Cottage on the beach

As always plans for the summer holidays are made around Christmas of the preceding year. This time was no different. We wanted to go to Florida when our son would be old enough to enjoy Disney world a lot more than in 1994 when he was just 1.5 years old. But, 22 days of theme parks is not really what we were ready for so we began thinking about splitting the holiday in two. We would go to Orlando and make a tour of northern Florida. We expected to do that in about 2 weeks.

I wanted ham radio to be part of the trip and began to look for an easy accessible island with decent accommodation and where we would have at least enough choice in 'non-ham' activities. First choice was one of the Florida keys (Key Largo seemed a good choice). The problem was that it was out of the way for the rest of our plans and we've already been there before. Then we began looking at the Caribbean. The Bahamas looked good and were to be easy reached from Florida. A message on the DX- reflector about how to get a license yielded a few answers wit practical info. One of the replies was from Steve , N4JQQ/C6AFP, who not only gave me the needed info but also has a villa with complete ham station in Treasure Cay that he rents. This sounded great to my family too so licenses were applied for with the FCC for the W4 part and with BATELCO for the C6 part of the holiday.

About three weeks later I got a letter from BATELCO that my license was refused because Belgium and the Bahamas have no reciprocal licensing agreement. This was like getting into an ice cold shower. We already booked the villa and had our plane tickets in hand, no time to change plans. I was exchanging e-mail with Steve the whole time and he helped me out with e-mail addresses of local C6 hams. Ray, C6AGR, and Carolyn, C6AGG, gave me a lot of info on how things worked with licensing and it seemed that only 4 countries have reciprocal agreements with the Bahamas, the US, Canada, Germany and the UK. I immediately mailed the DARC only to find out that I needed to be a German resident to obtain a DL call. Next try was to call the Radio Agency in Bristol. I found a lot of info on their web page and it 'looked' like I could obtain a full UK license without actually living in the UK, a mailing address was sufficient. A week after sending the paperwork and the license fee I received my license. I was now also M0CIL.

The next day my application for a C6 license was send, now with a copy of my UK license. After about 2 weeks I asked Ray if he knew how things were at BATELCO. They had another surprise... My application never made it to their office... Murphy at his best. We were now getting nearer to departure time and I would still not be able to operate from C6. Ray offered to deliver my application at BATELCO himself if I faxed him all the necessary documents. I did just that and 2 weeks later (5 weeks before the holiday) I had the license, I would be M0CIL/C6A.

GulfstreamJuly 23rd was the day we finally took off. After an early start, leaving home at 7.30 in the morning we left Brussels airport behind us at 11.15 (a 30 minute delay) for Atlanta on Delta 125. There we transferred after clearing immigration and customs for Miami. After a taxi ride through rush hour (why they call it rush hour I don't know, nobody was rushing anywhere) we settled down in our hotel room for the night and the next day Gulfstream Airlines dropped us off in Treasure Cay after a 1 hour flight on a Beechcraft 1900.

Our 'home' for a weekAfter clearing Bahamian immigration and customs, we took a cab to the villa that was to be our home for the next 6 days. It all looked exactly like Steve had told us and just like the pictures he had send us. We got settled in and after getting some basic stuff for the refrigerator from the local supermarket we went on our way to scout the area.

Crowded beachIt was extremely hot (about 10C or 18F more than in Belgium) and we found it difficult to stay outside for more than an hour at a time. Sunscreen was applied often and it didn't take long to get my 'paper white' skin brown/reddish ...
We took a short walk to the beach only to find it almost abandoned. On a 2 mile white sandy beach with palm trees and clear turquoise water we only saw 5 people. Not exactly a place where you have to put your towels early in the morning so you will still have a spot after breakfast...

M0CIL/C6A in actionOf course it didn't take long for me to set up the station. The power supply, TS-690SAT and computer were put on the kitchen table and within minutes I was on the air. The IOTA contest was already well underway but I could still give out a few points for NA-080.
I took a break for dinner and after that operated until around 1 in the morning. The next morning I wanted to continue for a while realizing just in time that because of the time difference the IOTA contest would end at 8 o'clock. So I had to settle for 3 contest QSO’s before the 12.00 UTC deadline.

