V29RW: Slacker DXpedition to Antigua

Recently, I had another opportunity to take ham radio along on vacation to a Caribbean island, this time to Antigua. This was not a super-gonzo turbo-charged DXpedition. I just worked in some radio action in between snorkeling and beach walking. This is referred to as a “holiday style” DXpedition, or maybe it’s just the slacker approach.

qsl card beach
V29RW QSL Card

Radio Equipment

The radio gear needed to fit easily into my luggage. After all, we’ve got snorkel gear to take along. I wanted to put out a healthy signal from the island, so I rejected the idea of running QRP, opting instead for a 100W transmitter. Ultimately, I chose to take a Yaesu FT-991 which is full-power and full-featured but still relatively compact. It easily fit into my carry-on bag along with some other items. Having a built-in antenna tuner was a real plus and it was also good to have the 2m and 70 cm bands.

operating position
Patio operating position with FT-991 and logging computer

Choosing an antenna was a critical item. My first thought was to take my Buddistick antenna which covers the HF bands I was interested in working: 20m, 17m, 15m and 10m. I used that antenna from the Virgin Islands and it was really handy for taking to the beach. This time I wanted something bigger under the theory that size does matter. On the other hand, I wasn’t going to take full size yagis for each of the bands. I finally settled in on using End-Fed Half Wave (EFHW) antennas for the 4 bands (from LNR Precision). This gave me a simple half-wave antenna on each band with no coils, no traps, nothing funny going on. These antennas radiate well and have decent bandwidth…any SWR degradation can be tweaked up quickly using the FT-991 antenna tuner.

antenna pole
End-fed half-wave antenna supported by SOTABeams pole

Steve WGØAT suggested I use the SOTABEAMS 30-foot mast to support the EFHW antennas. It is an incredible mast that collapses to 26.5 inches, small enough to fit into my bag. This antenna set up is common with the SOTA activators: EFHW supported by some kind of lightweight pole. I also tossed in a 19-inch magmount antenna for 2m and 70cm. (I did find a good repeater on on 147.0 MHz but did not spend much time on it.)

end fed half wave
Close up of the EFHW antenna matching network

Rounding out the kit was an Astron switching power supply, a 25-foot length of RG-8X coaxial cable, a Heil Traveler headset and a few patch cords. I found it tempting to keep throwing more stuff in the bag so I adopted the backpacker mentality of taking just what I needed and not much more. For computer logging, I chose N1MM Plus software, with the log type set to “DX”.

I have to confess that I did manage to break the 30-foot mast early in the trip. The house was on a hill and we always had a strong breeze coming through. One day it flexed the mast enough to break it. This was quickly repaired with duct tape. After that, I did not use the 3 top sections of the mast which reduced the amount of sway in the wind (and stress on the mast).

On The Air

Bob K0NR
Bob KØNR operating as V29RW in Antigua

My operating time was a bit sporadic and my operating strategy was simple: work the highest band (of 20m, 17m, 15m and 10m) that had some decent propagation to somewhere. Antigua is not extremely rare but it seemed to attract attention. Typically, I called CQ, worked a few stations and then a big pileup would develop. I made lots of QSOs with stations in North America, South America and Europe. I also made a few contacts into Africa but none with Asia. Signal reports were generally good (S9 +), so the antennas were doing the job.

All in all, I was pleased with the contacts I made, given the slacker effort. I especially enjoyed working 17m, a band I have not spent that much time on. The propagation is similar to 20m but noticeably less jammed with signals.

  Band  QSOs DXCC
    14   309   36
    18   162   13
    21    21   10
    28    91    6
 Total   583   65

QSLs for V29RW should be sent to my home callsign: KØNR (direct or via the bureau). Logbook of the World contacts have already been confirmed. Instant gratification, baby!

73, Bob KØNR, V29RW

Licensing info: It was relatively easy to get a ham radio license in Antigua, based on my US license (fees were $30 US). See this web page.

16 Mar 2016: V29RW QSLs have been sent out via US mail based on cards received

2 thoughts on “V29RW: Slacker DXpedition to Antigua

  1. Bob, I was interested to see that you used the SOTABeams mast. I’ve been thinking about getting one but still holding off in the hopes of finding something that fits into a carry-on sized bag. Trying very hard to ‘not’ have to take a checked bag on Caribbean trips but, I guess it boils down to “how much do I need to bring for the length of time planned”.
    I’ve got Martinique and St. Lucia in the works for this October/November. Mostly end-feds again and some degree of Buddipole mini parts.

    73, sorry to have missed you on the air,

    • Hi Mac,
      With some ham gear, snorkel equipment and some food items, I quickly opted for a checked bag. Even then, it took some careful choices to keep the baggage situation from getting out of hand.

      The SOTA guys talk about all kinds of telescoping fishing rods as a more compact alternative to the SOTAbeams mast. Of course, it depends on the length of the antenna you plan to support. For me, the tricky part is judging how strong the mast is relative to the physical loading of the antenna. Like I said in the article, I snapped the SOTAbeam mast in the wind.

      Have fun in the islands!

      73, Bob K0NR