Rock <– ON5ZO –> hard / even harder place
The rock is me wanting to do a contest badly. I like the IARU HF Championship a lot. And there is no bad weather announced (no T-storms!!!).
The hard place is the fact that right now, five hours before the start, I need to crank up the tower one level, remove WARC dipole, put up 80m wire and reconnect 160m wire after I brutally cut it off* before WPX CW. And I’m not even talking about the extra vertical for SO2R.
The even harder aspect is the current state of the ionosphere. A=9 and K=3 expecting to rise over the weekend. So why do all the work again to find myself stuck on twenty meters like always. Too bad there ain’t no Single Band effort in this contest. I would have done SB20 mixed mode right away.
I could just keep the setup as it is now. Then I will be active on 10-15-20-40. Theoretically. Given the prop I’ve seen over the last days, it’ll be mainly twenty and forty. And how will 80/160 behave? I’d hate to hear the bands open and not having an antenna up. Then again, as it is now, I won’t hear a thing on 80/160 since the antenna is coiled up and in a box.
* I cut the 160 wire through brutally and took it away to force myself to finally make a decent feed point assembly where I could connect / disconnect 160 from the 80 wire without a ladder to access it and without tools to fix it. The plan was to do that early July. But I’ve had other dragons to slay over the past two weeks.
Oh well in the end I went outside and installed the whole shebang. All tower sections up. Put radials for SO2R vertical back in the trees. Put 80m wire in the air. And reconnect wire for 160. I’ve got this field day routine mastered by now. I didn’t even had to prune the 80/160 wires for resonance. SWR dip where it needs to be. So with two hours left, I was ready to go in time for lunch and a pre-contest nap.
Since I was in it for the fun and max qso rate I decided to go assisted and enter M/S. At the very last moment I realized that M/S implies mixed mode by nature. Ouch, SSB – that cannot be. So I closed the packet cluster connection and cleared the band map and went the classic SOAB CW.
I knew conditions were not good so I expected the worst. But somehow I managed to keep the average rate over 100 until 02.00utc. Then suddenly things came to a halt and slowed down. I had a hard time getting the show on the road on 80. And there wasn’t a big crowd on 160. I heard NU1AW/3 and W1AW/4 calling HQ stations on Top Band so I resumed my CQ. But only NU1AW/3 called me. No other USA worked. Oh not true: K3ZO called me and he was loud.
I used radio 2 intensively but on a trapped vertical with these poor conditions, you don’t hear much. I made 474 contacts with the second radio, that’s 22%. I even practiced duelling CQ’s a few times. That is fun and a real rate booster. If a slow bands makes for 60/hr rate, this can boost the rate back up to +100. Of course this technique needs some practicing and tweaking to keep things running smoothly and it should come as no surprise that I messed things up a bit when there were a bunch of callers simultaneously on both bands. The success of these SO2R gimmicks largely depends on the style of the other stations too. The specific contest format lends itself to these tricks: a short fixed exchange needing no repeats. I had a ball CQ’ing on 20 and 40 simultaneously late at night but I can assure you after a good hour my mind needed some time off.
I had a few +100 clock hours, with 143 and 153 being the best. Despite poor propagation, there was plenty of DX calling. HS, HL, XU, YB, DU, VU – all in a short period on 15m. I worked more than my share of JA on 15 and 20 too: 49 in total. Worked 408 Americans and 45 VE. Say what? More JA than VE? Wow! Having V51YJ call me on 40 was a treat as well as ZR9C twice on the back of the beam. More juicy stuff like YV, XE and D3 – and still we say propagation wasn’t great?
My biggest surprise was being able to stay awake. Of course when things slowed down over halfway, it wasn’t easy and it took away some of the fun. Because of the low rate and the adrenaline slowly going away, I had two occasions where I seem to have a few minutes between contacts. But I didn’t need to go to bed. Until now (21.30 local time).
Trip down memory lane: it’s been ten years already that ON4CCP / OT1A invited me to his place as OT3R to do this contest as a M/S WRTC Style à la N0AX. We got inspired by WRTC 2002 Finland but our ambitions never materialized for Brazil or Russia. We certainly came a long way, both in setup as in contest skills over the past decade. Ten years is a long time yet it seems only yesterday.
Another fun contest is history. I wanted to make at least 2k QSO and I met that target. A few fast hours, some nice DX, working friends all over the world… What more can we ask (except propagation)?