Finally it was time for a serious contest effort in over four months. Not only was it time, I also actually had the time. And the WX would cooperate. All of the forecasts were in sync: possibly a local thunderstorm on Sunday late in the afternoon. But by then the contest would be over and the tower down.
I decided to crank up the tower and install the low band wires on Friday night. The weather was calm and it was an enjoyable evening. The tower went up smoothly after being nested for over four months. I had to reinstall an elevated radial that I took down for field day. I had to lengthen the 80m wire from SSB to CW. Last usage was ARRL DX SSB, go figure! And it was a test for the new pole I put in ‘quick concrete’ three days before. This pole has a pulley and I use it to keep the 80m L wire tensioned high up in the air. It had sat on an X-frame for many years but the XYL got tired of always having to stay clear with the lawnmower. Me too but my priorities are slightly different from hers. As a result the weeds were thriving around the base. Now the X-frame is gone and the pole sits in concrete, resulting in a smaller footprint. And yes it held up nicely for this simple purpose. It also held the 10/15/20 vertical for SO2R. That one will probably be replaced in the future. So no high band SO2R in this contest.
When all was up, I did a quick test in the shack. No issues detected: SWR was as it has always been so I figured all was well. Apart from the solarham.net graph that sowed a dreadful K index. Oh well, we’ll see what the bands bring. I had low expectations anyway.
Saturday morning I decided that I would need an RX antenna for the low bands. I have the Wellbrook RX loop that seems to work. But my guess is that without spending money you could homebrew something at least as good. But that would have a bigger footprint. Wait: avoiding homebrewing and small footprint were the key elements in deciding to buy this loop… Since there currently is no coax anymore from the garage to the corner of the garden where the loop is, I decided to try something. Something completely unscientific. No calculations, no modelling, nothing copied from notorious Low Band Bibles. Just a crazy idea. I put the spare 80m dipole on the lawn from East to West as a DoG (Dipole on GND). And then I got the unsolicited but highly appreciated help from my oldest son. Together we put a fiber glass pole against his climbing tower and we made a single terminated K9AY-style loop. With a terminator and a 9:1 transformer and a ground stake. That one was perpendicular to the DoG. Since I have only one spare coax from garage (i.e. the hub between inside and outside) to shack, I had to combine these RX antennas. For that I bought an RX-only antenna combiner (Diamond SS-500). So I simply combined the loop and the DOG. I cannot do this with the RX loop without rearranging many things because this active antenna has DC power over the coax. One crazy experiment. And I was glad that my oldest son was eager to help me out. My guess is that he had spent all his TV-time credit and was looking for a plan B activity.
So instead of unwinding in front of the TV as a mind-numbing therapy before the contest I spent the morning outside. We also made a long bicycle tour with the family including the dog. The real live pet, not the DoG! I took a shower and had lunch with half an hour to spare before the start. Of course I got a serious energy dip and almost fell asleep on the couch. Just in time I landed in the operating seat. I started the contest low power because the amp had to warm up. So the first bunch of contacts were made with 30W or so. I decided to keep the operating style calm and expectations low. I wanted to avoid frustration. I’m hooked on rate and the propagation wasn’t really helping. So no SO2R. I had a very, VERY slow start. It was hard to push the rate meter above 50. There were short lived spikes but I logged 170 QSO or so after the first THREE hours. That usually is logged in the FIRST hour alone! In a bigger contest, agreed. The rate was a huge disappointment and I blame the disturbed conditions. Ten meters was dead. Fifteen was as good as dead and everyone landed on twenty meters. So we’ve reached that part of the solar cycle! I took a few short breaks. One to sprinkle the lawn where I dug a thirty meter long ditch two weeks ago to bury a bunch of cables.
In the meantime I had rediscovered the online score board. I quickly configured the logger and I was in the race. There were a few callsigns that I had set to compete with. And that has kept me from taking more and longer breaks. Without this I probably would have been less active and less motivated.
Around sunset things went better and there was a short burst of activity on 28 MHz. There even was the first of only three hours that would yield over 100 contacts. The best hour (yet only a lousy 160 QSO) was on 20: from 2200 to 2300 utc. Then the rate collapsed. I started doing SO2R after all. I could switch between 40 and 20, and later on between 40 and 80. I went back to fifteen well after sunset and found it to be quite productive. Relative to the first hours that is, not like a few years ago. Same counts for 20. When these bands were totally closed I had to reside on 80. From 2AM to 4AM I didn’t even make hundred contacts combined. The low rate combined with a sudden craving for sleep made me decide to take a nap. I already had a short seven minute black out in the chair. I was back in the shack for sunrise but it was a total non-event. The rates remained low, following the propagation on the higher bands. I made a third +100 hour at 9AM. I wonder why there wasn’t much activity on 160? Don’t tell me that band was hopping when I took a nap? I worked VA2WA there for my only DX. I had a hard time working USA on 80. I gotz much cq in da face homie!
As for the RX antenna experiment: I used it to listen in diversity mode on the low bands. It heard pretty well, and it had a lower noise level than the verticals. I think I will spend some winter evenings doing real comparisons. If all goes well and not like it has gone two winters in a row. Anyway, it’s still summer and I had an enjoyable time on the air. Given the propagation and my location, I think I did well. But I’m not sure about WAECW with these conditions…