ON5ZO – OQ5M

What a f#$*$% sh**  weather it has been before this week. After those two unexpected nice, dry, warm, sunny and most of all windless weeks in late February it went downhill pretty fast. Luckily this short spring like period coincided with ARRL DX CW and UBA DX CW. But over the last two weeks we had exactly the weather that drives me crazy: dark, many centimeters of rain per square meter and especially a lot of wind. Strong wind 24/7.

I hate wind. The howling noise, the sound of things bumping against other things, rattling window stores… And we’ve had a lot of it the last ten days. Not just a nasty breeze. Strong gusts. Lowlight: a genuine storm last week resulting in damage all over the country. Result:

Yes the tribander has been blown away (again) and has rotated around the tube. This is not real damage and no parts are broken but it is a nuisance. So I need to tilt over the tower and yank the yagi’s boom so the elements are parallel again with the 40m dipole. That dipole takes a lot of wind too but at least it sticks.

I know exactly what is wrong with the boom-to-mast clamp. I even have the parts to fix it. The replacements are lingering somewhere in my ‘warehouse’. But I have been pushing the job forward. Mostly because this fix requires a scaffold. I used my neighbor’s excellent scaffold in the past but it’s no longer at his place and so I have been thinking of buying or renting one. But ‘thinking’ alone never gets a job done.

 

Mounting the 40m dipole from a scaffold (Feb 2011)

I tried to fix the clamp assembly two years ago after another storm. I was standing on a ladder because I cannot tilt the tower completely over with the yagi mounted. But to access the bolts and nuts at the same time I had to lean over the boom. Then my wrench slipped when applying lots of torque. As a result I fell over with my chest on the tower and got a nasty painful bruise; two weeks of blue stains on by chest and belly. It was then and there I decided that this job should not be done by standing on a ladder. And when it storms, I get this.

I have also been thinking to make the 40m rotary dipole into a 30/40 dual band dipole. But that definitely needs a scaffold. The original OptiBeam 30/40 dipole has the 40m dipole as starting point. This is yet another project I have been thinking about a lot over the last years but never found the courage to actually do it.

So now I’m waiting for the wind to disappear and some dry wetter to tilt the tower over and yank the boom back into place. Won’t be today. White marbles are falling out of the sky. Add hail to the list of crap the weather throws at me.

This windy WX is also the reason why I skipped RDXC this weekend. Too bad as I like this contest a lot but the winds are just too strong to crank up the tower and mess with ropes and wire antennas. Furthermore the night from Saturday to Sunday turned out to be quite gusty again.

I don’t think I’m missing much propagation-wise but it feels I’m letting down my contest buddy K7GK @ PI4COM who challenged me again just like last year (RDXC 2018).

To compensate I gave him my QSO #1 this morning on 20m with the tower down. I worked a batch of other loud EU stations too. Submitting a checklog is something one has to do once too.

 

Time for the annual event that brings out hundreds of Belgian possessed CW contesters. NOT.

I left the tower and wires up from last week’s ARRL DX. No preparation this time. I booted the PC and turned on rigs and amps ten minutes before the contest.

Friday night I asked my friend W1EBI to listen for the Belgians this weekend. He’s an active contester with a good signal. I wanted to make sure I worked at least one W for the mult. Too bad he had commitments this weekend, but his side note was: “I tried UBA CW once, but there was not much participation from Belgium.”. Now that is a common soapbox remark I often read*: where are the Belgians?

* I am the UBA DX log checker, remember?

Let me make this one thing clear: Belgium is a small country. There are about 5000 licenses issued. Licenses means paper. Paper does not mean: have an antenna, emit RF. My liberal guess is that about 600 of those have a station that gets out on HF. ‘Station’ being anything better than a dummy load. Belgian hams generally don’t care for contesting. Belgian hams generally don’t care for CW. The intersection of the Venn-diagram for the categories ‘knows CW’ and ‘likes contesting’ is infinitesimally small. Last year there were 42 logs from Belgium submitted for this contest. A record year doesn’t even count 70 Belgian CW logs. That’s ALL logs, also those with only a dozen contacts. So if you enter this contest and you work thirty unique Belgian stations or more, you have just earned the Literally Worked All Belgian CW Contesters Award…

On the other hand: there is a loyal fan base for the CW leg of this contest with many happy returning customers. Proof: 460 logs already six hours after the contest for a total of almost 100k QSO. Usually we end up with 950 logs and 160k QSO after the deadline. Plenty of activity and most of all: everyone can work everyone. It’s not like some other contests where you can only work the stations from the organizing country. I have no desire to fill my log with F, SP, DL, PA exclusively… Skip would limit the fun to 40 and most likely 80 only.

