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Everything ON5ZO / OQ5M has to ventilate about ham radio.

A couple of years ago, OT1A introduced me to the Pareto principle. Since then I have often applied this to the many obscure things I encounter while processing and checking the UBA DX contest logs. I think the ratio is even more skewed. 95% of my time is needed to fix 5% of the tampered logs or write extra code to handle these exceptions. I have ranted about this before.

I came across a LZ1 who had a NIL for a QSO with a RK9. In order to perform a cross check, my log checking software showed me a part of the RK9 log centred around the time the contact supposedly took place.

The RK9 log in my database showed:

QSO: 3500 CW 2014-02-22 2225 RK9### 599 004 SP*** 599 221
QSO: 3500 CW 2014-02-22 2227 RK9### 599 006 SF*** 599 396

Where is QSO #5 with LZ1? So I opened the submitted Cabrillo file and behold:

QSO: 3500 CW 2014-02-22 2225 RK9### 599 004 SP*** 599 221
QSO: 3500 CW 2014-O2-22 2226 RK9### 599 005 LZ1** 599 513
QSO: 3500 CW 2014-02-22 2227 RK9### 599 006 SF*** 599 396

What’s wrong with the line of QSO #5 in the Cabrillo file? I know. Do you see it? And more importantly: how on earth can this happen as long as you don’t mess with your log file? The RK9 log was made with TR4W. I can hardly imagine this logger randomly mutilates Cabrillo files?

I have made my code check the dates, and if it isn’t a valid date / time within the contest period, the contact is ditched and marked as ‘outside of the contest period’. I said it before and I’ll say it again: a few years ago there was actually a February 31 as the QSO date!!! However I seem to have assumed that dates would be numerical so my checking is actually too strict. Hence the code skipped the QSO.

I had already put in some code to handle serial numbers like ‘TNA’ for 091 which actually occur in the Cabrillo log files. Question is: is it my job to trap and fix messed up files, so in the end the guy who doesn’t even submit standard Cabrillo gets credit? Or does a corrupt log or a part thereof lead to decreased score? By all means a messed up log should not lead to loss of points in the other guy’s log.

I wonder how much of these things occur in all the logs combined. Not much, if any since I would have noticed this earlier. Most of the time, so except for this QSO, an automatically generated NIL is either a traceble busted call that gets flagged by the human checker (me) after the ‘robot’ checked the contacts that can be verified, or a true NIL. It just isn’t there.

Or it can be a cross band contact because one of both parties logged the contact on the wrong band. Yes that still happens in 2014. Then I need to compare both logs around the time the contact took place and see who is right and who is wrong. A human intervention is needed (me again). In most cases, by comparing the contacts, it’s clear who is right and who is wrong. Except when the contact is the running guy’s last contact before QSYing to another band that happens to be the band the S&P guy logged the contact on. Again the rule is: if a contact is not 100% proven bad, it counts. But this really is a 99.99% – 0.01% Pareto situation.

My field day antenna tinkering made me realize I have something with antenna tuners. ATU. Antenna couplers. Or remote automatic matching systems. Potato – potato. Tomato – tomato. That doesn’t work when you type it. But you know about what devices I’m talking. It’s the deus ex machina for people with antenna problems. It magically deals with weird impedances, one size fits all antennas, non-resonance – everything that does not present 50Ω to the transmitter or amplifier.

My first HF rig, the notorious TS-850, had an ATU on board. I’m surprised the tune button didn’t get worn out. I had an inverted V dipole cut for twenty meters. That’s the general advice offered to the newbie on HF: twenty is the place to be. Running barefoot with a 25-30 meter stretch of RG-58, and then hit ‘tune’ to get me some contacts on the other bands. Cycle 23 peaked and it worked above 10 MHz. It made the finals happy on 40 but it didn’t bring me much joy. The ATU even found a match on 80 but even a little RF power there turned on the hifi stereo and made the cassette deck play. Cassettes, go figure! That was a scary surprise the first time it happened. On Top Band the ATU didn’t find a match. But the rig’s ATU made the DXCC counter tick on the higher bands.

The more I got into basic DXing (I had yet to get introduced to contesting), the more I learned. I think I read every related website available back then, so to speak. I learned that manual external tuners not only have a matching network but more than often they also have a 1-to-3 switch on board. Since I managed to convince my dad to run another length of RG-58 through the house and between the roof tiles, that would be a nice solution for me: dipole, the 30m vertical I also managed to desecrate the parental lawn with and the homebrew dummy load.

A local ham offered such a tuner. The Kenwood AT-230. I bought it. I used it. It served me well when I was living at my parents. I already wrote a story about this tuner two years ago. It was a nice thing but I sold it a few years ago. At the same price I bought it! I didn’t need a manual tuner here anymore and it was just sitting on a shelf.

I didn’t need a manual tuner anymore  because I bought an SGC SG-230. Somewhere in 2002 I guess, from a UK supplier. Again after much online reading. That thing was and still is pretty expensive so I doubted a long time. But I worked for a living and was still living with my parents then so spending money didn’t really hurt. That thing worked great too (eHam review to testify) and I still have fond memories of WAE CW 2002. Yes I got bitten by the contesting bug by then. I made a temporary 40m delta loop fed with this antenna coupler. Sunrise brought me ZL6QH there, totally impossible before from my parental peanut station. And a bunch of Californians. Those few real DX stations answering my 100W CQ on such a hard band as 40m (little did I know how easy 40 really is) with a simple wire, it was amazing. I still remember the feeling. But contesting is like a drug addiction: you always need to crank up the dose for the kick to remain as intense. A dozen years later, if I don’t work a 120 QSO/hr west coast pile up at sunrise, I’m not happy. So to speak.

Then I moved to here. My own personal contesting ranch. I built my station around a tower and swore by resonant antennas. The SGC coupler was still used to work my first DXCC on 160. Even USA. Again: getting out of EU on 1.8 MHz was a milestone. I even recall a brief experiment with an 80m delta loop here in WAE CW 2005. Fed with the ladder line I now use for field day. But that thing was too big for my taste. And I didn’t get to give it a real test. Now that I looked it up and read it (3830 report), I remember that T-storm. You see, I have always been plagued by the weather.

But then I changed my contesting style to QRO and the SG-230 was useless. We used it in 2006 for the OT1A/P field day activity. It sat in a box for years until I decided to sell it a few years ago. I effectively sold both the AT-230 and the SG-230. Both have served me very well and are really good devices. But they weren’t used anymore. I had always said that a SGC coupler that would take full QRO with the same ease would be a commercial hit. I’d buy one right away if it wouldn’t cost an arm and a leg. In other words: unlike the system that was already available (link).

Then we did some work in the garden and on the terrace and I changed my 80/160m setup. It was time for a big performance jump to increase my contesting fun. Junky needs a bigger shot. I had come up with the plan to make myself such a QRO tuning device that would make a ground plane look like 50Ω on the two lowest bands. To make it easy, I started looking for a manual QRO tuner. High power rolling inductors and high voltage vacuum capacitors are expensive so why not just buy a tuner and motorize the dials? Then a Palstar 1500W tuner presented itself. I didn’t waste any time and bought it. It was a beauty. But:

“Of course soon after the purchase, when sobering up from the rush of having made the deal of the century, it dawned on me. I make many plans yet execute few. I envisioned the tuner packed in the box for a few years and then I’d finally decide to sell it. So I put it for sale online right away.”

