I haven’t done much contesting after WW CW last year. I skipped both ARRL DX contests and only messed around in both UBA DX contests. So I was glad to have the RDXC weekend. I had a ball last year (ended up #5) and I aimed for 2000 QSO – CW only HP category.
It became clear from the start that it would be a miracle to see the QSO counter jump beyond the 2k mark. Conditions were horrible it seemed. Despite the lousy propagation I managed to keep the rate just above 100/hr for the first half of the contest. So it was possible to get to 2k contacts. But then I had to go to the low bands. Lack of propagation, more QRN than usual and the local QRM source – the three elements to rain on my parade. The noise source was louder than ever and it made copying almost impossible. A headache would develop for sure, it was a pain to listen through it. Just after the halfway mark the rate went way down. Boredom set in together with fatigue. So I decided to sleep. I was very tired already before the contest and the low rate didn’t help to stay awake. So I went downstairs to hit the couch for an hour or two. And then I changed my mind. I took a snack, a drink, brushed my teeth for a fresh feeling and I went back into the shack. I decided to sweat it out.
The log shows a few short periods of inactivity. I dozed off twice for a few minutes and around 3AM local time I decided to close my eyes and slept for half an hour. That’s the flu and two hectic and stressful months acting up. Normally 24 hour contests are not a problem and even last year’s CQ WW CW went without sleep. But not now. I woke up with a sore neck but the power nap did its job.
It was a struggle to get a run going and keep the rate above 60/hr. Once in a while a real DX called in and the occasional UA0 rare oblast. Then around 1000 utc the ten meter band opened up. Opened up this weekend meant: work in a 5000km range. Anything beyond was scarce and weak. I was glad to be called by a JA there for the mult.
The real time scoreboard added some fun yet I had to let the top 3 go after a while. After the slow and interrupted night, I dropped a few places. Given the propagation and the noise on 80/160 I think I did quite well. I really need to find the source of the noise. And then hopefully fix it. My first guess -a street light in the wide neighborhood- seems less likely than before. That leaves either my house or one of the neighbors…
A short report for the sake of history.
There is not much happening in ON5ZO Radioland right now. Because there is too much happening in the real evil world. I caught a flu early February and it was a nasty one. I needed more time than anticipated to recover from that one. It was followed by a severe cold. Just my luck. And I couldn’t stay home ill to recover because in late January I decided to quit my job (don’t ask) and start over somewhere else mid February. As expected, that professional move isn’t easy to digest. And the immediate result is a temporary (I hope so!) increase in workload and stress. I have a hard time dealing with changes. And so I decided to skip ARRL DX CW. Too much work and running low on fuel. I was exhausted. And my first day at the new job right after this contest? Didn’t seem a good idea.
Last weekend was ARRL DX SSB. I feel much better by now but once more I decided not to participate. It was the first dry, warm and sunny weekend in a loooooong time. After months of rain and grey weather, it was time to let the sun do its magic. Not the ionospherical magic but the make-me-happy magic. The whole family enjoyed a weekend in the open. Work as well as play. Fifteen degrees or more so I went out in style: wearing shorts, my favorite garment. By popular request we closed the weekend with a modest improvised BBQ. The warmth and the sunlight and all the work done gave the moral a boost. Probably more than a SSB contest could have done.
In between these weekends was the UBA DX CW contest. Still tired and with a lot on my mind, it was more a moral duty than a pleasure. With heavy winds predicted Saturday night and Sunday morning until right after the contest, I decided not to crank up the tower and change the 24h plan to just 12h. I had to go somewhere Sunday afternoon which meant no time to put the tower down after the contest. Furthermore I knew I would be home late so I planned a few hours of sleep in advance instead of pulling an all-nighter. I didn’t even turn on the big amp. That would only be RFI-hell with the antennas so low to the ground and right above the shack. I ran the contest with the 500W amp. And on 80 I used a ridiculously low dipole with the feed point only 8m high. I took the SSB dipole and added the right amount of wire to shift resonance down to CW. I tried moving two Americans from 40 to 80 but it didn’t work out. No W mult there. Propagation was so-so and the dipole too low I guess. Nevertheless I’m pretty happy with the result considering the low position of the aerials. Almost 1000 contacts in under twelve hours with the tower down. I didn’t even operate the full period. Before the contest I briefly contemplated trying QRP for a change but I chickened out.
I hope to be back 100% in RDXC. I finished 5th World last year. And QST shows me on #8 World in the IARU Contest 2014.
