[CQ-Contest] P40W - ARRL DX CW - SOABHP - A Contest Story
w2gd at hotmail.com
Sun Feb 28 10:06:56 EST 1999
P40W @ P43P 1999 ARRL DX CW SOABHP A Contest Story
This trip almost didnt happen. As the New Year began I was completing
a long-term consulting engagement and awaiting the start of my next
assignment that would mean spending about 60% of my time in Illinois
over the next several months.
I had to inform my employer before the start of the Illinois assignment
that I intended on taking several days of vacation time in mid-February
(not an easy thing to do under most circumstances at the beginning of a
consulting engagement). An email announcing my intentions was quickly
dispatched to those who should be aware of such things. In the
consulting business, it is best to declare your prior arrangements in
advance, making it a little more difficult for the powers that be to
alter those plans. I didnt know it at the time but this strategy would
pay handsome dividends as events later unfolded.
I then had to find a station that would require a minimum of pre-contest
prep time, your basic plug and play. An important objective was to use
the minimum number of vacation days (saving the time for other
expeditions later in the year, most importantly in October and
November). The ideal scenario would be a Thursday afternoon arrival and
a late Monday afternoon departure. This would provide sufficient time
to familiarize myself with the host station, make minor changes or
repairs as necessary, and still enjoy some beach time. This
eliminated using my own station on Aruba, since I would be going their
not knowing what was broken, and the normal prep time is a full day or
more. I really wanted that beach time life is just too short.
Fortunately Jacob, P43P, invited me to use his station during the ARRL
CW weekend, since he was only planning an all out SOAB HP effort for SSB
(by the way hell be signing P40B). This was looking really great, a
new station, great location and effective antennas. Jose, P40E/CT1BOH
had already proven this station was truly world-class, setting the
record SOAB score in last years CQWW CW.
The final step was acquiring airline tickets that wouldnt require
taking a second mortgage on my still uncompleted new house. February
falls within the Caribbean high season, and this was further compounded
by the Presidents Week school vacation period occurring around the ARRL
DX CW weekend. Just booking on short notice would be a challenge. I
first tried the new internet service called Price Line without
success. Maybe offering to pay only $400 for a round trip ticket this
time of year was a bit too optimistic. Then I tried a more conventional
internet travel agent (Expedia), but the Thursday morning/Monday
afternoon itinerary was showing ticket prices in the $850+ range. That
was far too expense for my taste (hey, hams are allowed, even expected
to be cheap arent they?). So I abandoned my original approach and kept
feeding alternative days and times into the computer. It finally found
a $505 + tax fare that met my price reasonability test. It would
require taking an extra vacation day on the back end of the trip and
settling for an 11:35 p.m. Thursday night arrival and 8 a.m. Tuesday
morning departure. Nothings perfect, I booked the flight on American
Airlines with routing via San Juan.
Then two weeks later the pilots at American Airlines began their sick
out. I kept checking the AA website and everyday one of my scheduled
flights was being cancelled. Of course I would not have minded getting
stranded on Aruba all that much, but the flights going south bound were
being effected as well. It wasnt until 2 days before departure that
the actions of a Texas judge brought the pilots back to work and
American back on a regular schedule.
About a week before scheduled departure, my client asks me if I could be
in Illinois the Tuesday morning after the contest for an important
meeting. Oops. I reminded her of my previously announced vacation
plans. She then kept telling me it didnt matter, vacation time is
sacred, blah blah blah, but I knew she wasnt happy. I discussed this
with my firms Executive Vice President. After a little serious
negotiating, I managed to have them commit to paying for the entire
plane ticket as a reward for canceling part of my vacation and the
inconvenience of traveling directly back from Aruba to the job site in
Illinois. Getting my vacation plans out front earlier in the month was
now paying huge dividends; essentially I now had a nearly FREE
dxpedition to my favorite island.
But to get back in time would require flying directly to Chicago without
a return home (to NJ). The only routing available when I booked was
Aruba/San Juan/Philadelphia/Chicago. An eleven-hour return trip. It
was booked figuring this wasnt much of a sacrifice given circumstances.
Departure day, Thursday, February 18th finally rolls around. My plane
is scheduled to leave at 4 p.m. from Newark, NJ. I returned home from
Illinois the night before, packed the Alpha 87A and enough clothes for a
week, and proceeded to go to work Thursday morning for several hours.
Arrived at Newark Airport in plenty of time to lug the bags carrying the
Alpha to American for check-in. Little did I know the fun (to be read
aggravation) was about to begin.
Sitting at the gate waiting for boarding to begin, I noticed the pilot,
co-pilot, and then the stewardesses exiting the plane. Then the plane
was moved away from the gate. Bells began to go off in my head; this
was NOT a good sign. I approached the ticket counter to inquire and
they told me the plane had a mechanical problem and would not be flying
to San Juan. Another plane would be available in about an hour but
there was no way I would make the late San Juan connection to Aruba that
evening. They refused to hold the flight in San Juan. Searching the
computer for alternative routing was futile; there were no other flights
to Aruba available until the next morning. The best I could do was fly
to Miami and catch the first flight to Aruba from there. Total bummer!