I believe this is its new home since then. My gosh, 2008? Tempus fugit indeed!

I’m not sure about the dates anymore but in Autumn 2009 I gave it another go for the low bands and bought an MFJ-998. Yet another tuner! It handles 1500W according to the specs. It wasn’t cheap but not too expensive either. If this black box handled my low band matching needs, the investment was justified. There was no ‘remote outdoor’ unit available like they have now. So I hacked my way through the tuner and ‘remoted’ the tune button. That way the tuner was only inline with the 80/160 GP antenna, out of the shack and close to the feed point in a weatherproof cabinet. Still I could switch it on or off from the shack and had remote access to the tune button. Straight out of the box, I drilled a hole through the enclosure to bring my remote cable inside. Warranty void if buyer drills holes? I had mixed feelings about this one. It can find a match near resonance but it can’t handle really tough stuff. It was nice to use my CW tuned 80m antenna in the SSB part without fiddling with the wires. But it couldn’t get this thing to work on 160. So in the end this one too got an early retirement. I decided that the best match was resonance so I redesigned the antenna with two resonant wires, the 160 part being linear loaded. Once again I was able to find a buyer and cut the losses. But yet another tuner that cost me some money.

Since then everything was quiet on the tuner front. I settled for matched antennas. But one day someone offered an AT-230 for sale. Like the one I bought. Like the one I sold. The ad said ‘like new’. Do I need one? No. But I had some regrets about having sold it. It was purely a case of nostalgia. The price was the same as the one I bought a decade ago and as much as I sold mine for. So buying this one would financially restore the balance to the 2001 situation and would put one AT-230 back on the shelf. It has been there for almost two years, only to sense some RF last week in my attempted field day.

For this field day experiment I decided I needed a ‘smart tuner’. I evaluated all other options yet settled for an automatic antenna coupler. Yes I had one like this, maybe the best in its class. Yes I sold it because I didn’t use it anymore and thought that resonant antennas would be the way to go on field day. The SG-230 is still available but it costs a lot. But there is its brother that comes without weatherproof enclosure. The SG-239. It’s said to be the naked ‘230. You probably won’t believe it, but once I bought TWO of these at once. It must have been 2005 or 2006. My guess is 2005 because in January 2006 I bought an amp and took the QRO route in contesting. So why still buy 200W thingies then? I know because it’s the only two years I visited the notorious Friedrichshafen ham fair: 2005 and 2006. A major German dealer offered them at a bargain price. I think it was 230 Euro or so. Maybe less because I seem to remember I asked for a discount if I bought two. Back home I managed to sell one right away. No profit taken, as a close ham friend bought it. I bought a plastic food container with rubber seal to put the other one in. I remember I drilled the holes and put bolts with wingnuts through them as the wire terminals. I vaguely remember someone picking it up in the plastic container. So I must have sold it before the enclosure got finished. Geez, I really start a lot of projects and finish only few. And I have this buy-sell thing with tuners!

Anyway, field day. Smart tuner. Price difference between SG-230 and SG-239 is about 200 Euro. For a piece of plastic? I had a fitting enclosure in my huge stock of parts. Something I bought a long time ago for who remembers what project. Possibly a K9AY RX loop. It had some holes but I put aluminum blank panels inside, fixed with pop rivets. I sealed these from the outside with silicone. Make sure you have ‘neutral’ silicone because the rancid smelling vinegar based silicone is very aggressive to metals. Don’t ask me how I know. It makes brass turn green overnight.

So with the regained AT-230 and the new SG-239, I once again have two tuners. A classic manual tuned device and a remote automatic antenna coupler. Of the latter I still say: too bad SGC doesn’t make a real QRO model. The SG-230 and SG-239 are great tuners, and I trust them more than the MFJ-998 that I have used myself with mixed success. The reviews of the MFJ-998RT outdoor model aren’t unanimously positive either. All the rest is just very expensive. Quite frankly right now I don’t have the need for such a device either.

Me thinks I should leave tuners alone for now.

Isn’t it strange that things you plan and think over months in advance can take a total different direction when it’s time to execute these plans? There are two things you can’t take into account: Murphy and the weather…

Months of planning make for a lot of typing and reading…

Normally I can’t do Region 1 CW Field day because of a yearly returning event at work. Once every so many years it falls on a different weekend. Usually it’s the WPX CW weekend so that’s even worse. When I learned that I was able to do CW FD this year, I immediately contacted OT1A to see if he wanted to try it again. We came in second in 2006 and 2011. It’s not a contest, but it is a contest. Unfortunately he had a family event this weekend. I had always wanted to carry out an experiment, being a ‘one man field day’ so now was the time to do it. Just to see what can be done as one man alone. So over the past months, my plans were hatching.

Location?

Not too far from home. Preferably at home. With the expansion of the garden last year, this was possible. Room enough if you adjust the setup to the available space. Since I would be using many improvised and ‘prototypish’ things, at home would be the best since all my parts and tools are only a few footsteps away.

Shelter?

We don’t really own a tent. I’m not a tent guy. I’m not a camper. I’d pay big bucks for a clean toilet. And a clean shower. And my own comfortable bed!

I thought some things over. Easiest would be to use the garage. Which in my case is a metal sheet construction apart from the house. But the rules don’t allow that. What about operating outdoors on the terrace, out in the open? That would be my preferred way to tackle this item. I’m not afraid of having cold. Just add some layers of clothing. But what with rain? See my intro: you can’t predict the weather. Not longer than one or two days ahead at least.

I talked this over with the XYL. She’s an adventurous outdoor type. Opposites attract right? She wanted to buy a tent. Her idea: the kids will love it and we can use it to go camping. Oh boy; please honey: remember my toilet-shower-bed fetish? I found a tent for a mere 100 euro that fits four persons and that’s high enough for me to stand up straight in. My loving wife was so kind to set it up for me yesterday morning. Thank you dear. The process went pretty smooth and I think this tent is all we need. In fact for field day purposes, it’s perfect. I just wonder how on earth we’re going to fit all parts back into the carrying bag. It now only has the ground cloth (not used) and the empty bag that stores the pegs, and it’s full already! I guess this job will need a pair of patient female hands to straighten and fold the tent.

Generator?

I don’t own a generator but I have one on permanent loan. I offered to store the generator. It’s still property of my wife’s family but it has been here for a few years now. I provided a basic maintenance for our 2011 field day but it hadn’t been serviced since forever. At OT1A’s place after running for twenty hours straight, there was oil spilling from the air filter. That can’t be good. So after that I decided to have it serviced by a professional maintenance tech. There was a slight glitch however.

Since I don’t own the generator, sometimes people come to use it. Last year someone came to pick it up because my wife’s uncle had offered him to use this generator. I told him about the air filter / oil problem and that it wasn’t a good idea to use the generator before this got fixed. This guy told me he knew someone who knows how to work on these things and he said he’d arrange for some maintenance. So I thought I could delete this from the to do list. In February this year, when my field day plans ripened, I rang the alarm: the generator didn’t make it back yet after almost a full year. It took a few phone calls and a few strings had to be pulled but in the end the generator came back. The guy said he didn’t use it in the end because he got to use a bigger one so he didn’t get it taken care of. Behold: yet another item on the to do list pops up!

