Almost every year the IARU Region 1 CW Fieldday clashes with a mandatory event at work on Sunday. The result is that I can’t participate full time in FD myself and that the Belgian HF Devils can’t come out and play. I need to look human tomorrow so I can’t spend the night behind a transceiver.
This year is no exception so I will be participating in a local CW field day activity this afternoon / early evening. The plan is to work 15.00 until around 22.00 or so (utc times). The call used will be ON4ABL/P.
Let’s hope for some fun. I see high A and K values even rising over the last two hours. Not again???
This time the UBA club NNV and GBN joint venture used a different QTH. I had in mind where it was but must have taken a wrong turn somewhere because I arrived at an intersection that I knew from Google Maps was too far. I took my cell phone and called the ‘man in charge’ ON4AFU. He didn’t answer so I assumed he was making QSO on the radio on fixing last minute issues. I addressed a passerby and gave him a description of the place. He pointed me out where it was, and indeed I had just taken a wrong turn.
A few minutes later I arrived at the FD site, around 15.45 local time. That means T-75. Technical Director Eddy ON4AFU wasn’t there at all. Since the crew had been setting up since 10AM and ON4BHQ texted me earlier from the premises that the crew was busy ‘on site’, I assumed all was ready. ON4AFU’s open car trunk proved me wrong: the whole shack was still in his car. This made me feel a little uncomfortable.
My previous field day endeavors with ON4CCP/OT1A (2006 + 2011) were a bit of a disaster when it came to setting up prior to the actual FD. Despite extensive planning and testing before, lots of unforeseen problems popped up demanding very last minute drastic solutions. So you start all stressed out and tired. I was glad that this time, as a guest op, I could just land in the chair after a beauty nap and start making contacts. Not so. I also noticed that ON4AFU only had his laptop. One of my many peculiarities is that I use the numeric keypad all of the time and never use the upper row of keys for the numbers. I sent an email to ON4AFU asking if his keyboard was AZERTY which he confirmed. But I was thinking ‘full size 101 keys’ and not ‘small laptop’. So I didn’t take my external USB keyboard along. This was going to demand extreme ‘adapt to the situation’, another thing I am not really good had. I tend to cling on to my habits. Oh well it’s not CQ WW so things will work out.
I didn’t mingle with the crowd but there seemed to be a problem with some antenna. Say what? My assumption of ‘land in chair and off we go’ took another hit. But everything turned out just fine in the end. There was AC power from a big diesel generator with plenty kVA. The rig worked, CAT worked so no need to worry when QSY, keying worked and all antennas had an acceptable SWR – so I was told.
With fifteen minutes left, ON4AFU offered me ‘the chair’. I tweaked the paddle’s position by putting it on my left hand as a lefty but I keep dits and dahs as per righties. I changed some CW macros to my likings and at 15.00 utc I launched my first CQ. But things were very slow. Over the first three hours the average was one contact per minute. That is slow even to CW FD standards. The odd thing was that we always gave the highest serial and when doing a quick S&P, there wasn’t much to be heard. Maybe it was the sky high A index with an elevated K? Maybe activity was down? Who knows! All I could do was CQ and try some S&P. After 170 contacts I had gotten used to the laptop keyboard and the absence of numeric keypad.
I was glad that ON4IT could make it as a relief guest operator. He arrived earlier than expected and I was glad to see him. We go along way back and have spent many nightly hours in FD caravans together before. Back when we were young and had more time to recover (but needed less just because we were young). I had to check the UBA site and found that our last FD operation as ON7SA/P was in 2004. My gosh has it been this long?! Nevertheless it was good seeing him enter the FD shack. I was glad he took over since ‘the chair’ was in fact a low bench with a thick cushion close to a low table. After almost four hours by butt was sore and my legs were cramped from squeezing them under the table.
First thing ON4IT said: “Oh no, a laptop keyboard, I want a numeric keypad. Should have brought along my USB keyboard”. Great minds think alike. The bands were quiet and runs were slow. Most gave lower numbers except for a few Russians and Baltic stations. Some English stations handed out serials in the 350-400 range. We were well above 200 and still in the lead over the Belgian competitors. A small lead, but a lead!
I had asked ON4AFU to end my shift at 20.00utc in the time roster. After all I needed to go to bed in time to ‘rise and shine’ on Sunday. I had to be at work right after lunch. But I had much fun operating with ON4IT again. It didn’t take us too long to slide into helpless laughter when something remotely funny happened on the bands. We seem to have the power to discover absurd humor in everything. Soon the church bell struck midnight and I decided it was time to go. My common sense (work) beat my heart (ham radio). I took comfort in the fact that my extended presence in the shack shortened the lonely graveyard shift for ON4IT who would be relieved later on.
And that’s the end of that. I have no idea how many contacts were made in the end. Sunday morning I saw A=30 and even over 40 later on. Ouch! The good thing is that this is the same for everyone. The bad thing is it tempers the fun.
Thanks to Eddy ON4AFU and associates for setting up the station. Thanks to Marc ON3MDW for the catering and taking care of us.