The weeks leading up to the contest I decided I wasn’t going to do SB80 or SB40 anymore like the previous years. Much to my surprise I discovered that last year I did SOAB(A) already, too! How could I forget my epic personal 5200 QSO record? Goes to show how much I care about scores and records of the past. Except ‘in the now’, for how to improve things from the past. The problem with growth and improvement is that it has to stop somewhere. When the curve flattens you just have to cope and deal with it to avoid frustration. I think I hit the ceiling with the parameters I can manipulate (or not): size of garden, budget, things you can put up and keep up in the air and the everyday common location that is Belgium. The only uncertainty comes from the sun. What will propagation be like?
The propagation in CQ WW SSB a month earlier was promising, especially on the Ten Meter band. That Son of a Band has been playing dead for years now. Eternal hibernating, it feels. But in the SSB part we were surprised with the best conditions there in years. Cycle 25 ramping up! We climb out of the valley! Yay! Optimism galore. Unfortunately, this turned out to be a one off event and the band has reverted to a coma. The occasional spasms aside.
I now also remember why I did All Band last year. The COVID imposed work scheme (50% at home, 50% in school) was very favorable for a CQ WW CW participant. At home on Friday, at home on Monday coinciding with the contest weekend. Rest and calm. Not so this year. A full bore work schedule, more stress than ever before (various reasons, not just a virus thing) so I felt very tired leading up to the contest. But this COVID thing saved the (Fri)day. My son’s class was put in confinement for a whole week and my wife and I split the days of social leave to be at home with the kiddo. He can’t stay at home alone for whole days already at his age. And grandparents shouldn’t be addressed when there is a risk of COVID. Note that my son was not affected, it’s just that his class had too many positives so as a protective measure the complete group was put at home. I ‘volunteered’ to stay home on Friday. I still had some school related work to do but at least I was home and not performing my show in front of those
possible probable germ spreaders for a whole day.
Friday went by. I didn’t really sleep and I had hoped for more rest, but I felt OK. Around 1800 local time, 1700utc, I did a walk with the dog. To give him a workout, and to get myself a workout in the hope to fall asleep for at least a few hours. Friday had been windy, rainy and cold.
Upon returning I put up a second RX antenna, just 30m copper of unterminated wire on the ground with a stock 9:1 balun. It was facing JA. Report: it kinda works, just like anything works but some things just work better than other. It was more to satisfy the urge to put up something magical that would make all the difference in the world. Some of you will understand. Of course it doesn’t change a thing in reality.
After that I went to bed for about three hours of sleep. I woke up before the alarm rang. Subconscious stress. Good for the XYL who hates being woken up in the night. I took a bite to eat, something to drink, slipped into comfy clothes and off to the races. 23:59:55…56…57…58…59…
00:00:00 OQ5M OQ5M TEST on 3503.50. Proven strategy for me: start on 80 low in the band. My 80m antenna (copper wire hoisted up the tower and 2 elevated radials) is a fantastic performer for its simplicity.
The first minutes went very slow. This was worrisome. Actually it was not too bad but nowhere near new records. Which is one of my unspoken ambitions; to better my best QSO/hr time. I already own seven out of ten of the fastest hours from Belgium in this contest, but this is one figure that can be improved I guess.
After a few minutes it became clear that this was not one of my fastest hours since I found myself grabbing the VFO dial of radio #2 and interleave 40m QSOs with the 80m run. During the first six hours I was mostly on 80 and a good run on 40 netting almost 1000 QSO. It’s tempting to extrapolate this to the entire contest multiplying the number by eight (8 x 6hrs = 48 hrs) but I know that I can’t maintain this from Belgium with my setup. I wonder if it’s the Belgium or the setup? It’s not me because I thrive in adrenaline soaked fast runs. I get exhausted and tired from low rate. That’s when I get tempted to leave the shack or sleep.
Later on I dabbled a bit on 160m but that was a waste of time. Double mults of course on the fresh band but the rate got killed. The 9th clock hour with 97 QSO was the first below 100. Mainly because I milked out 40m for 3pt USA and ended up late on 20m. There was a lot of action already on 15m too so I headed up there with an 185 hour. Yay! That may seem a lot but once you’re used to it, anything less feels like a drag. I need to score that runner’s high baby!
I don’t really know what to tell about the next part of the contest. A few bullets:
- It was fun.
- Rate varied between 105 and 170.
- It was more fun.
- I was amused by the number of DX that was in the mix and that called me. From all over the globe.
- It remained big fun.
- This cannot come to an end!
