Just a small contesting event that I like to play in. With the ITU zone as the exchange, it kinda feels like a ‘light’ version of last week’s IARU contest minus the DX and minus the HQ stations. With the focus on the Russian field day style competitors. The contest starts a little too late and stops too early to work them on 40. I could have worked them in the last hour if it weren’t for terrible QRN. See the image: a curtain of thunderstorms between me and UA.
Here’s something that becomes very popular when you work M/S stations, what I call the ‘interlock waiting game’. That’s the few seconds you have to wait for the M/S station to give you the report because another radio is transmitting and the one that has to answer you needs to wait for the message to be sent by that other radio. That’s what you get when you do a full blown M/M with a single TX signal at the time. And I hate having to wait. P33W scores very bad in that department. There are others but that one always does it. A few seconds of idling time when running seems like forever and in a big contest it’s long enough for a rude operator to just jump in the gap and start sending CQ. From WPX CW on I just CQ again and wipe the call if the answer doesn’t come in due time and I suspect that the station is playing the interlock waiting game with me.
- My last LotW upload was December 31.
- The year is over half way and so far I have made ZERO contacts on the WARC bands. Not ‘few’. Not ‘almost none’. But the absolute value of ZERO.
So it was time to grab the bull by the horns and fire up ye olde shack again. The plan was to set up on Friday and relax on Saturday before the contest. Yeah right. A friend asked to help him in a heavy construction project on Friday. Double trouble: bye bye plan and it would certainly cause some body aches the day after during the contest. I have been distracted from ham radio duties so much over the last year… The job was done sooner than anticipated so I wanted to set up in the afternoon before an invited friend would arrive for a BBQ party. I powered up the winch to crank up the tower when he texted me he was already on his way. That’s almost one hour sooner than planned so setting up the tower and antennas would be done on Saturday after all.
Sure enough my body felt Friday’s physical effort and as a result I woke up around 5AM with a cramp in my leg. I knew I would not fall asleep again soon so I booted the shack PC and powered up the TRX. Say what? K=5 overnight? Oh boy this will be a dull contest. Let’s make the most of it anyway. Since everyone and everything worked along the set up procedure outside was done in under an hour. I took a nap before the start of the contest and was ready to go.
Conditions indeed were not the best but things didn’t go too bad. I maintained an average rate of just over 100/hr. With intense use of the second radio and the simple triband vertical. The latter antenna works great when the propagation is great too but this time it was barely making me heard. Better than nothing. Second radio share: 2151 QSO of which 253 with radio 2 = 11.8%.
At a given point, just like last year, someone insisted giving me 001. PSE ITU ZN ITU ZN PSE ITU ZN @24WPM to match the caller’s speed. Then he proceeded to give me his CQ zone. *sigh* Log what is sent? Yes but what if he changes his cabrillo before submitting?
One hour into the contest I developed a head ache. I never have headaches. It distracted me. Not so much the pain itself but wondering what the cause was, never having had a headache before. It got so bad I took off the headphones for some relief. When my fingers touched the left part of my head, I felt a sore spot. That was it! During WPX CW I broke one of the hinging suspension brackets of the (expensive!) headphones. Since I use these tight fitting cans to suppress the amp’s noise, I don’t want to go back to my open spare model that doesn’t block ambient QRM. I fixed the bracket with a liberal amount of plastic tape and it held during WPX. But because I fixed the ear shell with the tape, it doesn’t follow the curve of the skull anymore. So the protruding remains of the plastic brackets were pushing against my head. In fact pretty hard but I didn’t notice at first. I tried to bend the taped assembly a bit but it always comes back to its painful position. I can still finger point the spot now more than two days after the contest. For the rest of the contest I tried adjusting the bracket and the layers of tape but I needed to repeat it every hour. I wonder why that wasn’t a problem in WPX CW? Now what? Buy one again?
The night was slow but it could have been worse. I didn’t actually sleep but ‘lost it’ for a quarter of an hour on two occasions. Tired, warm in the shack, slow rates. Together with a few I/O breaks I lost a good hour of operating time.
