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Contests in April 2021

Just for the archives a/k/a my long term memory. I participated in a few smaller contests, just for fun and for supporting the Ham Radio HF contest scene.

1) JIDX CW

I had the tower only up two third. This means no low band wires, the tribander at 15m and the 40m dipole at 17m high. Propagation was poor and it wasn’t easy to work JA. I worked 40 in total: 30 on 20m and 10 on 40m. Weak signals mostly. But JA is JA and DX is DX. Used the small 500W amp only and no RX antennas.

2) Gagarin Cup

Just like last year I limited myself to SB40 with the tower 2/3rd up and the small 500W amp and no RX antennas. I only worked 379 stations.

3) CQMM

I decided to crank up the tower fully for this one. After all: well worth it in terms of DX and then I could use the 80m wire to its fullest. Propagation was only so-so. Ten meters a wasteland again and 15m was marginal Es-level. Even the 21MHz path to PY, usually a source of stronger signals even with poor conditions, was disappointing this year. Participation was quite OK and many obscure South-American stations on the air. Where are they in the other DX contents? I hope to be back next year is this very enjoyable event.

   Band     QSOs    Pts    Pfx    Cty    Pt/Q
    3,5     180     972     6      4      5,4
      7     429    2343    38     18      5,5
     14     412    1645    51     62      4,0
     21      77     356    37      8      4,6
     28       2       4     0      0      2,0
  Total    1100    5320   132     92      4,8 

I am now on a self-imposed ham radio break until WPX CW.

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RDXC 2021

A bit overdue and not much to say about this contest. At least: not something that hasn’t been said over and over again about running a contest. The contests themselves remain fun, but write-ups become a bit repetitive.

https://www.solarham.net/

The contest started with a K index of 6. That’s a killer. Propagation has been awful for the last couple of contests.

The rates were OK but certainly not spectacular. Participation was more than OK but it wasn’t easy under the current propagation.

I started the contest very tired and I had a short black out in the chair at the keyboard. I was very tired after the contest too.

Not my record score but at least I made over 2000 QSO in 24h.

It was now and here I decided to skip the CQ WPX SSB contest the weekend after. SSB under these conditions? No, I’d rather spend the weekend outside than on a splatter infested 20m band. Not to mention 40m SSB.

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ARRL DX SSB 2021

SSB contesting is not my thing, but then again it is a contest. With lots of DX. USA nonetheless. My kind of thing. I didn’t plan to be on for hours, but a few bursts of high rate and a total of 1000 QSO would be nice.

I slept the first night which seemed a sane thing to do. I got up early but I was not in a hurry. Read some mails. Read the headlines online. Had breakfast. Then into the shack. Cold shower: very weak signals. Once again 80m seemed the best place and I worked 45 stations or so in an hour. None of them were strong, none of them came from deep into the USA as seen short path from here. The band died pretty early and I had a snack with the family who had their breakfast. Then I thought: “ Forty will be good now!”. But forty was an absolute DISASTER. I only worked a weak W3LPL. If the Biggest of the Biggest powerhouse is only S4 or so, you know you’re in for a boring and unproductive grind. I decided not to waste a beautiful day outside and quit. Nah!

BTW nothing worked on 160. One or two weak ones just CQed in the proverbial face.

If you see this kind of weather and you’re not doing anything usefull in the shack, why then not go out for a good walk? That’s how I spent Saturday. There’s always Sunday…

Same routine for day 2: sleep and get up early. 0400 utc was my first contact on 80m (75m?) again. I worked a few more and went to explore 160m. VY2ZM was my only logged QSO on Top Band with an average signal: S6 or so, maybe less. I’ve worked him S9+20 on 160 in the past. Then 80/75m ran dry and I managed to squeeze a dozen contacts out of 40m. Like the last pea sized drop of toothpaste squeezed out of a completely empty tube.

QSO count was pathetic and motivation was accordingly but there I was in the shack again, determined to conquer 20. I kept stacking disappointments: I only got a modest burst of rate after a cluster spot. No spot made for ten minutes between QSO. Best rate wasn’t even 60 Q/hr and not even sustained longer than half an hour. Boring. I would definitely go to bed early and not return after sunset.

But then WW4LL said he hoped to work me on 40 later on. And Randy K5ZD said the same because he still needed Belgium on 40m for the multiplier. That triggered my sense of duty. I just had to return to 40m. And so I did.

