Everything ON5ZO / OQ5M has to ventilate about ham radio.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This one was almost a week ago! I didn’t feel like writing something because… because of many reasons but mainly because it’s hard not to repeat oneself in this niche market of ham radio blogging. Here we go, in short.

Weather was good. For a change! The tower was still 2/3rd up after the ARRL DX CW a week before. I cranked it completely up on Saturday morning and unhooked the 160 wire so I could hoist up the remaining 80m wire in an optimum fashion.

The Belgian participants can pick between 6/12/24 hour categories. I used to do 12 but since a few years I’ve been doing 24. Because I suck at planning breaks. You can catch some sleep nevertheless without missing too much. I stuck to this plan this year too. I might have planned the sleep at the wrong time. What’s new? But I was tired and things went too slow to keep on trying.

Belgians seemed to be absent. Or at least I didn’t see too many spotted and didn’t hear many. Small country, few hams, not a real contesting mentality and passionate CW contest operators are scarce around here. My only concern was local fellow club member OR5T whom you probably worked in the past as ON4ALY. He was omnipresent on the air as I S&P’d, he called me when I was running and I saw plenty spots for him. And he always gave big numbers. At a given point he was handing out bigger numbers than me. That was after a break that I had planned to be short but that turned out longer since I fell asleep. Told‘ya I was tired. I needed to catch up since I thought he would be in my category. Hard to catch up in the middle of the night in this contest. The average rate was pretty low still I managed to catch up and decided to catch some more sleep. I caught up once, I’ll do it again.

Then the sun rose. SR on 40/80 was a bust. No VK/ZL. On 80 I’m not used to working into Down Under, it’s always a treat. But in CW on 40? Strange I didn’t work one. Other than that it was fun. The result is about the same as least year; slightly better with a dozen more mults. But not as good as record year 2012 where participation was massive. I think participation was a bit down this year. I made 1477 real QSO with quite some dupes (not counted).

After the contest I decided to lower the tower again to 2/3rd because they predicted two windy days. No storm though. That forecast turned out to be spot on. Strong gusts but no problem. So with this setup, I might just make a few QSO this weekend in the ARRL DX SSB too.

See previous post: no full time effort. After a turbulent 36 hours the wind finally calmed down and the sun even came out on Sunday. The forecast showed acceptable weather the coming days so I decided to crank up the tower one level. It was still windy enough so I had to fight with all the ropes but after almost ten years, I’ve got it mastered.

I didn’t want to say it too loud but my hopes were set to 1k QSO. Around 1200 utc I started on 20m because I thought it was too early for 15/10. After a slow few contacts I decided to go to fifteen meters anyway. The rate went up but not spectacular. After about 150 contacts I went to ten meters. KABOOM! Rate bomb!


The only two slow hours in between were when I took a break for dinner overlapping the two clock hours. By this time the winds had completely disappeared, not even a gentle breeze. I enjoyed ten minutes outside watching a very nice moonrise. I could actually hear nature in stead of the eerie noises made by the strong winds the previous days (weeks). This scenery was relaxing, the calm of nature, seeing the moon rise and knowing that the 1000 QSO were within reach with the best time for 20 still ahead and a virgin forty meters band.

It was a close race but just before the bell rang I logged my 1400th contact in less than twelve hours. In short: it was fun. Let’s hope for the end of the crappy weather and that the propagation stays with us.

After the contest OT1A asked, given the rates, if it makes a difference cranking up the tower another level, going from an antenna height of 14-15m to 21-22m above the ground. The answer is:

  • NO if you’re only in it for the fun like I was now.
  • YES if you do an all out serious effort.

The biggest difference is on 20m where the antenna of course is too low then for sustained DX runs. At a full wave it’s even so-so. If the antenna is higher, the band stays open longer especially to W6/7 and VE6/7. The difference between 2/3rd or fully up is big on that band on that path. On the other bands just like on 20 you don’t get to work the second or even third layer of weaker small pistols.

But this setup works great even at the lower height, especially given its modest size and visual impact. It works very well when it’s up all the way. Apples and oranges of course, but a modest tower, a small tribander and a rotary dipole with some copper wire for 80/160 provide tons of fun and can achieve pretty good scores. Pretty good, but not good enough to get to WRTC…

Warning: Nerd metaphor ahead! 

Freezing cold in North America and way too hot for the season in Europe. That reminds me of a peltier element.

Warned ‘ya.