I took the machine to the service shop a good month ago. I explained the problem and asked to call me before buying expensive parts. After all, it isn’t my machine and I’m not going to pay hundreds of euro for an old machine. With nothing heard after a few weeks, I called them. After all, no use continuing the preparations when I wasn’t going to have the generator available. I was told that the special air filter was put in back order by their supplier, but the machine would be ready early last week. That is, a few days before field day weekend. They’d call me to pick it up when it was done.

Again I didn’t hear a thing so last Thursday I paid them a visit after work. Apparently it got fixed a few days earlier but they didn’t bother to call me. They changed the spark plug, cleaned the carburetor, put in new oil and a new air filter. The bill was almost a bargain with more than half of the invoice being labour.

So the generator issue got solved. In fact, and this might seem strange, it would have been very comfortable for me if it hadn’t been ready. That way I could bail out of field day without having to make the decision myself. Why? Read on!

Mast?

Another hot issue. Are there any other when it comes to field day? I’m not too keen on fiber glass thingies. I’ve used my share of those over the past decade but they’re so brittle and collapse easily. And don’t quite support other things than verticals. In 2001 a coworker of mine made three aluminum push-up masts and I took one over. It’s made of seven telescopic tubes with a ten centimeter long slit cut in the top. We put a collar there that is to be tightened when you have pushed the smaller section up. The total useful height is about twelve meter. This has worked for me in the past but there are a few hurdles to overcome. First of all, you need a small ladder or a scaffold to stand on as the biggest section at the bottom is two meters high. Then, as you move along and push up section after section, things get heavy to hold in one hand while tightening the bolt with the other hand. And of course if you leave this thing unguyed, it bounces in the wind. And sometimes it collapses under weight when the collars aren’t tight enough. It has served me very well yet I was glad to retire it a few years ago.

We used this system as described in 2006 as OT1A/P in the CW field day. In 2011 the mast collapsed under its own weight while pushing it up. We tried assembling it horizontally while it was on the ground. My plan was to walk it up. Both dipoles (80/160 and 40 with coaxes) were attached but it turned out to be too heavy to get it straight. This resulted in the top bending back to the ground as I walked it up, forming a giant arc above and behind me. Furthermore the base would always moving around. In the end we settled for the proven system and relied on some luck: the ladder and brute force method.

This however got me thinking: wouldn’t it be nice if I could make a heavy base to keep the bottom pipe in place and have it pivot as I walk it up? The top load could be replaced by a pulley and get things up once this mast is vertical. That way it wouldn’t bend over backwards. I bought a 10 mm thick plate measuring 40×40 centimeter. Last summer I drilled some holes, bolted on some 90° angle iron and put a bolt through those as well as through the bottom section tube. One summer evening I secured this plate, walked the darn thing up and realized this is not quite what it should be. This won’t work when the top section is actually loaded with an antenna. The plan was to put up a 6m yagi there and have it up when I’m home and when there should be things to work on 6m. “So you have a 6m yagi” you ask? Yes it has been on the garage roof since that same evening, assembled but it has yet to make it’s maiden QSO. As with many of my bold plans and ambitious projects, the work is stopped and the parts were stored ‘for future use’.

Mast tilt over system

The test with the heavy base plate and the pivoting are the fundamentals of something that I have been thinking about for a long time. That is: make me a simple mobile and portable setup that fits on my small trailer and that can be deployed by one man, yours truly. It’s with this in mind that I decided to learn to weld. However putting together two pieces of metal is one thing, but making a rock solid construction is another. I wouldn’t want the pivot block welds to break while the mast is half way up. Somewhere in December I went to buy metal to make myself a welding table.

I also salvaged some leftovers from the scrap container including a two meter stretch of wide U-shaped channel. This was ideal to weld to the base plate I already had. I practiced and practiced my inside corner welds but with field day approaching, it was time to actually make it happen.

In short, it’s a U-shaped channel iron welded on a base plate. I used some gusset plates to make it more stable. I bolted a small hand winch to the straight channel and welded some blocks on the base plate to put the pivot bolt through. On top of the U channel there is an assembly that has a wheel to guide the cable. I already wrote one year ago: “Ertalon wheel with groove to guide stainless steel cable. For use in telescopic and tilt-over installations.” There you go. The bottom plate has some angles bolted to it too. Not welded to keep the /P factor high so that it fits on the trailer lying down. These angles widen the base for extra stability. I drilled a 14.25 mm hole through the outer corners facing ground. Through this I hammer a 14 mm thick rod into the ground, in a slight angle. Hence the 0.25 extra space. I learned that rod doesn’t always have an 100% round and exact diameter. When these rods are in place through the four corners, it’s pretty solid. I could also replace the four bars into the ground by four heavy concrete blocks on the ground. If it needs to come on concrete in stead of in the grass. I still have these blocks from the old ground mounted support I used in the past. Another salvage action. But at 50 kg each they’re pretty heavy.

In short: this thing works great in my one man show. I won’t win any prizes with it in a welding contest. There clearly is a learning process to be seen in this prototype welding project. The second part of a symmetrical left-right assembly always looks better. Live and learn.

However it is very stable and strong and probably overkill for the current application. Mission accomplished: the mast can be raised by one man, without any effort or risk, even with the light loading of a dipole and some guy wires. And it disassembles into smaller parts that fit on my small trailer. There is the future option of putting another section between the U-channel and the cable guide assembly. That way I can attach the cable and ‘grab’ the mast higher up from the base, should there ever be the need for a longer or heavier loaded mast to be erected.

Of course, if I could do it again, it would turn out better looking. But I’m quite proud that I pulled this one off all by myself. The welding and even the lathe machined wheel.

Keep in mind that I had a higher education in RF electronics and before that in languages and economy / bookkeeping in secondary school. I always knew that welding is the key to nice homebrewed stuff but this is the proof of my thesis. Once again my mitre saw (SJ2W tip) proved to be key to nice angled cutting of all iron parts up to 5 mm thickness. Amazing how that blade cuts through metal. I also retired my dad’s drill press and bought me a professional model that has no problem with 10mm diameter or more through 10mm flat stock or more.

I also welded some heavy duty rings on some leftover T-irons I recycled from the old fencing. I can jam these into the ground and hook up the guy wires with a carabiner through this ring. That solves the guying issue. I used ratchet rope spanners so tighten and loosen the guy ropes easily. And to say I bought a pack of small tent pegs to achieve this in 2011. Even a gentle breeze pulled these out of the ground. What was I thinking? Anyway the guying system passed the test in a real live gusty situation. Yes the WX plays a role in this one too. Read along!

Antennas?

In 2006 we used a 40m dipole and some random length dipole for 80/160 fed with homebrew ladder line and a SGC SG-230 antenna coupler. This worked great but by 2011 I had sold the coupler and we settled for resonant dipoles. One for 40 and a parallel dipole for 80/160 with loading coils in the 160m antenna. This worked but you need more room for this than I have available. To stick to my ‘keep it simple’ philosophy, I decided to use the ladder line with dipole option. For that I needed to buy… another antenna coupler. I have this thing with tuners – enough stuff for a future story. Furthermore I learned that this is what G3TXF/ G3WVG use for their field day setup (link & link). Since my savings account costs me more than what the bank pays in interest, I bought a new tuner. Or ‘automatic antenna coupler’ to be precise. I put it in an old plastic enclosure that I bought years ago who knows for what abandoned project. I covered up the holes with aluminum blind panels.

