First off, an apology to John AE5X for being tardy with this post. I hope you manage to be okay? HI HI BTW good point you made there OM.

Well this turned out to be a long write up. In a nutshell: not much contesting. More babysitting. And a lot of WX related text.

No matter how careful you plan, no matter how thoroughly you prepare, you just can’t win from Murphy and his friends accomplices in the WX department. Yes my loyal followers, this story involves wind again. They should call the season winDer. Winter gets easily associated with snow, frost, nature coming to a halt. So far around here it’s been too warm, the precipitation has been all too fluid and the wind has blown too hard even stormy. Even my friend OT1A suffers a minor inconvenience from the strong wind gusts as of lately. Let’s hope this is a one off season and not the start of a new era.

Already a few months ago the XYL had planned a night out this Saturday. We arranged a sleepover for the kids so I could be in the shack. They were supposed to spend the night at our friends’ place. They have two kids, we have to kids, they have plenty of beds – what more could I possibly ask for? The ‘were supposed to’ gives it away already.

As usual the week before a contest I monitor a dozen of WX sites and compile my own forecast. By now I know who has it right in the long run and who is accurate on short notice. The predicted wind speed early last week was looking manageable. Some values were flirting with my self imposed limit to crank up the tower, but no show stopping figures. Until Thursday evening. Belgium’s biggest commercial TV station predicted 6 Bft Saturday overnight. With an explicit verbal warning to boot. WTF? Out of the blue. I cross checked online but no other source talked about this. Friday morning all values were back to normal, the site in question lowered wind speed from six to three Beaufort. Except for one site that talked about severe weather early Saturday evening. But what is severe? And it would be a very local phenomenon. At least the extremes. The other sites picked it up too later on Friday but my guess hope was that it’ll probably be ok. After all, a weekend on my own, no kids nor XYL, a boring SSB contest and the CW 160 CW. I needed to have the tower up all the way.

Friday afternoon was sublime outside. Blue sky, a prominent role for the sun and our wind bag was drooping and almost not moving. A welcome change. All the ropes of the safety flaps and pulleys manageable and not entangled by the wind. With all this meteorological luxury I fooled myself into a spring time feeling. I swear I could hear the grass grow!

Tower up? Check! Low band wires in place? Check! Resonance where it was last time? Check! Good to go! I checked the WX forecast again after dinner and by now all sites mentioned a severe weather front moving in from over the North Sea. Gusts up to 100 km/h. Hail. Lightning. In short: not only would it rain on my parade, the parade would probably get blown away. {#[%@#{@ %! ! !

Now what? I had time to decide until Saturday after lunch. That would give me at least a sunrise on 160. And some more time for the forecasts to tweak the prognosis. But as Friday  evening went by, the warnings became more precise. Early Saturday evening a storm front would come ashore and move from west to east. Before this all would be OK, afterwards things would calm down but it would be nasty when it moves over. DRAT! Mood spoiler.

Saturday morning I made slightly short of two hundred Top Band QSO. Mostly EU. Only two or three Americans and VY2ZM who is the low band contest beacon. If he’s weak, forget the rest. He was S7 Saturday. Cluster spots showed mostly EU-EU and NA-NA contacts. I tried working some DX on the higher bands after breakfast and then had to decide what to do. The site that turned out to provide the most reliable forecast even sharpened its warning. The wind gusts would be a killer factor in this one so I decided to lower the tower completely and make the UBA SSB contest an experiment. What can be done with the tower down? I would have to give up 160 for the coming night and rearrange the wire for 80m.

I set the table for lunch early in order to get my outside antenna business done well in time before the contest. Then the cell phone rang. One of the sleepover buddies became ill. Our kids were still welcome but at our own risk. Since my contest plans took a WX hit already I decided to keep our sons here and just skip the prime time hours. This would also compromise my Sunday morning contest activities but I can’t risk our kids becoming ill. No school nor day care then so a domestic problem would arise.

