ON5ZO – OQ5M

SFI > 250 or bust!

Truth n°1: If it ain’t broken, don’t try to fix it.
Truth n°2: Don’t do silly stuff late in the evening.

I dared both truths last night a little after 10 PM. I was having decent success on the lower bands but for the last few days a nasty problem has developed. My 2.4 GHz wireless keyboard suddenly stops responding. It just plays dead for a couple of seconds.Very annoying when trying to make contacts. I still can’t type blind so I look at the keyboard while typing but when looking up, nothing is there. Or in CW you hit enter but it just doesn’t start sending CW. Lid factor increasing! I tried changing batteries but this didn’t help.

I was about to change bands and -don’t ask me why- out of the blue I got the idea to update the microHAM USB driver software, and the MK2R+ firmware. Was it broken? NO. Was it late in the evening? YES. Still I went along with the procedure that I had delayed for a few months now. Delayed because I know I should’n be fixing things late in the evening while they’re not even broken. I have performed this procedure numerous times since 2006 and everything went OK thisd time until I fired up the MK2R+ and N1MMLogger. I kept getting the message that the internal winkey chip didn’t respond and even worse: the PTT got stuck resulting in errors on the K3’s display. Oh no – not now! NOT NOW!!!

I could do a downgrade of the MK2R+ firmware as these files are stored on the local PC. But the microHAM website only shows the link for the latest version of the USB router. CRAP! Long shot: copy the HTTP link to the file and edit it to a lower number in the hope the older files were still stored in the folder of the microHAM web server. YES! Bingo! I now was about to downgrade both firmware and USB drivers in the hope the problem would go away.

Which of course it didn’t. How on earth could a winkey chip go dead like this? Like I said: I have done a dozen upgrades for this device. I had tried reloading the router software, did a few power off/on cycles but the problem persisted. So I sent a mail to the support address hoping they would come up with an answer and preferably a solution. Google only talked about RFI issues destroying the chip. But I have used this chip over twelve years with +1kW while I now had been running only 400-500W fot the last two weeks. I was starting to look for solutions to keep the station going without the SO2R controller. I’m not about to do SO2R soon and voice keying is not needed the coming months.

Before abandoning the shack I decided to remove the drivers from the Windows device manager had had it reinstalled, then power everything off, drain the capacitors of the power supply, shut off the PC and reboot and restart everything once again. And suddenly the error was gone, the PTT didn’t hang and I could send CW again. This last measure seemed to cure the problem and I could have some more fun on the bands.

I must admit I wasn’t really at ease when I started everything this morning but everything is still working. I wonder what the answer will be from Tech Support. I haven’t notified them yet that the problem solved itself…

The lure of the bands has gotten me into the shack lately more than Lorelei attracted ships on the Rhine. Actually it’s not the bands, it’s the special OT70 callsigns that generate at least some interest. Without these I would simply not be active when there is no contest going on. Band conditions (propagation) has been terrible. A simple Belgian would not get many replies to a CQ today.

And still. Sometimes a band can surprise me. After slowly working five very weak Europeans on 17m, you might conclude the band is dead and then there is this JA coming in 5 on the S-meter. Or yesterday: another pathetic attempt to work at least a handful of EU on 10 meters with the antenna pointing at 50° (between JA and UA). Suddenly TI8II calls in. Not loud but ‘armchair copy’. So there usually is some form of propagation. Sometimes…

The main problem is: PEOPLE JUST DON’T TUNE THE BANDS ANYMORE. That’s an antiquated thing of the past. If you’re not on the cluster, you’re not making contacts. Period. And so I have decided to abandon my disgust for self-spotting during this month’s Special Event Station marathon. I won’t be doing that in a contest, but this time I decided it’s the way to go if you want to make some contacts instead of anxiously waiting for a replying station that puts you on the cluster. Asking – nay: begging to be spotted is a bridge too far. Sometimes I have called CQ for a few minutes without answer. Yet the Reverse Beacon Network picks me up way outside EU. I put myself on the DX cluster and the fun starts right away. I have worked +100 stations in an hour a few times after such a spot. The train keeps rolling at a steady pace when someone spots you again so your call remains in the bandmaps.

