9ACW 2018

Another one of these little but most enjoyable contests organized by an IARU member society. Everyone works everyone, only 24h long and the mode is right too.

I set up on Friday during a short burst of winter. For Belgium, that means around 0°C during daylight. That’s about as cold as it seems to get here in the new climate. I was glad it didn’t rain and that there was no wind. Speaking of wind: last week it seemed that this would be a stormy weekend. At least that was on the WX maps. With that prediction turning into reality I would have kept the tower and the wires down. But now only few gusty hours were predicted for the night from Saturday to Sunday. Enough to make me feel uncomfortable but nothing that would cause damage. As long as the predictions for the wind speed are accurate and not calculated too low. The strongest winds were forecasted a few hundred kilometers to my NW. MM3AWD mentioned it in his 3830 report. Bummer!

Setting up went smooth. Just the usual wire and rope spaghetti; the result of a rushed cleanup after the last contest. And my 30m dipole that seemed a tad short. Maybe because initially I grabbed the 17m dipole out of the box? Soon after I had a working contest station with a 30m vertical dipole dangling from the tower for some casual DX on my favorite band. The plan is to keep it all up until the end of the year for the RAEM contest and hopefully, WX permitting, the Stew Perry 160m contest for a change.

I can’t lay my finger on it but I wasn’t feeling too well on Saturday. I couldn’t get warm and I was cranky. I tried some DX after sunrise and sure enough: the JA-ON pipeline on 30m was there. But I wasn’t having fun. It didn’t get better as the contest started. Signals on 20m were weak and I just didn’t care. That YB that called me made me wonder: propagation or activity? What is lacking? I ran some USA but I had to go to 40m early. I did the SO2R thing between 40 and 20 in an effort to feel like contesting.

I just wasn’t having fun and didn’t catch the vibe. Oh yeah in the meantime it started raining on a frozen ground. Slippery outside yes indeed but no one had to leave the house. The bigger problem was the QRN generated by the precipitation. Wind speed picked up too. I took a long break. This weekend I wasn’t going to write contest history.

Around local midnight I checked the 160/80 wires and radials. That’s what I was afraid of: copper wires covered with ice. In the past (here and here) this ice loading has detuned the wire antennas. But this time it didn’t. It wasn’t as bad as in previous years. I wanted to join the XYL to sleep but first I did a short run on 160. I worked two Americans on 160m (K1ZZ and a loud NA8V) and one VE (VE1ZA). One UN for Asia and the rest was EU. Too bad as the band seemed more open than activity would suggest. I worked P4/DL6RAI for DX. He wasn’t in the contest so I put him in the DX log and not in the 9ACW log. Same with OY1CT.

I heard guys in the contest calling both and sending their serial number. But they only got a 5NN back. I wonder if they logged the DX? And if so: how will the Log Checking Department deal with that? But for the contest, Top Band was a fart in a bottle as the Dutch proverb goes. At 00.00z I went to bed and set the alarm well in time for sunrise.

Those four hours of sleep were beneficial. My contest mood had returned. A slice of freshly baked bread went down for some energy and I took an XXL sized cup of hot lemon tea to the shack. Off to the races. Shack-attack on Top Band! Luckily gasses compress easily because more had to go down that bottle. Not much activity.

I heard VE6WZ though. Loud. And worked him easily. But he wasn’t in the contest so down he went in the DX log. I’m pretty sure VE6 is new on 160. Ah just looked it up. It is not new. I worked a VA6 on Top Band in 2010. And only one on 80: VE6WZ again in 2010. I just hope VE6WZ is a real VE6 as his QRZ says: “The VE6WZ station is a remote setup located 100km north of the home QTH.” I hope these 100km don’t put him in Nova Scotia! Too bad there wasn’t more DX to be worked in or out of the contest. A loud VE6 worked first call is proof of an open band with my limited 160 antenna. Just no one around to materialize the conditions.

The same goes for 80m: more open than activity would suggest. PJ2ND was a nice multiplier though. He actually did give serials. Thirteen Americans and three Canadians on 80. The rest of the gray line was ping-pong between 40 and 80 with both radios. Forty stayed open for a long time. It didn’t actually close. Not even for longer haul DX (within limits of course). It was, as they say, the money band. By now I was having fun. More table tennis. Between 40 and 20. I even did that dueling CQ thing. Then running 20 and picking up all unworked calls on 40.

During the whole contest the RBN was picking up a station from Madeira: CQ9A. On almost every band the red spot popped up: an unworked multiplier! But I could never hear it. Strange. Later on I discovered a pattern: CQ9A was always spotted next to the same two or three stations. I knew because I started writing down the calls that were actually running on the CQ9A spot frequency. Being as smart as I am, a conspiracy theory developed: these guys must spot a multiplier to draw a crowd to their common callsign. People click on a red spot, mult isn’t there, but decide to give the plain vanilla EU guy a call. As with most conspiracy theories, there is a simpler explanation but it took a while for my brain to arrive there. CQ9A: CQ – 9A. They were seeking nine alphas! I felt a bit dumb for a while. I never heard them calling CQ myself, just sending their tail-end callsign after a finished QSO. A flaw in the skimmer software? Or just sloppy fists?

I took another short break for lunch with the family and had another two hours to go after that. Against common sense I tried ten meter. ZERO. Only two Belgian skimmers in a 100km range barely heard me. I tried fifteen. Close to zero but not quite. There was more to be worked there. The RBN testified. I managed to get called by a handful of Americans on 21 MHz. Clearly using the RBN too. They were not loud but most certainly not weak: S5-S6 on the meter. Too bad not more people cared to listen there. Even one Thai skimmer picked me up! Speaking of RBN: what did Google Maps do to break the RBN map display functionality? I liked that: one glance and I’d see where my RF was being heard. I hope the RBN folks find a workaround soon.

I did have fun in the second half of the contest. Activity was OK but could have been better. Propagation was only so-so but the number of DX was the limiting factor. Thanks 9A guys for organizing this event.

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