dominica

This page was last updated on Saturday, 29 Aug 1998 at 0900Z

This is a report on the DXpedition to Dominica for the 1994 CQWW CW contest.

Dominica_flag CQWW CW Contest – J77J Dominica_flag

Dominica – J7 – (not to be confused with the Dominican Republic – HI) is situated at the northern end of the Windward Chain of the Lesser Antilles. It is the largest of the island group, lying between the two French islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe. Roughly rectangular in shape with rounded projections at both ends, it is 29 miles long by 16 miles wide. The narrow coastal shelves, towering green mountains covered in dense tropical forests, deep valleys and countless streams provide magnificent scenic views. Agriculture is the mainstay of the island’s economy, with bananas being the main crop followed by coconuts.

It rains extremely hard at least once a day, preceded by colossal winds. The rain lasts perhaps 10-15 minutes and everything soon dries up. The roads are something to be experienced. As Dominica is volcanic in origin, the roads (if that’s what they can be called) twist and turn up and down hills. There is usually a deep eighteen inch wide gutter along one side, with no kerb! The road surfaces leave a lot to be desired – at least they drive on the proper side of the road. In the capital, Roseau, there is plenty of horn honking since nobody seems to care who has the right of way – definitely a case of having eyes in all directions all the time. A visitor’s driving permit is obtained on production of a UK or US licence and paying US$12. These permits are readily available at car hire offices. One of the striking things about the people in Dominica is that they all seem to smile all the time.

The route for the UK members of the team (nicknamed the G-guys by the rest of the team) was with American Airlines Heathrow – Miami – San Juan(KP4) – Antigua(V2) – Dominica. The first leg was a ten hour non-stop flight with excellent meals and service, in a pretty straight line past Land’s End, the Azores and Bermuda. I was under the impression that the ETOPS rules did not permit this sort of route – perhaps the 767-300ER has been given a higher classification, no doubt Bren (G4DYO) will explain that one to me. We were almost struggling to keep up with the near continuous flow of free wine. The last leg was flown in a Dash-8, with Liat, which carries about 40 passengers and is quite a contrast to the 767, 757 and A300 on the preceding legs. We were a little concerned about the weight of our luggage. The cases weighed in at 23 kg, well within the 210 lb limit on American, but over the 20 kg limit on Liat – they must have been having a good day, we did not get charged. Though it was a rather tortuous route, it was cheaper than Gatwick-Antigua with BA and much cheaper than Heathrow-Antigua with BWIA.

We had to stay overnight in Miami and the hotel recommended by the information desk at the airport had a free shuttle bus service, was nearby, cheap and comfortable. Our body clocks were well confused, going back five hours for Miami and then forward another hour for the Caribbean. The stopover in Miami gave us a good excuse for a visit to the Hard Rock Café near the beach.

We arrived in Dominica on the second day just as daylight was about to go – there are no runway lights at Melville Hall airport on the nort-east side of the island. We were due to be met by one of the Americans, so we did not know the address of the cottages that had been arranged. Fortunately the immigration officer remembered one of the Americans and was able to tell us where we were staying! Customs caused a bit of a problem – carrying transceivers without a licence for them is an offence in Dominica. Although licences had been sorted out, we had no paperwork ourselves. A few phone calls by the customs officer finally backed up our story and we were let through.

The team was made up as follows:
Paul – K1XM – our fearless leader
Charlotte – KQ1F – our leader’s XYL who stayed on ‘Kitchen Police Duty’ keeping the rest of us going
John – K4BAI
Walt – AC1O
Bill – G4WJS
Bruce – G4WVX

Paul was somewhat unwell with a severe cold for most of the trip, though he did bash away on 40m for hours on end. Walt became extremely ill three days before the contest and was in danger of becoming severely dehydrated. Fortunately, he began to improve the day before the contest and was his normal self by Sunday. This meant that antenna rigging took longer than expected and consequently there was less operating prior to the contest than we had hoped.

The stations were made up as follows:
IC-735 (Kindly loaned to me by G0FFL) + IC-PS35 (Kindly loaned to me by ICOM (UK))
IC-735 + IC-PS35 (Filter mods by K1XM)
IC-736 – Broke before the Contest – only 2 weeks old (K4BAI was not well pleased!)
FT-1000
IC-2KL (Kindly loaned to us by J73PD) – for IC-735
Tokyo HL-1K – for IC-735

Each op took his own favourite key, keyer, headphones etc. External band-pass filters were used on each band to minimize the effects of the three stations on each other.

The antenna farm was put up over about three days, using yards and yards of coax, wire and string:
10m 2-el inverted V-beam aimed at EU & dipole (for non-EU)
15m 2-el inverted V-beam aimed at EU
20m 2-el Delta Loop aimed at EU & Inverted V
40m 2-el inverted V-beam aimed at EU & dipole (for non-EU & also used on 15m)
80m Inverted V
160m Inverted V

Random wire for 30m DXCluster receive – this was to be used on the broken IC-736 as its Rx still worked, but unavailability of readable DXCluster signals above the QRM of the other stations precluded its use.

We were very fortunate to have the estate gardener on hand. He was a brilliant shot with his supply of rocks to launch the various bits of antenna mounting string into the selected trees. All the antennas were pruned to give best match for the CW parts of the bands, so ATUs were not required, though available and used for 12m, 17m and 30m outside the contest.

The site was 100-150 feet ASL within a very steep valley down to the sea on the NE ‘corner’ of the island near Pointe Baptiste – this gave a clear water shot at EU while blocking out the lower scoring US signals and effective it was too!

