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AE6Y March 2017 Aruba Trip Notes – ARRL DX SSB Contest – P49Y

Andrew L. Faber, AE6Y, P49Y

Tuesday, Feb. 28 - Wednesday, Mr. 1, 2017.  The usual overnight AA flight left SFO at 9:45 p.m. and arrived in MIA at 6 a.m., leaving a long layover at the Admirals Club at D30 till the Aruba flight departed at noon. Very pleasant, good breakfast food and quiet in the “back” part of the club – the part overlooking the concourse. Also a safe place to leave laptop, etc., while taking a long walk down the concourse to stretch my legs.

Getting out of work was a nightmare, as it was a busy last day. The problem wasn’t work, but that I was driving Sandy’s G37 while she was in DC, and the night before, in Gilroy, it had developed a problem starting, that seemed to be key fob-related (i.e., not a problem with the starter, car battery, etc.). I managed to get home and changed out the battery in the fob. No improvement. Ended up twice at the dealer, then left the car there, rented one at Enterprise because I had a meeting in Morgan Hill in the afternoon, then turned it in at the airport for a substantial drop-off fee. Whew!

Got to the house, in my Hertz Chevy Sonic, at about 4:30 p.m. Unpacked and went off for a short, slow run at Savaneta. Short because I haven’t been running for several weeks due to back pains, so I just ran on Spaans Lagoenweg, without going all the way from Marina Pirata to La Granja. Slow for the same reason, plus general tiredness. Temp was probably about 84 with considerable wind, so it wasn’t particularly hot. Then went through the Taco Bell drive-thru in Santa Cruz, came back and ate my chalupas and Cinnabon thingies (a great improvement to the menu there, even if not their normal Tex-Mex cuisine)). Talked briefly to Cris, then to Lisandro (who is back at work, having finally won his employment case), then a long talk with Lissette, who had received some worrying medical news a few weeks ago, but now seems to be fine.

By 8:45, I’m pretty beat, but I started hooking up the antennas and the radios. The shack K3/P3 is in the left position, and I’m inclined to leave it there and put my K3/P3 for the right radio. I had brought down the K3 in my backpack, as normal, and my shortened traveling P3 wrapped in bubble wrap in my suitcase. By 10 I have both K3s working ok and all antennas seem to be fine. Had a scare when my p3 seemed to have a bad bnc cable to the radio. Switching cables from the two radios seemed to allow both to work, not sure why. Didn’t try the amps, computer control or rotors -- a job for tomorrow. Did bypass all the 4O3A filters for no particular reason other than simplicity. Also changed some settings in the shack K3 (Tune power to 20 watts instead of NOR; P3 RS232 to 9600).

Taking a shower at 10:30 would have been a tepid, unpleasant affair last year, but with our new spot hot water heater it was a delightful experience!

Thursday, Mar. 2, 2017. A very sound night’s sleep from 11 to 7:30 a.m. Spent off time reading Trevor Noah’s autobiographical book about growing up in South Africa as a mixed-race kid – fascinating and entertaining at the same time. Had some coffee and some defrosted cheese and Nutella for breakfast. Strange, but adequate to the occasion. The freezer is packed with frozen packages from Ling and Sons of sliced cheese and meats, not to mention some very large quarter rounds of cheese. Did some work on the internet, then off to see Cris, dropping off some truck parts I had brought for JP and some kind of memory board for Cindy.

Stopped in to visit with Lissette for a few hours to chat. She’s a fount of knowledge on all things Aruba, including the legal significance of our 60-year land lease. In fact, she is literally the island expert on that subject, since she works on those issues for a living in her job as a property lawyer for the Government (ad she mentioned that a paper she wrote on the subject in law school is used as training material today). Though we only have about 11 years left on the lease, she assured me that there would be no problem renewing it, and that they will actually notify us about a year before the expiration to start the process. Apparently if we ignore the letter, then the lease actually continues. Rent stops, but is caught up whenever there is a property transfer (perhaps with penalties or interest, so that doesn’t seem like a good approach).