Pretty early for 40m but I really wanted Randy to find me early so I could quit and go to bed. Twenty meters was still open but I had worked most there and I couldn’t care less anymore. After a cluster spot things more or less exploded, at least relative to the rest of the weekend. I worked about 80 stations on 40 in the last hour and a half. One of them was Randy K5ZD who thanked me for the multiplier. Also KU2M told me I was a multiplier on 40. In the last hours of a major contest, on 40m, I had to be the multiplier…

Spotz we gotz

It was not easy because I was surrounded by S9+++ EU blasting into my dipole’s rear lobe, with no F/B and USA still weak in the front lobe. I turned down the volume of the dipole RX and listened with the 2nd receiver on the RX loop favoring USA. That helped to attenuate EU and increase S/N for USA. Since only USA mattered this weekend, I had fed a Loop on Ground (LoG) into the RX stackmatch. While the terminated standing loop was always slightly better, the LoG did a good job too. It’s just a piece of enameled wire on the lawn. We can’t all have 300m long beverages every 30°. But most of us can put a square on the ground with 4m or 5m per side. I feed it with a 9:1 transformer. Try it! You’ll be surprised how well it works. Any antenna beats no antenna, that also holds true for the RX side of things.

At times it almost seemed like it was OM-Power model OM-4000 demo day. Add to that obnoxiously wide signals by many, worst noted: YU1EXY, LZ9W, SO9I, SP8K and RG2A. I didn’t write it down but some of these could be heard more than 10kHz on either side. That’s 20kHz wide. Would make a nice waterfall/spectrum impression. One more reason why CW is just so much better for people like me.

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UBA DX CW 2021

Finally back for this one after a streak of storms kept me off the air last year. I usually do only 12h in this one (Belgians get to pick 6/12/24h). But not this year. I decided not to keep track of QRV / breaks but just go all out during the whole period. I knew I could probably sleep a while at night anyway.

I decided to put up the 20/15m vertical for SO2R. In retrospect this was quite useless as 15m was very dead and operating on both bands at once was useless. Furthermore propagation was bad enough so using a vertical on 20m was not really productive. I feel sorry for those using a vertical antenna with little or no radials above 10 MHz under this kind of propagation. It’s bad enough as it is with a tribander at 20m high.

No more preparation was needed as everything was still up after last week’s ARRL DX CW contest. I just inserted the stub into the 40m antenna. It’s a shorted quarter wave on 40m made of 75Ω CATV hardline, which acts as an open line (high impedance) on 40m but a dead short on 14 MHz, to filter out the 20m harmonic. Works just fine.

A side note about Belgians in this contest:

I often read comments like ‘Where are all the Belgians?’. Well, you worked all the Belgians there is to work in a CW contest. There are not many Belgians active on HF. Only a small slice of that does contests. The intersection of this collection with guys who can do CW is even smaller. Then you have to fish in the pond of stations who have the antennas to reach you under very poor propagation. To get at least these guys active, the UBA decided to let them play in 6h or 12h categories too, apart from the 24h class. So there you go…

No need to start the contest on 15m this time. Let alone 28 MHz which is just dead-deader-deadest. Rates on 20m were good and it doesn’t matter if I work Russians or Americans. As long as I work outside of the European Union, I get max pt/QSO. All the rest is fine for multipliers. However it seemed the alleged money band 14 MHz was short of cash. I found myself on 40m pretty early. Good thing the rates were high there. I did not have to wonder when to stop to plan a break, I could just keep on going. I think for CW I will stick to 24h.

At 2300 utc, midnight local time I got called by ON6SI, my club’s station operated by OR5T. He proposed to QSY to 15m. We both had zero QSO there so the mult was welcomed. Once there I asked for 28 MHz which would be our one and only QSO there. My initial plan was to look for someone on Sunday morning to move there but actually it was a good idea to do it then because propagation on 15 and 10 was absent on Sunday.

I got in the shack just before 5AM utc and did 50/50 between 40 and 80. Then it was splitting time between 40m and 20m. There was little to no life on 15m and ten meters was quiet – nothing heard. The good thing was I could just go on and on without needing to plan or calculate off times. I think with this score in my chosen category, there probably won’t be anyone doing better? It’s not a record by far I guess. When –if? –  15 and 10 will play along again one day… Can’t wait!