Logging was done using CT V9.13 networked on three 486 Notebooks (fourth not needed with broken IC-736). Fibre optic links used between the two cottages for CT Network, the -LOOP switch permitting the use of only one COM port per PC – freeing up the PCMCIA COM ports for transceiver control. Computer control was in use on both 735s, Walt forgot to bring his level converter so no computer control for the FT-1000. Quite why we chose to name each of the stations (for the benefit of CT’s Gab feature) Kirk, Spock and McCoy perhaps shows that none of us have really grown up yet!

Next comes the mains supply, now this was interesting. Nominally 220V with conventional UK 13A type sockets. Also transformers in each cottage providing a 110V supply to US type sockets. The mains was usually about 180-190V and when the two 735s and linears were keyed it fell to about 160V. The IC-PS35s were quite happy with this, though the Amplifier PSUs were less so, nor was the FT-1000. The water heaters were turned off in both cottages to help provide as much power as possible to run the three stations. Apart from being unstable, the mains supply was somewhat intermittent. There was a power failure at 0917Z on the first day of the contest lasting more than 13 hours – caused by a car knocking down a power pole some 10 miles away. We used the batteries from the hired jeeps to get one of the 735s back on the air with 50 Watts, but this bright idea (thanks Bill) didn’t happen till after 5 hours of no operating. We couldn’t safely run both 735s – there was the risk of not being able to start the jeeps if we weren’t careful – we were a long way from major civilisation. There was a power failure on the second day at 2206Z for an hour and a half – back to the batteries – except for the last 30 minutes of the contest! Power outages are apparently quite common on Dominica.

Licences were issued by the Ministry of Communications, Works and Housing for US$25 each for the six ops and also for the contest callsign. Power permitted was going to be 100W, but after some gentle persuasion of the officials 500W was agreed and typed on the licenses, though the best the amplifiers could manage with the grotty mains was about 300W (even after shifting the transformer primary taps down a notch or two).

In discussion prior to the contest, we decided to ignore all dupes and work them anyway. This would be much quicker than arguing about it at the time. Dupes would be shown clearly marked in the log anyway. This is how we did:

Bands QSOs Zones Countries
160 403 12 50
80 813 19 60
40 1981 22 98
20 1262 22 78
15 1571 28 82
10 703 18 50
Totals 6733 121 418

This gave us 8,873,557 points in 33 hours.

When we lost the mains we had 1541 Qs in the log with very encouraging numbers on 40 and 160 (the 160 opening to EU was well above normal), and the ops were eagerly anticipating the iminent 20/15/10 opening to EU. The loss of all daylight hours on Saturday (J7 is four hours earlier than GMT) eliminated any chance of a competitive effort, but we continued to hand out the J7 mult to as many as possible. We did not work a single JA in the whole contest, but did work loads of EU.

Charlotte certainly had a way with expressions – there was a very friendly dog on the estate whose new name varied from ‘Dog-beggar’ to ‘Dog-burglar’ depending on whether he was watching us eat or venturing into the kitchen. The same applied to ‘Bird-beggar’ and ‘Bird-burglar’! We certainly saw a variety of wildlife including humming birds, lizards and plenty of general ‘bugs’. The only one who seemed to get bitten was Charlotte.

For those who want cards and have yet to establish QSL routes, they are as follows:
J77J via K1XM, J79AA via K4BAI, J79JS via G4WVX, J79VX via G4WVX, J79WD via AC1O, J79XM via K1XM and J79YL via KQ1F. All QSOs with J77J in the contest will be QSLd via the bureau anyway. All QSOs with me as J79VX will likewise be QSLd via the bureau. All direct QSLs will be answered. The J77J cards are yet to be printed but will feature another of Charlotte’s underwater fish photographs.

The owner of the cottages tells us that she is keen to attract Hams and is planning to install solar water heating and a standby generator – this should help any prospective team.

The return trip was supposed to be nearly the reverse but then the fun started. After a lengthy delay at Antigua while they fiddled with the main aircraft door we departed for St Maarten (a thirty minute hop). Halfway there the Captain announced that he was unable to pressurise the aircraft (the main door again) and we had to return to Antigua (groans from all around the cabin). I couldn’t see why for the three island hops of thirty minutes each couldn’t be flown below 10,000 feet – where pressurisation shouldn’t be a problem. No doubt Ian (G4LJF) will explain that one to me though I guess Dash 8s are just as unfamiliar to him. We were to be on our way once the door was fixed or another Dash 8 became available. I was now getting cross – three Liat BAe 748s could clearly be seen lurking at Antigua, capable of carrying virtually the same passenger load, but perhaps they were all broken too – my connections to get home were about one to two hour changes at San Juan and Miami. After about another two hours we were put back on the same aircraft and headed for St Maarten. We arrived in San Juan just in time to miss the last possible connection for my Miami-London flight. The nice American Airlines check-in fellow quickly re-routed me San Juan – New York – Heathrow (no extra cost), departing in an hour and getting to Heathrow only an hour or so later than the original plans. I haven’t quite worked that one out yet myself! The return trip ended up being Dominica – Antigua – St Maarten(PJ5) – Tortola – San Juan – New York – Heathrow.

I was in Dominica for a week, Wednesday to Wednesday, and outside the 48 hours of the contest over the weekend and whilst not rigging antennas or dismantling the setup I managed to work almost 1,000 people worldwide in my own right as J79VX – all on CW, of course. I was pleased with the learning experience and would like to do something similar again some time.

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