I hope that some of you were able to work us on our recent Holiday Dxpedition to Anguilla (VP2EAQ/VP2EAR). As always, we had a GREAT time, with our usual combination of radio activity, tennis, local cuisine, and plenty of personal relaxation and fun.
Photos can be seen at:
As we have learned over our numerous trips from the West Coast to the Caribbean, it’s much easier to spend the night somewhere on the East Coast than to take the “red-eye” and make connections at the crack of dawn with almost no sleep. This time we connected in Washington DC. Traveling with both a big suitcase (we pack one large bag that holds all of our clothing, personal stuff, and the Deluxe Buddipole kit) and the DXpedition-in-a-Box (our rollaround Pelican case with all of the radio gear) is always a challenge, especially when you add in our smaller carry-ons (which have the usual things, plus the laptop/logging computer).
As long as we are connecting domestically, we try to check our bags through to the final destination so that we don’t have to lug that stuff around. (It’s around 45 kg total.) Unfortunately, most airlines won’t let you do that if there is a lot of time between your arrival and departure flights. With the overnight stay, it was 13 hours between flights, and United said we had to pick up our bags in DC. So it was sort of “good new, bad news” that neither of our bags made it to DC when we did. The bad news was that our bags were missing. The good news was that we didn’t have to schlep them to our hotel. We got a call later that evening that our bags had arrived on a later flight. (More good news.) Then they said that they would tag them to our final destination (St. Maarten) and we didn’t even have to claim them in DC. (Even better news.)
Unfortunately, when we arrived in St. Maarten, only the suitcase arrived. The radio gear was AWOL. We have (sort of) gotten used to this. The Pelican case makes it obvious that this is a box of gear rather than clothing, and our beloved TSA always takes a special interest. Apparently, they pulled the bag aside for special inspection in DC, and it didn’t make it onto our St. Maarten flight. We filed the standard “missing bag” claim, and continued on to our *real* final destination, Anguilla. When the radio did arrive the next day, they were able to put it on the ferryboat to Anguilla without us having to go back to St. Maarten to claim it (whew!). Upon inspection, it was apparent that they had taken a bunch of stuff out and put it back, not necessarily in the same place they took it from. They also left their standard note-card, saying that they were had inspected this bag to protect the world from international terrorists posing as ham radio operators, and if there was any damage to the equipment, you could… well, you couldn’t do anything really. Fortunately, everything was still there, and it all worked. It just meant that our “Holiday DXpedition” was all-holiday for the first day. Life could be worse.
Anguilla is a very small island, about 25 km long and 5 km wide, sitting just a few km north of St. Maarten. Instead of taking the ferry, we took an island-hopper flight that lasted a grand total of 7 minutes from pushback to parking. The flight never got higher than 1000 feet altitude. We have been to Anguilla twice now, and we know our way around pretty well. So there was no problem finding our rented villa. As always, Anna did a superb job finding accommodations. This was a big, airy house, directly adjacent to the ocean with a view of St. Maarten from the “shack.” The Buddipole was set up on the pool patio, and the shack was a table in the living room. I only needed about 40’ of coaxial cable, including the run up to the top of the mast, so losses were quite low.
As usual, we operated 40-10m, CW/SSB/RTTY, using an Icom IC-7000 and a Deluxe Buddipole Kit. I generally use two 22” arms, and the long whips in an “L-vertical” configuration. It needs no coil on 15/12/10m, just a turn or so on 17m, and more on 20, 30, and 40m. The SWR is below 1.5:1 on all bands, with no tuner and no TRSB. Sometimes my home-determined settings will vary depending on the local terrain, but this time everything was “spot on”. We had absolutely no radio or antenna problems on Anguilla.
I normally use the tripod with the Deluxe kit, but the pool patio had a couple of umbrellas that were mounted in those bases that are incredibly heavy steel weights welded to a piece of open pipe into which you drop the umbrella pole. Well, I took out one of the umbrellas and put the Buddipole mast in the pipe, and it was not going anywhere. I still guyed it, just to keep the antenna from flapping around in the wind, but I wasn’t at all worried about anything coming down. By the way, this was the first time that I used the Guying Kit, and it worked very well. It makes it really easy to attach and “snug-up” the guy lines without having to know how to make adjustable knots and such. (I was never a Boy Scout.)
The weather was fine, with the usual short rain showers, but pleasant temperatures for the entire time; daily highs were consistently in the low-mid 80s F. Our usual schedule was to have breakfast at the villa, and operate for a few hours in the morning (typical EU openings on 10/12/15m). Then we would either play tennis or go to one of the numerous perfect sandy beaches, have lunch on the beach, and head back to the villa and operate through the late afternoon and evening, usually on 15/17/20m. Then head out for dinner, followed by some 30/40m operation in the late evening.
