Of cannons, beer and paradise

Location: Calypso Bay, St Kitts

Contest: ARRL DX Phone SSB Contest, 48 hours over March 7 and 8, 2020

Contest Software Used: N1MM

Portable operation: No

Radio: 2 x Elecraft KX3, PX3 Panadapter and KXPA100  amp operating at 100 watts SSB

Antenna: 80/40 vertical, 2 element  20/15/10 tri-bander

Bands used: 80m 40m, 20m, 15m

Hike:  None….we sat for ~24 hours spread out over Saturday and Sunday

Solo operation: No with Matt K0BBC

Recommend: Yes

Photos: Copyright Paul Gacek 2020

“I’m sorry sir but I can’t find Saint Kitts”.

Momentarily doubting my geographic prowess, I blurt out Charade style that it’s an island in the Caribbean.

“Ummm, sir, I have a Saint Christopher & Nevis”.

“Yes, that’s it” I respond and moments later I’m handing over a serious wad of cash in exchange for a promise that my application will be in delivered days later in both St Kitts and Saint Christopher & Nevis. Bingo, I’m off to the races or so it seems.

Days turn into weeks.

The application decided to spend Thanksgiving at LAX and for reasons unknown it then sat in Ft Lauderdale before an even longer sojourn in Miami. Finally, things are looking up as the web suggests it’s now crossed the Caribbean and arrived in St Kitts.

Hooray but maybe not as it appears that after an unsuccessful delivery attempt it’s once again just sitting in a post office!

Whatever is going on here?


My heroine steps forward and takes it upon herself to leave her desk at the St Kitts National Telecommunications Regulatory Commission and head to the main post office during the Christmas peak. Think busy, long lines and crowds but it’s retrieved and now safely where it was intended to be weeks earlier.

Thank you Joya for your initiative and kindness.

Days later I receive my contest call sign V47P that we will use in early March. This style of call sign makes life much easier in a contest versus the mouthful I might have had to use, V4/W6PNG.

Screen Shot 2020-05-06 at 6.54.08 AM
Island sightseeing during 1,200 mile flight from Miami to St Kitts

I’ve hit pay dirt in my choice of seats as I stare through puffy clouds making out islands large and small. Maybe that is Turks and Caicos, maybe that is the US Virgin Islands and I spend my time seeing what a non cached Google map can tell me it is I am looking at beyond a string of beautiful pearls.

The Caribbean is truly a paradise and my mind wanders between pieces of eight, the thought of rum cocktails and operating radios.

Mystery island as Google didn’t help
Saba, our neighbor and a Dutch island
Moments from touch down at St Kitts


There is an art to finding a great contest location and one of the big appeals of John’s place is the fact it has antennas. With the goal of trying out my SO2R setup, not having to bring antennas from the US is a big plus.

John’s house is beautiful and well located to see the sea and dream the dream.

Nevis, shrouded in a cloud from our pool area
Community pool was a really welcome place
and I relaxed by our pool and stared at Nevis
The house with verticals prominently displayed

One is none, two is one

I fell into the idea of building a two radio system that is easy to take to islands like St Kitts  after realizing the consequences of taking a single radio that is DOA. Game over before it even started.

Two radios, even for the uninitiated, have a huge benefit around “band awareness”.

When busily working or trying to work a single band, you often find yourself wondering, especially during slow periods, if the action is on a different band. Having a second radio allows you to monitor other bands while still concentrating on your perceived best band.

Being a SOTA guy life started with the KX3 and it is a capable radio. The selling point for the “one is none, two is one” project is the modular aspect of the KX3 in that a spectrum display, the PX3 and a 100w amp, the KXPA100 are available and make the idea of compact transportation more viable.

To round it out I constructed a stand using off the shelf parts with an emphasis on transportability but also to support my perspective that I like everything directly in front of me to minimize arm, hand and neck/eye movements that over 24 or 48 hours can add up to misery.

