Operating from Bermuda

Posted on March 22, 2018 by Chris Lumens in Bermuda, radio.

From March 9 through March 14, Sarah and I were on vacation in Bermuda. This was originally supposed to be a group trip, but the crazy storms in New England forced it to be just the two of us and screwed up all our flights. The basic plan was a quick vacation to an island where I could also operate the radio as a DX station for a change.

Of course I didn’t want to load a bunch of radios and antennas onto a plane and fly somewhere and spend half my vacation time setting things up. So months ago I did some searching for ham radio vacation rentals, we narrowed it down to locations where Zika is not an issue, and settled on Bermuda. It helped that it’s only a two hour direct flight from Boston.

We rented from Ed Kelly (VP9GE), whose house is right on the #10 and #11 bus line, and who was extremely friendly. He handled getting my reciprocal license, picked us up from and dropped us off at the airport, took us grocery shopping, and even dropped us off at a couple sightseeing locations on an extremely rainy day. He also made a contact with me on 20m one day and dropped a QSL card off right away and pointed me at the weekly Bermuda net where I talked to several other locals.

The apartment we rented was on the ground floor. The radio gear is in the kitchen/living room along with the TV. This makes it easy to operate while someone is sleeping, but harder to operate while someone watches TV. We figured it out. His radio is an FT-920 that’s big and easy to use. There’s an antenna switch allowing you to go between wires for 160m, 80m, and 40m, an antenna to cover the WARC bands (30m, 17m, and 12m), and a yagi on a rotator that covers 20m, 15m, and 10m. It’s all very well labeled and easy to use.

The vacation itself was loads of fun. There’s lots of museums scattered across the island covering natural history, the oceans, and the history of the island. The aquarium and zoo was also nice and surprisingly cheap - we definitely got our money’s worth there. Right by the apartment is the rail trail which we enjoyed walking along at sunset and the Crystal Caves, expensive but well worth it. Also within walking distance was the Jamaican Grill which we both really enjoyed and went to three times, and the famous Swizzle Inn, which was also the closest bar.

Anyway there is lots of info out there about vacationing in Bermuda. I wanted to focus more on how the radio operating worked. I’d never been the DX station before so this was a bit of a learning experience for me.

Ahead of time

Aside from a ton of time spent making sure my own logging software worked fine for multiple locations and callsigns, the biggest thing I did to prepare was send a message out to DX World saying when I’d be there and what my callsign would be. That got picked up by tons of other sites so everyone knew in advance I’d be there. DX Engineering even sent me a free hat and asked that I send them a picture of me wearing it.

I’m not really a fan of the QRZ website, but a whole lot of people use it. I spent some time making sure my QRZ page was up to date and included what bands I’d be on, how to confirm with me, and an email address for reaching me. I think a lot of people ended up using this and I would definitely keep this updated for future expeditions.

Ed took care of the reciprocal licensing. I just had to send him some info from the FCC. That ended up being no problem at all.

What I brought

I decided ahead of time that I would limit my operations to two different modes: Voice on HF, and FM on satellites. I decided digital modes weren’t worth the time trying to set up on a radio I was unfamiliar with, and my CW is poor at best. I’m out of practice at the moment and certainly not up to dealing with CW pileups. So with that in mind, I brought the following:


Pretty much right after we got to Ed’s house, I wanted to get on the radio but first we needed to run some errands like buying bus tickets. Once we got done with that and before dinner, I sat down and tuned the radio to somewhere on 40m and spotted myself. Within just a minute or two, I had a big pileup going full of east coast US stations. It was intimidating, but I was was able to keep things under control by either replying to a station whose call I got entirely, or by asking for just a bit of someone’s call I was able to hear. I never felt like I was in an especially good rhythm of talking and responding, plus I had a logging bug that required me to punch in the frequency after every contact.

US stations made up the vast majority of the contacts I logged, which was not surprising since I was so close. A couple times I asked for non-US stations which only resulted in a couple contacts. Aside from that, I tried to work Europeans by getting up early and pointing the beam at them. I made several contacts with people on other islands, one or two in South America, one in Alaska, and nowhere else. I didn’t really mind, though.

It seemed pretty evenly split between people who wanted to chat and people who just wanted the contact in their log and moved on. I was happy chatting with people so long as there weren’t others trying to call me. The weather was most people’s favorite subject. Several people told me they’d stayed with Ed before. I might have even sold a couple on booking their own trip.

Morning, right before dinner, and late night seemed to be the most popular. I was rarely on during the day, but it was dead. 40m was by far my most popular band even though 40m and below were all very noisy. It grew tiring to listen to after a while.

What worked

What didn’t

What I’d do differently