Granted: if it weren’t for the UBA I wouldn’t be in this SSB contest. But as a Belgian contest lover I feel the moral duty to fire up ye olde shack. And any contest beats no contest (except IOTA). I cranked up the tower but did not deploy the 80/160 GP. Instead I used an old dipole cut for 75m (a/k/a 80m phone). In a normal year this specific weekend also has the CQ 160 CW contest. So I usually use the low band wires to have some Top Band fun as well on top of the UBA SSB test. This odd year the 160m test was held a week earlier and I didn’t feel like disconnecting the 160m wire nor have it up in the air unused. Furthermore the cables are tangled into a real spaghetti. Don’t ask. It involves a rampaging puppy.
Despite my yucky feelings towards SSB in small contests, things were rather fun from the start. Only to become more fun as the afternoon went by. It seems there was more participation than the previous editions. Great. I decided to stick to the twelve hour category battling it out with OS8A who is a regular in this category. Usually he beats me as he has better antennas on 80 and 40 and maybe he likes phone where I can’t push myself. Long live CW.
Normal strategy: have a few fast hours at the start. Take a break. Do some 40. Take break. Do some 80. Watch TV with XYL. Go to sleep with six hours of operating time left to experience a tremendous sunrise run on 80 and 40. To find that there is no one around when the sun comes up. So you just use the remaining hours to wear out the CQ-button. No one stays up late or gets up early for the UBA SSB contest. Let alone pull an all-nighter.
So NOT this year. I did some extra hours Saturday night, making the most of 40 and 80. The tricky part was to work the K and VE mults on 40 and 80. I couldn’t stay too long or I would run low on operating time Sunday morning. On 40 I bagged them NA mults pretty easy. They get through half an hour before their sunset which is not too late Belgian time. I was just doing a last S&P before throwing the switch when I heard a competitor being called by my friend W1EBI. So he’s working 80 right now? I quickly found a spot and settled for a last short run. Hoping he would go down the band and find me there. BINGO: W1EBI brings me the USA multiplier on 80. Soon after I worked some more and a VE to boot. I could go to bed happily.
Sunday morning I did a quick scan. Eighty was dead as always. Maybe it wasn’t dead but is was at least empty as predicted. I stopped to listen to OS8A on 40. He was slightly ahead in numbers but not much. Then he got called by a J7. WTF! There is a J7 on the bands handing out a rare multiplier! I decided to call CQ there and keep my fingers crossed. Easy on phone, harder in CW. I worked some DX, some EU, some multipliers and when that J7 finally called in, I could trade 40 for 20 which was still low on QSO and mults.
Long story cut short: 4.5 hours left on Sunday is more than enough. The rates are much lower than on Saturday but you need the morning propagation to the east. That brought me a lot of VERY nice DX multipliers on the higher bands. It was a really fun edition. Plenty of contacts (+1000 in 12 hours), plenty of DX. And maybe another plaque on the wall? Let’s see how OS8A did.
The title of this post gives it away. Against all odds and way over my estimated ballpark figure. 29865 – I never made more QSO in one year than in 2014. The glass-half-empty guy that I am says: One hundred thirty five contacts more and I would have crossed the psychological barrier of 30k. Oh well, shoulda coulda woulda.
CW remains the mode of choice. SSB is a necessary evil to bridge gaps between CW contacts. And I have no idea when and where I made 80 RTTY contacts? Ah there you go, the log says CQ WPX RTTY 2014.
I was only active for 67 days of the year. A day means either one QSO or 2k. Gone are the days when the bed is in the shack and I was working in shifts like 2001.
It took somewhat longer to compile the statistics. The old VB6 program I wrote in 2007 didn’t run on the new Win8.1 machine. After setting the compatibility mode to Vista SP2, it ran like a charm. Thank you Google and thank you people posting real usable solutions. And to think I considered myself deVistafied by now. I’ve learned so much more programming techniques since then that I could make this program better. Or at least better looking. It would be fun to do and all things considered not take too long but I just lack the time. It’s these things that disturb the fragile balance of devoting enough time to all parameters in the equation called life, and not favor one aspect too much for too long.
