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Compared to last years holiday at VP5JM's rental place this years would be our first self supporting dx-pedition, this meant we had to take everything our selves. Because we were with 4 people and each could take 23KG of luggage, it wasn't really easy to get all equipment with us. The equipment we took with us was: 2 PCs Yaesu FT-990, 2 PCs Cushcraft R7000+ verticals, 300 meters copper wire for dipoles, beverages L's and other antennas, 2 PCs portable computers, 2 PCs decoders for RTTY (P38 and PTC) and 100 meter coax.
The main island we wanted to visit was Dominica (J7) because we had the idea that many dx'ers needed J7 on the low bands and warc bands. Also none of us could remember any dx-pedition who has done some rtty activity from J7. Soon it was decided to do the CQWW RTTY from Dominica instead of from Guadeloupe or Martinique. It was not possible to fly to Dominica directly from Europe so we first had to go to Guadeloupe (FG) via Paris. After a 6 days stay on Guadeloupe we travelled by boat to Dominica. We stayed 12 days on Dominica and then went on Martinique (FM) by boat again and stayed there for 5 days before we flew back to home again.
Our goal this holiday was to activate mostly the warc bands for all continents and the low bands to Europe, and also do some rtty. Remember that most of the Caribbean islands are only activated in big cw or ssb contests, so the warc bands are always interesting where ever you go as long there are no active local hams on the island. I can ensure you that there are plenty left to activate. The key to success is that you have to be all round in all modes and bands, then you always can make somebody happy.
He is our story:
On Friday 13th (oops!) September we left by plane from Amsterdam to Paris. At arrival in Paris we had our first problem, the cover of one of the tubes in which we packed our R7000's was damaged and the antenna could fall out if we didn't take any action. Luckily nothing was missing or broken. We temporary repaired the tube by surrounding it with plastic bags and lots of tape. The tubes were ready again for the next transport step, the flight to Guadeloupe.
At arrival in Pointe-a-Pitre, the capital city of Guadeloupe we took a taxi to our apartment in Saint Francois which is located at the North East side of the island. We knew in advance that we had to hurry to be ready for the beginning of the WAE contest, we had only 4 hours to install the antennas and other equipment from the moment we landed. For this contest we arranged a special call sign TO5C in advance. Our intention was to put the verticals in the garden next to the apartment we had rented. The hostel warned us that is wasn't a good idea to leave any unguarded equipment in the apartment. Also In the evening a large group of local citizen were driving there big scooters we didn't though it was a bright idea to put the antenna's there. We had the impression that the antennas would last mabe one hour before somebody damaged the verticals. Instead of in the garden be tried the first floor on a metal roof. After trying several different antenna positions we were ready for the contest, we were not very happy with the antenna situation but we had to go on. The signals were very strong from Europe on 40 meters. 80 meters was not functioning because of the nearby roof. After a short dinner we started the contest. We decided to call some loud stations on 40 meters to see how the antenna's are functioning. This soon became frustrating, nobody heard us. After 1 hour we only had worked 3 stations. Disappointed we went to bed and would try it next morning again on 20 meters. The result was nearly the same, Europeans were very strong but they didn't hear us at all. We moved the antennas again and hoped we had more success but the result was the same, nobody heard us. During the contest we worked only 28 stations (3 on 40 meters and 25 on 20 meters). We noticed that we were able to work stations in CW so we aborted the WAE contest and continued in CW. Peter PA3BBP and Rob PA3ERC are typical CW operators and Ronald PA3EWP and Dick PA3FQA typical phone operators. With normal propagation this would be the ideal combination. Due to bad propagation Dick and Ronald were forced to work CW as well because they hardly got any response in SSB. You can imagine how difficult it must have been to run a CW pile-up without a lot of experience. After 5 days of poor propagation and a bad antenna situation we made in total nearly 1.800 qso's. We were not satisfied but we hoped for better times on J7. The food and beer tasted fine and the sun was shining. So at least we started to look like the normal visitor of the carribean: rested and with a little tint.