In all I ended up with 142 QSO’s in about 6 hours of operating. I'm not a real contester or DXer but I really enjoyed this short experience of operating from the DX side. Chances are that I plan future holidays with this in mind. Working with 100 Watts on a vertical does not give you a killer signal but when they need you for a multiplier you'll be surprised of the signal reports .. :-)

After the contest our our first full day in the Bahamas begun. We took our swimming and snorkeling gear and went to the beach. This time it was more crowded than the day before. There were at least 8 people there! We enjoyed this day of rest and swimming and after this 'hard day at the beach' I could play radio for a while. The next day after swimming we wanted to see more of the surrounding area. In 95F walking a long distance is not very enjoyable so we rented a golf cart. This seems to be the favorite mode of transport in Treasure Cay. We drove a few miles on the main road to look for 2 restaurants that were advertised and we also wanted to look for a place where we could snorkel and see some fish.

Treasure Cay MarinaOn Tuesday we had booked a day trip with C&C rentals. Chris was already waiting for us when we arrived in the Marina at 9:45. We took the snorkeling gear and cold drinks (VERY important) on board and left for a place where, according to Chris, we would see a lot of fish and probably find some shells too. He was right. Once again there was almost no one around and the colorful tropical fish we saw were the kind that we would only find in an aquarium at home. Next Chris took us to Guana Cay a small village with a few shops and a holiday resort. We had lunch on the island (*) and moved on to the next island were we stopped at Hope town. We walked through the village but dark clouds and close thunder made us decide it would be better to 'quickly' go to the lighthouse and then head out of there.

Hopetown lighthouse*) We later found out that the restaurant that we ate at was swept away partly by Hurricane Floyd.

Hopetown as seen from the lighthouse.On the way back to Treasure Cay we stopped by shell island for some snorkeling again. We found a lot of nice looking shells and I even found a few large 'conch'. Conch (pronounced 'konk') is a specialty of the Bahamas. You can eat it prepared in many ways, we even had small chunks fried and served as a snack (conch fritters).

Abaco licenseplateOn Wednesday, after another hard day at the beach, we picked up a rental car so we could see more of Great Abaco Island. We drove north as far as possible. This gave us the chance to see how the Bahamian people live. Life is a lot simpler in a country with no industry and little to look forward to. Even though people are poor compared to our western standard what they lack in material things, they make up with their friendliness. Most people walking along the road or sitting in front of their houses waved and smiled at us.

Fish near Treasure CayThursday was to be our last full day in Treasure and we wanted to make the most of it. We still had the car until 4 in the afternoon so first we drove to the end of the main road in Treasure. There at the beach we went snorkeling for the last time. I already bought a disposable underwater camera so I would at least have 'proof' of the fact that there were a lot of fish around. I didn't expect too much of the quality of these cameras but it would be better than nothing. Fortunately the pictures turned out good enough for web publishing.

Fish near Treasure Cay

In the afternoon we drove south to March Harbor, the main town on Abaco Island for some shopping. On the way back there was once again a heavy thunderstorm and we could hardly see the road in front of us. Upon our return in Treasure Cay we saw that it had rained a lot there too, there was about 2 inches (5 cm) of water in the road dip in front of the house.

That evening we began packing our stuff together so we wouldn't have to hurry on Friday morning. Before we left we had once again a very violent thunderstorm. We could see a few lightning strikes almost immediately followed by loud thunder, many strikes were probably within 500 meter from our location.
One of the locals carefully watching the tourists
The taxi picked us up at 1 o'clock in the afternoon and after a 15 minute ride we were ready to check in at the Continental desk before flying to Miami.

I made a little over 400 QSO’s, 32 were on 6 meter, a band I've never worked on before. The problem on 6m was that the C6AFP beacon is located in the same house we stayed in. This meant that in order to check the band I had to switch it off. The beacon was not too easy to access so most of the time I didn't bother to go to 50 MHz, the times I did work the 'magic band' it was fun though.

In the mean time I had a special full color QSL card printed for this IOTA activation. It can be viewed here (56 Kb JPEG file)

This ended the first leg of our holiday. The next pages are about the second part of the holiday in Florida.

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