To cut a long story short, I lowered the middle section of the tower and left the inner section halfway up. This way the yagi sat at thirteen meters and the 40m dipole at fifteen meter. The idea was that I gained five meter compared to lowering it completely. But when shit would hit the fan at night, I could comfort myself by saying that these mere five meters won’t make a difference. I decided not to mess with the 80m ground plane wire and coil it up as well as the 160m wire. The SSB part of this contest doesn’t offer much DX compared to the CW part so I dug up a set of wires cut for 75m from back in the days. Field day situations, looking for parts to fabricate last minute assemblies, electrical tape, the works but in the end SWR dip was spot on with resonance at 3700 kHz. Ten minutes to go before the contest started. I would have to trade radio toys for kids toys less than three hours later.

The start went slow. Even slower than anticipated. Conditions might not be great but not bad either. A classic problem; who does SSB when there is CQ WW 160 CW, REF CW and BARTG RTTY? Next month the tables (rather modes) will turn and participation in UBA CW will be great. I started on fifteen, then went to ten. It was hard to get a reply to my CQ but by the end of the afternoon I worked 39 QSO there, with 3 mults. ON of course, one or two VE and the rest all North-East USA. Maybe a W5 from Louisiana if I recall well. Twenty was a bust this early in the contest and when the XYL called she had to leave, I missed the prime time hours on 20 and 40. Not even a single American or Canadian on twenty meters! Oh well, c’est la vie. Thought: if you’re not spotted fresh into the bandmaps, you don’t get many QSO. People seem to hop spots in stead of tune the bands between spots.

I went downstairs and fired up the laptop. In the mean time the nasty weather had developed over the UK and was wreaking havoc over there. No doubt about it, this monster would cross the North Sea and then bulldozer over Belgium. And I could follow it on the online weather maps and radar images.

Time passed slowly and I began to worry. This storm was on my mind. That’s the bad thing nowadays. In the past you’d see the storm when it’s over you and not worry hours in advance. There is nothing you can anyway. Maybe pray if you’re religious. Or take a shot if you’re a junkie. But I’m neither so I had to rely on crossed fingers. Does that count as superstition? I prepared evening dinner and let the kids watch some TV. After I put the youngest to sleep, the storm front was well under way to hit the Belgium coast. I was following it all on a Belgian amateur WX site and I must say: an amateur meteorologist but with professional skills. Then people started reporting lighting flashes, wind gaining speed and rain. Given the intensity and the number of lightning strike blips on the screen, I went outside to the garage around 18.30 UTC to unplug all coax and control cables. At that time the wind was howling in a scary way through the antennas and tower lattice already.

I should be on forty meters now and work hundreds of stations! Oh wait, it’s SSB. Make that ‘dozens of stations’. I decided to keep the oldest son up a bit longer as a distraction for myself. Playing with pedagogical fire perhaps, but extreme situations demand extreme measures. By this time the storm front came ashore and people were reporting tornado-like winds as well as rain and lightning. The storm went along very fast, and a good hour later it was approaching my place already. Good thing I lowered the tower! The wind was howling and the window shutters were rattling on all sides of the house. Normally this is only on the side facing the wind. Go figure. In the coastal province there was an electricity black out in some villages and the first damage reports came in as the squalls left the region. The lightning detection radar showed that as the storm approached me, there were less hits. Then people of neighbouring towns reported the storm was passing over and still saw lightning so I mentally braced myself.

All in all I got lucky. No lightning over me. No golf ball sized hail balls. No roof tiles flying around. No aluminium tubing seen flying by. The storm moved over as fast as he approached. It lasted ten minutes tops. When the noise went away, I raced upstairs to look through the window and visually check the tower and antennas. All OK it seemed. That can’t be said about the coastal province given the online damage reports I was reading. I put the oldest to bed, confirmed that the storm was heading to yet another province deeper inland and went outside to connect everything back. It was still windy but a less threatening wind. Hard to describe.

