SFI > 250 or bust!


Everything ON5ZO / OQ5M has to ventilate about ham radio.

And OQ5M is too!

After more than a decade I have collected about twenty contest plaques from the UBA DX contest. CW, SSB, low power, high power, twelve hours, twenty four: I’ve done it all. I also cherish my ‘special achievement plaque’ for most QSO made with the OO-prefix in 2005 as OO5ZO. About 18500 CW only contacts or so. The engraved text should have read: ‘no one else was crazy enough to spend so much time on the air’. I ran barefoot then too. And had no kids yet.

Back to the plaques. A field day victory was still missing on the wall. OT1A and I made second place twice, but our June 2015 effort paid off. Finally.


Hardly beginner’s luck but third time’s a charm indeed (2006-2011-2015).

A few weeks ago the mail man stopped and had two parcels. I immediately recognized the plastic envelope covered with Russian stamps. But TWO plaques at once?


BTW you can see part of my UBA DX Contest plaque collection in the reflection of the right plaque.

Thank you RAEM contest! I’d love to be back this year but it seems to run on December 25. I’m not sure I can sell this to the Board of Directors. It seems to be a special day, apart from this very enjoyable contest.

SB80 just like last year. Reasons why? Just like last year: Propagation above 20m sucks. Twenty and forty are a splatter infested limbo of hell. So that leaves only 80 since I avoid Top Band whenever I can. Last year was fun and I was amazed by the result so why not again this year? Yes, afterwards we’re always smarter… Little did I know that there would not be any propagation to suck!

My new work schedule since two years doesn’t get me my Friday afternoon off. I had a few daylight hours to spare on Tuesday so I cranked up the tower then and adjusted the 80m ground plane from CW to SSB. With all the work done this summer I also used another stretch of coax (better cable = lower loss) from the coax cabinet outside to the 6×2 relay box. I hooked up the antenna analyzer right at the antenna which was seemingly fine. But on the transceiver’s end it had SWR > 10:1. Darn! It turned out to be a bad N-plug on the new coax. Not badly soldered, it was just a type of plug that doesn’t really fit the exotic RG-217 cable. The center pin was too far back to mate with the socket. That RG-217 cable has been discussed here before, mostly with topics as ‘hard to find suitable plugs’ and ‘got into trouble with a nonconventional plug’. It’s a good cable and I nailed a real bargain for a 100m drum, however it turned out to be a pain to find suitable plugs. I put the old coax back into action and the problem got solved.

On Wednesday I put up the terminated RX loop. As usual pointed to the US of A. That has helped me the past summer and proved a winner in this contest too. Thursday evening I prepared the shack. Updated all software and took out the headset. SSB voice keying and VOX were working fine. Super! Technically I was prepared. Mentally too: low expectations and only looking for amusement. The WX had been fine and was said to be calm and dry over the weekend. What could go wrong? The sun, for instance. K-values of 6 the days before the contest. I didn’t know how bad that affects low band propagation. I do know now! We all do.

Friday night I went to bed and set the alarm a little late. On purpose since I was only in it for the fun and the first hour usually is very hectic. As soon as I launched my first CQ with the PC voice keyer, I was in for a nasty surprise. The audio from the PC sounded distorted on the monitor. I didn’t test the voice keying with the amp on the other day… The fact that it sounds distorted on my side is not a problem. As long as it isn’t distorted when it leaves the transmitter. But no one answered when I sent my call. Bad sign. One of the stations I sent my call to, complained about bad modulation. There you have it. Live voice into the microphone was OK. Now what? A round of troubleshooting, that’s what.

  • It’s exactly the same setup as last year when the problem didn’t occur. Did something change without me remembering or noticing it?
  • The problem only went away when I transmitted at 50W or less. I’m not a QRP guy!
  • The problem only occurred on 80m. Not on any other band. Just my luck with a planned SB80 effort.
  • The problem persisted when I unhooked the RX antenna from the rig. You never know, right?
  • The problem went away when I unplugged the MIC from the MK2R+. The WAV files played back clean just as long as there is no connection between the headset’s mic and the radio.

So it was the headset’s mic lead that fed the problem into the MK2R+. I twisted the lead around a clip-on ferrite core but that didn’t help. At this point, it was almost one hour later. My bed was calling and the morale was far gone. I was about to quit even before I started.

I overlooked my options and noticed a 3.5mm jack-to-jack audio cable lingering on the ‘electronics work bench’ a/k/a the desk a/k/a messy heap of various stuff. I don’t know why but I plugged it in the MIC socket and tried. That loose end didn’t pick up the RF. As a last resort I took this lead, twisted it around three ferrites and looked in my audio-adapter box for combinations to get this between headset and MK2R+. I had a set of male/female professional audio XLR-type adapters that accept 6.4mm jacks. I had 3.5-to-6.4mm jack adapters. Eureka! This kept the RF away from the audio. This amazing piece of audio-gizmo’s position on the desk was crucial. Sliding it to the left or right made things worse. And touching the metal case of the XLR-adapters with my finger, distorted the audio again.


However I was back in business and I felt ecstatic. Not only could I do the contest but I also was satisfied with my problem solving capabilities. And glad I have a dozen boxes and containers full of extension cables, exotic parts, RF and audio adapters, plugs and what not. Once again my point was proven: you can NEVER EVER have too many of these around!

Soon I found that the sun’s recent spasms didn’t do any good for the bands. Signals were weak, if any. It was hard to get USA in the log. And those who made it were weak. Even the beacons like K3LR, W3LPL, KC1XX… who should peg the S-meter even on eighty meters. Over the whole period the best hour was between 2z and 3z. About 120 contacts logged. And one of only two hours of +100. The other being 18z on Saturday.

Around 4.45z on Saturday morning I had my fifteen minutes of fame. But no more than fifteen. During that short time span it seemed that central America and the Caribbean were doing S&P low in the band. They all called me and I was amazed every time. It’s what I always say: keep running with a decent signal and the mults will come. I kept going for a while after sunrise but then quit.

I was home alone but I wasn’t really tired. I spent the morning outside putting up a BoG. Yes, another RX antenna. After all I badly needed multipliers from the east. In retrospect this turned out to be a total useless effort. There was nothing from the east! See the map generated by Adventure Radio Log Analyzer and thanks to ON3DI for the link (new gimmick!).

