What an amazing weekend! Damn this is what I needed to get the stress out from work! My First reaction after the contest was: “What have I done? And how am I ever going to do better?”. I never thought I could do this from my location and with my station. A small telescopic tower, a small triband yagi and single element wires for the low bands. And I don’t dare to figure out the efficiency of my 80/160 antenna. It’s all in the mode (CW)! I have done a couple of SOAB in CQ WW CW. Every time I tried my best. I think my previous best score was about 2.5 million and 2950 QSO. This year I wanted to break the 3000 mark. No idea about multipliers and final score. QSO volume was my target.
I set everything up last week and tried LZ DX to blow the dust off my SO2R skills. Normally I take everything down after a contest but the WX was calm and there was ZL8X to hunt down so I left everything as it was. Main benefit: start the contest relaxed in stead of tired from putting up all the antennas. I also tried to rest as much as I could. So I was all set up: tower and antennas in proven shape, WX FB, conditions not too bad… and then my amp developed a problem! See: there is always something that goes wrong.
I had a strange problem last weekend. I pushed the amp’s button to get it out of stand-by and enable power out. Then I got a flashing display, and a warning that I couldn’t read since the amp shut itself down. Never mind, just a glitch. I could play along just fine in the LZ DX test. But later on, when trying to work ZL8X it happened again. And again. Oh no! Not 3 days before CQ WW CW? Once the amp got in operating mode, it was good to go for 1kW out. But when a given current sensing test proved too high the amp would trip before going out of stand-by. To cut a long story short: with the helpful hints of the Acom reflector, I pinned it down to a bias circuit that shifts out of spec when the amp heats up. I contacted the local distributor’s technical person and his advice, after me explaining in detail what I experienced and what values of current and voltage the CPU system reported, was to keep the amp into operating mode all times and monitor the temperature. Fingers crossed – and hopefully not mis-tune the amp and make it trip into stand-by. Then I would be screwed since I couldn’t activate it again. At least not without an extensive cool down period.
Then Friday came to an end and the contest almost started so I checked the bands. I activated the amp. AND IT TRIPPED. It had worked in the afternoon. The amp had been idling for about 7 hours, and now I can’t get it out of stand-by. Now what? I tried again but it always tripped. I shut down the amp and went down for pre-contest servicing: grab a bite, shower, brush teeth, slip into contest battle dress. Start the amp. Wait 150 long seconds. In the mean time work USA on 80m – barefoot! I forgot you can do that with 100W. One US op even said ‘loud’ to me. He was too on my end. If the amp fails, it’ll be a low power effort. But cooling down for about 45 minutes did the trick.
I hate the first hour. Too frantic with everyone trying to get a head start. Usually I skip this and get some sleep first. Not this time. Pedal to the metal! Operating to the max.I started on 80 since 40 was crowded. The rate immediately went up – and stayed up! They just kept coming and coming on 80m. After a few hours, the same on 40m. I had an average of +100 hours, sustained over the first 12 hours! That’s new to me. When 40 was fading (it never closed!) I jumped to 15 skipping 20. Ten meter seemed to let us down. I don’t really remember what happened and I stopped taking notes a while ago. But things surely went great for me.
I usually operate in the ‘assisted’ category. Old school cluster, no fancy skimmer-shit. But each time the packet pile ups on rare DX seem to become worse. What are these callers thinking? They call and call, completely cluttering the DX. The good thing is some DX goes into split mode. The bad thing is that it takes more spectrum and it makes the pile up land on some poor unsuspecting guy who is running next to the DX.
I have come to understand how it works. Use the spots as ‘stay away from here’ flag in the band maps. Especially if it’s a new spot. And if you keep running a big bunch of those multipliers will call YOU in the end. Since I don’t take notes anymore I forgot who and where but I got called by many juicy double multipliers. Even on the low bands. Guys that generate huge pile ups when they run. I worked 3 XE stations for 3 double mults on bands – they all called ME. I tried to work a Chinese station on 40m for a double mult. I was running on another band so I called barefoot with the other radio (only have one amp and use it to run). It didn’t work. Later on I run 40m and that very same station calls ME.
I had a funny moment too. On Sunday afternoon, I found a clear frequency on 20m, up high in the band. I start running. Suddenly a YV calls me on the side of the beam. I only get the prefix so I send ‘YV?’. I need the mult. But he doesn’t reply. A few QSO later he calls again. YV? No reply. And again. And again. Then I realize I’m on 14.100 – the IARU beacon frequency. That’s why the QRG was free. And the station ‘calling’ me is the YV beacon. Lack of sleep, it does crazy things with humans.
About sleep: I managed to come around with only 3 hours when Saturday moved into Sunday. Together I missed 5 hours. Sanitary breaks, leg stretching walks, 3 hours of sleep and 2 hot showers. I kept the heating off and the window tilted open in the shack to keep the amp cool but it was chilly at times with temperatures below zero outside. To loosen the arms and legs, I went defrosting under hot water.
My best result ever. Thanks for all the crazy hardcore contesters out there, all the DXpeditioners and the hordes of casual operators handing out contacts. When’s the next one?
One last word: while the amp problem freaks me out, I tried to put it in perspective. Have two good ham friends living in a 15km radius from me whose houses were flooded two weeks ago, when Belgium experienced the worst rainfall in decades. This keeps them off the air for now. The amp is just a minor issue to seeing the water stand 1m high in your living room or basement. The first can be solved by replacing a zener diode, the latter is a human drama. Keep your heads up guys. There will always be contests in the future.