EUHFC 2009

Throughout the contest, or at least the part I was active, I was thinking of The Simpson’s Comic Book Guy’s quote: “Worst episode ever”. This one was indeed my own worst episode ever!

A little history

I really should stop benchmarking my contesting to 2007. That was my best year. Everything worked out, many many QSO, high rates, good scores. And WX seemed to like contests. In EUHFC 2007 I made over 1200 QSO, starting with an 120 hr on 10m. Go figure. Then I sucked 15m dry etc etc – the callers kept calling and the rate meter got stuck at 100/hr.

Then came 2008. WX throughout the whole year was crap for my field day setup. Even so in EUHFC, read it here and here. I had a slow start then and I was thinking that it was bad for everyone. Later on 3830 I read that some guys easily got over 1100 QSO. I must have done something wrong?

Doing wrong isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Not drawing conclusions on the other hand, is. I did not check last year’s scores to see what I did wrong. The reason for that is simply a blatant lack of time. I’ve been working on a construction project outside for over 7 weeks now, and I simply didn’t have the time to play radio or prepare. Even worse: all my low band antennas were completely removed and put in a box because the garden became a construction site. I wasn’t around the shack since WPX CW. After missing IARU, RRTC and IOTA, I wanted to get on the air. I was am tired and not 100% motivated.

The day before

Mission statement: Put all ‘civilian’ jobs on hold and make sure the antennas work. I soldered a ‘remote tuning device’ for the MFJ automatic tuner that is now outside in a cabinet. It’s just a relay actuated from the shack, that shorts the terminals of the tune button in the tuner. So the tuner sees the closing relay as someone pushing the button. Modified the shack’s end of this interface. Put plugs on cables. All with instant success. I’m not new to soldering small circuits. But it all takes time.

I put the 2 elevated radials of the 40m vertical back in the trees. They were removed after tweaking the trees early in April. Go figure!

How to be QRV on 160/80 for a domestic EU contest? I have a 80m dipole in stock but I remember that the MFJ doesn’t tune it on 160m. Being desperate and in a hurry I fed the dipole with homebrew ladder line and a THE infamous current choke. No go on either band. Replaced ladder line with coax: OK on 80m, no go on 160m.

I cannot put up two dipoles on the tower, they interact. I need to go ‘cross polarized’. If I use my 160m dipole, I need to go vertical on 80m. But all the elevated radials for 160/80 are gone and still need to be replaced… It’s late in the evening already and I need to go and pick up my brother in law at the airport. So I just put up 2 elevated radials and hung up a wire from the tower. This got tuned on 80m but not on 160m. As expected: radials and wire too short. The MFJ-998 is a lazy SOB, it only tunes what’s easy.

The nice thing is that the WX cooperates. No snow, no wind, no rain. Warm, dry, sunny. It’s 21.30 local, I need to QRT / QSY and still haven’t got anything in the air for 40 and 160. Got home and in bed at 01.00 am.

The day of the contest

You could say that I have the Saturday morning to finish the antennas. But my neighbor asked me to give him a hand. It seems that everybody is into DIY construction these days. He has helped me out a couple of times so I didn’t want to let him down. So I got up at 07.00 and put up the 160m dipole and 40m vertical (radials already done on Friday). I was QRV @ neighbor at 08.30 and we made it a quickie. I was back home at 11.15. Plenty of time, and QRV with the OB11-3 @ 16m high, a vertical for 40m, something ‘verticallish’ for 80m and a coil loaded 160m dipole. I comforted myself that this is OK to make 1000 QSO in the UBA CW contest in 12h so it’ll be good for a EU-only contest.

The Contest itself

At 1200utc, 10m was dead. So I started on 15m. Twenty minutes later I was running 14017. Nuff said? How I hate this scenario. It’s been like that for what seems forever. Forget about 10, try 15, end up on 20… Last year it was the same story but then I reckoned it was bad for everyone. Later on that seemed not true.

After one hour and a half, the trend became clear. I took a break – motivation = zero. Put myself together and tried 10m which yielded 4 QSO and 15m for about 15 QSO then on the 20m again. After a ‘reasonable’ hour on 20 (86 QSO?), I tried 10m again with some more success. Then back to 15m for another round. Signals were VERY weak, except the Balkan guys. Then the obligatory round on 20m which was quite ok.

I took a second break, I had already given up being competitive and 45 minutes later I returned to 15m which was a little better than before. Then a dozen contacts on 10m and again to 15m. I skipped 20m because I had plenty of contacts there.

By 1900 utc it was time to hit 40m. I hoped for the rate to explode. It didn’t. After 46 QSO in 40 minutes, and a short S&P on 20m I tried my luck on 80m. That band was very noisy. No rate there either and poor signals. Maybe the antenna wasn’t what I needed for this contest? I worked 47 stations in 35 minutes. Around 20.20 utc I hit rock bottom. I was tired, didn’t have fun, it was hot in the shack and the forecast was “chances of thunderstorms over central Belgium”. I quit the contest and disconnected all antennas. I had a tremendous feeling of defeat because of the bad numbers on 10m and 15m, which I could not make up with these rates on the low bands.

The Day After

Anxiously reading 3830. I look at the scores in CW Only HP. How do they do that? Better stations? Better location? Better operators? Or better tactical insights in the EUHFC game? I did very well in my magic year 2007. Why can’t I do it again in ‘08 and ‘09? What has changed?

I need to see if I can get hold of some logs to see on what band those super scorers were and to compare that with my ‘strategy’. Still early for new year’s resolutions but here’s my primary goal for this winter and 2010: don’t start big projects, relax, prepare for contests, operate them. Full time.

BTW: There were no thunderstorms last night.

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