I had a close eye on the online score board. SN7Q was out of my league but I traded places often with OH1F and UC7A. All these guys seem to have more, bigger and higher antennas than yours truly. I had to let OH1F go in the last half hour. He must have found a source of new multipliers. The RBN map showed him spraying his signal to Asia / far east and USA / Caribbean at the same time. Since I only have one antenna, it was either direction for me. I was very tired and was relieved when the final bell rang. I slept for two hours straight.
Here’s what I’m going to do:
- Upload about 8000 contact contacts from 2015 to eQSL and LotW
- Reinstall the WARC dipole and try to make a few contacts every day.
Today (Tuesday) the bands were either closed or everyone at the beach. I worked a 4S7 on 17 CW though.
Belgian HF Devils ride again – part III
After two episodes in 2006 and 2011 it was time for OT1A and ON5ZO to give it another try. This year we didn’t plan much and I did almost zero preparation except loading up the gear on my little trailer. OT1A was in charge of location, RF and IT. That translates to his huge garden, his TRX, his laptop and keying devices. I brought along a K3 just in case. My main contribution was the homebrew tilt-over construction and the aluminum tubing, guying stuff and coax / wires. We settled for OT1A’s MFJ autotuner with DC injection over the coax. My SGC antenna coupler was there as a spare. We had the luxury of having a backup generator (my classic model), while we actually used a Honda 20i with inverter technology. That one turned out to run quieter. And much to our surprise it consumed very little fuel over the whole period. Clearly a good choice if you’re in the market for such a device.
The week leading up to the field day event I made two extra aluminum sections. Thus we gained three meter in height. Last year in my ‘one man show’ I raised this tower with the dipole already attached but this year I mounted a pulley. This way I can raise the mast with the winch, and pull up the antennas after the mast is erected and guyed. All this wisdom comes from hard lessons learned in the previous editions where setting up always turned out to be problematic. Bottom line is that my welding evening course has paid for itself by now.
Friday was boiling hot and the day ended with serious thunderstorms. Over my QTH there was a fierce one with VERY strong gusts. It even shifted the yagi-dipole combination out of line once again. Slightly yet visible. This reminded me of the 2014 scenario. I’m pretty sure the tent would not have survived this one. The long thunderstorm blew away the tropical heat and lightning was seen for hours after. The forecast for the weekend was ideal for FD.
Saturday morning the forecasters turned out to be spot on. Sunny and not too warm. I hooked up the trailer and with the trunk of the car piling up with a portable station, I arrived at OT1A’s forty minutes later. The tent was already in place. To cut a long story short: all went according to the scenario and without any problem, really not a single problem. The mast and antenna were up in the air, guyed, ladder line attached and the ends suspended seven meters above the ground. The only problem not even worth mentioning was the holes in the aluminum sections. I drilled and aligned them at home so it was a perfect fit for the bolts. In the field, in a less stable and flat environment, I learned that it might be better to drill the hole half a millimeter bigger than the bolt size. But in the light of the problems we had to overcome in the previous years, this was nothing. That took us two hours at a gentle pace. No sweat, no blood. Only a light sunburn I discovered afterwards. We couldn’t believe we were done already. With so much time to spare, we drove to town for lunch.
After lunch we set up the station the tent. Again: a breeze. I set up the N1MM soft and tested the messages. The rig worked and the antenna coupler presented fifty ohms on all three bands. We entered ‘restricted’ (160+80+40). We were done almost two hours before the start. That felt weird. Usually we are ready two minutes after the start. Not so this year. Not even a drop of sweat. No stress. And no juicy goofball stories about who messed up what.
The field day itself ran along as predicted. A few hundred contacts in the first hours. Then the rate dropped. Along with the sun. Along with the temperatures. It was very cold after sunset and even colder during the night hours. Both of us were tired and we operated in shifts of roughly two hours. We tried to sleep some but it was too cold for a quality nap and the rate too slow for fun on the bands. Moreover 160 turned out to be a problem. Either the antenna is crap there or the band was in poor shape. Much noise and static, little or no signals. So I stuck to 40 and when K3ZO called in for the USA mult I asked to QSY to 80 but I got a ‘too early’ from him. Makes sense as it was about half an hour before his sunset if I remember well. Later on he called me on 80 but mult credit there goes to K1ZZ. Too bad it was useless to drag someone to 160. Not much other DX logged on either band.
