I discovered this contest a few years ago and I like it a lot. In 2005 I did about 600 contacts low power. I made 950 QSO or so in 2006 when going QRO. I astounded myself with over 1200 QSO last year so stakes were high in 2008. I don’t want to repeat myself but once more can’t hurt: 2008 is really not a good year for me in this contesting business. Motivation low, propagation low and it has become a statistical certainty that contest weekends bring bad weather. Usually in the form of storm or heavy winds and during summer the WX even throws in some thunderstorms. Regulars know that I have a field day setup: all antennas down except for contests. A crank up tower under high wind load is lethal or at least unhealthy. The weakest point is my 80m vertical. It’s a killer antenna for EU and DX but an elevated GP with feedpoint 4m high and a flimsy 15m high radiator do not support wind or gusts. No I can’t guy it as I don’t have access to the other side of the garden. Long story…
So it wasn’t any different this time. One of the biggest T-storms since we moved in 5 years ago dropped on our heads Thursday night with fall out on Friday morning. No use cranking up the tower before Saturday then. And so I did. Tower up to ‘EU take off level’ (yagi @ 15m high, enough for EU only). The wind was present but definitely not a hazard to the tower and yagi. Then I put up the 40m GP that can stand more wind than the 80m GP. But the wind was blowing too hard for the 80m GP. It would remain up when installed, but it would be a pain getting it up in the first place. I tried that too often in the past. Must be a funny sight for sure, but not for me with the clock ticking to the start of the contest. It wasn’t the first time my 80m contest operations were in danger thanks to the meteorological powers that be. For this year’s UBA DX SSB in January I needed to think of and execute a ‘plan B’ a few hours before the contest. I made a 80m dipole since I wasn’t expecting any DX in the SSB part. However I could not raise that dipole on the tower’s pulley this time since the 160m dipole already took that spot. And I know from experience that 2 dipoles for 80 and 160 interact when too close to each other. ‘Cross polarization’ antennas do work though. With about 3 hours to go I decided to use the 80m dipole in a strange configuration. A long shot…
I raised one leg on the tower’s opposite side pulley. I grabbed the feed point and stretched it as far as the garden’s edge. With a piece of rope in a spruce tree I suspended the feed point about 1.5m above the ground. From there I took the other leg and used it as a single elevated radial also 1.5m high, going back to the tower. All this was done making sure the 80m experiment would make an angle as close to 90° to the 160m dipole’s plane as possible. I needed to avoid interacting and coupling between both bands. It took a little pruning and adding some wire to the radial formerly known as Dipole’s Leg but it got resonant. Only the dip was too sharp reducing my 2:1 bandwidth too much. This was measured right at the feed point so I figured about 50m of coax into the shack would broaden this due to the losses. I ran to the shack and hooray – we had achieved "broadbandness". I could span 80m CW with SWR low enough (less than 1.5) not to trip amps or fold back power. No coupling on 160m. The Top Band dipole was still resonant where needed and everything else seemed to be working. ON5ZO, I dub thee the McGyver of antennas. A wire and a rope and he makes a resonant antenna. If only this stuff actually radiates and picks up RF!
You see, it’s all this stuff that has attenuated my contesting fun. A turnkey setup would be easy: sit down, flip switch, fire CQ at will on all HF bands. In stead all my contest efforts turn into a one-man field day show over and over again. Setup up, play radio, break down, store till next weekend. Repeat sequence. But it’s like that and it will remain like that. Moreover faint heart never won fair lady (or a contest for that matter) so by this time I still had one hour to go and I was ready. Boy was I ready! The XYL cooked la lovely lunch (I really liked that sauce honey!), I took a shower and with 10 minutes to go I hit the chair.
I proceeded to checked 10m. Uh oh… Empty! I ran there prior to the contest last year to reserve my seat and made an 120/hr on 28 MHz to start the contest. Let’s do this on 15m then this year? Same story. At 12.00utc I tried to run 10m, dropped to 15m and made QSO #1 after 4 minutes… on 20m! Oh boy, nasty. That 20m QSO was to make sure the RX was working. Back to 15m. I made 2 QSO there for a total of 3 and already 9 minutes were gone. I figured this situation was the same for everyone so let’s all end up on 20m gain shall we? I ran 20m, moved to 15m and 10m to do some S&P then ran 15m and tried running 10m again. This was absolutely a propagation nightmare and a night and day difference with last year.
The rest of the contest I kept staring at last year’s rates I printed and realized that if my 80m antenna turned out to be crap, it would be even more of a mess. The rates were low, and apart from no propagation it seemed that there was not too much of a crowd on CW. When I finally got to 40m the band let me down too. I’ve seen it better for EU only rates. The facts for the rest of the contest:
The K3 is really a great rig. I need to tweak some parameters a little further and explore some of the possibilities. It was the first time on the low bands and I’m very happy with it. I don’t feel it is inferior to or more complex to operate than the TS-850 which is my personal benchmark. I don’t care about figures HI.
The 80m antenna worked great for EU. I can’t tell what it would do for DX after this one. The band was noisy and I tried several settings on the K3 to make this better. Sometimes successful, sometimes it would mess up. I need to RTFM on the noise blanker.
I made more QSO on top Band than last year. I achieved almost the same number of the 15m mults in just over half the QSO’s there. Go figure.
G4PIQ calls in on 160m. He asks for a QSY to 15m. It’s 22.19 utc. Skeptically I grant him the favor and ask to QRX while I turn the yagi around. He agrees to call me on 21005 in a minute. After some more contacts I QSY and call a few times with 100W as I don’t want to retune the amp. In vain of course as 15m has been dead all day. No answer and I don’t hear anything anymore around 21005. Back to 160m. In a lull I return to 21005 a few minutes later where G4PIQ calls me. Coincidence as it’s already 4 minutes after the initial QSO. We exchange reports and I go back to 160m. This kind of successful action is the salt and pepper on my contesting!
I spent the last 20 minutes on 160. I reasoned that I had sucked 40m almost empty, and that I have 60 more QSO on 80. That means more chances for people to work me on 160. I get called by 4 more mults in the last 5 minutes. Great!
I haven’t checked 3830 for the comments and scores so I hope everyone suffered from the bad propagation and that my score will be in the top 10 again. It was fun but not as much fun as it would be with some propagation. Fingers crossed for 2009!