I measured the longest stretch I could span within the garden limits and oriented N-S for maximum E/W coverage. Most FD contacts are G (G, GW, GM, GI…) and DL on the other side. That length turns out to be about 24m for each leg. For quick feedpoint assembly, cut of a piece of decommissioned kitchen cutting board. I didn’t put that hot frying pan on top of that board on purpose. But I knew I had to keep it in my huge stock of parts after replacing it. The pancakes were delicious that day, and the molten plastic came right off of the bottom of the pan once it got solidified after cooling. But the cutting board was wasted.

By now I got the antenna covered, I got the mast covered, and both could be raised and lowered without any hassle nor much muscle. Much to the amusement of my oldest son who strongly believes that it should be down on the grass and not up in the air. We agreed to disagree on that one.

That dreaded weather!

Of course my ham radio plans are dominated by the weather. More so than ever for the last eight months. Numerous contests had to be cancelled due to storm, lighting or both at the same time. Global climate change? It never happened this frequently in my thirteen years in contesting. So I kept my eye on the forecasts. Two weeks ago they predicted rain for this weekend. Two weeks is way too long for a predictable forecast. I know that. Then it was sunny weather, no wind, no rain, not too hot. Nice. Then the predicted temperatures rose. Then it was 30° C or more. Hold your horses please! Then rain to boot. As the FD weekend came closer, it was tropically hot which of course inevitably results in severe thunderstorms.

Three days before Saturday, it was clear that is was going to be very hot on Saturday resulting in severe thunderstorms, with another round of thunder and lightning on Sunday. Mostly western Belgium on Saturday. And eastern Belgium on Sunday. I consider myself in central Belgium. Which is relative in a country that measures only 250 km across.

Now what? Cancel my operations or take my chances? I have spent hours and hours over the last weeks getting ready. We even bought a tent for this! Remember I would have found it convenient if the generator wasn’t ready for FD? This is why: I then could blame the repair shop for my cancellation and I would not have to decide myself. But no, it was ready to use.

I decided to participate after all and rely on the thunderstorms passing a few miles to the left or the right. Should they occur. But reliable forecasts warned for severe weather all weekend long. Possibly on Friday too. So I made an emergency procedure in my head that I drilled over and over again should a sudden T-storm pop up.

  1. Turn off rig
  2. unscrew coax
  3. close laptop
  4. run to generator and stop it
  5. run deeper into the garden and loosen back dipole leg and guy wire
  6. run back to the centre of the garden and lower mast
  7. take shelter, curse, and cross fingers

I was going to put a big plastic crate with cover next to the table in the tent. Should the wind during the thunderstorm blow hard with the risk of the tent getting blown away, I could put the K3 and the laptop and the power supply quickly in that box and seal it.

Field Day Weekend is here!

Finally something about the actual field day activities  :o)

On Friday it was time to put the pieces of the puzzle together. In the afternoon I still had some engineering and constructing to do. I found another piece of small aluminum tubing that I could use to gain about two meters in height. I attached the cutting board assembly there and provided a set of holes to run the wires of the dipole and the ladder line through. These holes are used to weave the wires through and act as strain relief. As the wire tensions it braces itself against the piece of plastic. The drill press once again got a workout. It sure is handy to drill straight through a pipe! In the late afternoon everything was ready and I had assembled all the parts. The sun was shining and it was warm but not too hot.

The rules say that you can’t assemble the station before 1500 utc but with all the fiddling I had done to finish the construction, it was even later. So I set everything up that had to do with the antennas. No generator yet and no tent. When I pulled up the northern dipole leg, it touched one of the yagi elements on the tower. I went into the shack to turn the yagi for more clearance but the wire was still too high and got jammed into the yagi element. Turn antenna back again, run outside, loosen leg, run upstairs to move the yagi. Got interrupted by a crying youngest who can’t sleep because he needs a new diaper. Can’t you drop the load before we put you to sleep? And where is that wife when you need one? Quickly handle that situation before he wakes up the oldest. Then he asks for another bottle! I’ve got a FD to prepare kiddo! While he takes his time to drink the bottle, I start bringing smaller parts from the shack to the living room. After all I need to test some CW and CAT stuff. My stone age version of WinKey (vintage 2002?), two USB-to-Serial devices, one K3, a dummy load… The plan is to test that this evening after sunset (which is almost now). I put the youngest back in bed and hope the empty diaper – full stomach combination will send him off to dreamland soon. The XYL gets home and I hand over the parental control to her.

I run or rather stroll outside to finish the antenna business, feed the tuner from the 230V grid and connect it straight to the rig in the shack bypassing all switching that has been disconnected because of the continuous lightning alert as of lately. The antenna and tuner work on the three lowest bands (40-80-160). Hooray.

By now my body odor attracts flies so a shower is appropriate. After that I decide to test the setup consisting of K3 + winkey + Vista + N1MMLoggerPlus interconnected on RS-232 level by USB devices. Plenty of unknowns in this equation! There was a bug in the FD code and a small problem with WinKey but a quick N1MM signature fix made it all work. Time to go to bed. Plenty of work to do on Saturday. Forecasts don’t look to good on the lighting front.

Saturday morning. Watch WX forecast. Problems predicted mainly out west late afternoon / early evening. Possibly here too at night. Oh well. I still need to do a ton of things. To start I take all my jerry cans and go fill them with fuel for the generator, good for 25 liters. That should be OK because I just filled the generator’s tank to the brim. That’s about 5 liters. Then it’s time to take out the generator itself. Afterwards I assisted the XYL who was so kind to set up the tent. She’s done that before, that’s clear. Unlike the tent n00b that I am. Once this is done I can route power and coax cables into the tent. Install the table. Look for a comfortable garden chair. Honey, can you dig out the pillow that fits this chair? Thank you dear. It’s getting hot outside!

Once I hauled everything from inside to the tent and connected it, I discovered that it is very hot in the tent, and that I can’t see a darn thing on the screen as the sunlight is too bright. I come up with the idea of putting the laptop in a carton box with the open side facing me. I can use the flaps to ban the light from the screen. That works great but the laptop needs to go deeper for more darkening. To achieve this, I need to cut away some of the carton so the box slides over the protruding USB connectors. While doing all this there is a steady stream of sweat dripping off my face. It’s hot outside but this tent is a real sauna!

I mark where to cut the box to let the USB plugs pass. Up to now, my field day experience has been a success. Let’s cut. Make sure you don’t hit the cable. Uh oh, what’s this then? A USB cable with no connector attached. #§@%#$!!! Did I really cut the USB keyboard cable in half? Oh yes I did. #§@%#$!!! Now what? Use the laptop keyboard itself. Impossible when it sits in a box. I run upstairs but my stock of keyboards only has old PS/2 models. Only one thing to do: rush to the nearest computer store and buy a USB keyboard. Where is the nearest computer store anyway? I always buy online… It’s 1500 local time and there are two hours to go before the start. I decide I can’t go into the outside world without a shower first. Then I hope my memory serves me right. There is a computer store two villages away from here. But is this guy (still) open now? And will he have a USB keyboard? And a simple cheap model, not a fancy expensive one. Problem: beggars can’t be choosers. Note to self: next time operate from the airco cooled car! There it is. There are people inside so it must be open. Do you have a simple USB keyboard? The store owner looks around but he nor I spot wired external keyboards. Why not a wireless model, he asks. RFI and horror stories come to mind but I just emphasize I like wired stuff. No, no USB keyboards on the shelves. DRAT. Then he says he’ll take a look in the back. He disappears and I keep looking at my watch and thinking where to try next. Then he comes back with a USB keyboard. Success! Is it AZERTY? ‘Let me see’, he says ‘the picture on the box shows QWERTY’. QWERTY does not help me. I’m conditioned to AZERTY and I can’t type blind. Lucky me: it’s USB and it’s AZERTY. He scans the barcode to give me a price quote. Drum roll! Fourteen euro. I’m sure I can find way cheaper especially online but now is not the time to do so. I swipe my card and off I go.

