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AE6Y Trip Notes October 2020 CQWW SSB Contest P49Y Aruba

Andrew L. Faber, AE6Y, P49Y

Sunday, Oct. 18 - Monday Oct. 19, 2020.  Due to curtailed airline schedules, I was on AA Flight 2688 leaving SFO at 12:28 a.m. on Monday, then a less than 2-hour layover in MIA then to get to AUA at 1:23 p.m. I parked at Anza Parking as usual, where I noticed the first change due to low traffic volumes. Though we decry crowds at airports, this was the opposite, where staffing has been cut back so much that the experience suffers. For example, at Anza for years they have offered free valet parking. Not so tonight. Then at the new AA terminal there were fewer ticket agents and a long international line (since international travelers need a passport and can’t check in online). I started using a machine, and asked a friendly roving agent if there was a priority line as there always had been for first class passengers (I was flying first class mainly for the more spacious cabin and larger seats that I thought would be safer). She helped me cut in a line so the experience wasn’t too bad. Then at TSA, there was no special TSA Pre-Check line, but I had been given a special tag so I didn’t have to take my shoes off even though I went through normal security.

The gate area at the new Harvey Milk Terminal 1 was like a morgue, with virtually no shops open (just two small ones near the very end of the B gate area). I had been used to hanging out at the Admirals’ Club at the old terminal, and going across the hall to the great bookstore that was there. Here there was an Admirals Club, but its posted hours were 5:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. – totally useless for my purposes. This also I attributed to the lack of flights.

I had to show the gate agent my paper from Aruba that said I had passed their Covid test requirements and could get on the plane. Obtaining that card had been a major stress factor for the last two weeks. Aruba has very clear Covid requirements. You need a test within 72 hours of departure, and it has to be a PCR molecular test taken with a nasal swab – the gold standard in testing. Finding a place that would give me a test and promise results the next day proved frustratingly difficult. PAMF was no help. Dr. Lally tried for a week, finally throwing up his hands in frustration. I called the respiratory group that he had told me was in charge, and they did not perform pre-travel tests on asymptomatic people, but if they did it would take 3-5 days to get results.

Similarly many places that seemed promising on the internet either gave the wrong kind of test, took too long to get results, or were impossible to reach for scheduling. Finally I found a concierge medical practice in SF, Mydoctorsf.com, that said they could do it. I made an appointment for Friday at 2 p.m., drove up there, and they did administer the test very professionally. On Saturday I got the negative results, emailed them to Aruba, and got an OK from them the issuance of what they called an ED Card). Then on Sunday, they further emailed and said they had reviewed the test results and they were valid. What a lot of work! And our President said many months ago that anyone who wants a test can get one! The test cost $400, and many wasted hours, plus I had to buy insurance online required by Aruba for $77 for the duration of the stay.

I was taking very little to Aruba: just one backpack with travel stuff plus some cables and headphones that I wanted to be sure I had, plus a 42-pound suitcase, part of which was taken up with stuff that Ed had received for Cindy. No radio, as I planned to operate in the Classic one-radio category and was going to rely on our house K3 for that purpose. I did bring my voice keyer cables in case there is a problem and I have to use the backup 756 Pro2 (if it still works). I am hoping our internet and wifi are working robustly, as I have a number of Zoom meetings for work to attend from there.

Monday, Oct. 19, 2020. Arrival in MIA was on time at 8:40 a.m. or so, way down at Gate D49, so I didn’t have time to get to the Admiral’s Club at D30. The Aruba plane not only left from the same gate, but it was the same plane! That’s a first. Had some breakfast nearby and an uneventful flight to AUA. No problems on arrival, though I was glad I had brought copies of my official ED card from Aruba, plus test results that I actually had to show someone on arrival. My bag was x-rayed, but not flagged, so I sailed through. I slept reasonably well on both flight segments. Hertz (denying they are in bankruptcy – “that’s in the US, not here”) gave me a small hatchback Chevy Spark, which is surprisingly peppy.

