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AE6Y March 2019 Aruba Trip Notes – ARRL DX SSB Contest – P49Y

Andrew L. Faber, AE6Y, P49Y

Tuesday, Feb. 26 - Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019.  A typical overnight AA flight leaving SFO at 2143. Sandy very kindly drove me to SFO, which was particularly helpful since it was raining slightly. Flight was fine, but on a new A321, I was in an economy exit row with just two seats. It should have been very nice, as there was enormous leg room. However, the seats were very narrow and my seatmate was a large, overflowing guy, so not so cool. Arrived at MIA at 6 a.m. and hung around the Admiral’s Club at D30 for my noon flight to Aruba. It’s been nicely refurbished and is spic and span now. I had my K3 in my backpack, P3 and computer cables, etc., in computer bag, and one suitcase. It weighed 58 pounds, mainly due to transporting 3 500-foot rolls of 14-gauge THHN wire that John and Ed had bought for beverages, plus some computer stuff for JP. AA took it without complaint or extra charge, and TSA didn’t question my carry-ons either.

After breezing through customs, I picked up my Hertz Chevy Sonic, and was at the house by about 4:45. The place looks great. Very bright with all the new LED lights, and the work Ed had done lubing the lock and planing the front door paid off in an easy opening front door. I called Cris and Lisandro to arrange meetings, then went off for a 35-minute run from our roundabout north to the next one. There were probably about two dozen people walking, running and biking on the path, which is about 24 more than I’ve seen before. I’m delighted that people are starting to use it.

Dinner was from the Taco Bell drive-thru takeout, then I set up the radios, putting my K3/P3 in the left position, and the shack one in the right position. All seemed to work fine, using the DXDoubler as I normally do. The computer and CQPWIN 12.9 seem to work fine as well. All the antennas load ok. I didn’t try out the new 80m inv vee, but the old dipole loads properly. This is all low power, as I haven’t turned on the amps.

List of items to discuss with Cris and JP: 1) Excavate around guy anchors to verify status 2) Authorize folding table in radio room 3) Second Radio room table: Build a hinged table? 4) Kitchen cabinets a. Same design as before, but to ceiling? b. Or just rehabilitate, with new counters and sink 5) Confirm scope of cunucu clearing.

Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019. A solid night’s sleep till about 7:30 a.m. Made some coffee then went shopping, first stopping by at Ben’s to greet the current occupants, Pete, G4CLA, Martin, G4XUM, and Roger, G4BVY. They arrived last night and were just getting organized, including trying to reestablish one of the 160m antenna ends. They thought they might have to climb the tower and I offered them one of our full-body harnesses, since they only had been able to find a climbing belt. Then off to Lings for grocery shopping and back through O’stad (fortunately no problem as no cruise ships were in port).

Like yesterday, it is relatively cool with only moderate humidity. The car has no outside temp gauge (nor an instrument panel light dimmer as far as I can tell, but it does have auto windows and locks – go figure). I think it was 80-82 yesterday when I went running, quite pleasant.

In the shack I hooked up the 80m inverted vee in place of the C31, so either radio could access either 80m antenna (later I changed this, put the C31 back in its normal place and just used the inverted vee as the 80m antenna, without the option to choose the dipole). I then hooked up the antenna tuner to the 40m ant for phone use. As usual, the tuner gives a broad range on phone without retuning.

I tried out both amps, the out-of-the closet 86 on the left and the 91b on the right. They both loaded fine on all bands to 1000-1300 watts, maybe 1500 on 40 for the 86. Checked out the inverted vee also and ran frequency scans. For the 80m dipole the center freqs are 3733 and 3785, with about 55 kHz total width. For the inverted vee, the center is 3745, and the 2:1 swr points were 3644 and 3855, a very nice bandwidth.

I ran some guys on 20, mostly US, but got some EU calls as well, then went out for a run on the next segment north of yesterday’s, starting at the Balashi-Santa Cruz roundabout and running along the road, then inland, then turning around where the trail re-meets the road. According to the markings on the trail, the total was 5 km.