Then to Ling’s and not back home till about 2 p.m., at which time I had a half-hour client conference call. Would have been a fairly cheap trip, but for purchases of a bottle of Frangelico to replace the nearly empty one over the icebox and some bottles of aloe for presents. I hooked up the laptop after debating whether to switch the two K3s. The shack one has a very odd narrow SSB filter, 1.6 kHz, which Ed seems to like. I much prefer the 2.1 in my unit, but decide to try the shack one as the left radio for the time being. Of course, either radio can be the main “run” radio, now that the StackMatches are set up so that either one can access the C31. [Actually, in the contest, I virtually never used the narrow filter, so it really was an academic issue.]

The K3/laptop hookup was suspiciously easy. I had the USB/PS2 adaptor plugged into the USB port on the right side of the laptop, to the keyboard and mouse. Then the monitor plugged into the HDMI adaptor on the left side of the laptop, and the Gearmo 4-serial port adaptor into a left side USB port. Device manager showed the ports to be COM3, 4, 5 and 6. And surprisingly (using the F9 R1/R2 switch in the program to figure out which is which), it turned out that they correspond in order to the four Serial jacks labeled 1, 2, 3, and 4. So I had the K3s on ports 3 and 4 and the F9 switch on port 6. Not using a PTT port, since I’ll be using the K3 internal messages. I recorded 4 messages on each K3 and calibrated them using the CQPWIN feature. All seemed to be OK.

Got on 10 barefoot and ran a bunch of guys on the East Coast with consistent S9 reports, and one loud guy from SF as well, strangely, from 1953Z for a little while. So the band was open. At around 5 went off to Savaneta for a run. Same course and wx as yesterday, but 6% less time needed; shows you what a little sleep can do for the body. Returning, I saw that there were some signals on 15 and even a CA on 10, so maybe propagation will be looking up for the contest. I installed the MFJ ant tuner by putting it on a towel on top of the 91B, and verified that the 40m beam loads fine in the phone band with the tuner in line. The tuning was very broad, with no touchup of the tuner required in the US phone band.

Had dinner with Robert, W5AJ, P40P, and his wife Wendy at the Red Fish Restaurant (on the right just north of O’stad shortly after the highway divide,(which I learned for the first time is called the Sasaki Highway, past Dijtham and the Heineken building). Back at the house at 10, to rather noisy low bands. Robert was at Ben’s and complaining of loud manmade noise on the high bands. He’s not sure if he will go all-band, assisted or do a 40m single-band. Shortly after returning, a heavy rain squall passed over. This is generally welcomed for power-line cleaning effects, though it seems from water at Frenchman’s Pass that the island has seen other rain recently.

Friday, March 3, 2017.Up at about 8, brewed some coffee and turned on both amps. They both (91B left, 86 right) worked fine on all bands. I usedd the tuning charts John made last year for CQWW SSB as a guide and made my own that are only slightly different. Ran some guys on 20 HP. The VOX was working well (I have set the VOX gain at 42 and AntiVOX at 61). On the way to the Seaport Center for breakfast, I stopped off at the Toyota dealership to chat with JP, who now has a private office next to the parts counter. Then to the café (not wanting to wait for a table at the Dutch Pankake restaurant). Walked around a bit then stopped into the Do It Center looking for a small folding table to replace our old brown one from the radio room, which is now falling apart. They only had a 4-foot wide model, which is the same width as extra grey one. I think I’ll get one online and have it shipped to Miami along with the lawnmower and trimmer that Cris wants.

Had a long phone call with John, W6LD, about station logistics. Then went for a run at the airport on the new running path. Hot and breezy. Saw virtually no one else there, though last night on the way to the restaurant I did see many Arubans out walking and running – clearly a smarter idea at dusk than mid-afternoon. Coming back home a bit after 4, I was beat, and lay down on the LR couch for about a half hour rest. Then got up, put the car in the garage, showered and shaved, and had some dinner. Then, of course, the usual pre-contest final preparations while waiting for the show to begin.