It’s after 1AM local time on Saturday as I type this. By now I should have logged a bunch of Americans and Canadians already leaving my 40m antenna steaming in the cold. After all the ARRL DX CW is one of my favourite contests. But there is no freezing cold and the streak of storms bringing warm air isn’t over yet so I carve another notch in the stick. One more storm, the stick is running short. Last week on Friday (100km/hr), two days ago on Wednesday (70-80 km/hr) and right now (90-100 km/hr predicted) and things are said to get worse the coming twelve hours. I’ll be glad if I still have all my antennas functioning in twelve hours from now.

It’s useless for me to go to bed. Apart from the worrying about the tower and antennas, there are the noises like howling wind, rattling window shutters, the utility cable… And not to forget the TV distribution coax cable that run across the street from a pole to the wall of the house. This cable swings in the wind but during strong winds it moves so far that it bumps against the roof tiles. And I sleep lie awake right under these roof tiles. So I decided to stay downstairs and burn some midnight oil. I’d rather be contesting but this POS WX just keeps on sticking rods in my wheels. Lost CQ WW SSB, my low band DX season in December down the drain and in January a crippled version of the UBA DX SSB. All because of never ceasing very strong winds and a bunch of storms.

To put things in perspective: I admit that it’s just an inconvenience. So far there is no damage here. Only a dipole that needs to be realigned with the yagi. If your entire antenna farm gets bent because of an ice storm (East Coast USA) or if there is water in your house for over six weeks, or if hurricane force winds batter your tower for weeks on end (UK), it’s a different story. But since my own frame of reference is a bit less catastrophic, having to sit out yet another contest in stead of participating in it is no fun.

To kill time and get some distraction I decided to start with the UBA DX SSB log checking. The log submission deadline had passed a few days ago. The checking went along pretty well. I spent a great amount of time coding it up in previous years so that 99% or more of the QSO can be accurately checked automatically. Only weird exceptions, busted calls, two way contacts logged on different bands (who is right?) and goofball QSO that can’t be accurately tracked by a machine require human intervention. So I let the process run and watched some TV. Then I started going through the manual part.

On two occasions the wind gusts were so hard that I went upstairs to look through the window and check if the antennas were fine. There is no window on the ground level that gives a view on the tower. It turned out they were looking OK but it’s always crossing fingers. At around 4AM local time the TV channel was having hiccups once in a while. I guessed it was a problem on the TV station’s end but changing the channel had no effect. By now the DVB / MPEG decoder showed a message that the signal was dropping out. No worries since Internet cable access was still functioning. I can live without TV but I’m hooked on online connectivity. Hooked for practical reasons, not addicted! I was getting so tired I quit log checking with the finish in sight and hit the couch. I woke up around 7 AM and wanted to check WX charts online. No internet anymore and the TV decoder still had no signal. The cable modem indicated loss of signal too. My fear was that the never ending violent swinging of the coax running across the street made the cable break. Actually if this would be the only damage, I will be glad since it’s not something I need to fix myself. A call to the utility / cable company would get things fixed. If my antennas fall down it’s a job for myself.

It was getting light outside so I raised the window roller shutter on the side facing the cable and the utility pole. It was still up there, which is good. But the connection to the junction box on the utility pole might be broken. That is something I can not check myself. As a desperate measure I did what I always do when trying to troubleshoot an electronic system: unplug AC power, count 10 crocodiles (alligators work too), plug power cord back in. I did my magic trick with the active signal splitter and the cable modem. Sure enough: all the right led’s were blinking. TV and WWW restored.

The rest of Saturday was spent inside. Trying to kill time and get my mind of the fact that I won’t be making two thousand contacts with W/VE this time. I ran some errands, watched some TV, played with the kids. The storm moved on and only the occasional gust remained. Pretty strong gusts but in the light of the recent storms, it’s all relative. By the end of the day I went outside and did a small tour in the garden. How I long for dry and calm weather so I can start all my planned projects. Some ham radio related, some just plain work in the garden. But I need to get out and not be stuck inside. I could live with being stuck in the shack running contests, but not being held hostage by Atlantic depressions.

I also managed to finish the entire log checking. Less than three weeks after the contest. A record. There weren’t as many logs as before (530 or so) and the number of contacts was down too (only 80 000 two way contacts). Checking the CW contest is much more work because of double the number of logs and at least triple the number of contacts. But for now I’ll put the SSB part in the fridge and prepare to accept the CW logs of next week’s contest.