SSB. Yes SSB. I have been doing that too. Not much – I limit myself to 100 contacts per phone session or so. It’s a problem on 40 and 80 because the EUs are so loud, so zero beat and so many idiots. You ask for a DL2, you get a YO4. You ask for UX7, you get a IW7. WHY OH WHY? They keep calling on top of each other, they start calling in the middle of a QSO in progress. If it’s this bad for a ubiquitous Belgian station of which there are almost 50 around during 31 days, I can only imagine what it would be like from a real rare DX location. No thanks! I can handle that mess in CW to a certain extent within my limited pile-up experience but I hate it on phone. This stupidity and selfishness makes me mad. Don’t they listen? Many don’t. Do they understand plain English guidelines? Some don’t. I suspect they only understand their callsign and not words like ‘please wait’ or ‘QRX’ or ‘NO Europe please only DX only DX’. Or ‘Foxtrot Four shut up’. I easily get carried away when some moron displays hillbilly behavior.

And finally a bold statement: contest operators are better operators. Snappy, to the point, calling slightly up to avoid the zero-beat mess, no confusing interjections, perfect timing. Just the way I like it baby!

This OT70 business really has been fun so far. I’m almost at 3500 contacts for the two callsigns I am allowed to activate. I hope it’ll last twelve more days. Now outside to put up an ad hoc 17m antenna. That band is heavily unexploited so far. Stay tuned – or should I say: stay clusterized?

This month (May 2018) Belgium’s IARU member society UBA celebrates its 70th birthday. To commemorate this, every local club is assigned an OT70 call. Such an event is of course tailor made for yours truly. Just get on and call CQ and rake up contacts. And that is what I have been doing for the last twelve days. Sweet. I made almost 2500 contacts, mostly CW spread over two calls: OT70NNV for my club (town of NiNoVe) and OT70UBA, as a member of the UBA HF commission (contest management with ON7SS).

It has been a blast, not only for myself but the total QSO count for the event is now well over 100k already. I must admit I had never thought this was possible. Usually Belgian radio amateurs aren’t really keen on such things. But there you go. Massive participation from all over the country. There are even a few clubs who seem to be active close to 24/7.

HF conditions have been poor to terrible. Not only because cycle 24 is dead but also the K-index was 5 or 6 on sever occasions. And yet some DX comes through. Like an isolated JA on 17m or so. On the other hand there have been days that the RBN picks up my CQ but no one comes back. True: it’s not really smart to spend much time on 28 MHz right now but sometimes there are loud stations that come through. Not antipodal DX but well into a 3000 km range.

I have limited myself to the small amp (500 W) and the tower is only up 2/3. That means I can’t deploy the 160/80 verticals. I had sought a solution for this but the initial plan failed. Plan B (C? D?) was a working compromise. More on this later on in a dedicated story.

In the mean time I hope to enjoy some more runs. Big fun!

I recently saw that the CQ WPX site now also shows the best 60 minutes QSO rate. Being a lover of trivia I headed down there and looked up the highest numbers for Belgium.

I was quite surprised to see OQ5M listed in eight out of twenty slots for CW. Only two times in the SSB charts but I never do the SSB part for real.

In the greater scheme of things this does not mean anything. To me it’s not as much a sign of achievement but rather the prove of me being an active CW contester. Not that anyone still needs proof of that…

Shocker: my last participation in the phone part of the WPX dates from 2014. Actually I didn’t plan to play WPX SSB this year either. For the obvious reasons. Do I need to repeat those? For the hard headed: it’s SSB. And propagation sucks. On the other hand: it is a contest! I have the time. The Tower of Power is up. And that elusive OQ5 prefix isn’t going to hand itself out. And so I settled for SB20 just for fun and no goals. Again: for obvious reasons. It has been many years since I did the five-out-of-six routine: ARRL CW, UBA CW, ARRL SSB, RDXC and WPX SSB: five contests in six weekends. This means that my contesting dip is dead and buried and furthermore there are no (thunder)storms so the tower and low band wires are deployed.

Saturday I started around 0830z. The band wasn’t really open so I did a lot of S&P. Later on I managed a run that netted 100 QSO in an hour. I was in and out of the shack and after lunch I had 250 QSO. The weather was just too nice and the band just too lame so the family made a long walk. I got back around 1600z and thanks to the American contesters I had a nice 119 hour. The band died early and I scraped the bottom to finish day one with 500 QSO. So in theory, with much optimism and naivety this could lead to 1000 QSO. Yeah right.