Where did my signals go to?

Where did my signals go to?

I can’t remember much more from the rest. It was boring. It was slow. I was a matter of bridging the ten minute gap between two contacts. Of course I encountered the usual German bulldogs from the German round tables. You know, the lot that owns a certain frequency to chitchat about the color of their socks. Like a dynasty, the QRG goes over from generation to generation. One of them even introduced the term ‘Funkterroriste’. For my English audience: it has nothing to do with a booty shaking style of music! My frequency (the one I lease, not own) got invaded three times. Two times a simple and polite request to move on was politely answered, with apologies to boot. The third was IR3Z. His antennas and location obviously outgunned mine, despite the much lower power limit in Italy. Oops: spewing out irony again! Like the saying goes: don’t wrestle with a pig. Both of you get dirty but the pig loves it (George Bernard Shaw). So I decided to be the bigger man and abandon my run. It had run dry anyway. Still I hate it when this happens.

At a given point I decided to catch some sleep. It wasn’t really needed but the boredom got unbearable. One hour later I woke up very suddenly and got a bit mentally disoriented. I felt sick and my stomach was upset. I hadn’t eaten in a while so it could not be food poisonging?I took a bucket with me to the shack just in case. Better safe than sorry. But I really didn’t feel well. Then it dawned on me: I needed energy. I ate two bananas while leaving the dog out to answer the call of nature and ten minutes later I was just fine. In time for Sunday’s sunrise. That one was even less productive than the day before. It bothered me that I didn’t even work a single PY for a double mult. A LU had called me, and a CE. Then PW8T was spotted but the packet pile up was just too intense.

I slept some more on Sunday during the day. And I decided to play around on the higher bands. What higher bands? Ten was silent apart from a few Italians and Eastern EU stations. Fifteen was a bit better. A bit, but not much. I tried my luck on twenty. As soon as I got spotted I had a mini-pile up to the USA. That’s the only thing I like about SSB: fast USA runs. The propagation treated me well between late 2011 and late 2014. Since then it hasn’t been the same. But this time it was pure horror… The KC1XX operator lured me into a QSY to 28 MHz. I told him the band was dead. He said it was open. I wrote down their run frequency on ten meters. A few minutes later I went to listen there. Nothing of course.

I don’t even remember what I did the rest of the day. Around sunset I moved into the shack again. Against common sense. Once in a while someone spotted me and I worked a dozen stations. Then it was slow… ‘Slower than molasses in January’ is what Redneck Rampage taught me.

Late in the contest MU0GSY and 7R7W called me for my two last multipliers. GJ2A was spotted but the pile up was just too thick and it kept being messy for quite a while so I never worked that multiplier. Not that it matters. The S5 guys who also did SB80(A) on 3830 seemed to have been in a different contest anyway.

My wife always asks ‘how’s it going upstairs?’ It’s hard to explain to my XYL why we do this. Obviously this wasn’t for fun this time. Slow rates, hardly any DX, poor propagation. But a true blue contester just can’t NOT be on the air. I’ve been forced to abandon my participation by storms too much over the last three years. So even this was better than not being on the air at all. I just don’t dare to say that it can’t get any worse than this. Suppose it can?

I don’t know about CQ WW CW yet. SBxx for sure. But what band?

September usually isn’t my most active month on the air, contrary to my professional activities. But I wanted to participate in SAC CW. Nothing serious of course. Just to hand out some points with the tower down. Of course it was easy on 40m. It was hard on 20m. It was a bust on 15m with only two contacts there. I did hear weak Far East stations calling the Scandinavians but from here the target area was unworkable.

Worth mentioning is that I had a co-op in the shack. My oldest son (6.5 y/o) wanted to help me out. He wanted to know how big the numbers were I got from the other stations. He was not impressed with hundred-something but guys handing out 1800 or more gained his respect. Not that he has a clue, he’s just starting out in the reading and math business. But his enthusiasm was infectious. I opened the QRZ.com page for most of the logged calls so he could see who it was. Soon he recognized the OH, SM and OZ flags. Reading the country was hard at first because the English country names and spelling are not quite the same as in Dutch. I took a Y-adapter and gave him his own headphones to listen with me. I just had to tell him over and over again to keep his mouth shut when a weak signal serial number was sent to me. I might not let him discover SSB before he masters CW. Should he develop a serious interest in the hobby. I’m not pushing him. But I can’t ignore his enquiries either. Furthermore operating a phone contest is impossible if he can’t keep quiet. The VOX would trip with 100% duty cycle. It already does when the two brothers are playing in the other room!

About six weeks ago we visited my parents’ place and went for a walk through my old neighborhood. I took a specific route because I wanted to see the QTH of a ham who settled there after I left town. This guy has a hex-beam on a pole about ten meter high. One of the SAC stations used a hex-beam too and put a picture of that antenna on his QRZ.com page. My boy yelled out: “Hey that’s the same antenna we saw when walking in grandma and grandpa’s town!”. I was impressed with his antenna-memory.

Last weekend was CQ WW RTTY. Again I wanted to make a bunch of contacts, just to be active and join the legions. Saturday morning things went quite smooth on 40, even with the dipole only about ten meter above the ground. But RTTY soon grows old and the weather was just too nice. We had a great family day doing all sorts of things outside including a BBQ grill party. I keep on grilling as long as the WX supports it!

Sunday morning ON4BHQ picked me up for our annual visit to Belgium’s biggest ham fest. And just like every year I notice almost all of the flea market stands have the same old junk on display. I also see many people haul stuff to their cars and can’t help to wonder: all this stuff yet hardly any Belgians to be heard on the bands, seen in the contest results or in the clublog DXpedition lookups. They’re probably all doing DMR on VHF or PSK/JTxx?  I was glad the Mastrant boys came over from OK-land. They had a broad assortment of small pulleys on display. My local DIY store stopped carrying the right type of pulleys and all the rest here is too expensive for what it is, or useless for ham radio antenna purposes without modifying. So I bought a dozen small pulleys straight from the Czech Republic. Pulleys always come in handy for the field day style operator.