The house looks good, though it was hot, since only the LR a/c was on full. The MBR one is on also, but only working intermittently. But the other two are fine, and the place is cooling down. The weather is hot (e.g. high 80s) and humid just as it was last October for our antenna rebuild party, when each day when you went outside you would start sweating right away. In February when we finished the job, by contrast, it was a bit cooler and lots less humid so much more comfortable outside.

I unpacked, and later Cindy and Andy came by to pick up the stuff I had brought down for her, and we had a nice chat. I’m planning just to use the shack K3 as a one-radio Classic entry, but I do want to use all the antennas, including the SteppIR, which has never been used for real as far as I know. Some preliminary verification showed that all antennas seem to load properly, including the 160, which JP has apparently cleaned the brush off the lower leg and restored it to normal. Beverages seem to work though E-W is weak (but may just be the signals). The Bandmaster didn’t seem to be switching properly but that was cured by reseating the cable in the back of the K3. I’ve set the new heavy-top card table up on the south wall as before for the computer. Robert, W5AJ, had left a vertical desktop computer on top of the Alpha 86. I disconnected it and put it on the large radio table on the east wall. Not sure what we should do with it.

John Crovelli had arrived on a UA flight from Newark at about the same time, and we met for dinner at Kibaima Grill, the new joint in the old B55 place. We both had “sirloin”, but it was cheap and not very good meat, though as usual it was nice to chat over a Balashi. There were some tiny mosquitoes, so we asked for and received some insect repellant to spray on that seemed to cure that problem. We intentionally nearly completely avoided talking politics.

The evening’s entertainment consisted of attending by WebEx a Gilroy City council meeting as the City Attorney, starting at 6 p.m. PDT (2100 local time) for 3.5 hours., finishing after midnight. Thanks to our robust internet it was no different than attending a Covid-inspired meeting from home.

Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020. After a very comfortable sleep, I was finally rousted out of bed circa 0900 by the sound of very heavy rain on our aluminum roof. It also had rained lightly off and on last night, and John and I had seen some impressive lightning displays off in Venezuela last night at dinner, but this is a serious lot of water. And although I didn’t see lightning this morning, I did hear some rolling thunder. I guess it at least means the power lines will be clean (and thus hopefully quiet).

Although there is no food in the house, I made some coffee using old cans in the freezer to get me going. I drive over to Lings, and I don’t think I have ever seen as much water on the streets. There is substantial water on either side of the road at the Spanish Lagoon crossing at Frenchman’s Pass, and big puddles all over the place. At the store, squalls made a huge din on the metal roof. Driving back, there are two NCL cruise ships in port: Norwegian Sun and Norwegian Gem, but very few tourists seen in the shops in Oranjestad, which look kind of forlorn. Lisandro later said that they were simply there to keep up a routine, but had no passengers.

I had some lunch and read for a while, continuing to hear intermittent thunder. It’s probably not much more than 80 degrees out, but still humid. The radio announced in Papiamento what I understood to be a temperature range from 27 to 33 degrees C (which means it will get to 91 or so). Altogether a gloomy day – glad I’m not here as a tourist. Sitting at the radio desk I could hear static bursts on the radio, and even see some lightning through the west window – seen as a flash in the sky, not as a stroke of lightning. It would be painful to the ears to contest in these conditions. I also saw a lots of similar flashes much more dramatically last night driving back from dinner.

There was a very fierce storm starting at about 1340 local. The P3 showed noise steady on 20 at 85-90 db, sinking to 120 in “quiet times” – really incredible. The waterfall display was totally red, the color reserved for the strongest signals. The K3 S-meter show noise of S9 to S9 plus 20 dB. The feedline with the yellow tag labeled SteppIR turned out to be the Mid-Tri feedline (I changed the label). It seemed to work fine on all bands, and in comparison to the 20/40 on 20m was about 10-15 db quieter. I actually listened to a few signals that were clear copy on the Mid-Tri but in the noise on the 20. This was true even when both are pointed in the same direction.

