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Everything ON5ZO / OQ5M has to ventilate about ham radio.

Like I said a few days ago: I need a 30m antenna. Something that does not need the tower cranked up. Something that does not clutter up the lawn. Something that doesn’t need installing after and removing before every contest. Something that works.

Two years ago I did an effort with the remains of the broken trapped WARC dipole, but it wasn’t a success. Exit traps. Resonant elements are the way to go.

A permanent WARC antenna

Talking about lawn cluttering… My old 40m DP aluminum radiator has been on the lawn for years. I didn’t have the courage to cut it up. I think I made that antenna ten years ago, January 2006. I put it against a wooden post and used the spruce tree hedge as a support for two elevated radials in gull wing configuration. That was also the base of the trapped WARC vertical mentioned above. So if I would trim that aluminum radiator down from 40m to 30m, I could reuse it and just put two tuned radials in the spruce trees.

 

Post, gull wing radials, quick mount-detach system

Quick mount-detach system

And so I did. The antenna analyzer showed a clear dip and the antenna kinda worked. The initial test proved I could work DX with it, although the RBN didn’t pick me up. I concluded that just like the previous WARC effort, it doesn’t work too well and eats up more power than gets radiated.

I had another old 40m antenna around: a wire dipole I used as a two element vertical sloper array suspended from the tower. That was before February 2011 when I put up the rotary dipole. I trimmed that wire dipole to 30m and put it up last weekend when the tower was up one level for the 9A CW contest. I left the 30m GP in place for real time A/B testing.

Saturday morning I was active on 30m with both antennas and guess what? Everything I heard on the sloper was almost as loud on the GP. And RBN picked me up on both antennas. Must have been propagation the week before? The GP is a little less noisier. I worked more than fifty (+50!) JA’s that morning on 30m. With about 500W and the RX loop for dicercity RX.

What did we learn?

  • When conditions are right, the 30m morning opening to JA is rock solid.
  • The GP works as well as the sloper but doesn’t need the tower.
  • The GP with two elevated radials in gull wing configuration is a winner, as long as you stick to apples-apples comparisons. Of course a yagi high up the tower will be better.
  • The GP for now is a keeper for 30m.

Wednesday December 23, 3.30am local time and I can’t sleep. That’s what I get from sleeping under the roof when it’s half a storm: I actually don’t sleep. Too much noises from rattling window shutters and the utility cables (3x 400V and one TV coax) from the pole across the street to the side of the house is bumping against the roof tiles. It’s perpendicular to the wind so it swings, hence it hits the side of the roof all the time.

It has been a very windy few weeks. AGAIN. Temperature records are smashed one after the other and I dug up my shorts. Two days before Christmas and we hit 14°C again yesterday. Along with the everlasting wind and strong gusts. I know I am repeating myself. But that’s because for the third time in a row we get a warm windy season that is marked winter on the calendar but is more of a late fall or early spring. I saw a butterfly just the other week.

Here’s how I know I repeat myself:

WX is bollocks

and here:

Penguins are my soulmates

Look for 9ACW in there and you’ll see I didn’t do it because strong winds prevented me from cranking up the tower. This year I badly needed a shot of CW contesting after missing LZDX and WWCW mainly because of this too. I read the WW CW comments on 3830 and from G over DL to OZ/OH, everyone was mentioning the wind or storm. Either they got damaged antennas or had to lower crank up towers to prevent it.

This year the wind was supposed to be less the weekend of the 9A CW contest. Just for the weekend. So I decided to skip 160m and crank the tower up only one level. Just for fun, nothing serious, but actually made a few contest QSO.

And that’s what I did. I made 770 QSO. I did sleep. Even more than planned. Propagation was only so-so. Ten meter is a goner. Especially with  A/K indexes that were pretty high with a peak during the contest. And participation seemed down overall. I’ve had more fun in this one.

After the contest I took down the tower and the 80m wire (and the new 30m antennas – plural, more on that in another episode). Because, you guessed it, Monday would be very windy. And it was. Tuesday would bring even more wind and stronger gusts. And it did. And it worsened during the night. Which is right now.  And that’s why I find myself typing this instead of sleeping and dreaming…

Better luck next time?

Abstract: what should I do?

ON5ZO operating profile:

  • Main goal in amateur radio: work DX in CW. Either on the contesting bands as well as on WARC.
  • Most of my contacts are made in the contests but I do appreciate casual DXing and ragchewing.
  • Try to generate pile ups (yeah right, in ON) rather than breaking them. I have given up the DXCC chasing and stay clear from the moron induced mess when a rare one pops up.