As soon as the sun came up the tent warmed up and soon it reached a pleasant temperature. With the sunrays heating me up I think I had a good nap. That caused probably more QRM than the silent generator, sorry for that! Two constants for the rest of the event: little or no rate and many, many dupes. We took half an hour off to have lunch together with the families and resumed operations. We counted down the minutes because there was not much to count up in the log. With one hour to go we were visited by UBA official ON6HI. We had a nice chat and he was so kind as to provide a helping hand with lowering the mast and disassembling it. It took us 75 minutes to clean everything up, even the tent.
In retrospect it is very time consuming and much work for a bunch of local HF contacts. You really have to be crazy to keep on doing this. Before the CW part I considered doing the SSB part too, now that the antennas go up so easily. But calling CQ in SSB for ten minutes on end before someone answers? Even with a DVK, there is no fun in that.
I wonder how the competitors did?
Finally some action. Last QSO logged was in RDXC more than two months ago. I told myself: no targets, no stress, just fun. I didn’t even set up the tower and low band wires on Friday and I decided to have a good night’s sleep. I did that on Saturday and the XYL noted that setting up goes fast. Yes I know the routine by now. I took off the 160m wire and reduced the dual band GP to 80m only as WPX has little or no 160 activity. Even 80m is often neglected as would be the case again in this one.
With being away from the bands for so long it shocked me to see the SFI dip below 100. That has been a long time. My guess is it’ll only go downhill from here and the best years of cycle 24 are behind us. Too bad because contesting is so much fun when 10m and 15m are hot. Oh well, nothing we can do. My guess is that I’ll be doing more single band efforts the coming years. Especially in SSB.
I operated like in my early days ten to twelve years ago. Off and on. Except I made 1900 QSO now instead of 300 back then ☺ Ten meters was a big bust throughout the weekend. And I didn’t make much contacts on 80 either. There was not much happening there, as predicted. Which was convenient because the dreaded QRM was very active again making copying almost impossible. And while listening through it trying to put the callsigns and serials together, I almost got a headache. And -touch wood!- I never have nor had headaches in my life. I REALLY need to find the source of the QRM and deal with it. I can detect it on 15 deep down but it doesn’t limit copying weak stations. But it is a pain on 20m especially on phone. That’s where I first discovered it, in CQ WW SSB 2014. It is very strong and annoying on 80, where I can only copy the S9 signals and it is killing 160 too. I seem to remember it kills 30m too but I’m shocked to see my last QSO there dates from November 8th 2014. Wow, I really need to prioritize and get back to the shack more often!
The QRM is not a problem on 40 so I tried to get some rate there. But it was not a big hit, just a moderate success. Since things slowed down and fatigue too over, I just went to bed. And overslept for sunrise. I tried 80 again just after sunrise. With the streetlights out, the QRM is gone. That’s a link I found earlier. But there was not much DX on 80 so back to 40 for some more six pointers. From then on I took longer breaks. Breakfast and lunch with the family. A nap. Etc.
In the end I reached 1900 QSO and decided to quit. I briefly said: “2000 is within reach” but that is a target and targets bring along stress and stress is no fun so I flipped the switch and called it a day. I had a few +100 hours and one clock hour of +140. Good enough. Everything from tower to shack works and I still copy callsigns and serials up to 45WPM or so. I like the WPX format a lot. Every QSO is probably a multiplier. And I did more S&P than ever before. Always nice to find an unspotted sweet DX station. I said it before and I’ll say it again: it’s the best hobby in the world. I hope to have more free time again soon to enjoy it to the max.
Up persicope – ON5ZO emerges from the deep sea.
What do you hate the most about ham radio?
Storms especially on contest weekends.
Why is that?
I can’t crank up the tower then and storms might damage the tower and antennas.
Like the WPX SSB weekend two months ago?