ARRL DX Phone Contest Saturday, March 4 -- Sunday, March 5, 2017 – Contest notes more or less as dictated during the contest. The contest starts with a bang on 20, but after about 45 minutes and 260 contacts the rate suddenly stops. No one answers CQs after huge pileups, all on 14274. I go to 80 and have a good run on 3734 (in fact, 226 Qs in the 01Z hour). Now at 0202Z, I’m at 262/43 on 20, and 254/42 on 80. I remember a few years ago, when I stayed on 20 for a few hours, made about 800 Qs and got 59 mults, all at the start of the contest, but not tonight. Strangely on 20 I’m missing W1s and many Canadians. Some CA on 80, but zero W7s. I’m going to 160 now. 100 Qs and 29 mults later I go up to 40. Good rate on 7238 (244 in the 03Z hour). At 0347Z I’ve had a great run on 40, at 346/49. Total after 4 hours is 962 by 163 for 469k points. Going back to 160, hoping to work further west as night progresses. 35 minutes on 160 gives about 60 more Qs and 6 more mults so time to try 80 again. Few westerners but I did get two CAs, the first was a very clear K6XX but not a single 7. (Interestingly, I later found virtually the same pattern on 10).

Make several successful moves from 80 to 160: the first move of the contest is K3FM in MS, then KY7M in AZ. He has a huge signal on 160. I ask what ant he is using and he says an 8-circle! Leaving 80 at 0534Z I’m at 442 by 55. I’m surprised by the high mult total.

It’s 0658Z and I’m very tired now. I’ve been on 40, now at 575/51 on 40 but still missing ME and RI and haven’t worked DC on any band yet. My usual DC source, W3DQ, seems to be absent this weekend. Also missing ND and SD o 40, though surprisingly have worked both on 80.

At 0909Z things have really slowed down. No answers on 80. I’m running guys on 40, but it’s now very difficult and the rate has slowed dramatically. In fact, this whole evening I can’t use the beverages on 40 (though they are good on 80 and 160), because they seem to be picking up a man-made noise source, so I’m just receiving on the beam. Later Lisandro says this is because they were doing arc welding on the new bridge that they are building near us as part of the divided highway project. This cleared up on Saturday, so I guess the workers had the night off. Many weak signals, very frustrating. K7ZS, obligingly moves from 80 to 160 for OR and it’s an easy contact. Quite a few other guys can’t move due to lack of antennas, or mumble something vague about “later” when asked. K5DJR in OK moves from 40 to 160 as does VE2BWL (and I later work him on the other bands as well).

Anyway, totals are 40: 653/52; 80: 527/56; 160: 201/43. I actually took a nap for about 45 minutes and got up naturally, now, at 1000Z feeling somewhat refreshed (this is probably the low point of the contest, mentally). A bowl of frosted flakes and some Milano cookies help. A successful move of W1XX in RI from 80 to 160 causes me to lose my run freq on 80. I’m falling asleep again, and after the last contact at 1158Z I’m off the air for 15 minutes. I then set the right amp, the 86, which had been on 160 all night, to 20 to try the high bands. So now I’ll try to run on 20 on the right K3 and set the left K3 and the 91B to 15 to wait its arrival. The low band totals after the first night are 40: 820/54; 80: 573/56; 160: 202/44. I start on 14166 at about 1216Z. It’s very slow because basically NA is working EU. OTOH, got NS and NF as new mults. No sigs seen on 15 on the left radio yet. Strangely, I’ve only worked MA in W1 from yesterday, so still need the other 5 First Area mults on 20; they should show up routinely. After about a half hour I QSY, as there seems to be an EU on the freq that I can barely hear, but is causing pile-up confusion. Finally start to hear/see signals on 15, so I move there at 1327Z and have some high rate hours (301 and 311 in the 14Z and 15Z hours).

