ON5ZO – OQ5M

Not much happened after the ARRL 10m contest. I had a bit of a radio burnout. I’ve done more radio in the last months than usually. Surfing the waves of better propagation, you know. CQ WW RTTY, chasing the Rockall expedition, California QSO Party, trying some DX on 10 and 12, the usual contests (LZ DX, CQ WW SSB and CW) and of course two days of ARRL 10m – two days that were only two hours for the last couple years. Add to that the extra workload for the end of the year and I was not too keen on sitting in the shack.

I added a piece of solid state electronics to the shack. Not a solid state amp but a solid state disk. I replaced the SATA hard disk in the Win7/64 machine with a SSD (solid state drive). People tell me it boots lightning fast. Well, I don’t notice any difference. I must admit that with the SATA drive Win7 was a fast booter already compared to the old XP machine or theVista laptop. With the SSD I think it boots just as fast. Probably the mother board is too old and does not support the fast data rates of the SSD which is SATA3 and I’m pretty sure the MB is not SATA3. The Win7 Performance Index took a leap from 4.9 (conventional SATA disk) to 7 (SDD) so the OS itself does notice a faster disk. I used the freeware XXClone to make an image of the C-drive to the SSD and made it bootable which saved me the trouble of reinstalling OS, drivers and all the software. With the Win7 install DVD in recovery mode, I was able to fix a MBR issue which is another thumbs up for Win7. I never pulled that off with XP.

Another ‘end of year tradition’ is the RAEM contest, or at least show up for a couple of QSO. Unfortunately this year it was on Christmas Day. That made it a bit of a pain to participate but I managed to play for a few  hours (250 QSO or so). I think this is the most fun you can get next to the CW QTC in WAE CW. I like the long alphanumeric exchange, preferably sent not too slow. Distance based scoring adds to the fun: a JA or ZL boosts the score as well as an ice cold Siberian UA0. Next year it’s on December 23, I might as well go for a full time effort then.

Another classic ON5ZO end of year activity is trying to work DX on 30m at my sunset. Usually I work a bunch of W6/W7 a little after their sunrise, which is my sunset in winter. Today was the first day I actually tried but it was a bust. I worked Nevada, Washington and Oregon and if I recall well also one Californian. Hmm, as I type this I am thinking it’s not too bad and certainly better than nothing. But I seem to remember working much more of these every day the past years. I hope to be QRV the coming days to check if the sunspots also ruin 30m. Or does the better propagation on the higher bands draw the people away from 40/30m? I also got called by a JA and regular VU2PTT called me too with a nice signal. Hey, it wasn’t so bad then: about 10 real DX in just over 100 QSO  🙂

Log checking reports for CQ WPX CW are out. Here’s what’s striking me:

************************* Not In Log *************************

7035 CW 2011-05-28 1413 OQ5M           494 F8IDR         0030
7018 CW 2011-05-28 1905 OQ5M           639 F8IDR         0026

What the @$^%#??? You should know that my LCR/UBN is always very clean. I log very little errors and I only log when I’m 100% sure.  So F8IDR calls me twice, 5 hours in between, with only a handful of contacts judging by the numbers – and the first QSO has a higher number than the second.

Open logs are a good thing. Here’s the F8IDR log. OQ5M is not in there so at least the log checking is OK. At 14.13 op F5XX was taking a 90 minute break. At 19.05 he was on 20m. The log is submitted as Single Op (F5XX) HP Assisted.

Question arises: WHO is F8IDR? Unknown to QRZ.

However, Google ‘F8IDR’ and I end up here: ‘WPX par F8IDR en photos!’ Clearly single op, no? There is a Picassa album entitled ‘2011-05-28 WPXparF8IDR‘ here that once again shows a Single Op activity.

Google also learns us that “L’IDRE participera avec l’indicatif F8IDR au contest WPX HF (http://www.cqwpx.com/), le week-end prochain au centre de vacances de GUCHEN qui se trouve dans la vallée de Saint Lary. Bernard F5XX et l’équipe du DX gang gère la partie technique avec F6KPH de Tarbes. Pour l’instant 18 inscrits à cette participation: F5PU, F5SAW, F6KPH, F5LEW, F5RVI, F5SZR, CHRISTINE, F5AUB, F1NHN et MCH , F6GXY et M, F5XX, F4ENH , F6BKB, F5BTH, F6HED et YL, C RIVAYRAN ……“.