Here’s the deal

Since I find myself on the regular bands for more than 90% of my time in the contests, I like to hang out on the WARC bands outside of the contests. The 30m band is my favorite. A simple CQ with any simple antenna brings truckloads of DX from all over the world. Often at the same time. It seems that 10.1 MHz almost always works.

Until 2011 I had a tribander and a WARC trapped dipole above it. That WARC dipole did a great job given its simplicity and size. I was often active since I had immediate access to 30/17 and 12 which was pretty much closed between 2004 and 2011. A dull week night, an hour to spare on a weekend without a contest – a few quick contacts were logged on WARC. Anecdotal evidence: I installed my brand new tower and my first real antennas and my very first QSO with that was NL7G on 12m. Late 2004, 100W.

But somewhere in late 2010 a trap blew and I found myself without a permanent WARC antenna. The good thing was that OT1A offered me the most important parts to complete a 40m dipole. I put that above the tribander and my 40m rates and scores went through the roof. Another proof that a good dipole at reasonable height kicks butt. In that respect, the new antenna was an asset.

But soon after I started missing my WARC antenna. I made a simple parallel wire inverted V and hung that on a low band pulley. That worked fine for what it is. Even with a sharp angled apex. Even when not too high. The problem is that I need to take it down for a contest because the pulley is used for the low band wires. And then after the contest, back up goes the WARC wire antenna. I got so fed up with that field day routine I just didn’t bother anymore. A direct result of losing easy access to the WARC bands was that I just wasn’t active anymore between the contests. Later on I converted the remaining half of the WARC dipole to a ground plane with the inverted V triband antenna as a set of elevated radials. That worked as in “resonant in the band with very low SWR”. That didn’t work as in “hear and work DX”.

And now I’ve had it. I feel I’m missing out on a lot of fun and I don’t enjoy the hobby as much as before. So I need to fix this and regain access to the WARC bands without an extra antenna. But how? I have given this a lot of thought over the last two or three years.

What do I (not) want?

  • All I have now (40 > 10 on the tower) but with WARC included. Six meters is a bonus but not a priority. I don’t want big and heavy antennas. It shouldn’t take too much wind and needs to be as stealthy as a tribander on a tower can be.
  • Price is not an issue. By which I mean that if a certain solution costs more than a comparable outcome, I am willing to pay for it but only if it makes for a better antenna system in any way.
  • I do not want to end up with less performance on the regular bands.
  • I do not want more mechanical load on and visible impact from the tower. ‘Less is more’ does apply here. Full size elements for 40 are out of the question.

The technology of the so called dynamic antennas is appealing. They’re quite small and cover all the bands with three or four elements. That is my self-imposed limit when it comes to size. However I see many more possible points of failure. I’ve said it before: I’m a glass-is-half-empty-guy. Apart from the usual things that can go wrong with an antenna, this dynamic technology has much more to it than an aluminum tube. I don’t even include traps into the equation as well as complex loading systems à la KT34XA.

  • There is much more wiring to it. Wiring can break and the outdoor connections must be kept dry.
  • Stepper motors are quite robust but can fail.
  • The conductive ribbon can break or jam in the fibers.
  • What about the gears and sliding mechanisms?
  • What about the feedpoint where RF is applied to the sliding ribbon? Will the movement of the ribbon against the feeder cause it to wear out?
  • The controller’s electronics can fail. A normal yagi does not have electronics.

There are two major brands for these antennas. The pioneers SteppIR. The Italian copycat is Ultrabeam. There is also the obscure dynamic-antenna. They have a website but I can’t find any references.

There are many happy users for both brands. There are also many horror stories (like here and here) documented with epic fail pictures for both brands.

I know that OT1A has been a happy SteppIR user for almost ten years. Another trustworthy Belgian technically skilled  operator has told me his only regret was not having bought his UltraBeam tribander sooner. Another local ham whose opinion I trust said that his UltraBeam is a quality product yet dealing with the company to solve an issue has been cumbersome. I once sent an enquiry to UltraBeam and got no reply. After two weeks I resent the same message to get the brief answer to ‘keep an eye on the website’. That doesn’t build my confidence in them. I demand customer support Elecraft style. That too is worth a few more Euros.

What do I have now?