Sunday morning started slow and I can skip the rest of the contest for this write-up: it would remain slow. The logger tells me I was active over eight hours on Sunday alone for a measly 200 QSO. I have called CQ for minutes on end without a single answer. Eight hours – 200 QSO. Compare that to this. I am grinning as I do the comparison myself.

Max rates in CQ WW CW

Sunday afternoon I ended up in a nasty frequency fight with EN4U. He had a S9+40dB signal and was as wide as a barn door. He just landed upon me. I asked him to QSY which he did. 500 Hz or so. Since there was no other fun to be had I engaged in a dog fight. I ignored him but QSY’ed along with him. If he went 500 Hz up, I followed him. Agreed: I should have been the bigger man. Which I probably am anyway. But I wasn’t this time. During this atrocity I remembered something from my analog electronics classes twenty years ago. A dirty signal over-amplified becomes a very big and very dirty signal. I forgot the math behind it but the principle stuck.

Now I usually don’t do this stuff. But I had been frustrated earlier on by a few dirty signals ruining that little fun there was to be had. RW3XZ occupied 8 kHz. UF1F: what was that? Elbow room is one thing but this was the equivalent of stretched arms. And UA3KW wasn’t much better. As if someone was slowly pulling apart twenty meters of Velcro-strip. But ten kHz away.

Things became too slow. I went out in the garden to see how nature starts to wake up with the first rays of light and temperatures with two digits (and positive). There were bees coming out of my bee hotels. And an early butterfly. One thing lead to another and soon I was handling my spade like a pro and working in the garden. I have been looking forward to this for months! One hour and one obligatory shower later I was back in the shack.

The sun had set in the east so many were moving there splattery business to 40m. I had a short run into USA but the signals were weak and there wasn’t much to be done. Then strangely the band went ‘super long’. Nothing anymore from the east coast but a dozen W6 came booming in. Propagation then shifted to WA / OR with another loud batch of W7. Sweet. There were also some weak W7 in there which weren’t easy to get in the log. Then I worked a batch of loud PY. They have more special prefixes than anyone else! And to close the day some southern EU stations were loud and easily worked. Stations that had been unworkable during the day. Along with stations from the Caribbean and central America. PJ2T was probably the hardest to work ever. Usually they are loud and easily worked on all bands. Today they were S6 and I had to try a few times in the course of the last hour. Propagation: never the same and it can be surprising any given day.

I can’t say that this was much fun apart from the two modest high speed runs and the W6/7 opening at the end. Next one is WPX CW?

One of my favorite events on the contest calendar. Despite my love for this one I skipped it in 2016 and 2017. Let’s call it ‘force majeur’. But I planned to be active in some form this year. Maybe a single band effort? But that is mixed mode in this one so that leaves out SB80 since I have to adjust the wire for either mode: longer for CW and shorter for SSB. I can’t do both at once. SB40 is out of the question. No SSB on 40 please. SB20 would be a good compromise then. Of course I prefer all band but propagation being what it is…

Along came Denis K7GK. I met Denis in 2007 when he was on a business trip in Belgium. We spent a day together with small talks and discussing ham radio. We kept in touch ever since and have worked numerous times in the contests. Since a few months he’s deployed in Holland by his employer. The guys at PI4COM were so kind as to let him play radio. And so Denis sent me an email with the subject: ‘LRCS-2018’. What’s that? In short: he dared me to a direct confrontation in this year’s Russian DX Contest which he dubbed ‘Lowlands Russian Contest Shootout’. Category: SOSB HP CW only. At least I could battle him in my preferred category. Challenge accepted! Since he only had one transceiver I left my second rig off and didn’t do SO2R. Only fair. PI4COM is about 120 km from here in a straight line so the location isn’t making much difference. Of course they have big monoband yagi’s and I have a small tribander… So that will be my excuse when the shootout goes bad for me.

We would give each other an hourly update with a skype message. I would also log on to the cqcontest.net real time score board.

