Another Big One behind us. And Big it was. I had high hopes and I really wanted to do well. But in the end, I failed to meet my own expectations. Now it’s up to me to see what went wrong and what can be done. Still it was big fun although at some points in the contest I questioned myself: "WHY???" Here are some random things about the contest.

The Stuff and how it works

  • In the shack the trusty N1MMLogger and a K3 / TS-850 SO2R combo controlled by the microHAM MK2R+.
  • On my 21m high telescopic tower there is the OptiBeam OB3-11 triband yagi (3/3/5 full size). This is a great antenna on a small boom. A killer for its size but maybe a bit too light for athe‘ DX contest?
  • For 40m I had two sloping vertical dipoles suspended from the tower with a simple A/B relay switch. One to USA and another to 60°, between JA and VK. This ‘array’ performs great for its simplicity and price. Not to be compared with a 2el yagi but then again I don’t have to worry about tower and rotator load.
  • For 80/160m a brand new vertical antenna. This deserves a more elaborate description because I have been talking in and out about it lately. More precise: how I got it working in the end… So a dedicated posting will follow this week when I caught up some sleep. It’s a 30m wire going up 18m and 12m horizontal with a few elevated radials and feedpoint about 4m above the ground. Matching is done with an MFJ-998 automatic antenna tuner. I need to think some things over to get a figure of its performance. Later…
  • A triband Frizel vertical for SO2R on 10-15-20.
  • A "beverage on ground" (BOG) for low band reception.

The Rigs

I am a big fan of the TS-850 and it serves as my benchmark for any other rig. I’ve used a few other transceivers elsewhere but nothing could convince me. Early 2008 I took a wild shot and ordered a K3 to replace one of my two TS-850. During this weekend the left ear heard the TS-850 (barefoot S&P rig) and the right ear listened to the K3 (running rig with the amplifier). Conclusion: fatten the pig and gut it to replace the TS-850 with another K3. The TS-850 is a great rig but it can’t be compared to the K3. K3 reception and operation is excellent but most striking is the audio noise the TS-850 puts out. Even with the volume pot closed it gives a very high noise level. So the noise does not come from the RX but from the audio chain. Sorry dear ‘850 but after using the K3 for 5 months and the first time in a BIG CW contest: you’re overpowered.

Useless antennas or not?

  • For real SO2R I need monoband antennas. To get on two of the higher bands at once, I use a trapped triband vertical from Fritzel. While this has worked before it turned out to be useless this past weekend. This simple antenna doesn’t cut it with the poor propagation. And of course: what to work on 10 and 15m when all the action is on 20m or lower?
  • The short BOG for low band RX was tested a few weeks ago and while not a killer it sometimes gave an advantage over the TX antennas. It looked promising. I don’t know why and further investigation is needed but after deploying it again right before the contest, it doesn’t work as well as during the initial test.
  • I traded in monoband performance on 80/160 by making a dual band antenna. I gained vertical polarization on Top Band which definitely helped on 160m but the second rig was idle when on 80/160m apart from going up and down 40m. Another advantage is that I am no longer depending on the absence of wind to get the flimsy 80m GP in the air since this one is suspended from the tower. Probably a keeper.

Operating the contest

I really got everything out of the closet and into the air antenna wise. Quite some job setting it al up. And with the time consuming project of troubleshooting the 80/160 antenna in the extreme cold weather (at least to ON standards), I was totally stressed out and tired to start the contest. I knew this was going to hurt and the effects soon started to haunt me. I had to take a few short brakes and naps. The first one was Saturday afternoon about 1200 utc. I had a light lunch which tasted fine and took a short nap after that. When I woke up and went upstairs in the operation chair, I got hit by a sudden fatigue that made me nauseous. Luckily that feeling passed pretty soon.