Late in the afternoon I decided to do some more RTTY. The sun had shaken up the ionosphere and propagation was hard. Again there wasn’t much to be heard on 15. It went better on 20. And I even had a short modest run after a cluster spot. Huzzah! I really don’t like RTTY. It’s just clicking away. It gets boring after a few minutes already. Human input is almost zero, no challenge, nothing to learn. But I chipped in 160 QSO.

I’m glad to see the CY9C log keeper did a new upload to Clublog with the logging error fixed. My 40m QSO now actually shows up on 40 and no longer on 80. Time to pay my dues because it was fun working them.

ON4BHQ also gave me a small box of incoming QSL cards. This box contains one year of incoming buro QSL, and the box is pretty small. There was a time when this size of box came in every month! Guess what I will be doing the coming weeks?

Make that: had fun on the bands. My holidays are now over and I’m facing a very busy period with the start of the new school year. So back to the boring life of a civil servant trying to make a living. But that feeling is back. The last three weeks I was QRV almost daily. I renewed my pledge of allegiance to the HF bands.

To propagate or not to propagate…

That is the question. I must admit that these beloved HF bands weren’t in the best of shape. There were days that there was hardly anything to be heard between dawn and dusk. I’ve been in the game long enough to know that we’re facing a few rough years when it comes to the upper HF bands. And the lower bands are populated by vampires. They only come out at night.

The sun giveth and the sun taketh away. And with a K=5 the Big Brass Ball In The Sky took it all away. One day the RBN showed the CY9C expedition only picked up in W1+2+3 on the classic daylight bands. But we shouldn’t blame the sun for it all. Many times the RBN picked up my signal on virtually every continent at once. On 30+20+17 meters of course. Not above. Yet there was hardly anyone on the bands. One day I badly needed someone on RTTY to answer to but there wasn’t any RTTY to be heard! I plead guilty: I haven’t been active a lot either lately. For over a year and a half my activity was limited to a weekend’s contest. And even that turned out to be a lot less than I had hoped for. That said I hope to be more active again. The contests I entered made me very happy. Chasing DX and weird prefixes was fun again despite the lack of serious propagation. I hope for a storm free fall and winter so I can leave the tower up and play on the low bands. Maybe those will calm down noise wise and provide more DX?

Thirsty for Thirty

Between the summer contests, I decided I wanted to be active at sunrise and after sunset. I haven’t done a thing this year on the WARC bands. My guess was that only 30m would be somewhat open and not 17/12. So I quickly made a simple 30m dipole as an inverted V with the apex at 15m above the ground. Of course that worked and as a bonus the SWR was 2.5:1 or so on 6m. There were a lot of 50 MHz spots but I didn’t hear much on the 30m dipole. Nevertheless I worked a few new ones I think. I don’t keep track of DXCC scores. It was all local stuff. Soon I discovered that there was life on 17 after all. So I decided to trade the 30m monobander for the WARC triband inverted V. That also presents a lower SWR on 6m so the amp puts out some more power. Not that I heard more, it is by no means a good 6m antenna. In three weeks I made 330 QSO with 66 DXCC entities. And a lot of weird prefixes for the UBA prefix hunt.

In the loop

I didn’t take down the RX loop I made for WAECW. I must admit that this loop has helped me quite a lot. I wasn’t active on the low bands, which was the main purpose of this loop but I was amazed how well it worked on the other bands. Especially on 30 and 17. On several occasions I could make S7 EU signals compeltely disappear when I switched from the inverted V to the RX loop. And on several occasions I could lower the noise on 10 MHz to make a JA or a K audible. Signals that were almost impossible to copy on the dipole could be copied right away with a bunch of noise eliminated. Impressive for its simplicity and price. I like this loop a lot but it will be hard to give it a permanent place. I will do some testing later this season when the grass doesn’t grow anymore. I especially want to compare it to the not so cheap Wellbrook active loop. Which as a much smaller footprint, in its defence.


My last RTTY contact was made more than two years ago. I’m pretty sure because the MMTTY program was not installed on my new shack PC I assembled in July 2014. Not that I’m a big fan of RTTY but the OJ0DX guys were very active on that mode and loud too so I wanted to work them. Stepping outside the comfort zone. I didn’t succeed because they were gone before I got RTTY going. I had tried lots of settings and parameters. At a given point I was afraid my second K3 had a broken line out circuit. It worked on the left radio. But that radio is hooked up to the big tube amp and I only use the 500W Elecraft amp outside of contests. So I wanted to get it to work on that radio. In the end it was a matter of setting the pitch parameter on the K3 to the same value as MMTY. DUH! Apparently I wasn’t the only one because a google search combining K3, MMTTY and ‘no line out’ took me to the pitch issue. I had wasted many hours on that, trying so many things. I even made an audio cable feeding left K3 into right MMTTY input and vice versa. Since right channel MMTTY did decode left K3 audio but left MMTTY channel did not decode right K3 line out, I started to fear a broken K3. But there you go, all is fine in the end.

While looking for a solution I tried to find an RTTY signal on the bands. But there just wasn’t any. The bands aren’t great right now but it seems there isn’t a lot of activity either. As I already pointed out. I found a YB station I called but I accidentally dropped a bunch of CQ’s on him. The RTTY n00b that I am. I didn’t select the right RTTY messages under the buttons. I think that’s OK now. I once was a clown in CW too, so I more or less recall the feeling of trying that for the first time and messing it up completely. It’s safe to say that most CW aspects have no secrets anymore. Except QRQ but I see no practical use in that except the QRQ itself.

I did make 50 contacts in the SARTG contest, including some DX from the east. I had to QRT when the bands might have opened up to the west. As always it grew boring fast because there just isn’t any fun for me in clicking around on the screen. But you make contacts and occupy the bands and it’s a break from the usual.


