I was a bit afraid of this contest. Reason: I was feeling very tired before and I am facing a hectic agenda after. The past six weeks have been very busy on all levels. Four weeks ago I got floored by a nasty flu and I am still feeling very tired. The total lack of sunshine and the prolonged period of cold and rain have worn me out. So losing sleep during the weekend of the contest is not what I’m after. On the other hand: this mood could paralyze my contesting activities. We can’t have that can we? So my idea was to do the contest because it is a superb way to clear one’s head but to not overdo it and keep it casual so as not to be a bigger zombie in the weeks to come.
Someone ought to invent a system that lets your computer scan the bands to work and log everything it hears and decodes. That way we can sleep and resume life without having to be in the shack wasting time fiddling with radios. If it would automatically upload to LotW and submit the log to the contest sponsor, it would be perfect. Just a thought.
Finally WX is working with us. Wednesday leading up to the weekend was a bright day. From then on, the forecast is tempting us with sun, warmth and no rain or wind. Splendid! So I cranked up the tower Wednesday afternoon. My work schedule and early sunset won’t allow me to put up the antennas on Friday after work and I really want to be QRV the first night. After all, focus will be on the low bands and 20m and there will be the usual gap between 40 closing and 20 opening.
Thursday was a bad day. Sore limbs, sore throat, tired. Morale subzero. I was not looking forward to the contest so I had to repeat the mantra: keep it casual, relax and sleep when tired. Friday was better. It was a great day for the WX. Warmest February 15th ever recorded. I know that this is a major problem in the long run but living in the moment, it was just great. It did me well to feel and see some sunrays and not to feel cold and a gray sky.
Friday night the idea of having some sleep before the contest was tempting. I went to bed around 2130z and considered sleeping a few hours into the contest. However I deliberately programmed the bread baking machine to finish a nice loaf at 2345 utc. So I was forced to take it out and be awake. And so I got in the shack before the start of the contest. Soon I logged my very first contact of 2019.
I didn’t know what to think of 40m. It was not bad. Most signals were good. But my run was slow and I got the impression there was a lack of people to work. Same on 80. And little to work on 160. A few good signals though. I made twenty QSO on Top Band, most signals easy copy at least but no one else around. Four hours into the contest I figured that the number of QSO was way lower than it should be. I couldn’t blame propagation this time. So around 4AM utc I went to sleep. I programmed the alarm before sunrise but even that couldn’t boost a run. Bummer. Off to breakfast.
When I got downstairs my family had already eaten two thirds of the fresh bread. Those darn gluttons! I was feeling rather fit and the WX was outstanding so I started doing some chores. The XYL decided to do some preliminary gardening. The WX urges you to go outside and cancel all hibernating. I jumped in and tested my new reciprocal saw. Toys for boys. I bought that tool a few weeks ago for fast and rough woodwork like dismantling pallets. I figured I could use it to trim some branches that are too big for the pruning shears and I wanted to check it out. Soon after I had totally clipped five trees and the kids were throwing the branches on the trailer. 1230z: time for lunch and hopefully a wide open 20m band.
That was not the way it went down. Because there were spots on 15 needing my attention. Many spots. This early? Let’s listen. Wow, this one is pretty loud. And the next one too. A little later I had worked more USA on 15m à la S&P than I would have hoped for this weekend. And I still had to run the band. Amazing: I could run this band with a steady rate. Never a loud signal but always easy copy. Sweet! The band closed early, but all is forgiven. For this part of the cycle the band just gave more than hoped for.
Then off to twenty meters. Jam-packed with loud signals. I started running and the rate exploded and I could keep it up. This band too closed pretty early, but I have seen it way worse at the bottom so no complaints. Even the z3 guys were all over the place and with decent signals.
To bridge the gap between 20 and 40 I watched some TV. Back on the air at 2200 utc. Tried running 7085 because it was quiet there. Not quite a success. 7011 was better but not great. Signals OK, people to work absent. Next stops: 3503, 1822, 3504, 1830. Got bored around 2AM utc and went to bed.
Back at 0518z on 1822 for more 160m stuff. Good signals most of the time. I had to move after 111 QSO because the band didn’t offer new stations to work, neither while running or to go work. Tried more 80m and then 40m after my sunrise. At 0747 utc the band was still bouncing signals between here and North America but again: nothing left to work. QRT.