Next week’s contest? Oh drat – current WX forecasts seem to indicate yet another increase in average wind speed and strong gusts. No storm is on the maps right now, but I really don’t trust it. It’s high time for me to do another CW contest since my last serious all out effort was CQ WW CW 2013. That’s almost three months. No wonder I have the contester’s blues. Bloody weather!

So in due time REALLY SOON I hope I can leave this streak of ditched contests and storm related post behind and start talking again about high rates, exotic multipliers, broken records, new antennas, improved radial systems, burying extra coax and control cables, added RX antennas, plans to put up an entire new yagi etc.

Who’d have thought?

 Humboldts in the wild on the coast of Peru and Chile can be subjected to some pretty wild extremes of weather. What they don’t get though is weeks of almost daily downpours and high winds. After the first week out birds were just a bit subdued, but after over a month now, they are thoroughly fed-up and miserable, much like the rest of us.

There you go. Read the full article here.

This season indeed has become a horror winter as some quack predicted. Not because of toe biting cold and snow piling up. I wish! It’s just too darn hot this time of the year. And rain falls down by the buckets accompanied by wind and entangled in more long lasting showers and genuine storms. I’ve lost track of how many periods with storm like winds. I think four or five since December. And that’s not counting the two sudden short lived storm fronts early and end of January. And in between more wind and rain and every two weeks one dry, calm and sunny day to make you long for summer. Only to brutally interrupt the dream with yet another round of wind and rain.

Anyway these depressing depressions just won’t go. In stead they keep coming. Bringing lots of precipitation and strong winds for days on end. And another few are aligned to make both humans and penguins miserable the coming days. That means after a bunch of contests already missed (WW SSB & 9ACW) or done crippled with a low tower (RAEM & UBA SSB), my yearly round of ARRL DX CW currently also goes down the drain. It’s becoming ridiculous. I keep my fingers crossed but it seems the wind speed will be a tad too high on Friday to crank up the tower. Mind you: it’s not only because of this tower situation that the weather drives me crazy. It’s also because you just have to stay inside. And I like to be outdoors. Walk the dog. Work in the garden. Work on some DIY projects. It’s not something that you do in strong winds and continuous rain pouring down. And the lack of sunlight has other effects on the human body and soul too. Vitamin D anyone? My gloomy moods caused by this depressing WX can be traced back to my early teens. Maybe even earlier. I could never cope with this crappy weather for days on end. Let alone weeks. Or months…

Back to ham radio! I hang out on the bands anyway. Chasing R22 Russians goes well with the low yagi. What’s up with that? They are very wanted. And the WARC vertical might not be a good antenna, it makes for some DX anyway. And there’s FT5ZM. I decided not to go there anymore and leave the monkey business to the monkeys. But I can’t help it, it’s stronger than me. So I found myself trying to work FT5ZM on 10m SSB. At least: that’s what the cluster said. The operator signed ‘QRZ’ with an US English tongue. And only QRZ. Not even ‘QRZUP’ anymore. The crisis cuts deep so we need to economize. At a given point after I had tried calling a dozen times, I decided to count. Nineteen QSO and seven minutes without any ID or information on where to send. Not counting the elapsed time and contacts made during the period I was calling and not yet counting. Then the operator had a brilliant idea to ID: “FT5ZM listening 500 for North America South America’. So the trick is to only ID and give away your listening frequency when working NA/SA. Screw EU. That policy got officialised later on. And so he started working USA listening on 28500. That’s when I walked away.

Yesterday we had wind gusts up to 100 km/hr as measured by the national meteorological institute. By the time I got home this deep storm depression had already moved north. Strange: around noon before there was a light storm and by 1600 was virtually no wind. Visually all was ok up the tower. The 40m dipole still is shifted from a previous storm a few weeks ago. But it didn’t move further away. Nor did it get blown back into place. I fired up the station and did a quick RX / SWR check and everything was still working. I went down to prepare evening dinner, do some household chores and play with the kids and forgot about the shack. When I went upstairs to go to bed late in the evening, I heard all the fans blowing which reminded me I still had to switch everything off.

