Classic situation: very good weather 10 days before the contest. Even got a light sun burn. Plan was to set up Wednesday. Feline and canine falling from the sky all day. Did the work on Thursday and Friday. All went fine and finished way in time. There’s something new… I said ‘screw 160’ which you can afford in WPX and added another 3 elevated radials to the 80m elevated antenna. All set on Friday late afternoon. Great. Had worked W6OAR on 15m at my midnight Thursday going to Friday. Then I worked PJ4 + PJ2 + YN who were pushing the S-meter to a big 9 on 10m. Promising! Only thing that could stop me now was WX. Forecast for the weekend: strong winds, gales, showers and the T-storms to boot. The only thing? Then while having a brief IM chat, Denis K7GK warned me about the propagation conditions that were predicted to be horrible. Three possible show stoppers then:
Winds that would force me to lower the free standing crank up tower.
T-storms, obviously the time to take a break.
Propagation: how bad could it be?
A contest starting 00.00z in Western EU means counting down and becoming tired until 2AM local time. START! My tactic was: run 40/80 the first night and keep 20 for last. It didn’t quite go super fast but to WPX standards, the rate was OK with an average of 80/hr over a 5 hour stretch. I won’t bother you with more operational details because I’ve been telling that over and over. I didn’t even take notes during the contest. For the first time in ages, I was ready to enjoy a SOAB CW contest, something that I haven’t done since ARRL DX CW 2009 (yes 2009!). Smaller contests and casual ‘handing out points’ aside.
First break Saturday morning, power nap of about 90 minutes, shower, back on at about 11.00 UTC or so. Run the bands, curse the propagation, look out the window to see how the WX evolved. Winds were strong but under my “nervous breakdown threshold”. Online lightning detection didn’t show problems. At about 01.00utc on Sunday, it was time for another power nap. Die-hard contesters know what I mean. Planned 1.5 hours, slept 3. No problem, plenty of time left on Sunday evening. Winds were strong but the tower seemed fine. I felt fit to make it through the end, motivation was low because of the struggle for contacts. New EU law issued: all RF must be stopped at EU borders. It was hard to work outside of Europe. I can’t remember a major DX contest where I worked so few USA on 20m. Even in my pre-tower days! Granted: SFI was peaking then.
Sunday around 17.00 utc.
Running Plowing through 10m. Suddenly strong static crashes, one after the other. I look through the shack’s only window facing north. Sunny. Can’t be a T-storm. The online lightning map doesn’t show hits here. The free version isn’t real time. It has a 30 minute delay. I hear some roaring, but it probably is a farmer’s tractor driving by. More louder crashes on the RX. More roaring outside. I leave the shack and go to see through the bedroom’s window on the south side. Black sky, some lightning flashes, thunder following under a second. SH!T. Now what? Common sense dictates: run out of the shack, unplug cables. Which I did, and while I was downstairs in the garage (where coaxes enter and the antenna switch is), I loosened the ropes and lowered the low band antennas on the tower.
It popped up right over my head, emerged in a short time span, very local, and lasted about a good hour. That was enough to break the spirit. I had about 5 hours of operating time left, and was hoping to break the 2000 QSO barrier. It wasn’t meant to be, with limited antennas. I couldn’t put everything back up since there was still a threat of more T-storms. So I decided to stick to the higher bands only with a lower tower. Didn’t work. And I couldn’t go back to the low bands. I pulled the plug, literally and figure of speech. I wasn’t about to set records or win a plaque, but I still feel like I started a job that I didn’t finish. Room for improvement in the next one, right?
PS I did this one unassisted. I didn’t miss the cluster since I’m mainly a running guy. I did not use SO2R this time. It would feel silly to try to work two closed bands at once ;o)