LUXURY CARIBBEAN DXPEDITION
The cruise ship Carnival Freedom provided an opportunity to be on the busy end of a DX pile up while cruising the sunny Caribbean.
My wife Deborah ,KB1FEF ,myself ,K1AYZ and friends Carl , K8BBT along with his wife Jayne booked a cruise on the Carnival Freedom about a year ago to take place at the end of February and into the first week of March 2010. Our stops along the way were San Juan Puerto Rico, St Thomas and Tortola in the Virgin Islands, Antigua, and Nassau in the Bahamas.
I went aboard the ship with somewhat mixed feelings as I had just recently purchased a new Yaesu FT 2000 at Hamcation , was still learning how to use it and propagation had been good with openings on 15 meters and 12 meters. Now I was going to be away from my new station for eight days and I was sure I was going to be suffering from ham radio withdrawal .
After a long drive from our homes in Tavares, Florida to the point of embarkation in Fort Lauderdale, Florida we boarded the Freedom to locate our state room and baggage. As we were boarding I noticed another gentleman with his call letters on his hat and we stopped for a moment to say hello then continued on to find our rooms. That evening after a dinner in the Posh dining room the four of us were in an elevator going up to the Promenade deck when we met Paul , N1ZYB and Linda ,N1ZYC who told us they were part of a group of about twenty five ham operators who were cruising together and had two HF stations set up on the aft portion of the Lido deck. After a brief discussion they invited us to stop by the next day to check out their operation.
The next morning Carl and I hot footed to the Lido deck to see what was going on and much to our surprise and delight here were two HF stations set up at opposite corners of the aft portion of the deck. Each station consisted of an Icom 7000 fed into a Tarheel Screw Driver antenna . The antennas were mounted on the deck above the operating position and had been placed there by the ship’s engineering department in an area that was safe from passersby . The engineering department also provided AC power to each operating position and ran all cables necessary to get the stations on the air.
This group titled Ham Radio Cruise 2010 had been organized by Vernon Fix ,W4THN from Virginia Beach ,VA and was the third such floating dxpedition he had put together over several years. This was the second one on the Carnival cruise line and one other on the Princess cruise line. They had several seminars scheduled during the cruise on subjects such as County Hunters and Fox Hunting. Check out this web site that Vernon put together to promote Ham Radio Cruise 2010 < www.hamradiocruises.com >.
I know everyone is hoping he will put another ham radio cruise together sometime in the future.
Vernon arranged through the ARRL for all the paper work necessary to be able to operate a ham radio station on board this Panamanian registered ship. An IARP form or International Amateur Radio Permit was issued for the trip. Stations were using the prefix HP0 and then their calls followed by maritime mobile.
Many of the individual operators also brought portable stations and antennas which they were able to use operating from their state rooms.
The modes used were SSB , PSK 31 , CW and Amtor.The primary modes however were single side band and CW. On one day I observed Rick Bailer ,W7BBQ work over 100 CW stations. He was also hot on SSB and watching him operate you knew he was a born contester. Overall, he accounted for over 300 QSOs from the ship. The bands used primarily were 20, 17 and 15 meters.
Pete, K9OWQ, who was in charge compiling all the contacts made , tells me that there were a total of 450 maritime mobile QSOs made during the cruise.
A few things we learned that would help in future ship operations are as follows. Head sets with microphones would be very helpful as there is a lot of noise on deck and it was hard to hear some of those weaker stations through the speakers. We didn’t want to run the volume too high so as not to disturb other non-ham guests on the Lido deck. One of the hams suggested bringing plenty of tie wraps to keep the installation neat. The IC 7000s worked well with the screw driver antennas but it was sometimes a problem tuning up when bands were changed and they had to decide which way to push the motor control button on the antenna to make it go up or down. Often they had to send someone out to the middle of the Lido deck where he could look up and view the antenna to make hand signals back to the operating position indicating if the coil was moving up or down. This problem was fixed later by putting the screw driver in the 80 meter position and using an LDG auto tuner at the operating position when bands were changed. This way the motor control remained stationary and the auto tuner replaced all the hand signals.
The Carnival Freedom is a fairly new ship launched in 2007 and is a 952 foot super liner which is really a floating resort. It can accommodate 3000 guests and has a crew of 1100. The power supply to the ship produces11,000 volts with it’s 75.6 megawatt power station driven by six diesel generators. How would you like to have that for your field day set up ?
Many thanks are due the Carnival Cruise line , Captain Orazio D’Aita of the Freedom and his Staff Engineering Officer Cesare Boldrini for their cooperation allowing the set up of the ham radio stations and helping with the power connections and antenna placement.
Both Carl and I were invited to operate the stations and I had some fun operating maritime mobile some where off the Dominican Republic . On 20 meters I worked Jim Bowie N3ADF and have already exchanged QSL cards with him and Ray, WB4FRC.
Carl, K8BBT met a fellow member of the Royal Naval Amateur Radio Society ,Terry Passey , K4TRP ,who he had talked to on their net but had never eye balled.
We had a great time traveling with this group of hams and it made the cruise seem like one big sea going ham fest. As a result I didn’t miss my home station nearly as much as I thought I would.
John T. Luebbers K1AYZ