Welcome to the PJ7/K4UJ Sint Maarten Island Vacation DXpedition
Maiden voyage of the SPIDERBEAM to PJ7
From August 6th thru August 13th, I once again was blessed to be DX… After our return from Grand Cayman earlier this year, we decided to venture south again. The Carribean is so perfect for the family to have fun in the sun and for me to have a chance to be DX again. This time the fire was fueled by the opportunity to have several different DX prefixes due to the close proximity of the “countries”. I activated PJ7, FS, VP2E, and PJ6 (Saba). Another key attraction to go to Sint Maarten was the ability to fly from Atlanta to Sint Maarten direct on Delta (love those non-stop flights).
Sint Maarten is not your average Carribean getaway, several things set it apart from the rest of the islands. For starters it is the smallest island in the world to be shared by two sovereign governments.The southern most part falls under the Netherland Antilles (and hence is Dutch) with the capital of Philipsburg, the northern part of the island is French. There is unique harmony on the island considering it is shared by two governments, you can travel freely back and forth without hassling with passports.
In a fashion similar to most of the carribean islands, Sint Maarten/Saint Martin have most of the modern luxuries, you will find most everything you need at the local grocery store, so stocking up on snacks and beverages (get lots of bottled water!) is not an issue.
The family that travels with Amateur Radio…..
Due to many years of conditioning, the family is very supportive of my radio efforts. (It helps if the XYL is licensed!) Prior to this trip I was fortunate to discover the Spiderbeam. Some of you may have seen the recent writeup on this antenna in QST. After several discussions with Cornelius I arranged to have one shipped to me. Cornelius was excited as this would be the first activation of PJ7 with a Spiderbeam. During the weeks after receiving it I managed to get it assembled and tested with a temporary installation in the back yard (we live in one of those “Ken and Barbie” neighborhoods that are not friendly to antennas and towers). After completing the initial build, I carefully disassembled the antenna, marking it in such a way that it could be easily erected while on the island.
Getting it there and back….
I have found the best way to travel with the family and still get the radio gear along is to pack the 1000MP in a Pelican case (which has wheels, so it is easy to move around the airport). The case alone weighs about 34 lbs and the radio, headphones , a small box of minimal hand tools and antenna analyzer bring the total weight to the limit of 70 lbs. For the antenna I used the “Body Glove” golf travel bag which is flexible and very nicely padded to protect the contents. Inside the travel bag I insert another small gym bag that carries the baluns, coax, the center piece for the spiderbeam and some extra wire and nylon string in case I need to perform any on-site repairs. Here is a picture of how it packs together:
Above you can see the broken down fiberglass elements that make up the spiderbeam. I group them together and have color coded them for easy identification. For instance, the red ones are for the “reflector” setup and they have different numbers of red stripes the innermost section has 1 red stripe and the outermost section has 5 red stripes. I used the velcro that is part of the spiderbeam assembly to group the colored elements together for easy packing. At the local electronics store I found some heat shrink tubing that has numbers on it and was able to label each element for easy identification. With this kind of easy setup, my 6 year old can almost assemble the antenna! Also you will notice the telescopic aluminum mast, I can not say enough about this mast, it is more solid and sturdy than it looks and was the perfect support for the spiderbeam, it telescopes to a height of 10 meters. I did have to cut about 2 inches off of the top section of mast to make it fit in the bag, but that was a small sacrifice.
Here is the finished spiderbeam with a 40M dipole hanging underneath it, and yours truly posing at the antenna.
So, the antenna is not very high and in retrospect I should have erected it on the porch, but here is the reason why I did not. Once arriving on the island it was obvious that there was some concern over crime, we saw several odd security mechanisms on surrounding properties that told a very profound story, not to mention, there was a front gate at the house, a side exterior entry gate and yet another external door to gain entry. The first day or so we were a little cautious as this is generally not the type of situation we are faced with where we live. So in order to maintain a little lower visibility, I decided to leave it pretty much as you see here, except for it was raised a few more feet (so it extended over the top of the house) and straightened up the mast. NOTE TO FUTURE SPIDERBEAM INSTALLERS: I was thankful that I took along some extra lightweight kevlar rope as I tied it to one of the spreaders on the antenna and tied it off to the house in order to keep the antenna from freely rotating in the wind, those tropical winds can be rather brisk at times.
As I was installing the antenna, the neighbors on both sides, (both permanent residents) were very curious as to what the heck I was doing. After a short explanation of amateur radio and how I could contact friendly people all over the world, they seem quite impressed that some such fool from Georgia would go through all this trouble, while on vacation!! It looks like alot of work, but once you have built one, and prepared it by labeling the wire elements, and the color coding, I had the complete antenna assembled, erected, tuned and on the air in 2 and 1/2 hours.
So…. How did it play ???
In short, the antenna was awesome, it has plenty of directivity, but yet I was still making contacts off the back of the antenna. I had many folks tell me thanks for the new band country which is always a pleasure to hear.
I was really dissappointed to see that the Solar Flux Index dropped all week and the A index was well above where any DXer would like to see it….But a good time was had nonetheless. Here are the reports for the week I was active.
