Welcome to the ZF2UJ Cayman Island Vacation DXpedition
From April 2nd thru April 9th 2005, I had the pleasure of once again being DX… Shortly after the first of the year, the XYL (wife) and I decided to take a trip south, to find some radio fun, sand, and some salt water. So, we packed up the kids, the radio, the golf clubs, beach towels and away we went. Before I get into the details of the Amateur radio operation, first a little about the place we stayed.
When we travel we enjoy staying at places that are not on the “normal” tourist places, therefore, we chose to stay at Cayman Kai instead of Seven mile beach. (Seven mile beach is alot like the strip in Destin Florida, but nicer) Now, for those that are not familiar with the island, Cayman Kai is on the North side of the island and due to the massive hurricane damage from Ivan, there are only a few restaurants that are open outside of Georgetown. Take NOTE: If you are on Grand Cayman and you have any taste for Italian food (me being part Italian fueled my desire) you ABSOLUTELY MUST try Portofinos on the east end of the island. To sit on the patio at sunset, and enjoy some of the best Italian food ever, is pure heaven. The lasagna, ravioli and bruschetta are fabulous! A trip to Grand Cayman without a visit to Portofino’s is a wasted opportunity.
If you need groceries, I highly suggest stopping at Hurleys (near the airport/Georgetown) before heading to Cayman Kai. For a common point of reference, the drive from the grocery store to Cayman Kai is about 40 minutes, so stock up on a few days worth of supplies.
Now, onto the house…. Cayman Kai is just a beautiful area and very very quite. Below are picture of the house we stayed at called “Barefoot Kai”. It is simply gorgeous and perfectly suited for amateur radio operation. The house is sits on a lagoon that is protected from the open sea, and hence perfect for small children, which is the primary reason we selected this home. It was very common to let the children play in the back yard (one really big sand box) and let them play in the shallow lagoon all while sitting on the porch or relaxing on the hammock. (Yeah, life is really tough !)
There are many things to do on the island that satisfy both the adults and the children. The turtle farm and butterfly farm are both very fun and educational. Swimming with the stingrays and snorkeling was something everyone should experience. About 7 houses up the street from here is a place called Rum Point, from there you can take the boat tour to Stingray City, then onto Snorkeling with Captain Billy Ebanks (this guy is a hoot!!). Also you can rent jet skis right from Rum Point, they are expensive, but hey you’re on vacation.
For most of the week, the schedule went something like, get up before everyone else in the house (5AM) and work some DX for about 3 hours, have some breakfast with the family, and then run to the beach to bask in the sun, and build sand castles with the kids. About 10AM, enjoy a nice cool Cayman Colada, or a Sunset Rum punch, more fun in the water, a fresh mahi mahi sandwich for lunch, followed by another cool adult beverage, pick an excursion for the kids in the afternoon, good fish for dinner, and back to play radio until I could not keep my eyes open. Then start it all over the next day!
Now on to the good stuff…. Being DX
As most of you know, planning is the hardest part of it all. The kind folks on Grand Cayman made the licensing very easy. A simple email to Kevin Washington and he had faxed my license back in less than 1 week. This guy is an awesome communicator via email and made things very easy in that laid back island kind of way. Another plus to the house we selected was that it had a little office/sitting area with a built in desk, a perfect place for the radio! Below is K4UJ aka ZF2UJ at the station, nothing like DXing in comfort. Latop, FT-1000MP, Heil Pro Plus headset and of course, the keyer. For anyone interested, I used a custom foam insert for the 1000MP in a Pelican 1650 hard case (bought off e-bay), secured it with TSA approved combination locks and checked it as luggage.
