Travel report St. Lucia

 After 20 years of DXpeditions to Caribbean islands is not much left to go to. So we decided to visit St. Lucia for the first time.
I met Frans, J69DS, by coincidence on 12m/RTTY in February and told him about our plans.

 Later in April I sent him an email and he immediately offered to help me with the license. I downloaded the application form from his website and sent it with all the needed items to his address. His XYL Filita went to the license authorities to arrange all things for me. A big thank you for both of you !!!

 Around this time in May I found an affordable and conveniently situated QTH on the northwest coast of St. Lucia in Gros Islet, Bay Guesthouse.
Bay GuesthouseOn GoogleMaps it seems to fulfill all my wishes for space for my antennas right at the waters edge.
I asked the owner for permission to operate my radio from his property and to erect antennas: he agreed with joy.
The flights with British Airways were booked in an instant. Now we have only to sit and wait. Bay Guesthouse1


 October 23
. Frans informs me, that he got my license today and will send me a copy the next day. Right in time. Less than two weeks before we start our trip.

 October 25. The license copy has arrived. I change my stationary rig to my DXpedition’s rig to check it before we go. All works fine.

 November 1. The HF9VX is cleaned up at the tube connections (you don’t believe how aluminum corrodes within a year).

 November 4. We have packed all things carefully - I don’t want to have the same disaster again, when I had to realize that I forgot the power cord for my switching power supply in Sint Eustatius a few years ago. Now I have an exact check list for equipment, all connecting cables and tools.

 November 5. Our Taxi gets us to Tegel Airport for our flight to London, where we have to stay overnight. The taxi driver is a little surprised about our heavy luggage for a summer holiday (2x23 kg suitcases, 2x 15 kg cabin luggage and my about 10 kg antenna case) but he is too shy to ask for the reason and I don’t see any reason to tell him about our trip.

 November 6. The flight to Saint Lucia starts half an hour later as scheduled. So we arrive on the island at 3:20 pm. After passport and customs control Poly, our from Bay Guesthouse provided taxi driver, picks us up and tells us that he needs about 1 hour 20 minutes from the airport to Gros Islet. I hope that he is fast enough, that we are there before darkness to get my antenna up. Due to heavy traffic in Castries he needs 2 hours instead. It is almost dark when we enter the guesthouse.

IMG_9565small

Our hosts Stephanie and Will

 Stephanie, who owns the guesthouse with her Husband Will welcomes us in a manner that we feel instantly at home.
 Due to the fast sunset I give up to erect my antenna the same day. It is raining and in an instant so dark, that you couldn’t see your own hands right in front of your eyes.

 November 7. I am a bit surprised about the environmental conditions. Google maps shows a rather big area left from the guesthouse.
But this part is missing now. It was taken away from the last hurricanes. Still enough space for my HF9VX but 160m will be a bit complicated due to limited space.
 IMG_9207-1 I erect my antenna and a check with my new RigExpert Antenna Analyser shows good results on all bands (SWR on 20m is a bit high). I don’t have much to ajust and at 14:46 I log the first contact with CO2IR on 17m CW. A few nice pileups on 17m and 12m follow.
Two hours later I log QSO nr 190. The runs are good but condx are not outstanding. Then we are exploring the village Gros Islet.
After our return I run the next pileups.
 Late in the afternoon we join the “Jump Up”, a street party with lots of good food from street vendors. This party starts every Friday in the evening hours.

 We are back for the WAE RTTY Contest. After 6 hours I log QSO nr 300. Not a bad start but signals are going down. So I decide to make the first break. I sleep about 4 hours. It rains cats and dogs the whole night.
 It is hard to get a few QSOs into the log, because the signals are rather weak. After ten QSOs I give up and sleep another 3 hours.
 Then condx are better. But then the disaster. On all upper bands high SWR and big drift from the QRGs. The 15m dip has shifted to 20.390, 12m to 25.510 and 10m to 28.900. And it is still pouring down like Noah’s flood.

 I end the contest with 1195 QSOs. Though conditions weren’t outstanding good during the day I got my best result ever in this WAE contest. But I made more breaks than allowed. I wasn’t on air for at least 20 hours. I had to adjust the antenna several times (never had this problem before) and slept a bit more due to Jetlag.
After the contest I caused another pileup on 40m CW and I mean, that this was one of the biggest pileups I had in the Caribbean the last years.
Signals were not very loud and the noise did the rest but lots and lots of callers - 400 QSOs in about 4 hours.