07-Aug-2005 SFI=93 A=30
08-Aug-2005 SFI=92 A=16
09-Aug-2005 SFI=86 A=11
10-Aug-2005 SFI=83 A=11
11-Aug-2005 SFI=76 A=22
12-Aug-2005 SFI=76 A=06
13-Aug-2005 SFI=76 A=06
Well, by the time the antenna was assembled it was now about lunchtime and the kids were ready to eat and do a little sight seeing, but that evening after everyone went to bed I had a wonderful time. I had a large pileup of Europeans on 20M CW, then I decided to check 20 SSB, and most of the contacts moved up there and there was another large pileup. I received great reports from all over Europe, Russia, MiddleEast, in fact I was most pleased when the call that answered my first CQ was 4Z4LP. Other nice calls that answered my CQ were 9K2MM, 9K4LT, ZD8I and 6W8CK . Overall I worked 87 countries, if propagation gods would have co-operated, I would have easily worked DXCC from PJ7 in 1 week.
It had been a long day and I was dead tired from assembling the anteanna on the warm sandy beach… Could there be a better place to assemble an antenna than this environment…
Yes, that is the view from the back porch at “Faja Lobie”.
Time for some more adventures….
As I have said before in previous postings, our family does not take your normal relaxing sit around the condo/hotel type vacation. We get out to see and do things, I really think that providing these kind of experiences are beneficial to the children. The third day on vacation we traveled to the French side of the island to the town of Marigot. It is here that you can catch the Ferry Boat for the 18 minute ride to Anguilla. On Anguilla we took the kids to swim with the dolphins at Dolphin Discovery. This was a wonderful experience to be able to interact with the dolphins. If you ever have the chance I encourage you to do it. Anguilla is a relatively quiet island that boasts one of the best beaches in the Carribean, Shoal Bay East on the north east side of the island. We spent an hour or so letting the kids play around here, this area is also very close to the QTH of VP2EIH, so if you plan on being on the island, contact him to see if he is available for an eyeball QSO. There is also a large contest superstation on the island, on the drive to Shoal Bay, you can easily see the antenna farm.
Here is a photo of yours truly with the Yaesu 817 on the beach at Shoal Bay.
During one of the road trips around the island of Sint Maarten we traveled to the French side, just north of the French border
I spotted a lonely hilltop, a perfect place to stop and play radio. Well the hilltop was not so lonely as you can see below.
So, I parked the SUV, and left the wife and kids to be “entertained” by the donkeys. After about a 15 minute hike up the hilltop, navigating donkey dung, and a rather cactus laden landscape, I got to the top and setup the hamstick dipole antenna for some fun on the radio. It was really nice being up on the hill watching the waves crash all around the rocks 100ft below you in many directions. While we are talking about the French side of the island, we had read about the clothing optional beaches, so as I said before, we are somewhat adventurous, and just had to spend the afternoon at Orient Beach. A quick search in google will describe that atmosphere, but here is a preview.
On to the next adventure….
Our last full day on this trip we had planned to visit Saba (pronounced “Say-ba”). My son has been studying volcanoes in school and was very intrigued at the prospect to be able to climb a real one, so that was the real reason we decided to take the 1.5 hour boat ride to Saba from Sint Maarten.
Saba is a volcanic island that is governed by the Kingdom of Netherland Antilles, it is referred to as the “Unspoiled Queen” as most of the island is covered with lush greenery. Saba has 4 towns and a population of approximately 1600. One of the attractions to Saba is to conquer the climb to the top of the volcano. From the launching point at the Eco Lodge it is 2800+ feet to the top. This photo is from one of the openings about 70% of the way up.
On the climb to the top, it is not un-common to see the many different type of “critters” that exist on the island, after all you are hiking up through a rain forest type environment. We spotted many of the Saban Anole lizards as well, we walked right over a snake who was tucked in the corner of one of the 1086+ steps it takes to the to the summit.
Once you get near the top, there are two options, take the cleaner (easier) rock path to the right, or take the adventurous black mud path to the “Scenic View”, which one do you think we took ??? Yep the muddy path, near the end of the muddy path, you have to climb through a rock tunnel and up through a narrow hole to get to the true top. I am very pleased to say that our entire family climbed the whole way, and yes that includes our 3 year old daughter and 6 year old boy. If you take the trip and climb the volcano, you really should experience the “scenic route”. You will need to take plenty of water, we drank more than 1 bottle per person on the hike. Here is the family at the top, yes you are in the clouds most of the time. The hike down the volcano is just as hard as the hike up, only you are using different muscles! If you are not used to this kind of exercise, then expect to have lots of leg cramps about 48 hours after the hike, I was a little sore for a couple of days, so do this at the end of your vacation, not the beginning!!!
Once you have completed the hike, have the taxi driver stop by the tourism bureau on the way back and they will provide a certificate that says you climbed Saba. There is a nice grocery store across the street from the tourism bureau to get some much needed Powerade and snacks.
……and the boat ride back to Sint Maarten…
Yes, we are very tired….
The last morning I took the spiderbeam down and had about 1 hour of operating time left, so I put a 30M dipole up and raised it on the mast, and within minutes had a nice run of stations, I was very suprised to be called by VK4OQ in the middle of working stateside stations. I am working on putting all the of the logs up on LogBook of the World and I will start answering the QSLs at eQSL.cc
I owe a generous THANK YOU to Cornelius Paul DF4SA for his gracious assistance in getting me a Spiderbeam, I have already started receiving cards with numerous “Thanks for a new band country”.