An OptiBeam OB11-3. Modest tribander on a 6m long boom but it works very well. It has 3/3/5 full size elements on 20/15/10. On top of that there is the OptiBeam shorted 40m dipole. Those who follow my contest adventures know what this simple setup is capable of.

Situation on the tower NOW: 32kg / 0.84m²  (tribander)  +  11kg /  0.31m² (dipole)  =  43kg / 1.15m²

The OptiBeam solution

I’m very satisfied with the OptiBeam products. They perform very well and the quality is superb. Also the company owner is very responsive and helpful. Just for comparison I studied the available models to add the WARC bands. With as many elements per band as I have now but without going to a much bigger and heavier antenna. This is the outcome.

  • OB11-5  (3 / 3 / 3 / 3 / 5 elements 20m>10m)    45 kg          1.47m²       1.799,00 Euro
  • Dual band dipole OB1-4030   14kg   0.45m²   739 Euro
  • Optibeam solution: five band yagi and 40/30m dipole. Total: 56kg / 1.92m² / 2538 Euro

Cheapest solution but heaviest, most wind load and most visual impact. Exactly what I DO NOT want.

The steppIR solution

The SteppIR antenna that covers my needs is either the DB-18 or DB-18E. Both have three elements on a 6m boom. The difference is that the E model has 3 trombone elements (2L on 40, 3L on the other bands) and the plain model has only 2 trombones and one plain element (2L on 40+30, 3L on the other bands).

  • DB-18     41.2kg      0.9m²    3980 Euro
  • DB-18E    45.3kg    1.1m²     4960 Euro

There is a difference in numbers between the SteppIR website and the specs on the German reseller’s page. I should get the exact numbers confirmed.

I think that 1000 Euro does not justify one more element on 30m. Coming from nothing, a two element yagi on my favorite band (30m) as well as on 40 should be something special. Might as well be that two elements wider apart work better than three closer to each other. But how to determine this?

The UltraBeam solution

At first my plan was to buy the UltraBeam UB40MX. That seemed nice and covers my needs. However with 15m wing span it has quite long elements. Being a single antenna with 1.15m² wind load, it is still quite heavy (63kg).

But a while ago UltraBeam released a new type of folded element yagi. The folding is done in the vertical plane instead of the horizontal plane. Maybe influenced by the Despole design? I have made a number of wire antennas where I fold back part of the antenna or just put the ends in the hands of gravity to make it fit and the principle has always worked.


Currently UltraBeam has two models available.

  • Yagi UB640 – VL1-3   4.86 boom    29kg   0.77m²       2650 Euro
  • Yagi UB640 – VL2-3   4.5m boom    35kg   0.97m²       3450 Euro

These two models are lighter and shorter than the SteppIR model. And quite a bit cheaper. And UltraBeam offers FOUR year warranty. And as another Belgian UltraBeam owner said: “It takes a day’s drive and you’re at their front door”.

The model with two folded elements has my preference. That means two elements on 40/30 and three on the other bands. I noticed that the boom is 1.5m shorter than the SteppIR. However, assuming the SteppIR folded trombone elements are 0.5m apart, this would save 1m if you put them in the vertical plane.

EA6NB has this antenna (see it here). It looks weird with the pale fibers contrasting against the blue sky. Especially with the black marks that breaks it into smaller pieces visually. I can’t say that this is a beautiful antenna. Not that this matters, it should be strong, everlasting and perform like a champ.

An extended version is expected with 4 elements (3 folded and one straight?) making it 3 elements on 40/30 and 4 on the other bands. That would actually improve the number of elements on all bands. The question is: what will it cost, what will it weigh, and will this antenna be noticeably better on the air than its smaller brother? But the real question is: can you trust the gain figures as stated by the manufacturers? I don’t know. And how to evaluate then?

Now what?

It took me almost four A4 pages of text to list my thoughts and options. I have been thinking about this a lot for almost two years if not more. There is of course the financial aspect (investment) but what bothers me more is the work. I simply hate doing tower work. Even with a tilt over tower. On the other hand, having all bands on a single antenna, it’s quite appealing.

What should I do? What would you do?