There is a feedline labeled 80m Dipole which turned out to be the SteppIR, but the calibrations were way off. I verified with the AA-55 antenna analyzer (what a delightful instrument to use, BTW) that it was as though the elements were all a little short. Reading the SDA100 instruction book (in our file of instructions, neatly labelled – thanks, John), it says that it is usual that if power is off to the motors for a while the elements retract a bit. I ran a Calibrate sequence on the antenna, and it seemed to restore normal functioning. [And upon leaving on the 26th, I retracted all the elements. JP thought that was important to prevent corrosion.] The directionality seemed to be effective, using the Norm and 180 deg. Settings.

In the late afternoon, I got on 20 barefoot and made about 70 QSOs, including a nice chat with John, W6LD, at W6YX. I ran several tests involving the monobander, the Mid-Tri and the SteppIR. The results were pretty consistent, favoring the antennas in that order. However, the monobander was clearly sharper in pattern, which meant the sometimes the Mid-Tri would be better if slightly off the side. And when a 9Y4 called from Trinidad and I reversed the SteppIR, his signal suddenly came up 3 S-units.

Dinner was at home, a bowl of cereal and some other stuff, then reading, hooking up the 40m tuner, a horrible Los Gatos Town Council meeting starting at 2200 local and continuing to after midnight, then a call with my law partner about it, a large glass of Frangelica and two rolls with cream cheese got me prepared for bed after 1 a.m.

Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020. After breakfast of coffee, OJ, and an English muffin, I went outside to shorten the legs of the 80m inv. Vee. I shortened each by 24 inches, which I had calculated would raise the resonance from 3580 to 3700. However, checking with the AA55 showed resonance at 3655. I decided to leave it there.

Unfortunately, at 8:30 the power went off. Not much to do when that happens. I continued reading Disloyal, by Michael Cohen on my Kindle. At about 10 I called Cris. She called Elmar, and they told her it was a neighborhood issue, they were working on it, and couldn’t tell her when it would be fixed. So best just to stay put with the doors closed. At about 11 I went out for a drive to Seroe Colorado, stopping to pick up batteries and spray insect repellant (requested by john C). Got back about 12:45 and fortunately, the power was back on. The batteries were necessary because we were completely out of AA and AAA sizes, normally kept in the kitchen drawer to the left of the stove. I had noticed that Kirkland AAs in a flashlight and both wall clocks had leaked; unfortunately, I was only partially successful in restoring function, since I could not find our small files, normally in a blue pouch in the radio room cabinet.

No rain today, but it continued hot and humid. The car showed a high of 32 deg C (90 F). I stopped in for a visit with Lisandro and Lissette. She is working from home while he goes to work with a skeleton crew at the Weather Bureau. They are being super careful, and she said I was the first non-family member in their house since March. Then to John’s to spend about 2 ½ hours helping him untangle, raise up, and tie off his wire beams (3 el for 80 and 4 for 40) that he strings between his two towers. Back to the house for a needed shower (stopping at McD for a burger at the drive-through). Then a client call and some firm work in the evening.

I was suddenly very tired at about 2100 so I went to bed, but was awakened about an hour later by a phone call and start thinking about the radio setup, so it was out of bed, snack on macaroni salad and yoghurt and then a bit of radio hooking up. I tried to print out some rate sheets from my log in 2017 and P40T’s last year, as I had forgotten to bring the printouts with me. But the Deskjet 1015 produced a bit of smudge, then nothing, so I concluded it needed a new cartridge.

Robert, W5AJ, had reported the shack K3 didn’t seem to have agc working fully, but using it casually and in the contest, I came to think it was ok. I did change the AGC-S parameter from 5 to the default of 20 and I think that improved the action. I also extensively used the two agc macros I have for the K-Pod. The top left button I call AGC RUN, and it sets the AGC THR to 12 and the SLP to 2. The idea is to have very little AGC action to ride the RF gain control to help differentiate signals in the pileups. The second button is AGC S&P, and it sets THR to 5 and SLP to 12 to provide much more agc action for tuning around. Since I will need to adjust the af and rf gain knobs, I plugged the headphones and mic into the rear panel of the K3 to give more room to access the knobs (otherwise, I would be using a Kenwood red Heil adaptor for front panel). I relocated the old PTT footswitch, which for some reasons was plugged into the wrong jack on the back. Other details of the radio hookup: The key out jack is connected to a RCA splitter device to key both amps simultaneously, though of course only one is actually in use at a time. My little box for sending a tune-up tone was hooked to the key input with RCA-1/4 inch phone adaptor. The phones output on the rear panel went to a short splitter cable, then to both the recorder and the headphones. Setting the Vox at 20 and the Antivox at 52 worked well with the Heil mic at high gain, and didn’t trip the Vox from pounding on the keyboard.

Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020. Up at about 7 and turning on the radio I found no antenna connection seemingly. Using the AA55 and attaching it to cable after cable, it all seemed ok, and when I got the cables all put back together, everything was fine, and I had no such worries for the rest of the stay. Go figure. I called JARA Equipment Rental and drove over there to deliver the $240 that John had given me to pay off our last bill from February, giving it to Valeria, to give to David. They are on the same road Lisandro lives on (from the main highway, it’s the roundabout just south of the airport on the road labeled to Canashito).

I turned on the 91B and checked it out. All Ok except that output was no more than about 1k on the low bands. The 86 was also fine and seemed to have a little more output. In general I just ran both amps in the 1000-1300 watt range. At 1 p.m. I went to visit Cris and discuss finances. The car said it was 33 degrees C. We chatted for half an hour and discussed air conditioning options for the cottage. I also gave her the usual rent. As I was leaving, her neighbor across the street brought over a present of 4 homemade tamales. Cris gave one to me and I enjoyed it upon my return – delicious.

I thought about how to hook up both amps so either one can be used with all three antennas. The antennas are all hooked up to the lefthand StackMatch, with Normal on Top, then the Mid-Tri, then the SteppIR. It actually was pretty straightforward. I used the right-hand StackMatch with one output to each amp and the input to the other StackMatch input (actually the right-hand StackMatch is being used in reverse, to transmit through it from the amp line to the common line going to the first StackMatch. I have the radio keying both amps all the time using a y-connector for the key out jack. Then I connected at the K3, the Ant1 output coax to the left amp and the Ant2 output coax to the right amp. To switch I need only switch antennas on the radio and change the output on the right hand StackMatch controller. It worked fine, and was useful throughout the contest, as I could set the amps on different bands and switch bands quickly.

A break at 1530 to tune into the Notre Dame High School Women of Impact presentation honoring my wife and one of their alums. Supposedly 1569 people were on line. Sandy did great! The school has been in downtown San Jose since 1850 or so. The other recipient, an alum of 2009 who became a writer, was very eloquent as well. She spoke about wanting to be a writer against her strong Muslim family’s wishes. It’s interesting that neither honoree was Catholic. Then an hour-long Zoom meeting “all hands” with the Gilroy City Administrator, a quick, and forgettable dinner, purchased at the Taco Bell drive-through and a 2 ½ hour zoom partnership meeting. Then a very nice chat with JP on the phone. I miss our normal socializing that isn’t possible this year.

Friday, Oct. 23, 2020 – Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020. Took a drive up to the California Lighthouse just to get out of the house. It was sad to see Martin’s (P49MR) house with no tower and with his neighbor’s large, blocky house now completed.

The contest starts at 8 p.m. local time. I start on 20, but only make 13 Qs in 5 minutes before heading to 40. A good run on 7207 for about 40 min, then I head down to 7083 to work EUs, then back up to 7233 for another mostly US run. I had listened on 80 earlier but found few signals and high noise, I finally go there at 0522 for what turns out to be my only 80 operation of the contest, mostly running on 3674. At 0619 I take an hour off and try 20 at 0738. Beaming west trying to work the Pacific, but only get a few VKs in zone 30, with no ZLs or zone 29 VKs heard. Briefly on 40 I tune for KH6 and JA, and YB on 20, then take two hours off at 0823. Back on 20 at 1045 and stay on till 1209 mostly working EU by running on 14122. I check 15 and at 1215 work ZS6TVB in Zone 38, for my only AF of the whole contest (except for 5T5PA and several EA8s).