  Band     QSOs     Pts      DXC     Pt/Q
   3,5     430     961        48     2,2
     7     533    1281        63     2,4
    14     549    1461        61     2,7
    21      33      63        19     1,9
    28       1       1         1     1,0
 Total    1546    3767       192     2,4
Score: 723.264

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ARRL DX CW 2021

I had to skip last year’s edition because of a nasty storm that kept me from raising the tower and antennas. This year the weather gods decided to bother someone else somewhere else. Actually they did kind of interfere with the mood by providing very nice weather. For the first time in what seems like forever: blue sky, sunshine and more than 16°C. I would not have done this contest if it were SSB with this kind of weather. But I like this contest a lot. Little did I know the sun had more in store than visible rays.

I delayed setting up until Friday which was supposed to have the least wind and be dry. It was windy and gusty enough and frankly: it was cold outside when setting up. Almost ninety minutes later I went upstairs and did a quick SWR check. I do this by hitting the ‘tune’ button on the K3 which I programmed to give a 13W RF carrier.

I had also taken out the matching stub I put in line with the 40m dipole for UBA SSB. Since I wouldn’t be doing SO2R I took out the harmonic filter stub as well. SO2R in this one? I’ll be glad to have one band open at a time towards USA. Being lazy I didn’t take out the jumper cable from the T-joint and just connected both coaxes (one from antenna , the other one to shack) with a PL-female-to-N-female adapter. All antennas behaved as expected. Great.

I took things easy the rest of the day. I went to bed around 9PM local and set the alarm at half past local midnight. That would give me half an hour to get ready.

And ready I was. The amp was warmed up, software loaded, drinks and snacks, comfy hoody and pants. I found a sweet spot on 40m ready to launch CQ in 5…4…3…2…1.. GO!

OQ5M TEST – beep + flickering LEDs = tripping amp. RX on the K3 strongly attenuated. HUH? PANIC. Something’s wrong here. Key rig again? Amp trips. SWR suddenly sky high on 40. And on 30. It’s not the main RX as the other bands were fine. Is it the dual band antenna? It tested fine with 13W – QRO must have fried something. Not again? Noooo not after the KPA-500 thing last December.

The contest just started and I find myself without 40m antenna and maybe worse. This is a bad thing. I can ‘t stand unforeseen situations, let alone facing damage. THINK ON5ZO, THINK. I grab the antenna analyzer and rush outside. To reach the relay box where outside world meets inside world, I need to go down the stairs, cross the living room, go through the kitchen, go outside and cross the terrace and slalom between crates and boxes in the garage.

While doing this, I face my biggest fear for now: we just had a few days of strong frost (to Belgian standards, down to -10°C) and snow after heavy rain. Maybe a water-soaked connection up the tower that burst when frozen? Wouldn’t be the first time QRO blew something here. See my toasted trap story. This would effectively mean the end of my all-band effort. Forty meter is the most important band right now.

I arrive at the switchbox. I decide to measure the antenna direct on the coax coming from the antenna down the tower. SWR graph shows no problem. Neither on 30m. So with a few mW (analyzer) to 13W (rig), it’s OK. That lowers stress levels a bit. It could still be a QRO-triggered problem, but probably the antenna is OK.

While commuting the stairs-living-kitchen-terrace-garage trajectory a few times back and forth, I try and test the following:

  • Bypass the 5B4AGN bandpass filter > not the cause.
  • Use other port on relay box > faulty relay is not the cause.
  • Take out coax jumper with N-PL mating adaptor: SWR and RX OK, even with 1200W QRO.

So it’s either the adapter or the coax jumper. I suspect the adapter because I bought it while the jumper is made by me. That will have to be settled later. The important thing is that I can now finally start the contest on 40m. It’s 0033 UTC so I lost a good half hour of prime time and a few years of my life probably. That’ll teach me, not testing things with QRO like I did up to a point in the past.

The rate goes up and up and up. In 25 minutes I log 90 QSO. That extrapolates to 216/hr. Yoinks! The next two clock hours I log 336 QSO: 168 on 40m, 168 on 80m. Not bad with simple antennas (dipole and wire vertical) and reasonable power (1200W) from Belgium. Then it slows down. I try some 160m interleaved with 40 and 80 but I get stuck at 68 Top Band contacts. I am disappointed by that number. But most Belgian amateurs probably will never work 68 Americans on Top Band in their whole life. So it’s relative, no?

Suddenly I feel that signals start to fade and it seems the propagation plug is pulled. I check solarham.net: K at 4. Sunrise is a bust. Not even a single W6 / zone 3 station. I do hear ZL pretty loud. But signals get eaten by the north pole if they have to pass over it. Conclusion: 7 MHz dies quickly and I decide to see the positive side: time for some sleep.

