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AE6Y March 2016 Aruba Trip Notes – WPX SSB Contest – P49Y

Andrew L. Faber, AE6Y, P49Y

4/03/16 Public ver.

Tuesday, March 22 – Wednesday, March 23, 2016.  Due to work commitments, this was always planned to be a short trip. The ticketing worked out to a redeye on AA leaving SFO at 10:25 p.m. to Charlotte, then a five-hour layover at the Admiral’s Club, and an almost four-hour flight to Aruba, arriving at about 3:30 p.m. It all went like clockwork. I was carrying my K3 in the backpack, but didn’t have to take it out at TSA in SFO, and my one suitcase arrived fine (with the P3 undamaged, along with various items for JP, Lissette, and Lisandro). Hertz was out of cars even several weeks in advance, but Avis gave me a nice red Kia Rio, which seemed like a pleasant compact sedan with a good radio.

At the house I wanted to start hooking up stuff right away. First order of business was to put my K3 in place of the shack K3 in the left position. I decided to hook it up to the shack P3, and use my P3 with the resident K3 in the right position, just to make restoring the station easier on Sunday night. Got the left position working fine and verified that all antennas seemed to work ok (after some initial mis-connections on my part were rectified). Hooked up the cable modem and the telephone/answering machine, both of which seemed to be fine. Then off for a run at about 5:15 at Savaneta. Felt leaden and slow, but the time was reasonable. The weather seemed to be similar to last month: blue sky, windy, temp 86 degrees (according to the car – some 46 degrees warmer than for my run yesterday morning at home), low humidity. There’s not much food in the house, and I put off a trip to Lings for tomorrow because if I did it today I knew I ‘d have to battle traffic coming back, so went through the Taco Bell drive-through in Santa Cruz for dinner.

Then hooked up the second K3. BTW, although I had brought a power cord for it, it wasn’t necessary, since there are several Anderson PP-equipped cords in a box in the 2d bedroom closet labeled Anderson PP stuff. And I didn’t need to use my own DXD to K3 cable either, as there are two for the K3 in the DXD box. 

After dinner, I worked on the DVK messages for CQPWIN, trying to test out the program for the additional capability of using the second radio DVK that I had been adding for the past few weeks. I encountered a very frustrating problem whereby I couldn’t calibrate the lengths of the messages on my K3, though I could on the shack K3. Eventually, tired, I gave up and went to bed at around 10.  

Thursday, March 24, 2016.  Up at about 7:30 after a very good night’s sleep. I brewed some coffee and continued to attack the K3 messaging problem. I tried switching the radios (the serial cables, actually), thinking that maybe the problem was something to do with the new code I had written for using K3 messages on R2. Nothing helped. It just seemed that the program couldn’t calibrate the messages on my K3 because it is not receiving the message from the radio that it has gone back into receive mode at the conclusion of the message (the program sends a TQ command repeatedly to the radio during the message calibration, and waits until the radio returns the code indicating it is in RX mode). Finally it occurred to me that maybe the problem was in the shack P3. I tried connecting the radio directly to the computer (instead of through the P3), and voila! it worked as before. This was very peculiar. The rig interface in general seemed to work through the P3 (e.g., frequency and sending messages), so this was hard to understand. I tried differing baud rates on communicating with it, to no avail. I noted that the firmware is version 1.54 for the shack P3, versus 1.16 for my P3, but was not sure if that is a relevant factor. I then switched the two P3s, and got the same result; i.e., the RX message wasn’t transmitted back for my K3, but was for the shack K3. That made it look like there was something odd with my K3. But then I tried switching cables, putting in my serial cable from the P3 and it worked. Ultimately, everything worked fine, and the only actual change was to using my serial cable. I did note what seems to be an intermittent problem with the shack K3-P3 bnc cable. This has been a most frustrating experience!

To Ling and Sons for a relatively cheap ($71) shopping trip. Came back through O-Stad; the traffic was OK, as there was only one mega-cruise ship in port. Back home I had a scare with my new laptop. It had run down on the battery, but plugging it in did not return a picture to the screen, though the mouse pointer would be displayed. Finally cured in desperation with the old DOS three-finger salute: CTRL-ALT-DEL. After breathing a sigh of relief, I went over to Lissette’s and Lisandro’s house and we had lunch at a new place, the “Caribbean Buffet”, up near the hospital. Took some pix of Lissette in her “nail salon” (i.e., with the various nail color bottles, etc., that she has been accumulating, some brought down by me including on this trip). Then back home at about 3:30 Checked work email and turned on the 91B. It put out 1kw plus on 80-10. It’s set up to run through the MFJ antenna tuner for 40. 