OK, I’m going to take a break and have a sandwich now. It’s 1738Z and I’m at 1129/54 on 15 and 468/58 on 20. I’ve moved several guys from 15 to 20: KB1WLB in RI, KE3X in DC, N5HC in NM, VO2AC in LB, K1EAR in SD, K0NZ in ND. The 18Z hour is my best of the contest: 328 Qs on 10. Not frantic at all, just sustained rate of small pileups. It’s 1937Z and I’m coming to the end of the line for today on 10. Almost two hours on, 529 Qs and 36 mults. But the propagation hasn’t gotten west of the Midwest, so it’s kind of depressing, actually. I was hoping the rest of the country would open up, but it hasn’t happened yet, and it doesn’t’ seem that it will happen today at all.

I’m getting tired. It’s 2135Z, having been on 15 for quite a while now. The 15 total is now 1584 by 57. I will go down to 20 where I have only 469 QSOs, though 59 mults, due to many moves earlier.

It’s now 0118Z (i.e., 9:18 p.m. local time). At the halfway mark of the contest, I was running on 20, where I’ve been the last 3 ½ hours. I was at 4827/306 for 4.388M points. Now at 1441 Qs on 20 after having a strong run (293, 271, and 261 QSOs in the 22, 23, and 00Z hours). But I think it’s time now to head back to the low bands, so, like yesterday, I’m going to set the right amp for 160 and use the left one alternately on 80 and 40. But first, I need something to eat.

A really nice run on 40 until 0430Z, now at 1423/57 on that band. Two hours ago, had a very nice double move of KE3X (thanks Ken!) from 40 to 160 then to 80. The last Q was barefoot and on a crowded frequency, but successful. Now have him on 5 bands (never did get DC on 10 though). I’ve been on 7210.7 for the last two hours or so and it’s been a delightfully quiet frequency, allowing me to have much more fun on 40 phone than normally. I think of 40 as being bedlam usually, but this has been pleasant and productive. Immediately upon opening up on 40, RI and ND called in for new ones. Don’t have SD or NB yet [never did get SD, strangely.]

I go to 80 and the very first Q is K7ABV in MT for a new one (he also had given me MT on 15 some time ago, when I was tuning around for a freq and heard him working someone; I asked him to move down 2 for a Q). Soon thereafter, N0MA calls from IA, my other needed US mult. Very nice. But the rate is pretty slow on 80. I bounce back between 80 and 40, trying to reach 6,000 Qs before quitting for the night.

I’m falling asleep between contacts. It’s 0538Z (1:38 a.m. local). I decide to go to bed [later: this is where I lost a place to TI5W in the claimed results, as he ended up with 38 more Qs than I did and one more mult; so about one more good hour on 40 would have bested him – oh well…]. I sleep soundly in my clothes until wakened by a combination of wristwatch and IPhone alarms that went off at exactly the same time at around 0930Z. Frosted flakes and coffee started to clear the cobwebs. It’s funny that Friday night is always much worse than Saturday. It’s difficult on the low bands, you are sleepy, then you get a second wind on Saturday with daylight and good rates on the high bands, then Saturday evening generally feels good until a crash sometime after midnight. Then I decide to pack it in for a few hours though being in a much better frame of mind than on Friday, when the contest just seems overwhelming. But it really makes me appreciate the 24-hour Classic category in CQWW that I have done for the past three years.

Back on the air after 5 ½ hours at 1012Z, I’m on 160 using my 5 second slow-talking CQ message and an interval of 3 seconds, but I seem to be attracting mainly East Coast callers, save two MNs and a clear KA6BIM in OR, but no other westerner. 40 is a little better. A better strategy would have been to stay up later in the early morning, then sleep through these hours, before the high bands open up. These are the slowest hours in the contest: 44 Qs in the 10Z hour with 12 min off and 43 in the next hour with 10 min off. A milestone at 1118Z when I finally grind my way to 6,000 Qs.