But what does a ham radio operator do? Switch it off? No. In stead he quickly scans the bands and calls CQ. Like on 30m. I must admit: RBN showed a few FT5ZM spots. They were very weak on 10115 but the Americans calling them were loud. So my own CQ harvested about twenty Americans. Best was Texas and a real whiskey zero. One VE1. And a HS0. And a FG. Then the cluster showed a German spotting FT5ZM on 20 CW. It was way past local midnight but RBN showed reasonable S/N values from EU skimmers so why not? I turned the antenna (being only 8m high) to 120°. I heard one EU coming back and threw in my call. Worked FT5ZM on 20 CW. It makes a huge difference if / when the EU monkeys are asleep! I decided to go to bed but then RBN showed fresh spots for them on 30. It was a welcome change that the operator signed ‘FT5ZM UP 2’ after every QSO. Thanks OM. I had a small problem copying them. They were pretty loud but an ongoing nearby QSO caused QRM. I worked them in the end for my fourth CW QSO with Amsterdam. Sweet dreams EU Monkeys. Then this EU monkey went to bed too…

Yeah I know – I said I would let the FT5ZM chalice pass from me. But this morning I needed to get out of the living room because the XYL hosted a small meeting. So I fired up the rig and the small amp. And looked for some FT5ZM signals. And found one on 21 MHz CW. The signal was not too strong but quite OK. I called a few times and then he went away. Not by QSB but what seemed to be an abrupt QRT. Shortly after, in the order of maybe one or two minutes if that long, he CQed again on the same frequency but the signal was… a tad stronger? Sounding less DX? Anyway it wasn’t the same to my ears. I was the first he came back to after this brief pause. WFWL applies, but it wouldn’t surprise me to get Amsterdamned on this one with a NIL.

Then ten meters CW. Quite easy, even with the tower down and ‘only’ 500W. Five elements on 0.8 lambda did the trick. After that I tried 10m SSB but gave up pretty fast. I used the Reversed Beacon site to look for possible other CW frequencies. What’s that you say? Me a lame ass DXer? Guilty. I might have a problem with people hopping spots and not tuning in between during a contest, but obviously this is something else.

There was one RBN spot on 17m but it showed a very low S/N figure. But not yet spotted on the cluster. Aha! That might be just my luck. Sure enough, the DX was audible. Barely deflecting one block on the LCD S-meter but I’ve logged weaker DX. ‘CQ FT5ZM FT5ZM UP’. I listened up but no one came back. At least: I didn’t hear anyone answering. What followed was more than twenty times ‘CQ FT5ZM FT5ZM UP’ while I tried sending up from 800Hz to a few kHz up and anywhere in between. I didn’t have a clue where to send because no one came back. Come to think of it, I didn’t try calling simplex. There seemingly were no other callers so it wouldn’t trigger a lid-copfest. Anyway he was just CQing in my and everyone’s face until he came back to a SM3. I quickly scanned and found someone sending ‘…NN TU’. But even there he CQed in my face and it was only a matter of seconds until it happened:

SM3CCM-@   18081.4 FT5ZM    CQ CQ CQ - 3 UP      1009 29 Jan
RI1ANT     18081.5 FT5ZM    LSN 18084.1          1009 29 Jan

So it was SM3CCM whom he worked. Game over. Soon after this cluster spot a pile up developed and I decided to quit. This WARC band vertical really is not worth much. I already figured that out but this confirmed my hunch.

The signal on 12 CW on the other hand was pretty good. I felt it might work but then two things happened. First off some moron was tuning his amp right on top of the DX. That’s the reason why I avoid these DXpeditions. This barbaric misbehaviour makes me want to shove an entire yagi into this idiot’s rear body cavity and then take as long as he does to tune my big amplifier. Don’t tell me all this is not on purpose! Can one really be this clumsy by accident? Anyway the pig’s signal eventually went away. Back to FT5ZM until:

R7CA-@     24893.9 R1CN        up    ne rabotaut oni simplex
F5JGA      24894.0 R1CN        stop
SQ5LTL     24894.0 R1CN        :) smart
R1CN       24894.0 R1CN        ARE YOU CRAZY ???

R1CN or at least and most probably someone else using this callsign decided to wipe away FT5ZM under an S9+++ signal repeating this callsign for a few minutes on end. By this time the meeting downstairs ended and I had heard enough retarded operators. It was time for lunch and some decompression.

I’m anxious to see if the 15m QSO was genuine or a pirate. Where is that online log anyway?

I was just about to post this late in the evening as the online log became available on Clublog and there you go: 15 AND 10 CW IN THE LOG.  ;-)


My best hour in CQ WW CW 2013? That’s 169 QSO. Running on 28040 with some second radio QSO on 14 MHz.

Here’s how I now: > LINK <

Thanks to R5GA for crunching the numbers. Credit to N0AX, editor of the ARRL Contest Update for pointing this out.

While 169 is not bad for an average station from an ubiquitous country like Belgium with no particular propagational advantage, it isn’t my best clock hour. I seem to remember that was 175 in a RAEM contest a few years ago.