I s&p for about 20 minutes, then establish a run on 21160. I check 10 every so often, and starting to hear EU, I go there at 1349. There is a nice EU opening, but not widespread. At one point, I work 9 HB9s in 10 minutes. I go back to 15 at 1427 because I’m not working many new mults on 10. In fact I have only 7 zones worked, and I hope the rate will be better on 15. At 1611 I start a wonderful run on 15 on 21306, where I stay until 1933 working 1076 QSOs, mostly NA, but with a smattering of new mults. The 16-18 clock hours are 304, 328, 309. Wow! I cap off the afternoon with a similar run on 20, with 282 and 286 in the 20-21 hours. Before taking a break at 2237 I tune around briefly with the SteppIR pointing south for HC, LU, CE.

By the way, after 12 hours of contesting, circa 1640Z, the totals are 2000 QSOs, 270 mults, 1.6M points. Back on at 2355, I find OA4SS and KL7RA for new ones on 20 then A60A on 40, in a few minutes of mult hunting.

I decide to go to bed, but get up every few hours to check for mults. I don’t think running at night will be helpful, unless 80 or 160 opens up dramatically. On again at 0202, I work NN3W on 160 for my only US QSO of the contest, then back on at 0305, I break a pileup on 5T5PA in zone 35 on 40. Another quick check at 0407 gives ZM1A on 20 and ZF1A and XE on 40. I also listen at 0800 but hear nothing new then. Sadly 160 and 80 are both virtually unusable due to noise and high signal absorption.

I go to sleep for the night finally, then am back on at 1134 on 20. I barely manage to work RA9P in zone 18, the only deep Asian of the whole contest (except for E2A who called on 15). One of the things I’ve noticed is the lack of Asian propagation, no zone 18-19 or VUs, though E2A in zone 26 did call in on 15 yesterday. Only other mult heard is Z6, but he’s weak and has a big pileup so I don’t even try, as I don’t want to burn time.

A break, then at 1304 I hear a big pile up on 15 for A61QQ. It doesn’t seem worth calling, but when I hear him work NP4Z in Zone 8, I do call and surprisingly get him on the first try. 15 is wide open, and John, P40W, is running EUs. It’s tempting to get on, but I want to hold out for 10 and for high rate later on. Ten is dead right now.

I still have 5:42 left and basically am saving that for high rate hours starting at about 1700 on 15 and 20 like yesterday, and hopefully we will have some more propagation on 10 also. I now have only 319 mults. Totals are 10: 127/23/7; 15: 1408/67/22; 20: 961/55/21; 40: 974/60/21; 80: 172/25/11; 160: 4/4/3. Strangely, yesterday in my great 15 run I picked up lots of new mults including Caribbean stations, but on 20 that didn’t happen, which is why the 20 totals seem low.

With my knee hurting, I haven’t been running, but I decide to take a walk on my normal easy running route starting at our roundabout and going north to the next one. Just as I reach it, the rain starts and I get thoroughly soaked on the return leg. Back home, I eat a bowl of frosted flakes, take a shower, and am ready to rejoin the fray.

Back on for real at 1451 on 15. Running EU on 21165, then NA on 21398, with much lower rates than yesterday, however. To ten at 1704 for a nice US run with others calling in as well including several EA8s. I run out the contest on 15 and 20, though with some time off from 1901-2034. The 21 hour is 289 on 20, my best rate on Sunday. Then my 24 hours run out at 2209.

After the contest, Lisandro came by to drop off two masks for me and Sandy with the logo of his Space and Nature Aruba Foundation on it. John and I met at Kibaimi, which fortunately stays open till 10. Their hamburgers which were much better than the sirloin the other day. They were very happy to see us, since there seemed to be no other customers except the owner and some friends. They gave me a lovely Happy Birthday Flan, and serenaded me with Happy Birthday and Cumpleanos Feliz and even emailed me the movie of it afterwards. Very gemutlich.

