ON5ZO – OQ5M

For quite some time now I have been thinking to do something with 60m. I have zero contacts on that band. I don’t have an antenna for that band but I’m sure I can come up with something that gets me active on 5 MHz. It would be new: building a new antenna, new propagation, all new DXCC…

What keeps me from doing so is that I wonder if there is anything going on there in CW? I have no interest in any digital mode as I prefer CW over everything. I have been looking at the cluster and RBN but I see almost nothing but FT8 there. In the past I listened once or twice when the 80m antenna was up but I didn’t hear much. Even before the FT8 hype.

If there is no CW DX to be worked there, I have no business on the 5 MHz band. OTOH if CW people want CW, we have to be active in CW. The Catch 22 of ham radio?

 

Time for some ego tripping.

Winning isn’t everything in contesting. I have to keep that in mind because winning a contest from my location and with my setup is next to impossible. So I focus on the fun factor and personal achievement. Which means I do like to put down a good score and squeeze the last drop out of the lemon.

So in this year’s EUHFC I finished #10 (CW only HP).

But I am #1 in zone 14. So I file that under ‘personal achievement’

Furthermore I am at 99 / 100 of the Top 100 Honor Roll when it comes to log checking and score deduction. Before you say “ So what, 99 is way down from the top! ”: there are only three participants on that list with more than 1000 QSO in the log and I logged the most QSO in that top 100 (1327 after checking). Most logs have less than 100 Q, some even only one or two. It’s easier to have two contacts 100% correct than it is to log 1300+ without any errors. So again: clean log and accuracy, a personal achievement.

Moreover I occupy 12 spots in the 100 best scores ever from z14. So I may not be a winner as such, I think this shows that I’ve got this contest thing figured out. Should anyone need proof of that. Other than myself. And that I’m crazy enough to spend a lot of time in the shack playing in these contests. When’s the next one?

What a contest it was! I can only speak of 40m but I had a truckload of fun there. Taking over the Belgian record for SB40(A)HP was the cherry on top. I shouldn’t sell the bear’s skin before the log checking is over but I assume the margin is big enough. If not: who cares? It’s not that busses full of tourists will stop by and take pictures. And I shake the mayor’s hand once in a while already.

I did much reading on 3830. It seems that everyone had a ball. I cannot think of anything else that offers so much fun and satisfaction. CW contesting is my favorite aspect of the ham radio hobby. Without it I don’t think I’d be as passionate or worse: lose interest altogether.

After a contest I used to ask myself: how do they do that ? They being those who have monster scores in my category. That being the monster score. This time I didn’t ask the question. It was my contest-friend ON3DI who asked if it wasn’t frustrating that each and every time I end up somewhere in the bottom of the top ten after what could be called a successful effort.

The answer: no it doesn’t frustrate me. Not anymore. Because I know how they achieve that score. Maybe they are in a superior location? When it comes to contesting, it’s location, location, location. This time for SB40(A)HP, it’s not so much the location because the stations scoring better than me on 3838 right now, are from S5, SP, 9A, OK, LX and F. When it comes to propagation I guess F and LX are the same. And it’s not that these other guys are in the Caribbean.

I looked for what I could found about these station’s setups. They all have bigger and better antennas high up in the sky. It’s hard to compete against three or four element yagis on towers that are 40m or higher. Some guys have stacks or a second ‘smaller’ yagi they can use to cover other areas. So this time it’s simply a case of antennas, antennas, antennas.

And with the popularity of power amps carrying names like ‘3500’ and ‘4000’, one might even wonder… Let’s stick to facts shall we?

I’m not into sports (to say the least) but since Belgium is crazy about bicycle races, I sometimes use sports metaphors. I replied to Pieter ON3DI that it feels like finishing tenth while riding on a ‘step’ (kick scooter, trottinette) in De Ronde Van Vlaanderen. The other nine guys were riding +15k€ carbon bikes…

I’m not aiming to win, especially not in major contests with crazy mofo’s using more radios than they have hands to control them. I’d just like to maximize the fun and to me, rate is fun. That and working DX. More specific: being called by the DX.

That said I wonder what it would be like to do a SOAB SO2R contest from a BIG station with stacks and 4SQ on the low bands. But I’m not one who easily changes habits so that also holds true for operating contests.

