IARU Contest 2010 a/k/a the HF Championship

Geez I am so tired. The heat wave is really wearing me out. It was a constant 28-30°C in the shack during the contest and well over 30°C when I had to set up the antennas. What to write? That this is my one of my favorite contests? That the last time I did it SOAB CW was 2007? That I made over 2000 QSO in that one, which still stands as my personal best? I skipped this contest in 2008 (bad WX: wind and constant T-storm theat) and 2009 (needed to get a lot of work done and got a T-storm to boot). So it was time to hit hard and try to at least reach the 2000 QSO level again (in a 24h contest). Only possible show stopper: WX, again. We’ve had a few weeks with very nice WX here. I did countless BBQ and used up a tube of sun screen already. Really a beautiful summer here so far. But what’s a contest @ ON5ZO without the weather interfering with my plans? So for the weekend the forecast predicted thunder and lightning. All WX sources agreed on this one. A T-storm wiped out the final phase of my WPX CW, remember? But a T-storm is local and maybe (who am I kidding?) I could escape the violent weather?

I set up on Thursday, redid the 80/160m antenna on Friday so I was good to go well before the start. Even worked some JA on 15m Saturday around 10.00utc so it looked promising. No packet cluster this time to stare at but a couple of online shower / T-storm tracking websites. The contest started out pretty slow but soon the pace picked up and over the first hours I sustained a 90/hr rate. Then the first lightning hits were detected about 150 km away from here, in France. Only a few, so no worries. The rate picked up, with 36 USA stations worked on 10m and 82 W’s on 15m. This is the best I’ve seen in ages! And good ol’20m seemed to be in great shape: the rate got up to 120 sustained over a clock hour. Parallel to this the T-storm grew and was heading MY way. At 17.12utc the static crashes were so hard and the sky looked so violent that I decided to quit. Just when I left the chair and pulled off the headphones, the first rumble was heard. By the time I got downstairs in the garage to unplug all cables coming into the house, the T-storm unleashed all it’s evil. We weren’t really comfortable with this, it was one of the heaviest thunderstorms we’ve seen in years and most of all: it was hovering right over our heads. Thunder and lightning almost simultaneous. So I went back into the shack and unplugged everything there too, even the power cables for PC, PSU and amp. I’ve never done that! A lot of rain fell down in a short time, but nature is thirsty so that’s ok.

For the second time in a row, my contest got wasted and my goals flushed by a thunderstorm. I didn’t reach my target in WPX CW due to this, and with a shining 20m supporting +100 rates, this will have cost me at least 200 QSO, maybe 250. The thunder and pouring rain lasted over 2 hours. I put everything back and made the next QSO at 19.28. Imagine a cyclist in the Tour De France (sports metaphor coming – take cover!) sheltering for a thunderstorm for over 150 minutes and then jump on his bike to race his race and hunt down his competitors. That’s what I tried! My goal was to reach the 1000 QSO mark halfway in the contest. I pulled this off about half an hour into the second half of the contest, with the rate again very good. Hail to 20m! The band was GREAT. DX coming in from all over the world, no matter where I pointed the yagi. When it faced the T-storm that travelled over Antwerp to Holland and Germany, I could see the S-meter move. At a given point an online thunder tracking service showed over 20 000 hits! I went to 40m which was great too. A lot of juicy DX calling in. CX1AA was like a DL, and VK7GK was loud too. Sunrise was a bust. On 80m I harvested a pathetic 3 USA stations (ouch! with WAE CW coming!) and the proverbial ‘pulling teeth’ applied with the summer QRN enhanced by 50dB courtesy of the gigantic storm front casting a shadow over the Benelux and Germany. So back to 40 which was good and 20m didn’t even close at all. No matter where I put the yagi, loud W6/W7 and JA’s kept calling in. However the higher bands weren’t that good and things slowed down to almost standing still. The QRN killed 160m sunrise completely, where the activity seemed limited to the local HQ’s.

Aahhh, those HQ’s. OP0HQ, the Belgian HQ was hard to find on CW. Not found or heard on 160, 40 and 20. The other HQ’s indeed seem to be massive CQ machines. I didn’t care to S&P all that much, and neither do they so once again my multiplier count is very low. No worries, my goal was 2000 QSO regardless of score and multipliers. I couldn’t do an American 6-bander this time either. Now that 10m was open, 160m got wiped away. I closed the log with 1797 QSO. So without the 2.5 hours I lost yesterday, I would probably have reached my goal. This was a fun contest but once again I am left with a ‘mission NOT accomplished’ feeling.

I left WRTC for what is was. Once again I will have to provide my own garment. To get a WRTC T-shirt, you need to focus on working WRTC stations. That means operating exclusively S&P. Thanks but no thanks. The top scorers made over 3500 QSO which shows that you don’t need big antennas and amplifiers. Granted, this is a non-standard situation with the whole world hunting them down. After all, T-shirts don’t come cheap! I didn’t look for them and I think they were also running most of the time since only a handful called me. Running is a winning strategy! But you can’t win without a healthy dose of S&P…

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