I left the tower up after ARRL DX CW and UBA DX CW. I just want to goof around in this contest. Say hello to friends, enjoy working DX, give a multiplier perhaps and counter the FT8 stats. I am home alone this weekend so why not?
I almost forgot to adjust the 80m wire from 3535 kHz CW resonance to 3700 kHz for SSB. It has been a very cold but dry week. And just when I remembered, it started raining. Yes raining. With temperatures still below zero and everything stone cold. You can imagine that it was slippery outside. I avoided walking on the mirror that was the terrace. Walking on the lawn was less dangerous but void between the rubber tiles under the tower and my shoe’s soles were rather well lubricated!
The rope holding the 80m antenna in the air and the copper wire itself were already covered with ice. I remember from a while ago that this detunes the antennas. It affects especially 160 and 80 since these have tuned elevated radials. Lowering the antenna broke the thin layer of ice. I shortened the 80m wire and hooked up the antenna analyzer inside the garage. I made it a tad too short since it resonated too high. I should put a piece of tape around the wire to mark the place where I need to fold back. I always forget. Soon after everything worked on the shack end and I was set to go.
Friday night I went to bed and set the alarm around 4 AM local time which is 0300z. I took my time: let the dog out, have breakfast, reply to nature’s call, fill up the pellet stove… Around 0400z I was active and I was shocked to see NO spots from EU for W/VE stations. Huh??? Americans spotted some EU but almost nothing. They spotted more South Americans and Caribbean stations. Yet another weekend like this?
I tried 80. Running didn’t raise a contact. Then I ran split: running around 3660 and also listening on 38xx. Two or three guys answered. They were weak and I think they answered on my TX frequency. I tried 160. K3LR was good copy. Which does not mean ‘loud’. He heard me right away, but only partially. Repeating my callsign a dozen times and I logged him. W3LPL was weaker. He kept on calling CQ in the face of all EU. A few guys got through but it wasn’t easy and it took many repeats. I didn’t get in the log. I felt sorry for the guy who drew the straw for the 160 slot. Maybe he was punished? Back to eighty, same story. What a lame event! Where was everyone? Bad propagation is one thing, but there wasn’t hardly anyone around. I did manage to work a W8 on 160 who had my call right away but wasn’t sure about it.
Then around sunrise I tried 40. Slightly better signals from the usual suspects. Again: ‘better’ does not mean an overexcited S-meter. An Italian threw the towel on 7194 and I jumped in the gap. I got called by two –yes two- stations. The second one spotted me. Ah yes. Now things will speed up for sure! Well it didn’t. Five minutes of calling yielded one contact.
In short: I was in the shack for three hours and a half and logged 3x on 160, 30x on 80 and 12x on 40 or so. Less than fifty contacts? I shut down at 0745z. I wonder what the rest of the weekend will bring. And I wonder what those will write now who stated that the CW event two weeks ago had the ‘worst propagation ever’?
Saturday afternoon, 1230z. There is life on 20 and it’s loud. I work up and down the band. Maybe I should check 15m? There are a few cluster spots but I can’t even hear K3LR and W3LPL. Can’t hear them. The HF contest beacons are inaudible. There is a light signal: K1XM. I hear him. I call him. I log him. That’s it for fifteen meters. Oh boy. There’s nothing else to do than to run on 14 MHz. My SSB life would be more comfortable with a ‘fi ni kilowoot’ WAV file. I recorded all my WAVs on a laptop with a multimedia microphone. But I can’t find that mic anymore. Luckily I have a cheap headset I bought for the XYL when she was heavily into skype meetings. But I never hooked it up to my laptop in the living room. I wanted a quick test. I asked my friend ON4BHQ if he was QRV and if I could give him a ring to see if the mic actually worked. He called me on skype and I was greeted with the live sound of a swinging twenty meter HF band. Funny: his soundcard is connected to his transceiver. A quick short chat confirmed that the headset was working. I downloaded audacity since my new two or three year old laptop didn’t have it installed. After that I quickly recorded a few trials and selected what seemed best. I was not too happy with how it sounded on the laptop. It has a bit of a spacy metallic sound. The recordings on my previous laptop with the lost mic seemed better. I mailed the WAV off to myself and retrieved the mail on the shack PC. Save the attached file in the right folder and changed the F-key file in N1MMLogger+. I asked ON4BHQ to listen to the modulation and according to his well-trained audiophile ears, it sounded just like the other WAV and my live voice. If he says it’s ok, I assume it is ok.