 November 9. I have an interesting QSO with David, J6/EB7DX, in SSB on 15m. I ask him for his location on the island, so I could visit him and he tells me he is working remote from Spain :o)). He uses Frans’ rig to cause and enjoy pileups...

 November 10. Frans, J69DS, and his XYL Filita visit us at the guesthouse. FIMG_9233-2rans hands over my license, they are “inspecting” my antenna and my working conditions. We make the obligatory photographs, chat for a while about this and that and drink a few beers together. A nice evening.

 November 11. In the early morning hours I run a nice pileup on 30m with good signals from Europe. The first time on the lower bands that I don’t have to “crawl” into my headphones like the other nights on 40m and 80m. This is fun!

 After another RTTY pileup on 12m I join my XYL Erika to the nearby beach and take a first dip (after 4 days!!!)
Now I have 3636 QSOs in my log.

 November 12. I get up at 5:50z (1:50 am local time) and run a nice pileup on 40m, mostly Europe but also a few JA , ZL, VK and of course W.

 In the morning hours I erect the 160mAntennenbau1-small aerial, an Inverted L on a 15m fiber pole, with the help of my XYL. That was quite adventurous!
When it was ready I realised, that the guy rope behind the antenna direction was too steep so that the pole bended too much. I had to go into the water and fix it on a rock in the water (you can see it on the picture right beside my elbow). When I was loosing the rope it slipped through my fingers and the 15 m high fiber pole crashed down. So we had to start the whole procedure again. To get to the rock was not even easy because the rocks under water are very slippery.
Because the rope was a bit thin I got a thicker from our host to fix it. I swam to the rock and tightened it better. On the rock I lost my balance and my glasses went into the sea. A big loss, because it was a new bifocular and not even cheap. It was too dark already so I had to give up the search. Tomorrow we will look for it in daylight.

  I went to 160m and started to call cq. Three US stations made it into my log, then SWR rose up - the guy rope of the horizontal part was broken and the wire layed on the ground. Short repair in a pitch-black night without glasses - heart what else could you want!?!
A few EU stations then but condx are very poor.

 November 13. After the morning pileup we - Will, Erika and I - were watching every square cm of the sea ground for over an hour, where I have lost my glasses - but nothing. There are a lot of Rocks where it could have fallen between, so no chance. We gave up our search. Fortunately I have spare glasses just for my computer work.
A few good pileups during the day, especially on 10m. I log QSO number 4900 at 00:00z with JH1BZJ.

 November 14. The usual start with EU pileups, then I catch two hours sleep, get up at 05:30 local time to run JA pileups on low bands. 80m still no JA QSO. Will try again tomorrow.

We make a walk to Pigeon Island which is just a stonethrow away, visit the old Fort on the mountain top and enjoy the beautiful view over Saint Lucia. Back in the afternoon I run JA pileups on 12 and 15 meters - 10m no luck today.
Later in the evening we join the “Jump up” again. This time a bit longer. The crowd is dancing in the street and the base boxes hammer their sound just near my pain barrier.
Back from this event I make a few 160m contacts with US stations then go to bed.
I get up a little “late” (01:00 local time) to run 160m but the antenna is not working properly and the PA shuts down all the time. I give up and go to 80m with a few QSOs in rather bad condx.

 November 15. After a few pileups on the low bands with JA stations (the first 4 Japanese made it into my 80m log) we visit Castries, the capitol city of Saint Lucia. All Saturdays there is a huge
market, a must for every tourist I was told. So we go there by minibus and stray through the streets. It is very colourful here. Lots of tropical fruits, spices, t-shirts and handicraft.

 November 16. I have again trouble with my antenna. The HF9VX refuses to work on 10m and during pileup in the middle of the night quits its160m-Noiselevel service on 30m too. At least my 160m antenna is working fine now. But what’s the use of it when conditions are so poor that I can’t even hear European stations. Just a few US stations made it into my log. The noise level is extremely high.The picture aside shows the noise level on the S-meter.
I can repair the 30m part of my antenna.