That’s the theory. The practice is that two radios drag along a huge amount of RF filtering adding a lot to the volume and weight of your suitcase.

The KX3 isn’t really a contest radio and I it struggles to reject close in super strong signals that are the essence of a circa 2020 contest on 20m …. a complete food fight for spectrum.

The doubling up of functions on a single button isn’t very ergonomic for quick and momentary corrections to nab a signal during the food fight but worst is the Elecraft chosen components tend to wear out and in truth 10-20% of my significant knobs struggle to do what they are supposed to do either easily or at all.

Matt (K0BBC) is a trooper but I know he is less than thrilled with the KX3 as a contest radio and would rather see my K3s (or one day K4) arrive instead of the KX3 assemblage.

V47P on the map….a winning sign!!
Operating position
KX3 and PX3 fit snuggling into a camera lens insert from Timbuk2
2 x KX3, 2 x PX3, one laptop, passport and money…..
Breakdown easily and lays flat in a checked bag

Meeting the famous, Randy Thompson (K5ZD and soon to be V47T)

Randy Thompson (K5ZD), world famous contesters imparting karma to our station

A lull and a dash for the highway

Contests for “Little Pistol” stations can ebb and flow from periods of frenetic contacts pace through to long periods of barking into the ether and hearing hiss in return.

We are at one of those lulls and make an impromptu decision to drive around the island. It sounds a little odd but all radio can be a bad thing, especially when in paradise and an island loop is probably only around 2 or so hours.

I’ve spent a lot of time switching back and forth driving in the UK and US meaning I have some competence on either driving on the left or right. However, a clue is that as the driver you sit closest to the center of the road which acts as a reminder where you should be when navigating turns and roundabouts (or circles as Matt loves to call them). However, driving in St Kitts had an unexpected twist as the imported cars are left hand drive US ones but the driving protocol is all British and I found myself sitting next to the curb which creates a sense of dissonance. However, the gods were with us and we navigated the island near and far without incident.

Saba island from the the northern end of St Kitts
Lunch time view
Snapper and curry sauce
Locally brewed Guinness…..yes, yes and yes again

Post contest Brimstone

The name alone suggests a visit and conjures up images of Macbeth or even a more benign Harry Potter. Billed as the most complete colonial fort in North America and being listed as a UNESCO Heritage site all suggests a great day out.

I love history and marvel at what our forefathers accomplished realizing that sometimes the history is bleak and dark. Slavery is nothing but abhorrent. Brimstone is in fantastic condition and the recent restoration a labor of love. The views are spectacular in all directions, the engineering (or in-fact reengineering) to collect the maximum amount of rain water etc to not re-endure a failed siege was fascinating and the museum on St Kitts human evolution enlightening, yet sad.

As a complete package and experience it was fabulous and I would return simply to see what I missed and enjoy the initial delight again.

View of Saba et al looking north from Brimstone
Looking south at Nevis
Looking north west from Brimstone


Despite its formidable position on hill the Brits did manage to get defeated by the French

Was the trip fun?


St Kitts is a beautiful island and the people utterly charming.

John’s house is a wonderful base at the south end of the island and within easy striking distance of many eateries and views.

We struggled in the ARRL DX SSB contest. It’s hard being a 100w SSB station.

If you aren’t “spotted” it can be a long drawn out journey to dawn, to dusk and dawn again. The bottom of the 11 year sun cycle doesn’t help as we are all struggling and maybe the Juma 1000 would have been a better amp than the KXPA100. We were simply a whisper in the ether and hence really never spotted which is the kiss of death.

However, it was fun, having V47P a real treat and I verified my SO2R station gave me band awareness back and forth between 80m and 40m during a long lull. Onwards to the next contest and brighter days!

How I feel is summed up in one statement…..I’d return in a heart beat!!

V47P…Paul (W6PNG) and Matt (K0BBC)



One comment

  1. It was great to meet and share dinner with you while on the island. Little did we know how lucky we were to get this trip in before the full brunt of the pandemic was realized just days later.


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