Another few words about the sun. Not only was the sun showing itself, there was something going on with its digestion. Something didn’t quite make it through the solar bowel system and it had to come out and barfed into the direction of Planet Earth. The A and K were peaking. Bad thing!

When I return around 1200 UTC I’m surprised to find 20m open already and the band jam packed. I squeeze in. In CW you fit anywhere. In SSB it’s a problem. Two hours for 226 QSO. Not bad but not great either. The usual suspects are not loud and the casual operators are S5-S6. K index at 4… On Instagram someone is reporting northern lights on live webcams in the Arctic. Bad thing for the HF folks.

I try 21 MHz. I work a few, I call CQ and get a few QSO but it’s obvious this band will not deliver. That makes 10m the better band. It does what you expect from 28 MHz: nothing. No backstabbing, just in your face closed beyond twenty kilometers. With 38 QSO spread over 2 hours, I’s 20 20 20 20 meters all the time… Unexpected: a marginal opening on 15m yields another 130 QSO spread over two slow hours. I work a few stations from deeper in the USA, including WD6T in CA. That concludes 15m on Saturday. I’m sure Sunday will be better, it can’t get any worse. Or can it? Soon after sunset I can pack my things on 20m as well. The last hour was slow with watery signals and not really anything beyond central USA.

I am now in a vacuum between 20m closing and 40m not yet open. I am not tired but with nothing left to do, I soon will be. Better get some sleep now and make it through the second low band night. I return in the shack four hours later for the second half of the contest.

Summary of the second night: 100 QSO in one hour (86 on 80m, 14 on 40m), then the rate goes down together with the signal strength. I know it’s the solar flare and not the RX. The best signals are on 80. But nothing from the western half of the US of A. There are a few good signals on 160m and I work another 40 there spread over the whole night. I have a feeling Top Band would support more activity if people would try now. Soon I worked all on 80m and 7 MHz is dead. Sunrise is an absolute lowlight. I find myself home alone and take a good nap on the couch in the living room with the dog next to me on his blanket on the floor. He couldn’t care less about QSO or solar flares.

Back at 1200 UTC. Same routine: grind out 20m. My hopes for a better 15m band got shattered. I hear nothing. Zero. All spots in the bandmap come from either USA or SA based skimmers. I hear faint traces of PY, CX, LU but nothing from K or VE. I soon get bored of the low rates so I decide to take a break and enjoy the sun with a brief inspection of the garden.

Funny moment: I went out of my way to work VE5SF on 20m for a spotted multiplier. I land back on my frequency, call CQ and get called by VE5MX. Once more: if you run, the mults will come.

Later on I decide to call it a day on 20 because that band is almost dead. Was it even vibrantly alive this weekend? Once again I am stuck between 20m gone and 40m not yet there. The plan is to check 40m later on, or just go to bed.

I am a contester so the bed was just a silly idea. I CQ’ed on 40m and did S&P as much as I could. The rates were low, often ten to fifteen minutes between two QSO. Reminder: I made more than 3 Q/min in the first two hours. I got called by a few multipliers. One of which VE5MX again. The last three hours go by with only 34 QSO in three hours, all on 40m. Sad.

Far from a record score. Too bad I didn’t break the psychological 2000 barrier. Oh well. Almost.

A few observations:

♦ WAS mults never worked, on no band whatsoever: North Dakota, Nevada and Wyoming. Missing a few VE mults too but that seems normal.

♦ Two different VE1 sent MAR and insisted on MAR and not NS. What’s up with that?

♦ Online scores: USA and rest of the world thrown together. Very hard to see whom your competing against from here.

♦ Propagation and location: I heard a weak CR6K running USA on 15m while the band is totally closed for me. That’s 2000km down south from here. Then he reports on 3830 he’s playing handicapped. Sigh.

It’s always fun working friends from over the Atlantic. AE5X was well represented this time with four QSO in the log. I knew he was testing his IC-705 and I was amazed how well he sounded with only 5W. Later on I read his report: he was using the QRP rig to drive a KPA-500W. Glad to exchange reports John.

I hope to be back next year. I had scheduled the SSB part in two weeks but I’ll skip that. SSB under these conditions? With the weather this nice? I doubt it. But then again: it’ll probably rain in two weeks, and the ionosphere will have settled down probably. Oh the lure of HF DX contesting…