Not quite: my best hour is 179 in CQ WW CW 2011. On 40 nonetheless, With a rotary dipole  :-)

NOTE: I almost never use cut numbers so I send ’5NN 14′ and sign ‘TU OQ5M’ after all QSO, except when I just logged a smooth QSO and I have a full call or a good clue of a partial for a second caller. But never more than two contacts in a row without signing. No endless series of didit  here.

I don’t often have these high rates, and a few hours of these in a row already is intense. Imagine what a few 250 hours must be. Zone 8 and 9 seem to be the place to be, as well as the closer by z33 to a lesser degree. I really should try that one day…

First off, an apology to John AE5X for being tardy with this post. I hope you manage to be okay? HI HI BTW good point you made there OM.

Well this turned out to be a long write up. In a nutshell: not much contesting. More babysitting. And a lot of WX related text.

No matter how careful you plan, no matter how thoroughly you prepare, you just can’t win from Murphy and his friends accomplices in the WX department. Yes my loyal followers, this story involves wind again. They should call the season winDer. Winter gets easily associated with snow, frost, nature coming to a halt. So far around here it’s been too warm, the precipitation has been all too fluid and the wind has blown too hard even stormy. Even my friend OT1A suffers a minor inconvenience from the strong wind gusts as of lately. Let’s hope this is a one off season and not the start of a new era.

Already a few months ago the XYL had planned a night out this Saturday. We arranged a sleepover for the kids so I could be in the shack. They were supposed to spend the night at our friends’ place. They have two kids, we have to kids, they have plenty of beds – what more could I possibly ask for? The ‘were supposed to’ gives it away already.

As usual the week before a contest I monitor a dozen of WX sites and compile my own forecast. By now I know who has it right in the long run and who is accurate on short notice. The predicted wind speed early last week was looking manageable. Some values were flirting with my self imposed limit to crank up the tower, but no show stopping figures. Until Thursday evening. Belgium’s biggest commercial TV station predicted 6 Bft Saturday overnight. With an explicit verbal warning to boot. WTF? Out of the blue. I cross checked online but no other source talked about this. Friday morning all values were back to normal, the site in question lowered wind speed from six to three Beaufort. Except for one site that talked about severe weather early Saturday evening. But what is severe? And it would be a very local phenomenon. At least the extremes. The other sites picked it up too later on Friday but my guess hope was that it’ll probably be ok. After all, a weekend on my own, no kids nor XYL, a boring SSB contest and the CW 160 CW. I needed to have the tower up all the way.

Friday afternoon was sublime outside. Blue sky, a prominent role for the sun and our wind bag was drooping and almost not moving. A welcome change. All the ropes of the safety flaps and pulleys manageable and not entangled by the wind. With all this meteorological luxury I fooled myself into a spring time feeling. I swear I could hear the grass grow!

Tower up? Check! Low band wires in place? Check! Resonance where it was last time? Check! Good to go! I checked the WX forecast again after dinner and by now all sites mentioned a severe weather front moving in from over the North Sea. Gusts up to 100 km/h. Hail. Lightning. In short: not only would it rain on my parade, the parade would probably get blown away. {#[%@#{@ %! ! !

Now what? I had time to decide until Saturday after lunch. That would give me at least a sunrise on 160. And some more time for the forecasts to tweak the prognosis. But as Friday  evening went by, the warnings became more precise. Early Saturday evening a storm front would come ashore and move from west to east. Before this all would be OK, afterwards things would calm down but it would be nasty when it moves over. DRAT! Mood spoiler.

Saturday morning I made slightly short of two hundred Top Band QSO. Mostly EU. Only two or three Americans and VY2ZM who is the low band contest beacon. If he’s weak, forget the rest. He was S7 Saturday. Cluster spots showed mostly EU-EU and NA-NA contacts. I tried working some DX on the higher bands after breakfast and then had to decide what to do. The site that turned out to provide the most reliable forecast even sharpened its warning. The wind gusts would be a killer factor in this one so I decided to lower the tower completely and make the UBA SSB contest an experiment. What can be done with the tower down? I would have to give up 160 for the coming night and rearrange the wire for 80m.

I set the table for lunch early in order to get my outside antenna business done well in time before the contest. Then the cell phone rang. One of the sleepover buddies became ill. Our kids were still welcome but at our own risk. Since my contest plans took a WX hit already I decided to keep our sons here and just skip the prime time hours. This would also compromise my Sunday morning contest activities but I can’t risk our kids becoming ill. No school nor day care then so a domestic problem would arise.