On September 18th we left Guadeloupe and went by boat to Roseau the capital of Dominica. That day there had been a volcanic eruption on Monteserat and everything was covered by ash. We were warned by previous HAM visitors of Dominica that you couldn't get a license in advance and you have to arrange that locally at arrival in Rouseau . We expected that we had to leave all transceivers at the Dominican customs at arrival until a valid license could be presented to customs. When we arrived at Dominica we were the last to be checked out by customs, everybody had to open everything and we were very lucky because they only looked in one of the tubes and let us through. We went straight to the Ministry of Communications to get our licenses. We choose for a local call signs instead of guest-licenses. After arranging all the papers there was one problem, the Minister had to sign the licenses personally and he was not in. Rouseau is located in the South West part of the island and Calibishie (our destination) at the North East part of the island. The people at the Ministry couldn't guarantee us that the Minister would be back in time that afternoon, so we were forced to leave without license, we stayed in Rouseau and would check later in the afternoon if the Minister was back again. So we went for a little site-seeing in the southern part of the Island. When we came back at the Ministry the Minister just arrived and signed our licenses. Soon we left the building and went on our way to Calibishie with our licenses J79BP, J79RC, J79WP, J79QA and J77C in our pocket.
It was an 2 hour drive to the North East part of the island were we rented a house. From this part we had a clear view to Europe and North-America. When we arrived at the house it was allready dark so we decided to build the station the next morning. It was to dark to see the situation at the house and we wanted to install all antennas before starting the J7 operation.
Next morning at 06.00 o'clock we were awake and started building the antennas around the house. There was plenty of space to build antennas for all bands. We have erected the R7000+ verticals (10-80m), inverted L for 80 meters, inverted L for 160 meters and a dipole for 17 meters. Both inverted L's had a vertical part of approx. 10 meters, the coconut trees were simply not higher.
After testing the antennas and equipment we came to the conclusion that the higher bands 10, 12 and 15 meters couldn't be combined due to the interference of the other station. We had ICE bandpass filters for 160,80,40 and 20 meters. We had ordered filters for 12,17,30 and replacements for 10 and 15 as these were burned out during a contest. Unfortunately those filters arrived at the home address two days after departure.
When we came on the air we noticed that the propagation was still very poor, but we were getting our first little pile-ups. The first night Rob (J79RC) was on 160 meters around the greyline to Europe. He worked a lot of stations from the US and a couple of DL's during the European gray line. We now knew that it was possible to work Europe on the topband from this location using the inverted L. So the next day we put on a beverages for 80 and 160 meters pointed to Europe to improve the receiving part. The beverages was approx. 120 meters long and worked excellent to Europe, unfortunately we didn't have enough wire and place to put a second on for USA/JA. I think that we were very lucky the first night on 160 because all following nights the propagation on 160 hasn't been so good as the first night.
We made a schedule so that 2 operators (cw and ssb) were always active at the same time. The shifts were for approx. 6 hours so the 2 other operators could do some site seeing or get some cases of beer. The first problem came that afternoon. We encountered our first power cut for approx. 20 hours, but we were lucky that the refrigerator was fully filled with beer so we had plenty other things to do. But who likes warm beer ?
During our stay we worked less US stations then expected, the signals from the US were outstanding so it had nothing to do with propagation. J7 had not been activated many times on the warc bands, the pile-ups on 17 and 30 meters proved this. One afternoon we were lucky the band opened to Europe and we were able to work several on 12 and 10 meters with nice signals. But the other days there was no propagation at all on the higher bands. Sometimes the propagation was so poor we could only work cw. We wondered how people could here us, we could hardly hear them assuming that most of them are using more then 100 watts and a beam.
As always the Europeans sometimes created chaos on the frequency, many kept on calling and calling without listening. This mostly happened on the low bands 30 and 40 meters. Instead of not working the station causing the qrm we tried a new approach, work the qrm'ing station so everybody hears you are in qso, then at the end repeat his call and say "and thanks for the qrm, qrz" this really helped! Try it if you are in a rare country. Several times we had to stop the European pile-up and worked only some PA stations and went qsy or qrt. Some people forget that we are doing this for only two reasons, firstly, fun of running pile-ups and secondly, to give the dx community the change of working a new country with guaranteed qsl.