 

Update December 24, 2015

Here’s an update – in the works…

Stand by…

Thanks to folks running the CQ WW contest, we now have the max rates available for the last decade. Guess who’s dominating the CW ranking for Belgium (ON)?

ww_cw_max_rates

Yes I am pretty excited. But most of all amazed. And honestly it surprises me that it’s on 80, generally considered not to be an easy band. And with a good percentage of DX 3pt contacts. A massive run on 3505 interlaced with ten contacts on 40m. On a piece of 2.5mm² copper wire hanging skewed from the tower, and two tuned radials about 2.5m high. No ridiculously big yagi, no directional 4SQ, no 120 radials, no beverages, no remote RX.

And I generally send ‘TU OQ5M’ after each and every contact and send ‘5NN 14’ as a report, not ‘ENN A4’. Or any worse abbreviation. And in WW CW I run at 34 WPM – no QRQ. Maybe even 32 WPM on the noisier low bands.

So how does this compare to countries around here? Much to my surprise I beat the top Single Op HP CW rates in plain G-land, LX, DL, F, PA, SP, EA, I, OH, ES, OZ, SM. I stopped looking there. I find this intriguing.

Oh well, it’s not that I have superhuman skills. It’s just a matter of copying a call, typing it, send 5NN 14 and on to the next. Luckily there is a next. This would be impossible without a constant flow of callers. So: Thanks to those who call me!

Geez- 210 QSO in a single 60 minute hour releases a heavy dose of adrenaline. And it’s addictive. Imagine being in a sweet DX spot near the beach with DXCC monopoly…

As a closing note: I’m nowhere to be found in the SSB ranking. It’s not that I don’t try. Or that I couldn’t do it. It’s just that the exact same setup doesn’t cut it on phone. Let this be a proof for the non-believers. CW 4 EVER!

Edited Mon Nov 30th – see below

I experienced the result of the stars and planets being perfectly aligned in 2014. That was indeed an exceptional year. I even won my first wooden plaque! But 2015 is another thing. Two key factors: bad WX and changing jobs in January and February. I don’t digest change very well. And this was a dramatic change. The job offer meant a short period of thinking the opportunity over. And as soon as I jumped: away routine, enter a lot of work. Work that takes time and energy. Two valuable resources that otherwise were used for the hobby. Because running a family with two little kids is time consuming already. So I skipped quite a few contests this year and I wasn’t really serious in a few others. A top ten spot in RDXC and maybe even IARU are the highlights of 2015. Oh yes – not to forget a victory in the CW Field Day. Pick your fights ☺

Last week was the LZ DX contest. I like that one and usually do quite well in that one too. But again: not this year. The long term prepping was OK. The XYL was supposed to go to a rock show at night. The kids were staying at their grandparent’s place overnight. And the OM had the house and time all for himself to go all out in the LZ DX contest. However Friday 13th’s events got in the way and all public activities near Brussels got cancelled. And the WX had displaced my 40m dipole (again!) earlier that week during a stormy night. Moreover strong gusts were predicted for the weekend. Believe it or not but there were even lightning discharges Saturday morning, and snow and hail. So we both had our reasons for being peed off. I didn’t want to let the XYL digest the disappointment all by herself. And I in turn wanted to share my frustrations with her. So we spent the day together doing very common stuff. But no contesting.

About the same story for CQ WW CW 2015. I didn’t have the time to rest and prepare in advance. And I won’t have the time to recover from an almost 48 hour CW marathon. Furthermore the WX forecast talks about 70km/hr gusts and more on Saturday and Sunday night. That’s about the force that shifted the 40m dipole last week. With the tower down. Imagine what it would be like with the tower all the way up. That one gust might have been stronger. I was still up because the noise of the wind would prevent me from sleeping anyway. I could tell by the resulting noises (windows, blinds, doors, trees) that it was a strong one. A bit later I took the youngest dog out for a pee. He was nervous too because of the howling wind. I immediately saw that the 40m dipole was misaligned. Again. That’s the fourth time in two or three years a storm moved one of my antennas. I never had a thing shifting between 2004 and 2012. Coincidence or indeed a change in the climate? When we drove off to work the morning after, a tall tree (25m? 30m?) had fallen across the street about hundred meters away from my QTH. Gardeners were slicing it up with their chainsaws. That tree didn’t break in half. It was simply uprooted. So I guess it was a pretty strong wind. And maybe the roots came loose after intense rainfall?

This is the sucker that moved the 40m dipole.Source: www.meteo.be

This is the sucker storm depression that moved the 40m dipole.
Source: www.meteo.be

This year’s summer extended into a nice fall with even a late Indian summer. Warm and sunny and almost no wind. Even the first week of November was very nice. I heard an item on the radio news that Belgian wind farms produced exceptionally little energy in October. Jokingly I replied to myself: “No problem, they’ll make up for it when the winter contests season starts“. There you go!