More news from the time lacking department. For years I’ve been refusing to pay for an upgrade of DX4WIN. I have been a user since 2000, my very first HF QSO got logged with it. The last paid upgrade was in 2003 I believe. More precise: the last upgrade I paid for. Since then I stuck to v6.04 which had all I need. I did not integrate LotW nor eQSL into my DX-logkeeping. Because v6.04 does not offer that. I haven’t logged a QSO with DX4WIN in over a decade since I exclusively use N1MMLogger to write contacts to a database. Afterwards I use the ADIF export / import functions of both programs. My plan was to make my own basic tailor made DX tracking / QSL bookkeeping software with LotW and eQSL integration. And even Clublog. I wrote some initial code somewhere in 2008 / 2009 but then I volunteered to do the UBA DX contest log checking. That took me three years to get where I am now. I wrote a program. I completely rewrote it from scratch the year after, based on what I had learned the first time. Then I ironed out the wrinkles another year later. I still have to work on the program each year to fine tune it and to find solutions for problems introduced by others. These others being sloppy participants and software authors liberally implementing Cabrillo standards. Ideally I should do it again from scratch once more and provide an intuitive GUI and manual so that someone else can do the checking. The program is absolutely NOT user friendly as it is right now. Furthermore I have never used a compiled version of the code and always run it from the debugger.
By now it’s clear that this homebrew software project won’t see the light soon. If one day at all. I’d love to do it because programming is as rewarding as any other form of homebrewing but I need to be realistic. I have to admit that right now there is no time for something that will suck me up as deep as a software project. A project that is only a side project of what is ‘only’ a hobby in the first place. I really have to remind me of that. Because I tend to favor all aspects of ham radio. And so I gave in and just paid 34 Euro for an upgrade. I am now running the latest DX4WIN. The latest yet already four years old already. Yikes!
Oh yeah, just for the heck of it I can now be reach via oq5m.be too.
I really like this contest – RAEM. It’s CW only and you actually have to copy something that is not predictable and longer than 123. Not predictable if you don’t use a call history lookup file, which I never use. And not predicable for the first QSO as most of the info (QTH lon/lat coordinates) is prefilled when you work someone a second time on another band. But apart from that the exchange is pretty unpredictable and long. Think ‘1023 53N102O’ at 36WPM and no 5NN to synch the grey matter decoder. Love it! CQ WW might be high rate and full of DX, on the copying level it means nothing.
Added bonus is the distance based scoring. You know you hit the jackpot when a fluttery UA0 calls in. There are no multipliers and points per QSO are calculated from the exchange. This would be a fun format for a 24 hour contest with massive participation.
Since I discovered this contest I have only played part time in it. It runs for twelve hours so that shouldn’t be a problem. But it’s the end of the year and there has been a lot of contesting going on already. For a few years now I’ve been saying I will participate the full twelve hour period next year. Well, maybe next year. This year too I only played a few hours and logged 250 contacts. Non-Russian participation seemed down. I usually work more USA. Hmm, maybe because I skipped night time and started too late? But not even a VK or ZL this year. Hence the jackpot is limited to far east Russians. I did work RAEM the station on 10+15+20. Note to self: remove these contacts from the LotW and eQSL upload. They don’t handle the callsign RAEM well. Not at all in fact.
I interrupted the leisurly contest for a walk with the dog and kids (and XYL) in the snow. It started snowing on Saturday afternoon. But it was wet snow that turned into ice overnight. The quality was poor which was a huge disappointment for my oldest who wanted to make a snow man after we saw this movie last week. If you have kids, now is the time to watch it if you’re in the northern hemisphere! Anyway the snow was worthless for construction work. By now, Monday evening, the snow and ice are almost completely gone. We’ve had our winter now. It lasted forty eight hours.
The initial plan was to crank up the tower for the weekend and play in the Stew Perry Top Band Distance Challenge or whatever that thing is called. Mostly to try to work DX on 160 and test the beverage. But I wasn’t really in the mood. Good thing as it turns out. Most comments on 3830 are in unison: lousy propagation and hardly DX. If those with big antennas for 160 can’t work DX, how should I? I did try to SWL on the beverage but no DX was heard. I spent a few (two or three tops) minutes listening to OT6M who seems to be well equipped for Top Band. But during this time span I only heard him CQ’ing and not work a single station. Go figure.
I guess – no I’m sure this was all for 2014 for on the air activities. CU all in 2015.
My previous ‘Can you hear me?’ post showed that even a low antenna gets your signals heard all over the globe. I considered the small 500W amp to be medium power. Which to today’s contesting standards seems an exaggerated description. Then in turn John AE5X decided to redefine the QRP-low-high power levels.
The real question is: Can I hear YOU? Ever since trading wavelength-wise low dipoles on the low bands for verticals with elevated radials and apply 1kW, I have felt like an alligator on 80m. All mouth, no ears. I hear people coming back but I just can’t copy them. This is even worse in summer contests like WAE CW with the ether full of static.
The low band TX antenna is pretty decent on 160. It doesn’t make me feel loud but I always work into USA whenever the band supports DX propagation. I was even stunned to work a bunch of JA one night in 2009 (#). So it works on Top Band but I will never feel like a big gun there.