Belgians can enter either 6, 12 or 24 hours but no Single Band categories. Otherwise 95% of those 42 stations would hide on 20. Belgian hams usually don’t stay up late. That’s why even the local flavor of our Region 1 field day also has a 12h category. As a result most people settle for the 6h category.

I know that all the above is a serious generalization and a sarcastic profile sketch. You can always prove me wrong. I dare you.

I mostly do 12h in the UBA DX contests because there isn’t enough activity to get through the night and keep it enjoyable. I have done 24h once or twice when the higher bands are open and you can stay late on 20 and be early on 15/10. Won’t happen this time. Be that as it may I was in for a full time effort this year. At least that was my initial intention.

The first eight hours were not bad. I came a few contacts short for 800. That’s an average of 100/hr during the busiest period. Then it slowed down big time. As predicted. So I decided to stick with the usual 12h after all. But I was not to make the mistake I usually make. That is: quitting early Saturday night to save some operating time on Sunday. Experience taught me that Sunday morning on 40/80 is a bust and the low band goodies are to be worked late on Saturday. And that’s what I did this year. I operated longer on Saturday into the night to focus on 40/80 DX mults. The low band skimmers of the RBN picked me up just about everywhere (ZL, VK, HS, VU) but no one around to answer my plea for exotic DX multipliers. Credit goes to HI8A: I was S&P on 40, he called me on the other guy’s frequency, I said up but ended up CQing down yet he came and called me a minute later. For some reason he always shows up in this contest and in my log. Twice this year. And in many others contests too. Always a nice multiplier. Much appreciated.

Saturday afternoon showed little life on 15. I worked 250 W/VE there a week ago but this weekend the band was close to dead. Rather: dead closed. Just one lost soul from VE3 for the multiplier. NIL EU. NIL whatever. Twenty was pretty good but I had hoped for more participation from the US of A. I offered you guys 1800+ contacts last week. I don’t do that just for the fun of it. I do that because you guys would work me the weekend after!

To keep the rate up, I tried that dual CQ thing. Or was it dueling CQ? 2BSIQ maybe? Or whatever it’s called these days. That kinda worked for me in a few contests with fixed and short exchanges. For this contest, it was a no go. The gap between two CQ sequences on either band simply is too wide with the long exchange. You look like a lid and waste the other station’s time. Speeding things up is another no go: copying pseudo-random numbers at 30WPM or more is a problem for many so called CW operators. Yet I like the longer format. Keep it challenging for CW lovers.

I totally skipped sunrise on Sunday because there is no one there anymore. The West is vastly asleep, the East is on the higher bands already. And so I returned to the bands on 0800z, which translates to 9AM local time. The plan was to complete the remaining time in one stretch. And so I did. I ran an early daylight 40m with a decent rate but no mults anymore. I tried 21MHz. That yielded a handful of EU that made the mult bell go bananas but it soon came to a stop. I still needed something easy on 10. There was a PA spotted there, which is only 200km or so but nothing heard. I asked ON6VL to move and he agreed. I guess he’s about 40km from me and even that was asking a lot from the 28MHz band.

Band   QSOs    DXC    Pt/Q
3,5    262     42     2,2
7      345     47     2,3
14     381     49     2,6
21      79     19     2,6
28       1      1     1,0
Total 1068    158    
Score: 407.482

Just before lunch I got the ‘game over – insert coin’ message. My twelve hours were over. After lunch I took all the wires down and lowered the tower. I have no plans for ARRL SSB and next one is probably RDXC in a few weeks. Hopefully SOAB CW only.

73 and thanks (again) to all who called me (again).

 

I was a bit afraid of this contest. Reason: I was feeling very tired before and I am facing a hectic agenda after. The past six weeks have been very busy on all levels. Four weeks ago I got floored by a nasty flu and I am still feeling very tired. The total lack of sunshine and the prolonged period of cold and rain have worn me out. So losing sleep during the weekend of the contest is not what I’m after. On the other hand: this mood could paralyze my contesting activities. We can’t have that can we? So my idea was to do the contest because it is a superb way to clear one’s head but to not overdo it and keep it casual so as not to be a bigger zombie in the weeks to come.

Someone ought to invent a system that lets your computer scan the bands to work and log everything it hears and decodes. That way we can sleep and resume life without having to be in the shack wasting time fiddling with radios. If it would automatically upload to LotW and submit the log to the contest sponsor, it would be perfect. Just a thought.

Finally WX is working with us. Wednesday leading up to the weekend was a bright day. From then on, the forecast is tempting us with sun, warmth and no rain or wind. Splendid! So I cranked up the tower Wednesday afternoon. My work schedule and early sunset won’t allow me to put up the antennas on Friday after work and I really want to be QRV the first night. After all, focus will be on the low bands and 20m and there will be the usual gap between 40 closing and 20 opening.