To cut a long story short, I lowered the middle section of the tower and left the inner section halfway up. This way the yagi sat at thirteen meters and the 40m dipole at fifteen meter. The idea was that I gained five meter compared to lowering it completely. But when shit would hit the fan at night, I could comfort myself by saying that these mere five meters won’t make a difference. I decided not to mess with the 80m ground plane wire and coil it up as well as the 160m wire. The SSB part of this contest doesn’t offer much DX compared to the CW part so I dug up a set of wires cut for 75m from back in the days. Field day situations, looking for parts to fabricate last minute assemblies, electrical tape, the works but in the end SWR dip was spot on with resonance at 3700 kHz. Ten minutes to go before the contest started. I would have to trade radio toys for kids toys less than three hours later.

The start went slow. Even slower than anticipated. Conditions might not be great but not bad either. A classic problem; who does SSB when there is CQ WW 160 CW, REF CW and BARTG RTTY? Next month the tables (rather modes) will turn and participation in UBA CW will be great. I started on fifteen, then went to ten. It was hard to get a reply to my CQ but by the end of the afternoon I worked 39 QSO there, with 3 mults. ON of course, one or two VE and the rest all North-East USA. Maybe a W5 from Louisiana if I recall well. Twenty was a bust this early in the contest and when the XYL called she had to leave, I missed the prime time hours on 20 and 40. Not even a single American or Canadian on twenty meters! Oh well, c’est la vie. Thought: if you’re not spotted fresh into the bandmaps, you don’t get many QSO. People seem to hop spots in stead of tune the bands between spots.

I went downstairs and fired up the laptop. In the mean time the nasty weather had developed over the UK and was wreaking havoc over there. No doubt about it, this monster would cross the North Sea and then bulldozer over Belgium. And I could follow it on the online weather maps and radar images.

Time passed slowly and I began to worry. This storm was on my mind. That’s the bad thing nowadays. In the past you’d see the storm when it’s over you and not worry hours in advance. There is nothing you can anyway. Maybe pray if you’re religious. Or take a shot if you’re a junkie. But I’m neither so I had to rely on crossed fingers. Does that count as superstition? I prepared evening dinner and let the kids watch some TV. After I put the youngest to sleep, the storm front was well under way to hit the Belgium coast. I was following it all on a Belgian amateur WX site and I must say: an amateur meteorologist but with professional skills. Then people started reporting lighting flashes, wind gaining speed and rain. Given the intensity and the number of lightning strike blips on the screen, I went outside to the garage around 18.30 UTC to unplug all coax and control cables. At that time the wind was howling in a scary way through the antennas and tower lattice already.

I should be on forty meters now and work hundreds of stations! Oh wait, it’s SSB. Make that ‘dozens of stations’. I decided to keep the oldest son up a bit longer as a distraction for myself. Playing with pedagogical fire perhaps, but extreme situations demand extreme measures. By this time the storm front came ashore and people were reporting tornado-like winds as well as rain and lightning. The storm went along very fast, and a good hour later it was approaching my place already. Good thing I lowered the tower! The wind was howling and the window shutters were rattling on all sides of the house. Normally this is only on the side facing the wind. Go figure. In the coastal province there was an electricity black out in some villages and the first damage reports came in as the squalls left the region. The lightning detection radar showed that as the storm approached me, there were less hits. Then people of neighbouring towns reported the storm was passing over and still saw lightning so I mentally braced myself.

All in all I got lucky. No lightning over me. No golf ball sized hail balls. No roof tiles flying around. No aluminium tubing seen flying by. The storm moved over as fast as he approached. It lasted ten minutes tops. When the noise went away, I raced upstairs to look through the window and visually check the tower and antennas. All OK it seemed. That can’t be said about the coastal province given the online damage reports I was reading. I put the oldest to bed, confirmed that the storm was heading to yet another province deeper inland and went outside to connect everything back. It was still windy but a less threatening wind. Hard to describe.

Around 2100 UTC I tried 40m and it was empty. I knew this would happen, by this time the UBA SSB contest comes to a halt, contrary to the CW part next month. I did get called by HK1T for a sweet mult and caught him CQing in vain later on. I did something that I normally don’t do. I spotted him on the cluster. As a reward for him calling me. Tactically not good since probably some of my competitors would go and work him. A multiplier they’d otherwise might not have. But tactics mean diddly squat when you’re only in it for the fun. Yes I came to terms with that by now. No plaque this year.