OT1A replied he has a two element yagi for 40m in the box, hinting I could put that one up. But I have to be realistic: I’m afraid my tower, rotator and location aren’t really up to that task. Or am I just too conservative (i.e. scared)? I’d like to operate from a big station. Not build and even worse: maintain it.

To finish this one up; a bit of ego tripping. I had a big chuckle and a broad grin when I read N7MH’s post on 3830.

Several of the CQWW regulars missing from my log I now realize were doing single-band efforts on other bands – P49Y, UPxL, SJ2W, OQ5M, CX9AU, OM2VL, KP2M, S50A,…

When someone you don’t even know in z3 calls you a regular, you have made it!

The Plan

The plan was SB40. Last week PA/K7GK told me he was trying to do SB80 from PI4COM and asked for a shootout. Initially I agreed but afterwards I took a turn. QSO count on forty is double of what I can do on 80. I was looking for maximum fun (i.e. max QSO and max DX and max rate) so I declined the battle.

With last year’s result in mind, I told myself that 2500 QSO would be a result I don’t have to be ashamed about. The Belgian record for SB40(A)HP is a bit high and set with a four element yagi in 2009. Not impossible to break but the pieces of the puzzle have to fall in place for that.

From the CQ WW Records website; SB40(A)HP for Belgium.

 1   OT4A   2009   716,975     2,646     39z    136 cty    39.7 hrs
 2   OQ5M   2017   651,456     2,278     37z    137 cty    32.0 hrs

Setting up was done last week for LZ DX so I had no work in advance. The days leading up to CQ WW a cold and flu-ish feeling developed. It peaked on Wednesday, got better by Thursday but was worse on Friday. I really felt ill. Sore limbs, pressure building in my head and feeling cold yet glowing. I spent the day on the couch under a warm blanket and took a few hours of sleep in the evening. It wasn’t completely over but it certainly wasn’t worse. So I could start the contest. Yay!

I was in doubt on whether to enter the online scores or not. I decided to do so and again this was a bonus throughout the weekend.

The Contest

It soon became clear that there was something wrong with the ether. Signals on 7 MHz were weak. Even the usual suspects from the East Coast were only tickling the S-meter and not rocking it like they usually do. As the first two hours progressed I knew I had to abandon the idea of setting a new ON record. Even the proposed QSO count would have to be adjusted downwards. C’est la vie. The online scores for SB40 told me this was not a dipole man’s game. The pecking order was set and I just had to maintain a spot in the top ten. The leaders clearly had good stuff to spray their RF around. Their mult count was high and they seemed to run at high rates. And exactly that was my big frustration: I wasn’t logging enough contacts. A dipole at 23m and 1200W didn’t cut it under the given circumstances. Soon the average points per QSO dropped below 2 and then even lower. Bummer. I was having fun though especially since I came to terms with a laid back effort to support the scene and do what a contester does.

The night turned into day and around 10utc I decided to take a break.

Back in the shack around 1300utc. Say what? Japan on 40 just after lunch? And not ‘might that be a JA station modulating the noise somewhat?’ – no: solid copy. And not just one. Plenty! 9M2? Good! BY? Woohoo! Back into the game.

Saturday evening I took another break and a nap. Then I dove into the night. Around 1AM I decided to take a break because things were too slow and I didn’t find fresh meat for S&P. Those three hours of quality sleep in a warm bed really made the difference for the rest of the contest. I had abandoned the competitiveness for the ON record.

Sunday morning was OK but not more than that. Try to run, skim the band. Run again. S&P again. Around 10AM I decided to take a break again and a nap. I wasn’t really tired though and I thought that the warmth of the living room would do more harm than good. So I took the dog out for a good walk in the fresh (cold!) air. One hour and a few kilometer later the warmth of the pellet stove and a fresh homemade pizza (yes even the dough) nearly floored me. I took a shower and wanted to materialize the early opening to the Far East. It was there, and even better than the day before.

Later on Sunday afternoon I experienced a moment of nice long path propagation to z3. I know: with a dipole it’s hard to tell SP from LP but common wisdom and ham radio romantics dictate it had to be LP. Their SR, my SS, gray line… When doing SOAB this is the time you run USA on 20 or 15 like crazy and don’t bother about LP gray line. I wonder if this works on 80 too – with my simple low band stuff that is.