Not having much choice I had them book me to Miami on a United Airlines
flight that left in about 3 hours. They then had to retrieve my bags
from the plane and I had to lug them over to United for check-in. More
hassle, and my anticipated Friday beach time was no longer part of the
As luck would have it departure of the United flight to Miami was
delayed 45 minutes due to fueling problems. I finally reached the soil
of southern Florida at 11:15 p.m. Thursday night and then had to hunt
down an American Airlines agent to collect a hotel voucher. That done
it was another 40 minute wait for the Hotel Van to appear. Finally got
to my room around 12:30 a.m. Nothing like getting plenty of rest before
a contest. NOT!
The AA flight to Aruba the next morning went off on time and arrived on
Aruba at 2:35 p.m. local (the contest starts at 8 p.m. local time).
Jacob, P43P, met me at immigration to let me know he had an important
last minute business meeting to attend and that I should just wait for
him outside the terminal. The minutes tick by, the start of the contest
looms closer and closer, and no Jacob. Finally, about 4 p.m. he
appears. After a quick trip to the supermarket in town, we arrive at
his home on the north side of the island just before 5 p.m. Prior plans
for putting up a north beverage were shelved. It was much more
important that we get the Alpha 87A on line and I become well acquainted
with his stations antenna switching, accessories, and the FT1000MP, a
radio I had ever used before. Fortunately the Alpha 87A withstood all
the abuse the many luggage jockeys had thrown its way and fired right
up. That left playing with the station and getting things setup so I
felt comfortable. There would be no pre-contest nap on this trip.
Jacob has built a fabulous station over the past 10 months. The site
provides an ocean view from northeast through west. Next to the house
stands a 65-foot Rohn 45G tower upon which is mounted, from top to
Force 12 15/10 meter duobander, 5 elements on each band
Force 12 80M Rotatable Dipole
Force 12 40/20 meter duobander, 2 elements on 40 and 5 elements on 20
160 Meter Inverted V
C4XL 40 through 10 meter multiband antenna side-mounted at about 35
There is also a Cushcraft 4 element 15 meter beam on a separate 30 pole
and beverages strung among the cactus toward the US, Europe, and Africa.
Inside the shack, a large isolated air conditioned room on the second
floor of the house (for me this was really living compared to my
bunker shack three miles away that is naturally air conditioned), is
a large operating position table. All of the transmitting antennas are
automatically switched using a Top Ten switching unit. Several antennas
can be fed simultaneously with a WX0B power divider. Finally there are
separate beverage preamps for 40, 80 and 160 as well as a front end
saver device to protect his receiver.
Id never used an FT1000MP before (two 15+ year old TS930s still serve
me well) so it was a bit of culture shock with all the knobs and
buttons. Some of the controls, most notably the drive and break-in
controls seem poorly located. But after about 45 minutes I had mastered
all the essential items. Actually, the receiver with DSP enabled was
pretty hot, good selectivity and great audio. I used the 500 cycle
filters about 95 percent of the time, and the 2.0 kHz filters during
some slow periods.
Started the contest on 20 with a bang, 223 contacts in the first hour
and 657 in just over 3 hours before moving down to 160, 80 and then to
40. During the first trip to 160 at about 0310 Z I discovered the
beverage system was no longer working. Evidently something had failed
in the front-end saver device which wasnt allowing signals to get
through. I could bang the device and it would be good for one
transmission before going silent again. So for the rest of the weekend
I was forced to do without the beverages. Fortunately Saturday night
was exceptionally quiet and listening on the transmit antennas was not a
By the end of the sixth hour, 1184 contacts were in the log, a very cool
196 per hour rate. I was having visions of keeping up the pace and
going for the current SOAB HP record of around 6,300 QSOs set by
N5TJ at VP5V back in 1993. But conditions would soon take a significant
turn for the worst for those of us south of the border.
For the remainder of the night and early morning I continued the normal
pattern of moving between 40, 160 and 80. The rate naturally drops as
operators take their sleep break after EU sunrise and before local
sunrise. Complicating things was bad low band QRN, which made pulling
signals out on 160 and to some degree on 80 a difficult exercise.
It was during the early morning hours that I noticed the SWR creeping
upon on the highest 2 element 40 yagi. Eventually it would exceed the
limits of tolerance for the Alpha 87A and I had to switch to the lower
40 meter beam. Then it happened again, the SWR starting upward with
almost the exact same results. Only lowering the power level to about
500 watts kept me alive on 40 meters. Evidently it had not rained for
two weeks prior to the contest, and salt residue had built up on the
antennas, causing arching across the insulators (this creates quite a
light show for the neighbors). Fortunately we were able to repair the
lower beam sufficiently late Saturday afternoon to again have full power
capability during the remainder of the event.