Nevertheless I had a good hour on 80m but at local time midnight I decided to call it a day. A full blown 24h effort is out of the question. I had less than five hours on the counter so for a twelve hour effort I needed to do another seven hours so that would mean start at 7AM local and continue in one stretch to 2PM when the contest ends. I don’t do a six hour effort.

By now pictures were being posted and it became clear that the coastal province was severely hit with a lot of damage. Rooftops blown away. Houses collapsed. Big trees toppled crashing cars in their fall. Twenty ton trucks blown over. Greenhouses completely compressed against the ground. Once again I was glad I lowered the tower. Just like I did for last WW SSB. Missing a contest is hard but losing antennas and a tower is harder. But my ham radio activities have been boycotted by strong winds too much over the last three months!

I watched some late night movie on TV (no no, not that kind of late night movie, a 70ies thriller) and waited for the XYL to get home. I wasn’t in a sleeping mood. When she arrived we had a short debriefing and then went upstairs. Before hitting the sack I tuned 40/80 only to end up in bed. ‘Nuff said? I woke up around 0630 local and took a small breakfast. The two lower bands were virtually empty. CQ’ing did not produce massive hogh rate runs. Each QSO was a victory. By 10AM local I had to watch of the youngest as the XYL and the oldest had to go somewhere. This would not have been an issue if the kids had been sleeping at their friends’ place. By this time I had a good run on twenty. Good to this contest’s standards at least. I prepared lunch to kill time and did some household chores with the not always welcome help of the two year old monkey see, monkey do. After lunch I still had almost two hours to spend in the shack. I tried ten meters but although quite open it did not produce rate. I split the remaining time between 15 and 20. I turned the beam away from JA (yes I worked a few of those!) towards USA. I was typing a Skype message to OQ4B that I still needed one American for the mult. I couldn’t finish typing the sentence as an American called in. And then another one. And a VE. I got called by a few multipliers in the last quarter of an hour.

I must admit that if it weren’t for my commitment to the UBA and the Belgian contesting scene, whatever that may be, I would never take part in this SSB contest. CW 4 EVER! But my 470 QSO are better than no Q at all. The experiment with the low yagi confirms the paradigm that antennas can’t be high enough. In a DX contest with DXCC multipliers, you can never beat an antenna at 22m with an antenna at 13m.

Sunday morning I came across a FT5ZM spot on ten meters SSB. I discovered was a busted spot. I listened for TEN MINUTES (!) and the DX station running the unruly pile up was QRZUP. He dutifully signed QRZUP after almost every QSO so after ten minutes I decided FT5ZM was a bust and it was indeed QRZUP on the frequency. The QSX was almost 40 kHz wide. Where is K6VVA when you need him?


Just like I drove around BS7H in a large curve in 2007, I’ll probably do the same. Probably? For sure! Why waste my precious time and let my good mood be spoiled? You know I’ve had it with the DXCC program and more precise the bestialities of the mobsters chasing the Rare Ones.

I feel sorry for the families who got their home, business site or car wrecked by the terrible storm last Saturday. Let’s hope the insurance companies leave out the red tape and show some humanity.

No I’m not reincarnated into a blacksmith. Rather a welding 101 apprentice. That’s right, another trade I want to master. In the end I will be a real Jack of all trades and of course master of none.

All my occasional welding in the past has been done by my dad. He’s a real skilled ironworker. But when the old age came gone were his prey bird eyesight and brain surgeon like steady hand. This frustrates him and making him weld now only confronts him with the situation so I quit asking him to weld. Since then all my projects involving welding either remained on the drawing board or were converted to woodworking projects. Of course this has its limitations on several levels and wood isn’t really cheap either. A few years ago my dad’s stick welding equipment was here for some welding job and after he returned home I decided to give it a go. In the safe environment of complete solitude. I grew up helping him so I’ve seen my share of welds. But I never actually joined metal parts by welding myself.

So when I tried to strike my first arc the electrode of course stuck to the metal. Google told me it might be that the metal is dirty. So I cleaned up the piece with the grinder. No go.  Google told me it might be that the electrode flux had become wet over time. That must be it! My dad’s stock of welding rods might be older than me so to speak so of course it’s not my welding skill – it’s the electrode gone bad. Neglecting the fact that the day before my dad had done some pristine welding with exactly the same material, I ran out to the local DIY depot for a fresh pack of welding rods. Same story of course – exit my welding career.