Sunday late in the evening the rate improved and much to my surprise so did the signals. I had a good run with mainly USA with some Far East in the mix. Sweet. Suddenly that ON record came in sight. How much was I exactly? 717k? If things continue for another few hours… The problem is there aren’t many hours left. But the rate remained reasonable with enough three point call in the log. And so I crossed the line. 2105 utc: bingo! Now I need to build some leeway so my record score can hold after log checking.

The above graph (courtesy of K7GK) compares the total score for 2018 in red to 2017 in green. The breaks more or less coincide. The magic happens in the last eight hours.

Late in the contest a ZP mult was spotted. I remember last year’s issue with that. It was tempting but I didn’t want to stop my final run. So you can imagine the euphoria when ZP5SNA calls me! I remembered that from the 2017 episode where I wrote: “Yes! In the last hour ZP5WYC calls me. Again YES!”. History repeating.

Multipliers: red 2018 versus green 2017. Notice the mult-count bump in the last four hours (RC by K7GK).

I decide to fight until the closing bell rings. Of course it slows down. With only twelve minutes to go I decide that since I need to make ten QSO to make up for one multiplier, I go and chase 5U9AMO which soon becomes DXCC 139. Another ten minutes until the curtain falls and I decide to S&P as if there was no tomorrow. In contesting, there is no tomorrow. I should put that on a T-shirt!

I switch everything off, ZIP the database and mail it to myself to have a backup in the cloud. I give myself a virtual pat on the back for another contest well done. Remember: it’s just a dipole and 1200W.

Monday morning 6AM local time. I need to get up and go to work. I feel like sh… When’s the next one?

Cluster frenzy for mults!

I stayed away from cluster pile ups as much as possible. JT1DX was a pain but I worked him in the end. There were other situations too but I didn’t take notes. By the end of the contest, as usual, the rate slows down and each spot gathers a fierce impatient crowd. I abandoned the KL2R pile up because it was ferocious. Later Sunday night, I was trying once more but the usual suspects were at it again. WHY? WHY WHY WHY? In essence it’s simple: let’s all call once or twice at the same time, preferably a few tens of Hertz apart and then WAIT IN SILENCE and listen what the DX comes up with. Then ONLY ‘the chosen one’ gets to reply. Why on earth do stations keep calling and calling? Again and again. So frustrating. Egoism? Ego-tripping? A total lack of ham spirit for sure. And most of all: very bad operating. You can buy big yagis, 12k$ radios and 4kW amps but you can’t buy style and class.

It was so bad KL2R pulled the plug on his own pile up. Not without reprimanding the bullies (as if they‘d listen!) and who can blame him? My hope was, as usual, that if I kept on running I could get at least that one Alaskan multiplier in the log. And as usual my hope was not in vain. KL2R called me and operator N1TX was so kind as to spot my on the cluster. Thanks OM!

What’s up with my RX loops?

Something must have been different with propagation and the way signals arrived at my place. I have been using these two RX loops for two years now and I never heard them being so directive and helpful. I had diversity RX on all the time between the TX dipole and the RX loops. Both loops are fed into a remotely switched stackmatch so I can listen A/A+B/B. A is towards USA short path and B is at 40° favoring ZL and JA. Many times a station was hard copy and then it popped up when I changed the RX loop. For weaker and far away stations this clearly was an asset. On a few occasions I had troubles copying a JA and noticed the USA indication bulb was lit. Toggling to the 40° loop made the Japanese signal stand out. I don’t think I have ever benefit so much from these loops as this time. They offer some help on 80 and 160 but I never heard it so pronounced their as I heard it now on 40.

Got DX?

20 BY                     7 HS                       55 JA                     588 K                     3 KH6

15 VK                    5 VU                      9 YB                       7 ZL

And dozens of one-shot rare DX.

Summary:

Another CQ WW CW chapter written. I hope I get the ON record to show for it. At least for one year. This CW contesting game really never gets boring.

More than three months passed since my last CW contest so LZ DX Contest vintage 2018 came just in time. No goals, no targets, no stress. Just one radio. Go with the flow and (try to) have fun.