The obvious solution to hear better is to use special RX antennas to improve S/N. Unfortunately my lot is simply too small to fit full size textbook example beverages – plural. Years ago ON4UN paid me a visit and he immediately saw the opportunities for a low band RX system. Crossing roads and intruding other people’s property didn’t seem a problem in his vision. But it is to me. So the installation of multiple beverages each multiple wavelengths long is absolutely out of the question. And truth be told that’s not my ambition.
In summer 2008 I acquired the hardware for a K9AY RX loop (#). I put it up too close to the tower and the TX antennas. Too close but there was no alternative. As an SWL antenna it would have been nice but it was just too close to the QRO TX stuff to keep the coupling and RF pickup manageable. Then came CQ WW CW 2008. I tried a beverage on ground (BOG) (#). A length of enamelled copper wire put on the ground along the fencing of several surrounding lots. In fact it wasn’t on my property for even a centimetre. But it was not crossing properties since I ran it parallel to the fence and barb wire.
This BOG wasn’t a real success. I would find out why later on. And so will you if you keep reading. After that I once used a single triangle RX loop fixed to USA. A K9AY-light if you will. I forgot in which contest. That sort of worked although I have no idea how well anymore. Probably not spectacular since I don’t remember it. It was also the first time I used the K3’s second RX in diversity mode. That actually opened my eyes, or rather my ears so I knew I had to find an RX solution that was practically and financially feasible. Phased RX short vertical arrays are not what I call financially feasible.
And so I bought a small rotatable RX loop two years ago (#). I put it as far away from the TX antennas as possible. I still find it expensive for what it is but it worked. No miracles, but better than nothing. I have played two winters with it. When I first put it up, it didn’t work. It was totally deaf. There was nothing to be heard. Either the performance was a
myth lie or I was overlooking something. This antenna needs DC power at its base and while troubleshooting I discovered the DC was not making it to the antenna outside. As it turns out, the coax had a faulty N-style barrel connector where the part coming from the shack was joining the coax coming from the garden. Replacing this barrel connector solved the problem and then it hit me. This broken part is the reason why that BOG in 2009 didn’t work. It just wasn’t connected to the receiver as the broken part made for an open circuit. I was listening on a length of indoor coax! D’oh!
For practical reasons I decided not to put up the loop this fall / winter. After redesigning a prominent part of the garden last summer, there is no easy way to get a coax from the garage to the other side of the garden. Actually there is an easy way out, namely to run the coax on the lawn like I did last year. There would be no objection from the XYL since we don’t need to mow the lawn during winter. The real problem is our puppy guard dog who would definitely grab the cables and play with it. Garden hoses are fun to drag along. So why not coax cable? Or a flashy orange rotator control cable? Yes the loop is motorized because it needs turning for nulls and directivity. Worst case scenario would be that he’d just chew the coax in half. The plan is to run a cable conduit under the lawn. Let’s hope he doesn’t dig it up then. The digging and shoveling is pretty high on the to do list for the coming months. So what to do for this winter? I anticipated on Cycle 24 to be kind enough to make the higher bands shine. This would keep people away from the low bands. But what if…
What if I try the BOG again? I can run almost 100m of wire on the ground, in the weeds against the mesh wire where no sheep are grazing and no tractor is ploughing. Maybe a BOG outperforms the loop, now that the coax cable actually connects the antenna to the transceiver. As always crunching a few kilobytes of Googled HTML and PDF gave me some insights. A short beverage is better than no beverage. Signals get louder as the wire gets higher. Etc. Anyway I needed to wait until the corn gets harvested to access the terrain. Once that’s done the terrain is a wasteland until spring so I can almost do what I want.
The corn got harvested right after WW SSB. It was nice playing outside on Saturday November 1st. Warm and sunny. So why not put up the compromise beverage experiment? Compromise as in a) not terminated for simplicity. Terminating means one way directivity and to make it work for the USA short path, I would have to run almost 140m of coax along the beverage. Because it would terminate on my end of the wire, and need to be fed at the remote end. Compromise as in b) not following a straight line and not a fixed height because I’m using an existing zigzag line of concrete poles. Compromise as in c) the wire will be running above a steel wire mesh fence. Not ideal but any beverage beats no beverage. Compromise as in d) not exactly matched to 50Ω. I would wind my own transformer but I don’t know the impedance of this beverage-ish antenna. A ‘beverish’ so to speak. My antenna analyzer is falling apart (#) and it only works near an AC outlet to feed it with an AC/DC adapter. I didn’t feel like running an extension cord all over the front yard. So I just used a quick ‘n dirty 9:1 that I made a couple of years ago for the single K9AY loop.