I drove to meet Lisandro and Lissette at their house, and they treated me to a Chinese dinner at the Hung Paradise, in the Seaport Center; back at their house I admired their orchids and some of the equipment that Lisandro got from Emily’s estate. Lissette now works for the ministry of Culture, not Infrastructure. She can get our lease, given the property ID.

Then on 80 for a while, low power just to try to check out the two antennas. I noticed no difference on receive, but the RX antennas were definitely better than either for receiving. John emailed and we set up a sked for 2315Z on 3778. I turned on the amp. l could barely hear him, and only on the rx antenna. He thought the inv vee was louder. Later I tried a test with a loud W4 in FL, and he said no more than one dB difference between the two.

I have the computer on the little shelf above the left amp. It’s using three serial ports of my four-port adaptor, two for rig control and one for my F9 R1/R2 switch. None for PTT, as I’m using VOX and the K3 internal messages.

Friday, March 1, 2019. A solid eight hours of sleep; hope it helps out Friday night. Some coffee and a toasted roll with cream cheese and jelly for breakfast then finished reading the “Terror” a fascinating historical novel about the Arctic Franklin expedition of the 1840s. To the shack to program three CQ messages and one TU message for the first four function keys into each K3.

Had a nice lunch at the Dutch Pankake House in the Seaport Center with Andy Bodony, K2LE, P40LE, chatting mainly about his remote VT station. Driving back there are hundreds of canopies set up by the government lining the main road. The big Carnival parade is Sunday after the Saturday parade in San Nicolas. L&L explained there is a government lottery to get rights to one of the spaces. Lisandro drove us past a trailer rented by his family from a private landowner each year near the start of the parade, in central Oranjestad.

Back in the shack, the shack K3 was scaring me by sometimes shutting itself off completely when transmitting. It was ok at low wattage outputs but I noticed the panel illumination dimming. Checking the voltmeter display, it read 12.5 at rest, dipping into the low 10s when transmitting. I did the only thing I could, which was to clean with sandpaper the two leads inserted into the small Astron supply that powers it, and that seemed to do the trick, as it then showed 13.6 volts at rest and 12.5 at full output with no dimming. Whew! My K3 on the larger supply showed the same readings.

ARRL DX Phone Contest Saturday, March 2 -- Sunday, March 3, 2019 – Mostly as dictated during the contest, with all moves noted. Note all times are in GMT (Zulu time, four hours ahead of local time). The contest starts well on 20, but after only 43 minutes, I have to QSY to 40, where I have a 277 hour in the 0100 hour (my second best hour of the contest, only beaten by a 323 hour the next afternoon on 15 and 20 in the 1600 hour). After 68 Qs on 160 in the 0200 hour, I move to 3762. First move of the contest is NW3Y in DE from 80 to 160 at 0318 (probably not necessary, as DE turned out to be fairly common). Later in the hour were similar moves for KU8E in GA, VE2OV in QC, N0UY in MN and K1RX in NH. I’ve decided to ask lots of guys for moves to try to maximize mults. More moves to 160 as I bounce around the three low bands: AD5A in TX, KB0YH in CO, K7RL in WA (move failed, surprisingly), KA6BIM in OR from 40 to 160 (sketchy, ESP, but he later confirms that he heard me and logged it also), W0TF in ND from 80 to 40, W7MEM in ID from 40 to 80, VO1MP in NF from 80 to 160, W0MB in MO from 40 to 160.

At 0927, I’m at 1516 by 183; low band totals are 40:798/56, 80:424/51; 160:114/39. Right now nobody is answering a CQ on any band, so I think I’m going to take a quick nap, as this just isn’t productive. These are the times when it would be a lot easier to either be an iron man or have a fresh, relief operator who could power through the slow times.

I really couldn’t sleep so only took about 20 min off. Since that time I’ve hardly made any contacts. In the last 10 minutes I literally haven’t had a single answer to a CQ. Very frustrating. It’s 1002 and I think I’m just going to sit down and read a book for a while. The log shows no Qs from 0950 to 1036. Back on and moved WA7LNW in UT from 40 to 160. In the 1100 hour a decent 111 Qs all on 7219.

