- Again the best I could do with my modest station.
- Propagation not a disaster but score did suffer.
- Low on mults as usual.
- I love the real time score board!
- Sudden storm on Saturday night distracted me from operating.
- This morning I said: “Never again!”, now I say: “When’s the next one?”.
- Big Thanks to all who called me and all ham nuts (SO or team) going places and hauling stuff to give us nice Mults.
- 1284 QSO with USA (34%) of which 38 on Top Band!
- 332 QSO with radio #2 (9%).
- Best clock hours: 179 and 153, hour #2 and #3 the first night on 80. I think 179 is a slight improvement of my previous best which I believe was 178 or so.
After last month’s underachievement in the SSB part I wanted to do better this time. The station was prepared but the operator not really. I was tired and not ‘in the mood’ for performing in a big contest. I started on 40 where contrary to SSB I can hold my own. It actually systematically is my best band. But once again: no glamourous start this time. The solar flare a few days earlier turned out to be a show stopper. Signals from the north (Baltic region and higher) were weak and hard to copy and USA signals were weak and fluttery. You know something hit the fan when K3LR is only S7 and PJ2T even weaker. Exit my start in full force. Thank you sun! Once again I start the contest with slow rates. Or so I feared.
So off to 80 then. That band was reasonably quiet and I could work a few stations. My CQ was answered by a healthy dose of USA with pristine signals. I managed to keep the rate above 100/hr. See my opening notes. Even sunrise on 160 was fun. Much more Americans than anticipated. I had given up on Top Band but there you go: 38 Americans some of which were very loud. Copying in diversity mode with the aid of the RX loop seemed to work, or maybe it was just a case of good conditions (low noise and stronger signals) that rendered copying a breeze.
Over the first hours I could keep the average rate above 100, which is always my personal benchmark in CW. I got through the first night and actually I don’t remember what happened next. I only remember that The Mighty Ten Meters had a solar flare induced off day. Twenty and fifteen were better but not great. Anyway I made it through the day. The only problem was a sudden mention of strong winds in the night from Saturday to Sunday. According to the source it would be 5 Beaufort to 6 Beaufort with gusts of 80 km/h or more. Uh oh. This was not mentioned the days before the contest. I have a freestanding unguyed telescopic tower and operate in a fieldday-like fashion. My limit is 5Bft of which I know through experience that it is a safe level. So strong wind means lowering the tower. A lower tower means no low band antennas. I follow the WX forecast on a few WX websites. I compile my own figures since over the years I come to know which site is accurate in the short or longer term. But no wind was predicted until now. And certainly not a storm. And as Saturday progressed, the word ‘storm’ was coined a couple of times. I comforted myself in saying they had been wrong a dozen times before. But I wasn’t feeling at ease with this. I did not want to cancel my operation – in retrospect I should have done so. More on that later.
Saturday evening slid into Sunday morning and around 1 AM local time I got hungry and went to the kitchen for a snack. Hmm, now with the headphones off and looking through the kitchen window I noticed the winds were indeed pretty strong. But the worst had yet to come. As the night went on, the wind became very strong and gusts made the windows shake. Around 2 AM I was looking outside and the tower was wobbling. Oh boy. My stomach started wobbling too. Normally with this weather, the tower is down and the antennas are just above roof level. But now it was all the way up. Each gust made the tower base move a bit. Honestly this killed the contest for me. Seeing this changed my mood. I was more focusing on the wind and the tower than making contacts.
I was texting with OT1A who was running the contest too and has exactly the same tower in exactly the same weather. I was looking for some solace but Ken practiced the art of making people feel worse. He answered that he didn’t even put his tower at full height, anticipating Murphy’s visit. ON4BHQ says: contest weekends overrule forecasts. At a given point I was so stressed out and worrying about the outcome that it hit my bowels. The winds did not have to get stronger or problems would surely arise. I tried to ignore the situation and focus on the bands but I couldn’t. The rates were low, I wasn’t paying attention, my motivation snapped. But I tried to make contacts to forget the outside stormy world. At a given moment I dozed off in a micro sleep and was brutally woken by a gust hitting the roof which also is the shack’s ceiling. I leaned back in the chair to look out the window and the tower was gone, away, fallen over. My heart skipped a beat and then went to 300 BPM all in a split second. My tower is gone! But I just didn’t lean back far enough to see the tower, it was still there. I needed a few minutes to recover from this mirage. I considered cancelling my operation but that would not solve the problem. To be safe from wind’s harm I had to lower the tower but doing so in the dark is not smart, and that would mean lifting it to release the safety flaps the sections were resting on. The sections would then swing freely for a few seconds and who knows what might happen in that situation with all the forces and torque applied to the tower sections. I knew that it was best to stay away from it all. And hope for the best. The thought crossed my mind that religious people now would turn to the heavens above but I just wanted to raise a middle finger to that storm depression in the heavens above. In the mean time I noticed the dog house had moved forward and got turned 30 degrees too. That only happens in extreme winds every other winter so there you go: yet more evidence of an exceptional and nasty situation.
A few hours with only a few dozen contacts passed. I kept monitoring the hourly update of the national weather institute’s online chart and noticed that my QTH was right in the spot where the strongest winds and gusts were measured. For about five hours on end. I had saved the chart images to disk and made myself a real time animation in the hope to see the isobars spread out and see the average wind speed lower. Once again I got a live demonstration of the saying ‘it gets worse before it gets better’.
