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AE6Y March 2018 Aruba Trip Notes – WPX SSB Contest – P49Y

Andrew L. Faber, AE6Y, P49Y

Wednesday, March 21 – Thursday, March 22, 2018.   This was intended to be an unusually short trip, cutting off a day at either end of my normal Tuesday night to Tuesday morning stay, since Holly and the grandkids are arriving Tuesday of next week. The AA red-eye, leaving SFO at 9:44 p.m. was uneventful, then there was a scheduled layover at the Admiral’s Club in MIA till my 11 a.m. Aruba flight. I carried the K3 in my backpack and had no problems with TSA (actually, haven’t had to take it out in years, come to think of it). Before leaving I spent some time modifying CQPWIN 12.9 to allow phone messages to be sent on a K3 or Icom radio on the radio not doing the logging. I had done this for CW messages a few months ago, but for phone the code is actually simpler, as it isn’t necessary to use RadioSwitch to change the ActiveTXRadio; instead, I just send the appropriate code to activate the radios’ internal message (this won’t work for .wav files; only for internal messages). For Icoms (at least the Pro2 and 7600), there is no command to do this, so the computer instead closes a serial port that activates a box to connect to the MIC connector on the front panel to send the message, per the radio instruction book – so this can work for only one Icom radio at a time. No such restriction for K3s. We’ll see if it is useful in the contest. Tom, W2SC, and Kathy were on the same plane, and we chatted at the Admiral’s Club in SFO while killing some time.

Unfortunately, my radio setup time has been further diminished, as we were loaded on the 11 a.m. plane to Aruba, then had to get off for some maintenance problem. There was another plane at a nearby gate, but then they announced that the second plane also had maintenance problems. Eventually they announced that the plane would leave at 6:00 p.m., SEVEN hours late! Back to the Admiral’s club at D15, where they took pity and gave me free meal coupons, plus putting through a call to Hertz at the Aruba airport for me. So hopefully, a car will still be waiting. Sure hope everything works at the station, as there will be very little time to fix anything.

Ok, finally did take off at about 6:30. I must say that all of the staff members of AA have been profoundly apologetic, including the captain of the Aruba-bound plane, who walked down the first class aisle personally chatting with all of us and apologizing. Nonetheless, I finally got to the house, after renting a little Suzuki Swift from Hertz (a particularly gutless vehicle, but fine for the island) at almost 10 p.m.

Fortunately, after hooking up all the antennas they all seemed to work. The only off note was the East US beverage, which seems at least 10 db down from the West US and EU beverages. This has been noted by all users this year. I hooked up the DXDoubler, using the two K3-DXD cables and the power cord in the DXD box, then installed my K3/P3 in the right position, with the shack K3/P3 remaining in the left position. This will make teardown easier. I have my laptop using just one USB port to the four-port serial output cable, with one COM port to each K3 and one to a cable that plugs into the back of the DXD for R1/R2 switching. I have the footswitch plugged into the DXD also, but in practice used VOX for the active radio. I did use the footswitch for calling guys occasionally on the second radio, since I don’t want to have VOX on for that radio to avoid accidentally triggering it. A Bluetooth mouse and keyboard that I brought down (which uses a small dongle in another USB port) worked great and simplified the wiring. I moved the table from the living room into position on the left wall of the shack. It just leaves a small space for ingress/egress to the room, but is helpful for the computer, snacks, drinks, etc.

Friday, March 23, 2018. I slept soundly till about 7:15, then brewed some coffee (there was a full, unopened can in the kitchen), and did some more radio set up. A pretty quiet day. On the way to go shopping at Ling and Sons, I stopped by Ben’s station in Noord to see “Joe”, DK5WL and his wife Angelika, who are there for the contest and next week. We chatted some about Aruba. Shopping was a record low of $65. On the way back, I blitzed right through Oranjestad, since there were no cruise ships in port, then stopped in at the Toyota dealership to chat with JP. After getting a drive-through lunch at Taco Bell, I went running at the airport. It was pretty pleasant, temp probably about 82, not too humid, but fairly windy. Then back to the house for final radio details, etc., and waiting for the contest to begin.

