I was still smarting from paying off my 2009 dinner bet with Sean, KX9X, when he started thinking up more Sweepstakes adventures. This time, though, instead of head-to-head competition, he was thinking of a collaborative effort from one of Sweepstakes' rarer sections. As the ARRL contest manager, he sits in the catbird seat and watches for sections not making their way into enough logs.
As all fans of the annual broomfest know, there are several sought-after sections whose siren song sends shivers up sweep-seeking spines! Of course, the shiver can also be in the spine of the sender during those November weekends. North Dakoty? Vermont? Manitoba? The Yukon? My imagination was heading along a disturbingly boreal bearing! As it turns out, I was calling on "wrong path" as he pointed out that tropical Puerto Rico rara terra for the past couple of years. I rapidly warmed to that idea!
Since the end of the KE3Q@WP3R years, Puerto Rico had been playing hard to get, going from the top spot to the not spotted. Sean enjoys nothing more than handing out as many Clean Sweep mugs as he can, so could we imaging ourselves on the right end of those pileups? Not only was KP4 a crucial ingredient, but in 2011 two new low power spices had been added to the Sweepstakes recipe for the Unlimited and Multi-operator categories. The consensus was "Let's do it!"
Sean and I are both fans of portable operation, so we knew that if we could get the "right" location and the "right" gear we could have a lot of fun, satisfy some sweep-seekers, and promote the new categories in a big way. Game on! Having answered the why and who questions, there remain three major components in pulling off a successful portable contest expedition: Where, what, and win!
The where of operating is the most important if you are serious about making a lot of QSOs and won't have a lot of time or resources to build a big station. We started by scrutinizing the map of Puerto Rico (see Figure 1). It's not a particularly big island, but it does have some serious topography. Being on the wrong side of the Cordillera Central would be a big mistake. We definitely wanted to be on the north side of the island and on the beach, if possible, since our antenna farm would be lightweight and temporary.
Two other potential disasters lurk in the form of noise and neighbors. In a temporary operation you don't have time for troubleshooting power lines, and you sure don't want to be negotiating RFI problems with unhappy fellow vacationers or local residents, upon whom you descend with a collection of strange equipment. This meant staying away from the most densely settled, urband and suburban San Juan. Go west, young men! Thus we focused on the northwest shores.
Right off the bat, we decided against hotels - too many other people, dealing with management, access issues, RFI potential. Condos were better but still offered loads of opportunities for trouble. Luckily, the solution was found by mining the many offerings of Vacation Rentals by Owner (VRBO), www.vrbo.com. You can find everything from high-rise apartments to beachfront bungalows on VRBO. We located what looked to be a ham's dream, just east of Arecibo in the hamlet of Islote. The rental was a small house with an acre of coconut-palmed yard and a private beach right on the ocean! It didn't take long for us to reserve it for the first weekend in November.
Getting there was the least of our difficulties. There are lots of flights to San Juan International. Sean even took a direct flight from Hartford, Connecticut, while I booked a bank shot off of Houston. The rental was about an hour's drive west of San Juan, although there is a small airport near Arecibo. Negotiating the island's highways is easy, even for someone who's Spanish is pretty much limited to "Do you speak English?" Nevertheless, the extra cost of the GPS unit was a great investment.
With the where taken care of, it was time for the what. Multioperator is a little easier with low power than high, but it's still non-trivial. Each of us was bringing a separate station: IC-7000 or IC-706, AT-7000 autotuner, power supply, laptop with radio interface, paddle and keyer, and headphones. Sean brough a pair of ICE 419 switchable band-pass filters. We'd switch those ourselves without a PC interface. To prevent "samultimeous signals," the plan was to use N1MM's network lock-out feature and coordinate any hand sending manually.
For the complete version of this article as published in the NCJ, view the pdf version.