I used to be a contester

I used to be a contester. And to a certain extent: a DXer. A 24/7 ham radio nutcase. And in my mind, I still am. But for some reason, it just doesn’t seem to work out anymore. I want to contest and I want to hang out on the WARC bands. And although I have less free time than a two or three years ago, it isn’t a matter of time per se. What’s up with ON5ZO?

I discovered VHF ham radio more or less by accident in 1999. I got on HF late 2000. I did my first 167 contest QSO in January 2001. From then on, I was hooked. It has been a steep upward climb in which ‘more‘ was the key word. More time in the shack, more friends, more QSO, more antennas, more DXCC, more rate, yet more antennas, more radios, more elements on the antennas, more power, more options. MORE.
And everything worked out fine. All pieces fell into place. Lots of free time and holidays. A very cooperative XYL, even when both kids were born. And the only time I can remember I had to cancel a participation due to something unforeseen was RDXC 2005 for my granddad’s funeral. That’s a long time ago.

True, once in a while I decide not to participate in a contest because of the weather. I don’t want to crank up the unguyed tower when they predict too strong gusts. I had that in CQ WW CW 2012 if I remember the year, and +80 km/h gusts really make the tower shake when it’s all the way up. Mind you: that night there was not a word about winds in the forecasts. Too bad that during the last two years many stormy days coincided with major contests. The list of skipped contests due to what I file under ‘wind too strong’ has become pretty long. That has taken some of the fun away. And under the influence of the ‘philosophy of more’ I decided that if I can’t go all the way, I just don’t bother anymore. It’s as much QSO as possible or zero.

But there is another phenomenon at play. Something I find hard to define, and don’t dare to speak out loud. Have I become bored with contesting? Maybe not per se bored. But the urge to enter each and every contest is gone. For now? The ‘more era’ is over. My naïve effort to make it to WRTC 2014 from here in Belgium with a small station, limited antennas and ‘only’ 1200 W made me enter much more contests seriously than I ever did before. Now that I think of it, I have skipped many major SSB contests in the past (before 2010) because I just don’t give a damn about SSB. But that WRTC selection thing just sucked me into it. More precisely: the online standings page that put me on top of my regional standings until the curtain was about to fall. Oh well that ship has sailed (and sunk) but sure enough that whole WRTC circus (before and after) altered the way I looked at contesting. Not in a bright way. And what about my 5000 QSO in WW CW 2014? I never-ever saw this possible and I’m damn proud of it. It was hard work! Especially from not-so-most-wanted Belgium with what really is a small semi-permanent station in the world of serious contesting. I can never do ‘more’ than that until there is a major peak on the next solar cycle.

What else is happening? I think I am in that phase of life where time is limited and so many things demand attention. Changing jobs last year made me leave my comfort zone and gone was the routine. But right now especially my two kids are the center of my attention. Ten years from now, as early teenagers moving into adolescence, they will probably stay clear as much as they can from the Old Man. But now they really like to do things with dad and I know that there are many firsts that I don’t want to miss. First steps standing up, first time riding up and down the street with the big bicycle, first dive into the big swimming pool, first this and first that.
There is also the fact that the house now needs to harbor four people instead of two. Two of which are continuously evolving at a rapid pace. So once in a while we need to redesign and redecorate some parts of the house. Out with the old, in with the new: painting, new furniture (bigger beds!), put up a swing in the garden, fix a broken bike, glue the broken guitar back into one piece: it takes time. Time that can’t be spent in the shack. “Daddy can you make us a workbench just like you?”. Sure daddy can. Of course daddy will. I won’t be turning on the radio this afternoon but instead saw boards and drill holes and screw that shit together. Satisfying and fun to do, but a killer for ham radio shack time.
Bottom line is that I’m still crazy and serious about the hobby. But external factors cause that I am enjoying the hobby somewhat less dedicated and on a different level. I have been doing many construction projects lately. Some of which are for the ham radio station. Some serve a general purpose. And many jobs are still on the to do lists. In fact I have done much DIY projects. For fun. But there’s not much that belongs on a page pretending to be about ham radio and contesting. Examples?

I have done some gardening. Making sure the lawn is green, fill potholes and fix molehills. And assuring that the XYL’s vegetable garden is ready for the next season. I planted some more little fruit trees. The kids love picking berries. There’s prune too now, if that tree already wants to produce.