 In the early morning hours I work DL8AKI, DK8YY and DL5ZL as the only EU stations. I can hear a few stations calling but they are too weak to break the noise level - SORRY. I hope for better condx for a few days, because 160m is searched by many stations.

Beachparty mit Frans Short after noon Frans picks us up for a beach party with his family. He has erected a few Buddipoles and the car trunk is used as shack where his IC-706MK2G works well. We make a few QSOs besides all the good food and drinks. It is real nice to be with good friends. We feel like family in an instant. Unfortunately the weather god is not with us. Three times it is pouring cats and dogs - but we have our fun with all the splashing water from the rainfly.

 And it is a good opportunity to celebrate my 68th birthday!

 November 17. I get up at 01:30 to see what’s going on on 160m. All the same, bad noise and poor signals. I go mad when it stays like this all the time. But I can’t beat the physics. It is like it is!
After a while I go to 30m and have a nice pileup until Murphy strikes again. The red SWR diode shines bright and the PA shuts down. All other bands are working fine. I thought I had found the cause of the failure but I have to look for it again. Later this morning when I get up and check 30m it is all fine again - God only knows what happens with 30m. I have cleaned all connections of the 30m coil assambly and put anti oxide compound to them but something is still wrong.
To show our hosts how a pileup has to be handled I go to 12m SSB and in an instant I can’t hear anything, just a big noise from all the voices. From time to time I pick up a callsign or a fragment of it and our hosts are impressed how I could hear anything. I am impressed myself as well :o))
SSB wasn’t, isn’t and probably will never be my favourite mode. I am quickly lost in the pileup. CW and RTTY is more easy to handle for me.

 At 4 pm Frans’ son picks us up for lunch at their home. After a royal, very delicious meal, a few beers and talking about god and the world, Frans brings us home. A very amusing evening!

 I try a few QSOs on 160m, but conditions remain bad, faint signals and big noise are making it hard to copy any station. I switch to 80m and 40m and increase my log to 7132 QSOs.

 November 18. Again just very few QSOs on 160m. I work 4 Russian stations, 4 other Europeans and a few Americans. It takes very long to get them into the log, a lot of queries before I can log a contact. It is really no fun at all. Just the 4 Russian stations were strong enough to log them without asking again. I go to bed at 03:00 local time and get up at 05:30 to look for the Japanese guys.
It is not even easy to get up after just a few “minutes” sleep but I do it for the guys out there.

 November 19. Today we make a catamaran tour to Soufriere with a lot of sightseeing like St. Lucia from the sea, a drive-in-volcano with horrible stinking sulphur springs, the Diamod Waterfall and a cocoa-factory. We sail into the bight of Marigot, a picturesque village, and stop for snorkelling at a “reef”. I am really not fastidious about reefs but it is not hard to find better ones in the Caribbean. Just rocks, a few sponges, no corals and few fish - that’s it ...
 Back in our Guesthouse I work JA’s until 20:30 local time, go out with Erika for a beer and lay down at 22:00h. At 00:00 the alarm clock rings and I get up for another pileup on 160m. Today is the first day with rather good condx to Europe. Quite a good number of European stations make it into my log. But it is still not good enough, very noisy and weak sigs. I hope it increases the next days before we leave. Many guys are waiting for a “new one” on 160m. I do my best but can’t beat the physics.

 November 20. After my 160m Pileup I go to bed at 03:00h to get up at 05:30h for the JA guys. Not much to do this morning, opening is very poor.

 IMG_9547-klein1 We take a minibus to Castries for sightseeing and do some shopping on the market. Local fresh fruits are much better in taste than the fruits we can buy at home. No wonder, they are harvested ripe. We buy a few carambola, grapefruit and avocados. A revelation!
 Back in my shack at 17:00 local time I start the “engine” to fire up for JA - but nothing! Not a single JA station on the high bands, strange condx.
I end the day with QSO number 8792.

 November 21. The day starts with 160m. 48 QSOs in an hour, most of them with US stations but also a few Europeans.
The 160m-antenna is working fine again. But have a lot of problems with the 30m-part of my HF9VX. I disassemble the 30m part, clean every screw and joint and apply copper paste on all parts and reassemble the parts. Another check tells me that all is okay. I work quite a lot of stations on 30m - now without any problem. The antenna works stable.