Luckily French is my second language after Dutch so it’s easy to understand that Single Op in English means at least 18 people in French  :o)   Yes things are not always what they seem to be – or in contesting lingo: what they’re claimed to be. I’m curious to see if this log will indeed end up as SO. I recently made a posting about assumed unclaimed cluster assistance by Belgian operators (more than one). I decided to put it in the trash bin because I think ON’s just don’t care. Maybe the F’s don’t care either?

Not much has happened after CQ WW. I wanted to rebuild the 10m yagi for this weekend but the project hasn’t moved. The cold or flu I was able to suppress before CQ WW hit back hard after the contest. Today is the first day in almost a week that I have been moving without pain. Last week some kind of flu got me and I went to work despite the fever. But on Friday I cracked and the virus could have its way with me. A lot of rest and sleep and some reading was all I did. And browsing 3830.

Now the time had come for the ARRL 10m contest. A forgotten contest, but propagation on 10m in CQ WW SSB reminded us! So I wanted to play in this one too. I also wanted to use a second antenna fixed to EU: the 3 element monobander that I dragged from under a thick layer of dust (literally). With CQ WW and being ill, the project hadn’t advanced so on Friday I took the opportunity to finish it. You know how it goes. I used a different design (wideband in stead of narrowband CW only) which in turn changed the feedpoint impedance. So I needed to make another hairpin. All things went quite well, I got the yagi assembled just when it became dark. Which means: “too late”. I still wanted to test it and put up the base for my push up mast, but without the counter weight. Since the yagi was only on a tube two meters high, it didn’t fall. The analyser showed resonance around 27 MHz. Ouch, wrong band! Pruning the hairpin shifted the SWR dip into the right direction. I wanted to make sure I was seeing things without coupling to the ground, so I added another tube. Bad idea without the counter weight. The feedline pulled the boom away from the center of gravity and dragged the yagi to the ground. Result: a bent reflector and a frustrated ON5ZO. I should have known that rushing things is a bad way of working, especially doing this work outside in the dark. I straightened the bent element, took away the feedline and called it a day. The contest will be done with the high tribander only… During the contest I wondered if a lower antenna would have helped for EU.

I started around 8 AM utc on Saturday, which seemed late. Yet the band was not really open and I had a slow start. It quickly became clear that propagation this weekend is not to be compared to the fantastic conditions in CQ WW SSB. Right after our local noon,USAcame through and the rate went up. I wanted to keep a balance between both modes. I tried to keep the number of contacts in SSB and CW equal, as well as the multipliers. I managed to do this, with some nice rates – but nothing shocking. Around 1600 utc signals started to fade and the band soon closed. No real W6/W7 openings. Maybe better luck on Sunday?

Not really. Same scenario. Slow morning, hope for JA that didn’t come. Only one or two for the multiplier. Chase mults. Wait forUSAto come through in the afternoon. Have a good hour or two withUSA. Feel the band closing. Sweep the band for the last contacts. Finished around 1730 utc.

Objectively spoken this was a great contest compared to what we’ve seen after 2002. But if you compare to the conditions in both CQ WW earlier this year… Oh well, good times were had. DX was worked. What else would we do on a weekend?

Here’s something that I’ve been thinking about for a long time. To buy a second amplifier or not? The answer could be a simple yes or no. But nothing ever is simple…

I have two transceivers. The main reason is not for SO2R because I don’t always do that. The real reason is that if one fails, I can always play radio when the rig is under repair. The benefit for having two identical devices is that you always have one working example to compare the broken one. In the case of the K3 I can measure reference values in the working rig and compare to the bad rig. Or even do a board swap to identify the broken PCB. I used the same reasoning to buy two identical switched mode power supplies. I like symmetry and redundancy. Where it is practically and economically possible.

Right now I only have one amplifier. Which is OK because you can only use one amplifier. Except for SO2R but that has worked with the second rig barefoot. But a second amplifier would be nice for these SO2R operations. And if the main amplifier breaks like the ACOM 1000 did last year, I am forced to go low power. Again, that is not a real problem: I even won the UBA SSB contest this year in LP while my ACOM 1000 was under repair.

So far, we have two pros: back up amplifier and for Radio2 in SO2R and one con: it will be an expensive item that will only be used for a few hundred contacts each year. Suppose I was in a spending mood and the pros persuaded the con, what amplifier to buy then?