Along came the contest. My plan was to forget ten meters. Starting off on 15 would not be a good idea. So I was going to run on twenty to start. Before the start I listened on 21 MHz. There was life from Russia with pretty decent signals compared to the recent  contests. Thus I started the contest on 15. It wasn’t a hot start but 92 contacts in an hour with plenty of oblasts was more than I had hoped for. The second hour I ran on twenty meters. That hour netted 143 QSO. That’s more like it. But not what it once was with the SFI much higher and the K a little lower.

The graph shows that it actually was a close race. In the ninth hour Denis took a short leap because he had worked some multipliers on 160/80 while I didn’t go there yet. Then I took and kept a slight lead but at the end I spent too much time trying to work multipliers on 10 meters that didn’t come after all. During that time Denis ran 20 and 15 like crazy. That was a tactical mistake by yours truly. However had ten opened up just slightly and I had worked a only dozen multipliers… As the saying goes: ‘If ifs and buts were candy and nuts, we’d all have a merry Christmas’.

In the end I have a numeric victory that is too small. It’ll come down to log checking. But it doesn’t matter. Two guys had a blast doing what do they best: CW contesting.

A few thoughts:

  • Denis’ idea brought the most fun I had in a contest since a loooong time. I like the online score reporting but a direct confrontation is something else. I cannot keep up with guys in eastern EU having multiple towers and stacks and probably running more than my 1200 W. Or guys at better locations.
  • This duel kept me in the chair. I’m sure I would have slept a few hours, even too many hours without Denis having slapped his glove in my face. I took two breaks though. My butt was sore and I wanted to keep the blood flowing. And I had to take care of the body’s I/O.
  • I only worked five Americans on 15 but not a single VE. That’s how the HF propagation conditions are… Same on 160: only three Americans (AA3B, N1UR and KO7SS remote from W1) and not even one VE. VE9ML was too weak to call. XL3A (if I recall correctly) was louder but didn’t reply to me.
  • The salt ’n pepper of contesting for me is working or being called by nice DX: 3B, 3C, 5Z, 9M2, EX (long time not worked!), HS, SU (!), VK, YB, ZB. No ZL though. One JA on 40 and five on 20. KL2R calling me out of the blue while just swinging the yagi from USA to JA. Yeehaw!
  • I did miss the second radio. When things are slow, you can always maintain a slow run and fill the log with contacts on the second radio.
  • I’m quite happy with the end result of 1850 QSO. It’s not my best score because of the poor conditions but I’d have settled for 1500-1600 contacts.

DR OM K7GK: When’s the next shootout?

I left the tower up after ARRL DX CW and UBA DX CW. I just want to goof around in this contest. Say hello to friends, enjoy working DX, give a multiplier perhaps and counter the FT8 stats. I am home alone this weekend so why not?

Preparation

I almost forgot to adjust the 80m wire from 3535 kHz CW resonance to 3700 kHz for SSB. It has been a very cold but dry week. And just when I remembered, it started raining. Yes raining. With temperatures still below zero and everything stone cold. You can imagine that it was slippery outside. I avoided walking on the mirror that was the terrace. Walking on the lawn was less dangerous but void between the rubber tiles under the tower and my shoe’s soles were rather well lubricated!

The rope holding the 80m antenna in the air and the copper wire itself were already covered with ice. I remember from a while ago that this detunes the antennas. It affects especially 160 and 80 since these have tuned elevated radials. Lowering the antenna broke the thin layer of ice. I shortened the 80m wire and hooked up the antenna analyzer inside the garage. I made it a tad too short since it resonated too high. I should put a piece of tape around the wire to mark the place where I need to fold back. I always forget. Soon after everything worked on the shack end and I was set to go.

Part I

Friday night I went to bed and set the alarm around 4 AM local time which is 0300z. I took my time: let the dog out, have breakfast, reply to nature’s call, fill up the pellet stove… Around 0400z I was active and I was shocked to see NO spots from EU for W/VE stations. Huh??? Americans spotted some EU but almost nothing. They spotted more South Americans and Caribbean stations. Yet another weekend like this?

