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CQ WW CW 2020

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.

Some numbers:

  • 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!

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LZ DX Contest 2020

I can be short about this one (from 3830):

It just kept on going and I felt strong. I made a lot of use of the second radio for which I installed my second antenna. This antenna can be seen here:

During the night I slept for a few hours. I was not really tired but the rate was so low I decided to get a nap and be fit for the last seven hours.

For now (10 days after the contest) I am the first non-LZ on 3830 in CW HP. Last year I was second with 600k points. I now have 1000k.

Apart from tons of fun and a good score, I feel confident for CQ WW CW.

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In the meantime at ON5ZO’s

First of all: I changed to the default WP theme. I don’t like this color scheme but my old theme generating software is no longer compatible with the new WP code. Stuff gets broken and I’ve run out of energy to find patches and workarounds. Maybe it’s time to admit the commercial (=paid for) theme generator has run its course and just forget about it. It hasn’t been updated by the company since 2014 and my last paid upgrade is also a few years old. Time to move on and forget about it. I’ll pick up the theme thing when I have the time. Yeah right.

EDIT: I fiddled with the color scheme from the default theme. It should now be less reddish and more blueish. Yay!

I have been doing plenty of stuff for the hobby lately. But I haven’t been posting anything here.

It’s various stuff in the ‘this and that’ department. Things that generally spoken are not blog material. I sort of had it with blogging. I still like to write and publish stuff. Even if hardly anyone reads it. But I feel like am repeating myself. That is because I always do the same in the hobby. Doing that doesn’t get boring to me. I still am very passionate about the way I enjoy the hobby. Writing about it does feel like saying the same things over and over again.

Add to that that I have been using Instagram a lot for the last fifteen months. I like the fact I can put just about anything there and interact with the outside world. There is much more interaction there than here. Plus my blog has been strictly about ham radio. On IG I also post various other things.

Check it out here: https://www.instagram.com/on5zo/

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CQ WW SSB 2020

I did SB80 four times in a row (2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018) so last year (2019) I decided it was enough and did SB20. That was a huge disappointment. It didn’t meet my expectations, not by far. Too much stations on the band. No place to run and you couldn’t receive who was answering. Three layers of loud signals from all over the globe.

The 40m band is even worse. And I am not in the mood for an all band effort in SSB (yet?). SB80 again? I talked my plan over with Denis K7GK whose opinion I respect and he thought it wasn’t a bad idea. So SB80 this year again.

Just a thought: 40m is my best CW band but the worst in SSB. Same setup, same operator. So it really is the mode.

The plan was to set up the tower on Wednesday. But the wind blew hard and the gusts were strong. I even had to put the RX loop’s pole back down again after having it put up for winter only a few days before. Stinking winds! So I did all that Thursday after work. It really shows the days are getting shorter. But I got ready with all the work even shortening the 80m CW wire to 75m sideband.

This contest starts at 2AM local time so I tried to get some sleep. I almost fell asleep at 9PM on the couch so I went to bed. But of course once there, I couldn’t catch sleep. The alarm rang at 01.15 AM and I wondered why on earth I would get up. For an SSB contest? Usually that feeling pops up after 30 hours or so. I had a bad temper and managed to get everything up and going in time, including myself.

Keeping a blog is good for looking back. Just like last year’s WW SSB (2019), the sun threw some dirt at us. Read here.

For this year (2020) SJ2W posted an aurora picture (link) and the A and K indices were too high to be good. K was 4… Could be worse, right?

The start was slow. Very slow. You need to get a packet spot if you want rate. Finally someone threw me on the DX cluster. I was able to run two fast hours. I finished the first night with 750 QSO. Of which about 160 Americans. That was not too bad but I was low on mults. There wasn’t much DX and the handful of usual suspects was weak. I can manage to work my way through the big guns in CW but on phone I don’t want to waste my time in the pile ups. So I was glad that later on ZW8T and XE2X called me for two double mults. My moto ‘run and the mults will come’ once again turned out to be true. Shout out to the other nice DX multipliers that called me (A4, A6, C3, FY, KP2, TF…).

The second night included only three good hours, good for about 350 contacts. From then on it was slow. VERY slow.

What can I say? If you pick a category like SB80 with only 1200W and a single wire, you know what you can expect. Lots of EU, not too much DX. But at least it is expected. Last year, I made only 1250 contacts with a yagi on 20m. That was an unexpected disappointment! The band was just too crowded. It never fails to amaze me how big the difference is with CW. Same operator, same setup, total different game.

My dual RX loops (USA and Far East) worked great. I had to switch many times to make a QSO just to suppress a blasting adjacent signal from the opposite side. Bu it helped and it worked. I don’t know how yet, but there might be room for improvement here. On the TX side, I am at the limit of what this QTH supports.

After doing contest write-ups for nearly a decade and a half, I feel I’ve run out of things to say. I keep on repeating myself. Because the contests repeat themselves. So QRU for this one. Already thinking about the next one…

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A permanent 30m solution

A permanent 30m solution? At least: I hope so.

The 30m band has always been my favorite. It supports DX all year round, all through the solar cycle and most hours of the day. I like that fluttery polar path sound of W6/W7 at my winter sunset. Or winter sunrise: a full hour of my best JA pileups time after time. I wish I had those in the contests. I once tried RTTY on 30m on a summer evening when the sun was indeed rising in the land named thereafter. They went nuts. Not many Belgians really CQ’ing on 10.1 MHz it seems…

I spend many weekends on the regular contest bands. But I also like to work some casual DX. So I try not to call CQ on the contest bands but revert to WARC. Especially 30m.

In 2004 I started with a 12+17+30m triband dipole on top of the tower. It brought me lots of DX pleasure for its size and simplicity. Too bad the trap got blown almost ten years ago.

The Toasted Trap

 

I removed this dipole and replaced it with a 40m rotary dipole. This antenna is so kick-ass good that 7 MHz is my best band, especially since the higher bands are worked with a yagi. So this antenna can never go.

After that I have been trying various things for 30m. It all works but never as good as the flat top dipole on top of the mast, even if it was trapped.

A monoband vertical.

30m GP v2018

A monoband sloping dipole.

A delta loop.

A triband WARC wire dipole.

A triband WARC vertical.

A permanent WARC antenna

 

These are all antennas that work. Especially if you don’t have anything else. But they need to be put up when there is no contest and taken down when there is a contest. Because they eat up real estate, or use a pulley that is needed for 80/160 low band contesting etc.

I was looking for something that can be installed permanently without interfering with my contest setup. So I was looking at the OptiBeam (link) or DXAvenue (link) dual band dipole. Or upgrade / modify my OptiBeam 40m dipole to include 30m. This can easily be done but the major issue was hooking up the 30m parts to the 40m loading coil.

But in Spring there was this OptiBeam 30+40m dipole for sale on the second hand classifieds. The price was right so I did not hesitate and bought it. I went to pick it up and installed it this week.

I could keep the feed point assembly on the mast as it is the same size and length. That made installing it easy. Moreover I could use a friend’s scaffold which made the one man install job quite easy.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CEH2m07Dd_-/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

 

Is it a permanent 30m solution? That is now under evaluation. I’m sure it’ll work on 30m and bring me DX pleasure. And work better than any of my 30m solutions. The big question is: will it have any negative influence on my 40m contest results? If so, I will probably revert to 40m monoband operation. Let’s hope not…