Exactly. I didn’t want to compete with the tower up since there was a warning for strong winds especially on Sunday and Monday. Good thing I left the tower down. Sunday noon one of the strongest gusts in years managed to move the 40m dipole so it shifted almost 45° off.
So once again the antennas got affected without real damage?
Yes although I got away pretty well. Some guys had less luck. ES5TV reported his 15m stack tower got blown over. It was a nasty storm that continued Monday.
Was that really the only reason you skipped WPX SSB?
No. I haven’t been in a ham radio mood for months. Too much going on at once and possibly a hobby burn out. I’m still heavily into ham radio but low on energy and needing to focus on a few other things.
And what about DXing?
I haven’t been into DXCC for years. Couldn’t care less. I wanted to work my friends at EP6T in January but the things I heard on the air made my ears bleed. I managed only one QSO. I couldn’t spend much time in the shack and found it a waste of time to try to listen to the mess. What are those people trying to achieve? Disgusting!
Exactly. But I assume you at least tried to log the ultra rare K1N? It won’t return on the air in over a decade, maybe two?
Couldn’t care less! On two occasions I listened and heard the same pathetic behavior. Is this what the hobby is becoming? Oh boy! I feel sorry for the people who prepare such a DXpedition years in advance and spend thousands of Euros (EP6T) or Dollars (K1N) to find themselves facing a bunch of undisciplined and utterly unskilled pigs. I came across an active DXer a few weeks ago and he raised the issue too and said he’s losing his interest in DXing because of the situation.
I see. Your last blog entry was almost two months ago. What gives?
Same story. There have been days when there was almost a full day between shutting down and booting the laptop. I don’t want to spend much time in front of a screen and keyboard. Lack of time, not in a writing mood and what to write about on a ham radio blog when there is no radio activity? I notice the same with the SJ2W blog: Mike has been slow in adding stuff because of being busy with other things. Adding content takes time. And AE5X stone cold pulled the plug on his excellent blog.
Hasn’t there been the slightest bit of ham radio in your life lately?
Sure. I picked up the UBA DX log checking a while ago. I have been preparing and collecting parts for a summer construction project. And I have been wondering a lot about doing something new in ham radio for a change. Rather different than new. I still want to contest and nothing else but right now I feel I have done all I can do from here. How can I possibly do better? Without adding imaginary 160m multipliers to the log that is!
Lets return to the tower and antennas after that stormy Sunday. Now what?
I have been staring at the crooked setup for weeks on end. I hate tower work. Titling the tower is easy but working on the antennas is not. Especially in a one man show. Ladders on a bumpy lawn, your head bumping against yagi elements and pulleys. Leaning on a 350 kg mast that is only held by a 7mm stainless steel rope. I put two strong wooden beams under it to support it just in case. And once again I am confronted with the poor engineering of the tower company. They placed the tower raising winch on the side of the triangle that normally lies on the ground. OT1A has the same model from the same manufacturer and it’s on the side of his tower. I wonder why they screwed up. But that’s another story. I wonder how I managed to install the yagi all alone in 2007?
Anyway I wanted to realign the antennas before WPX CW. I have postponed this job long enough so a few days ago the WX was fine and I convinced myself to finally do it. After the storm I was convinced that it was the 40m rotary dipole that got shifted. The optibeam muffler clamp style fixing is too weak for such a big antenna. My own reengineered boom-to-mast clamp for the yagi is way stronger so it’s only normal this antenna doesn’t move. But the more I stared at the antennas, the more it became clear. The 40m dipole didn’t move. It was the yagi that got blown off the right bearing. Somehow my heavy duty clamp has failed after all these years.
It consists of two high pressure clamping blocks with M10 bolts. These are tightened with a split washer, a normal nut and a second locking nut. This should be pretty tight and stay tight, right? Not so. I couldn’t rotate the boom on the mast by hand but I only had to loosen the nuts just a tad before I could adjust the boom and shift the 20m driver parallel to the 40m dipole. Somehow the dual nut combination had weakened. The storm gust was strong enough to make the antenna shift. It wasn’t easy to reach the nuts because the yagi feed system and current balun was in the way. It blocked the view and the access of the wrench. That was not the case when I installed the antenna! Anyway I think and hope it’s tight enough now. And I even have stronger hope for such a storm not to return. The 20m driver and the 40m rotary dipole haven’t been aligned this nice since I installed it four years ago.