It’s now 1233, 12½ hours into the contest. I’m just about ending the low bands after being on 40 for the last hour and a half with a nice, steady rate (now two hours after local sunrise). The first night’s low band totals are 40:1017/58; 80:429/51; 160:116/40. Overall, 1741 by 186. On 40 the only “normal” mult I need is NB, New Brunswick, as I have all the states and the usual VEs.

After a 20 min break for some food, it’s back on 20. I’m watching 15 on the second radio, waiting for it to open. I make 16 contacts there in the 1400 hour, then move to 21315 at 1500. The experience is very similar to, in better conditions, waiting and watching for 10 to open up.

It’s 1534, have been on 15 for the last 47 minutes. It finally opened up with spotlight propagation, just like 10 used to do. For a while it seemed that all I could work was IL, TN, and KY, all with strong signals. I ended up working all the 4s but the last ones were FL, NC and SC, all three of which are plentiful in the contest. I have 23 mults and 113 Qs so far. Lots of MO but no other zeroes, no ones or twos. Pretty weird stuff, but it’s actually interesting to see propagation evolve. On 20 I’m at 523 Qs and 52 mults, as it has opened up across the country. In the 1600 hour, I move VY2TT to 20 (probably not necessary, as both he and VY2ZM are very active). In the next hour, VE9FI in NB obligingly also moves from 15 to 20.

10 finally seems to have some signals. At 1736 I call CQ and am immediately answered by N2IC with an S9 signal, then K4AB in AL 5 min later and another AL, then no answers at all after three Qs. Two more Qs (both TX) at 1805 and that’s it for 10.

It’s 1908 and I’m taking a break as I’m very hungry and gotta get up and walk around a bit. I’ve been on 15 for several hours. Now at 826 by 50. And 656 by 58 on 20. On 15 I’m mainly missing some 7s. I have 3 mults on 10. No one answers CQs, even though the few who did were quite loud. 15 has been nice in the absence of QRM, since it’s much more spread out, and not full of NA working EUs as it usually is.

At 2011 K2RD in NV moves from 15 to 20, then I go to 14267 at 2041 for a delightful run of about 1000 Qs, on a very nice quiet frequency with a very well-behaved pileup. At 2110, a move of AE7S in UT from 20 to 15.

Now at 0054 of the second day, about an hour past midpoint, at which time I was at 4047/267 for 3.2M points. After my 20 meter run, am now at 1656/58 on that band and 999/57 on 15. Both on 15 and 20 I’ve had QRM-free frequencies and it’s been very enjoyable to be able to hear weak stations. But I’m falling asleep right now, so I’ll have some food then come back to beat my brains out on 40 and 80, as 20 died today as yesterday, before the first hour was over.

I’ll try to move more guys to 160, but it was pretty discouraging last night when many moves failed, and I couldn’t even move K7RL in WA. Neither of us could hear the other. But some moves work tonight: at 0225 VE9MY in NB from 80 to 160, at 0411 VE5MX in SK from 40 to 160, with a surprisingly readable signal, casual guys WD5R in AR (a YL in her case) from 40 to 160 and N5UUA from 80 to 160 (OK, after several failed attempts with other OK stations). At 0220 KE3X calls on 80, and I ask him to go to 160 for the DC mult. He says he’ll be there at the top of the hour on 1830. I start listening a few minutes early and hear him CQing with no takers, so we make the QSO easily at 0256.

Well, as usual I’ve been expecting to stay up later, but it’s 0551 (almost two in the morning local time), I’m at 4729 by 280 mults. I’ve picked up some mults, now 58 on 80 and 46 on 160. The 80 mults were all answers to CQs, including UT, WY, NB. On 160 I’ve been moving people. Suddenly there seems to be a lot of atmospheric noise, and I’m tired, and the pace has way slowed down, so I think the better part of valor is to get some sleep. Right now it’s no fun and non-productive.

