15, then back to 10 and to 20. With about 20 minutes to go I try to move W0ND from 20 to 80 for ND. It doesn’t work, but he comes back and says he did hear me but didn’t have his amp on. He agrees to try again five minutes later, and we make the move successfully. Sam, VE5SF, had agreed to meet me on 40 at 2350Z. I had suggested 7250, but when I get there, there is a very loud AM broadcast station on frequency. I go up as little as possible, to about 7253, and amazingly, midst all the QRM and splatter, there he is! Another sked at 2355Z on 160 fails, and I give up as the contest mercifully ends.

Carl calls right after the contest ends to inquire about a post-contest dinner, since we hadn’t decided on one. I suggest, instead, a post-contest brunch at the Hyatt tomorrow. This lets me unwind, shower and shave and start to dismantle the station in peace, not to mention getting to bed by 10:30, considerably earlier than usual. I enjoy some simple egg salad and chicken salad sandwiches, finish reading “Tuf Voyaging” by George Martin, and relax with a glass of Frangelica on the rocks. I feel much less wasted than normal after a 48-hour contest.

Monday, March 4, 2013. Slept until 7:30, a significantly earlier wake up time than normal after such a contest. After some coffee and checking score reports on 3830, I put on my cunucu pants and boots and rolled up the lower leg of the 160, taping it to the tower as usual. Composed my own score report and sent it off, then drove over to the Hyatt to meet Carl, Sue and Robert for our 10:30 buffet brunch. This might be a good new tradition, as we spent a very enjoyable two hours eating and talking. As we were all alert and rested, it was much easier to have social conversation in the morning. Carl regaled us with some stories of early, cut-throat contesting from Aruba. I’m trying to get him to write, with Sues’ help, a history of Aruban contesting for the website.

Back at the house to pack up the K3/P3, park the rotors, unplug all antennas and the amps, and take out the 10m filter module from the left FilterMax to return for John Fore to have fixed by N7MI. Then off for a run and my only swim of the vacation at Savaneta. The sun was behind the clouds, so it actually felt a bit cool in the water. Then took Chris and JP out for a very nice dinner at El Faro Blanco, the Italian restaurant at the California Lighthouse at the north end of the island.

Radio notes: The radios and amps were literally faultless during the contest. Amplifier tuning by the numbers worked great with only very minor tweaking (the only exception being greater adjustment of the Tune control on the 91B being needed on 80). Used VOX throughout; worked great, only trouble was eating. Using the K3 TUNE function set to 20 watts gives a conservative way to tune the amps.

Contest Soapbox, as sent to 3830 reflector. 

Whew! That was a bit tougher than my last attempt, in 2011, mainly due to greater noise. The low bands, particularly 160, were quite noisy, and there seems to be a new, local man-made source that periodically wipes out 15, with lesser effects on 20 and 10. At one point on Sunday, I had to listen to 15 on the beverages to try to reduce the noise. The K3's NB actually did a pretty good job, and amazingly didn't seem to cause any mushiness in the pileup.

As compared to 2011, Qs are down by about 100 and mults by 7. I must have taken a bit more time off in frustration, as the average Qs per hour is the same at 177.

I really want to thank everyone who moved for me for a mult, including the numerous guys who tried unsuccessfully. Particular mention to W1HI in RI for two attempts from 80 to 160, VE8GER for two attempts from 10 to 20, and W0ND in ND for two attempts from 20 to 80 in the last 20 minutes of the contest (in all cases the second was successful); also to VE5SF for keeping a sked on 40 at 2350Z for a new mult, and to W3DQ for a sked to 160. Without moves, my 160 total would be pretty pitiful. In retrospect, though, I suspect that I may have spent too much time on mults as a point of pride, since it's sometimes not the best strategy to leave a high rate for a new mult (worth about 23 Qs).

The most fun was had, surprisingly, on 20m. This includes two starting hours over 300, and also a delightful run of about 900 Qs starting at 2237Z on Saturday, during which the pileup just kept on coming but was manageable, and I never had to call CQ once.

As usual, the social side of operating from Aruba continues to be a major attraction, including visits with P43A/P43C (JP and Chris), P49MR/P49MRS (Martin and Truus), P40V/P40YL (Carl and Sue), P43L/XYL (Lisandro and Lissette) and P40P (Robert, W5AJ).

Thanks are due to co-owner John, W6LD, and frequent visitor Ed, W0YK, for all the station maintenance they did in February. They did lots of outside maintenance in the sun, including feedline repairs that required Ed on the tower for hours and John at an outside soldering station. The place always looks shipshape after they leave, and finally, after 10 years, the balky lock on the backdoor even slides like silk.

Thanks also to all the W/VEs for their participation, including to quite a few who made 5 and 6 banders this weekend.

73, Andy, AE6Y, P49Y

Rig: K3 x2, Alpha 91B, 86
Ant: 2 el 10, 5 el 15, 4 el 20, 2 el 40, 1 el 80, C31 (all Force 12), vert dipole and 4 500-foot beverages for 160.
Software: CQPWIN ver. 12.6

Here are the claimed scores of myself for this year, and 2011 and 2009, and also the only higher reported score this year, 8P5A (W2SC). 


P49Y 2013 HP

P49Y 2011 HP

P49Y 2009 HP

8P5A 2013 HP