June 1999 Lowdown DX Column by Phil Krichbaum N0KE <pfkski@vail.net>

Since my last column I had the opportunity to travel to Costa Rica and operate TI5KD’s station in the WPX CW contest over memorial day weekend and of course I did it QRP. I had been communicating with Keko Diez via e mail for several months and finally boarded a flight on May 24, 1999. A copy of my US license had been mailed down several weeks earlier and I was given the OK to operate as TI5N in the contest and TI5/N0KE at other times. Since I was very likely to be the only TI5 active, I had great hopes. I also was looking forward to seeing some of the sights as well as playing radio.

Keko met me at the airport and it only took a few minutes for me to spot his N0KE sign and he to see my Vail hat. No twenty questions by the customs people and I was off to his house some 4 km from the airport in a semi-rural area northwest of San Jose. Since CC&R’s are almost unheard of he has a good collection of yagis and wires. He has three main towers. The main antenna used was a 6 band quad on about a 80 footer and it covered 6m up thru 20m and played real well. Another tower is topped off with a KT34XA and the biggest is a 130 footer with a 2 el 40 and 80m rotateable dipole. There is also a fullwave loop for 80m and wave sloper as well as 160m Inverted L. There also are monobanders on 10, 15 and 20 fixed north at the heartland of the USA.

After getting settled in and with my bedroom right next to the ham shack, I had to test conditions after everyone else turned in. Conditions to Europe even at midnight local time on 15, 17 and 20m were quite good. With 100w it took only a few CQs to generate a big pileup. I reduced the power to 5w on the TS940S and it didn’t seem to make any difference! Things were looking good for the contest on the weekend.

Keko’s better half is Sofia, TI2IY, and she helped him put up the towers. When they topped of the big tower, they carried a bucket of champagne to the top and toasted the completion of the project.

They live in the central highlands part of Costa Rica at about 2400 feet ASL. Even though it is only 10 degrees north of the equator, it is not that hot, and air-conditioning is not widely used or needed. I was there in the rainy season, but it was pretty dry during my stay although they said it had been unusually wet prior to my arrival. They tried to give me credit for bringing them good weather. It would get humid and warm in the middle of the day and as clouds built up it would rain and cool things off. The weather in someways is similar to what we have in Colorado in the summer with the day beginning with clear skies and clouds develop with rain showers later on although being only 50 miles from the Atlantic and Pacific oceans the clouds would build quickly.

Another purpose of my trip was to see if I could get Keko started with 2m EME (moonbounce) as he had expressed and interest. Since he only had 80w on 2m I brought along my RF Concepts 170w brick for a little extra horsepower. Fortunately he was able to acquire a 17 element M2 from Eric, TI2NA. This antenna had been used by Jimmy Tribeg, W6JKV on an EME expedition to HK0. It was missing a section of the boom and the last 3 elements which we fortunately were able to replace all and have the original 33 ft boom with about 15Db gain. In EME land 170w is definitely QRP. The moon was not in a favorable position as it was out some 400,000 KM at the time I was there. It would be some 4700KM/watt if we could do it. We had been in contact with Dave Blaschke, W5UN, Mr. Moonbounce, and it was decided that moonset would be the best time for our efforts. Dave has 48 of the same yagis plus 1.5KW. On a good day he has heard his own echoes off the moon with 3 watts. We were not going to be hearing any echoes! Since it takes about 2.5 seconds for signals to travel to the moon and back, well equipped stations can hear their own echoes. We set up the yagi aimed west and found we could elevate it to about 45 degrees and follow the moon to the west as it set. We set up Keko’s Icom 706 with my 500Hz filter on the 3rd floor lookout room where we could easily walk out on the roof to aim the antenna at the moon. We also set up a TS440S for liaison hooked to the 40m yagi. About 10 minutes before the EME sked Keko is talking to Dave on 40m. Keko says "he is transmitting now on 2m" and as soon as I put on the headset on the 2m rig I copy the signal! We were running 2 min sequences which means each station transmits for 2 minutes then listens for 2 minutes. We were able to copy W5UN solid for the first 6 minutes of his transmitting but he was not hearing us. Towards the end of the 30 minute sked he copied us but we were hearing nothing. At moonrise and moonset you get ground gain which can improve things by 3Db or better. We were also picking up city type noise as the antenna got close to moonset.