The keyboard works and the box over the laptop helps a lot. Rejoice! There were still a lot of details to fix and by the time the actual FD began, I started the generator and started logging. Things were very slow, even for a field day. I was soaking wet, must have been 40° or so in the tent. Soon my headphone’s ear pads were wet too. Many CQs were broadcast, few contacts were logged. Around 1630 utc I got a surprise visit. Mobile UBA official ON6HI paid me a visit. I was one stop on his FD visit tour. Since I was operating alone I wasn’t a great host but in between contacts we managed to do some talking. After he left, things went on slowly and it was still very hot.

I had it coming. Around 1800 utc I thought I heard thunder. Or was it the generator? Or my imagination? Nope, there it is again. Thunder. I left the tent and looked up. The sky was changing its look and some thunder was heard. Better safe than sorry. Switch off the rig and the generator. Unplug coaxes. Threatening clouds were coming in. Now lightning too. And it started raining, a light drizzle. Then more rain and then dry again. Time is ticking! More thunder and lighting. A shower! Dry again. Dark clouds moving fast below slow moving white clouds. Weird. Then a tick. More ticks. Hail! We got lucky, not much hail and not too big. Then another shower this time with wind gusts. Let’s hope the tent is waterproof and it can stand this wind. I didn’t execute the electronics-in-sealed-box emergency plan. It didn’t look that bad at first. But things can turn around pretty fast in this extreme weather. The mast didn’t move in the gusts so the guying is OK. Granted, it wasn’t tornado material but still.

Then the thunderstorm moved over just like it had come. While the last thunderclaps faded I went inside to check my WX forecast and radar websites. Wow, the west of Belgium got hit by a ‘ginormous’ hail storm with hail like golf balls. About the same region as the January 25 storm during the UBA SSB contest. And apparently there was some other brutal hail storm to the east of me too.

By this time the weather had returned to calm and I resumed my operation. The good thing was that it was cooler now. But still warm enough in the tent. And still not much rate. After three hours the counter showed 126… After the thunderstorm things remained slow. Positive note: it was getting cool! The storm blew the heat away. Even inside the tent the temperature got bearable. In anticipation of a chilly night I went inside to trade T-shirt and shorts for long trousers and a sweater. A quick glimpse on the WX sites: oh my, horror stories about destructive thunderstorms all over the place. Hail as big as golf balls everywhere. And more rubbish announced…

Around 2300 utc I started seeing the occasional flash. Since it was pretty low on the horizon and right above the roof of the house I figured at first it was fireworks held in the same village I went to buy the keyboard earlier. After all this weekend was their yearly fair. After another few flashes it dawned on me. That village is not there, it’s more to the west. I went outside and looked up to the sky. I did not like what the moonlight showed me. Huge cauliflower shaped clouds lit by lightning. Not again? Time to evaluate.

  • Am I having fun? Not by far. There is no rate whatsoever: 289 QSO in 7 hours of operating. That’s an average of 40/hr during prime time.
  • I’m tired and am fighting to stay awake with two to three minutes of unanswered CQing.
  • The sound of the generator is driving me crazy but it is the best place to minimize engine noise for the neighbors.
  • Normally there is someone to talk to during a field day. That makes the slow rate bearable. Now I only feed the frustration myself.
  • I’m a bit worried about the continuous threat for thunderstorms. Suppose I need to shut down yet another couple of times? What’s the fun in that, let alone the danger?
  • The thought of having to spend a whole Sunday in this warm tent, with the risk of yet another round of thunderstorms and possibly hardly any contacts? Not tempting.
  • Let’s face it: with any other contest like this run from the shack, I’d just flip the switch and go to bed.

And that’s what I did: switched off the generator. Then I brought all electronics inside the house. Lower mast and put it on the lawn. Put rain cover over generator. Then go to bed. My boys will be glad to have a normal father’s day with daddy present at the breakfast table and not doing something silly in a tent outside.

In retrospect…

I’m not prone to regretting decisions. I evaluate, pick an option and don’t look back. Although there wasn’t any thunderstorm anymore between the time I threw the towel and the time field day ended, I don’t regret my decision to quit. I was taking everything out of the tent on Sunday morning and it was hot already. I know from experience that Sunday is very slow, slower than Saturday evening. That wasn’t an appealing thought. Conclusion: I wasn’t really motivated on an operational level. I’m spoiled because of the rates I usually achieve. I know, apples and oranges and FD is not WW CW. So I learned that the social aspect of FD is not to be neglected. Either it’s a single operator contest with some rate, or a FD with company.

On the other hand, logistical and technical I’m quite happy. I now have a complete /P setup that can be handled by one man. I have no clue what I’m going to do with it. Should the urge arise for another field day and the schedule allows for it, things should now be much easier to set up. Note to Ken OT1A: the things we have struggled with should now be the least of our concerns.

I know that the XYL reads along (perhaps she gave up after the first paragraph?) but I’m going to say it anyway. I like the way Nigel G3TXF and his friends handle things. Rent a big van to move the FD stuff and use it as a shack. I’d see myself doing this for say an IOTA contest or so. Or a 50 MHz contest on a hilltop location, but what are the odds of making any contacts on that band? But it’s good to know that logistically I’m covered. And it was fun to build and put it together.

Finally

A lot of text here. Most of it got typed overnight from Sunday to Monday. The dog was getting crazy because of the weather. I didn’t hear thunder but there was a lot of ‘heat lightning’. Dogs hear and feel that much better. So I took him inside. In the mean time the west and east of Belgium got hit by severe hailstorms again with a lot of damage on houses and cars. Farmers seeing their greenhouses and crops ruined in a few minutes. That’s the second time in two nights. And that’s only a level 2 warning (Estofex). For today (Monday) a level 3 warning was issued for Northern France and the Benelux. Let’s hope the crunched numbers were exaggerated by the weather models and predictions turn out to be overrated.

The stars were not really aligned for this one. Bummer as it is a nice contest for people like me with stations like mine. First of all there were the national elections. As the voting is mandatory in Belgium, going out to vote would have to be fitted inside a break on Sunday morning. Luckily WPX is a 36/48 contest and it’s not CQ WW. Also there was this annual event at work that coincided with the contest. So from Sunday before lunch to early evening local time, I would have to go to work. Also mandatory. In theory this could all be squeezed into the twelve hour off time. The same situation occurred in 2011. I did SB40 and pulled two all-nighters before leaving for work on Sunday. Not a good idea.

This year I wanted to sleep and be fit. I was already sort of running on empty. The last few weeks have been busy and the energy level is low. I didn’t want to go ‘into the red’. So I decided not to be competitive and just try to maximize the fun during the hours I was able to be in the shack.

I didn’t bother to crank the tower up to its highest level and settled for two thirds. Saturday morning it struck me that ten meters was quite… silent. Check WWV… There you go! A=19. Soon after I went to 15 and that was better. But it wasn’t good. It reminded me of the dark years between the current and previous cycle. Pure ‘propagationalistic’ horror!

