California Dreaming

This weekend’s contest calendar showed a couple of smaller events. I had highlighted the EU Sprint SSB. The last time I sprinted was a few years ago. The EU Sprint actually is a clone from the NA Sprint. Over there it is a fast paced event with a lot of participants so 250-300 QSO or more is possible. But clearly you cannot just clone an American concept  to EU. The EU version of the Sprint peaked somewhere in the middle of the last decade and has been going downhill ever since. Anyway the plan was to enter this one again in a long time.

Saturday morning I was doing some computer work and ON4BHQ told me over the IM that he worked a few nice DX stations on 15m in the Oceania SSB contest. Hmm, that opens perspectives. Nice DX, why not go and listen? Indeed 15m showed good propagation to Asia and Oceania. You know how it goes… One QSO and I was hooked. I was home alone in the afternoon with nothing to do. At least nothing more important than working DX. So I worked some DX in the Oceania contest.

Then  saw some cluster spots for the California QSO Party. Why not give that one a try? I worked some on 20, but quickly tried my luck on 15m. Oh yes the band supported the signals in that direction too. Sweet! Then came the time to start the EU Sprint but what the heck. I was having so much fun I got stuck in the CQP and never looked back.

As you may know, I really would like to win a real DX contest plaque. I have tons of certificates to show for 10 years on HF. Country Winner ON paper galore. Not that it means something when you’re the only one to submit a log. I do have a few real plaques on the wall won in the UBA contest. Proud, yes, but again: it’s not really an accomplishment. At least not the way I see it. A real DX plaque, it has become my holy grail. I know that I’ll never get a plaque in a major contest. Location and station are not plaque winning material. But about two years ago I discovered the phenomenon of the State QSO Parties. Some offer plaques to DX winners. Those can be won by just hanging in there because not many DX gets involved. I must say that I never gave it a shot and the plan didn’t get executed. So much for the quest for my holy plaque grail.

Things were going well in the CQP so I looked at last year’s result. Oh my gosh; the EU winner made it with only 87 QSO and 10800 points. That was within reach! It would only be a matter of hanging in there. 20m was easy with loud signals (18.00-19.00 UTC) and it was a matter of checking 15m once in a while. That band went up and down and sometimes there was a new batch of whiskeysixers to log. I was having fun and reached 100 QSO. Then 20m also faded away and it was time to go to bed. It was well past midnight local time. More QSO’s than last year’s plaque winner, and topped the score by a small margin. I was tired and it would be a few hours still until 40m would open up to W6.

Once in bed I couldn’t fall asleep. I wanted to do more CQP on Sunday. But I got invited to a BBQ (forecast gave summer-like WX) so I’d miss prime time to California. I could try to work a few more in the evening? Yes, I could do that and sweat it out until the contest ends. Sunday morning: back to Oceania. Some VK/ZL on 40m. Always good to put in the log. Especially with my dual band dipole. It worked on 40m. But the usual EU Zoo cast a shadow over the DX. My motivation for the first ever All Band in WW SSB this month took a hit. On 40m there were some SSB spots for the CQP. Huh? I could hear them, well past my sunrise. I worked 3 and K6IDX said I was loud (S9). He was S9+20 at my place. The thrill of it! K6IDX was the loudest of them all on all bands. The signals! N6O runner up.

Then a local Belgian SSB contest started on 80m. I handed out my section to the deserving in about 20-25 contacts. Not easy with my 80m dipole cut for CW. Barefoot the rig’s output folded back to 20W. So I used the amp to match the 3:1 SWR and only used a few watts to drive it. That way I could use about 200W. Maybe more but that’s useless in a domestic contest. Then some more Oceania. I saw a spot for NH7O on 15m. I think a new one on 15m. Especially on phone. He wasn’t’ in the contest but gave a serial number to those who asked. Sweet! Time for a shower and then leave home for the BBQ.

The BBQ food was good. Weather was excellent. Company most enjoyable. But around 1500 UTC it started itching. I envisioned massive runs of loud W6 on 15m. The feeling of missing out on a DX opening or a contest – only known to my peers! While driving home the car’s ‘running on empty’ alarm sounded. A detour to the pump was in order. Another 15 minutes gone by. Around 1715 I was in the shack. Finally CQP! I was determined to win the DX plaque. Until I heard a DL hand out #160 DX. I was at 130. Cold shower! What the hell was that? So there are DX other fools around with the same plan? Crap. Plaque down the drain. Later on I heard probably the same DL on SSB. He told a W6 he had “all but 4 counties”. That means 54 out of 58 counties. My mults were stuck at 45 or so. Salt in the wound! Well, I’ve gotten so far so I just made the most of it by S&P’ing 20m both modes and occasionally jump back to 15m. It was getting late, I was tired and I felt defeated. For some reason my subconscious pointed me to the CQP rules.I didn’t read that far before. The rules clearly say that using cluster means M/S and Single Ops can’t use the cluster. That makes me M/S and there is no plaque for M/S. However, the German always popped up in the small packet pile ups after a spot in the last 2 hours. So according to the rules: no plaque for him either! Of course everyone will just send in ‘Single Op’ cluster or not. Well, not me. No plaque but a clear conscience. Oh yeah – turns out I made another mistake: I was referring to the EU score for the plaque but last year there was a JA (also DX) with a much bigger score than the top EU score. So I had been fooling myself for the whole weekend. With about half an hour to do, I quit with 197 QSO and 49 counties.

All things aside it was big fun chasing the Californians. Working W6 from Belgium is always a treat, no matter what band or mode. And some of those guys telling me I was loud is an ego booster. Especially on a shining 40m band with a low dipole and marginal 15m propagation. For the third weekend in row I messed around on the bands and had a great time. Ham radio, the greatest hobby of them all!

3 replies on “California Dreaming”

Loved your story! From our end, we worked an unusually large number of Europeans on 40, 20 and 15m. It was great to hear all you guys. Thank you from all of us at the Northern California Contest Club (NCCC — the sponsor of the California QSO Party). We appreciate your supporting our contest and look forward to working you again next year when maybe — just maybe — conditions to Europe on the higher band will continue to improve.

73 de Rusty, W6OAT
One of the ops at M/M K6IDX
(two transmitters)

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