The following night we try again. At the appointed time the sky is clear except for one big cloud covering the moon. Keko is running around on the roof working the antenna and I’m listening. This running around on the metal roof at 3AM makes it difficult for Sofia and the two children, Fabiana and Adrian, to sleep down below us. After about 10 minutes I finally start to hear W5UN. About this time the cloud uncovers the moon which made things much easier. I copy both calls so I start sending the O signal report. A few minutes later I copy RO from Dave which means he Rogers our report and has copied both calls also. I send 73 and copy R73 so we have Keko’s first EME QSO. KB8RQ, Gary Crabtree, of Dayton, Ohio comes on frequency and we can hear him zero beat Dave. We easily work Gary in about 10 minutes for the second and third ever EME QSOs from Costa Rica on 2m. TI2NA had made a 432MHz QSO some years back and W4ZD had worked W5UN some years earlier on 2m from Costa Rica. The local Tico hams were quite impressed with our accomplishment. I had worked W5UN on moonrise once with a single yagi but I was running about 500 watts at the time so it was the lowest power I’ve ever used for a EME QSO and one yagi. Hopefully there will be more EME in the future from TI land.

During the days we checked out the antennas and all is looking well for the contest. I operate a few hours each evening and even with QRP it is no problem to have a big pileup. I even get a few Germans to answer my QRP CQs on 40 CW! I spent some time operating 17m and 30m as apparently there is a fair demand for TI on CW on these bands. I made some 500+ QSOs outside the contest period. The QSLs have begun to roll in. Keko also showed me some of the sights such as Volcan Irazu and I got to meet some of the locals. There are some 3,000 hams in Costa Rica and you see a fair number of HF yagis as you drive around but activity is low. There are a lot active on VHF/UHF FM. With 11,000 foot Volcanoes in the center of the country, it is well covered with repeaters. Labor even for radio technicians is cheap so they are willing to spend a lot of hours trying to fix radios that we would probably discard as unrepairable. If you have such a radio and are going to Costa Rica, take it with you as someone will treasure it.

Outside the WPX CW contest I was having so many stations calling it was difficult to pull a call. Unfortunately this was not the case during the contest and I ended up doing about 50% search and pounce at the best rate of 50 to 60 QSOs and hour. I was hopeful that I could break the North American QRP record held by VP2MU. I did this by about 4% which may not be enough of a margin to survive the log checking process. With 1130 QSOs and 525 prefixes I ended up with 1,612,800 points. By the scores posted so far on the web I am sitting at #1 world for QRP. It would not supprise me to see a European score show up in the final results that is better. Typically a lot of the QRP types from Europe don’t post their scores on 3830. I must say that I could have been smarter in managing my off times. In WPX a single OP is only permitted to operate 36 of the 48 hours. I should have taken my off times differently than what I did. It may be an excuse to go back again and do it right the next time. As for operating the Europeans are very strong. I even managed to work over 30 on 40 CW. Even the east coast of the US didn’t have much of an opening on 10m to Europe. I had 10 to 12 hours per day to Europe on 10m but there just weren’t many to work. About 45% of my QSOs were Europe and 45% North America. The balance were evenly divided among the other 4 continents. I was suprised at the few South Americans worked. HC8N was the only station worked on all 6 bands. Several were worked on 4 bands. Thanks to Keko and Sofia Diez, my wonderful hosts in Costa Rica. I appreciated the moral support and encouragement as well as the fine meals and snacks. I certainly hope to return in the future.

The solar flux numbers are once again starting to look better and hopefully we will see it over 200 by fall. Get those antenna projects finished to be ready for the next few years of high solar activity. Just this morning I was able to work VQ9GB on Diego Garcia long path on 20 CW for QRP #228 on CW. He was 59+20Db and gave me 559 and relatively easy to work. 17m has been quite good at times and even with my mobile rig QRP I was able to work JY9QJ and XX9TRR (#267 QRP) among others. By fall I would hope that we would see almost daily openings world wide on 10m.

73 Phil N0KE

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