Once again, there was an event that needed to be celebrated: my 65th Birthday in November, 2011. And as we had always done in the last few years, there was only one destination - the Caribbean. As the planning phase began in January, the Netherlands Antilles, which had just become new DXCC entities, were my desired destination number 1. Due to their mass tourism, the ABC Islands and Sint Maarten were disregarded. Saba (PJ6) and St. Eustatius (PJ5) remained. My goal to be active from PJ6 was swept away by the opposition from my XYL Erika, since Google Earth and various websites showed no indication of any existing beaches. Closer examination revealed that the 13 kmē island Saba was actually not to be regarded as a beach paradise.
So, to give my XYL a chance to "survive" three weeks on such a small island, I changed my plans to St. Eustatius, which with 21 kmē was also quite manageable and offered a few, even if only "hinted" beaches. The largest beach on the Atlantic side of the island is - due to strong undercurrents - not even suitable for good swimmers. So two no more than 50 m long, gray beaches remained on the Caribbean side in Oranjestad, the island's capital.
Since I declared this trip to be my pension entry tour and as I promised her that she would be allowed to select the next Caribbean destination, this “convinced" my XYL.
So that part was settled. Now the search for a suitable accommodation could begin. Not a very easy task. Sint Eustatius is advertised as one of the last destinations with the original Caribbean charm. Hotels and guest houses are not very frequent. Most were sorted out due to their location. Either they were in the lower part of the city, immediately behind a 30 m high vertical cliff in the direction to Europe. - or on the "wrong" side of the "Quill", a 601 meter high volcano. Only one hotel fairly met my needs, the "Country Inn". Unfortunately the description on Statiasī (as St. Eustatius is called by the locals) official website - "Located at Concordia with a beautiful view of Zeelandia Bay. Nestled within a beautiful tropical garden are six fine air-conditioned rooms ... " did not make us much wiser. No address, no indication of the exact location, no email address. I had to make a phone call. I told the owner that I was a ham and would like to stay at their hotel for three weeks with radio equipment and two vertical antennas. She immediately agreed and said yes. I asked if there was enough space available for the antennas which she also confirmed. Zeelandia Bay was quickly found on Google Earth and with the promised beautiful view, I could only envisage free standing buildings so we booked a room at the Country Inn.
We booked the flights with "Continental Airlines" mostly due to the relatively low price for large amounts of luggage.
At the SPDXC meeting in early October in Jastrzebia Gora, Poland, we met Wlodek, SP6EQZ, who together with Janusz, SP6IXF, had been active from PJ5 in November 2010. We talked for a while and it turned out that they were going on another DXpedition to Statia just before our holiday. Jokingly, I asked him to save some DX for me to work.
In early November, preparations were in full swing. Everything is "playing", only WriteLog does not cooperate with the new microHAM Digi Keyer II in RTTY mode. I didnīt have enough time to deal in depth with it then. Since N1MM logger had less problems with it, I used this software. November 11: Our first vacation day and also the first day after I retired. Our flight to Newark the next day ran smoothly. At the airport Jorge, the son of HK3JJH along with his family were waiting for us. After their visit with us in Berlin three years ago, we were all very happy to see each other again. After an extensive sightseeing tour of New York City, we stayed overnight with them. The following morning, Jorge drove us to the airport.
At 08 AM our plane started to Sint Maarten and landed at 1 PM. After the 17 minutes flight to Statia there was still time to erect antennas in daylight. We had so far spent 32 hours traveling.
A taxi demands U.S. $ 14 for the 500 m trip to Country Inn, which is located in the center of Concordia, a small village in the center of the island. And here the first problem appears. No matter how hard I try, I cannot find room for my antennas. In front of our hotel room is a 20 m long but only 1 (in words: ONE) meter wide strip to the fence of the neighboring property with a number of palm trees. As a result of my horrified glance, the owner shows us the "beautiful tropical garden", which is about 10 m x 10 m in size and overgrown with palm trees and other trees. There is no place where the HF9V could be raised from horizontal to vertical.
I look around and into the neighboring plot. Not exactly overly large, but with about 600 mē it would offer enough space for my antennas. Erroll, our neighbor, agrees without hesitation to let me use his premises. I take a deep breath. The panic can slowly subside.
On the wooden platform in front of the hotel rooms I assemble the HF9V. Thereby my glasses slide off my head. The holder of my rimless glasses rips off the left glass. That too! I can manage to make a makeshift repair, but the firm grip is gone.
Errol watched with interest how I "decorated" his garden with the HF9V, its guying and radials. As it turns out later, Erroll is a licensed radio amateur, but has no transmitter and has never been active.
Just before sunset, the antenna flashes in the evening sun. The Inverted L for 160 M remains provisionally on the side. There is simply not enough space for it.
Getting PJ5/DL7VOG on the air
While trying to connect the station, I noticed with dismay that I couldnīt find the cable for the power supply of my IC-706MK2G anywhere. It was probably still in the shack at home. Was that the first sign of the onset of dementia? Where do you get such a cable in the Caribbean, a cable with Schuko and an IEC connector? I removed the power jack of the power supply and noted with satisfaction that it is connected via plug-in sockets. Quickly a piece of wire is found useful as a connection between the socket and the power outlet. Rescued!
