Operating from countries outside the US can be a lot of fun. I just completed another another Slacker DXpedition, this time to the Cayman Islands. The formula for this type of operation is simple: identify an interesting vacation spot that is also considered DX, travel there with friends & family, take along some compact radio gear and get on the air. A key point is to not overdo the radio operating or the friends & family will veto any radio activity on future trips.
Licensing for the Cayman Islands is relatively easy if you hold a US FCC amateur radio license. Complete info can be found on the OFREG web site. Licensing for the Caymans is typical of many Caribbean countries: fill out the application form, send it to OFREG by email along with a copy of your US license, passport and $25US. Visitor call signs have the prefix ZF2 and you can request your favorite two-letter suffix. That’s how I got ZF2NR.
I was issued a Class A license which has all operating privileges. My spouse Joyce/K0JJW holds a US General Class license and was issued a Cayman Class B license, which has limited HF privileges (no phone on 40m, 20m, or 17m). So keep that in mind if you have a General Class license. [Update: ZF1EJ told me that this was an error, she should have been issued a Class A license.]
Grand Cayman is in grid EK-99 and is IOTA NA-016.
My equipment strategy was the same as my V29RW operation on Antigua (see V29RW: Slacker DXpedition to Antigua). The basic kit is a Yaesu FT-991 driving a end-fed halfwave (EFHW) wire antenna for the band of interest. Never underestimate the power of getting a halfwave antenna up into the air. The FT-991 fits in my carry-on bag and it covers all bands from HF through 70cm.
There is a 2m repeater (146.76 MHz) on Grand Cayman that works quite well. We received a friendly welcome on the repeater from Phil ZF1PB and several other Cayman hams.
Our group rented a nice vacation home near Rum Point on the north side of Grand Cayman. This place is right on the water with an excellent sand beach. Denny KB9PDF/ZF2PF and I put up the EFHW 20m antenna supported by my SOTAbeams pole strapped to a palm tree. This setup worked quite well and we soon had a nice pileup of stations calling us on 20m. We did have some issues with local noise sources, the worst of which was traced to some dimmer switches in the house. This is one of the problems with a portable setup like this…you never know what RFI problems you’ll encounter. Later in the week, we put up a 40m EFHW and made a few contacts on that band, too.
Bruce/K0BJ suggested that I check into using the Cayman Amateur Radio Society club station (ZF1A) which they make available to visiting hams. I connected with Eden/ZF1EJ who confirmed that the station was available later in the week. Again, I did not want to overdo the radio thing, so we settled on operating at ZF1A during the middle of the day on Wednesday.
This turned out to be a great move. ZF1A has multiple towers with some very capable antennas. Like I always say: Never underestimate the power of using a large directional antenna on top of a big tower. Eden/ZF1EJ met us at the station (it is literally in his backyard) and helped us get situated. Our operating strategy was simple: use the highest HF phone band that had good propagation and work as many stations as possible. We were also prepared to use FT8 if things were really bad but that was not needed. It turned out that 15m was dead but 17m was open into North America and Europe, so we did most of our operating there.
Here’s a short video to give you a taste of the pileup.
I did work some of the folks back home, which was a treat: K0AV, W0CP, K0BJ, W0RLY, W0GAS, WG0AT, KD0RQU. I had noticed that Steve/WG0AT was doing a Summits On The Air (SOTA) activation on Crooked Top Mountain (W0C/SP-090) and I gave him a call. Being QRP, his signal was very weak at my location but he could hear me with no problem.
Here’s the QSO audio that Steve recorded on his end:
We worked two OSCAR satellite passes (AO-91, AO-92) using a pair of handheld radios and an Arrow 2m/70cm yagi antenna. The pair of handhelds gave us full-duplex capability: I ran the 70cm uplink on my HT while Denny ran the downlink on 2m. No surprise to find the FM satellites quite busy and a bit frustrating to work. I logged these stations from ZF2NR: KI0G, K3SV, TI2CDA, TI4DJ, HP2VX.
My ZF2NR log shows 376 HF QSOs, most of them made by me. Joyce K0JJW/ZF2JW braved the pileup to make a few contacts. Denny/KB9DPF had some additional contacts as ZF2PF. QSL to our home callsigns.
I’ve loaded the ZF2NR log into Logbook of The World.
Band Mode QSOs 7 LSB 5 14 USB 65 18 USB 306 Total 376
In retrospect, I realized that we had the antenna pointed north most of the time and we probably should have looked in other directions. In particular, we only worked a few South American stations.
Most important is that a good time was had by all. Thanks to everyone that worked us while we were in the Cayman Islands.
73, Bob K0NR/ZF2NR