I tried 80. Running didn’t raise a contact. Then I ran split: running around 3660 and also listening on 38xx. Two or three guys answered. They were weak and I think they answered on my TX frequency. I tried 160. K3LR was good copy. Which does not mean ‘loud’. He heard me right away, but only partially. Repeating my callsign a dozen times and I logged him. W3LPL was weaker. He kept on calling CQ in the face of all EU. A few guys got through but it wasn’t easy and it took many repeats. I didn’t get in the log. I felt sorry for the guy who drew the straw for the 160 slot. Maybe he was punished? Back to eighty, same story. What a lame event! Where was everyone? Bad propagation is one thing, but there wasn’t hardly anyone around. I did manage to work a W8 on 160 who had my call right away but wasn’t sure about it.

Then around sunrise I tried 40. Slightly better signals from the usual suspects. Again: ‘better’ does not mean an overexcited S-meter. An Italian threw the towel on 7194 and I jumped in the gap. I got called by two –yes two- stations. The second one spotted me. Ah yes. Now things will speed up for sure! Well it didn’t. Five minutes of calling yielded one contact.

In short: I was in the shack for three hours and a half and logged 3x on 160, 30x on 80 and 12x on 40 or so. Less than fifty contacts? I shut down at 0745z. I wonder what the rest of the weekend will bring. And I wonder what those will write now who stated that the CW event two weeks ago had the ‘worst propagation ever’?

Part II

Saturday afternoon, 1230z. There is life on 20 and it’s loud. I work up and down the band. Maybe I should check 15m? There are a few cluster spots but I can’t even hear K3LR and W3LPL. Can’t hear them. The HF contest beacons are inaudible. There is a light signal: K1XM. I hear him. I call him. I log him. That’s it for fifteen meters. Oh boy. There’s nothing else to do than to run on 14 MHz. My SSB life would be more comfortable with a ‘fi ni kilowoot’ WAV file. I recorded all my WAVs on a laptop with a multimedia microphone. But I can’t find that mic anymore. Luckily I have a cheap headset I bought for the XYL when she was heavily into skype meetings. But I never hooked it up to my laptop in the living room. I wanted a quick test. I asked my friend ON4BHQ if he was QRV and if I could give him a ring to see if the mic actually worked. He called me on skype and I was greeted with the live sound of a swinging twenty meter HF band. Funny: his soundcard is connected to his transceiver. A quick short chat confirmed that the headset was working. I downloaded audacity since my new two or three year old laptop didn’t have it installed. After that I quickly recorded a few trials and selected what seemed best. I was not too happy with how it sounded on the laptop. It has a bit of a spacy metallic sound. The recordings on my previous laptop with the lost mic seemed better. I mailed the WAV off to myself and retrieved the mail on the shack PC. Save the attached file in the right folder and changed the F-key file in N1MMLogger+. I asked ON4BHQ to listen to the modulation and according to his well-trained audiophile ears, it sounded just like the other WAV and my live voice. If he says it’s ok, I assume it is ok.

Just like The Boss I was born to run. But where? I remember a few years back twenty was empty because everyone was either on 15 or on 10. With only 14 MHz workable between NA and EU the whole 20m band was jam-packed with two or three layers of stations that were running. See why I prefer CW? So more S&P but I want rate and I want to run. It was simply impossible. At least not without messing up other people’s frequencies. I tried but I soon gave up. Not before being called by K5ZD. Randy had read the first part here above and he wanted to increment the counter by one. Thanks OM, much appreciated!

I got a phone call from the XYL. She was on her way back from work. With the kids staying at my in-law’s, I proposed to go out and have a snack. “What about your contest then?” she asked. Screw that. I’m only in it for the fun and it’s not quite funny right now.

Part III: finally some action.

Back in the shack around 1730z. Finally a small gap was punched on 14265.5 and I launched my RF over the Atlantic ocean. What followed was a modest run netting 124 contacts in one clock hour. The next hour I only logged 81 additional contacts on 20. The band was dying as it does at the bottom of the cycle: fast and early. Off for some TV at 2000z. I can’t remember what I watched. But I wanted to bridge a few hours between 20 closing and 40 being hopefully hotter than the previous night. The XYL was out to a surprise birthday party and I watched a movie. Around 2330 I was back in the shack. Forty was pretty hot it seemed. I go shy of 120 QSO after one hour and a half. It’s forty. It’s SSB. It’s DX only. So what more can I expect? I ran split most of the time: listening up in the band (e.g. 7289). It’s such a burden always having to announce that. I know that N1MMLogger can record CQ WAV files on the fly but I don’t know how and I never looked into that. There was nothing happening on 80 and 160 was a wasteland apart from some brave EUs calling CQ. At 0038z I closed down the shack and joined the XYL to sleep.