Thursday was a bad day. Sore limbs, sore throat, tired. Morale subzero. I was not looking forward to the contest so I had to repeat the mantra: keep it casual, relax and sleep when tired. Friday was better. It was a great day for the WX. Warmest February 15th ever recorded. I know that this is a major problem in the long run but living in the moment, it was just great. It did me well to feel and see some sunrays and not to feel cold and a gray sky.

Friday night the idea of having some sleep before the contest was tempting. I went to bed around 2130z and considered sleeping a few hours into the contest. However I deliberately programmed the bread baking machine to finish a nice loaf at 2345 utc. So I was forced to take it out and be awake. And so I got in the shack before the start of the contest. Soon I logged my very first contact of 2019.

I didn’t know what to think of 40m. It was not bad. Most signals were good. But my run was slow and I got the impression there was a lack of people to work. Same on 80. And little to work on 160. A few good signals though. I made twenty QSO on Top Band, most signals easy copy at least but no one else around. Four hours into the contest I figured that the number of QSO was way lower than it should be. I couldn’t blame propagation this time. So around 4AM utc I went to sleep. I programmed the alarm before sunrise but even that couldn’t boost a run. Bummer. Off to breakfast.

When I got downstairs my family had already eaten two thirds of the fresh bread. Those darn gluttons! I was feeling rather fit and the WX was outstanding so I started doing some chores. The XYL decided to do some preliminary gardening. The WX urges you to go outside and cancel all hibernating. I jumped in and tested my new reciprocal saw. Toys for boys. I bought that tool a few weeks ago for fast and rough woodwork like dismantling pallets. I figured I could use it to trim some branches that are too big for the pruning shears and I wanted to check it out. Soon after I had totally clipped five trees and the kids were throwing the branches on the trailer. 1230z: time for lunch and hopefully a wide open 20m band.

That was not the way it went down. Because there were spots on 15 needing my attention. Many spots. This early? Let’s listen. Wow, this one is pretty loud. And the next one too. A little later I had worked more USA on 15m à la S&P than I would have hoped for this weekend. And I still had to run the band. Amazing: I could run this band with a steady rate. Never a loud signal but always easy copy. Sweet! The band closed early, but all is forgiven. For this part of the cycle the band just gave more than hoped for.

Then off to twenty meters. Jam-packed with loud signals. I started running and the rate exploded and I could keep it up. This band too closed pretty early, but I have seen it way worse at the bottom so no complaints. Even the z3 guys were all over the place and with decent signals.

To bridge the gap between 20 and 40 I watched some TV. Back on the air at 2200 utc. Tried running 7085 because it was quiet there. Not quite a success. 7011 was better but not great. Signals OK, people to work absent. Next stops: 3503, 1822, 3504, 1830. Got bored around 2AM utc and went to bed.

Back at 0518z on 1822 for more 160m stuff. Good signals most of the time. I had to move after 111 QSO because the band didn’t offer new stations to work, neither while running or to go work. Tried more 80m and then 40m after my sunrise. At 0747 utc the band was still bouncing signals between here and North America but again: nothing left to work. QRT.

1222: fifteen showing life again. Made some Q, tried 20, back to 15. The usual routine between running 20 and hoping for nice surprises on 15. The latter had given all it had on Saturday so I ran 20 for a few hours, interleaved with a lot of S&P keeping the rate pretty high. I did more S&P in this contest than ever before. So to speak, but still. In the end I was born to run (ham radio contest style).

Between 1830z and 2130z I watched some TV. Then some more 40 but around midnight I called it a day. I had exceeded my unofficial target (none set for convenience ☺) and it was time to sleep given the busy days ahead.

Observation #1: classic cluster spotting in the contest is dead. At least for CW. Spotters count on the RBN to do the work and that works just fine. But it seems to me not many people get RBN spots fed into their bandmaps. If I start a run, a handful of callers pops up right away. That’s those who actively rely on RBN spots: M/x stations and competitive Assisted guys. After a dozen contacts, often less, it slows down. Until someone makes an old school classic cluster spot and it’s off to the races. A classic cluster spot every ten minutes keeps the rate up. RBN only helps the minute after the initial CQ. Of course my observation is made from my own perspective: common Belgian callsign. Might be different from a location with higher mult status.

Observation #2: I missed a memo. The memo that says that even if you’re away from a frequency, you’re still entitled to use it the moment you decide to return there later on. I was still holding on to the medieval idea that once you leave a frequency, you leave it to someone else to settle there. How wrong I am. I have no interest in recording the contest, but maybe I should start doing so. Just to document stuff like this.

