I have never done this contest seriously. Most of the time I just don’t participate. Or occasionally a few hundred QSO for a fast ‘fresh meat’ run on Sunday. That’s because I prefer CW over SSB, and I usually had my way in the CW part. Unfortunately the WX two weeks ago was so bad I left the tower down. And made the XYL happy by helping her out on a project.
Since WX was calm and the sun didn’t stir up the ionosphere, I decided to be active in the SSB part. No goals, just fun. I decided to keep the 160m wire down. Since I was not in competition-mode I couldn’t care less about a bunch of mults on Top Band SSB. That made setting up a bit easier.
That setup procedure went smooth on Saturday morning. Yes, Saturday. I skipped the first night and started on Saturday afternoon. There was no wind so I didn’t need to worry about wires and ropes getting all tangled up. I was surprised to hear fifteen meter in good shape and it was the best band. The 100 kHz extra spectrum gives a little more elbow room than on 20. Nothing more than a little though. Bandwidth on Ten Meters is huge, but as expected this band wasn’t very productive. Weak signals and limited to the usual East Coast suspects.
Saturday afternoon I struggled with a very strong source of noise on 21200. It stretched from 21180 to 21220. I’m pretty sure it was man made but what and where? I couldn’t find it anywhere else. I checked once in a while and then it was gone. I’m not too confident for the future when it comes to noise and QRM. When 20 dried up late in the evening, I watched some TV and slept three hours. Then off to 40.
Forty meters is my money band on CW. But a good kW and a dipole at half lambda don’t cut it on phone. I used split operation, but couldn’t use the voice keying to announce the QSX. That was a burden and I got tired of it soon. Maybe it’s time to get ‘recording on the fly’ working in N1MMLogger, if I decide to do more SB40 or SB80 in the future. I could be a little productive on 40, and even on 80. Contrary to my expectations, I made more QSO on 80 than on 40. The eighty meter band was noisy, and the online lightning detector showed yellow dots over the Mediterranean and the Balkans. Probably the static crashes found their origin there.
I seemed to have run out of stations to work around sunrise. SR on 80 was not spectacular. Propagation and DX wise that is. I’m not talking about the scenery. The 40m band was open as far as CA but no one came back to my CQ. So I decided to quit. And sleep. I made my way to the shack around 1230 utc. I could live with the numbers on 40 and 80. I came to terms with 10 being retired for a while. But I needed many more contacts on 20. The band was full with loud signals and I had a hard time squeezing in. Same on 15 for that matter.
During the next hours, the weather gods had a few nasty surprises in store for me. Snowy rain showers that produced terrible static. I had to use the RX loop because the yagi was rendered useless for RX. Each shower quickly went as soon as it came but there was a train of those crossing my ether at regular intervals. As the afternoon progressed, it became clear and dry. And much to my surprise, ten meters opened up. A bit reluctant at first, then the opening solidified and stretched as far as the Midwest. Finally a handful of Californians were logged.
After that the rate plunged and things became slow. Everything in the bandmap was already logged and I just couldn’t find a spot to run. Around 2000 utc I took a break. My plan was to return for another run on 20. But when I put the cans over my ears one hour later, I heard something was wrong. Signals were weak and even the louder east coasters had that typical fluttery sound to them. What gives? Did the sun burp? I checked the solar data and much to my surprise the A was at 49 and K at 5, or was it 6? Ooops. The northern Dutchmen reported clearly visible aurora borealis so I knew the last hours would be a pain. I tried running 40 but I couldn’t get a thing going. So with a little more than two hours to go, I pulled the plug and pushed the off button. If this had occurred on Friday, I wouldn’t even have cranked up the tower.
Was it fun? Not as much as in CW. With these conditions I would have made over 2200 contacts easily. Now I stranded at 1741. Best hour was 166 on 40m at 3AM Sunday. I was active once again and each and every contact was DX. Of course this is my best score in ARRL DX SSB, because I never bothered before. Long live CW!
It has now become clear that no spot means no rate. Period. People just hop from spot to spot. Many times I called CQ for a few minutes without answer. At last someone finally worked and spotted me, and then you work a few dozen stations in a few minutes until the effect wears out. Then it’s slow again until the next spot. The result is that some people can’t handle themselves and use their second callsign, or a friend’s callsign to put themselves on the cluster. Time after time, contest after contest. Poor operating if you ask me.