Vacation, Contesting and Friends -- Perfect Together!
For a number of years my wife Maryann and I have been vacationing on the beautiful island of St Croix in the US Virgin Islands (USVI). Having been a dedicated DXer and contest junkie for years (it must be the type-A personality) I've always wanted to be on the other side of a DX pileup. So, what's the best way to accomplish that goal than to go somewhere you're wanted, is easy to get to and appeals to the spouse. Where? A Caribbean island, of course!
The choice of locations came much by accident through a QST advertisement in the 1980s that led to our almost yearly, week-long stay on the island and the development of what has turned out to be a long friendship with the apartment's owners Sam and Shirley Pasco. That friendship has, likewise, spiraled out to include other VI (Virgin Island) hams, among which has been my ARRL Phone Sweepstakes contest host the past several years, John Ellis, NP2B, who is also the USVI Section Manager. John and his wife Jeanette (Ms "J") are the unique hosts who have more fun letting others use their station than operating it themselves.
Whenever it's been possible, I've planned our vacation to correspond with ARRL Phone Sweepstakes. During the sunspot peak my low power (QRP) and loop in the palm trees worked well but as the cycle inched down so did the contacts. It was at Sam's suggestion that I contact John Ellis to see if he had anything planned for Sweepstakes since John's station was one of the better ones on the island. John graciously invited me to work multioperator (multi-op) with him and W4OV. That first multi-op ended in a 'Clean Sweep" and another Sweepstakes mug for me to make my own "Clean Sweep" (mugs for phone, CW and multi-op)! But, it started a friendship between John and I that has resulted in three more ARRL Sweepstakes multi-op events. One thing for sure, John has the knack for finding those elusive multipliers!
After a hiatus of a year from vacationing on the island I contacted John to find out if he would like to do another multi-op. John was up for it but he said he didn't know how his voice would hold out. Since I've always enjoyed the fun of contesting with others I started to look around for a partner or two. I was particularly looking for someone who had experience operating from the Caribbean and was familiar with propagation from there to the mainland. My thoughts immediately went to some fellow NJDXA (North Jersey DX Association -- the W2 QSL Bureau) members who had moved to St Croix but were now living in California; Ann and Brian Keegan (KP2YL and KP2HC respectively).
My wife and I had become friends with Brian and Ann when they lived in New Jersey and visited them just after they moved to St Croix. (Once again ham radio and friendships.) Ann is the contester of the team and a devoted QRP operator having won that power level in several contests. Brian is the CW maven but will get on phone if shoved. So, doing a high power (QRO) contest would be something new for Ann. Anyway, not sure of what the answer would be I sent off an e-mail, which was almost immediately answered with a very emphatic yes! Their trip planning to St Croix was more involved than ours but they were determined to come down. Ann even sent her Heil Headset back to the factory to get refurbished. We had a team. And, a secret weapon, a female voice, which always attracts attention.
The Game Plan
Once on the island and settled in we all got together at NP2B's QTH for a pre-contest strategy session. Our main goal was to make a "Clean Sweep" (which Ann had never done before). The other was to take the time out, when needed, to explain the Sweepstakes exchange to people who were attracted to the NP2B call sign but did not understand what the contest was about or felt intimidated about the exchange. We felt this would cost us some contacts but maybe encourage people to overcome their initial fear of a contest exchange and then go on to make other contacts. I've done this before but not apparently in the patient manner Ann exhibited as she walked people through the exchange format. It was nice to hear people actually say "thanks, no one has ever explained this to me before." Did we lose contacts? Sure. But our other goal was being met: of making the contest less frightening and attracting potentially new contesters.
But, on to the contest itself and how we actually did. Following John's advice we planned to start the contest off at the highest band open and then follow the propagation. We avoided 40 meters at night due to the severe broadcast interference (QRM) and went right to 75 meters once 20 meters closed down for us. Sunday had us making some contacts on 40 meters in the early morning before moving up to 15 meters. Throughout the day we kept checking 10 meters for some short openings but heard nothing except some South American stations.
We gradually approached our goal of the clean sweep but we were still missing three sections by early Sunday afternoon. Even bouncing back and forth between 20 meters and 15 meters yielded nothing until a call from VY1JA on 15 meters gave us NWT (thanks, Jay!). That left two sections to go. It was back to 20 meters since John mentioned we should have propagation to the west coast at that time. Sure enough, we found KL7AA on 14.200 kHz working into the Midwest. After some calls Ann just felt we would not be able to break the pileup even with her pleading voice!
She gave the seat to me and I started shouting "Virgin Islands" several times. It seemed to work as KL7AA came back to us with an exchange. I had to ask for a repeat since everyone in the room was jumping and passing around "high fives." That left VE4 to go. About an hour later we snagged VE4AG but, again, needed a few repeats to get through the QRM. Brian and I just gave a sigh this time. We had our Clean Sweep with several hours of operating time left. Ann was now really into the contest mode and very emphatically said we still had time to make a thousand contacts. She took over to make sure that new goal happened. It did. We finished the contest out on 75 meters making #1000 just before the end.
Life After Radio
Our group may not have had the highest multi-op score but we achieved all of our goals and still had several days left on St Croix to enjoy the rest of our vacation time. We all spent the post contest days at various activities. Ann and Brian visited friends and just relaxed with John and Jeanette Ellis who graciously hosted their stay. Maryann and I did some Christmas shopping (great bargains!) and toured the northern part of the island which, by the way, is covered by a rain forest. Ann and Maryann even got together for a relaxing day split between the beach and the pool (they just followed the sun!) at our complex. Once again, John and Jeanette hosted a terrific Thanksgiving Day dinner attended by some neighbors and visiting hams. Our last night on the island was spent having dinner with the Ellises. It took a little convincing to get them to agree that we would be the hosts this time! All in all, we couldn't have asked for a better way to finish out a terrific week. All four of us had time to just relax and enjoy the St Croix atmosphere before heading back home. And, as the title says, we got it all in: vacation, contesting and friends -- Perfect Together!
Bill Hudzik, W2UDT, is an ARRL Life Member and Extra class licensee. First licensed in 1961 as WV2UDT he has been continuously licensed for 47 years. Bill is a Trustee of the Raritan Valley Radio Club and the North Jersey DX Association, a member of the New Providence Radio Club, served as Section Manager for Northern New Jersey from 2001 to 2007 and admits to being a "contest junkie." His most outstanding ham radio memory was the holiday season of 1966-67. He was posted to Kadena air base in Okinawa and he spent the time running phone patches for his fellow squadron members using the KR6SP call sign. Bill can be reached at 111 Preston Dr, Gillette, NJ 07933.
Photos courtesy of Bill Hudzik, W2UDT.
William Hudzik, W2UDT