Summary: There’s a First for everyting. But never again!
SSB. Low Bands. CQ WW. Not surprisingly I have always done a SB effort, mostly on 20m. To avoid the SSB mess, especially on the lower bands. Bonus: you get some sleep when the band of choice is closed. This year the XYL was away for the weekend so I thought to do a SOAB effort to fight the silence and the solitude. I’ve done a few SOAB in CQ WW and ended up with 2600-2900 QSO. My target was at 2000 QSO. I’m not fond of SSB, as a result I won’t be pushing the envelope here and SSB on the low bands… Well you know.
The past few weeks were incredibly hectic. Lots of work both professionally and for the household. I found the time to put another arm with pulley on top of the tower two weeks ago. I wanted to ‘split’ the 160/80m wires. Last year they both went up sharing a common pulley but adjusting one means lowering both means… It doesn’t work comfortable. I also want to do away with the current elevated radial system since I feel it can be better.
So no better time to do it than Friday afternoon before the contest. I didn’t find the time to do it well in advance. To my surprise, 80m was fixed pretty easily. But I wanted to try something (hey, it’s only SSB) for 160m. I used my ‘shorty dipole’ as a vertical with one elevated radial. That showed a dip on the antenna analyser. But with an impedance way off. I added an elevated radial about ¼ Lamba long. That lowered the dip but I ended up with a 25 ohm impedance. Wait a minute! Two years ago I bought this gizmo but never used it. It sure came in handy now. This brought the impedance right up to 50 ohms and SWR was good to go. I knew I wasn’t going to rock with this one. But with SSB on 160m, I had no expectations.
All this fiddling took about 3.5 hours and I still had to put up the 40m antenna. Or antennas? I’ve used a pair of vertical dipoles sloping down from the tower. One for USA (300°) and the other for the East (50°). However: I wonder if there really is directivity with respect to the tower. The evenings before the contest, I started reading the concerning chapters on the low band literature. But the sources were conflicting at times. Since putting the two wires up and installing the switching system takes only 20 minutes or so, I decided to put ‘m both up. Once this was done, darkness set in.
WHAT? HUH? How can this be? The 40m antennas resonated out of band. On 6500 kHz to be precise. How can this be? It has worked since 2006. Coupling with the new 80/160 setup? Must be. So I took down these antennas. No change. Pull the ropes back up. Change 40m feedline. No change. At the shack’s end of the feedline, SWR on the East antenna was within limits (2:1), but I could not tune the amp on the USA antenna – it would not find a match. It was almost dark outside and I was tired. I went outside and rearranged the individual feedlines for both 40m dipoles. That helped a bit to bring the SWR down in the shack and make the amp tune the load. At least it found a match. And much to my surprise the DVK worked right away. So I had all antennas ready and voice keying to go. Evening dinner, a shower, some TV, some sleep and then a whole lotta contesting!
An advice often formulated among contesters is to “make sure you sleep enough the days before the contest”. Oops! Couldn’t do that. Real contesters relax the hours before the contest. I play Field Day and struggle with antennas. So I decided to skip the first hours of the contest and get some sleep. I can’t do 48 straight so why not sleep right away. Furthermore I’m a slow starter and I don’t like the first hour(s) of a contest. Everyone is nervous and trying to claim a piece of the spectrum. So I set the alarm and I got into the shack at 02.00 UTC which is 4AM local time. Problem 1: voice keyer didn’t work anymore, while it was working when I left the shack earlier that evening. I have no clue how this can be. Problem 2: Both 40m antennas had shifted resonance AGAIN. Bad Karma with Halloween around the corner? It took me half an hour to get the DVK working again (some Windows audio setting got messed up) while I was wondering what caused the 40m setup to freak out. I finally could get going and used the 40m antenna pointing east. I can’t remember much of this anymore, except that I was constantly comparing the situation to my CW experience and that my runs remained unanswered. I was glad I could move above 10 MHz on Saturday and jumped to 15m right away. That went really well. The band was swinging and only got hotter as the morning progressed. I could run there, and work DX.
Then came the time to move to 20m. The band was full. All I heard was a wall of sound from 14120 to 14350. It was hard to run but I really wanted to do a fast +100/hr run of Americans. I turned the beam there and suddenly the computer went bananas. I lost control over the keyboard and PTT got stuck. Huh? Another new phenomenon. Clearly linked to RF feedback. It could be triggered by both beam heading as well as power. Nothing changed substantially and this never happened before. Was this thing linked to the resonance shift of the 40m antennas? The only thing that changed was adding a pulley on the tower with 40m of nylon rope. I found it hard to believe this could mess up the antennas and cause RFI in the shack.
Anyway back to 15m then. The band was good, plenty of Americans, nice rate for a band that has only just been resuscitated. But in the back of my mind I kept wondering what was wrong with the antennas. So I took a break in the afternoon and went outside to stretch my legs. I wanted to check all things visually. Maybe I did something wrong? It took me about half a minute to see what was wrong with 40m. In my rush to finish setting up on Friday, I had reversed the antenna’s attaching points on the top end of the rope. That means that the tips of both antennas crossed in an X-shape and touched, in stead of going down facing away from each other. Fixing this took less than two minutes. Lower rope, switch wires, pull up rope. While going up to the shack I wondered if this was the cause of the sudden RFI on 20m. If so: I have no clue how. I had a modest Eureka moment when seeing the 40m antennas resonating in band again. The 20m RFI thing seemed solved too.
From then on, the contest itself is a blur. I can only remember the horrible splatter and QRM. Compared to that cesspool, CW contesting is pure luxury. I won’t be complaining about the obnoxious signals out there. In some Eastern-EU’s bandwidth, you could fit a modest CW contest! Since running was impossible, I did quite some S&P but that can’t tempt me as much as a good run. So I sat out the contest, and even slept an hour or 3 on Sunday morning. I slept well, especially since I just worked NK7U on 15m at my local midnight, followed by a KH6. The KH6 wasn’t easy although I could copy him well. I also worked some other nice DX on the lower bands. Runs didn’t work out but the DX sure heard me. A short run on 10m yielded a handful of VK’s with good signals. I only worked K3LR on the other side of the globe. The crappy 160m antenna performed as expected. Poor and inefficient. Back to the drawing board there!
Now that the first postings on 3830 are out, I see that my score really is peanuts. But I shouldn’t compare my score to stations using antennas with boom lengths longer than my tower is high. Higher towers, antennas with more gain, stacks, decent low band antennas and +3dB or more QRO. My target was 2000 QSO. I had no idea about the end score. Maybe 2000 QSO were within reach if I slept less. I guess I made the best of it. But I will not do an all bander again in an SSB contest any day soon. Four weeks to get ready for CQ WW CW!
PS: no it’s NOT OJ5M ! ! !