Just before we left, I discovered that there was going to be another, more serious group of DXpeditioners on the island at exactly the same time. Masa K1GI and two of his JA friends were setting up on the other end of the island, with three stations, amplifiers, Yagis, and such. I was worried that with all of that Anguilla activity, there wouldn’t be much demand for QSOs with my measly 100W and modest antenna. I shouldn’t have worried; there was LOTS of activity for all of us.
This was the first time that we have operated a Holiday DXpedition during a major contest. The CQ WW DX CW contest was held over the weekend while we were there, and I decided to jump in, although in a somewhat “casual” manner. That is, I didn’t plan to break any records, and I didn’t try to maximize my butt-in-chair time, particularly in a 48 hour contest. We still had our breakfasts, lunch on the beach, and dinners out, but I did manage to put in about 24 hours of solid CW operating over the weekend. Also, I discovered that the “other” DXpedition was putting in only a part-time, single-band (10m) effort. That left me as the ONLY Anguillan station on 40-15m; in this contest, DXCC entities (like Anguilla) are multipliers, and they count on a per-band basis. So if anyone wanted to get the VP2E mult on 40/20/15m, I was the only game in town. The results were spectacular.
While I was only running 100W and a Buddipole, the great location (our villa was directly adjacent to the water, with a clear shot to US, EU and AF) and the Anguillan callsign made everything work. Signals from everywhere were LOUD, but I was surprised that I was able to find and hold a run frequency fairly easily. (I think my “posse”, i.e., the ton of folks calling me, dissuaded folks from coming near, more than my own signal.) I mostly ran, although I did have the cluster available. It was especially useful to see my S/N numbers from the skimmer spots, so I could get an idea of how loud I was, and where.
Unlike most “serious” entrants, I was NOT trying to maximize my score; I was trying to maximize my FUN. It’s great fun to run a massive pileup, even if I’m not maximizing my mult production, or moving to the “right” band at the right time. That said, some pretty exotic stuff came to me, without having to try to break *their* pileups. I got calls from Mauritius (3B8MU), the Maldives (8Q7DV), Oman (A45XR), Uganda, the Marianas, South Cook, Botswana, and a zillion others.
Best hour was on 15m CW Saturday afternoon, when I had 194 Qs. That’s one QSO every 18 *seconds*, for a solid hour. That’s probably my best hour in any contest, ever. The short-term rate meter (last 10 Qs) was regularly peaking up in the 320-340 QSOs/hour range. The limit on rate was my ability to pull callsigns out of the pile. I didn’t call CQ for the entire run. And while I often complain about DX stations that never send their callsign during a run, I can see how easy it is to slip into that habit. I was pretty diligent about sending my call every third Q, but with a MASSIVE pileup waiting, I would relax that out to 4 or 5 a few times, and occasionally got a “UR CL?” in response. It’s tempting to keep it short and watch the rate meter go up and up, but you ultimately lose some Qs and make some folks angry as a result.
I missed the Icom 7600 that I normally use for contesting from home. While the Icom 7000 is a great portable radio, the receiver simply can’t handle the intermod when there are so many strong signals in the passband. Add to that that “going split” is impractical in a contest, and it was a great test of my ears. I found that it was actually *easier* to open up the IF to 400-500 Hz and let my ears do the filtering, rather than trying to keep it narrow. Narrow filtering (150-200 Hz) on the 7000 produces some annoying artifacts (filter ringing) that made it harder to copy. Also, folks would be calling +/- 100 Hz or more, and with the very narrow filter I wouldn’t hear them unless I tuned around with the RIT. I also wish I had the 7600’s audio passband filters.
There are plusses and minuses to using a vertical antenna. (I know, I know, a vertical works equally poorly in all directions.) The big minus is a lack of gain, but I made up for that with a great callsign and location. The plus side is that I didn’t have to turn the antenna around to pick up folks when the band was simultaneously open to everywhere in the world. I did notice that at times, particularly with JAs, I would hear them on the short-path and long-path simultaneously. It produces an eerie, hollow echo due to the differential time delay. (I confirmed this while operating outside of the contest. I saw cluster spots from JAs indicating that they were calling me on the LP, and I got that same spooky sound, not at all like listening on the LP with a directional antenna.)
