SFI > 250 or bust!

I haven’t done any operating since late February. I just didn’t have the time, the courage, the energy, the will. But I did plan to be active in EUHFC which is a kickass contest. The tower and all my antennas have been down for over five months. I did let the amp run idle two times for a few hours and did a quick check of antenna SWR after a gusty period. But that too has been a few months ago.

I delayed the setting up. Thursday it was raining and the wind blew hard. Friday it was hardly raining but not dry and there was some wind. In fact I was just looking for excuses not to  start cranking up the tower. Oh how I long for a station that has access to ten bands with good antennas that just needs a flip of the switch to get it going. The forecast didn’t mention rain for Saturday so I might as well do it then.

Come Saturday, it was raining when I woke up. Bloody forecasters and their lousy forecasts. Take breakfast. Read mails. Fill in the paper’s crossword puzzle. Watch a YouTube movie. Procrastination is what they call this with a fancy word. Half past nine I decided to give it a go. If I didn’t participate in this contest either, I might as well quit the hobby altogether.

First thing to do: hook up all cables and coaxes in the garage. I discovered a new coax that I had installed with the XYL but I can’t even remember when we did that. I did remember why it was there. Some future RX antenna project. Won’t be now. Then crank up the tower. But first untangle all the ropes and remove spiders and crusty bird poop. A lot of dirt accumulates over five months. My youngest son, now five and a half year old, decided to come help me. I let him handle the remote control of the winch. He can manage to keep a push button activated while I look for possible troubles. The tower went up without a problem. Together with my kid I pulled up the 80m wire and then the 160m wire. A quick check in the shack revealed that everything was just like it was and supposed to be. No skeletons dropping out of the closet.

I had no expectations nor targets except to see if I still could copy CW and have some fun. It sure would be glad to maintain my goal of 100 QSO/hr averaged over the contest but I had absolutely no clue what to expect after a five month hiatus on the bands. It seems that five months without CW is not detrimental to my skills to copy calls and numbers up to about 40 WPM. Enough for contesting. I was off to the races.

I started on 20 meters. I knew that 10 would be dead: that dreaded A-index stood at 3 which is fatal to an already lame band. Contrary to what I usually do, I didn’t even try 15 at first. Signals on twenty meters were good and the rate was nice too. Then I remembered the real time online score board and opened it in a browser window. I decided to join the fun. It enhances the game of contesting. It really does. Even with my non-competitive approach I tried to keep my position in the ranking.

I was home alone: kids were out, XYL was out. The dog was in. The cats were outside. Nothing could distract me and I had a great time and I could keep the rate slightly above 100/hr. I took a few five minute breaks to get some relief and take a snack. Twenty was the place to be and I had limited success on fifteen too. On ten meters I tried to  get all I could but the signals were weak and rapidly varying between S5 and inaudible during an exchange. I hopped back and forth between the bands and then it was time to drop to 40. Just as I started it started raining. An intense shower caused strong QRN so I decided to move to 20 again. A few more showers came and went. The online lightning map showed some dots around me but not many and far enough not to worry too much. There seemed to be strong thunderstorms to the east and west of me (North Sea, northern Holland, Austria) which caused some noise on the lower bands.

I chuckled when watching the RBN after my first CQ on 80. It got picked up by VK4CT’s skimmer. Poor propagation, summer in Europe, still daylight in Belgium and yet my 3.5 MHz signal makes it to Australia.

I had fun and came short only a dozen contacts to reach 1200 QSO for that 100/hr average. But close enough given I only used one radio and didn’t make the most of the allowed band changes. I consciously avoided looking up previous results so as not to spoil the fun factor. But towards the end curiosity got the best of me and I looked at last year’s 3830 report. That was ‘my best score ever in this contest’. What a difference a year makes! Same guy, same antennas, different propagation.

I had a good time in this enjoyable contest. The real time score board was a bonus once again. It felt good to back on the air after a few months.

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