During my active period there was CY9C. I thought it was a new DXCC on the counter but LotW tells me I have already worked this one in 2005. On 30+20+17 CW. Now I also have 40CW. I don’t have a mic attached outside of the occasional SSB contest but I couldn’t resist calling them on phone. I set up my call and fi’nye wav files and hoped I would not be asked a question. I worked them first call on 20 SSB and my call and a report were all I had to use. Two simple function keys…

The day after I had to go out early but the web-cluster showed them active on 40 SSB just after my sunrise. I quickly fired up the shack. I had to use the PC for voice keying. I could have taken the headset too but I was just too lazy. My SSD PC boots faster than I can look for the box, unpack then headset and hook it up. I think it took two or three calls, in fact it took two or three pushes on the function key, and I got them on 40 SSB too. Although Clublog currently shows my second phone contact on 80. I sent an email four days ago but I didn’t get an answer and it’s still listed on 80. I’m sure it was 40 because my 80m antenna is down. I also tried to work them in RTTY but it seemed more like a lottery than anything else so I gave up after a few tries.

A lot of very rare and semi rare DXCC entities have been activated over the last two years but CY9C is the first one I actually bothered to look for and try to work. Just for fun. I don’t give a damn about expeditions and DXCC anymore. Of course it helped that they were really close to EU. Nevertheless I will chip in a few dollars for this one.

So last weekend I lowered the tower and took down the dipole. There were some thunderstorms in the forecast but that turned out to be somewhere else. But I need to focus on my job now for a few weeks. That is also the reason I cancelled my Field Day SSB participation. OT1A accepted my request and agreed to join me but I decided not to do it in the end. It is a logistical burden and a weekend away from my computer and papers during one of the busiest moments of the school year. I have never done much operating in September.

The plan is not to get carried away too much by the job and to be active again later this month. Yes, that feeling’s back!

Or: The one with the fishing pole support. No idea when and where but I’m sure when the day comes this thing will receive a warm welcome.

The much touted (well… on these pages at least) portable mast system has solved many of our field day worries. One that remains: an easy yet stable support for the ten or twelve meter high fishing rods that keep the dipole ends up in the air. In our previous FD campaigns we hammered a wooden fence pole in the ground and put the fishing rod against it. Then clamp it down with a liberal amount of ty-raps. This often made the pole rotate around the wooden post and skew towards ground. Maybe my latest little welding project can help to set things straight. Pun intended.

Ingredients taken from my stock: one piece of angle stock 30x30x3 mm. Three ends of concrete rebar, each 30 cm long. And a steel car rim I kindly got for free from the local tire shop owner. Double the numbers for two items because even in these modern times, the Greek di still means two and a dipole still has one pair of legs.

But how to keep this thing on the ground? Concrete blocks? Not kind to our backs, knees and hips. Furthermore my trailer will already be close to its maximum payload without concrete blocks. What about steel bars bent in an L-shape jacked into the ground? Again more weight and physical exhaustion from the hammering. We’re not quite in our twenties anymore. And even drifting far away from that. I came across the ultimate solution for this. It just seemed too crazy not to buy and use these:


Actually these are tent pegs. But aren’t radio amateurs known for using everything in a way it wasn’t designed for? I found these at Germany’s biggest online ham store. The anchor points are three pieces of 5 or 6 mm thick flat stock that I welded to the rim. It pays to know how to calculate the circumference of a circle from the diameter and to scribble a long division on the back of a DIY-store receipt. The receipt was for a 25 mm drill I picked up earlier that day. That’s the size of the hole to put the tent peg through and my largest drill bit was only 17 mm. A 25 mm hole through five millimeter thick plate isn’t a joke. The drill bit is rather long and I couldn’t lower my drill press’ platform low enough. It took some thinking and fitting but I managed to make clean holes. I deburred the holes with my step drill and when it stopped raining that evening, I got out the stick welder and fired away. Not bad for a few hours of casual construction work. Most time went into drilling the six big holes.

About the audio: The camera has a very noisy autofocus and the camera was less than 1″ away from my mouth and nose. Not easy shooting this while doing that.

Below you can see the project’s inauguration. It held an eight meter long fishing pole in the air. It’s not perfectly straight but that’s because of the terrain and I didn’t bother to  level the base. The L-stock is perfectly square to the rim. Or as this guy would say: ‘close enough to close enough’. This finished product was used for a single RX loop in the WAECW contest. With two persons it should take about a minute to anchor the construction to the ground and strap the pole to it. Looks like a real FD asset.

WAECW: Love it or hate it. I love it. Always have since I accidentally got sucked up by it in 2001. What QTC? Why do they all send ‘QTC?’? After that I got trained in copying QTC for 2002. Yes: the QTC game. Nothing more fun than copying a bunch of 36 WPM (or more?) QTC and not messing up. Don’t expect high rates. It’s a slow contest and for once it’s not about rate. It’s mostly about multipliers. There’s always nice and rare DX on. And you get to work it. Even if you sometimes have to wait until the Powerhouse Rude Boys got their turn. And in the best of cases, that rare DX comes to call you!

I had the weekend more or less to myself and the WX worked with me. Once again it was nice weather with the right ingredients. I set up Friday afternoon. That is the same old boring routine. Crank up the tower, disconnect 160 for this one, put up 80 and reinstall the RX loop and the DoG (dipole on ground). Don’t know if this RX stuff really helps. I sometimes think they do, sometimes it’s noise all over anyhow. I might do a dedicated RX test this winter. I took the other DoG (pet) for a run while riding my bicycle along and enjoyed one of the most picturesque sunsets in a long time. Actually not El Sol was the star in the picture but the silhouette of my tower and antennas on a yellow background. That sight combined with the smell of harvested wheat and freshly pressed straw bales made me lyrical. I love living on the countryside. And you know it’s WAE CW when the shack windows are open to create a breeze and you miss the weak QSB infested serial number when yet another tractor or harvester does a roaring drive-by.

For the third contest in a row (IARU and EUHFC preceded) I repeated my new mantra: no expectations, no targets, no pressure – just fun. And it worked. Add to that no strategic planning of the off times combined with a laid back attitude and I found myself having fun. And when it wasn’t fun, I just took a break. A shower, a snack. Out for a walk with the dog. Watch a movie I recorded on the HDD. I watched in two sessions. I enjoyed a good 15m opening in between. But I need to tell you about the start of the contest.