Part IV: Sunday morning

I set the alarm one hour later than Saturday. Good thing since the low bands were awful. Two isolated contacts on 160. The op at K1TTT had a workout to get my call right but he managed to figure it out and I was in the log. The op at W3LPL found himself in a similar situation. He seemed to hear a different letter each time he asked for a repeat. In the end he didn’t lay the puzzle and I didn’t make a QSO. I heard a lot of EU calling the Americans on Top Band but maybe one out of five made the contact. 160: absolutely rubbish this weekend. It wasn’t much better on 80. Luckily I encountered Rick K3OO. Always a pleasure to exchange a brief ‘Hello’ in the contests and he’s not shy to spot me. Mind you: I never ask to be spotted. But he did and a ‘Praise the K3OO’ crossed my mind. Yes. A spot. Now it’s on! And boy was it on. For about twenty contacts. Then the effect of the spot vanished as did the rate. I went to 160 again. CQing was useless. There were only two or three spots but nothing I didn’t work. The EUs calling them had a hard time. The clock coincided with EU sunrise but that didn’t do squat. Even the westerly guys from GM couldn’t get through. I skimmed 40 once more and quit at 0730utc. Time for a shower and get the kids back.

Part IV: Sunday afternoon and evening

Back home and in the shack at 1317z. VY2TT was easy on 21 MHz. Hey there’s more. And they hear me! A dozen of S&P contacts convinced me: time to run! I added 88 QSO on 15m to the K1XM contact to finish with 89 QSO on 15. And then the band had given all it had in store for the weekend. No other option than to go back to twenty. That accounted for another 150 QSO in two hours. Luckily I got spotted quite often to keep the rate acceptable. But the band died even earlier. A little after 1800 I went downstairs for some TV.

The last two hours were only used half. I ran 40 split again, but the rate was low and signals were usually weak. There was nothing to do on 80 so I set myself the target of 800 contacts. I was twenty short or so at that point. A spot provided a short boost for the rate and when it came to a halt I was at 812 QSO. Still more than an hour to go but it doesn’t matter if I’m #200 or #201.

I had hoped to do better but the propagation just wasn’t there. I think this took a huge bite out of the participation too. You can ask: why do we do this? But it takes a contester to understand that. Being on the bands, greeting friends, be amazed when a loud one pops up out of the noise, smiling when finally one of the Dakotas calls in. You just have to be there…

Contrary to the SSB event, the CW part is pretty popular and it’s possible to achieve good rates. At least in the first half of the contest. Make that the first quarter. And so it turned out. The start was good and the first three hours were pretty fast. The single first hour netted 145 contacts on 14 MHz. Of course it could only go downhill. I tried fifteen meters which was absolutely awful. Not even one American or Canadian for the multiplier. Even the RBN could not hear me beyond to Belgian skimmers. So be it.

I decided to stick to the twelve hour subclass. I did 24h in the past but with the two highest frequency bands missing and the other bands only so-so, I thought I’d better get some breaks and some sleep. That turned out to be a good decision. My only concern grew bigger: ON6NL put down high serial numbers throughout the contest. Last year he was 24h so I hoped he was in that category again. If so I probably would have a clear path to the victory in the 12h HP category.

I took a few one hour breaks but I wouldn’t make the same mistake I made the previous years. That is to take too much off on Saturday evening into Sunday night. That leaves too much operating time on Sunday morning where things are very slow. Later on I was happy to log DX mults like PY, HI, VK8, HS and YB on 40 and 20.

I invited my pal W1EBI to make a few contacts in this contest. I was running with decent rates on 80m when I saw him spotted on 40m. Now what? It’s too early for him to work me on 80. Leave 80 and jump to 40? But that would end my run. It’s been a long while since I did a two radio effort. My 10+15+20 vertical is down since 2016 just like propagation. I decided to keep running on 80 and fire up the second rig to work W1EBI on 40. Of course by the time I got there, he was gone. I decided to keep the second radio on and skim that band for contacts while maintaining the slowed down run on 80. Soon I knew why SO2R is so much fun. It keeps you focused on the contest and makes things less boring when the rate slows down. In the end W1EBI called me on 80 for one of my only two W contacts on 80.

