CQ WW CW – the biggest of the biggest. The annual gathering of everything and everyone on the High Frequency amateur radio bands. In my preferred mode: CW. Morse code. Dits and dahs. I was really excited this year. I wanted to hit hard, put down a good score. Make myself heard.
My last All Band effort was in 2014. That was epic: 6.7 million points with over 5000 QSO in the log. To my knowledge no other Single Operator in Belgium has made over 5000 CW contacts in a 48 hour period. It still is my ‘moment de gloire’. Could I do better?
Well, maybe not this year. 2014 was the second peak of solar cycle 24. Propagation on 21 MHz and 28 MHz was excellent. These bands were wide open for 3 point contacts for most of the daylight hours. With 14 MHz very runnable after sunset. Not so this year. There already are sunspots for cycle 25 and propagation seems to improve but we’re not quite there yet. Not by a long shot. After last weekend’s LZDX I knew that 15m would be so-so and the 10m band would not be very usable. So I decided that 4000 QSO in the log would be a self-imposed ‘limit of shame’. Less than 4k would be underachieving for yours truly.
During the week I had a lot of work to do for school because I had spent and will be spending two weekends in the radio shack, on the bands. That sort of ruined the approach of rest and relax before the contest. Would I be able to get some sleep before the contest? Forty eight hours was the goal but I only managed 43 out of 48 in 2014. Could I do better? I certainly feel a lot fitter now. I lost about 25-30kg of body weight over the last half year and that makes a major difference.
The stars of the galaxy more or less aligned to my benefit. The temporary COVID-proof school roster gave me Friday off before the contest and I could sleep late on Monday. Together with the increased interest in ham radio contests during this whole confinement period is another plus of the virus (that rhymes!). And the weather was also keeping calm: no wind, no storm, no crap. GREAT! I was getting so hyped I had bad dreams about infinite SWR on the yagi and wiggling contacts on the cables. How much can your mind be preoccupied with something?
My plan was to sleep on Friday afternoon but I didn’t. I did some household chores instead. I did go to bed on Friday night around 8.30 PM local time and set the alarm to wake me up quarter past midnight. The contest starts at 1AM local time so I had forty five minutes to get ready. Which I was.
I decided to start on 80m because that worked in 2014. I worked my fastest hour ever in that contest: 210 QSO in 60 minutes. This year was a good start but no new record. I was kinda bummed but I figure many peers would give the proverbial arm or leg to achieve my 190 QSO in the first hour. I should have done some 40m second radio hunting but the pile up was too messy at times to fiddle with SO2R scenarios. Something to work on?
The rates remained high which in turn kept me happy and going and going. This is what I live for! Besides wife and kids of course. I decided to do some band hopping. After all, that was my motivation to do All Band: when things slow down I’d just move to another frequency band to present myself there for a new batch of stations to answer my CQ. I took a short break after sunrise: bladder full, stomach empty. I needed to reverse that situation. Stretching my legs was a good feeling.
The contest went on and on and I was raking the QSO in by the dozen, no: by the hundreds. I intensified my 2nd radio activity to look for unworked stations. I’ve become pretty good at this and the short fixed exchange is ideal. Saturday moved along and the rates were pretty good. Even into the second night. But around 00z (1AM local time) Sunday morning I had two very slow hours. I evaluated the situation. I was not really tired but my energy level was dipping. The lack of rate and excitement combined with little to do was dangerous. I decided that a nap would not really hurt my score with these rates. But some sleep would render me fitter for the remaining twenty hours or so. In retrospect I think this is a good decision. It worked out as planned. When I returned I was still on the same spot on the real time online score board. In fact I would float be between #10 and #13 in my category. Not bad with two third of the guys above me were from the USA. This is the Biggest Contest of the year and I only have a peanut station but I am playing in the Big Gun league.
Sunday was a repeat of Saturday. The K index dropped from 3 to 1 which offered some openings on 21 MHz. Ten meter was a problem and it was not easy to get a good rate or sustained DX. I must say that I am VERY surprised by the many real DX calling me on 15m and 10m. The Far East and Oceania did represent! I was called by many double multipliers from all over the globe. That is very exciting and once again my age old adage was consolidated:
Keep calling CQ and the multipliers will come!
By that time the QSO count was around 4000. The shame-limit was exceeded so that was that. Extrapolating current rate to the remaining hours taught me that 5000 QSO indeed WAS possible but it would not come cheap or easy. Challenge accepted and off to the races.
I made the most of 15m and the band was dying. Signals had not been strong all day so I decided it was time to move to 20m. My QSO count there was low (700-ish) so I had a margin to boost the rate. Four hours of 120-150 QSO added a good bunch of QSO so I was a big leap closer to the magical 5k number. Cherry on top: it were mostly tree-point Americans and some exotic multipliers. Yeehaw!
The 20m band was also fading quickly. The result of little sunspots and a weak ionosphere. I had worked my share of callers from zone 3 and the East Coast signal strength was dropping fast. With five hours to go, a plan hatched and got executed: to park myself on 40m and use the second radio on all other bands to work as many stations as possible. That plan worked out just nice. The rate on 40m was just below or just over 100 which for my skills is ideal to mix with the second radio. So I made the epic 5000 QSO with a few hours to spare. This would allow me to build a margin so I would still have more than five thousand contacts after the log checking procedure. And so I did.
When the bell rang at 00z on Monday I claimed 5274 unique QSO. While the score is only 80% of my 2014 effort. That is because I collected 676 multipliers in 2014 but only 566 in 2020. The reason is clear: 10m is not open yet, 15m is not as good yet and the whole COVID-lockdown-confinement situation prevents people from travelling to activate unique countries. On the other hand I have never worked as much variation and numbers of stations from China, Indonesia, Australia etc. Even Latin America was well represented.
- 4678 run QSO (88.7%) and 596 S&P QSO (11,3%) on the 2nd radio.
- 1627 QSO with USA (30.85%).
- Being called by JX, OD, KH6, KL7, VK, YB, BY, HI, HC… is always a treat. Remember my contest motto!
- Total Time Off 03:40 (220 mins)
- Total Time On 44:20 (2660 mins)
Biggest surprise: I spent 44 out of 48 hours in the operating chair, never once did I fall asleep or goofed up and I wasn’t really a wreck afterwards. I had tons of fun and this is really the thing that makes my amateur radio heart pound. And I never get enough of it.
Special thanks to my wife 💕 who had to miss me yet another weekend while I am at home. Thanks for supporting this crazy thing no one but a contester understands. Thanks for the cooking, pasta was deeeelicious. And thanks to my two boys for showing interest and bring the food and drinks. My biggest supporters! ❤
Apart from the game, the competition, the technical side, the tactical aspect of things, it’s also about being part of a large community from all corners of the planet. With one goal in common: bridge the gap by bouncing our RF signals off of the ionosphere. It’s the same people we meet time and time over again. The short ‘didit’ to say hello, greeting friends by name – too numerous to mention. You know who you are!
CU AGN in the next one!