Every day we had a sked with Alex, PA3DMH by telephone. He gave us a lot of feedback with information and requests from internet and the packet network. Especially for this dx-pedition Alex maintained a web page containing news updates. During the dx-pedition the web-site has been visited more than 500 times. Every day it was updated with the latest information from us. We also gave Alex a list of stations worked on 10,12 and 160 meters, so hams on internet could see if they were in the log. There was also a special request from us to the dx community why we never worked USA on 40 meters SSB. We all know the qrm storey of broadcast stations, but if they want to work us they should at least give it a try. Alex send our request via internet and the next day we worked approx. 200 USA stations on 40 meters SSB, so it is possible. For a lot of them we were a new country. The days before and after this night we worked maybe 10 other USA stations. Every night when we worked 40 phone we tried some time split but nobody replied! There were also special requests for RS-12, We tried it 2 times to be active and we managed to work 4 stations in total. Keep in mind that all these special ways of operating cost a lot of time, we can not be very productive if we need both antenna's for satellite or spent a lot of time on rtty to work 15 stations while we could have worked 200 on cw or ssb.
The last weekend on Dominica we participated in the RTTY contest as J77C in the multi-single low power class. The first few hours we worked only a few stations, it was difficult on 40 and 80 meters to work others with only 100 watts and simple antennas. The first day we worked a lot of stations on 10 and 15 meters, but on 20 meters it was terrible, the band was so crowdy that we couldn't get through. The second day we worked specially 20 meters because the propagation on 10 and 15 were poor, so we were lucky that we had some nice openings on 10 and 15 the previous day. We managed to work 717 qso's and we were quit satisfied with this results considering the simple antennas and the 100 watts. After the contest we had a quick dinner before we took down all the antennas, because the other day we had to leave very early to go to Rouseau. From here we continued our trip to Martinique.
In total we worked approx. 10.250 qso's during our 11 days stay on Dominica. We had the feeling that a lot of dxcc-collectors were happy with the new country they worked on several bands/modes.
After a very quick boat trip of approx. 1.5 hours we arrived at Fort de France, the capital of Martinique. After renting a car we were 2 hours later at Robert our destination. The location was perfect at the top of a hill more than 100 meter above sea level with a free look to Europe and the USA. We put the 2 verticals, a dipole for 17 and 40 meter up. There were no high trees or other high points available for an inverted L for 160 meters. We were getting more experienced now, we only needed 2 hours to setup the complete station and are ready to so see how the antenna's worked from this location. We started on 30 meters and we were lucky, also from this location we could run pile-ups. The next day Murphy visited, he gave us our fifth power cut during our Caribbean tour. This time it was for only for 16 hours. But we were not the only one with this problem, the whole Island had no power due to an accident at the power plant. We had nice pile-ups until the last day, the WARC bands were the favourite. 80 meters has been bad every night due to qrn S9, the last night it was perfect approx 450 Europeans were worked on 80, so everybody must have been pleased. We never thought that FM was so needed on all bands. There are a lot of regular FM stations active on nearly all bands and we heard them many times, despite of that we heard very regular 'thanks for the new one'. Ronald FM/PA3EWP made on October 6th at 13.52Z the last qso on 17 meters. During our 6 days stay on Martinique we worked 7.400 qso's much more then expected compared to the 10250 qso's over 11 days on Dominica. After 2 hours of very hard work in a very hot sun we were ready for leaving for the airport, 14 hours later we were back in Holland.
We were all satisfied about the result of this years dx-pedition. Our goal was to work Europe and the lower bands and specially the WARC bands and that is what we have done. For those who are interested in statistics here some numbers:
In total we made 19.400 qso's of which 67% cw, 29% ssb and 4% in rtty.
Divided in continents we worked 63% Europe, 32% North America and 5% rest
We worked only 3 JA stations, on the WARC bands we made 57% of the qso's and on the lower bands 30%. So we think that we can look back on job wel done.
If you like more statistics and more information (pictures), you can always visit our home-page on internet: http://www.muurkrant.com/pi4com/tour1996.html
We hope to contact you again next year from . . . . .
Peter (PA3BBP), Rob (PA3ERC), Ronald (PA3EWP) and Dick (PA3FQA).
Back to the September 1996 Caribbean Tour Website