Just like The Boss I was born to run. But where? I remember a few years back twenty was empty because everyone was either on 15 or on 10. With only 14 MHz workable between NA and EU the whole 20m band was jam-packed with two or three layers of stations that were running. See why I prefer CW? So more S&P but I want rate and I want to run. It was simply impossible. At least not without messing up other people’s frequencies. I tried but I soon gave up. Not before being called by K5ZD. Randy had read the first part here above and he wanted to increment the counter by one. Thanks OM, much appreciated!
I got a phone call from the XYL. She was on her way back from work. With the kids staying at my in-law’s, I proposed to go out and have a snack. “What about your contest then?” she asked. Screw that. I’m only in it for the fun and it’s not quite funny right now.
Part III: finally some action.
Back in the shack around 1730z. Finally a small gap was punched on 14265.5 and I launched my RF over the Atlantic ocean. What followed was a modest run netting 124 contacts in one clock hour. The next hour I only logged 81 additional contacts on 20. The band was dying as it does at the bottom of the cycle: fast and early. Off for some TV at 2000z. I can’t remember what I watched. But I wanted to bridge a few hours between 20 closing and 40 being hopefully hotter than the previous night. The XYL was out to a surprise birthday party and I watched a movie. Around 2330 I was back in the shack. Forty was pretty hot it seemed. I go shy of 120 QSO after one hour and a half. It’s forty. It’s SSB. It’s DX only. So what more can I expect? I ran split most of the time: listening up in the band (e.g. 7289). It’s such a burden always having to announce that. I know that N1MMLogger can record CQ WAV files on the fly but I don’t know how and I never looked into that. There was nothing happening on 80 and 160 was a wasteland apart from some brave EUs calling CQ. At 0038z I closed down the shack and joined the XYL to sleep.
Part IV: Sunday morning
I set the alarm one hour later than Saturday. Good thing since the low bands were awful. Two isolated contacts on 160. The op at K1TTT had a workout to get my call right but he managed to figure it out and I was in the log. The op at W3LPL found himself in a similar situation. He seemed to hear a different letter each time he asked for a repeat. In the end he didn’t lay the puzzle and I didn’t make a QSO. I heard a lot of EU calling the Americans on Top Band but maybe one out of five made the contact. 160: absolutely rubbish this weekend. It wasn’t much better on 80. Luckily I encountered Rick K3OO. Always a pleasure to exchange a brief ‘Hello’ in the contests and he’s not shy to spot me. Mind you: I never ask to be spotted. But he did and a ‘Praise the K3OO’ crossed my mind. Yes. A spot. Now it’s on! And boy was it on. For about twenty contacts. Then the effect of the spot vanished as did the rate. I went to 160 again. CQing was useless. There were only two or three spots but nothing I didn’t work. The EUs calling them had a hard time. The clock coincided with EU sunrise but that didn’t do squat. Even the westerly guys from GM couldn’t get through. I skimmed 40 once more and quit at 0730utc. Time for a shower and get the kids back.
Part IV: Sunday afternoon and evening
Back home and in the shack at 1317z. VY2TT was easy on 21 MHz. Hey there’s more. And they hear me! A dozen of S&P contacts convinced me: time to run! I added 88 QSO on 15m to the K1XM contact to finish with 89 QSO on 15. And then the band had given all it had in store for the weekend. No other option than to go back to twenty. That accounted for another 150 QSO in two hours. Luckily I got spotted quite often to keep the rate acceptable. But the band died even earlier. A little after 1800 I went downstairs for some TV.
The last two hours were only used half. I ran 40 split again, but the rate was low and signals were usually weak. There was nothing to do on 80 so I set myself the target of 800 contacts. I was twenty short or so at that point. A spot provided a short boost for the rate and when it came to a halt I was at 812 QSO. Still more than an hour to go but it doesn’t matter if I’m #200 or #201.
I had hoped to do better but the propagation just wasn’t there. I think this took a huge bite out of the participation too. You can ask: why do we do this? But it takes a contester to understand that. Being on the bands, greeting friends, be amazed when a loud one pops up out of the noise, smiling when finally one of the Dakotas calls in. You just have to be there…