Some General impressions:

(1) The amp switching worked fine. (2) The new antennas are great. Love the Green Heron control boxes also – they are so much easier to use than the TailTwister boxes. The monobanders definitely are sharper than the Mid-Tri and better for long hauls, but the Mid-Tri works well also. I run some tests on Sunday listening on 15 to NA and EU. With both ants pointing exactly the same (327) the 1015 is 1-2 s units better; when both pointed 000, there is less difference and at 038 they seem the same on a French station. When they are pointed at 327, the two are exactly lined up and that may affect the Mid-Tri, which is then exactly behind the 1015. Interestingly the SteppIR is just an S unit or two behind, but fully usable. (3) Using the RUN and S&P AGC settings are very helpful. Vox at 20 and Antivox at 52 worked well with the Heil on high setting. (4) Need: flashlights, small files. Cartridge for Deskjet 1015.

Contest Report, as sent to 3830 reflector. 

This is one of those "bad news and good news" write-ups. The bad news started out right away on Friday night in the form of horrific noise levels on 160 and 80 that rendered 160 virtually useless for me and 80 only a little more functional. We have a very good beverage system here, but it was pretty much ineffective on those bands. Forty was much better, fortunately. I literally made only one NA 160m QSO, with NN3W, and never heard the big multi-ops that are usually easy to work. Of course, lacking a second radio because of the Classic Overlay, I couldn't monitor the band very effectively, so I might have missed some breaks in the noise (but even 160 maven W2GD/P40W wasn't happy with the band).

The cause seemed to be thunderstorms in the Caribbean. There was a day of intense rain on Tuesday preceding the contest and that brought with it very high noise levels. It also rained on Sunday during the contest, but the effect on the high bands fortunately wasn't as dramatic as on Tuesday. John also thinks that there was an unusually large amount of atmospheric absorption, so signals just didn't get through as usual.

Interestingly, in checking out our new JK antennas that we had installed last October and this February, there were very interesting variations in noise level. For example, at one point the Mid-Tri (at 45 feet) was 1 to 2 S units quieter on 20 than the monobander at 65 feet, even though they are just a few feet away. Then on Sunday during the contest, for a while there was a lot of noise on 15 on both the Mid-Tri and the 10/15 at 55 feet; but I was able to keep contesting thanks to the new 2-element Steppir, which is fixed mounted at 30 feet, because it was several S units quieter than the other two. I guess the moral is that in spite of the advances in modeling and predictions, there are still inexplicable and peculiar antenna effects and interactions, and this time I was glad to have had options.

The good news was that all of our antennas seemed to be effective, and justified the weeks of work by W6LD, W0YK, P43A, and myself to install. The further good news was endless runs on 15 that were quite exhilarating. I have had hours over 300 in the past on phone, though I don't think I've ever had consecutive hours at that rate -- but on Saturday afternoon, I enjoyed three consecutive clock hours over 300, peaking at 328. Now that was fun!

I did the same Classic attempt in this contest in 2017. This year's score is down about 12% with close to the same number of total QSOs, due to fewer multipliers. For some reason, though in some senses propagation was good (e.g., we had a real EU opening on 10) it seemed limited, at least without spotting assistance to help find mults. And some of it was "searchlight" propagation; e.g., in one 15 minute period on 10, I worked a dozen HB9s!

The other bad news, by the way, is how Covid is hurting Aruba, a place whose economy is based on tourism. Although there were two cruise ships in the harbor, it turns out they awere just keeping up some kind of routine, and had no passengers. The Government is trying hard to allow some tourism without spreading the disease, but their restrictions can be difficult for travelers. It was hard, for example, to find a location in the SF Bay Area where I could get the required PCR molecular nasal swab test within 72 hours of my flight, and get the results in time to be cleared. The situation has also dampened the usual delightful social atmosphere that normally features dinners with local friends such as P43L, P43A and P43C. But John and I have resolutely been breaking bread together on this trip and hoping things return to normal.

Thanks to everyone for the Qs and their patience when I was sometimes unable to pull them out through the noise.

73, Andy, AE6Y

Rig: Elecraft K3, Alpha 91B
Ant: inv. vee 80, 2 el 40, 4 el 20, 5 el 15, 6 el 10; Mid-Tri, 2 el SteppIR. 160 H-dipole. Beverages.
Software: CQPWIN ver. 13.0