Off to a run at the airport at 5 or so. Condx pretty much like yesterday, but a bit windier, rather pleasant for running. After a shower and shave, drove over to Cris and JP’s to head up for a dinner at Barefoot. I brought the hot water heater that JP had installed, but had returned for a new one due to an internal leak. Then the new one also had the same problem but the store wouldn’t take it back. It turns out the leak is at the pressure switch, and JP will see if he can fix it; it’s an affront to his professional sensibilities, though if they have to buy a new one (at another store) it’s not a big loss, as the unit only cost $106. It’s an extremely simple device, and only about the size of a hard-cover book. 

Friday, March 25, 2016. Up at about 8 after another sound night’s sleep; breakfast was some coffee and left-over cereal that I had found in the freezer. I hooked up the Sony digital recorder, just using cables to split the headphone output from the DXD to the phones and the recorder. Seemed to work OK, though the gain on the “audio in” setting is a little low and it seems to be nonadjustable. Drove over to Carl’s to chat with Art, N3DXX and Harry, who are staying there now, having arrived yesterday evening. I was about to go running at the airport, when JP called and wanted to meet at the house to test his repairs to the water heater. Unfortunately it still leaked at the pressure switch, so JP went back home to continue his repair efforts.

Out for a Savaneta run at 3:30 in 88-degree weather. Fortunately, there is still quite a breeze, so it wasn’t as hot as it might have been. Back home, it took quite a while to cool off, then I showered, napped a bit, had a light pre-contest meal and got ready to join the fray.

WPX SSB Contest Saturday, March 26 - Sunday, March 27, 2016 – Contest notes more or less as dictated during the contest. I start out with a good run on 20 on 14269; in fact the first hour is my best WPX hour ever, 259 contacts. I stay on the same freq for almost 4 hours. At 0344Z am at 773 by 317 for 729k points. Almost all NA, though some JAs do call in near the end. Also some Asiatic Russia, one ZL and one VK. Then to 40 for a nice EU run of about 100 stations with lots of juicy prefixes. Generally, my plan is to try to work as much EU as possible, as it will take some effort with the low sunspot conditions. To 80 for 69 QSOs, but it’s pretty slow. Much higher noise level on 80 than 40. Back to 40 at 0605Z, now at 1101 by 498 for 2.1M points. At 0753Z it’s getting slow, but people are calling from all over the world. 40m Propagation tends to be wide open at this hour. For example, in a ten-minute period just before 0800Z, I log Australia, Hawaii, Brazil, US, and Europe! Time to take a break at 0813Z. Totals are 773 on 20, 412 on 40, 100 on 80.

After about a little under three hours of sleep and a little food, I start out on 15, which is in weird shape at 1123Z. Some very strong Russians, hardly anyone else on the band. I start CQing and am getting answers, mostly Russians, some US, it’s like 10m spotlight propagation as the band starts to open up. But some interesting DX: just worked 9K9K in Kuwait, for example (also, 5E5E and 5D5D are active in the contest, to continue the theme that I think 8P8P started a few years ago). It’s now 1159 local. I think I’ll take an hour off and wait for the band to develop further (hopefully). I need to put gas in the car, as the stations were closed yesterday for Good Friday. It’s fun on 15 but the rate isn’t optimal yet. By the way, an interestingly a bunch of VE mults called in yesterday evening that one would like to work in the ARRL DX contest: VY0ERC, VE8GER, VY1AAA, VO2NS, along with several VO1s. Good prefixes also, but the wrong contest!  

Checking 15 at the end of my mandatory hour off time, the band is still kind of spotty, though it is open to EU now. 10 sounds completely dead. I’m using the left radio for 20, 10 and 80 (feeding the 91B) and the right radio for 40 and 15 (feeding the 86) throughout the contest. John has left the MFJ tuner in the 40m line that can be accessed from either radio. It’s needed above about 7150 kHz. The new StackMatch to allow the C31 to be accessed from either radio (controlled by the Alpha-Delta Coax switch on the table leg) is also a useful improvement. My reprogramming of CQPWIN in the last few weeks to send K3 messages on both radios has worked fine. In fact, Saturday night I even do some dual CQing on 40 and 80 as the rate slows markedly -- usually that isn’t possible in this contest, as a phone pileup demands your full attention, and you can’t afford to leave a frequency for long, or you will lose it. I’m also recording the whole contest on my new Sony digital recorder (bought with JUG advice from K6XX). I keep forgetting to turn it off when I take a break, so will have to see how the files end up. It is hooked up to the headphones output from the DX Doubler, just using a splitter to record headphone audio in stereo. It seems to be a big improvement over last year’s attempt in CQWW to use computer recording of the K3 line out (which wouldn’t work for two radios anyway). It would be nice to have a 24 hour version of this contest also, as I could skip some slow hours. Instead, I will have to get on at about 1300Z and work through for 15 hours straight to 0400Z or later (midnight) to put in my 36 hours. These morning hours are not as good as they have been in the last few years with better conditions.