I decided to sleep first and start later. When the alarm rang I hit snooze. When it rang again I just told the alarm to keep quiet. So it was 0215 UTC when I got out of bed. I was a bit cranky because of the brutal wakeup. I switched everything on and started to run on 40. Through the high isolation headphones I heard a rattling sound under my first CQ. A relay? What is it? The rig? The amp? It was the rotator controller! What? In twelve years it never missed a beat. Whenever I keyed the rig with more than 300W, the controller went crazy. I tried on 80: the same! Why does this device fail me now? It’s never a good time for a hardware failure but please not now.

Engage analytic mind. It’s only when more than 300W. Not below – clearly RFI. And when not keying, the controller works fine and the antenna turns. So the hardware is fine. I have never seen this in over ten years of QRO operation and there is no new antenna. What is different now than before? Two things: the RX loop and DoG – but I used both in IARU without a problem. Only now I use the underground coax instead of running a spare coax over the lawn. The other difference is: I left the electric tower winch’s plug connected to the 230V AC wall socket outside. Long shot but it’s one thing I normally not do. When the tower is up, I pull the power cord as an extra safety against eager little fingers – and there are twenty of those in and about the house. I disconnected the K3’s RX coax. Didn’t help. I went outside to the garage and did three things: disconnected the winch’s power cord, unscrew and reconnect the RX coax line from the underground coax and unplug and reconnect the rotator’s control line. I can break that one up in the garage when it’s a thunderstorm. Back in the shack things got fixed: even with 1000 W the controller didn’t click. What was the cause? My guess is that there was a more-or-less bad contact where the rotator cable is split in the garage. Pulling it apart and sliding it back together might have solved it. It never returned during the rest of the weekend and I was off to the races.

I enjoyed most of the contest. Conditions are what they are. But now that we have the RBN, I see that there is more propagation than activity. You might think a band is dead when no one answers. Yet my signal is received all over the world. VK4CT’s skimmer even picks me up on 80 most of the time when there is a path of darkness between us. On 40 the RBN gives me good S/N from JA over ZL to PY. Yet I don’t log much from that side of the world… Too bad.

Sometimes things were slow, even to WAE standards. Lower bands were noisy. Ten meters opened up to USA for a brief moment but enough to catch a dozen multipliers if you include the Canadians. Fifteen was quite good Sunday evening around sunset here. Even a few true Californians logged. No sixers from the east coast. This year just like any other I suffered the occasional EU caller. Some were persevering.

I mentioned the big gun hot shot spot hoppers before. And I might have also mentioned the follow observation. As soon as a spot appears, the second radio or mult station immediately and frantically starts calling. They have to outgun each other and in doing so they fail to listen and call too much. Then the DX sends ‘…5NN 123’ and no one has heard to whom he comes back. If we’re lucky it remains silent for the DX to repeat. But it also happens that the silence is used for someone to send his call again, to have the others do the same. Which takes us back to square one. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200 or a mult for this matter. It’s even funnier when such a loud blind caller gets picked, and then has to ask for multiple repeats to get the serial right. More than once I happen to copy the serial the first time. Either I have better ears myself or my stations has. If that’s the way to get more multipliers than me, if that is the answer to the question why they always get so much more multipliers, then I’m glad to settle for a few less.

Always a treat when DX calls me. Especially on 80 which is not the easiest of bands with a simple wire and in noisy summertime. Even better when the face behind the call turns out to be familiar (hi Nate @TI5W). Regular caller Rich K3OO only gave me one lousy QTC. A few minutes later he came back and offered me a full plate of nine QTC. Yeehaw! And thanks for the generous comeback. I think VO1MP sent me the fastest ten QTC of this edition. I was flirting with my copying speed limit but Yeehaw squared: flawless copy. That’s the thrill I was talking about.

I am happy with the result: 930 QSO and 1400 QTC. I didn’t operate the whole 36 hours. N1MMLOgger+ tells me I only operated twenty eight hours. That means I could have done eight more. Imagine that! I didn’t plan my breaks so I guess I missed some prime time. I didn’t go after every station. I moved only for mult spots. I didn’t aggressively beg for QTC. Just a plain polite question. Great score from OR2F again with low power. Amazing.

Every year I consider doing this one in SSB too. But I just don’t see the fun in this one on sideband…

The XYL is right (for once): I have done a lot of work since spring. First I finished the field day mobile mast installation in May. Early July I traded the X-frame base that holds a pole for a concrete foundation. Next I finished and installed the new small tilt over tower and *drumroll* I finally buried the conduit that takes a bunch of cables across the garden.

This last job was supposed to be done three years ago when we bought the extra lot. But the guy with the excavator broke his word and didn’t come before the new fence was installed. Once the garden was closed, there was no way anymore to enter with a big machine. That left me three options: do nothing, dig by hand or find a smaller mechanized-motorized alternative. The last option would have to be mini because even a medium sized machine would damage the garden.

I’m not afraid of manual digging and I have done my share. Even as a toddler I liked digging holes in my dad’s vegetable garden. Wearing a kid sized overall like the real workers. The record was as deep as I was tall. But this time it meant digging half a meter deep, thirty five to forty meter long through very dense and heavy soil. There are a few companies around that rent small trenching machines. That was it! The smallest fitted my trailer and could easily be driven through the gate and would not turn the lawn into a war zone. Another rental firm had a movie that showed the machine in action. A nice clean cut, a neat heap of loose excavated soil nicely on the side and apart from the trench, the lawn survived unscathed. Little did I know that this was quite a misleading infomercial!

I booked the machine for a day in June when both the XYL and me had a day off. I like some company and a helping hand. I booked the trenching machine for half a day. The trip to and from the company would take an hour to pick it up. And another hour to take it back. I planned an hour of digging and half an hour of pressure wash cleaning. I hooked up the trailer at sunrise and we left home early. We dropped the kids at school way before the bell rang. The forecast put showers on the WX menu but so far it was dry. All went according to plan and by 9 AM I had the machine in place in my backyard and the engine was roaring. It had taken me some time to figure out how to handle the beast but finally I was ready to lower the blade and slice through the dirt. And then it started drizzling. Which soon turned into rain.