Once the sun came up Saturday morning, I started the 20, 15 and 10 meter
operating cycle. All three bands quickly opened to the states but I
could immediately tell, hearing very loud signals from Europe on all
three bands, that the morning hours were going to be very tough. It is
so hard to get the attention of stateside ops when competing against
loud EU signals, especially being in the absolute null of most yagis
when beaming in that direction. Im sure I surprised many of the big
guns when I called them while in S&P mode on 15 and 10 early Saturday
morning. This produced a better rate than I had been generating while
CQing. After about four hours in a markedly slow 110 to 125 per hour
rate range the pace quickened into the 170s again as the Europeans
faded and conditions favoring S.A. took over on 10 meters.
I probably overplayed the 10 meter run by about an hour. The best back
to back hours of the contest were 2000 through 2200 Z, with consecutive
240 and 202 hours on 15 meters. Thats what I call being in the zone.
Ultimately closed out the first full day on 15, but the rate was once
again beginning to nosedive as an excellent Asian opening took hold.
With 3,441 contacts in the log after 24 hours, it was clear my hopes of
breaking the record would wait for another year.
My lack of rest before the contest was now really starting to take its
toll. Numerous times I caught myself sleeping while sending. Not sure
if my keying hand goes into autopilot but most times when I came back to
consciousness, what I heard seemed reasonably intelligible (e.g. TEST
P40W). FYI, I still use paddle and keyer for about 65 to 70 percent of
all cw contest operating. I begin to feel disconnected when the contest
becomes mostly a matter of continuously pressing F1 through F5. Sending
by hand provides a way to insert of some personality into the signal
(how many of you remember the swing of W4KFCs fist? Of course with a
keyer it is more inflection through rhythm.) Maybe no one else feels
this way but I get a certain psychological boost being more connected to
the action in this way.
Not having working beverages, it was fortunate the low bands were
extremely quiet Saturday night. A 30-minute stop on 160 at 0300Z
yielded 76 contacts and four new multipliers. Rates overall were in the
120 per hour range for the first six hours of Day 2. But at 0600 my
body was sending serious messages that it needed rest. Jacob has a very
comfortable reclining easy chair in the shack. I made the mistake of
sitting in that chair for a short rest break. Well, you can guess what
happened. Luckily my host came by 4 hours later to remind me why I had
made this difficult journey.
The next 6 hours of operating, through the morning hours, were simply
dismal. The average rate was paltry 50 contacts per hour. No matter
what I tried, it seemed impossible to attract attention. Constant band
changes, varying sending speed and sending style, nothing worked. It
seemed as if an electronic wall had been erected along the southern
border of North America and only signals from Europe or Asia were
allowed to enter. The Europeans were pounding in at 30 over on both 15
and 10 meters. When you have become conditioned to expect triple digit
rates this is absolute torture. My resolve to continue was quickly
waning and thoughts of just going to the beach were entering my head far
too frequently. And probably most importantly Id convinced myself that
the competition (WP3R) was now even and pulling ahead.
The Europeans finally started to weaken about noon local time and the
rates again went up into a more normal 130/hr range. But it seemed
streaky, still far too many unanswered CQs. Throughout the afternoon
Jacob and I had frequent conversations out on the porch, where I took
the opportunity to enjoy some sun and he told me about his plans for a
second tower and the Aruba Amateur Radio Societys plans for the next
IARU contest. I suppose this was a form of capitulation to conditions,
I was just going through the motions. No new multipliers were worked in
the last five hours of the contest, despite making numerous skeds on 80
and 160 for the last hour. At the end, I had 5,178 contacts and 336
mults, well below prior efforts as P40W and far behind my pre-contest
Before taking my hosts to dinner, Jacob and I stopped by 75 meters to
catch some scores. A large group of the Caribbean crowd was on
frequency lamenting how excellent conditions to Europe and Asia had made
the going difficult at times. Rich, KE3Q at WP3R appeared on frequency and
we exchanged scores. Being ready to hear really bad news I was totally
surprised, shocked, and then elated when he made it known he had about
400 fewer QSOs and six less multipliers. It was an instant replay of
the emotions I had experienced two weeks earlier when the W1BB at K2ZM crew
announced their score following the CQ160 CW event, when we learned our
efforts from Sandy Hook had been a success. Upon hearing the numbers
P43P was understandably happy that his station had likely been piloted
to top dog status in both the CQWW and ARRL DX CW contests. I was
simply emotionally spent. Never say never. A lesson learned once
Upon our return from dinner everything was packed since I had to be up
at 6 a.m. the next morning for an 8:05 a.m. departure to San Juan.
There was reason to believe my plane reservations were screwed up in the
American Airlines computer system. While operating Saturday Jacob
worked some magic with American by getting me switched to the direct
flight from San Juan to Chicago, instead of my previously scheduled San
Juan/Philadelphia/Chicago routing. That saved three hours of travel
time and tons of aggravation.
Reflecting later about my 64-hour Aruba adventure, I was particularly
struck by the contrast of experiencing, in a single day, a South
American sunrise with light breezes and 75 degree temperatures and a
Chicagoland sunset where the temperature was hovering in the mid-20s.
Despite all the detours and difficulties along the way, it all turned
out to be a great experience.
I want to especially thank P43P and his family for their hospitality.
This will be a weekend not soon forgotten. Thanks Jacob.
P.s. Look for P40W in March during the WPX SSB contest, SOAB HP. QSL
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