The second nap was Sunday morning about 01.30 utc. The packet pile up on 40m for double mult ZS4TX drove me nuts and I got so caught up in trying to work him that it cost me a lot of energy. So I went downstairs and crashed on the couch. I set up my cell phone to wake me 90 minutes later which it did. But I was feeling so cold and my body was shaking, I decided to take a hot shower. That brought me back from Zombie Land into the chair.

The higher bands once again were a crying shame. Nothing on 10m. Short and weak openings on 15m. Some nice runs on 20m but it seemed to close pretty soon for zone 3. Low bands seemed good. Amazingly 40m never closed. I was working USA and Japan on 40m at the same time at my local noon (1200 utc) with the barefoot rig on a vertical dipole.

Operation was smooth and no hardware troubles were encountered. It was the first and last major contest of 2008 that I did seriously. The others were skipped or entered casually. It’s safe to say that my "operational dip" is over and if all goes well I’ll pick up serious participation in 2009.

Packet pile ups

I was "assisted" because I have the feeling that it maximizes my fun. It’s a remainder of my early DXing days where I used contests as a vessel to rake up new DXCC’s. I am by no means a "spot hopper" and my main mode of operation is running. I hate the mandatory S&P for scoring mults (you can tell that from my mult numbers each and every contest) and I know that jumping from spot to spot is a complete waste of time. I have now reached the point where I question the effect of using the DX cluster in CQ WW DX.

The packet frenzy seemed worse to me this time. Guys keep calling and calling creating a zoo. Contest operation is simplex so you get the problem that in the end everyone calls the DX but no one hears the DX. This is a killer for the rate of the DX contester as well as the other side. And because no one hears the DX working anyone anymore, you just throw in your call once again, making the mess even worse. On a few occasions I decided not to log my DX contact because confirmation got lost in the madness. Simple solution: EVERONE sends his call once or twice and not more and then just shuts up and waits until a) the DX has picked and sent a call and b) the DX sends his TU message. Everyone would benefit from this.

By the end of the contest I was so tired that I couldn’t even be bothered to try and call some guys. Nice and easy double mults but a waste of running time trying to get through. Did I say I love running and hate S&P? My disgust probably is partially caused by the phenomenon mentioned above.

Noticeable contacts

Quite a few and I didn’t take notes. ZY7C calling me on Top Band for an all time new one? OX5AA returning my CQ out of the blue on 80m? Some very nice and loud DX calling me on 40m? Mostly I remember the quest to work 3X5A on 10m. It took precise aiming of the yagi and turning up the amp
‘s drive another notch and with a short spike in propagation and quite a few calls I established a double mult QSO.

The targets (and not meeting them)

I silently wished for 3000 contacts. Extrapolating the average rate from the first 6 to 8 hours showed this was perfectly possible but the rate collapsed and so did my stamina. My QSO total is only 100 QSO shy of last year’s but the score is hurt a lot. Mainly on 10/15m.

Too bad I work a lot of 1 point contacts on the low bands. I’m happy with a few good 20m runs to USA and quite some DX on 40m but on 80/160 it’s almost all EU. My guess is that my setup runs into his limits in a CQ WW where the total score is so heavily determined by DX. It’s better in contests à la RDXC and WPX where the majority of mults can be scored in a 5000 km range.

I like running a lot but S&P is not my thing. You need to do it to maximize scoring and my reluctance to quit running for S&P shows in my mult totals each and every time. A second amplifier would partially overcome that problem? And better antennas for SO2R in stead of the triband vertical? Ain’t gonna happen.

I know I can’t do 48h straight. I prefer 24h or 36 or of 48h contests. But it was worse this year. Maybe I should consider SB40 in CQ WW CW just like I always do SB20 in SSB?

All in all good fun as always. Thanks to all fellow contesters and DX travelers for a major fun event and special gratitude to my ever supporting XYL for coping with my madness. Next time I question myself: "WHY???" the answer is simple: what else could we do? Collect stamps? Start a knitting ensemble?

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