Contest Notes, more or less as dictated during the contest, Saturday, March 24 – Sunday, March 25, 2018. The contest starts off well with a 260 first hour on 20. I’m relieved that 20 is open, rather than having to start on 40. The first night is very difficult. As I have noted before, psychologically Friday night and Saturday morning are the hardest times to keep going. It’s easy to get discouraged and to think about all the other nice things you could be doing for the rest of the weekend. But I’ve learned that in a long contest there are highs and lows. There are times when no one seem to hear you or want to answer CQs, and there are times when a pileup rolls along effortlessly at high rates. Conditions do vary; in this contest the low bands were better Saturday night than Friday. And while high band conditions were also better early in the contest (for example, the 15meter opening on Saturday was longer than on Sunday and reached further into Europe), Sunday was more enjoyable with a bit less frantic QRM than Saturday.

A good run on 7208 mostly all US, though ZM4T calls in (on another band later as well). It’s about 4 hours into the contest and I’m at 833 by 369 for 1.4 million points. I’m going to go back to the EU band, since some EUs have called in on this freq and were pretty loud. First I’m going to have a little snack .

It’s now 0651Z, almost 7 hours into the contest and things are really slowing down. I have had a lot of trouble keeping up the momentum on the low bands. Have been on 80 for a little while, but only 42 Qs there. At one point things were slow and I took a little time off to regroup. Then John, W6LD, called in to ask what had happened to me. That was embarrassing; apparently a very audible mental lapse (fortunately, it never happened again in the contest!). I don’t know what happened there for a while. Now at 1056 by 431 for 2.2 million pts. Unfortunately in these condx things are not likely to be better in the morning, but I’m going to get some sleep anyway. From a rate perspective and bearing in mind the double points for low bands, it’s almost always better to stay here as long as possible when condx aren’t good and the morning is likely to be slow on 20. I’ve done about everything I can on the low bands, but it seems inadequate

I take about 4 hours off then get back on 40 after a cuppa joe and start a good stateside run on 7191 at 1046Z. But at 1103 a net opens up (of course without any consideration for contesters) about half a kHz below, so I move up to 7215. It’s 1143Z and I’ve been on 40 for about an hour and am at 769/276. Now it has slowed down with only signals from W4’s. Meanwhile I listen to 20 on the second radio. It’s virtually dead, then I surprisingly hear and work UA9MA at 1115Z. I start to monitor Joe as P40WL, who is single-band 20, CQing and starting to work EUs. So at ll50Z I decide to join the fray there. He seems to be hearing stations I can’t, but the beam is pointed northwest, so I’m going to swing it around to Europe. Twenty is absolutely miserable. I have a 112 hour in the 12Z hour, and that’s the best one of the morning. It’s an EU run on 14131 and 14117 below the American band. But it’s tough, signals are generally weak and the rate is disappointing.

It’s now 1344Z with 519 Qs on 20 but it has been a tough slog and not much fun. There is very little activity below 14150 even though it’s not hard to find a clear frequency there. Above that it’s very hard to get a frequency. I’m going to take an hour off. 15 is still dead, so I don’t know what else to do. I can’t recall ever hearing so much QRM in any prior phone contest. There isn’t a clear freq to be found for love or money and everywhere signals are strong and splattering.

I’m having terrible trouble making any contacts on 20 after getting back on at 1440Z. On 15 I’ve made only two contacts, CN3A and a PY. I can only hear a few stations on 15. I’ve been unsuccessfully calling EF8R, who is running a big EU pileup, none of which I can hear. He’s in the 2800’s and I’m in the 1300s [later, he was M/S, and made 50M points]. I do manage to get a run going on 14295, and in the 15Z hour 15 starts to open up to EU.

It’s now 1649Z, I’ve been on the air for almost 12 hours, but it seems like forever. I have only 21 Qs on 15 and am going to move there now, as signals seem to be building nicely. This has been a very tough morning. On 20 I’m at 662 QSOs, overall 1494/568 for 3.8M points, but few EUs.

