I haven’t been doing much ham radio since CQ WW CW. The closest to a radio I got was to box and ship the faulty K3 to the repair shop. It should return the following week.
Awaiting the decline of cycle 24 I wanted to play in the ARRL 10 Meter Contest once more. Wild plans of auxiliary antenna mast and second antennas for power splitting in two directions or covering multiple take off angles stayed nothing but plans. Once again. I really should take care of this once and for all. I have all the hardware needed (mast, antennas, stackmatch etc) and I have it all in mind. But it’s always something else that needs attention first – some contest in the first place. And truth be told: I lacked the real estate to properly and safely do it. Until now with the extension of our lot half a year ago. But turning this jungle into a civilized garden took priority over planting antennas. The proverbial 24/7 just isn’t enough to execute all my plans! Anyway back to reality.
On Friday the weather was nice and there was no bad WX announced so I cranked up the tower and connected the main amplifier to the remaining K3. Normally, the big amp is driven by the broken K3 that is away for repair. The other K3 sits on the right driving the small amplifier. I decided not to move the rig nor the amp but just ‘cross connect’ with a longer stretch of coax, put the two PTT cables together with an RCA joint piece (the one on the amp and the one on the K3). And move coax B to position A so I could let the band decoder do its job.
All that worked but for some reason the amp tripped quite a lot… I narrowed it down to the K3’s output power being very unstable for some reason. Output power peaks triggering the amplifier’s ‘driven too high’ protection. I never saw that before. Not with the absent K3 on this amp, nor with this K3 on the small amp. I hope that when I restore the SO2R setup, the situation will return to normal. Although I’d really would like to know what’s going on there. I hope this rig won’t be needing repair too! First shipping the amp to Italy last summer, now one of both transceivers. Repair is costly but it’s always 80 Euro extra for round trip shipping.
I slept late on Saturday. After all this one is just for fun. No real targets, no pressure, just maximize fun. That means lotsa QSO and some juicy runs. I got into the shack after 0800 utc. There you go: K index rose to 4 overnight. You could tell. Soon a JA1 called and when I got his call he faded away so I had to bail out because I couldn’t copy the serial number. Other than that I had a nice run with some nice DX mults. Soon after a copyable JA called and I was glad. A BY and a VU2 back to back. 9M2 or 9M6 or both, can’t tell right now (not on the logging PC). I did some SSB before lunch and when I got back after lunch I started logging some Americans. The amp kept tripping, more so in SSB than in CW. In CW it’s mostly when I start running. Once I launched a few CQ, it’s over. On SSB the power glitches more when the transmissions are longer. Weird.
In the morning in CW my motto was ‘glad there’s the Russians’, in the afternoon on phone, it was ‘glad we have tons of Yanks!’. The band was good up to 1700 utc. After that things went downhill and only two or three Californians were worked. No OR/WA. I’m pretty low on WAS mults. Pretty low on every mult. I quit around 1830 when the band was dead. K rose to 3 again in the last hour so that might explain the sudden drop out of signals.
Just my luck: on Thursday I developed a severe cold. Clogged nose yet snot running. It makes for an uncomfortable feeling especially when you want to do SSB. But given that I’m only in it for the fun, I decided to stick to mixed mode. I probably sound very nasal but by blowing my nose once in a while, I could cope with the cold. One time I blew my nose so hard my ears popped. Result: RX -50dB. I could hear less with the popped ears. It took me a few minutes to regain a few dB and almost a full hour for it to go away completely.
My major concern was that in the late afternoon the weather forecasts predicted heavy gusts for the coming night. Those bloody WX amateurs! They predict nice and calm WX making me believe things will be quiet then when my tower is up they predict relatively strong winds. You know me by now: objectively spoken these gusts aren’t a real threat to my free standing thus unguyed telescopic tower or antennas. But still it worries me since I don’t trust Murphy and I always think that what man has built, can and will fail. Metal fatigue, weak welds, loose nuts on vibrating bolts – the ingredients of the cataclysm a techno-pessimist like me can imagine.
So while watching a movie on TV with the XYL, I had one eye on the utility cables outside. They started swinging more and more. Then the window blinds to the south started rattling. The XYL called it a day and went to bed and I decided to check the WX current reports. The local WX stations clearly showed the wind picking up speed with some gusts around 40km/h. Again: shouldn’t be a problem for the ratings. I took the dog out for a whizz and saw the top section of the tower waving in strong gusts with the wind howling through the tower’s lattice. I know I shouldn’t be focusing on this but in a way it reassures me all is fine yet it scares me too. So here I am three hours later at 2 AM local. Giving you the story of Day 1 of the contest. I should go to bed and get on Ten earlier than yesterday…
Sunday! I managed to get some sleep although the wind was audible. We sleep under the roof (strongly isolated though) and the house is out in the open. The AC power cable and TV coax hang from a pole across the street and is suspended to the façade of the house just under the roof’s ridge. When this cable combo swings in the wind, the tensioning block hits the roof which makes a knocking sound. So rattling window stores, the howling wind and the bumping cable are the root cause of me not sleeping tight when the wind blows. Even at moderate wind speeds these effects are noticeable. And when the tower is cranked up, there’s the worrying factor to boot. But still I slept for about five hours. Then my oldest son woke up and so did I. However I was not in a hurry to get in the shack so I got there late again. I almost doubled the QSO number on Sunday. From a good 600 to 1150. By 1730 utc the band was completely dead. Things were slow on Sunday.
I expected much more of this contest given the SFI current numbers. Yes there was DX. In both modes. And we could expect that the bands would close pretty soon after sunset. No sustained high rates, even the effect of a packet spot was minimal. I don’t get it. I did more S&P than I normally do.
Maybe my antenna is too small? Too high or too low? Two wavelengths might be too high when the band is open yet not high enough for high angle lobes? Who knows. Maybe my expectations are simply too high? No, I’m not quite happy with this one. The short lived rate bursts were fun but other than that it was a drag for me. I must admit I wasn’t really in the mood for contesting because the things I have on my mind but I hoped the contest would change the mood. A shot of contest a day keeps the doctor away. Maybe this weekend’s dose was a tad too light?