 The evening is reserved for “Jump up” in the streets of Gros Islet. We eat chicken at a streetIMG_9532-klein booth, drink a few beers and a “Local Spiced Rum”, real hard stuff. The crowd is dancing to the Reggae Music, which is hammering out of giant boxes. The bass makes you feel dizzy. The chest is bumping, you can feel the basslines and the loudness is something for crazy young people and nothing for my sensitive ears. But the people have a lot of fun, dancing and drinking.

 After our return I start another pileup on 160m. Same dilemma like the days before. Noisy and weak signals, just a few US stations coming in with good signal strength, just 12 QSOs, 2 Russian and 1 French station. That’s all, I got to 80m - the same, not too strong signals and lot of noise on the band - 90 QSOs with mostly EU stations. Then I switch to 40m. The pileup is building immeditately. The Europeans are very loud and I manage about 120 QSOs before I go to bed.

 November 22. I start my day with a 12m pileup. After 380 QSOs I log QSO nr. 10.009. The first magic frontier is broken.

 November 23. It is frustrating! To get up at midnight and sit and hear nothing but noise on 160m. I know 160m is for many guys a new one but I can’t help them due to really bad conditions. Okay, a few US stations can make it into my log but most of the Europeans are still waiting.

 Filita and Frans have prepared a nice BBQ and we celebrate it in our garden. Chicken, meat and roti - fingerlicking good! Filita is a master cook.
A few beers too...

 Nothing much to say about conditions. Good pileups on the high bands in the morning hours to Europe and in the evening hours to Japan. On the low bands the same but the other way - late in the evening good openings on the low bands to Europe until their sunrise and in the mornings to Japan. But 160m stays like it is - unstable and noisy.

  November 24-27. No changes in general. We make a few sightseeing tours. Wanted to go to the rainforest, but weather has changed. Every morning grey and rainy. So we stay in our guesthouse and I enjoy playing with my radio. The afternoons are better but always a good chance to get wet.
 My score has increased to 13.578 QSOs.

 November 28. My day starts a bit better, when I got up at midnight I found 160m better than the days before. Not even breathtaking but I managed to get a few EUs into my log. More than on all days before together. But still not good enough to be satisfied. Poor Europeans!
The band is filling with Caribbean call signs. They are preparing for the weekends “rumble”, the CQWW CW.
I slept a bit longer today and woke up at 07:30 local time, too late for JA. They may apologize. But it is always hard to get up after two hours sleep!
And with a chronic sleep deficit the more.

 My XYL Erika and Stephanie promised me to dance for me with a coconut bra and a banana skirt when I’m doing good in the contest. So that gives me another big stimulation to do my best ;o).

 Time is running now. Four weeks seem to be very long - not so in the Caribbean. It seem to reduce to two weeks. But good times are always running. Just six days left.

 Now is the time for dupe QSOs. Over 400 are already in the log. Some guys with 4 or 5 QSOs on the same band. Not that I would have anything against a security QSO but it is frustrating to dig the guys out of the noise and realize that they have already two or more QSOs on the same band. But that’s life.

 We take the minibus to Castries in the early afternoon to buy a few fruits for the weekend. I won’t have time due to the contest. The minibus needs more than three times the time it usually needs for that tour due to heavy traffic and the same back to Gros Islet. So my planned sleeping time before the contest reduces to about three hours. And I feel that the next morning. My eyelids are getting heavier and heavier. I have to make a break. Two hours later I am back on the bands.

 November 29/30. The first day of the contest ends with 2121 QSOs and about 2.150.000 points. I already had better scores but I am happy with it. I have to be aware, that youth is over and the body needs more respect. The mind is willing, but the rest ...Breakdown CQWW
This time 160m is a bit better and I manage 219 QSOs on topband. The breakdown can be seen here:
It is just a little wonder, that I got 854 QSO on 10m into my log, because the HF9VX didn’t “play” well on this band. The SWR was extremely high, the PA didn’t work due to the high SWR and so I got just about 25W out of my TRC. Who knows what of that came back. And I still don’t have the faintest idea, what the source for that problem is. All other bands are working fine.