Then the contest got so slow that I grew a bit overconfident and did some dual or dueling CQ. The UBA does not really lend itself to smooth SO2R with the long exchange on my side (serial + province). But it is a nice challenge when things are boring.

Soon after I decided to quit operating the UBA CW contest for Saturday. I had about four hours left on Sunday. That should do it. The QSO counter showed 720 QSO. I was winding down a 40m run when HS0ZJF called me. That’s expat ON4AFU who used to live a few kilometers from here until he moved to HS. Thanks for the multiplier OM Eddy!

Before going to bed I made a brief appearance in the CQ WW 160 SSB contest. I have never ever made a single QSO in this one. SSB on Top Band… I made ten QSO which is another personal record in 2018 with some room for improvement. I just wanted to give a contact to the guys at OT6M but to make it fair I called another bunch. It wasn’t easy. VY2ZM was very loud but he was way up in the band. Close to the upper edge? My antenna has a 6:1 SWR there, I never hang out that high. That high in the band we’re only allowed 10 Watt too. I tried a couple of times. As they say: no guts no glory. It was indeed no glory. Even the EU contacts were a struggle. SSB on 160: it makes no sense. Bye-bye 160. Hello bed!

Sunday I woke up a bit too late to my liking. I didn’t set the alarm. On purpose. OTOH I always hope for surprises on 40 or 80 around sunrise but that has never materialized in the UBA DX contest. To my surprise the rate on 40 was decent. Even some Americans burning the midnight oil and a bunch of missing EU mults. Sweet. It was time to move up to 14 MHz but I kept the second rig busy on 40 to work new QSO and even try the occasional dueling CQ again.

Things again slowed down on 20. So my guess was to move up to 15 again. Any QSO there apart from ON would be a multiplier. First to call me: a loud R8TT. Could it be? The RBN heard me in 3B8, HS and somewhere else to the East. I seem to remember even a V5 skimmer heard me. After two dozen QSO I decided to keep on calling CQ on 15 ‘just in case’ and work cluster spots on 40 with the second radio. To close the contest I ran a slow 20 with dilettante dueling CQ on 40. The bell rang and 991 QSO were in the log.

Two days after the contest ON6NL submitted his log in the 24h category. He tells me his active time is about 16 hours which netted him only 70 QSO more than me. I can’t think of anyone else having done the 12h category and doing better than me? W1EBI asked me why so few ON stations were on in our own national contest. YO9HP says: “Not very impressed by ON stations participation (8% of QSO-s)”. What can I say?

What I like about this one? You only work DX and no EU. No worries about where to point the beam. There usually is a lull in propagation that allows some sleeping.

I cranked up the tower on Friday. I had three helpers: both my sons and their pal sleeping over. Why does that need to be so high? Because it just works better that way. Why does it go so slow? Because the gearbox has a tradeoff between speed and strength. Lots of questions and no easy answers for six to nine year olds…

I started the contest on 40m. That went fairly smooth. Later on I attacked 80. Usually I do quite well there but this time it wasn’t special. Then my biggest hope turned into the biggest letdown: 160. Almost nothing heard, only few answers to my CQ and all weak signals. Even the east coast powerhouses.

Around 7 AM utc things slowed down and by 8 AM it was game over. Honestly I was a bit disappointed that not only 80 and 160 were poor, but also the 40m band didn’t provide sustained runs. The good thing was I could catch some sleep.

I didn’t even try 10m once but maybe 15 could offer something? Well… it was slow cooking while I was craving for fast food. There was a mild opening but I couldn’t even get to 100 Q. Yes we’re here: short and weak openings at the bottom of the cycle. I’ve been there once before and it won’t change for another few years. So back to twenty. And there too the signals faded fast and the band closed early. With a gap between 14 MHz closing and 7 MHz opening.

I watched some TV with the XYL and when she went to bed I went to 40m again. Then 80. And nothing on 160 because too early on the North American side. Around 2 AM local time I decided I’d catch some sleep. The rising A and K indexes were not in favor of us contesters.