It’s useless to think about all this crap too much. I just hope that after two very mild, wet and extremely windy winters (2013-2014 and 2014-2015), the stupid endless westerly pattern can be broken this year. WX should come from the east. That’s always calm, dry and sunny. Hot in summer and very cold in winter. But never windy and mostly dry land air. In strong contrast to the rain and wind coming from the Atlantic. However the coming week it’s more of the same. Longer predictions are meaningless.

As I type this, all windows and even the terrace door are wide open and the sun is shining. A load of fresh air is always welcome after a few days of having it all shut. The wind is picking up speed as predicted. I just spent an hour in the garden putting out mole traps wearing a sweater and a fleece jacket and I was sweating. Not because that is an intense physical activity. But because it’s just plain warm. My guess is that it’s +10°C. December starts in three days. Go figure.

If I can’t resume my contesting activities the way I used to, I’ll just start a blog about the weather. Or macramé. In the mean time I keep thinking about a few pending projects. How to enhance the portable field day setup. How to finish the auxiliary tilt over tower (planned for summer 2016) and decide whether to use a longer mast (3m) on a shorter tower (6m) or weld the construction longer (8m) and shorten the top tube? And most of all: if I should replace my current antennas with a single SteppIR or UltraBeam and if so: what model?

Let’s hope the world doesn’t stop turning because I’m not in CQ WW CW.

Update Monday Nov 30th:

As it turns out it was a wise decision to leave the tower down. Friday night to Saturday was windy but accaptable. Saturday was a nice day as described above. Too bad for one mole so far (RIP). But Saturday evening and night were very bad. Gusts over 80km/hr. Sunday was wet and windy but as the afternoon slid into evening, the wind was howling and the antennas were shaking again. C’est la vie as they say. We’re in for another few days of raining cats and dogs and unfortunately also very strong winds. Over 80km/hr on the forecast maps. And I’ve come to learn these are very accurate starting three days ahead. But a real winter? Calm and cold weather with a snow deck to boot? No where to be seen in Europe. And no signs of that either in the near future. Yesterday evening at the most gusty time it was 12.5°C. Go figure. No need to trade the summer tires for winter tires any time soon.

And it seems the world is still turning…   ☺☻

Chirstmas decoration outside? Terrace lamp?

Nooooo sir – coax connections of course!

Just saw that on one of the channels I follow. Amazon DL sells these. Not really cheap but if it’s durable, why not?

I just wonder if it would work with coax cable? That’s thicker than a power cord and less forgiving when it comes to bending and squeezing.

My old headset is totally worn out. In fact its second life started in 2000 when I salvaged some professional intercom headsets from the scrap bin and combined the parts into one new working item. I was amazed to learn that the default microphone element could be replaced a Heil HC4 capsule. Same size, same connections. Since that day I had a good headset for the price of the HC4 mic element I bought as a separate item. Even though I don’t use it often and when I do it’s with care, it is worn out after 15 years. I only use it three or four times a year in a phone contest and never wear it for CW. Electrically all is fine but the ear pads are gone, inside the foam padding is starting to disintegrate etc. Time for a new one!

I never liked the classic Heil models. Too light, too flimsy, too expensive. Last year I promoted the new model but Bob Heil didn’t send me one on trial. Would have given him free promotion though. Exposure on my blog is priceless after all. This model 7 is pricey but if it’s worth it… However the eHAM review section showed quite a few negative comments about DOA and poor QC.

On the other hand Germany’s biggest reseller had a new brand on stock. The Arlan Communications products. eHAM showed almost unanimous positive comments. And it looked really heavy duty. With supposedly a lot of suppression of the noise in the shack from amp fans etc. So I bought one and ordered the extra cable to fit the microHAM MK2R+. Delivery was fast and the darn thing was one helluva headset. I liked the cable. It felt ‘siliconishly smooth’ and looked nice. Although I find 75 Euro a lot for such a cable. I put my foot down: my cable guy days are over – or at least I thought.

When I finally got around testing it on the MK2R+, initial disappointment made soon way for sheer frustration. It didn’t work. Not by far. The VOX didn’t work, monitored audio was distorted, I heard a lot of jet engine sounding noises and audio feedback. Interesting side note: the date was one week before CQ WW SSB.

