Here’s an ON5ZO primer: a contest write-up during the contest. Eat this, Twitter! It’s Sunday almost noon and I’m having one of my (too) many mandatory breaks. Mandatory because either I’ve run out of callers and stations to work, or my body and brain disconnected and some sleep was needed to glue them back together. I have never been so badly into a contest, ever! Technically the station performs great. The operator on the other hand is in bad shape.

It took quite some energy to get the 40m antenna up. I also ‘reengineered’ the shack in the week before the weekend. Long overdue but a necessity. And to make things complete, we decided to throw our son’s first birthday party yesterday. The party itself wasn’t a problem. We made it a brunch/lunch for about 12 people centered around what I expected to be a lull in USA propagation. My prediction turned out to be spot on. Even worse: 40m and 80m closed earlier than anticipated. The problem was this party took quite some preparation on Thursday and Friday too. All this work for antennas, in the shack and in the kitchen made for lousy mental and physical preparation to run a 48h contest. It showed from the start and I never recovered.

The good thing was that the solar flux was sky high – at least to recent standards. The bad thing was a predicted solar flare hitting us. That seemed to be OK as A and K were pretty low on Friday evening local time. Nonetheless the fresh issue of the ARRL Propagation Bulletin predicted propagational havoc in the contest. I helped the XYL set up for the party, tried to rest but failed. It helped me to go through CQ WW CW successfully, by sleeping and taking a shower right before the start. The sleeping part was absent and the hot shower only made me want to get into a warm bed and sleep. Bad mental starting point. Once in the chair I saw the A-index rose to 17. So the flare had hit us right in the contest.

From then on, it was business as usual. Signals seemed weak. The new 40m dipole performed good, but it’s hard to reference an antenna with ‘memories’ of other antennas. I’d say let’s evaluate performance over a few contests, especially everyone-works-everyone contests, and with not so disturbed conditions. As feared the 160m happy hours are gone by now and I was glad to work a few dozen for the multipliers. As for 40m and 80m, they closed much earlier after sunrise compared to CQ WW. Bummer.

I picked up where I left around 13. 00 UTC and went to 15m. There were signals, not too loud and not too many. But I wanted to keep 20m for later. I don’t really remember what happended and it’s not important anyway. There was a brief and light opening on 10m. That made for my first batch of ‘6 band QSO’ ever! I took some breaks in the evening and also at night because it was all too slow and I was too tired for this boring slow activity. This morning I had 3 hours of 20 QSO or less, with a record of 23 minutes CQ’ing between 2 QSO. I compared with my 2009 numbers, which is my best score so far in this contest, and by the looks of it I probably won’t even match that!

Now off to grab a bite, a shower and some contesting. More to come…

Update 15.00 UTC: Tried running 20m but the rate is slow and the signals are few and weak. Nothing to be heard on 10m. I’m trying my luck on 15m. It’s as slow as 20m but chances for a new multiplier / unworked station are bigger. Hooray: Mississippi calls while typing this. Nine hours to go. The bands may pop open NOW!

Update Monday morning: Boy did the bands pop open after that. First I had a +100/hr run on 15m that lasted quite a while. Then I dropped to 20m and had another 2 +100 hours. A station from Nevada called and its call turned red. An unforeseen multiplier! A quick jump to 10m gave me a few QSO and multipliers but 10m did not really deliver. In retrospect, I should have swung the beam around for a skewed path? I stuck to 20m because on 15m the party was fading away and I wanted to keep up the rate. Wyoming! I badly need Wyoming! My only chance was to stay on 20 and run with crossed fingers. As the band was closing I finally got called by a station from WY.

By 21.00 UTC I had worked it all on 20m and the band was gone. I went to 40m. It was crowded but the rate meter dropped to a pathetic number. The last hour I stuck to 80m because I figured the chance of working people was greater there since I had not that much QSO on 80m. I was glad to pull the plug and go to bed. I am happy with the 2000 QSO and the score but wonder what the effect of A=17 is on the propagation. I never thought I could outperform my 2009 score because things were too slow or the bands didn’t deliver. It’s only in the last hours, thanks to the great runs on 15m and 20m, that the QSO total got a boost. This goes to show that a contest ain’t over till it’s over! Stay in the chair and run Forest run!

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