At 1132Z I take a brief break then tune up the right amp on 20. The band is full of EUs, so I think it will be slow going for some time. BTW, I’ve been using VOX exclusively, which works great on the K3s. I generally turn the VOX off and put the amp in Standby on the radio I’m not using, as otherwise sometimes noises will accidentally trip the VOX on the unused radio. To 20 at 1220Z, then a pretty steady rate on 14261 for about 50 minutes. To 15 at 1313Z, but get only a few answers, though VE9AA called for NB. He can’t QSY to 20, but I go back there after only 4 Qs on 15 – too early. Back on 14225 for an hour then take a food break at 1420Z. Now at 1716/60 on 20 (only lacking NT, YT, an NU).

Coming back, 15 is in good shape. The 16Z and 17Z hours are 224 and 203 on that band. Not great, but a steady stream of callers. To 10 at 1801Z. I keep waiting for the big western/northern opening, but it never comes, though I do get NM, CO, NE, MN. Back to 15 in the 19Z hour for 133 QS, then 10 again with a 218 hour in the 20Z hour. First CA is W1PR at 2040Z, then W6WB and N6WM a few minute later. I have the 2 el aimed west and the C31 up the east coast. K6NA is heard on the latter antenna; no wonder that station always does so well in CQP. Strangely, no NV or other 7s except for AZ.

It’s now about 2130Z and I need to run rate for the rest of the contest. To 21246 for a few Qs, trying to avoid the usual chaos on 20, but it’s slow and I decide if I’m going to 20 anyway in the end, I might as well do so now and try to get a freq earlier rather than later. On 14185 for over an hour, and it is not a very clear slot. Then VE1MW calls in with NB, which I don’t need on 20, but he moves to 7068, where I make the Q barefoot (in looking for a freq, 40 is jammed, but I realize that as a Canadian, he can go below the US phone band, as can I). I lose the 20m freq, spin the dial, and end up with a quieter one at 14339. I’m trying to get above 8,000 raw Qs. Amazingly, at 2353Z, VE8NSD calls in for NT, first one heard. A very nice way to finish out the contest! Final tally is 8,083 raw Qs.

Immediately after the contest the phone rings and it’s Lisandro, who says he is waiting in his truck outside the house. We chatted for over an hour, since it wasn’t going to be possible on Monday due to his work schedule. He’s planning a major expansion of his station, with a second tower and more antennas, to make it a real contest setup.

Interestingly, I felt better during the contest, and felt better on Monday as well than I remember from former 48-hour events. Maybe taking an extra hour or two did help. No major hallucinations, though on Saturday evening I lost track of the fact that guys were calling on the radio. Somehow, I believed that they were in a room and I was picking one out at a time for something, as long as they were still there after identifying themselves by shouting their names in the pileup. Not a bad metaphor, actually. I also felt basically ok physically. No real aches or pains. I wore compression stockings, and had no foot or ankle swelling.

Monday, March 6, 2017. Slept very soundly, as expected, until 7:30, then up to take in the 160. This is much easier than it used to be now that there is a dirt road in the cunucu. Didn’t have to do any branch trimming at all, and barely got my shoes dirty. Left the short yellow tubes on the three rebars, with the longer tubes put in the garage.

A delightful, leisurely breakfast (as opposed to wolfing down food over the weekend, that is) of a toasted roll with cream cheese and jelly and some Verkade coffee cookies, plus fresh, hot coffee. By the way, though I bought a can of coffee, I haven’t opened it, as there was a half-full one in the freezer. I noted there were a number of coffee cans on the cabinet top above the stove. I had assumed they were empty (or, in one case, held candles), but it turns out that three of them are full! I added my can, and would say there is no need to buy coffee for quite a while!

