SFI > 250 or bust!

After a more than five month hiatus on the bands (read it here) I made my reappearance last week in EUHFC. Of course I could not let WAE CW fly by without logging some QTC. The annual CW contester’s delight. I knew daylight propagation would be limited to 20m and that it would be a case of making the most of the nighttime 40/80 activity. This means a nightshift in the shack after a dayshift working in the house. Normally I would be asleep and charge the batteries for a few hours before the start of the contest (2 AM local time).

Not so this time. My in law’s invited us for an evening dinner on Friday and I didn’t want to be a party pooper again like so many contest weekends before. So I accepted the invitation and we got home around 11 PM. In itself it shouldn’t have been a real problem: I was home before the start of the contest and after sunrise I could easily sleep a few hours. That was the plan. But once again there were external factors. I picked up my oldest son at the airport Thursday night. Actually Friday morning. He spent a week abroad with his uncle and nephew and his plane landed at 1 AM. That means I got home on Friday around 3AM. I had to get up early since the cabinet maker would deliver the cupboards and drawers for the new kitchen. And I still had to move stuff to make room for this delivery. Then the carpenter announced that he would come and install part of the kitchen on Saturday at 8 AM. That kitchen project should have been finished a week ago so this contester is a victim of his delay! To make things worse: 8 AM was the time I planned to land in bed after a night of WAE. I had told him he didn’t need to bring a helper since I could easily give him a hand myself. As this means I had to help the first night would simply pass by without a single QSO. I had to be fit on Saturday and get up around 7 AM.

On Friday I also had to raise the tower again and put up he 80m wire and an extra RX loop towards JA/ZL. All that with almost no sleep the night before. And knowing it would again be late that night when dining at my XYL’s parents. Preparing the antennas Friday noon went smoothly, as usual. Putting up the RX loop I took down five months ago did not present a problem. Only it turned out to be deaf. I opened up the 9:1 transformer box and a soldered wire had come loose. The permanent 270° RX loop worked fine. I decided to abandon the second RX loop. I ran short of time since I needed to take a shower and get on the road for the family dinner. After that excursion I slept throughout the night and on Saturday I worked on the new kitchen until about 3 PM when the carpenter called it a day. Finally I could start the contest.

But I wasn’t in a hurry. The cluster showed only activity on 14 MHz. I wasn’t really thrilled. Instead of starting the contest I decided to replace the 9:1 transformer hoping I could pull more nightly far east DX out of the noise. I put my spare unit in place but that one turned out to be dead too. Same story: a solder joint that came apart. It’s not that I can’t solder. Actually I’m quite handy with the soldering iron. It’s that for almost every project I quickly throw together a conceptual prototype. If it works, I will then finalize an operational field unit. Many times this proof of concept is a success. But then the flimsy and sloppy prototype never gets the finish it deserves and is put to use in its uncompleted state. In this case the problem was the lack of mechanical fixation of the binocular core inside the box and the absence of a decent strain relief on the thin wire of the core’s windings to the terminals. Manipulating the box and shacking it made the soldering come loose. I recently bought a new hot glue gun and I applied liberal blobs of glue inside and outside and everything is mechanically stable now. The dielectric properties of the glue might be catastrophically on UHV and microwave but for the low bands, it shouldn’t be a problem.

During all this troubleshooting it was raining cats and dogs. My rain barrel (400 liter) connected to the garage’s gutter was already flowing over. Before reinstalling the fixed 9:1 transformer I saved about 150 liters of fresh rain water from overflowing into the sewer. I filled two masonry tubs that I could use later to water the tomatoes, zucchini and pumpkins. After this I was soaking wet so I traded the cold outside shower for a warm inside shower and a new dry outfit. Hail to the new bathroom! After that I mounted the ‘beefified‘ 9:1 transformer and a quick check on the shack’s end of the line confirmed that all was fine now. Maybe it was time to actually start logging contacts?

I didn’t bother to listen to 15. I didn’t even plan to listen on 10. I called CQ on 20 and you know what? The rotator controller started going bananas when I keyed the rig (and amp). I can’t seem to get a break here! I knew I had encountered this before but I didn’t remember when or how it got fixed. Luckily I do these write-ups and queried google for ‘on5zo rotator rattling sound’. The result told me this problem occurred in WAE CW 2016, exactly one year ago. Back then I solved it by breaking up and reconnecting the male/female plug for the rotator control cable in the garage. So that’s what I did again this time. I cleaned the male pins with steel wool and sprayed a dose of ‘electrical contact cleaner’ on it. I’m not too keen on using this spray as it makes dust and dirt stick on potentiometers and the likes but there were no exposed or moving parts here so I figured ‘why not?’. I never had the problem again during the rest of the weekend. The plug had been exposed to humid air and dust from sawing and grinding in my workshop/garage/storage room for over five months. So in the future I should remember to brush up the pins after they have been unused for a while.

Now how ‘bout some actual contesting? He timestamp for the first contact says 17.13 utc. I wasn’t in a hurry. I stayed on 20, where else? I think the only thing I managed to work on 15 was a 4X. For low A and K index values, propagation was really a stinker. Things improved slightly later that evening. By 23.30 (1.30 AM local) I got tired. Too little sleep and too much work the days before. So be it. I programmed the alarm for 40/80 on Sunday morning. At 03.30 utc I was QRV on 80. I must admit that the signals that called me on 80 were quite good. Mostly USA and Canada. That VP9 was sweet. Only there weren’t many people around on 3.5 MHz. The usual suspects, some even loud enough to swiftly copy some QTC. Once again VK4CT’s skimmer heard me on 80. Why don’t I log more VK?

Things got better, louder and faster on 40. But it slowed down there too with not much life on 20 yet. So I took a long break. Completely in line with the laid back spirit of how I decided to approach this WAE CW. Back in the shack I was amazed to hear a loud JA on 20. If there’s DX in the cue, you must call CQ. And soon I decided a CQ on 15 couldn’t hurt. RBN didn’t show global openings but one never knows what the bands can bring. In this case: middle east and nearby Asian multipliers. An HS and a YB. Nice for the mult, too weak for QTC. Then another break and in the afternoon I actually ran USA on 15. It wasn’t a hoot and it didn’t last long so I ended up on the inevitable 20m band again. The later it got, the better the band got. I was working USA, PY and JA at the same time. I tried 40 to the East well before my sunset which brought me the same YB mult as on 15 in the morning. Thank you YC1ME. I ran some more 20 and logged mults and QTC. Glad to see I could still rake up QTC without doing any CW for over five months. Apart from EUHFC the week before.

Then the following sequence of events happened: Log a just-out-of-EU mult on 80 (TA7), work four South-American mults in a row on 15, log a bunch of mults on 40, run 20 again to the west for more mults and QTC. By 22.12 utc it was time to settle on 40. More USA, more QTC, more mults there. The last twenty minutes of the contest were spent on 80. Two more mults: PY and EA8.

Result: 472 QSO and 643 QTC. VFO not even dialed to 28 MHz this weekend. Not my best result by far but given the propagation and the situation of the work in the house and the family obligations I didn’t even bother. I enjoyed the time I was on the air and I’m glad to see I have got this QTC thing mastered. Many years I have wanted to do WAE SSB for once. I think it won’t be in 2017 either.

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