Saturday afternoon, 14000.9. I was S&P and came across a spot for ****. He wasn’t there. Not a whisper, even after ten seconds. That’s long. I send a question mark and wait. Still nothing. I ask ‘QRL?’ and wait. Nothing. Mind you: mine is old skool contesting, nowadays people start CQing right away even if you haven’t transmitted in two seconds. Why listen? Anyway I conclude that the QRG is free and start running. Soon I get a steady stream of callers until **** returns on his steps and starts CQing right on top of me That’s not how it works bro! I thank him for his QRM and beg for him to QSY. With some PSE and TNX in between. Politeness is key. He just ignores me. Repeat. Same result. Maybe it’s a case of one way propagation; that he is S9+20dB here and I am below the noise there? In that case, I can just keep on CQing, he doesn’t hear me. And so I do. Just one measly CQ and I get a truckload of ‘QRL here qsy’ and the likes. Say what? A frequency fight had to be fought. I won.

It happened to me more than once. I use **** above not because I don’t want to tell who it was. But because I am not sure anymore who it was. I took a mental note but soon after I was in doubt because there were three calls in the contest with similar signals and almost the same letters making similar calls.

It happened more later on and then I wrote down who it was. 0000z Sunday: K1KI – I’d expected more from him but 3830 shows it was M/M. OM3BH on 21005 Sunday afternoon. WRTC fever making operators delirious? E7/9A5K for a brief moment too.

That said: low in the band is the place to be. My best clock hours ever were made low in the band (3505, 7002, 14002 etc.). That makes sense. On a few occasions this past weekend I noted that you get more callers below 14010 or 7010 than above 14050 or 7050… Pro tip: some nice goodies often hide high in the band for those who S&P.

Unexpected: I worked all 48 US states on 20m. Even both Dakotas and WY.

Expected: nothing on 28 MHz. I listened a few times, even skewed path but nothing…

What to think of 160? Should I be glad with 111 North Americans in one weekend with my very limited 160m antenna? I have no idea what to think but… Never satisfied, us contesters.

Band QSOs Sec
1,8 111 32
3,5 312 47
7 420 46
14 785 61
21 250 37
Total 1878 223
Score: 1.256.382

I was glad to work many many contest friends and maybe making a few more, including two contacts with the (un)(in)famous AE5X. Dear John; that 20m contact was easy but it wasn’t as obvious on 40m. Maybe with a few kHz free spectrum on either side it would have been easy, but among all the clicking and clunking… Thanks for calling in and sticking with me on 40.

Once again a great CW contest with massive activity. The bands may be empty during the week, but no problem working CW DX in the contests. I am a part of the problem during the week, I admit. But I will be part of the solution in the weekend fo sho! CW 4 EVER!

There’s the annual RAEM contest. Apparently I earned the UPOL award simply by participation in this event? There’s the RAEM stories online. Recently there was the 115 years of RAEM award which I chased. It wasn’t a hard chase of course. Russia is my backyard and there was plenty activity. Especially in the RAEM contest.

And now there’s the RAEM book too. Well, the book has been around for a while but it now shines in my personal library.
I’m not really into history. At least not more than a healthy dose needed for general knowledge and common sense. But I find the adventures of a polar explorer intriguing. Even without the ham radio aspect. I prefer cold ice over hot beaches. Penguins over camels. Ice bears over scorpions.

During the winter holidays I read that E.T. Krenkel had written down his memoires: RAEM is my call-sign. And that there was an English translation. It wasn’t really easy but while searching I stumbled upon an online book selling platform where a German lady had a copy for sale that she described as ‘in good shape’. I took the plunge and a few days later the book was in my hands. And indeed in pristine shape.

The book also offers insights on the interbellum in Russia and probably all over Europe (poverty, famine and misery) and the evolution of radio.

I have come to the stage where he just learned CW and copied DX telegraphy news feeds for a living. He is now about to embark on his first arctic voyage. This is where the radio adventure should begin…

This one if purely for archiving purposes. In case ten years from now I wonder where my 2019 log is.

I didn’t participate. And if it weren’t for the UBA I would never participate in this small SSB contest. Especially not when propagation is as it probably is. Not that I know because I haven’t touched a radio in almost a month. I feel worse for missing the 160 CW contest. Although I didn’t see much US-EU spots on the cluster? Maybe even top band is broken?

Another reason is that six days ago I caught a bad flu and I’m still tired and recovering. I couldn’t be bothered with cranking up towers and winching up wire antennas.
Furthermore the weather turned from calm with high quality snow early last week to 8°C and a gusty 5Bft with rain. Classic Belgian ‘winter’. I hate it.

I hope for calm weather and maybe a tad of propagation in ARRL DX CW and UBA CW in a few weeks. The CW part generates quite some activity contrary to its spoken counterpart.

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