What’s the last thing you did related to ham radio?
Write this blog post of course!
And before that?
Yesterday ON3DI and I went to one of the EP6T presentations. Speaking was ON7RU. It was a nice presentation and a was glad to see some familiar faces I hadn’t spoken in a long time.
Dunno. Probably WPX CW but I have no clue what category. SB or All Band? What’s the propagation like? I haven’t turned my rigs on in two months. That must be a new record… ☺
I haven’t done much contesting after WW CW last year. I skipped both ARRL DX contests and only messed around in both UBA DX contests. So I was glad to have the RDXC weekend. I had a ball last year (ended up #5) and I aimed for 2000 QSO – CW only HP category.
It became clear from the start that it would be a miracle to see the QSO counter jump beyond the 2k mark. Conditions were horrible it seemed. Despite the lousy propagation I managed to keep the rate just above 100/hr for the first half of the contest. So it was possible to get to 2k contacts. But then I had to go to the low bands. Lack of propagation, more QRN than usual and the local QRM source – the three elements to rain on my parade. The noise source was louder than ever and it made copying almost impossible. A headache would develop for sure, it was a pain to listen through it. Just after the halfway mark the rate went way down. Boredom set in together with fatigue. So I decided to sleep. I was very tired already before the contest and the low rate didn’t help to stay awake. So I went downstairs to hit the couch for an hour or two. And then I changed my mind. I took a snack, a drink, brushed my teeth for a fresh feeling and I went back into the shack. I decided to sweat it out.
The log shows a few short periods of inactivity. I dozed off twice for a few minutes and around 3AM local time I decided to close my eyes and slept for half an hour. That’s the flu and two hectic and stressful months acting up. Normally 24 hour contests are not a problem and even last year’s CQ WW CW went without sleep. But not now. I woke up with a sore neck but the power nap did its job.
It was a struggle to get a run going and keep the rate above 60/hr. Once in a while a real DX called in and the occasional UA0 rare oblast. Then around 1000 utc the ten meter band opened up. Opened up this weekend meant: work in a 5000km range. Anything beyond was scarce and weak. I was glad to be called by a JA there for the mult.
The real time scoreboard added some fun yet I had to let the top 3 go after a while. After the slow and interrupted night, I dropped a few places. Given the propagation and the noise on 80/160 I think I did quite well. I really need to find the source of the noise. And then hopefully fix it. My first guess -a street light in the wide neighborhood- seems less likely than before. That leaves either my house or one of the neighbors…
A short report for the sake of history.
There is not much happening in ON5ZO Radioland right now. Because there is too much happening in the real evil world. I caught a flu early February and it was a nasty one. I needed more time than anticipated to recover from that one. It was followed by a severe cold. Just my luck. And I couldn’t stay home ill to recover because in late January I decided to quit my job (don’t ask) and start over somewhere else mid February. As expected, that professional move isn’t easy to digest. And the immediate result is a temporary (I hope so!) increase in workload and stress. I have a hard time dealing with changes. And so I decided to skip ARRL DX CW. Too much work and running low on fuel. I was exhausted. And my first day at the new job right after this contest? Didn’t seem a good idea.
Last weekend was ARRL DX SSB. I feel much better by now but once more I decided not to participate. It was the first dry, warm and sunny weekend in a loooooong time. After months of rain and grey weather, it was time to let the sun do its magic. Not the ionospherical magic but the make-me-happy magic. The whole family enjoyed a weekend in the open. Work as well as play. Fifteen degrees or more so I went out in style: wearing shorts, my favorite garment. By popular request we closed the weekend with a modest improvised BBQ. The warmth and the sunlight and all the work done gave the moral a boost. Probably more than a SSB contest could have done.