I have made a few more bee hotels recently. Even some on demand for friends. I make from leftovers of past construction projects using wood. I just love to see those holes get filled and closed up, and seeing the bees fly out the next year. Einstein supposedly said: “If the Bee Disappeared Off the Face of the Earth, Man Would Only Have Four Years Left To Live.” Don’t know if he really said it, but scientists are firm about the value of the bees. So if I can give them a hand just by drilling holes into pieces of wood and hang that up, why not? To attract and please them and their butterfly friends, I have provided several meters of flowerbed. That really colors the garden in summer.

Currently I am working hard to improve my field day portable mast. Now here’s a ham radio project! It’s prototype v2.5, coming from v1.0 (June 2014). It should be even stronger and more stable compared to v2.0 we used in 2015. Yet it should be easier to move and deploy. I hope to reveal it early June for IARU Region 1 CW field day.

Many moons ago I acquired this old heavy duty galvanized satellite dish tripod stand. I saved it from being decommissioned and maybe worse: scrapped. I had to move it a hundred times since we came here in 2002. It held my early antenna-fishing rods and first low band verticals. But for over seven years now it was just standing in the way no matter where I put it down. I got tired of hauling it back and forth to find a new place to store it. I couldn’t come up with a purpose for it so I decided to weld plates with wheels under it and weld a plate to the top that holds a big sheet of thick aluminum. Ta-da: I present you my weatherproof workbench /M. Can be used to put the miter saw on, excellent to weld on and ideal to serve drinks and snacks on when it’s BBQ Grill season. Yet another favorite activity of mine where my fate lies in the hands of the weather gods.

I also made a LED floodlight cart. I welded a square frame that holds concrete blocks as a base. I put two wheels under that, welded a two meter high square tube to it and mounted two 20W LED spots on a bracket so I can put it down everywhere and position the lights. Now I can even grill meat after sunset, keep on DIY’ing after dark or light the garden with a PIR motion sensor when someone enters the premises. All from scrap metal, the electro-junkbox and leftover concrete blocks. I only bought the wheels and the LED lights. Fun project!

There are still two things that I really need to do ASAP. I need to dig a trench that’s forty meter long and bury a tube that contains coax, power and control cables. That way I can connect some new and experimental antennas to the shack without running cables over the ground or against the fencing. That job has been delayed for almost three years now. I hope to do it before the end of June. And then I need to mount a waterproof cabinet on the remote end to interface the buried cables with the new devices. Whatever those may be. Two LED floodlights on a cart and a low band RX loop, as a starter.

And this summer I hope to redo some of the clamps on the tower, so that the antennas don’t shift anymore. If stronger gusts start occurring more frequently, I need to prepare. I already have the parts in stock.

You see: I’m quite busy. And although my callsign doesn’t end up in your log as much as it used to do, I’m bound to show up on HF again. I used to be a contester, and I still am.

3 replies on “I used to be a contester”

Hi Franki – Sounds like you have your priorities in good order. In my 30+ years in this hobby, my interests have waxed and waned. I bet you’ll return to contesting, maybe even in a big way, when the time is right. I’m sorta getting the urge to return to outdoor QRP activities again – something I did in a big way 12-15 years ago and then drifted away from it.

In the meantime there’s gardening (harvesting beans, squash tomatoes already here!), family and all the other stuff life is made of. 😛

73 from this side of the Pond (where things are not so different)!

You’re doing fine Franki. Forget radio in summer. There will be more time in winter. And now propagation is going to be less interesting you can’t beat your contest records. Your family and household is much more important. I’ll probabely take a break soon from radio. Already busy with a new room for my daughter and gardening. A real family man….like you 😛 Good luck, 73, Bas

Franki – from 1999 to 2009, I did what the Japanese call “the long QRX.” A new job meant lots of travel, my two kids were at the ages where much time was required – and desired.

A lot of people manage to balance all those things, for me something had to give – radio gave. Came back in 2009 and been having more fun than ever.

Now, you have a chance to avoid the big, big mistake I made: my “long QRX” pretty much ran from one solar minimum to the next, causing me to miss an entire solar peak – and a pretty good one at that! If you take your QRX now, you will just be missing contests where everyone squeezes into 20M all day long…

73 John K3TN

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