We’re almost five years later now and I’ve had it with messing around with wood where metal is the way to go. I started a project last summer where I actually tried to drill holes and bolt everything together but that also has practical limitations. No more delays, no more excuses: I will learn how to weld. The plan was to learn myself to weld. By means of a ‘how to’ book. I can’t ask my dad because the two of us together in a teacher-student relationship would lead to World War Three like situations. So I did some online market research and bought a small DC inverter welder. Of course a simple classic AC transformer model is much cheaper but I fell for the anti-stick function on modern inverter welding machines. After all the sticking rod was my main issue with welding. I obtained some scrap metal and the welder came with some sample electrodes. I bought myself an automatic darkening helmet so I was good to go. One summer evening I struck my first arcs and welded two pieces together. Or rather something similar to glueing them together with chewing gum. The welds looked like **** and were so strong that when I picked the parts up, one piece remained on the table. Oh boy those YouTube videos make it look so easy. Practice makes perfect. So more practicing then.

The problem with practicing and learning this yourself is that you need to have the discipline to actually take time out to do so at regular intervals. I experienced that this actually is the problem. So I looked for a beginner’s course in the neighbourhood that suited my schedule and enlisted. So for the last three or four months I’ve been spending one evening each week learning to weld as an absolute beginner. Doing absolute beginner exercises. Over and over again. And with success I might add! No more sticky rods. Nice looking welds on a piece of flat plate. But being a can-barely-walk-yet-wants-to-run type, I want things to go faster. Faster than the teacher. Being a teacher myself I know this is bad but this time I’m the student so screw that. There are projects waiting on my imaginary drawing board and those parts aren’t going to weld themselves!

So lately I’ve been doing some ‘real life’ welding at home. Simple stuff, putting small pieces together. I made myself a sort of welding table to practice the basic welds yet have something to show for it other than a huge block of iron for the recycling bin. This welding table can then serve to put all the future stuff together. It’s not perfect but I think it’s pretty decent for a first project. There clearly is a learning process going on. It’s not my intention to make money out of this. It’s for domestic purposes only. I just want to make strong welds so things don’t fall apart or break and preferably make clean looking welds so I don’t have to be ashamed to tell I was the welder.

I am now up to the point where I can join small pieces together in a flat horizontal position. That’s the easiest weld you come across. My T-joints are a different story. Outside 90° corners are fine most of the time. But my inside corners suck balls. We’re not quite there yet in the beginner’s course so that’s where I’m rushing things on my own. Because every real life project has T-joints! Not only do they look very ugly I don’t think they’re strong enough. I have practiced this many times and by now I sometimes put down a textbook weld for a few centimetres yet for some reason the next part of the weld goes bad. Welding isn’t hard to do once you mastered it. But it takes a lot of practice and nothing but practicing to acquire the minimum skill to make clean and strong welds. But I’m on my way. Just watch me!  J

For the record, I’m a huge fan of this YouTube Channel. There are many others but I really like that one. I’m now up to the point where I know more welding lingo in English than in Dutch!

Here are some images. No close up of the welds until I’m happy with the way they look.

Square tubing for the scaffolds is 30x30x3. The table / grill is 40x40x4 straight edge with 30x30x3 T irons in between. And some flat stock to keep smaller parts. Two rings on the side to keep a hammer and the welding torch.

I decided not to weld legs to the welding table. In stead I made two scaffolds that can be used for other jobs as well (woodwork, painting, trimming trees… assembling yagis?). It also takes less space in the garage when things can be taken apart and stacked.

The scaffolds will be painted when the WX gets better. It’s useless to paint the welding table top of course. It needs to conduct electricity and the paint will only burn away. I might paint the underside in fire proof BBQ paint and leave a few blank spots to clamp the ground clamp to. I will also make a mounting frame to put my mitre saw on the scaffolds. I used this saw to cut the steel. Thanks to Mike SJ2W for the hint, it has served me well already. Clean cuts! Cleaner than me using an angle grinder and a cutting disk.

Lessons learned so far:

  • Warping of steel when welding is a problem!
  • Don’t use cheap electrodes.
  • Warping of steel when welding is a problem!
  • You can never have enough clamps.
  • Did I say that the steel bends when welding?
  • Very cheap clamps only work to throw at people’s heads. Buy real clamps (28 Euro). Copycat vise grips suck (even if they’re only 7 Euro)!
  • Buy decent electrodes of a known brand. What I saved with the cheap electrodes cost me extra on abrasive disks.

Still tons to be learned. But my first ham radio welding project is about to come together…