I unwound the salvaged stator coil of a three phase motor along the borders of three lots behind my garden. I decided to run it on top of the skewed concrete poles that hold the crooked mesh wire fence. That way it is visible but firmly in place and it doesn’t make a practical obstacle. My biggest fear is that some agricultural machine would grab the wire. That could damage the machine or, more likely, the machine would just carry on and take everything attached to the beverage wire with it. With the copper wire meandering along the crooked concrete poles, this can only happen if a tractor runs down the whole fence. The autumn sun made me philosophize about how long these concrete poles have been in there. By the weather-beaten looks and how far out of plumb they are, probably for many decades.
On the feed point end of the unterminated beverage, I hammered a copper clad ground rod into the front lawn. I put the 9:1 transformer into a simple electrical junction box. The transformer has a 3:1 winding ratio and the core type is MN8CX. It was a gift from low band enthusiast and overall nice guy ON4ATW. Years ago this core was an hot item. Theo apparently ordered quite a few of these and he kindly sent me one. A few years ago I ran two wires through the core (for the single RX loop) and attached a 450Ω non-inductive terminating resistor, also part of the low band RX kit sent to me. The analyser made the resistor look like 50Ω so that was that. I did this test over before installing it on the beverage just to be sure. The American (if I’m not mistaken) guy selling the MN8CX kits apparently is out of business and Google doesn’t know much about the core anymore. It came with a brass fuse holder the same size of the core. I seem to remember the description said that grounding the fuse holder when holding the core would make the transformer work better for some reason I totally forgot. Must be a shielding thing.
Now I only needed to run a coax from the front yard into the garage. I ran the RG-213 as close to the concrete tiles as possible. Almost two months and hectolitres of rain later, you can’t see the cable anymore. It sunk into the wet grass.
I was lucky to have done this job that particular Saturday. I thought that just like most years after the corn had been harvested, the lot would be untouched by the farmer until spring. As it turns out two tractors came the day after on Sunday evening and started working on the land to sow winter wheat. With the seeds into the soil and the terrain levelled, I don’t like to tread it anymore. When needed I can access the wire from the other lot but that involves nettles and rusty barb wire. Good thing my tetanus shots are good for years to come.
Of course the question burning in our collective minds is: how does it work? The answer is: I don’t know. I know that it does not not work. I hear everything the TX antennas hear. With better S/N. So that’s good. Does it show directivity? Hard to tell but I have the feeling that it does. Some EU stations coming from the side are weaker than some US stations coming in from the desired direction. They’re also weaker on the beverage than on the TX vertical. Wet finger stuff and no scientific evidence I know. I should put up the rotatable receiving hula-hoop to compare. Or run a similar beverish 90° off of this one. I considered that but then I come across the coax-might-be-bitten-and-chewed problem again. So these A/B test will be done later when either the dog has outgrown typical puppy behaviour or the conduit is finally buried under the lawn. It’s an almost fourty meter stretch!
I did run two contests with this RX setup for 80 and 160. I used it in LZ DX and CQ WW CW. With the K3 in diversity receive mode, you get that nice sound and the signals really seem easier to copy. The nice thing about this antenna, apart from costing virtually nothing, is that is does not take any real estate and that it does not need a single extra dedicated support. It’s almost invisible and not susceptible to the weather. If I find the time (highly unlikely) and if WX cooperates (it’s finally snowing right now) I really would like to do a real time A/B comparison between this beverish and the small hula-hoop costing almost 300 Euro.
But ON5ZO does have a beverage for low band reception now. Neener-neener.
DX from all sides of the compass! This is with 3 full size elements on 21 MHz at 8m above the ground. QTH is 47 meter above sea level. KPA500 amp so 500W output in the shack. I have no idea what portion of that is actually radiated. The map is a snapshot coming from the Reverse Beacon Network.
I had put the 9A CW contest on the agenda but it has been too much lately. Too much of everything. I just realized I logged 12000 contest contacts since the end of October (WW SSB). So I tried to do almost nothing for a change. I did some research for an upcoming hardware project. Hardware as in welding and construction. And for a paving job in the garden. Can’t wait for spring.
I also upgraded the UBA log checking software to a new version of Visual Studio. This in anticipation of retiring the six year old Vista laptop. Boo-hoo Vista so bye bye Vista. The new machine will be Win8. I don’t know if I’ll like it. I really like Win7 a lot though. It loads and works faster compared to Vista even on older and lighter machines. And I mean with the Vista running on a newer and more potent machine.