For the contest alone, I logged 2007 QSOs, and a total score of just over 1.75 million points. And then outside of the contest, Anna and I logged another 2500+ QSOs during our stay, focusing on the WARC bands and SSB/RTTY, since we gave out enough Qs on 40-10m CW during the contest. So:
Total QSOs: 4,556 in 8 days of operation
10 meters: 21%, 12 meters: 6%, 15 meters: 27%, 17 meters: 10%, 20 meters: 17%, 30 meters: 3%, 40 meters: 17%
Ordinarily, we don’t seem to do very well on 40m on our trips. This time was different. First, the antenna was just “behaving” better on 40m. A coil-loaded antenna like the Buddipole is touchier on the low bands, where there is more inductance needed to achieve resonance. I have found that, if there is any deviation from my “cheat sheet” settings, it’s on 40m. Conditions were also better. in the past, we usually travelled to the Caribbean in May; this time it was November/December. Those months are just better on the low bands, with longer nights. I did well on the contest on 40 CW, and Anna had some great 40 meter runs during the week on SSB.
I did get some requests for 80 meter operation (lots of folks need Anguilla on 80 and/or 160), but I simply don’t try to operate there with a coil-loaded antenna. The efficiency is just so low that it would be a struggle under even good conditions. Remember, the goal is to maximize FUN.
Once again, we used the “N1MM Clublog Gateway” application. With this application running, and a working Internet connection, QSOs would be uploaded to Clublog in real-time. That is, within a second or so of hitting the “Log it” key in N1MM, the QSO would show up in the publicly-accessible Clublog database. We include a Clublog lookup widget on our QRZ page, so people could instantly check whether they made it into the log. This worked extremely well, and reduced the number of “dupes” (people calling us again because they weren’t sure if they were in the log).
One of the reasons why we like Anguilla is that they have the BEST food in the Caribbean. We had Thanksgiving dinner at one of our favorite places. They did offer a traditional turkey-and-trimmings dinner, but who needs to go to the Caribbean for that? We had a Calamari risotto (Yum!), followed by grilled crayfish (an Anguillan specialty) and a lobster-in-puff-pastry masterpiece. (See photos #10 and #11.) I won’t go through all of the fine meals we enjoyed, but we did have one particularly fun night at this funky beach shack called Dad’s. It looked like a nothing-special place: perhaps a dozen tables total in a ramshackle hut, with a small bar. Our table was (literally) on the beach sand. But their chef was spectacular! Great presentation (far beyond what one would expect from the looks of this place) and great dishes. Plus, around 8 pm they had live reggae music, and the place was rockin’! I’m not normally a reggae kind of guy, but this was still a fun night.
On the trip home, we knew that we had a very tight connection (1 1/2 hours, with an international arrival and domestic departure) in Newark. We were less worried about the bags (if they didn’t arrive, it wouldn’t spoil our trip, as we were going home), but we have encountered some enormous delays in immigration and customs, particularly in Miami. In fact, we made sure NOT to go through Miami this time, for that very reason. Well, our flight actually departed and arrived EARLY, by about 45 minutes. However, when we got to Newark early, they didn’t have a gate for us. (Doesn’t that really annoy you?) So we sat on the ground, eating up all of that extra connection time that we thought we had.
We needn’t have worried. Our bags arrived, we flew through immigration and customs in minutes, and had lots of time before our next flight. Then came the bad news. Our departing flight was delayed by about 2 hours, in part to a weather hold from our destination (San Francisco), and in part to a mechanical problem with the plane. They switched aircraft, and we left two hours late. But it got worse. Turns out that we were flying into 300 kph headwinds! With the resultant slowdown, and the really bad weather at SFO, we had to make an unscheduled stop for fuel in Denver. So instead of arriving at SFO at 11 pm, we got in around 2:30 am. By the time we got our bags (which did arrive), retrieved my truck from the parking lot, and drove home. We didn’t get to bed until almost 5 am. That was about 26 hours after we got up the day before in Anguilla. A long day.
Finally, I have to tell you that at one point, I wanted to make a band change on the Buddipole, and it was raining really heavily outside. (It often rains in the Caribbean, but it rarely lasts for long.) I could have waited it out for 15-20 minutes, but I really wanted to get on 17 meters. I didn’t want my clothes to get completely soaked, so I went out butt-naked, with just a towel over my head so the rain didn’t get into my eyes. The picture is posted at the link given earlier (#14); don’t worry, it’s only R-rated!
Our next trip is scheduled for May 2015, to operate the CQ WPX CW contest from Grenada. I hope to work many of you from there.
If anyone has any specific questions about our operation, please feel free to contact me directly, off-list.
73 de Rich VP2EAQ (KE1B)