Did the usual station activities, disconnecting antennas, removing my K3 and P3, reconnecting the CW keyer, parking rotors north, etc. Then a long-delayed shave, and was going to take a shower, but after taking the time to draft a post to 3830 and send it off, It was almost 11 a.m., so I decided since I was grubby and wanted to run anyway, I might as well just do the run first before the big clean-up. Since the path starts just after the Do It Center, I stopped in there to buy a new gate lock, light bulbs, an LED flashlight to replace our cheapo C-cell one, and imitation Windex to clean off the grey PS2 keyboard that I always use. Took a before-and-after picture of the old gate padlock and a new one. Both are Master locks, and I’ve always been amazed that the old one still functions, as it wasn’t new when we bought the place in 2003, and it’s been outside ever since. But the hasp is half-way rusted through now, and it’s hard to get the key out, so time for a change. Only $47 for all.

Then a long hot (but not too bad due to strong breeze) run at the airport. But far my longest of the trip at 46 minutes. Only saw one other exerciser, a walker. Drove 3 km south of our roundabout to get a strawberry milkshake at the Ritz. BTW, one thing the government here is doing very well is extending walking paths. The one between the airport and O’stad keeps getting improved with landscaping and exercise machines, and now they are building a combination of sidewalks and meandering paths south of our turnoff. I also see this elsewhere on the island; for example, along the roads that I take the back way to the north end of the island.

Back at the house, did some packing, cleaned the keyboard, then went around with the Windex to clean the a/c’s and some other spots where it could do some good. Dinner with JP and Cris at the Chophouse (used to be called the French Steakhouse) at the Manchebo resort. We drove around for a while, as it was hard to find in the dark. It’s a low rise hotel on the water just north of the Alhambra, but is hidden by other, larger, buildings. An excellent dinner.

Contest Soapbox, as sent to 3830 reflector. 

It's pretty clear that the Caribbean was the place to be in this contest. Even for us, though, conditions were challenging, especially on 10. I had 36 mults on 10 on Saturday, and kept hoping that it would open wide on Sunday, but it never did. While it was fun to play DXer and chase mults, eventually I had to accept the fact that a new mult on 10 was the equivalent of only 6-7 minute of high rates on 15 or 20, so I couldn't wait around hoping to snag a WA or NV, for example (which should have been possible, since I did work one OR and handful of CAs).

OTOH, 40 was surprisingly workable. I generally dislike 40 phone, as there is usually headache-inducing splatter from loud stations that drives me crazy, but not this weekend. Saturday night, in particular, I camped out on 7210 for several hours and it sounded like a run on 15. Low noise, no splatter, no one trying to horn in on the frequency -- amazing! If this continues, I may have to re-evaluate my opinion of 40 phone. And 80 was quite productive on Friday night, as well.

Then there are always some delightful moments in a long contest to balance out the low points (which for me are usually worst early Saturday morning, when I'm tired, the rates are slow, and I contemplate other things that I might do with the weekend than sitting at a radio for the equivalent of 5 to 6 workdays!). For example, in the last hour of the contest, I was running fast on 14185, but it was a typical, crowded 20m frequency. In the last hour, VE1MW in NB called for a new mult. He agreed to move to 40, and we made that Q, though in the process I lost the 20m frequency. Spinning the dial, I re-established on 14339, which turned out to be much quieter. I was desperately trying to get above 8,000 raw contacts, and thought of stopping when I got there. Then amazingly, with 7 minutes to go, VE8NSD called in from NT. First time I had heard NT in the contest (and never did work YT or NU). That was fun!

There was less activity than usual from the island, though Robert, W5AJ, did his best to work around some power line noise at P40P. Socially, it was a pleasure to break bread with him and his wife Wendy, and to see that Lisandro, P43L (who did get on briefly in the contest and who has plans to add a second tower and turn his house into a real contest station) and Lissette, plus JP, P43A, and Cris, P43C, are all doing well.

Thanks to everyone for participating. And special thanks to the many US hams on 10m during our limited hours of propagation who tried hard to make ESP contacts. Also to a number of stations that moved for me (and also those where the moves were unsuccessful, but I appreciate the effort). 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: 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. 12.9