To say that we had a wet spring would be an understatement. For a few weeks in May and June, record breaking showers brought liters of rain. This rendered the soil very wet up to more than half a meter deep. And the top layer was soaking wet. As soon as the blade descended into the hole I had dug as a starting point, the machine operator (that’s me!) descended into hell. Unlike in the movie, the machine didn’t bring up a nice portion of loose soil. Instead I got a sticky ball of clay. I hadn’t moved an inch and yet the machine was dirty all over. And dirt all over the lawn too. Faint heart never won fair lady so full throttle and let the blade grind. It started raining heavily so I knew I was in for a muddy ride.

Next problem: there was hardly a ride! The wheels did nothing but slipping over the soaked lawn. The wheels buried themselves instead of moving backwards to dig a trench. No grip whatsoever. I started, no: I exploded into a raging fireball of cursing and swearing. Nothing I could do but try to move a bit, then go back and retry. Soon there was more damage from the wheels than anything else. The machine just sank into the lawn, creating huge holes. Frustrating. Suddenly digging by hand looked appealing. I could do that whenever it was dry and it would have left the lawn intact because I could put the clods with the grass on top back and have a clean garden.

It was then I realized I had been misled by the accompanying video. It’s easy to dig a trench in light and bone-dry soil under a pleasant sun. Then shoot a movie to show how easy and clean it is. In the real world (the one I happen to live in) it becomes a mess when you do it in heavy soaked soil when it’s raining cats and dogs. But the machine was here, the damage was already done and I needed to hurry. Hurrying usually isn’t a good idea – more on that later.

I decided to move the machine to the other side of the garden, where I had planned to finish. That way I could take a clean start and advance in the other direction. The XYL kicked down an open door: “put some boards under the wheels”. As if I hadn’t thought of that myself but I didn’t have anything that came remotely close to use for this purpose. Except for the ramps I rented along to get the machine on and off the trailer. That was it! I took the two aluminum trailer ramps and let the machine drive on that instead of on the lawn. I had to move forward every meter and a half to relocate the ramps but this way the machine actually moved and didn’t dig itself into the ground. Once I had figured out the routine, I was able to finish the job in due time. Actually a little over the budgeted time but I had built in some leeway in the schedule.

During my muddy adventure the XYL had already installed the pressure washer. This was a vital tool as well. After all the terms of the rental stipulated I had to return it spic and span. It was a fairly new machine with the paint still shiny and clean. A least until I started my work. Now I needed to get all the dirt off and make it shine again. As with all jobs, this took longer than anticipated. The pressure washer only worked intermittently. I use this device only once or twice a year and just like always there were some small dirt particles clogging the nozzle. Poke it, wash it. Poke it, wash it. After a few poking cycles the nozzle got freed up and the pressure washer worked at full duty cycle. The dirt stuck stubbornly and huge chunks of lawn were flying around. Me: wet from the rain, wet from the washing, wet from the sweating. Once the trenching machine and the ramps were clean, I took a wet cloth and started wiping and drying the operating console and the joysticks. If I didn’t want to pay for a whole day, we’d better hurry and move the machine on the trailer and get going.

I turned on (or off – depending how you look at it) the ignition safety and pulled the cord to start the engine. It took two tries, I yanked the starter a third time but the engine didn’t start. Which was weird because it started right away the other times I had pulled the cord. I checked the fuel level – more than half full. I was getting pretty annoyed by the impending deadline to return this devilish machine. And so I pulled the cord with my typical enthusiasm and power. The engine didn’t start but I broke the starting cord. Yet another round of profanity for all to enjoy. Now what?

My wife asked from a safe distance: “Did you move that switch into the on position”? Of course I did. “Then why is it still off?”, she replied. Like a raging bull I ran to the machine, called her close and finger-pointed at the ignition switch which I had set in the on position. “No, not that switch, THIS switch here – it’s still off”. HUH? WHAT switch? As it turns out there is an emergency switch on the backside of the operating panel. I didn’t notice it and I accidentally must have hit it with the cloth when cleaning the console. I did wipe the backside clean but did not look at it. That’s why the engine didn’t start when I yanked the cord. But Lady Hawk Eye had seen this switch.

Returning the machine in time became impossible. Returning it at any point in time was impossible as long as the engine wouldn’t start. I can hold my own in French but this time I asked my sweetheart to do the call. I was too effed up to talk in French. The rental company is in the French speaking part of the country and they don’t speak any Dutch there. Hell, they speak nothing but French there. Apparently these guys weren’t too eager to send a repair tech. Soon the talk got too technical and the XYL handed over her phone and walked away. Left to my own devices. They wanted me to unmount the starter, go there for a repair, come home to mount the fixed starter, and then load up the machine and take it back. That meant the rest of the day commuting and burning diesel. I got some quick guidelines over the phone on how to dismantle the starter. They must have taken me for an idiot because all it took was loosening three M8 bolts and take off the cover. My area of expertise does not cover combustion motors and I certainly don’t perform surgery on a machine that isn’t mine but for which I did pay a 300 Euro warrant. As it turns out, the part they wanted me to bring in for repair was a small spool with a piece of rope and the other piece of cord that broke off. If this is all there is to it, it’s something I can fix myself. Err, no I can’t. Fingers too fat and rope too small so I called in the XYL. She tied the loose ends together and wound up the rope. I reassembled the starter and tried starting the engine. Nothing to lose. All I can do is win. This time with the emergency switch disengaged of course. It took a few pulls because the rope was now shorter and it was hard to get the motor over the critical point. But I heard the engine was eager to start. I couldn’t yank too hard because that would either break the cord again or loosen the knot. But then the engine started and I ecstatically drove it up the ramps and onto the trailer. In the end the company did only charge me half a day and did refund the complete deposit. Neither did they charge me for the broken cord. Which I guess is more the southern style of the country: laid back and relaxed. That’s why I forgive them their monolingualism ☺☺

As it turns out, as soon as the digging was done, the sky cleared up and it stopped raining for the rest of the day. Apart from the bad start I was quite happy. In two places I had to deepen the trench a few inches by scooping out dirt with a pickaxe. And apart from the place where I didn’t use the ramps to drive the machine on, the lawn was pretty intact. Now I needed to get the conduit in. I chose to put all the wire and cables in the conduit first before laying it in the trench. It was a gamble but I wanted to put as much copper in the 50mm tube as possible. That means: one RG-213, one RG-217 (1/2”), one 3G1.5, one 3G2.5 and one ‘two pair balanced audio’. A remainder of my career as broadcast service techie. This is in fact two shielded twisted pairs. Good to drive some relays or so. I have no clue what I’m going to do with all this. But it opens up perspectives now that all these cables run from the garage to the most remote part of the garden. Out of sight and out of reach. The RX loop antenna had booked one coax already.