I sent a mail to both microHAM support guru W4TV and to Arlan Comms. The Arlan company owner was very quick to reply (thumbs up!). He pointed out that the dynamic microphone element has a low impedance of 200 ohm and that the MK2R+ stuff probably didn’t like that. Could be as the Heil HC4 as 2k impedance if I’m not mistaken. I envisioned the classic theoretical amp model: infinite Z in, zero Z out. Would the microHAM input circuits be that low in impedance that it could not handle 200Ω?

He continued that most of his customers using microHAM stuff used the electret microphone. And that the K3 by itself didn’t have a problem with the dynamic element. I plugged the headset straight into one of my K3s and sure enough: it worked. I could order a new microphone element but that would be yet another extra 50-60 Euro and would leave me with a useless dynamic mic capsule. Needless to say, I was getting pretty P.O. It was now Monday before WW SSB…

I got a reply from a two happy users of the Arlan headset with the microHAM stuff. So it should work here too. Then W4TV of microHAM stepped in. Bottom line: all Arlan Communications said was wrong and he gave some info about mic and headphone circuits that I actually knew from my previous life as a broadcast tech. However when buying a cable that costs 75 Euro I expect that cable to work. I quit building my own cables because of lack of time and being through with soldering cables. My co-workers didn’t call me The Cable Guy for nothing fifteen years ago! Actually this is the second time I buy an expensive faulty cable that I should have made myself. At least Elecraft had the courtesy to refund the bad cable admitting there had been a few faulty ones in the past.

I sent another mail to Arlan asking for the pin out color code of the plug. Until now I have yet to receive an answer. So with less than four days to WW CW, reverse engineering was the way to go. I opened up the cable and started tracing wires and measuring resistances. Sure enough the mic return lead was soldered together with the shield of the cable and bound to the shield of the earphone speakers which was in turn soldered to GND. Once I unsoldered and cut that lead, everything suddenly started working like a charm. Oh boy, all the time wasted debugging and writing mails… I could have soldered ten of these cables back when I could still solder interface cables with my fingers in my nose. The only thing left to do was reverse left and right channel on the cable. I don’t see that as a big problem because my CW headset has the same problem. But a normal headphone can be put on the head in reversed position, a headset not. Purists will say that actually you can but then the mic would be on the back of your head.

All is well that ends well. Two thousand SSB contacts in WW SSB with good audio reports when asked. The headphone does not play in the feather weight category nor is it light on the head. I consider that a tradeoff between poor mechanical quality and letting ambient noise through versus this one. It seems to be strong. The brace is mostly made of metal parts and removable thus washable padding. And actual little bolts and nuts. The headphone shuts off the amp blower noise completely and I don’t hear anyone coming into the shack. Except my two little boys when they rush in and trip VOX. So except for the poor electrical design of the cable, I’m pretty happy so far. I must say that the look and feel of the cable is first class.

During WW SSB an active Belgian contester who had followed the messages on the microHAM list sent me a mail. He had been a happy user of the headset for a few years but now he ordered a new cable for a second rig and had trouble getting it to work. He asked what my solution was. Turns out his cable had the mic return / GND problem too! So people buying an Arlan Communications interface cable to go with microHAM interfaces: BEWARE and fire up the soldering iron.

Two things were at play this time. Three weeks ago the bands were completely dead. Solar flares all over the place. A and K through the roof. Forty eight hours of SOAB SSB mayhem on closed bands? Not quite appealing. Add to that that I have been busy and mentally tired lately and that I won’t have time to recover after a full time SOAB. So a SB effort was the best option. But what band to pick? The higher bands would be poor or closed. SSB on 40m? If SSB is ‘like pulling teeth’, on 40 it’s without anesthesia. That leaves only 80. Not that my setup is that great on 80. Not that 80 is an easy band. But if the result is pathetic, I can always say: “hey, it’s 80, not an easy band”. And in SSB: who cares? CW is where it’s at. Added bonus: it’s something I don’t do every day.

Of course the higher bands were quite OK. Of course I should have done SB15. That leaves plenty of sleep too, and it wouldn’t mess up the biorhythm compared to working 80 at night and sleeping during daytime. But I stuck to my plan. I had done SB80 once in 2009. That wasn’t a huge success. I made 800 QSO then and 74k points or so. I decided that 1000 QSO wouldn’t put me on the ‘wall of shame’. Silently I hoped for 1200. So a claimed result of 1500/15/82 for 190k points isn’t too bad. with a piece of wire. Three pieces actually (vertical and two elevated radials).