In between these weekends was the UBA DX CW contest. Still tired and with a lot on my mind, it was more a moral duty than a pleasure. With heavy winds predicted Saturday night and Sunday morning until right after the contest, I decided not to crank up the tower and change the 24h plan to just 12h. I had to go somewhere Sunday afternoon which meant no time to put the tower down after the contest. Furthermore I knew I would be home late so I planned a few hours of sleep in advance instead of pulling an all-nighter. I didn’t even turn on the big amp. That would only be RFI-hell with the antennas so low to the ground and right above the shack. I ran the contest with the 500W amp. And on 80 I used a ridiculously low dipole with the feed point only 8m high. I took the SSB dipole and added the right amount of wire to shift resonance down to CW. I tried moving two Americans from 40 to 80 but it didn’t work out. No W mult there. Propagation was so-so and the dipole too low I guess. Nevertheless I’m pretty happy with the result considering the low position of the aerials. Almost 1000 contacts in under twelve hours with the tower down. I didn’t even operate the full period. Before the contest I briefly contemplated trying QRP for a change but I chickened out.
I hope to be back 100% in RDXC. I finished 5th World last year. And QST shows me on #8 World in the IARU Contest 2014.
Granted: if it weren’t for the UBA I wouldn’t be in this SSB contest. But as a Belgian contest lover I feel the moral duty to fire up ye olde shack. And any contest beats no contest (except IOTA). I cranked up the tower but did not deploy the 80/160 GP. Instead I used an old dipole cut for 75m (a/k/a 80m phone). In a normal year this specific weekend also has the CQ 160 CW contest. So I usually use the low band wires to have some Top Band fun as well on top of the UBA SSB test. This odd year the 160m test was held a week earlier and I didn’t feel like disconnecting the 160m wire nor have it up in the air unused. Furthermore the cables are tangled into a real spaghetti. Don’t ask. It involves a rampaging puppy.
Despite my yucky feelings towards SSB in small contests, things were rather fun from the start. Only to become more fun as the afternoon went by. It seems there was more participation than the previous editions. Great. I decided to stick to the twelve hour category battling it out with OS8A who is a regular in this category. Usually he beats me as he has better antennas on 80 and 40 and maybe he likes phone where I can’t push myself. Long live CW.
Normal strategy: have a few fast hours at the start. Take a break. Do some 40. Take break. Do some 80. Watch TV with XYL. Go to sleep with six hours of operating time left to experience a tremendous sunrise run on 80 and 40. To find that there is no one around when the sun comes up. So you just use the remaining hours to wear out the CQ-button. No one stays up late or gets up early for the UBA SSB contest. Let alone pull an all-nighter.
So NOT this year. I did some extra hours Saturday night, making the most of 40 and 80. The tricky part was to work the K and VE mults on 40 and 80. I couldn’t stay too long or I would run low on operating time Sunday morning. On 40 I bagged them NA mults pretty easy. They get through half an hour before their sunset which is not too late Belgian time. I was just doing a last S&P before throwing the switch when I heard a competitor being called by my friend W1EBI. So he’s working 80 right now? I quickly found a spot and settled for a last short run. Hoping he would go down the band and find me there. BINGO: W1EBI brings me the USA multiplier on 80. Soon after I worked some more and a VE to boot. I could go to bed happily.
Sunday morning I did a quick scan. Eighty was dead as always. Maybe it wasn’t dead but is was at least empty as predicted. I stopped to listen to OS8A on 40. He was slightly ahead in numbers but not much. Then he got called by a J7. WTF! There is a J7 on the bands handing out a rare multiplier! I decided to call CQ there and keep my fingers crossed. Easy on phone, harder in CW. I worked some DX, some EU, some multipliers and when that J7 finally called in, I could trade 40 for 20 which was still low on QSO and mults.
Long story cut short: 4.5 hours left on Sunday is more than enough. The rates are much lower than on Saturday but you need the morning propagation to the east. That brought me a lot of VERY nice DX multipliers on the higher bands. It was a really fun edition. Plenty of contacts (+1000 in 12 hours), plenty of DX. And maybe another plaque on the wall? Let’s see how OS8A did.