1222: fifteen showing life again. Made some Q, tried 20, back to 15. The usual routine between running 20 and hoping for nice surprises on 15. The latter had given all it had on Saturday so I ran 20 for a few hours, interleaved with a lot of S&P keeping the rate pretty high. I did more S&P in this contest than ever before. So to speak, but still. In the end I was born to run (ham radio contest style).
Between 1830z and 2130z I watched some TV. Then some more 40 but around midnight I called it a day. I had exceeded my unofficial target (none set for convenience ☺) and it was time to sleep given the busy days ahead.
Observation #1: classic cluster spotting in the contest is dead. At least for CW. Spotters count on the RBN to do the work and that works just fine. But it seems to me not many people get RBN spots fed into their bandmaps. If I start a run, a handful of callers pops up right away. That’s those who actively rely on RBN spots: M/x stations and competitive Assisted guys. After a dozen contacts, often less, it slows down. Until someone makes an old school classic cluster spot and it’s off to the races. A classic cluster spot every ten minutes keeps the rate up. RBN only helps the minute after the initial CQ. Of course my observation is made from my own perspective: common Belgian callsign. Might be different from a location with higher mult status.
Observation #2: I missed a memo. The memo that says that even if you’re away from a frequency, you’re still entitled to use it the moment you decide to return there later on. I was still holding on to the medieval idea that once you leave a frequency, you leave it to someone else to settle there. How wrong I am. I have no interest in recording the contest, but maybe I should start doing so. Just to document stuff like this.
Saturday afternoon, 14000.9. I was S&P and came across a spot for ****. He wasn’t there. Not a whisper, even after ten seconds. That’s long. I send a question mark and wait. Still nothing. I ask ‘QRL?’ and wait. Nothing. Mind you: mine is old skool contesting, nowadays people start CQing right away even if you haven’t transmitted in two seconds. Why listen? Anyway I conclude that the QRG is free and start running. Soon I get a steady stream of callers until **** returns on his steps and starts CQing right on top of me That’s not how it works bro! I thank him for his QRM and beg for him to QSY. With some PSE and TNX in between. Politeness is key. He just ignores me. Repeat. Same result. Maybe it’s a case of one way propagation; that he is S9+20dB here and I am below the noise there? In that case, I can just keep on CQing, he doesn’t hear me. And so I do. Just one measly CQ and I get a truckload of ‘QRL here qsy’ and the likes. Say what? A frequency fight had to be fought. I won.
It happened to me more than once. I use **** above not because I don’t want to tell who it was. But because I am not sure anymore who it was. I took a mental note but soon after I was in doubt because there were three calls in the contest with similar signals and almost the same letters making similar calls.
It happened more later on and then I wrote down who it was. 0000z Sunday: K1KI – I’d expected more from him but 3830 shows it was M/M. OM3BH on 21005 Sunday afternoon. WRTC fever making operators delirious? E7/9A5K for a brief moment too.
That said: low in the band is the place to be. My best clock hours ever were made low in the band (3505, 7002, 14002 etc.). That makes sense. On a few occasions this past weekend I noted that you get more callers below 14010 or 7010 than above 14050 or 7050… Pro tip: some nice goodies often hide high in the band for those who S&P.
Unexpected: I worked all 48 US states on 20m. Even both Dakotas and WY.
Expected: nothing on 28 MHz. I listened a few times, even skewed path but nothing…
What to think of 160? Should I be glad with 111 North Americans in one weekend with my very limited 160m antenna? I have no idea what to think but… Never satisfied, us contesters.
Band QSOs Sec
1,8 111 32
3,5 312 47
7 420 46
14 785 61
21 250 37
Total 1878 223
I was glad to work many many contest friends and maybe making a few more, including two contacts with the (un)(in)famous AE5X. Dear John; that 20m contact was easy but it wasn’t as obvious on 40m. Maybe with a few kHz free spectrum on either side it would have been easy, but among all the clicking and clunking… Thanks for calling in and sticking with me on 40.
Once again a great CW contest with massive activity. The bands may be empty during the week, but no problem working CW DX in the contests. I am a part of the problem during the week, I admit. But I will be part of the solution in the weekend fo sho! CW 4 EVER!