Sidenote: the online scoreboard ( cqcontest.net )
Marc OR3A was also in the SOAB(A) game. The first few hours we were neck to neck, he often overtaking me especially in number of multipliers. After a few hours he had way more mults than me but I took a bigger and bigger leap in QSO totals. I was sure that I would catch up on mults as long as I could keep running. Remember the motto:
Keep running and the mults will come!
Which they did in the end. Mostly by sticking to my running strategy and a few fast S&P excursions. I almost never spend too much time in a cluster triggered spot mess. Often a short while later the multiplier gets enough of the mess and starts S&P while looking for a clear spot to call CQ again. It then comes across OQ5M et voilà: mult logged by yours truly.
Just to say that I dig the online scoreboard and that my main concern was keep a lead over OR3A. Sorry Marc, nothing personal, I just have to have a target that is more or less realistic. I gave up on you in WW SSB so… This time I could not play the “I don’t like SSB” card.
The beat goes on. I sucked up QSO as much as I can.
I always get a motivational dip in the middle of the contest. I get tired, things slow down. Then I start to wonder and think. So once again I decided to take three hours of sleep during a timeslot that would still return the day after, towards the end of the contest. I wasn’t really exhausted like previous editions. But I wanted to avoid that to happen later on when there was more fruitful propagation. I attribute my freshness to two factors:
- I adopted the rule that about every four to five hours I would stop no matter what for a short break. Get up, get down, take a wiz, stretch legs, move around, open the door, get on the floor, walk that dinosaur. Ten minutes tops. This helped to stay fresh.
- Losing a good 35kg and being much fitter than 18 months ago. Not that I became a gold medal athlete (bronze baby yeah), but I’m just much fitter now. It shows in a lot of aspects in life, and also in contesting. Franki the Radio Sports Athlete…
Things were not too spectacular the second half of Sunday. Rates were low, ten meters was a total bust, fifteen closed early, twenty closed soon after and there was only the low bands left from here.
With about two hours to go and trying to draw the attention of USA on 40m (which worked!), I suddenly noticed the amp put out 700W or less instead of the desired 1200W. This was weird. I adjusted the tube amp’s settings for 1200W but the tuning knobs’ values were way off. I put the amp in standby and checked SWR. It had risen to 2:4:1 where it should be 1.7:1. PANIC! ALARMS GOING OFF! What is wrong here? Quick check from the shack: SWR was bad on both rigs but OK on dummy load. Not the rig, not the amp, not the bandpass filters. Must be the antenna then. Ferrite core sleeve balun overheated and beads saturated? It’s rated 2kW+ and homemade so pretty much bullet proof… Water ingress somewhere after the rain? Seems unlikely.
All THESE ARE HORROR SCENARIOS because I hate tower works. I was very exhausted by now and my hand-eye coordination was messy. Thinking straight was a problem too. I decided to go outside and into the garage where shack and antennas are interconnected. I checked some connections and I decided to take out the coax stub that shorts out the 20m signal when TX on the other radio. Once back upstairs into the shack: everything reverted to normal. It’s now five days later and I have checked the 40m antenna every day: it has been stable. So there must be something wrong with the stub. I will check this later on, when I’m recovered from the contest and taken care of the fallout.
All this lasted a good twenty minutes but this was enough the drain the batteries a good deal, from whatever what was still left after 45-46 hours into CQ WW. I sat out the rest of the time running one band without much success but intensively hopping around and scoop up anything audible with radio #2.
Note about radio #2: it drives an Elecraft KPA-500 and more than ever I was amazed how well 500W works. Even 10 000km DX and modest pile ups were easily handled with 500W. I don’t get those Power Fetishists ( © ON4IA 2006) running 4kW or more, if rumors are true.
The bell rang and right away the counter started for 2022.
- Not my best QSO total, not my best total score, but somewhere in between.
- 10,3% QSO with radio #2 (500W amp).
- Almost 32% QSO with USA!
- Best hour: 186 QSO 0100-0200utc: 176 on 80 run + 10 on 40m with radio #2.
- It was fun and this truly is the biggest of the biggest.
- Lots of people worked, many DXpeditions on the air.
- Many familiar calls in the log. Too many to mention but much appreciated.
- Many DX from the Far East and Latin America.
- Some rude big gun morons on too. But a very very small minority. Often the usual suspects doing the usual stupid things (QRMing DX, calling without end, calling but not answering etc).
- 128 different countries worked overall.
Like last year I want to say thanks to my wife for supporting this crazy hobby and putting up with my quirks. And shout out to my kids who cater me and keep a close look on the scoreboard. They often boohoo all who’s above me in the ranking. Be warned!
Thanks for reading this. I’m not as much into blogging anymore as before. It’s also a matter of not seeing the audience. But occasionally people tell me they actually drop by to read this so here we/you are.
Here are the numbers:
Here’s a graph just because…