In the early evening I had a ball on 20 after we put the kids to sleep. Well past midnight I went to 40 which seemed OK but I needed to go to bed since the voting and go-to-work routine made for an early rise. Between casting my vote and leaving for work I played some more but there was nothing spectacular.

I was glad to arrive home on Sunday evening and although exhausted I found fifteen meters quite hot. After that I still had four hours to go to the end of the contest. My plan was to split these between 20 and 40. Whichever band provided the best rate.

I was rounding off my 15m activity when KH7XX called in. That was nice! DX and a prefix multiplier. This late (2007 utc) and under still disturbed conditions. I hit the button to send my serial number to him and then –POP– the lights went out, the screens turned black and the fan noise died out. PANIC! Did I do that? Now what? What will KH7XX think? The street lights went dim too so it’s not just here. UH-OH: the amp is hot and the fans aren’t blowing. Wait, I can put an external fan on top of the vent hole to provide some forced cooling. Good thinking – with no power available. So I just blew into the vent hole. That must have been a silly sight. I was hoping that power would return real soon and that the sudden outage did not cause damage. After all I was transmitting when the power failed. Who knows what relay routed what signal to what fried semiconductor.

I went outside and enjoyed the fading twilight without light pollution. After almost an hour we decided to go to bed. That is: the XYL went to sleep and I was just lying on the bed with my cloths still on hoping that power would return soon so I could run some more. One hour later I jumped up. Apparently I fell asleep. Still no power. Darn. I doze off again and got awakened by the sound of electronic devices coming back to life. Aha – power’s back. With less than an hour to go I decided to go into the shack. Mostly to check if all was still working fine. As it turned out it was so I ran some on forty. Nothing spectacular. This three hour power cut cost me 250 Q at least. So I ended with 1379 contacts on four bands (no 80/160).

During the few hours I got on, I noticed more than ever that no cluster spot means no rate. You’d think that the RBN would have eliminated that and that a CQ would have the same effect as a genuine classic cluster spot but it doesn’t seem to work that way. I think that 99% of the ‘packet’ users still solely rely on the classic Telnet packets. I say Telnet because the VHF/UHF and TNC combo has become obsolete by now. That said I use RBN only for comparing signals, not to find stations. On the other hand, it’s obvious that the M/x stations make intensive use of the skimmers. A first CQ on a new band triggers a short pile up of a dozen M/x mult-stations calling me. That it’s waiting for a packet spot to get some rate.

A related issue was the kind operator who put me on the cluster as OY5M. I tried to counter the flood of dupes by sending my call three times, very slow and emphasizing the Q by pausing around it. That chased away some of the spot clickers. Some were persistent, one even re-spotting me as a Faroerian. It has happened to me before but I guess by now everyone would know it’s OQ5M  :o)

I used the new N1MMLogger Plus Beta and was very happy with the performance. It behaves like the classic version. It just got a new look adapted to new UI technologies. And a couple of new features, like the built-in graph feature here:

OQ5M_nice_graph

New graph feature in N1MMLogger Plus

I’m sure once the latest issues are resolved, the graph will reflect non-active periods (off time) too. But of course this is a detail in the big picture. Several B-testers used the program last weekend and no one has gotten into troubles so all you N1MMLogger fans out there, rest assured: this helluva contest logger is still the best out there!

I wonder how many digits the number would count, if you calculate the sum of all the hours the coding bunch put in over the last year and multiply that by the average hourly wage of a professional commercial programmer. Please note that (some of?) the programmers are professionals using their skills for us to enjoy. Thanks for that!

Send meaningful CW by hand and drink from glass simultaneously = success.

Send meaningful CW by hand and pour drink from bottle into glass = fail.

Conclusion: drinking goes without thinking (hey that rhymes) but pouring a glass full takes concentration. As does sending meaningful CW.

Fact: I’m not much of a multitasker.

No worries. There is a detectable heartbeat. It even approaches overdrive sometimes. But you can’t detect much RF being radiated. That does not mean there is nothing happening here. I just don’t feel like writing much, and honestly there isn’t much to be written on the ham radio level. Not YET!

About two weeks ago I reassembled the WARC vertical with its elevated radials. I had a sunrise ball on 30 on Saturday (like I said, two weeks ago). The 10 MHz path to W6/7 is still there. Darn that sunrise comes pretty early on a weekend with no contest! But it was fun so why not do it again on Sunday? A bust. I got hardly any replies to my CQ and the RBN showed pretty low values. What a difference a day makes!

Belgium wouldn’t be Belgium if the nice spring weather wouldn’t suddenly exaggerate and produce thunder and lighting. So I had to unplug the whole shebang again. And when the station is unplugged and disconnected, you don’t just hop into the shack for a quickie. Luckily I took precautions as one severe lightning strike took out cable TV and internet access for a few hours. No damage at my place but a CATV node in the neighbourhood got taken out.

Now that Dayton is behind us and the Big News got out: over the last month I spent quite a few hours testing the brand new N1MMLogger coming out. Don’t ask me when. I had the privilege to be part of a team that got to try the Dot Net version and look for bugs. I haven’t had the chance to run a contest with it but I did log 150 ‘general DX’ contacts in CW and it seems to work. Everything old is still there – at least what I am using, and there are some new and reworked features. I also worked closely with N2AMG who is part of the select team that actually writes the code. He was the lucky one *wink* to rework the WAE code and provide the new QTC interface. I only tried CW so far but I guess it’s ready to use. I would use it. I will use it. Although you can test all you want, there will probably something that you don’t think about that pops up in a live situation.

What else? Gee either I forgot or there just isn’t something to report. Apart from the job that pays the bills and the household/garden/kids, I have been working on a hardware project for future use. But there still is a lot of work to be done. Mostly construction and welding.

I also finished the log checking for the UBA SSB contest. And I pre-processed the CW logs in order to start the actual checking. Once again I came across some pretty darn ridiculous user errors. And it still is next to impossible for some people to synchronise the date and time on their logging computers. Oh well, I stopped ranting about that here for now. It’s just much easier to fix the errors myself with the help of Marc ON7SS than to mail back and forth trying to get the operator to fix it. Or make him understand the problem.

Next week: WPX CW. Unfortunately I have an event at work on Sunday *grouch grouch* so it’ll be SB-something. I have yet to decide what. If anything because early predictions once again mention thunderstorms. Reminds me of the 2010 edition

PS: 2410 spam comments blocked in three weeks time!

You probably noted a big hiatus between this and the previous post. Say what? You didn’t even miss my writings? I find that hard to believe.

It’s been over four weeks since my last QSO. It’s not that I didn’t want to make contacts or play radio. Quite the contrary. But I decided to tackle a few big garden projects and get it over with. The plan is to do all the obligatory dirty and heavy chores before summer and have fun while doing light pleasant work (mostly ham related!) during the holidays. And be in the shack a lot. ‘A lot’ being: when social life permits.

After expanding the garden with a few hundred square meters last year, I still had to deal with a difference in height of seventy centimetres between the old and new garden. The biggest part got levelled last September with two truckloads of clean soil. But where the difference was too big to level it, I decided to build a retaining wall.

