DX pedition to Barbados February 13-23, 2012
Title: Four Amigos -1
Sometime in late spring 2011 Jack Layton W9UK, Larry Comden K3VX, Carl Schroeder K9CS and Bill Hill W3WH agreed to go on another expedition. We initially thought to go back to Montserrat and Gingerbread Hill where we previously had successful efforts but after hearing about Barbados from Peter 8P9NX we changed our minds and decided to set up at Surfsong on the Southeast Atlantic Coast outside of Bridgetown Barbados . The attraction to this location was the fact that we had not been there before and Bernie W3UR the DX columnist for QST recommended it. Also the fact that the location had antennas already available had a huge influence on our decision since previous experience had taught us that hauling coax, wire and aluminum sections etc. was not a pleasant or easy experience.
Along the way we talked via Skype with Amy Beam the owner of Surfsong while she was running a business she owns arranging tours of Mount Ararat inTurkey. She lives in Turkey about seven months each year and the balance of the time in Barbados.We finally settled on visiting Barbados for the 2012 ARRL CW DX contest. After some research we found out that the best way for us to reach Barbados was via Kennedy Airport in New York using JetBlue as our carrier. Delta Airlines had an early flight out of Pittsburgh that would get us in there in ample time to make our flight to Barbados which left at 1015 in the morning. We proceeded to make reservations and preliminary plans.
Along the way JetBlue changed our departing time two hours earlier than we originally agreed to which dictated that we would have to arrive in New York the day before our departure and on the way back stay over in New York since our flight would arrive too late to make the last plane to Pittsburgh. Oh well what's another $300 when you're spending this much money.
Sometime late in the fall Jack W9UK became very ill with Double Pneumonia and after a couple of months in the hospital realized that he would not be able to make the trip with us. Bummer!!. We searched but didn't find anyone to replace Jack not that anyone could. Finally we agreed that instead of four amigos we would make the trip with three.
February 13 arrived bright and sunny. We met Carl K9CS and the Pittsburgh airport and the three of us traveled on to Kennedy Airport in New York City and spent the night at a Local Holiday Inn Express. The following morning, being much smarter than we were the night before, we boarded our Jet Blue flight which was very comfortable to Bridgetown and arrived about one in the afternoon Atlantic Standard Time. We deplaned into mid 80s and sunny weather and all was right with the world.
We processed through immigration and arrived at customs. This is where everything went to H___. After checking our bags the customs officials informed us that they would like us to pay a 50% duty on the value of our radio equipment. This amounted to about $3000 and after about an hour of back-and-forth discussion we told the customs officials that if they insisted on this duty, which we were not aware of prior to arriving in Barbados , we were going home. The discussions went through several levels of management and finally the situation was resolved and we were allowed into the country where there are equipment without paying any duty.
We then picked up our rental car and after signing numerous documents departed the airport on the way to SURFSONG. On the way to our Barbados home we discovered that in addition to driving on the left side of the road the locals like to speed and take their half out of the middle. Also the people walk in the road and ride bicycles on the very narrow roads. In addition to not really knowing where we were going this made driving pretty much of a nightmare. We finally arrived at our QTH after calling Amy Beam, our landlady, to help us find our way for the last mile or so. Our home for the next week was a ranch home set in the middle of a asphalt yard( no grass) all surrounded by a cinderblock wall. After receiving our orientation from Amy it was obvious that we were disappointed in our accommodations. However we were there and we intended to be successful.
We then left are new QTH and went back to the local grocery store to buy necessities and stopped at the Barbados answer for McDonald's and Kentucky fried chicken called Chefette for dinner. Suffice to say that McDonald's and KFC are better. Later that evening we set up one station and measured SWR of the three antennas. The Yagi had a reasonable SWR on the SSB end of the band and the other antennas had an acceptable SWR when using a tuner. That pretty much ended the first day because we were very tired
The next morning we checked out the antennas and discovered a nightmare. None of the antennas had any weatherproofing and the 160 vertical needed to have the elevated radials reattached. The Coax connections were very corroded and frankly did not function as they should. At this point we all became worried that we chose the wrong place for our DX holiday.
We called our landlord Amy and asked her to get in touch with Peter 8P9NX who installed the antennas to give us some assistance since we didn't come prepared to repair antennas and replace PL 259's etc. etc. If the antenna problems weren't enough our Internet service went from erratic to nonexistent we spent most of the next day working on the Internet and antennas trying to make both work. The high point of Thursday was a visit from Iain 8P6 UK . He is a Brit who has worked his entire career for Cable and Wireless company in various posts throughout the world his latest being here in Barbados . Iain spent several hours with us during the evening during which Larry, Carl and I said about 10 words total among us and Ian did the rest of the talking which was really very very interesting.
The next morning is Friday the day the contest begins in the evening. Peter 8P9NX and a helper arrived to work on the antennas.. They climbed to the roof and immediately checked the connection between the pigtail and the transmission line to the beam and poured water out of the barrel connector.. Hmm do you think there's a problem here? Obviously there was a problem and Peter did his best to correct it in addition to trying to dry out things he tried to retune the beam for the CW end of the band etc. While Peter was doing these things we did our best to improve the connections for the 43 foot vertical and the 160 m vertical. At the end of the day they all worked reasonably well. The beam did not work well on 20 m which was probably somewhat caused by not being high enough(about 20 feet). The 43 foot vertical and the 160 m vertical worked acceptably well but certainly not as well as we would have liked being 150 feet away from the Atlantic Ocean .
Carl was able to contact his local middle school in Illinois and give them a contact in the ARRL School Club Roundup and during the way Larry and I got to chat with some of our friends back in the Burgh. Finally the contest began and although we obviously didn't have a commanding signal, at the end of the day we ended up with 2711 contacts and essentially a successful contest thing experience.It's always fun to be on the DX end of the pileup and it's experience that is like no other in ham radio and hopefully will be enjoyed by most at some time during their ham radio careers.
160 m was only moderately successful. We had hoped to come close to duplicating the fun we had in Montserrat in 2006 on 160 m. When when we announced our call the din that was so pervasive that we couldn't copy anyone's call. That didn't happen although we work quite a few stations on 160.
On Monday we enjoyed one of the highlights of our trip. We visited with Ron8P6 BX. He is a blanket QRP devotee extraordinaire. He runs with mostly homebrew equipment a maximum of 4 W but his standard power setting is 600 mW. He has a beautiful home overlooking the water was a very interesting antenna farm including a Mosley three element beam and 80/40 m loop and a 17 m vertical Moxon. His workshop and station is a sight to behold. Ron is the epitome of the homebrewer and has equipment for all HF bands that has been homebrewed. He and his XYL Mary hosted us for lunch during a delightful three-hour visit.
Our visit to Barbados was certainly not ideal but we met wonderful people had wonderful fellowship with each other and decent results in the contest. Would we wish for a better time? Certainly yes but we're all glad we went and had the experience together. Without question though the biggest disappointment we had was that W9UK was unable to join us. In addition to his friendship and wit this very little question that he could've helped our antenna situation and being the super operator that he is our QSO total would have been better. Jack get healthy so you can join us next time.
Bill W3WH , Carl K9CS, Larry K3VX