I decided to start right at the beginning of the contest. No sleeping, just watch some TV and relax. I went upstairs around 0.40 AM local time. I parked my butt in the chair. Everything was still on from earlier that evening. Twenty minutes before the start of the contest. There was little activity on 80m SSB (or should I say 75m?). That’s cool: I could pick a sweet spot and reserve a place. There was a 9A also doing a dry run and we had a short chat about the contest. ‘See ya in a few minutes’ he said. Sure thing. Ten minutes or so to go. I listened and during his next QSO he openly realized that the contest actually started one hour later: 00.00utc is still 2AM. So we both overlooked that. I quickly went back to him and we had a chuckle. Almost eighteen years in the contesting business and then this… I calculated that the contest would end at 1AM local time – winter time. That’s why that 1 AM was on my mind. But the start was still in summer time, being GMT+1 = UTC+2 = 2AM. I decided not to leave the shack anymore and worked some American / Caribbean guys on 40m SSB.

Then a spot passed for VK9XG on 80 CW. Sure enough: audible. Not even that weak. But a bit QSB. I think it took less than a minute to get into the log. Definitely a new one. With an antenna resonating on 75 meters. I only have VK9X on 20 SSB and 15 CW. Maybe I should try 40 too before they shut down. Too bad I have nothing for 30 up. But the plan was to work a contest.

I called CQ and worked a few guys to secure a space to start the contest. Around 23.59.55 I did a two mouse click move to switch my DX log to the WW SSB log I had prepared. Two seconds was all it took for TM3Z to start CQing unannounced right where I had been working stations for over ten minutes. I announced after the last QSO that I would change logs and start the contest. I’m sure it was on purpose. I’m not sure why though. Anyway I didn’t move and he went away after half a minute.

The first hour was good. Too good. I knew that on 80m SSB this is unsustainable in the long run. The contrast with CW is huge. Soon the rate dropped and I got bored. Very according to the predicted scenario. It wasn’t so much a propagation issue. I guess it was a lack of activity. Modest highlight after two long boring nights: 115 Americans. But not deep into the USA. Only east coast. Not even central Americans.

Picture >> 1000 words

Time for the annual stating of the obvious: No cluster spot = no rate.

Sunday morning I decided to close the night with a run on 40m. That was a bit of a disappointment. Just over 100 Q in one clock hour. Too late for USA it seemed. Again: the contrast with CW on this band too can’t be bigger.

Just a reminder: why SB80? Because motivation lacks for 48 hours of SSB. Because we’re missing two bands (15+10). Because SSB on 40 in CQ WW is HELL. Because 80m is supposed to be ‘not an easy band’ so any outcome is good. If it’s good it’s super good. If it’s bad then… hey it’s eighty meters – waddaya expect? This leads to the annual conversation with the XYL:

XYL: How’s it going?
OM: Well you know…
XYL: What does that mean?
OM: I’m not putting down a score, I’m just in it for the fun.
XYL: And are you having fun?
OM: No, not really.
XYL frowns. I raise my shoulders and head back to the shack.

Sunday afternoon the time had come for the real fun. The Fresh Meat Experience. It seemed that on 15m there were only vegetarians. Or was that band in poor shape? I developed high hopes for 14 MHz.

Oh yes baby. I found a clear spot high in the band. Clear meaning only two layers of running stations on top of each other. A few CQ, a few QSO and a cluster spot. BANG! The starting shot of a nice USA run. See the graph. This is what makes me tick in SSB: running Americans like crazy. Following the beat of a metronome: tack – logged – tack – logged – tack – logged. Never gets boring. A few years back we could do that a whole weekend by hopping between 20-15-10. Sunspots: please come back soon. And bring your whole family and friends!

After an hour and a half I thought that The Deserving had had enough time to put me in their logs. SSB Contest Blues struck. VP6D was on 20 and 15 CW so I gave them a call (or two or three but not more) and they were so kind as to reply to me.

I did try some more 80m but since I wasn’t on an award winning track there, I took it easy. Shining in absence: the far east. After my sunset there were a few spots: JA, VR and something I forgot. They were audible but very weak. Biggest problem: splatter from nearby running stations rendering good copy impossible. Too bad. Again: this would have most likely been worked in CW. A few local mults showed up (TK, 4O…) and it seemed everyone had run out of things to work because the cluster pile ups were heavy.

At 2232 utc I decided I had enough. I was falling asleep and it wasn’t worth it anymore. QRT.

Was it fun? Not by CW standards. Not by far. But a major contest is a major contest. So of course I will be back next year. Maybe for a relaxed ‘no pressure’ all bander again?

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