Back on the air on 40 at 1008 after 4 hours and 20 minutes off, second Q is KD7YUW in NE, who obligingly move to 160 for my 47th and last mult there. AD0EB in KS moves from 40 to 80 then back to 20 at 1205 for most of the rest of the afternoon. 15 opens again at about 1500 so the rest of the contest is spent on those two bands, save for the sked with VE9MY and VY0ERC on 40 at 2330Z (see write-up below).

There was the usual frantic rush to finish the contest, then a shutdown at 2400. I felt somewhat tired but mainly the effects of a sedentary weekend. Although I had been wearing support hose, my feet were a little swollen, though not my legs. So I decided to do what I had never done before after a contest, and drove to our roundabout for a short run at the linear park. It’s lit all the way. There was a fair amount of traffic, mostly from people leaving the Carnival parade in Oranjestad, including one pickup towing a large open float with a band on it, still playing. Back home, started checking 3830 to see what people were saying, sent a summary to John and Ed, took a long-delayed shower and shave and hit the sack at about 10 p.m.

My contact total is about the same as in 2009, when I won this contest (and almost 2000 Qs less than two years ago when I last participated). Interestingly, the total mult counts for 160-15 were identical in 2009 and this year, but in 2009 I had 28 more mults on 10 (31 versus 3) thanks to a late-contest opening that didn’t occur this year.

Monday, March 4, 2019. Slept VERY soundly until 7:30, then put on my cunucu pants and boots to do some chores in preparation for the cunucu clearing behind the house that we had asked JP and Cris to supervise, to occur in about 10 days. It was easy to roll up the 160 and tape it to the tower. Also put the yellow poles in the garage, but could not pull the rebar out of the ground. it was also straightforward to take down the 80 inv. vee, though to untie the end tied to the tree required taking the ladder out of the garage for a little additional height. After about 2½ hours of this, I was sweating profusely and exhausted. I took a selfie to document that state. Not sure why working in the cunucu seems so enervating, particularly since this morning was not really hot or humid (temp probably about 82 or so and windy, but the sun was strong).

The other major task was to separate the beverage feedlines where John had spliced them about 80 feet or so from the back fence, to get them out of the way. I was able to tape up the ends on the house side and coil them up on the tower. Unfortunately, the other ends are partly buried in construction debris. I got out the tree trimmer to try to clear a way to them, but ultimately wasn’t able to clear enough of the debris away, so I left them taped and coiled up in an obvious location. It won’t be much work to free them, but it does require some brush clearing and a shovel, and to be carefully done. I sent pix to JP and later talked to him at dinner, so it shouldn’t be a problem.

I had a nice discussion with Andre, the son of Esther and James, who is living in the new house next door. He is working for his mom’s personnel agency, having returned from 10 years in Holland. He was going to drop by to see the shack at 4 p.m., but didn’t show.

While I was recuperating inside, the Brits dropped by to visit the shack. They were not happy with the weekend, and in fact had a lower score than I had, mainly due to high manmade noise levels, which were naturally very frustrating. They asked me to turn on the radio, and exclaimed, when hearing sigs on 20 that it sounded like a “normal” band (i.e., not like it sounded at their house).

During the contest, Martin, P49MR, had called to say hello, and I told him I would like to drop by on Monday. I called, and his caretaker said it would be OK, but after he and Truus finished napping at 3, so I decided to do that. First, I took the same run I had done on Thursday, up the road from the Balashi roundabout. It was sunny but not too bad, though I did notice that at this hour I was the sole mad dog or Englishman out in the noonday sun. Afterwards I drove to the Ritz for a chocolate milkshake that really hit the spot.

After cleaning up, I had a nice visit with Martin, following a quick drive to Malmok. It’s Labor Day in Aruba (maybe to allow everyone to sober up after Carnival), so traffic was fortunately light. Due to his medical condition, they have sold the house, and will be leaving in about a month. He’s looking for takers for his radio gear, mostly old Icom equipment.