It was now 7 PM. So I could still be active for about an hour in the WAE RTTY contest and give away a few multipliers. As soon as I sat down in front of the station and just started to transmit the first CQ, it got pitch dark around us. My suspicion that the 500 Watts PA was too much for the power line vanished, when I noticed that the whole neighborhood was in complete darkness. Three minutes before the end of the contest, the power returned again. It was just enough for a QSO with VE3EK. On November 14, I started my first CW pileup at 00:10 Z on 40 M. It started slowly. After an hour I logged QSO number 25, after three hours QSO 210. Frustrated, I first lay down to catch up on some lost sleep. In the early morning (13:30 Z) I called CQ on the totally quiet 12 M band. Already after the first CQ RA7A answered with a proper signal. Only a few CQs were needed and the pileup lasted for four hours. The 110 Volt net was not very stable. The light flickered following the CW keying, as you would dim a 60W bulb down to 25W. My XYL noted, however, that it was just the light in our room, other guests would not be disturbed. Early in the afternoon we went for our first walk to Oranjestad, where we noticed that we were the only pedestrians on the island. Everybody else was in a car. Who is walking? Probably a tourist or a "poor bastard". There is plenty to see in Oranjestad. Pretty Caribbean colorful houses, old buildings that remind of the eventful history of St. Eustatius and Fort Oranje.
At nightfall, we were back in time for the JA-opening on the high bands. The first 80 JA stations found their way into the log on 12 M. The demand is high and the window for JA is pretty tight. After about an hour it's all over and I would focus on Europe on 40 M. The first day ended with 940 QSOs. Not bad after that sluggish start.
The following days looked approximately like this: get up at 1 AM (05:00 Z) for Europe on the low bands until around 4 AM, a short nap until the alarm clock at 5 AM to look for JA on 40 M and 30 M for about 2 hours, then the high bands for Europe. My XYL goes to the beach at 10 AM. I join her around 1:30 PM. That works fine because at that time hardly nothing can be worked. After we return around 6 PM, I would go to the high bands for JA and the Far East. Possibly still Europeans on 30 M and 40 M, then three to four hours sleep.
On the third night my XYL was frustrated because it was annoying to read with this flickering. That gave me a brilliant idea – like in many other places in the Caribbean, the air conditioner is connected to 220V and connected to the other phases. I reconnected my rig for 220V and used the power outlet for the air conditioner. Thus, it gets quite warm in the room during the day, but the flickering finally stops. Itīs a good thing, we can tolerate heat well.
Seeing Statia from above and below
On Friday, we climbed the volcano "The Quill", which can be seen on the emblem of St. Eustatius and which is visible from almost any point of the island. It is even immortalized in the national flag. The volcano erupted for the last time 1600 years ago, so it would hopefully keep quiet for the next few hours! The climb is fairly difficult, not to mention the descent. My already injured knee didnīt appreciate the strain. I had problems for the next few days.
From the top you can enjoy breathtaking views of the crater and the island scenery with the island of Saba in the background.
Two dives are also on my agenda. I have been diving in many parts of the Caribbean, but the reefs here beat everything I have seen so far. They are in great condition and very diverse. I have never before seen such giant sponges or such large lobsters.
After about a week I get ready at last to install the 160 m antenna. Optimal propagation differs. I put the 15 m fiberglass mast on one of the palm trees outside our room and the 9 m high second mast in the most remote corner of the neighboring property. For a few QSOs that will be good enough.
CQWW CW 2011 as PJ5G
Then comes the weekend of the CQWW CW contest. Just before the start of the contest I had a few QSOs on 160 M with good signals from Europe. However, then I made a mistake by starting the contest on 40 M instead of staying on 160 M. The QSO rate at 160 M seemed to be too low. The result was obvious on the following night. 160 M was almost closed. You could hardly hear any strong signals from Europe and the countless stations from USA made it impossible to hear anything else. It worked out quite well on the other bands, even on 10 M, where I could get no more than about 25 W to the antenna - with an SWR of 3:1. I could not understand why. It was not until I was taking down the antenna that I noticed that the upperl element had slipped about 20 cm into the underlying pipe - no wonder!
After the first contest day as PJ5G there were some 2,500 QSOs in the log and I finished the contest with 4342 QSOs - a new personal record - despite four hours' sleep. Age takes its tribute.
The weather that weekend made it easy for me to stay in the shack. Saturday it rained cats and dogs, 145 mm of rain within 30 minutes. My XYL came back like a soaking wet cat from the beach, which had now been washed away.
A couple of times I even tried to operate on SSB, but again I found out that this is not my cup of tea. An SSB pileup is harder to handle for me; much harder than CW or RTTY. But at the end there were 246 SSB QSOs compared to 17,164 CW and 1,795 RTTY QSOs in the log.
A few words about RTTY operation
In RTTY pileups many stations jump to the frequency of the station worked and thus create a mess. With ten or more stations on the same QRG it is extremely difficult for the DX station to select from the tangle of individual calls. It is always better to look for a clear spot and repeat your callsign at short intervals, until you get a reply. Often I find that stations which I have just selected and that I could only receive the suffix of, simply wait too long and thus miss their chance.
Coming home is not the end of a DXpedition
On December 5 with 19,205 QSOs in the log - also a new personal record – itīs time to go back to the 30° C colder, inhospitable weather in Berlin. The major part of the QSOs (4,399) were of course with the U.S. DL lands in the second place with 2,683 and JA took the 3rd ranking with 1,547.
The first few days at home, the full program with the follow up of my DXpedition was starting. I already had about 300 letters waiting in the mailbox. Three weeks of operation generally means at least five times as much processing time. Logs must be checked, QSLs designed and printed, incoming mail and emails answered, QSLs written and mailed, etc.
This way, life as a pensioner is never boring!