I had set up the Wellbrook RX loop the week before. I even routed two brand new fifty meter long cables along the garden’s perimeter for that. One coax and one three wire cable for the motor. That loop is for the KRX3 AUX input, allowing diversity RX. And I routed the 40m dipole to the transverter RX input of the K3. That way I had the ground plane and the loop and dipole for RX. I have never been so well equipped.  ☺  It’s hard to tell whether that has helped me or not. It’s not like real full size beverages.

What to say about the contest? There’s the splattering. There’s the obnoxious modulation. There are the fast runs. And the slow periods. There’s tons of fun and frustrating moments. Propagation on 80 was better than anticipated to the west. But I didn’t work anything beyond the Middle East. Zero far east. I’m sure I could have worked more if people in a 10 kHz span around me would have STFU. I always get a kick out of the exotic multipliers calling me. Big smile then. And I had the occasion for a few big smiles when such an exotic goodie called yours truly, a tiny shrimp in the HF ocean. And when the rate goes way up, that’s what makes me tick. There were a few moments like that, even on 80.

A phone contest would not be complete without a clash with the Net Naggers. I found a clear frequency and like always asked if it was in use. No reply. Let’s CQ then. A few CQ CQ CQ later, an English station comes to chase me away. Polite? Yes. Friendly? No. I ask for his call, I get a lecture. I hit F1. The lecture becomes a sermon. I hit F1 and work a few stations. Then I get threatened. He’d put me on the cluster telling everyone I was rude and causing QRM. Since bad promotion is better than no promotion, I tell the guy that it would be very kind of him. He doesn’t appreciate that, and then he’s going “to send a mail to the contest people reporting me”. That’ll teach me. As he puts it: my whole weekend to waste as I get DQ’ed. K5ZD: check your mailbox!

Soon after there is a case of strange noises and tuning on and around my frequency. Could it be the M3 that is out for revenge? I ignore it as it’s not too bad and it goes away after a while. Then a few moments later a loud PV8 calls me on 80m. Say what? Must be a pirate making me log false mults? It’s not even dark here, let alone over there. And this loud??? My brain has to move fast. I pretend not to have copied his complete call and meanwhile I open his QRZ page. I tell him he’s loud and ask where he is. He says very up north in Brazil. The QRZ map confirms. I ask the name of his town. He tells me what QRZ.com shows too. With an almost daylight path between him and me and his signal being so loud, I conclude that it’s fishy. And anyone can look up a call to use it… Maybe he was using a remote station in EU? What to do with this one? I’m still in doubt but why remove it from my log? After all I made a QSO with a station giving me the Brazilian call and zone 11. My hope was to work another PY later on but it wasn’t to be.

Sunday evening, late in the contest. I get annoyed because things get ssslllooooowww. I had found a clear frequency and then it slightly improved. But don’t listen for longer than a second because people steal your spot. S57AL tried. He did ask if the frequency was in use. And he moved away. By a mere kHz. That smeared a S9+40dB layer of slime over my RX. I go tell him that moving is good but moving a symbolic kilohertz is not enough. I get the advice “to adjust the DSP filters on my radio, that can help a bit” – end quote. I tried sweating it out but S9+++ QRM so close just made my ears bleed. S57AL, you win. I wonder what this guy works with such a loud signal. At least: loud in EU. The rate is virtually zero so I can afford the waiting. I can hear everyone that calls him and copy right away, but he seems to be a bit deaf. Either his ears or his RX. He doesn’t hear the weaker callers or needs plenty repeats. I suppress the urge to tell him to adjust the DSP filters on his radio, that can help a bit. Power House Cowboys from Eastern EU, gotta love ‘m. Other than that, no real problems encountered. Just an unreal number of dupes. More than 50! Two stations even called me three times!

A few minutes before the end of the contest I log valid QSO #1500. I throw the switch and call it a day. I’m surprised to have made 1500 contacts on eighty meters. Too bad it’s mostly EU. A handful of VE and a fair dose of USA and Caribbean DX. Poor performance towards UA9 and beyond. Nothing African except the ususal EA8/CN/3V8. Propagation or my antenna? Who cares, I know it works in CW because I can work well into those areas in CW.