 Sometimes I feel sorry for the guys outside North America and a bit for me too. They obviously can’t break the “USA wall” and I get only 2 points per QSO for a US station instead of 3, if I work stations outside my own continent. But the US stations are simply too strong and cover the others. And in a contest you can’t say “only JA” or “only EU”. Everybody wants to make the new multiplier and to be the first. So the strong wins.
 During the contest I work J6/K9AW, Gary. He made about 700 QSOs on 20m with just a simple vertical on his car roof. His QTH is just a stonethrow away from ours. He gave me his phone number and the next day I called him. Unfortunately we can’t meet because they make a trip to Martinique for two days. And the third day we fly home.

 December 1. This morning is the first without rain since almost a week. So we decide to make a Rainforest tour to Babonneau. But before we go a nice little pileup is obligatory.
IMG_9714 The Taxi picks us up at 09:20 and after we have stopped at a few other hotels to pick up additional guests, he is heading to the Rainforest reserve. There you have the choice if you want to make the hiking tour or with the tram over the treetops up to the top of the hill. We choose the “lazy” version.
 It is absolutely stunning to see those giant trees and that big variety of plants. Our guide gives us a good overview of the island’s flora and fauna.
 The tour with the cable tram takes about an hour, followed by an easy 20 minutes walk through the rainforest. A complimentary juice can be taken in the nearby restaurant. That all costs 90 $ US per person. Not even a cheap package but the maintenance of the National Park costs probably a bit more.

 The taxi drops us at our guesthouse in the early afternoon. We swim a while in the 26° warm but refreshing water at the beach right beside our guesthouse. Then nothing can hold me from the radio. It is time for Japan. But conditions are not even outstanding - just a few JA guys find the way into my log on the upper bands. My log increases to about 17.000 QSOs so far.
 Because my XYL wants to be entertained we play Domino for a while before we go to bed. Then duty calls again.
 It is almost midnight when I get up to look for a few stations on 160m. Again nothing much to hear but noise. I give up my hope that the condx on that band will change to good the last days.

 December 2. The usual morning procedure. Getting up at 00:00 local time, Europe pileup until 03:30, sleeping until 06:00, Japan/USA pileup on 40m until 07:00 followed by EU pileups on 30m and 12m until 10:00, breakfast in between and then sightseeing. This time we take the bus to the Rum Destillery near Marigot Bay. A guide shows us, how they produce Rum from sugar cane. A rather long process. At the end of our visit there is a long desk with at least 20 different kinds of Rum and other sweet liquors to taste. We taste many but aren’t able to try them all.
 

 December 3. IT9EJW’s printshop sends me a control file for my J6/DL7VOG QSL. It shows our guesthouse with my antennas.
J6-DL7VOG-QSL-smallI want to thank our great hosts again for allowing me to operate from their guesthouse and “beautify” their property with my antennas. They were very helpful and always in good mood.

 December 4. The last day begins just a bit weired. We had a chicken/fish meal at a street booth with our guesthouse neighbours from Canada, Simone and Richard. We are chatting about ham radio and a few other “unimportant” things until 23:30. When we say goodbye I am ready for the low bands (so I believe). But sitting in front of my radio I have to realize that I had less than 4 hours sleep during the last two days. I can’t help it but I fall asleep every few minutes amidst the pileup. My concentration vanished. I expected another end of my DXpedition but I have to quit. My mind doesn’t win the fight vs. my body any more. A bit angry about myself I go to bed at 02:00 to get up at 05:30 for a sked with a few Japanese friends on 80m. Conditions this morning are lousy. No chance for them to get through to me.
I call CQ on 80m for more than half an hour - just four weak US stations but no Oceania or Asia heard. 40m isn’t better. Endless CQs - no answer. Even 30m, where TM55BM was like a beacon with real strong signals the last days, is almost closed. Today he is just a little over the noise level. So no Japanese stations on my last day.
 I try the upper bands, 12m and 10m, but they are not much better. Very low signals but increasing. After a few QSOs I go QRT logging RN8W on 12m as the final. We have to get my antennas down and disassemble the rig.

 My final log shows QSO Nr. 19012. 14769 of them on CW, 4173 on RTTY and 106 on SSB. On 160m I have 942 QSOs, the best band is 12m with 4011 QSOs, followed by 40m with 3175 QSOs. USA lead the ranking (of course) with 5638 QSOs, followed by DL with 2248 QSOs and JA with 2124 QSOs.

 Poly, our taxi driver brings us to the airport in the south and via London we fly home into cold and wet Berlin - a temperature jump of 28 degrees!