Got into a brief frequency fight with a K3 who opened up about 800 Hz above me and embarked on a long, contest-babbly discourse on his travails in finding a good frequency when asked to move. I slid down a bit rather then get into a pointless philosophical argument. At 1415Z on the left radio I just heard EA8TX on 10. Worked him, but it’s my only QSO on that band for quite a while. But it’s fun working EUs on 15, as there’s a very high percentage of new prefixes. It’s 1549Z, I’ve been on 15 for almost 3 hours and now have 459 contacts; total is 1745/732 for 4.9M points. I’m seeing signals on 10 now on the P3. It’s very hard to listen to audio on the second radio (much easier on CW), so I’m not sure where they are from, but I’m going to try 10 and see what develops. 

Switching to 10, I work a handful of guys, but only 2 people answer CQs, an EF2 and an AA5, so it is still too early for 10. At 1720Z, I’m at 676 on 15, almost 6M points in all now. I’m going to switch again to 10 after a very nice EU run on 21168, an unusually quiet frequency; it’s been a pleasure. I see that signals are building up on 10 (an advantage of the P3). By the way, I’m using VOX on both radios. I had the VOX gain set to 55, but found that sometimes typing on the keyboard would trip the VOX, especially when hunched over concentrating. Reducing the VOX gain to 45 seemed to be a good compromise. 

Just broke for some quick food after a long run on 10, 460 contacts but only 61 mults, as it’s been almost exclusively US/VE. As I’ve noticed in the past (and as confirmed on K6TU’s propagation forecasts), the band opens first not to the bulk of EU, but to the Mediterranean area, so I’ve also worked Israel, Malta, Sardinia, Saudi Arabia. 10 is funny as there are many more casual ops, including mobiles, and I get lots of number 1’s from guys who aren’t in the contest but just want to say hello. At 2000Z, with 15 ¾ hours in the chair, I’m at 2421 by 870; now back to 15 to try to get some more EUs, as I need the prefixes.  

Some noise started at about on 15, not disabling, but not helpful either. It’s getting worse now at 2238Z so I’m going to end a long run on 15 and try 20, now with 1065 Qs on 15, in all 2810 by 933 for 9.1M points. I’m mentally defining my goals for the contest now as 5,000 QSOs, 1200 mults, and 20M points. This will be well below W6LD’s score last year and mine in 2014, but seems about the best obtainable. Will require emphasizing EU and low bands. A long run on 14235, not bothered by the SSTV guys who sometimes make life miserable around that frequency, but there is eventually a lot of the usual phone contest QRM. At 0033Z I’m going to have to QSY, now with 1016 Qs on 20. I’ve been using the beverages for listening, as 20 is very noisy, particularly on the C31 pointed northwest. The beverages work very well (with the K9AY preamp off, as it doesn’t go that high in frequency, but with the K3 preamp on). They are more directional than on the low bands, so lots of switching is required to pull out callers. 

While I’m fruitlessly calling CQ on 80, I hear Tom, 8P5A, on 40. I’m at 3118 QSOs and he is at 3900! Incidentally, he is the only one in the entire contest to give me a higher contact number. I’ve been having a rough time on 40 and 80. Lots of QRM on 40 as usual. At 0353Z, almost midnight, total time is just under 24 hours I’m going to get some food and go for about another hour. At one point when I am in the US band on 40, at about 7246, John, W6LD (who eventually gives me 5 bands) comes by to suggest a slight frequency adjustment to avoid QRM; I do it and the rate picks up – thanks, John. At 3424 by 998 for just under 12.5M points. Currently have 659 on 40 and 176 on 80; not bad for me on those bands (though CW is so much easier…). Things have really slowed down, so will break for the night at 1:13 a.m., 0513Z. With just under 25 hours of total operating time, I have 11 hours remaining for Sunday, so the plan is to start at 9 a.m. and work straight through until the end of the contest. And will have to concentrate on trying to work Europeans to get more prefixes. Have been doing some alternating CQing on 40/80, but the rate has really slowed down. Right now the band totals are 460, 1065, 1064,725, and 222 for 10-80. Overall, 3536 by 1019 for 13.4M points. 