Well, things are looking up a bit. At 1835Z, I’ve had a great run on 15, with 386 contacts. I’ve been on 21331 the whole time but there is now weird QRM, sounding like a soap opera on frequency, with people laughing, shouting, etc. This is probably intentional interference, but there is no indication of its origin. So I continue the run on 21362.The 17, 18, 19Z hours are all good on 15, with rates of 233, 174 and 188. It’s 2024Z now, and I’ve been on a total of 15:25 hours. 15 has been very good, with 704 Qs so far, but not as much EU as I would have liked, though there has been more in the last hour.

But I see that 10 is starting to open up. I’ve been listening for a while on the second radio, but in WPX there is no particular reason to change bands if you have a good rate. However, since tomorrow is unknown, it seems like a good idea to try it out while it’s hot, and maybe the propagation gods will bring new prefixes. After a 9-minute break for some food, I start on a nice, quiet 28466. What a change from 20 earlier in the day; here we can spread out and not QRM each other.

It’s 2328Z now; the 10m opening lasted about an hour and a half, so I’ve been back on 15 for quite a while. 15 is still open, but I have some kind of local noise source that is making it hard to hear. It’s not as bad as when it started about an hour ago but it’s annoying, so I’m going to 20. I’ve tried the NR and NB in the K3 and they help a bit, but not enough. Using the beverages doesn’t seem to help either (though in the past I’ve seen that they can be effective on 20, of course with the K9AY preamp off). I now have 948 Qs on 15; it’s 7:30 p.m. local time, so I’m really surprised that 15 is still open. Overall I’ve been on for 18 hours and 27 minutes, just more than half way into the contest, at 2685/750 for 7.7M points.

After an hour and a half or so on 20 running US, the band is closing down, so I go down to 40 below the US band to try to increase my EU count. I have a nice EU run of about 100 Qs on 7099, but there is a lot of QRM and it’s difficult, so I’m going up in the phone band to run NA after a 15-minute food break, as the rate seems to have slowed [later: probably a strategic mistake, since the log shows a steady progression of EUs on 7099, and I should have stayed there longer to keep getting the mults.]

OK, I’m packing it in for the night at 0534Z (1:34 a.m. local time). I have 11 1/2 hours of on time left. It really would be better to stay up late and battle it out on 80 and 40, since the morning hours on 20 probably won’t be very productive, but I’m falling asleep. Here’s where having either more energy or a relief operator in a multi would be very nice.

However, I found it easier going on 80 tonight than on Friday. I’ve enjoyed a good run of about 313 Qs and 52 mults. Overall my totals are now a respectable 3430/856 for just over 12M points. I’ve consistently been a little ahead of TI7W in contacts. We touched base on 40 earlier and had about the same number of mults (he asked). Tom at 8P5A, however, is about 500 Qs ahead of me.

At one point I had a strange experience on 80. I had found a (relatively) clear frequency at 3663 and started to CQ with slow results. Then a pig farmer came on and started cursing at me, apparently for interfering with a QSO in progress, though it wasn’t on that frequency and I couldn’t hear any sign of it. He started saying things like “It’s all about bandwidth, a---hole” and called me a “d--khead” among other epithets, the kind that used to get you in trouble with the FCC. He said they were going to “get me.” Given that this was radio, I had no idea what he meant; I assumed he meant intentional jamming, as the SSTV guys on 20 have occasionally done in the past. It was entertaining, but he was blocking the frequency, so I prepared to move. Of course, if he had asked politely, I would have immediately QSYed, as I have often done in these contests. I normally find it a useless aggravation to engage with these louts, but I couldn’t resist asking him to please identify himself. Instead, he went silent, and just then I must have been spotted, as there started a massive pileup of both US and EU stations that took at least a half hour to work down. Actually the percentage of EU worked overall on 80 was better than on 40 this year.