As is the case with these contests: the first few hours are fast and then it slows down. There is no ten meters and fifteen was an Rf-desert which makes it worse. I tried fifteen meters for as many minutes and logged only a dozen contacts so down to 14 MHz. That made more sense but the rate wasn’t really spectacular. I was having fun though.

Since I wasn’t going to be competitive I unchecked the ‘post score to server’ box in N1MMLogger. But after a while I decided to check cqcontest.net and lo and behold: I was doing fine. To hell with ‘not competitive’. I checked the box and joined the fun. In hindsight this was the best decision I made in this contest. Seeing your real time score makes you take less breaks and work harder. It’s a major motivator and adds fun to this already fun packed game. At least that’s how I see it.

And so the contest progressed and I was on top of the game. At least among those who posted their scores. I had to be realistic: 65% of what I log is worth 1 point (EU). RT9S works the same stations but gets 3 points credit because for him it’s another continent. So don’t compare to RT9S. Then suddenly D41CV joins the game. Other continent and ‘callsign gain’. So my target is being above UC7A, DL6KVA and SP1NY. The other posters didn’t seem to move as much as these stations.

At a given point I even turned on the second radio! I took down the 10-15-20 vertical a few years ago so I can only do SO2R with the antennas for 40 and 80 and the yagi. Which is no problem given where we are in the sunspot cycle. I run either 40m and 20m and look for QSO on the other band. I even did ‘alternating CQ’ on two bands. Fun stuff in such a modest contest. It keeps you busy, increases the rate and the live score board is a motivator.

As the evening made way for the night things were getting slow. I was well ahead of SP1NY which had become ‘the guy to beat’. Around 0utc (1AM local) I decided to take a break and get some sleep. I had the easy mults on 80 (USA and VE) and there isn’t much to do when EU goes to bed. The usual American suspects were already logged. My guess was that SP1NY would also go to bed or won’t log that many goodies. And if so: who cares (is what I tried to tell myself).

I set the alarm for 5utc (6AM) but woke up twenty minutes earlier. I immediately took a look at the live score. Still ahead of the game (i.e. SP1NY). Yes! D41CV and RT9S either went QRT or didn’t post their score. And so I found myself on top of the game. I knew this was just a snapshot so I took one:

Snapshot!

Later on RT9A and D41CV updated their scores and I was even out of the top five! I stayed on 40 and 80 as long as possible with both radios, even running both bands. And then the same routine on 40/20. I checked ten meters. The RBN picked up a few LZ but I didn’t hear a thing. Fifteen was poor too. I tried running and got answered by a few Far East calls: HS, YB and even a JA and a VK.

Then suddenly SP1NY took a big leap forward. I was well ahead in QSO numbers but in half an hour he accumulated almost twenty extra multipliers. HUH? Where did that come from? My guess is that he was in the skip zone on 15 and I wasn’t. Everything over 2500km from here was loud. Everything under 2000km was inaudible. Let’s see:

Warsaw – Sofia = 1100km on a pure N-S path   versus   Brussels – Sofia  = 1800 from here SE (111°).

I couldn’t work a thing under 2000km. Many red spots and unworked LZ stations but I could not hear them. Maybe my antenna is too high on 15m for this range? Must be as the UA and UA9 were loud and even those JA, HS, YB and VK were not weak… Bummer!

A few hours to go and I hoped that 15m would open up a bit for the more local stuff especially LZ. It more or less happened but it wasn’t a big success. I did manage to jump over SP1NY again. I tried 10m again in a pathetic effort to work more multipliers. A Dutchman, a German and a Belgian. Not even easy! Then fifteen again: a slow run and calling everything I could on 40m.

I wanted to know how many ‘second radio QSO’ I made but the above table doesn’t tell the story anymore because I also made run QSO and not only S&P. I forgot and just realized that all QSO on 80m were made with radio #2 which means with the small 500W amp. I left the Big Amp (1200W) on 40. The last hour I settled on 20m and stayed there. It seemed the most sane thing to do.

I’m happy with the result and what’s even better: I had a good time. I can’t wait to have 15 and 10 back though. And a second antenna for those bands.

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