This morning I decided to make a few contacts anyway. After all I need to maintain my CW skills and my last QSO was already seven days ago 😀 . I stuck to 15m. Solarham.net showed SFI=203 but that didn’t reflect the band. Not too much going on there. I made two hundred contacts and quit.
Still high on the CQ WW CW adrenalin rush I planned to hit hard in this one. Mixed mode, tower all up and use a lower second antenna to cover EU and Middle East. I had two weeks to make a simple two element yagi out of the parts I had from the three element. This antenna has been idling disassembled on the garage roof for a few years. It would be easy to mount it on the small aluminium mast with the tilt over system I made for June’s field day. I found an easy 50Ω direct fed design. I knew that the week leading up to this contest I would have quite some spare time to assemble the antenna and put it up. Finally some action for the power splitter I made a few years ago. I would squeeze every contact out of the band. It’s now or never for Cycle 24 and Ten Meter.
A rock solid plan. Except for the weather. It rained a lot after WW CW. The lawn is a giant mud pool on the dogs’ postman chasing trajectory. And the week leading up to the contest the wind speed picked up considerably. Even worse: Thursday and Friday the forecast mentioned gusts up to 90 km/hr. Some sources talked about more. Apart from the rain, which only came in periods and showers, these gales aren’t exactly the WX you want to put a yagi on a short pole to tune and match it. And then put it up a long aluminium pole on a plate anchored in the wet soil.
Thursday evening the gales showed up. Come Friday morning the wind was blowing really hard. Adapt to the situation. No second antenna then. Friday night the wind had gone completely. Strange how it can go from stormy to absolutely not even a breeze in just a few hours. But I don’t want to crank up the tower in the dark. You need to keep an eye on things. I’ll do it at dawn on Saturday then. Ten meters isn’t bound to be wide open from here right after sunrise.
Last year we had one storm after another. Somewhere end December 2013 I wrote: “Alas when checking the antennas in daylight this morning I immediately noticed the 40m rotary dipole had shifted a bit on the mast compared to the yagi.” I didn’t bother to realign it since the shift was visible but not like it was 45°. I really hate tilting over the tower and work on the antennas hovering a few meters above the lawn, while standing on a shaky ladder. I bring this up because I have the impression that Friday’s gusts have blown the 40m dipole back into its original position. My first reaction was: Good! Now I don’t have to tackle this problem anymore. But then it dawned on me: if the antenna shifts easily back and forth, it’s bound to either come totally loose or it will turn even more away from its desired position. Because the storm that caused the misalignment was a few levels worse than what we had on Friday. So if a lesser strong wind can push it back, I need to tighten it. Or modify the original mounting all together. It is not up to my own mechanical standards. I modified the yagi’s boom-to-mast system which is really strong. Anyway I put this job back on the to do list for this summer. Who knows what nature will throw at us the coming months.
Saturday morning, sunrise. I decided to forget about a massive raid on the ten meter band. I cranked up the tower just one level. This makes the yagi sit at 1.5λ on 28 MHz. Should be good for some casual fun. Back in the shack I heard CW signals. I went to SSB and that made me decide to stick to CW only. I don’t like SSB. Although the original plan was mixed mode. Just yet another change of the plan. The propagation didn’t seem fantastic but I had fun and after a few hours I logged 630 contacts. USA was well present but not many W6/7. Then the band died. Quite early but that gave me the time to play with the kids before bedtime.
Sunday morning. Signals sounded better. DX came in from the Far East. Plenty JA. Plenty means more than one. In fact I logged eighteen. A few Chinese and the usual ZL, VK, HS, VU. Not much but always fun. Even a ZB. Not DX from here but all the rarer. I don’t think I worked as many ZS in a single contest on a single band. Six to be exact and all on the back of the beam. I don’t think it was LP though.
Frequency fight! I was looking for a QRG to run. I halted on a spot for TM0R. I wanted to work him but he wasn’t there anymore. The place was silent. Two unanswered QRL? later I launched a few CQ and then TM0R returned. And claimed the frequency by suddenly CQing on top of me. It doesn’t work like that guys. I decided to sweat it out and no to fold. Soon after the QRG was mine. Or at least until I’d leave it.
By 10AM I decided to quit my run and prepare lunch. The XYL took the kids outside for some fresh air and I wanted to surprise here when they returned. After all she’s always alone with two little kids whenever I’m contesting. And since I was only in it for fun, these two hours before the hoped for opening to the USA wouldn’t make much difference.