The gusts seemed to peak around sunrise so instead of focusing on grey line propagation I went outside to fix the coax and rotator cable that had come loose and was flying free from the tower. Oh boy. The wind was howling, the antennas were bending and the tower sections were dancing and vibrating. Looking up from ground level I saw a weird sight of antennas, mast and tower sections swinging out of synch. I comforted myself in saying that this is normal since the smaller sections sit nested freely in the bigger section and this movement took away the mechanical stress that could cause damage. But I was shocked by the fact that the lowest section moved a bit too. I do not understand how this can happen. If the tower comes loose from its mounting base, it’ll topple and fall. And furthermore: could this movement cause loosening of the bolts with which it is bolted to the tilting plate? And would the structure get deformed by this? Don’t get me wrong: the tower is made of 5mm wall aluminum tubing, has a lot of cross braces, big steel I-beams in the tilting and mounting frame – in short: a heavy duty construction nested in four cubic meters of concrete with big threaded rods and locking nuts. But then again the Titanic was said to be unsinkable and look what happened.
Around 9AM the winds slowly decreased to acceptable levels and I could evaluate the situation. We had survived without physical damage. That’s the important conclusion. But all this worrying had slowed the contest down for me and had taken a lot of energy. Energy that would be needed to carry on another 16 hours. My motivation was gone, literally blown away. Things hadn’t been great on Saturday due to the disturbed propagation and maybe because I was expecting too much by referring to 2011. Then overnight I did not really build a good score and got carried away by the storm’s passage. Once again I briefly considered quitting but decided to make the best of it anyhow. I was very tired but at this stage the anxiety had traded places with relief.
So back to the contest. Finally! Ten meters was more open than on Saturday but still very spotty propagation to the east. Skip was long and EU signals were mangled. I managed to improve the 15m numbers too. Later on in the afternoon I had a few good runs on the higher bands and the average rate was again +100/hr measured over a few hours. Good runs and quite some DX but I had the feeling the effect of the solar flare took its toll. Especially the loud Caribbeans were not that loud and the bands closed rather early and abrupt. After a few good runs back and forth between 10 and 15 I decided to land on 20 but soon after that the noise on 20m went away as did the signals. Bummer. To be short I went to 40, then 160 with some unexpected unthought-of of EU multipliers and decided to do the last hour on eighty meters. I was evaluating a few things and wondered why I had no easy PY on 80 when PW7T called me. Let the mult bell ring twice!
As a side-dish I wanted to work EL2A on top band for a ‘sixbander’ but I never heard them. With one and a half hour to go and me being on Top Band anyway when a spot appeared in the bandmap I checked it out. Pretty loud and an easy target with only 5000 kilometers or so. But an unruly mob decided to make it impossible for themselves and me to hear the DX let alone work it. I tried for about a quarter of an hour and then I just gave up. The mob kept on calling and calling so no one could hear if the DX came back to someone and to whom. The irony is an Italian who was calling very much out of turn and after a series of a dozen of his callsigns he wondered why the DX didn’t reply and kept silent so he sent ‘?’
All in all I should be happy with the result. I’m learning to accept that whatever score I put down, probably is the best I can do given the variable parameters like propagation. I also must learn not to compare my results to stations with multiple towers twice as high and stacked monobanders with power split left and right and maybe even excessive power levels. Many hams probably dream of my simple station. And indeed it offers a lot of fun for the space it takes and the visual impact it has. And over the years I learned to squeeze every drop out of it.
I used the second radio a lot and more than ever I want a medium amp for this radio. I just did the math again for the umptieth time: the Elecraft KPA3 fits my needs but is too expensive for what it is. Rather: the price itself is OK but getting it here (UPS shipping and VAT) adds about 750 Euro. For this price I want more power. Still no fresh news on the Acom solid state amp. When will this one be available? Or should I just settle for a simple manually tuned classic amp? I keep on hinting for birthdays and Christmas but it seems my family has no tradition in offering QRO as a gift and does not seem to be wanting to start such a tradition.
Too bad OT1A could not be there from the start because of QRL related activities. This made the real time score board, which I have come to adore, a bit distorted. Also getscores.org didn’t work in the SSB part and the Russian equivalent was out of reach a few times this weekend too.
A closing note on the storm: in retrospect there is no damage here. So it seems the tower can take some beating. I’m not quite in the featherweight league and I was trying to move it this evening by swinging on it like a monkey on a liana. It didn’t move, it didn’t shake, it didn’t twist. So imagine the forces strong gust exercise on a tapering tall structure with top load. On the other hand I should follow my motto “better safe than sorry”. If the storm would have been announced the days before the contest, I might have skipped it like in 2009. But then again: it wasn’t nearly as bad then as they announced it would be!
So yet another CQ WW CW episode written in the Grand Book of Contesting. I had planned on having a go in the ARRL 10 Meter Contest in two weeks but I will evaluate this the coming days. With conditions like we had last weekend, I might just skip it and spend my weekend with the family. Note to the eavesdropping XYL: ‘might’ is a conditional clause! You as a language teacher must know that (imperative clause!).