Slept soundly till wakened by alarms at 7 a.m. Not quite sure why I set them so early. Brewed some coffee and went out to stretch my legs for a brief walk. A very pleasant morning, temp probably in the high 70s. Check email and feel as though I should eat something, but am not at all hungry, strangely. Will take some brief breaks for food later in the morning. Those count against operating time, but it can’t be helped (it’s harder to eat while operating a phone contest – another advantage of CW contests). I read some more of “The Narrow Road to the Deep North” a somewhat harrowing novel. Partly about WW2, but not as much as the book I read earlier on the trip on the engineering of Allied victory in that war. 

It’s now 1458Z, time for a food break. I’ve been on 15 for two hours, mostly running EUs. Been on 21342 for about an hour, but frustrated by massive European QRM. Started out on 21149, below the American phone band specifically for EU but there seems to be more activity higher in the band. I stay on 15 or several more hours. At 1751Z up to 1752 on 15 after a great EU run on 21412. Overall: 4244 by 1145 for 17.4M points. It’s like pinball scoring – each new prefix adds 20k or so points. On the second radio it sounds like 10 is opening to the States, so I think I’ll move there since I have only 461 Qs on that band. 

I spend about two hours on 10, then back to 15 briefly. It sounds like 20 is wide open to EU, so I’m planning to run out the contest there. Since I have very few EUs on 20, there should be lots of stations to work if I can get them to stop working NA. I spend about an hour and a half on 14146 (a huge pileup takes over an hour to work down), below the American band, then move up to 14206. The 21 and 22 clock hours are 160 and 158, pretty good for this stage of the contest. I hit 1200 prefixes and 20M points practically at the same time, and, though the last hour slows, I power through the 5000 contact mark as well. The noise hits in the last hour, and I’m back on the beverages. 

After the contest ends, I give Sandy a call, unplug various antennas and power cables, start packing for tomorrow monrning's flight back home, have a glass of Frangelico, and work on these notes. 

Soapbox, as sent to 3830 reflector: 

Call: P49Y
Operator(s): AE6Y
Station: P49Y
Class: SOAB HP
QTH: Aruba
Operating Time (hrs): 36
Radios: SO2R

 Band  QSOs
   80:  222
   40:  723
   20: 1504
   15: 1831
   10:  744
Total: 5024  Prefixes = 1240  Total Score = 21,807,880

Club: Northern California Contest Club

What a change from the last few years of excellent high band conditions. My claimed score is actually just about the same as in 2014 (but well down from W6LD's outstanding P40L score of last year from our station), but compare the band totals: 2014, 10m:2357, 40m:267, 80m:0 versus 2016, 10m:744 (and almost no EU), 40m:723, 80m:222. 

But the station worked well, and my programming changes to CQPWIN to allow using the K3's internal messages for both radios were successful. This was fortunate, as I was losing my voice (due to the after-effects of a lingering cold) on Sunday. The beverages worked great, and even helped out Saturday evening on 20 when a local noise source started up. They are very directional on 20, which required constant switching among them to pick out answering stations. 

Congratulations to Jean-Pierre, P43A, for a terrific 15m single-band score using his brand new prefix, P45A. And congratulations to him and Cris (P43C) for convincing the enormously bureaucratic licensing authorities on the island to issue it for the first time. And Emily, P43A, Martin, P49MR, and Lisandro, P40AUA, also handed out Aruban prefixes. Although Art, N3DXX, was operating from Ben's QTH (formerly P49V), I never ran across him in the contest, though we had a nice visit beforehand. 

Thanks to everyone for participating. And special thanks to the many US hams on 10m during our limited hours of propagation who weren't really in the contest, but stopped by to hand out a number one. And, as usual, thanks to John, W6LD, and Ed, W0YK, for keeping everything shipshape with the station (and to Cris and JP for ditto with the house itself). 

73, Andy, AE6Y, P49Y 

Rig: K3x2, Alpha 91B, 86 

Ant: 2 el 10, 5 el 15, 4 el 20, 2 el 40, 1 el 80, C31, beverages 

Software: CQPWIN ver. 12.9