After lunch I turned the yagi to 300°. The signals were stronger. I ran most of the time and only did a few short S&P sessions. After the two adjustments of the initial operating plan, I had lowered the estimation to 1200 QSO. Anything above 1000 contacts would not be a shame. With the counter showing about 1250 real contacts, I did more S&P since the band was really dying. An hour later than the day before but I knew it would fade away fast. When the counter showed 1300 real counting contacts and a score of 650000, I decided to shut down the shack and call it a day.
To conclude this posting I wrote a rather spicy rant about a Belgian clown that once again (!) displayed blatant abuse of self spotting on the DX cluster. I counted almost thirty occasions this weekend that I labelled ‘self spot’ from this cluster cowboy. But I deleted the paragraph because A) I have written about Belgians abusing cluster spots in the past and it always brought some less friendly mail into the inbox. “Who the hell you think you are” 👿 and stuff like that. And B) I know, I should not make a fuss of this. Probably no one else notices this, let alone has a problem with it.
I removed the rest of this already censored rant. Be the bigger man. Lead by example 😀
What was that? Crazy things happened. My best score in this contest was in 2011. I never thought I could repeat this during Cycle 24. So I approached this contest without official expectations although not making 4000 contacts would make me unhappy especially since the days before the contest propagation seemed more than OK. I really looked forward to CQ WW CW, the MoaC – Mother of all Contests. The plan was to do what I could but most of all have fun.
I took a nap Friday night and set the alarm at 00.30AM local time, half an hour before the start. I woke up, or rather got out of bed but I felt like the contest had been running for a day already. I stood in the shack looking outside wondering why we do this to ourselves. Another feeling that usually pops up after thirty six hours. Faint heart never won fair lady so I started on 40m like I always do in CW. You can’t do sh… in a phone contest with a rotary dipole but it is a jaw breaker in CW sitting at 23m AGL. It works like gangbusters as they say.
I really can’t remember much except I was having a ball and I was utterly excited about the rates. When moving to 80 after a few hours, the rate exploded and soon my ‘max cw rates for Belgium’ will need an update because it seems I went well above 200 for a while. Too bad I couldn’t repeat that later on. With a rate near 200 and still working a bunch on radio #2? I keep on amazing myself here :o)
I got through the night into the morning. Top Band was not productive. Not much EU and almost no DX. As expected. I can’t remember much of Saturday either. I ran and ran and ran and did the occasional S&P session. I wonder why I keep being assisted because most of the time I just skip the brutal messy cluster pile ups. The nice thing is that many and really many of these rare DX mults come to work me and believe me this is a kick. 3B8, 8Q7, ZF1, E5, KL7, KH6, VK, ZL and many many other DX operations come and call me. Then their call appears in the bandmap close to my running frequency and another unruly cluster spot pile up emerges.
It’s not only the DX, it’s also the MANY MANY friends calling in. From nearby in EU to the remote W6. I won’t drop their calls here because I don’t want to forget anyone. But you all know who you are. All these friends we almost never meet in person but still work over and over again. Or exchange mails with. Or read and comment on their blogs. It takes the fun and satisfaction to a higher level. And yes I grab the paddle and throw in a short ‘hello’ and a name and a 73 CU. Because hearing their calls is good. It’s being part of the brotherhood of ham radio nutcases.
The average rate was well above 100/hr as I dove into Saturday night darkness. Around 2200 utc things slowed down. This was as expected and as experienced year after year. But I wasn’t tired. Yet I decided not to make my usual mistake. That is going on for a few slow hours, sweating it out with 1pt EU and then crash around 4AM local time. I end up on the couch then and miss sunrise and the point where things pick up again. So I cashed out and hit the couch in the living room, setting the alarm to ring three hours later around 2.30AM local time (0130utc). Three hours being a double ninety minute sleep cycle as advised by the experts. Around 2AM utc I got back into the shack and found a whopping 160. I worked many Americans. Seventy eight – 78! Who’d have thought that after the first night? I got called by two zone 3 stations and checked QRZ: actually they ARE in Cali. New WAS on Top Band! Another batch of juicy DX and probably new ones for DXCC called in. ZF1A comes to mind. I couldn’t believe it. On my silly linear loaded L wire, with the horizontal part sloping down to only eight meter above ground. That’s a ham radio experience hard to beat: high rates and getting called by DX multipliers, from central Belgium with a very modest semi-fieldday setup. The armchair copy ZL multiplier on 80 was the cherry on top. Hell yeah! I stayed on 80 until it was empty, then did the same with 40. Then I had to go higher but again: it’s all blurry.
