Wow, how long has it been that I could do a contest during the whole period with the full setup and put down a good result? It seems like ages. But it’s probably only since RDXC in March. Just to say that I really needed a success experience.
I’m not going to bring up the storms last autumn and winter again, and not talk about June’s field day tropical heat followed by thunderstorm drama. But it seemed I couldn’t catch a break for this one too. The forecast for this weekend mentioned thunderstorms. I closely monitored the forecasts. Friday through Sunday: thunderstorms. Wouldn’t happen if it wasn’t a contest weekend. As the week progressed it seemed my region would dodge the thunderstorms. Or at least the worst and most intense ones.
Last Monday was a nice day so I finished the new version of the 80/160 antenna. More on that in a next episode. Then it started raining. Everything between drizzle and intense showers for days on end. Not a single ray of sunlight seen. It was in the news today: a total of zero minutes of sunshine over a five day stretch. A record according to the national weather institute. So I decided to put my plans on hold until the very last minute. That’s Saturday 8 UTC, four hours before the contest starts. Updated forecasts mentioned isolated lightning during showers, no real storms and mostly over the eastern part. I live south to central. No strong winds.
Could it be that I am too afraid of this? I always hesitate to crank up the tower when they predict lightning. But what about those with fixed towers? Even higher than mine. Maybe I should think this over and assess the real threat. Chance of lightning is not the same as certainty of 80-100 km/hr winds. And an unguyed crank up tower is not the same as a free standing or guyed fixed tower when it comes to wind.
Anyway screw the WX and cross fingers. I want to contest! So I went outside to crank up the tower and put up the 80/160 wires. It was gray, misty and it was very damp. No real rain but still I got a bit wet. It felt and looked like a warmer version of WW SSB season. Or even WW CW. I remember WW SSB weekends when I was preparing in shorts and T-shirt under a blue sky. Just to say that summer on the calendar is not always summer outside. Setting up is a breeze after having done this so many times a year for a decade already.
The contest started and I began on 15. Ten meters was dead. I kept looking and trying but the sun decided to take out the highest frequency. I could keep the rates sustained over 100/hr with 15 and 20 alone. Twenty was still great when the sun set but I decided to put it on hold. I turned the antennas away from USA to Japan and hoped to work some Asian multipliers on their sunrise. That worked but soon the rate dropped and I wasn’t working five pointers but EU. Antenna back to 300° and run like crazy. For three hours. Twenty was open ‘fo sho’.
Then I decided it was time for the lower bands. Forty was OK but eighty? Oh boy. QRN and noise, static crashes. Maybe I should not use this contest to evaluate the new 80/160 antenna. I could not get a run going on 80 and had troubles copying. Most QRO Americans were quite hard to copy but the few WRTC callers were a pain. Sorry guys. I assume you were hearing my kW into GP but I had a problem hearing your 100W into low dipole through the QRN and noise. QRN and static crashes, I wonder where those comes from? Let me tell you.
In the mean time the online lighting detector I was keeping my eye on showed dots coming ashore from the north sea. Members of a WX group I follow (as a lurker) were reporting heavy thunder and lighting and intense showers in coastal villages. While the shower loaded with lightning still hovered over the North Sea I hoped it would stay there but it travelled inland. This was cramping my style! I had a hard time to focus as I wanted to keep a close eye on the track of dots representing strikes in order to shut down and unplug things when it reached my QTH. I was alone at home so I couldn’t ask the XYL to take a look outside. All thunderstorms arrive from the side of the shack where I don’t have a window. The following two to three hours the front moved inland to the east but stayed well north of me. I guess about 40-50 kilometres minimum. I was relieved and decided to celebrate by stirring the mult-casserole on 160. Shocker! Apart from static and a handful of HQ stations: no one there. Ouch. Then the lightning detector started painting dots on the map about 15 kilometres from here, leaving a short trail on a collision course with me. Gimme a break will ya! I was going strong and might improve my personal best so would a sudden lightning storm knock me out again? Twenty minutes later the dots disappeared. My excursion on Top Band had to end here too. With sunrise around the corner I decided to take a short break. I had made it through the night with good rates, I was having fun and I wasn’t tired. Wow! It seems I’m getting into shape again.
I hadn’t eaten a thing since the evening before. I was hungry. I didn’t even take a snack during the night. I only drank some H²O so right now I could eat a horse. I went downstairs and let out cat #2. Cat #1 is exiled from inside during the nights anyway because she always wakes me up. And while awake during a contest, she comes to annoy me. Like bumping into the Morse paddles. I ate a few slices of bread with cheese. Not much and nothing heavy. Yet I would soon regret this. About twenty minutes later my energy dipped and I felt very tired. I was good half an hour earlier, but hungry. Now I was fed but tired. Must be a blood sugar level thing? Not my area of expertise. The dip in energy is reflected in a dip in the rate. See 0300 utc in the graph.
Sunrise. A short run on 160 was a waste of time. No one there. Then 80. Useless. So I started running 40 and S&P 20 with the second radio. That small 500W amp for the other radio really does what I bought I for. Things were slow and this combined with being tired is a show stopper. See the 0500 hour bar. I even had a twelve minute black out in the operating chair. I stretched my legs, got rid of some body fluids, took a deep breath and attacked twenty meters while looking for goodies on forty. With only a dozen contacts on ten, I was glad to hear the band… well not open but less closed. The rate took a leap but it the burst was short lived. A good run followed on 15 with a slow hour where I didn’t know where to go as no one answered my CQ and I worked everything that was CQing. I was listening on radio 2 on ten meters and heard a W3 calling a EU HQ. HUH? That W3 was loud with my antenna pointing to central Russia. I knew what to do. Turn antenna to USA and hope that my signals are picked up there. See the last bar in the graph. It worked. A lot of WRTC stations started scanning ten meters too as I worked a few dozen in the last period.
Here’s a primer: I made over 2400 contacts in 24 hour. I always wanted to do this in either IARU or RDXC but always came short year after year. Today I pulled it off. Imagine if ten were open and the low bands would allow for reception?
Funny thing. I was running and looking for stuff to work on the other radio. I came across K7GM in my right ear but I noted I already worked him on that band. At the same time K7GM called me in my left ear.
What’s up with guys sending the weirdest numbers for their ITU zones? And insisting on doing so. Not even their CQ zone, just some number. Maybe a serial?
Numbers! 255 QSO on radio #2, that’s only 10%. Usually it’s 15-18%. Maybe because the runs on 15/20 were good and 80/160 were empty?
I made 128 contacts with WRTC stations. Worked 55 of the 59 teams at least once. I wonder who’s behind the 1×1 calls.