I go to bed a little before 2 a.m. local, and sleep soundly until awakened by my alarms (two on my wristwatch and one on the iPhone) at 6:30. Breakfast is a cup of coffee and a Danish that I had bought at Lings. I’ve decided to operate on 40 for a while, then take another hour off before powering through the rest of the contest. I’m trying to minimize the doldrums on 20 in the morning. So I spend an hour on 7206, starting at 1101Z, netting 94 contacts, which is pretty respectable for that time of day (all in daylight, which starts at about 1030Z). Strangely, my last contact on 40 is a search and pounce VK4KW, at 1158Z , in full daylight with a good signal and the beam pointing north. Go figure.

By the way, throughout the contest I’ve been using the left radio, which is the shack K3 and the Alpha 91B, on 20, 80, and 10, and the right radio, my K3 with the Alpha 86, on 15 and 40. I notice a bad noise source on 15 now. Of course the band isn’t open, but it looks on the P3 like the same noise I had yesterday for a while.

I take a short nap, then get up to start again on 20 at about 1330Z, with about 10 1/2 hours left in the contest. 15 is completely dead, 20 is sort of open to EU without seeming to be quite the bedlam it was yesterday at this time. There’s nothing below 14150, which is pretty strange. I hear some of the noise on 20, but worse on 15, and it seems to be stronger from the NW than the NE. It’s obviously a local, man-made source. I’m expecting some slow hours on 20. Yesterday that drove me crazy in part because it was near the start of the contest, and there was substantial uncertainty about whether this would be any fun at all. Today, with 3500 Qs under my belt, I’m hoping to be able to take it more in stride.

So, I have a fairly nice, mostly US run on 14320 until 1425Z – when the power abruptly goes off. Ouch! I go outside and my neighbor (named “Elvis”) across the street says his power is off, and Cris on the phone says it’s off at her house also, so there is nothing to do but wait until Elmar somehow fixes things. If I weren’t contesting it would be a great day for outdoor activities: sunny, nice temp, not very humid, light breeze – a perfect Caribbean day.

Interestingly yesterday I saw propagation open on 15 the same way I have noted in past write-ups when 10 opens: first to North Africa and the Mediterranean, e.g., CN, EA8, IT9, SV, then it’s a while before the opening spreads to more of Europe. This morning before the power went out, I heard EF8R again, and W5CT in Texas, who opened the band yesterday. It may open earlier today, as it seems to be starting to open earlier. But if the power stays off, it “won’t make no never mind to me,” as a co-worker colorfully used to say.

At 1554Z, 11:54 a.m. local, the power just came back on, so time to turn on the radios, amps, etc. Fortunately, the computer doesn’t have to be rebooted, since it’s been running on batteries without line power. In the meantime, I’ve been reading a book about the Korean War. It’s actually very instructive in terms of the gross miscalculations made in U.S. foreign policy that contributed to our getting into a war with China then – makes you think about today’s foreign policy towards Asia as well. But I’m happy to get back on the air, even though I now can’t do the full 36 hours.

It’s now 1741Z, and I’ve had a nice run on 20 after working a few guys on 15 when the power came back on, mostly US, but a number of EUs starting at about 1700Z. Now up to 915 prefixes and over 14M points. It’s great when you can work EU and just roll up the new multipliers. 15 looks like it’s doing pretty well, so I’m going back there to see what I can scare up. I have a very nice US run on 21335 until 2025Z, also a few EUs, just oddball stations with loud signals, but not very many for some reason. There are only 3 1/2 hours left in the contest. I gotta get up and walk around a little bit, as I’m getting pretty tired and hungry.

I head up to 10 for 110 more contacts, all North-South, then run out the contest with some good rate on 14205 (199 and 165 in the last two hours), almost all US, but one more JA near the end, and a few very western EU.

After the contest, I dismantled the radio room, which was pretty easy this time. Also tested the adaptor for the mic that John had felt wasn’t working. It was unmarked, and indeed seemed to barely work for the K3. By contrast, my adaptor that I had brought as a backup was a Heil adaptor with a red band marking (Kenwood), and it worked fine. So there is clearly something wrong with the resident adaptor.