Sunday morning turned out to be more of the same but worse. It became clear that 160 wasn’t going to surprise me.  Not even a hundred contacts there. I know: many of my countrymen might envy 77 Americans on Top Band in a weekend, but I can do better if propagation helps a hand. By 8.30 local time (07.30 utc) I went to bed.

My mother in law took the family out for dinner to celebrate her birthday. I didn’t want to be a party pooper again so I figured that lunchtime is a lull in ARRL DX during sunspot low. So why not go along and join the party? I insisted on being home before 3 PM local time. But that turned out wrong. The kitchen was painfully slow and we had to wait long between courses. That started to annoy me. Even more than those hungry souls that didn’t have a schedule dictated by propagation. I needed a few more Q on 15 and the band would provide a spotty opening at best. Long story cut short: I got home around 16.30 local time (15.30 utc). I was happy to see me still where I was when I left the online score reporting. And I managed to work a dozen stations in the 21 MHz range to make it to 100. Overall things seemed worse on Sunday than the day before.

Then it was off to twenty again. That provided a good run with lots of callers and another batch of multipliers. Woohoo! Just like anticipated signals started fading fast and the band died around 7 PM utc. I watched some TV before going to 40 again. Still broad daylight on the DX side but plenty of stuff to be worked. Even some extra multipliers. During the last hours I tried 80 again and only worked a few more on 160.

N1MMLogger says I was active 23 hours. I could have done more but the propagation and openings made is less interesting. Five years ago I made 2700 QSO in this one. But I had 1100 contacts on 10 + 15m. That’s 1k QSO on two bands that were not open this weekend. So propagation sucked when compared to these peak years but given the place where we are between cycles 24 and 25 and the fact that the sun burped this weekend, it wasn’t all too bad. I worked only DX and heard some friends and many many familiar callsigns. Even hidden behind unusual calls. Like Mr. C at KM7W ☺

 Band     QSOs     Pts  Sec  Pt/Q
   1,8      77     231   27   3,0
   3,5     264     792   46   3,0
     7     482    1446   49   3,0
    14     532    1596   60   3,0
    21     104     312   27   3,0
 Total    1459    4377  209   3,0
Score: 914.793

 

I’m not into RTTY. But in fact it is the only digimode I have ever tried. There’s a contest happening and I had a few moments to spare so why not? Activity on the bands is important and we (I?) must show that not everyone has been probed up the wazoo by aliens from planet FT8.

I was pleasantly surprised that everything worked right away. That has been different in the past. Windows seemed to screw up the audio settings for MMTTY. But not this time. I used the second K3 as it has been idling for too long without any SO2R activity. And this rig drives the KPA500 so I left the big amp off and let the semiconductors do the working. That’s 400W RYRYRY and the antennas were nested down so I wasn’t putting out a big signal.

After five contacts I got bored – already! Boy this is a slow happening. I like that snappy CW thing where you get an answer as soon as the TX makes way for the RX. Why do RTTY operators wait so long to reply? A pause of several seconds is not an exception. In that time frame you can make another QSO in CW! Yes I know: CW this CW that. But CW is the only mode I love.

Nevertheless I kept on calling CQ. My RBN footprint was pathetic. But somehow I managed to draw the attention of a JA station. Woohoo! I took a glance at the RBN window and sure enough: a trace from my QTH to Japan. As usual that JA pile up I always dream of didn’t happen. One JA and that’s it. This was Sunday morning.

I returned in the early evening to catch some USA on 20. Some were loud, some were weak. The rate was slow. But I can’t compare, maybe it’s normal for RTTY contesting with ‘only’ 400W and the tribander at only eight meters above the ground? Yes that’s just too low with current solar conditions.

Things went better on 40. Loud EU with the dipole so low. Late in the evening (2200 utc) I worked a bunch of Americans and Canadians. Again: some were loud, others were weak. I quit around 23.30 utc with 229 QSO in the log, split evenly between 40m and 20m. That’s almost as much RTTY as the last six years added up! I didn’t make a single RTTY contact in 2015 and 2013. I went ballistic on RTTY in 2017 with the crazy total of four (4!) RTTY contacts. I’m good for now. Isn’t there some CW action scheduled in the near future?

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