I had to make a concrete foundation to support a wooden structure that in turn holds panels of tropical hardwood. I chose this solution because it was half the price of any other alternative. Like concrete stacking blocks or pour myself a concrete wall in a mould. The cheapest solution was putting down prefabricated concrete L shapes. But these weigh 250 kilograms each. I can lift some weight but not this. The gabion that seems to be popular these days, was even almost three times the price and that’s without the foundation needed for the iron frame to stay in place.

Working all alone and not exactly being an experienced mason or woodworker, this took quite some time. I spent most of the Easter holidays working ten hours a day. Believe me the urge of being in the shack after that was completely absent. That said, I would do it completely different if I had to start over. Live and learn I guess.

After the wall was mostly finished, I had to haul another truckload of soil from the front of the house to the back of the garden and distribute it to split the remaining difference in height and fill all the gaps. I really wanted to get this job done and seed grass so that all the dirt will be turned into a nice green lawn. Not only does it look better, but no matter how many acres of grass you have, that square foot of dirt is way more appealing to the kids. Even more appealing than the climbing tower with slide I also put up last month. It feels strange to bury wooden poles in concrete knowing they won’t be supporting any part of an antenna.

So the sooner all naked soil is turned into lawn, the sooner I won’t have to chase the kids out of the dirt anymore. You can see read I’ve done a lot of work. Luckily the weather was very cooperative. Warm to hot, mostly sunny to very bright sunshine. I even got a light sunburn on the nose. And of course when you roll out the anti root foil, the wind pops up for your enjoyment. It hasn’t rained a lot lately and I had to sprinkle the new lawn quite a bit but I did three big patches so far and each patch was green after two weeks with the seeds germinating in under a week. Thanks to warm weather, sunshine and keeping it moist.

I still need to remake and put up the low band antenna. I won’t be needing it before IARU in July since I can’t do WPX due to a work related activity on Sunday. Bummer so I think it’ll be a SB40 effort. I also need to reinstall the WARC vertical. I haven’t bothered because there have been T-storm warnings off and on and we’ve even had a few real thunder and lightning shows already so I keep the coaxes unattached.

To round up: time for some radio activity, or at least do some station related work outside!

I wasn’t really sure what to do with this one. Certainly not an all bander. I’ve had it with 40m SSB. Furthermore I took down all the radials and dismantled the feedpoint of the 80/160 antenna. Add to that the nice warm sunny weather that was announced, which made  the thought of working on some garden projects tempting. On the other hand I’m trying to recover from a knee injury. Nothing bad but since I didn’t bother to take care of it and went on and on, it only got worse instead of going away. Doctor’s advice after a CT scan was to rest and certainly not to stress the knee. The work I had in mind involves digging holes, driving the wheelbarrow, haul concrete blocks etc. So spending the daylight hours in the shack and the night in bed would fit the doctor’s prescription.

The only knot to untie was: SB15 or SB10? I have the feeling that for general coverage my antenna works best on 15 since it’s 1.5 lamba high. It’s too high for ten meters for most places. I could of course crank it up half way but that would limit me if I decided to switch bands after all. Add to that that A/K values were pretty high the days before. So I decided to do a SB15(A) entry.

I started Saturday well after sunrise. The band was open but the rate was low. I noticed that the bandmap was filling way faster on ten meters. Wrong choice? I got called by nice DX and a steady stream of JA callers. A steady stream is not a pile up. As the band opened up, the QRM and splatter grew and the occasional frequency fight had to be fought. One nasty situation occurred with a Chinese station. I had turned the antenna to the USA but B4L suddenly sipped through. He bumped into my spot and settled there. I turned the beam back to the east and he was loud. I tried reasoning but he didn’t reply. Not to me and not to any other caller. I was under the impression that he was deaf as a post. Or a rock, since a W6 station spotted him later on commenting: “another rock that can’t hear”. Since rate was slow and I had no other place to go to, I sweat it out until he was gone.

When the band opened up to the west with loud east coast stations, the rate picked up but it wasn’t really fun. It was too slow and too much SSB-ish. I don’t remember any special events and I took a long break to water the newly sown patch in the lawn, have dinner, play a while with the kids and put them to bed. I played some more after sunset and went to bed.

Sunday morning, QRV around 0700utc. Switched on the amp and heard a crackling and buzzing sound. Uh oh! Troubles! High voltages arcs? It was intermittent but it didn’t go away during the warm up period. I could not trace the source from the front so I walked around the desk. I heard it again but it wasn’t coming from the amp. It was coming from the window? I turned around and saw a HUGE wasp bumping into the window, trying to get out. How did this giant wasp get in here? I opened the window and gently guided the wasp into freedom. I hope this was a one off mistake and not the first of many insects in the shack.

Things didn’t work well on my band of choice. Surely the band was open. I even had a nice QRG. But there were no callers and S&P yielded not many new stations. Everyone seemed to be on Ten Meters once again. I called CQ in vain and with the rate meter showing a lousy 25 QSO / hr, I switched everything off. I decided this beautiful WX and free time could be better spent trying the oldest son to ride his new big bicycle. That went well until we discovered that riding is easy but stopping is not. Here ends today’s cycling lesson. My knee was happy. I traded the bike for pots and pans and made spaghetti for lunch. To compensate for the lousy bike coaching the oldest and I played with the fire engine and police helicopter while the youngest took his afternoon nap. Then it was time to do some more contesting. No goals, no stress, no pressure. My hope was for a fast long high rate run with those snappy American operators. That’s the only time I like SSB.

Once again I noticed that no spot means no rate. A spot means some rate. Two consecutive spots make for some sustained rate. Late in the afternoon with 900 contacts on the counter and fed up with chirping splatter sounds, I cracked and went to Ten Meters. Sure enough: me being fresh meat and some spots so soon after my first CQ there I had 250 QSO on Ten too. My best rate so far this weekend. It was time to go to fifteen meters again. And I got lucky there too. Around sunset things improved and after sunset the band exploded. High sustained rate (+100 is high for me on SSB) and tons of west coast. During slower moments (read: between two spots) I looked some of them up. Many were using trapped multi-band verticals, random wires with tuners and even one attic dipole. Hail to thee, Lord Propagation! I had a few KL7 callers, I asked if they were truly in Alaska. Same with Hawaii. Crazy! Around 2200 utc signals weakened and soon after the band was going down. I still had more than one hour until the end of the contest so I went to 20m. But that band didn’t have loud signals and seemed noisy so I worked a few friends and went to bed.

Maybe I should have done some work on Saturday and play Fresh Meat on fifteen on Sunday alone? After all the best times were late on Sunday. Oh well. Coulda-shoulda-woulda.

Some figures about my score on 15:

  • 1300 QSO (yes a round number).
  • Of which 711 USA (almost 55%).
  • Worked 98 Canadians of which 17 from VE7.
  • 4x KH6 and 6x KL7. A record in one contest (single band makes it even more remarkable).
  • Most worked WPX:
    • VE3 = 34x
    • W8 = 23x
    • K7 and K9: a draw with 19x
    • N2 = 18x

This ends the season. Now two months off until WPX CW. Time to get that garden nice and clean.

I really love this contest. Everyone can work everyone, it’s only twenty four hours. There is always enough activity yet the bands are not overloaded. Not too far away from the targeted area for the low bands, and not too close for the higher bands. What’s not to like? With good propagation to boot!