The multi boys from ARRL phone two weeks ago had left a lot of Balashi beers, made in Aruba, in the fridge, so I actually had two of them, plus a ritual glass of Frangelico before bedtime. Checking 3830, I see that my score (which I did post) was a little ahead of TI7W and KH7XS. Of course, 8P5A hadn’t posted yet, and if experience is any guide, he will beat us all, since EF8R was M/S, not SO. TI7W had slightly more Qs than I did. During the contest, I was always ahead of him (we talked several times), but my two-hour power failure set me back, though the 3-point SA advantage meant he was several million points behind. KH7XS also had about the same number of Qs, but low mults due to lack of EU. The fortunes of war.

Monday, March 26, 2018. I woke up at about 7 feeling pretty logy, but some coffee helped clear the cobwebs. Checked 3830, then went out for a delightful run along the new path on the inland side of the main road from the Santa Cruz road up to the roundabout just south of the airport. It’s particularly nice on the part where it goes inland away from the road, but even along the road the traffic wasn’t heavy, and the wind kept exhaust gases away. I saw only one bicyclist and one other runner, with whom I chatted after the run. He is a local and, like me, was very pleased that the government had built these running paths. At my old man’s pace it was a 53-minute run in lovely weather (though I missed having a sweat band, which had disappeared on my previous trip and which I had neglected to replace).

I filled up with gas at the station in Santa Cruz (only $10), and was going to get breakfast at the McDonalds’s next to the station, but since people laugh at me when I say I don’t cook in Aruba (never once having used the stove in 15 years), I decided to go back to the house and have cream cheese and jelly toast using the rolls I had left from Ling’s, along with a banana and some orange juice. Definitely more healthful than a McD breakfast, and at least I could say I used the toaster to cook! Then to the airport for my 3:07 p.m. scheduled flight back. Ironically, this is the same flight 1028 that had been delayed 7 hours on Thursday. Presumably it is supposed to arrive in Aruba each day at 2 p.m., then leave again an hour later. I shudder to think of the delays that the returnees must have had on Thursday when it arrived 7 hours late! It’s an absolutely gorgeous day, and a shame to leave the island. With no more delays, I stagger into my house in California at about 1 a.m. on Tuesday. Long day!

3830 Report 


Call: P49Y
Station: P49Y
Class: SOAB HP
QTH: Aruba
Operating Time (hrs): 34 
Location: South America 
Radios: SO2R   

160: 0
80: 313
40: 1128
20: 1606
15: 1351
10:  379
Total: 4777, Prefixes: 996, Score: 18,296,520
Club: Northern California Contest Club 

This was intended to be a short trip, two days less than my usual 6-day contest journeys to Aruba, as we have grandkids descending on us on Tuesday after the contest. But it became even shorter thanks to a 7-hour delay in Miami caused by AA maintenance woes. So no time for the usual socializing, dinners with friends, etc.

Fortunately we had been active for both ARRL DX contests, so the station was left in great shape, and other than plugging in my backpack-carried K3/P3 to complement the resident shack K3/P3, and setting up the computer and interfaces, there wasn't much to do (though a little more sleep would have been nice...).

I last did this contest two years ago in 2016. As compared to that effort, this year Qs are down by 5%, mults by 20%, and score by 16%. More Qs on 40 and 80 this year helped prevent a further score reduction. In fact, it would have been better but for an almost two-hour power failure Sunday morning that left me operating for 34 hours instead of 36.

As for mults, the main difference was a drop in EUs from 31% to 14%, and in JA QSOs from 50 to only 3. Ouch!

This contest seemed like a lot of hard work, but it's still a great way to spend a weekend!

Thanks as usual to co-owner John, W6LD, P40L, and to frequent visitor Ed, W0YK, P49X, for their maintenance efforts, and to JP (P43A) and Cris(P43C) for all of their work on the house, which includes new living room furniture and drapes.

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