SFI > 250 or bust!

SB80(A) again for the same reasons.

I repeat: the high bands not interesting and the operator not in shape for 40+ hours of SOAB. You want to stay clear from 160 so it’s between 80 and 40. I do well to very well on 40 but 80 is a challenge. If it goes bad, you can pull the ‘tough band’ card. If it’s a success the reward is so much bigger. I just wanted to know what could be done on 80 and it would be nice to compare the CW part to the SSB part. If any comparison is needed.

The sun seemed quiet in the week leading to the contest weekend. Tuesday or so ON3DI told me that the solar forecast predicted troubles for the end of the week. The forecast and ON3DI’s fear became a reality. Not much we can do. Fortunately the WX was supposed to be dead calm after last week’s storm.

A few rough days

I must admit that the days before the contest were all but beneficial for the mental and physical condition of the contest operator. I don’t talk about my personal and family life here but I’ll break that rule for once. The week before the contest some apprentice driver bumped into the family’s only car. No human damage except some bruises to the driver (XYL) but the car was declared total loss. Dealing with tow company, insurance, rental car firm, car dealer and the likes was stressful. As if an accident of this magnitude isn’t bad enough. So it comes as no surprise that this situation had been nibbling on my energy levels. Heck, it bit off huge chunks during these past days.

My usual Wednesday off was spent putting the RX loop back up and hooking up the new 9:1 transformer and a coax to the short beverage. This little project gets a dedicated post soon. The loop is for JA/ZL and the beverage runs along the USA short-long path axis.  The weather was really nice. That always makes me happy. And being outside in lovely weather doing various jobs charges my batteries. At dusk my youngest son decided to help me with the beverage while the oldest joined my wife to pick up the new (second hand) car we bought. We were /M again.

The car issue combined with a tough week at the office, made me feel tired and I even felt slightly ill. I still had to put the tower and 80m wire up for the contest. I planned to do that on Friday. It was Black Friday indeed. By 8.30 AM I had brought the XYL to the train station and the kids to school and upon my return I found the kitchen floor flooded. I don’t want to turn this into a plumber’s blog so long story cut short: problem with the water boiler on the first floor. Water downstairs, boiler upstairs. Get it? I’m sure I have never run up the stairs so fast in the fourteen years that we own the house. The recovery, the cleaning and the fix took about two hours, including a quick rush to the local DYI for replacement parts. This too really took a lot of my energy and added to the already elevated stress level.

I decided to crank up the tower now and pull up the 80m wire. That went without a problem, as usual. A quick test in the shack showed that everything was working, including the RX loop and the beverage. That restored my confidence. I had a biscuit for lunch and took a shower. Technically it was all systems go for CQ WW CW. I had a couple of hours to spare and the plan was to rest and hopefully get some pre-contest sleep.

I landed into the couch and then the ‘you cannot have too many antennas’ adage started spinning through my head. I had two switched RX antennas on the K3’s AUX RF input. I use these for diversity reception with the 2nd RX. But I still had the plain RX input free. And a freed up coax from garage to shack. Input free + coax available = extra antenna possibility. Instead of resting the adrenaline kicked in and I went into the garden to deploy the DoG. The Dipole on Ground. Don’t ask why but I decided not to throw the antenna on the ground. The dipole leg connected to the ‘hot side’ was guided through the low fruit trees about 120 to 150 centimeters high. The wire connected to the coax shield was put on the ground running underneath this wire. I didn’t actually expect miracles from this. It was more a way to use really every input and option on the transceiver.

The rest of Friday was spent running errands, dining with the family and watching TV while counting down. I even tried some sleeping. I was up and early in the shack and I even made a few contacts.

The contest

The K-index was way too high, just like in the SSB part. I was having second thoughts about SB80. Wouldn’t SB40 be better? It has been my best band in CQ WW CW. High rates and plenty multipliers. And 40 CW is fun as opposed to SSB. I was still weighting pros and cons five minutes before the contest. But I stuck to the original plan. I wanted to see what I could squeeze out of my limited 80m setup. So SB80 it is. My 2014 record hour was low in the band on 3505 so I settled there. Soon the rate exploded and I hoped to break the record of 210/hr. That of course was with SO2R and a bunch of interlaced 40m contests. I was SB80 now. In the end I logged 198 QSO after one hour and made over 600 contacts in the first four hours. I was pretty pleased despite not setting a new rate record. I was deeply disappointed about the number of American stations in the log. And those who did call, were weak. If W3LPL or K3LR is only S5 here on any band except 160, I know that propagation is worthless. Still I was thrilled to work ZM4T way past my sunrise on Saturday. I worked another ZL at my sunset and another two at Sunday’s sunrise. Despite the propagation. Saturday’s sunset brought another nice surprise: VK6LW. How cool is that? I missed a PY in SSB but quite soon logged one in CW. I was hoping for a LU and a JA for a double mult. I did work a few JA Sunday evening but never heard a LU or saw one spotted on 80. Bummer.

At one point Sunday morning things became all too slow. Combined with the lack of sleep I decided to get two hours of bed time. I was active again early before my sunrise but truth be told it wasn’t spectacular. Even though the K value dropped to three or even two, the band didn’t recover this fast. I tried and tried to score multipliers but it wasn’t easy. My guess was that many people found 80m to be poor and went up to 40 or even 20. After sunrise I quit.

I gave some points to the DXpeditions on 40-20-15. Gosh 15 was poor. And ten was empty apart from one or two signals. Just two years ago these two bands were jam-packed until well after my sunset. For fun I tried 40 long path to z3 around my sunset. Long path propagation because I can’t select a direction with my dipole. I only worked two but it was fun to hear their signals come up as the greyline terminator closed in. I then tired 80 again in the hope to reach 100 country multipliers. After all the Far East still had plenty potential. But it wasn’t to be. There were spots for two Chinese stations but they were weak, didn’t seem to hear well and the EU zoo was open again.

Later on I got called by a JA for a double mult. You finally work one, then more follow. I normally don’t do this but I watched the 80m RBN in search of a few mults. It’s allowed when being in the assisted class, but I don’t see the point most of the time. It helped now: BV1EL appeared and was not yet spotted. Once again the proof what I have been saying: once a rare on is spotted on the cluster, it’s game over if you’re not willing to spend a long time in the EU mess. But he wasn’t spotted so it didn’t take long to have him in the log. I worked a few other multis (JT, 8Q and 6Y) and then the contest was over.

I’m quite happy with the result given the state of the ionosphere and my simple antenna. Of course when the scores on 3830 come in… How can I compete with yagis on a tower that is over a half wavelength high and 4SQ arrays? And possibly 3 to 5dB more RF power. So I’m just in it for the fun. Next year: SB40?

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