Somewhere in between I got called by ON3DI. Contests come and go. Scores go up and down. But the fact that ON3DI is getting his feet wet in CW is an absolute milestone. I’ve witnessed his first steps in the hobby. I’ve seen him mutating into a contest addict. But I guess it’s fair to say the cat is out of the bag now. If he experiences firsthand how easy it is to work DX with simple antennas and low power compared to being CQ’ed in the face on sideband, I guess he’ll be a lost cause too. Welcome to the exciting world of CW contesting!
Thirteen years later he might end up like me. Funny observation about myself. Sometimes I was trying to pick a call from the cluttered mess on radio 2 when my CQ on radio 1 ended. There was a caller answering but I didn’t consciously copy his callsign because still focusing on the other radio. Yet I type in whatever comes into me and it turns out to be correct. Now THAT is weird. Subliminal copying. This might be trivial to some but to me it’s a sign of actually knowing CW. It doesn’t always work. Knowing hundreds of callsigns helps too. After all these years working the same guys, I have the SCP file in my head so to speak. It hasn’t always been like that. I remember my first steps in CW contesting. Total focus was required and the least distraction was fatal. On the other hand it’s only fair to admit that sometimes the opposite happens too. A total lock up of the grey matter decoder. Even the loudest caller with the simplest call does not get processed by the brain. Heck CW contesting is so much fun!
As Sunday morning moved along I had a hard time keeping the rate up. It even dipped below 100. I took a short break for a quick lunch. The kids were glad to see me. Now is the time to mention the unconditional support of the XYL. Thanks for that. Running the household all alone, entertaining two toddlers and most of all: keep them away from daddy in the shack – it’s not exactly the definition of an enjoyable family weekend. At regular intervals she shoved a plate under my head with a snack or a sandwich. The kids don’t quite get it. Daddy is at home yet daddy does not want to come out and play. And daddy chases us out of his radio room? But daddy, all we want is to see the lights blink! Being the amp’s LED bars. Who knows what the future will bring regarding my kids and ham radio. I won’t push ‘m anyway.
A shout out to my n°1 fan ON3DI. He was following the online score board and once in a while he sent an encouraging text message. As Sunday noon progressed he told / typed out loud what I didn’t dare to think of. That the 5k QSO mark was within reach. But only if the current rate could be maintained until the end of the contest. A couple of really fast three point hours to the USA with the occasional double mult thrown in gave the score total a boost. I was convinced that 5k was possible with another sustained USA run on 20. The thing was: that run didn’t come. I guess the US of A guys were still enjoying the higher bands. But these closed down rapidly on my end. Even cluster spots didn’t help me out. It would bring along a dozen contacts but then it would slow down again. Too slow to reach 5000 contacts. I kept calling CQ on 20 and hop the other bands. But ten and fifteen were closed. Now what? It’s tempting to start spotting yourself but I refrain from such silly practices. Although it became common practice it seems. Even in disguise.
The last hour and a half of the contest was crucial. I was tired, I had enough, I needed to empty my bladder – urgently. Keep your eye on the prize! Five thousand QSO will bring relief in both ways. Since twenty meters was not helping me in any way to get to five thousand QSO, I had to do something. But what? Since there was plenty of life on forty meters I tried my luck there. I found a clear spot but after a few CQ CQ CQ I got jammed between to stations QRMing me. Rate almost zero. That was very frustrating. I was about to throw the keyer to a jamming lid’s head. I kept on calling CQ and clicked from spot to spot on 80 and 160. I don’t always do that – I do tune in between spots and often find unspotted sweet stuff but this time I needed to go fast and clicking spots was the only way not to waste time for a station to ID and find out he’s already in the log. At 23:38 I logged G3TXF on 160 for #5000. Booyah! For the last twenty minutes I decided to stay on 160 because it had the lowest QSO totals thus the most chance of logging new stations. I even added two multipliers on top band.
Five thousand QSO. I can’t believe it. With a simple setup and no excessive power. Of course my multiplier count is low. That is because I like to run and don’t like to waste time in packet spot pile ups. That’s where more and bigger hardware could help. When the guy on the other end is slick I often can outsmart the pack by calling slightly up or down. Wasting time is one thing, but it also frustrates me, the poor operating practices. On a few occasions I worked the DX while a EU station was still calling and calling. That’s why I just don’t bother to work big DXpeditions anymore.
CQ WW CW 2014 will be hard to beat from here. What are the odds propagation will be anyway near this year’s conditions on HF? But that’s what I thought about 2011 too…