All this copper makes for a long and heavy sausage. I had to call in the XYL a few times to squeeze this copper baloney through the conduit. In retrospect I shouldn’t have asked her that. She’s strong but simply lacks the muscles for this kind of job. And I get cranky because can’t see why something that goes for me doesn’t go for anyone else. We had to do this job two times: once to get the whole length into the conduit and then the excess length into another existing conduit that I put underground when we rednewed the terrace in 2009. Even my wife, who is always friendly, reverted to world class Olympic gold medal winning profanity while she was cursing me and I quote: ‘your F***ING cables’. I was proud that she finally swore along with me. I was the ‘swearee’ but that’s a small price to pay.

The cables terminate into a metal powder coated cabinet. This is put in the concrete floor of the dog’s kennel with four threaded rods size M8 and chemical anchoring. And two and a halve tubes of silicon sealant. I gave the cabinet two coats of quality paint and I put several cable glands on it. Even two big ones where I can put an RG-213 through that has a PL or N style plug already attached. That makes it easy to get runs of spare coax in and out of the cabinet without cutting and soldering.

My dad had half a trailer of dry, light and fertile soil in excess. I picked that up and distributed it on top of the closed trench and used it to fill the holes. This light dirt is ideal to get the lawn seed germinating. My youngest of four and a half helped me out to sow the grass. It took three weeks of daily watering to cover all the dirt with fresh green grass. Done!

This is one of the projects that take a huge amount of time to finish. I’m glad it’s finally done and I hope to harvest the fruits of my labor in the coming years.

Finally a perfect contest. Everything was perfect or close enough.

This is the perfect contest format: only twelve hours so you’re done before it gets slow and boring and before you fall asleep. It has CW for the real contester, SSB for those who don’t know CW and mixed mode for those who like their shots diluted.

It’s the perfect contest for those with limited antennas. No DX to be worked, only EU-EU so those with smaller and lower antennas get their share of fun too. And there is a lot to be worked, you never run out of stations to work.

It was the perfect weather here. Dry and no wind. Warm enough but not hot. No thunderstorms close by.

It was the perfect timing: I badly needed a perfect contest.

I wouldn’t be myself if among all this perfectness I wouldn’t point out some less perfect items. Like the QRN from thunderstorms to the east of me: Italy, the Balkan, the Baltic states. Which is exactly where I point the yagi from here (90°). Although the QRN was more pronounced on the low bands. And the propagation. At the start I thought I was without 10/15 but that more or less solved itself along the way.

But these two little beauty spots could not ruin my perfect contest. I never did so well in this one and broke my personal record from 2013.

  • Best score:  390567   now: 432378
  • Most QSO:  1289        now: 1378
  • Most mults:  303        now: 314

I had a very slow start. I tried ten meters but it was almost dead. Not many callers and all weak signals. I didn’t want to get on 20 from the start. I commuted between ten and fifteen meter but it was slow. I had come to terms with 2016 being a slow year with average scores and this contest would not be an exception.

I decided to use the online score board. Two of my fellow countrymen joined in: OP5T and OR5T. It drove me mad to see them run away from me. Especially OP5T built a big score. I knew this was only possible by running on twenty meters which seemed to be the only productive band. So I decided to let it go and continue my own tactic. That is: try to make the most of 10/15 because 20 will be good later on too. In the meantime OR5T and I switched positions on each update but OP5T ran away and was in the top 5 position. I was… top 20 material. I’m a nice guy and I grant everyone their pleasure and success but my contesting ego wanted to restore the Belgian pecking order.

The second clock hour was above 100. This was acceptable especially coming from a first hour of only 75. But not what it should and could be. Then the rate picked up and I was on a roll. I left both my Belgian friends behind and could focus on a few other calls and climb my way to the sub-top. You can say many things about the online score board but just like in IARU last month, it added an extra dimension and made me stay focused and active when things got slow.

After the slow start the rate picked up and stayed high enough. My personal benchmark has become: try to work 100 QSO/hr averaged over the duration of the contest. So this would mean 1200 QSO in 12 hour. It became clear that this goal was within reach and along the way I logged more multipliers and a higher score than ever before. So in the end I was very happy. I would have never believed this eleven hours earlier.

Graph courtesy of N1MMLogger+

Graph courtesy of N1MMLogger+

Each year the question arises: how do the top scorers get so many multipliers??? And why can’t I?

I found Top Band to be very noisy and no skimmer outside of EU picked me up. I look at the propagation on the RBN and indeed: there was not a single EU-DX trace on the map. Only inside EU. This accounts for the lousy state in which 160m was.

After the contest I posted my score on 3830 and sent in the log because I was going away on Sunday. At night I went outside for a fresh nose and to flex the sore muscles. And a pee for the dog. The sky was clear and I got overwhelmed by a huge sense of satisfaction. This really was the perfect contest!

I know that many readers have been holding their breath since last year’s sneak preview. Finally I finished this project.

When we bought this house, there was no cable TV. That was the very first thing we ordered and had installed. Not so much for TV but for broadband internet. The previous owner, an old widow, used a rusty satellite dish and some disintegrating VHF/UHF antennas. These were mounted on a six meter high steel tower that held another two meter mast on top. I couldn’t care less for the antennas but the structure was a nice bonus for someone who had to build an amateur radio station from scratch. It held the first dipole legs and later on L wires and elevated radials up high for many years. But as I said: the TV antennas were falling apart. The tower itself was completely corroded. Not a trace of galvanizing or paint. Cracks were appearing in several places. And the installer didn’t spend much on the concrete base. The foundation was simply too small and the whole tower sank away together the sinking base. A few degrees closer to the ground each year. Needless to say this was bound to go wrong one day.