Around 2100 UTC I tried 40m and it was empty. I knew this would happen, by this time the UBA SSB contest comes to a halt, contrary to the CW part next month. I did get called by HK1T for a sweet mult and caught him CQing in vain later on. I did something that I normally don’t do. I spotted him on the cluster. As a reward for him calling me. Tactically not good since probably some of my competitors would go and work him. A multiplier they’d otherwise might not have. But tactics mean diddly squat when you’re only in it for the fun. Yes I came to terms with that by now. No plaque this year.

Nevertheless I had a good hour on 80m but at local time midnight I decided to call it a day. A full blown 24h effort is out of the question. I had less than five hours on the counter so for a twelve hour effort I needed to do another seven hours so that would mean start at 7AM local and continue in one stretch to 2PM when the contest ends. I don’t do a six hour effort.

By now pictures were being posted and it became clear that the coastal province was severely hit with a lot of damage. Rooftops blown away. Houses collapsed. Big trees toppled crashing cars in their fall. Twenty ton trucks blown over. Greenhouses completely compressed against the ground. Once again I was glad I lowered the tower. Just like I did for last WW SSB. Missing a contest is hard but losing antennas and a tower is harder. But my ham radio activities have been boycotted by strong winds too much over the last three months!

I watched some late night movie on TV (no no, not that kind of late night movie, a 70ies thriller) and waited for the XYL to get home. I wasn’t in a sleeping mood. When she arrived we had a short debriefing and then went upstairs. Before hitting the sack I tuned 40/80 only to end up in bed. ‘Nuff said? I woke up around 0630 local and took a small breakfast. The two lower bands were virtually empty. CQ’ing did not produce massive hogh rate runs. Each QSO was a victory. By 10AM local I had to watch of the youngest as the XYL and the oldest had to go somewhere. This would not have been an issue if the kids had been sleeping at their friends’ place. By this time I had a good run on twenty. Good to this contest’s standards at least. I prepared lunch to kill time and did some household chores with the not always welcome help of the two year old monkey see, monkey do. After lunch I still had almost two hours to spend in the shack. I tried ten meters but although quite open it did not produce rate. I split the remaining time between 15 and 20. I turned the beam away from JA (yes I worked a few of those!) towards USA. I was typing a Skype message to OQ4B that I still needed one American for the mult. I couldn’t finish typing the sentence as an American called in. And then another one. And a VE. I got called by a few multipliers in the last quarter of an hour.

I must admit that if it weren’t for my commitment to the UBA and the Belgian contesting scene, whatever that may be, I would never take part in this SSB contest. CW 4 EVER! But my 470 QSO are better than no Q at all. The experiment with the low yagi confirms the paradigm that antennas can’t be high enough. In a DX contest with DXCC multipliers, you can never beat an antenna at 22m with an antenna at 13m.

Sunday morning I came across a FT5ZM spot on ten meters SSB. I discovered was a busted spot. I listened for TEN MINUTES (!) and the DX station running the unruly pile up was QRZUP. He dutifully signed QRZUP after almost every QSO so after ten minutes I decided FT5ZM was a bust and it was indeed QRZUP on the frequency. The QSX was almost 40 kHz wide. Where is K6VVA when you need him?


Just like I drove around BS7H in a large curve in 2007, I’ll probably do the same. Probably? For sure! Why waste my precious time and let my good mood be spoiled? You know I’ve had it with the DXCC program and more precise the bestialities of the mobsters chasing the Rare Ones.

I feel sorry for the families who got their home, business site or car wrecked by the terrible storm last Saturday. Let’s hope the insurance companies leave out the red tape and show some humanity.

2 replies on “UBA DX SSB 2014”

Franki, thanks for finally getting around to making this posting – it was all I could do to cope!

Sorry your wx put a damper on contesting. I am equally cautious about the winds and my tower as well, so we’re on the same page.

See you down the log buddy,

John AE5X

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