On a personal note, my main goal for this trip was to increase my proficiency in CW, so over 80 percent of my contacts were in CW. Total QSO’s 1100+
ZF2UJ – The Antennas
I had decided based on pictures that I saw of the home, that a wire antenna would suit my needs just fine. So I built a windom antenna (4:1 balun) that covers 10M, 12M, 17M, 20M, 40M and 80M. I knew from previous experiences that being active on the WARC bands would be helpful in generating pileups, even though ZF is not a rare prefix. I really enjoy lowband activity and started wondering if I could do something for 80M and 160M. Then I ran across Cornelis Paul DF4SA, otherwise know as “Con”. Weeks before my trip I had learned that he started marketing a “Spiderbeam” Fiberglass telescopic pole that collapsed is less than 4ft long (which fits nicely inside my golf travel bag) and fully extended it is 40ft tall. BINGO, I found just the item I needed. It is time to start planning for the 160M Inverted-L. Time was really tight and Con agreed to Fedex Priority ship the pole to me. I got it just 3 days before departure and did not have time to erect it and properly build the inverted-L, but I had faith in my skills to build it onsite. So I loaded up some 14awg stranded wire, plenty of RG-8X.
A large percentage of the homes on Cayman have some sort of tower and antenna just to get television coverage so this coupled with some nearby palm trees would prove to be great supports for the windom. In the picture above you can see the windom center supported on the tower. Some will surely be thinking, hey Paul why is it not at the top of the tower??? Well since I had no safety gear with me, the XYL strongly suggested that I not ruin the vacation by falling off the tower, so I only climbed partway up from the roof which had access from an second story patio.
Below is the close up picture of the windom with a second set of wires I added for 30M. The 30M wires run almost perpendicular to the main windom element. The 30M activity was really fun and accounted for about one third of my total QSO count. After running JA’s on 40M with the windom in the early morning hours, I would switch to 30M and start another run of JA’s just after sunrise.
Low Band DXing by the seat of your pants
Well not really, since I had studied ON4UN’s low band book for many many years and operated from KP4 in the CQ160CW contest back in ’97, I had some idea what I was doing. The picture below shows the Spiderbeam Telescopic pole on the second balcony of the house, this provided some extra height on the semi-vertical portion of the 160M Inverted-L. As you can see the pole is very flexible. The second and third days on the island, there was a constant 15MPH+ wind and had me a little worried whether or not the pole would withstand it, but I am very pleased to say, it performed excellent. Basically this configuration is an Inverted-L that is about 55ft vertical and the remaining of the quater wave wire is strung to a palm tree in the foreground of the picture.
Below are pictures of the base of the antenna, 4 sloping quarter wave radials (two of them ended up in the salt water) and since the analyzer initially showed 100ohms, I put in a W2FMI 2:1 unun transformer, which got me 1.7SWR at 50 ohms at 1.830mhz.Yiippee, now it is time to test it out.
Now here is where the DX gods smiled upon me.. The very first night I had this up I worked over 100 stations, received excellent signal reports and even worked several Europeans. 160M was incredibly quiet that evening, almost as quite at 15M in the midle of the night. I simply could not believe the working conditions. However, there was some sort of solar storm and the bands were very noisy for the next couple of days, so you can imagine my dissappointment when there was a S-2 noise floor one night and a S9+20db noise for for the next 4 days! Below is another view of the Spiderbeam pole, you can see how it is mounted on the second floor balcony.
Since lowband conditions were very poor the last few days of the trip, I snipped of the horizontal portion of the inv-l and made it an 80M vertical. So the pole is not bent over anylonger
To all that made contact with ZF2UJ I want to THANK YOU for the QSO, being DX is no fun without you folks on the other end. If you have never been DX and have any interest at all, I highly suggest a trip to ZF to get your feet wet (in more than one way). Not only is it easy to get to via plane, easy to get your license, you are at the beach, and best of all working the pileups can be very addictive.
This trip rekindled some old friendships and created some new ones. Below is a picture of ZF2UJ and ZF1PM, whom I had the pleasure of meeting while on the island.
I owe a generous THANK YOU to Cornelius Paul DF4SA for his gracious assistance in getting me a Spiderbeam Telescopic Pole, and on such short notice, Con you helped make alot of folks happy for the 160M contacts from ZF!