I removed the TV antennas ten years ago. I didn’t like climbing this small tower nor put a ladder against it because the tubes may have been rotting from the inside. I had been wondering what to do when I removed the old tower. After all it was a vital point in my low band system. And how to get rid of this dreaded heap of rust? Without damaging the hedge, the fencing, the house, the crops on the adjacent lot…

The replacement issue was simple: I would make my own small steel tower. Not that I have a bucket list, but if I ever had one, ‘weld yourself a tower’ would have made the list. I am not a welder nor a fabricator but I file myself under ‘wannabe metal worker’. I had to decide how high. Six meters would do, like it is now, with some tubing on top. Triangular or square? I settled for square. Since I cannot get more than three meter lengths on my trailer, I decided to make two sections each three meter long and then weld them together. It would cost me more to have six or eight meter sections delivered to my doorstep than the bill for the steel itself.

I wanted a lightweight (relative of course) structure that I could tilt over. Light means I’d better not climb it. Tilting it over means easy access for antenna experiments and safer when yet another record storm is upon us. I calculated the weight of two designs. A triangular model with round tubing and diagonal cross bracing or a square model with L shaped flat stock. Since the weight for the same length was about the same for both models, I opted for the square design since that seemed easier to weld inside the construction.

I made the base for the tilting in summer 2015. I also made an anchor with six M16 threaded rods that I put in a new concrete base. By the end of last year’s summer I had given the base three coats of quality paint and bolted it to the concrete base. And I finished the lower section of the tower. That was the end of summer and the tower section hibernated in the garage. When my 2016 summer holidays started I wanted to finish this project ASAP.

Welding the second tower part was easy now that I knew how and how not. I had made a jig to keep the corner profiles at the exact spacing when welding the cross members. Joining the two parts in a straight line and not warped was a real PITA. In the end I just yelled ’To hell with it’ and welded away. A few hits with the hammer and the result was pretty acceptable. It would of course be much easier if I had a loooooooong welding table and not just a 80×80 cm plate. I had to use a ladder on each end to support the ends and then try to align both sections in the middle on the table. All by myself. If I had to start over I would first join the individual L stock and then weld the six meter long tower in one piece. Actually, knowing what I know now I would probably go for the triangular model with round tubing, with what I know now.

Next up: painting. One layer of anti-rust base coating. Two layers of high quality finish. Dark green for the lower quart, the other part mat gray. This turned out to be a pretty good choice to minimize visual impact. The base section blends in the crops and trees. The upper section blends in the sky. Painting this construction with a brush was no fun. It’s only corners and edges. For the finishing I decided to dilute the paint a bit and used the paint gun. I should have done this for the primer and the other layers too.

I had planned to remove the old tower and install the new all by myself. I knew this wasn’t a smart plan and in the end I asked my neighbor to give me a hand. We have done many jobs together here and at his place. He’s my age and a real DIY-guy too so I knew his assistance would be very welcome. It took us half an hour to remove the old tower. I cut the tubes with an angle grinder. This is the machine I fear the most. Especially since I didn’t know how the tower would behave. I was afraid the cutting disk might jam when the slicing through the tube. My assistant kept the tower tensioned in the direction it needed to fall. No margin for error! I decided not to cut through all the pipes and lattice bars. In the end the tower was just held by a few points. I whacked it with my heavy hammer and suddenly it snapped and fell right where it needed to land. What a relief, really! I cut the thing in half and loaded it on the trailer. Good riddance! The plan is to clean the mess at the base and cover the concrete with something (woodchips? gravel? huge flower pot?).

Then it was time to put the new tower on its tilting base. Last year’s sneak preview movie is the evidence that it should fit and actually it did. But there is no way I would have done this without the help of my neighbor-friend. Not even the XYL would have been of any use (sorry my dear). When the hinging bolt was in place and secured, I put the tower straight up vertically. I was very glad to see it was straight. The construction was not bent and it was square with respect to the horizon. This was confirmed by holding a level against it. This was important to me because I see things being level, straight and square as good craftsmanship as opposed to the poor work of a quack.

To end the job I only had to mount the three meter aluminum tube on top. This is in fact the boom of my old three element monoband yagi for 28 MHz. It holds two pulleys. One for the L-wire for 160 and one for who knows what. I also put an eye bolt in one of the cross members. This holds the rope to tension one of the 80m elevated radials. To make the tilting easier I looked for some counterweight at the base. I had some old fitness weights lying around. I used a threaded rod to make a ‘weight satay’. This counterweight helps but some more weight would be welcome as it’s pretty hard to get it down or up. I will look in the scrap container for some heavy stock next time I’m at the steel yard. Or just fill a PVC conduit with concrete and put a rod through it.

This project took a big bite out of my spare time. Time for the hobby but during which I didn’t get to fill the log. I’m very glad the old crooked tower is gone. And I’m glad with the result of this construction project. Time will tell if I did the job right. Will it last as long as the tower I just cut into pieces..?

And what about the ugly? That’s how the bad looks. Read along.

Today the results came out. Turns out I am Numero Uno in the 12 hours subcategory. I think I did not even operate the full twelve hours. I have a pretty low error percentage, in fact the best of all. That’s what I aim for: logging accuracy.

So far for the good. Too bad that the stupid WX made me quit early. That’s the bad.

This afternoon I had to take some parts out of my plastic field day container. I was shocked to see that it was very wet inside. The rain and thunderstorm during field day didn’t affect this box? And it was dry when I put everything in it. The container was sealed and put under a shelf in the garage so it can’t be from recent showers. Yet everything was wet and a musty rotten smell penetrated my nostrils. Some ropes even had mold on them. There you have it: the ugly!

Then it hit me. When I put everything away, it was seemingly dry but in fact it wasn’t. Many lengths of rope had soaked up all the water. Afterwards it evaporated in the sealed container only to condensate right away. This caused the nasty smell and the mold stains on some items. That did not happen last year because it was dry and warm. This year it was wet from the rain at night and the fog Sunday morning.

Lesson learned: before storing the container for another year, let the ropes dry a for couple of days.

I have been thinking about doing SSB field day, but OT1A has failed to answer my request so far ☺