One of the best moments since last summer for setting up on Friday. Steel blue sky. Sunny. Absolutely wind still. Warm. I took a lawn chair, placed it near the tower base and let the electric winch do its job. Yes the chairs are already out on the terrace. That’s how good the weather was the last fortnight. We’ve had worse summers. Let’s hope it’ll stay or get better.

I took a false start because I was over-confident in my setup. I didn’t care to prepare and check the software but for some reason I loaded the wrong CW messages for the F-buttons. My bad. Lost a good minute and then off I went. I maintained a steady stream of QSO on 10+15. Not too fast, about 120/hr so I tried using radio #2 intensively. The more contacts you make, the harder this becomes as the serial gets longer. And people not always copy 5NN1589 right away. That kills the smooth SO2R operation. A fixed and predictable 5NN14 is more fit. Conditions were very good and there were plenty of stations to work, even non-UA. Great! For hours on end the rate stayed well above 100.

But it inevitable slows down as the evening rolls into the night. Between 0100 and 0500 utc the activity dips as does the operator’s energy level and it coincides with the urge to sleep. I was longing for a nap but I resisted. I took a few short breaks. One to get a snack because I was hungry. I was glad to stretch my legs. Another short break to put on a sweater and long pants over my shorts because I was getting cold. And one forced break to go ‘meditate in the small shack’. While I didn’t take an official nap I had a ten minute black out.

I was glad that I had another fast hour when I started mining the unspoiled terrain on 80. An excursion to 160 did not produce much surprises. I kept alternating bands and use the second radio as much as I could. When I moved to 160 I got a few W/VE calls there with the best signals from that region in a long time. All signals in the clear. No QRN / QSB. Too bad not many stations from NA / East Coast were on.

Around sunrise I really felt miserable. Every cell in my body was screaming for a nap. Inevitably the usual question arose: why do we do this to ourselves? Furthermore my oldest son decided to trade his bed for my spare operating chair in the shack. The blinking LED bars on the amp were fascinating to him for a short while but soon he started needing attention. I reacted a bit cranky. I felt tired, hungry and with sunrise in progress and a blatant shortage on low band mults – it just wasn’t the right time for quality time between father and first born. Thank god for TV and the cartoon channels. And a banana while I was downstairs.

The low bands were empty soon after sunrise. Except for fourty which I ran while skimming twenty. After a while I moved to twenty as a run band and did S&P on 15 and then run 15 and S&P 10 and so on and so on. I don’t really remember much anymore. I was on auto pilot and I was really focused on increasing the QSO count with radio #2. I must say that it is very exhausting to operate like this. And you forget more of what happened. The longer numbers make short snappy SO2R a bit hard. And sometimes it seems that more and more CW operators are able to copy callsigns and ENNxx with xx being a predicable prefilled exchange, but nothing like 5NN2135 at 32 WPM.

Yes it was fun. And I topped my own Belgian record for CW HP by almost two million.

I’ve never done this one seriously. Some years I make a few QSO but mostly nothing. It’s SSB and there are many other contests this period. Like ARRL CW, UBA CW, RDXC and even WPX SSB. Yet this year I wanted to do more than usual yet not a full time effort. The tower was still up 2/3rd so I strung the 80m GP as an inverted L in stead of straight up when the tower is telescoped to the max. I decided to forget all about 160. After all I did not intend to spend the night in the shack. I just wanted to work the big guns on 80 around my sunrise.

But you know me… S&P is nothing for me. W4PA used the term ‘a rate hog’ back when he was still writing. So I tried running. I’m sure I wasn’t putting out a killer signal on eighty. But conditions were not too bad. Apparently I was trespassing on a frequency that seems to be property of some US Blabbermouth net where people without callsigns talk for hours on end about who knows what. YES I ASKED IF THE FREQUENCY WAS CLEAR, two times like I always do! I don’t get it. I found a clear frequency because there aren’t many people on the band. I ask two times if the QRG is clear. I hear nothing close to my TX frequency. I fire up a few CQ and then these contest bashers show up.

Even a much desired packet spot didn’t help. Some people called me, but I just couldn’t copy them under the QRM. A few minutes later I did a last S&P round and the op at W3LPL told me ‘I called you a few minutes ago but obviously some people didn’t want us there’. I guess the bunch of lids must have been very loud in the USA since they were pretty loud out here.

I moved to 40 and tried to get a run going. Finding a clear QRG was not as easy as on 80, but since 20 seemed to be open already after EU sunrise (did it close?), many people left 40 for 20. Again a double check for a clear frequency. Off to the races. Soon my RX is clogged with S9+40dB mayhem. Cause: less than 1 kHz away some French bunch talks about the weather. The weather for heaven’s sake! Since my run got torpedoed I took the time to listen to what they had to say. I know I’m strongly biased but why would one talk to a friend a few hundred miles away while the band is full to the brim with DX? The fact that it’s warm and sunny really needs to be communicated and ham radio definitely  is the best way to do that. NOT! I’m a contester baby, and I will never understand that people get on the air on a contest band during a contest and NOT take part in it. Different strokes for different folks I guess.

So Saturday started with a pretty uneventful sunrise. I worked a few early birds on twenty and was amazed by the strength of the signals this time of the day. But I went outside and worked in the garden for about an hour and a half. The beautiful spring weather is a welcomed change from the wet and windy months behind us. What’s that coiled up piece of wire doing here? Oops, I forgot to roll out an elevated radial that I took down to facilitate the job in progress. I did so before going back to the shack.

I stuck to the bands from 1200 to about 2030 UTC. The bands were in good shape. It struck me that the rate was only so-so but grew exponentially after a packet spot. Then it calmed down and it was waiting for the next packet spot. Again so Sunday morning on 80 at sunrise. The usual suspects were loud and one call was all I needed to log the contact. Yet my CQ remained unanswered. I was about to give up when someone spotted me. A short burst of mini pile up and then nothing again. I had the same happening again on all the bands: modest rate but a spot got things going. And if no fresh spot arrived, things could slow down again. So having your call in the bandmaps seems to be vital these days, more so on SSB than on CW.

This knowledge seems to drive people to packet cluster cheerleading or even plain self spotting. Once again I noticed a few hardcore self spotters / cheerleaders from my own country. And why not throw in a shopping list like ‘LOOKING NORTH DAKOTA’ commentary to the spot? The Belgian dual callsign system makes it easy to spot yourself with a legit callsign that is your own yet different from the call you use in the contest. I’m easily aggravated and it’s in my blood to get cranky for nothing, and although it shouldn’t this pathetic DX cluster abuse pisses me off. But just like in everyday life, standards are dropping faster than atmospheric pressure over the eastern Atlantic. Self control? Respect? Honor? Striving for perfection? Just look at traffic, waiting lines, crowded events etc. And don’t get me started about spelling and grammar on the Internet or elsewhere for that matter! A sign of the times. The pendulum seems to be swinging very far away from the equilibrium and in the wrong direction. At least to me. But I digress.

Was it fun? Yes. It’s always a pleasure to be greeted by friends whom we’ve never met. I really like the fast snappy and strictly to the point mini-pile ups with W/VE. I wish it could always be like that. But it still is SSB and I prefer CW. Moreover my modest station plays much better in CW than on phone. I’ve had it with SSB for now. Especially 40/80. The splatter, the QRM, the brutality of this to the ears – CW is relaxation but this isn’t. I kick ass on 40 in CW but the same setup is worthless in SSB.

I’ll probably do SB15 in WPX SSB. Because any contest is better than no contest. Except for the IOTA contest.