Back home, I made the various resistance and voltage checks per the manual on the 20/40 Tailtwister rotor, which during the contest would only turn CCW, not CW. Normally one rocks it to get it to turn, but I was afraid that I’d just end up turning it more to the west. Later, I talked to John on the phone and he said it was ok to try it again, but it still would not turn clockwise, and it’s now left pointing at about 300 degrees. The checks were all normal, except for the position pot, where the two resistance ranges involving pin 7 (i.e., total resistance of 500 ohms, and one side resistance of between 0 and 500 ohms) were both open circuit. The other side resistance was about 182 ohms, which is normal. So it may be that pin 7 lead is open at the rotor, but it doesn’t seem that this would cause the observed problem.

Met Cris and JP at Marina Pirata for a pleasant dinner out on the deck, with our usual overly-familiar waitress. They said that the property across the street from the Seroe Jan Flemming hill is for sale. It’s a large, gated property at 25D JF that would be a great station site. JP says the “tax letter” is being prepared, and the asking price probably won’t be set until that comes out. Did some final cleanup, returned the shack K3 to the left side and verified that it all worked, disconnected the antennas and started to pack up for tomorrow’s flight.

Tuesday, March 4, 2019. Checking emails a little after 6 a.m., I found that AA had cancelled my flight from MIA to SFO and rebooked to LAX then to SJC. Hopefully it will turn out well, particularly since it will be easier for Sandy to pick me up locally, but if I had left my car at SFO, I wouldn’t be very happy. In the end, though my flight from LAX ended up an hour late, I arrived home safe and sound by 10:30 p.m.

Contest Soapbox, as sent to 3830 reflector. 

This contest reminded me strongly of the sunspot minimum woes of the 2009 version, except that in that year there was an exciting 10m opening good for 31 mults shortly before the end of the contest, just when I was convinced it would never happen. This time I thought I finally heard a 10m opening Saturday afternoon, called CQ, was immediately answered by N2IC and K4AB with S9 signals (my only 6-banders, as it turned out), then made 3 more Qs, then ....nothing. How can that be? Similarly, on Sunday as I was on 20 watching for 15 to open on the second radio, the only NA signal heard on the band was K8AZ CQing 40 db above the noise level, with nobody else in evidence. Very strange.

A contest like this always has high and low points. The first low point is usually early Saturday morning, when I'm tired and contemplating the many hours to go. The second low point for me this time was in the last few hours on 20, when it seemed that just about everyone was a dupe. I try not to lose my temper with the pile-up, but this time I just had to take a break, regroup mentally, walk around for a few minutes, and start over on a new freq. One station called me 5 time; after the first three in the log I refused to log him anymore.

High points: (1) On Saturday afternoon, I had a dream pileup on 20. A very clear freq meant that I could hear ESP stations, and they were extremely orderly and well-behaved. If I asked for, e.g., "last letter tango", miraculously only that guy would answer. For about an hour and a half, it couldn't get any better. (2) I worked hard for mults and really appreciate the hams who moved for me, mostly to 160, but sometimes to other bands. Also, thanks to the numerous unsuccessful movers (all of which were attempts to 160 -- thanks for trying). A very satisfying move occurred when Len, VE9MY called in on 20 on Sunday afternoon. I had worked NB on 20, but asked him to make a sked for 40 at 2330Z. Then when VY0ERC unexpectedly called in on 20 later on, I asked him if he would come to the same sked. Miraculously, not only did both of them show up, but we made two good contacts. Thanks, guys! Getting new mults near the end of the contest is always invigorating.

Many thanks to co-owner John, W6LD - P40L, and Ed, W0YK - P49X for the numerous house and station improvements they made on two trips in February. And, of course to Cris, P43C, and JP, P43A, for their continuing tending of the house. As usual, Aruba is a social place, this trip including in addition to Cris and JP, Martin P49MR and Truus P49MRS, Lisandro, P43L, and Lissette, Andy, K2LE, P40LE, and three British visitors who were on as P44K: Peter, G4CLA, Martin, G4XUM, and Roger, G4BVY.

73, Andy, AE6Y, P49Y

Rig: K3 x2, Alpha 91B, 86
Ant:160 vert dipole, 80 inv vee, 2 el 40, 3 el 20 (used to be 4, before the reflector fell off), 5 el 15, 2 el 10.
Software: CQPWIN ver. 12.9