Saturday afternoon I had a moment to spare and couldn’t resist calling CQ on ten meters. I like fast runs with USA stations. I had one fast hour, making almost 150 contacts. I did the same on 15m on Sunday. That band seemed to work better and it is my best band. The yagi is at 1.5 lambda there. I had two very fast hours netting 300 contacts. Then I tried the same again on 28 MHz but it didn’t work as well. I quit when the QSO counter showed 200 contacts. So apart from the 1500 contacts on 80 I made another 500 on 10/15 mostly USA and Caribbean multis. Note to self: ARRL DX SSB from a big Caribbean station. Only W/VE. Be loud there. Only endless fast runs. Start saving money.  Oh wait, bubble busted: I can’t take off from work whenever I want. Drat.

Now what with WW CW? SOAB or SB40? We’ll see…

A few years back (2010?) I stumbled across an unusual amount of Whiskey Sixers. CQP they called this event. Propagation was fine and I was hooked. I marked the event on the calendar for the years to come and with the FB propagation it was a real party. After all, East Coast is easy from here but West Coast is REAL DX. I love the sound of polar flutter in the morning! Or evening for that matter. Last year already was far less productive with the decline of the solar cycle and I more or less had given up for this year.

Then I read the announcement that to celebrate the fiftieth edition of CQP, there would be a commemorative coin. Just work those 1×1 calls, take the letter of the suffix and spell GOLDRUSH. That means only eight contacts would do. Just find and work the right calls et voilà. It was only Saturday I read the fine print. I would need to make 150 QSO in total apart from the goldrush issue. One hundred fifty? That wasn’t in the initial announcement on CQ-Contest! I knew this would be hard and when I took a look at solarham.net the K index was too high to be good and the Bz had gone negative. For a change. Against all odds I started looking for Californians Saturday afternoon.

I can be short about that. There weren’t many. That is: there weren’t many to be heard overhere. And only on 20. The RBN showed huge amounts of the coveted 6 area callsigns but skimmers only as far as PJ2 and KP3 picked them up. Later on there were a few light signals on 15. I wouldn’t call it an opening. Rather a small crack in the reinforced concrete wall that stood between me and that Golden State. Even on 20 the loudest signals didn’t reach S9. I listened to some SSB signals or rather ‘modulated noise’ but I didn’t even try to call. All this in strong contrast with the previous years where I could work plenty of them in both modes. Even on ten meters. My hope was for a better Sunday and maybe a few on 40 in the morning.

Here’s what I wrote in 2010 about CQP and 40m:

On 40m there were some SSB spots for the CQP. Huh? I could hear them, well past my sunrise. I worked 3 and K6IDX said I was loud (S9). He was S9+20 at my place. The thrill of it! K6IDX was the loudest of them all on all bands. The signals! N6O runner up.

N6GQ even sent me a note regarding this 40m magical contact. ‘Loudest EU at that time‘. I was using a low inverted V on 80/40 for that occasion. We all have a dozen contacts we’ll never forget. This is one of mine. Enough flash back, now return to the harsh reality of 2015. I asked my friend K7GK what would be the best time and he queried his 2014 log. Around 06.30z, which translates to 8.30AM. No alarm needed then. But once I got into the shack: NO DX heard there. Only a ZL2 in the Oceania DX SSB but I didn’t bother to call him. Even EU was weak. But not a single W6. And the rest of Sunday was even worse. In the evening I didn’t hear a single W6 on 20 either. So Sunday was even worse than Saturday. I called it a day with 36 CW contacts and GOLDR. Never even heard one of the USHers.

If we extrapolate this kind of propagation to CQ WW in three weeks… Oh boy.

In fact, I did not expect this one at all! Despite the year 2015 being a very calm year when it comes to ham radio, I can check two things off the bucket list. First was ‘win a plaque for Field Day CW’ after a flawless victory last June and now ‘Win a plaque for a real DX contest’.

Today the postwoman’s van stopped and the doorbell rang. I needed to sign off the ticket for a parcel. It was wrapped in a plastic bag covered with exotic stamps. Russia? I have no parcel in the pipeline, nothing ordered… It felt like a wooden plaque. Yeah right, in what Russian contest would I even win a plaque?

RAEM2014

RAEM 2014! I did not know there was a plaque for best Benelux score but I seem to have won it anyhow. Booyaa! Thanks to the RAEM people and R4IT for sponsoring it. I really should do this one full time with all gear up. Planned for 2015.

PS selfie NOT intended  ☺