Of course my first choice would be the Elecraft KPA-500. This transforms the K3 into a 500W ‘set and forget rig’. No tuning, no buttons to be pressed – just TX and run 500W. 500W is not real QRO but for radio 2 and backup amp, it’s enough. And it’s small and light for possible portable operations. None are planned, but it might help to make a decision.

I have a BIG problem with this amplifier, namely its price. At the current exchange rate, adding S/H and 21% VAT when brining it to my home, this amplifier cost me about 2000 to 2200 Euro depending on slow USPS shipping or fast but expensive UPS delivery. That is a lot of money for only 500W. Granted it is a “no tune – no buttons” amplifier in combination with the K3.

But an ACOM 1000 currently costs less than 2400 Euro. That is full kW. Granted: not really portable and it needs tuning. But with my ‘tuning table cheat sheet’, a QSY from band A to band B including retuning the amplifier, takes 5 to 6 seconds. Every auto-tune amp costs A LOT more than a manually tuned equivalent. Those are expensive stepper motors…

The newly announced ACOM 800S solid state amplifier should cost 2600 Euro (no official price quote so far however). I don’t know what to think of that… It closes the gap between 500W and 1000W, and it is auto tune / solid state (no warm up time).

Another possibility is the ACOM 1010 which costs around 1600 Euro. Still a good 750W, and smaller and lighter compared to the ACOM 1000. Italian solid state auto tune amplifiers are out of the question. Too expensive and questionable stories read. So I don’t see any other alternatives in a modest price range. Or do I?

One day I found this amplifier. Price “About ~1400 USD”.  That is a bargain converted to Euros! And solid stade, and no tune, and full kW. I contacted the manufacturer and he answered me “it’s not for the export market and not yet available.” So there you go, not for export – whatever that means.

You see it’s not simple. And as long as there is no real winning amplifier that has the right specs / price ratio for a second, rarely used amplifier, I will leave my money on the bank. But with the given economical climate, is that the smartest thing to do?  🙂

Right now I am suffering from ‘post contest stress disorder’. With no one around to talk about the contest, it’s hard to decompress. Anyway with over 4300 QSO and almost 6 million points , I have once again raised the bar for next year.

Last week after LZDX I told ON4BHQ that only WX or Murphy could take me out. BHQ jokingly (I hope?) said I would easily make 5000 QSO.  WX was very calm as we have seen it over the last weeks. They predicted a windy Sunday but no online forecast mentioned wind speeds that would be fatal for my pseudo field day setup. Murphy showed up on Wednesday with something that seemed to head for a cold or a flu. Sleep and couch time proved to be the cure. On Friday night I took a last nap and I was all set to go.

The plan was to hit hard, run like a madman and hunt down all I could on Radio 2. Last year my self-imposed magic limit was 3000 QSO. I ended up with 4000 in sight so that was this year’s target. And 4 million points would be nice.

Contrary to WW SSB, the start is a blur. Last month I could wonder about operating SSB on 40m in the SSB part, but I just didn’t have the time to philosophize  in the CW part of the contest. Every time I switched to an SO2R scenario, I had to abandon radio 2 because the rate picked up. After exactly 7 hours (8 AM local time here) the log showed over 1000 contacts. What a rush! It included an 175 clock hour, which is equal to my best rate hour ever. Sunrise propagation was a bust, and especially 160 let me down.

I was fit enough to carry on right after a short break. Stretching legs, empty bladder, call room service to order breakfast. The rates were still good but nothing mind boggling anymore. It soon became clear that propagation was plain good. The best conDX in WW CW in years. But it lacked that very special and exceptional boost that we experienced in WW SSB last month. The number of contacts grew but I was always very short on mults. I needed to do more S&P, and also I was less called by juicy double mults than in the previous contests. Anyway I kept my butt in the chair and was always running one band and S&P’ing another with Radio 2. A second amp for that would have been nice. It works with 100W but not as fast as with QRO and the OQ5M call is prone to be from either Slovakia or Czechia when it’s not too loud. Saturday after lunch… note to the catering department: chewing food is OK in a CW contest, but eating half a chicken is not practical when contesting. Hunger prevailed though and it was delicious. So after that lunch, I was suddenly  feeling cold and felt like being ran over by a train. Time for a longer break: a hot shower and fresh clothes and I was good to go. Rate was good, mults were low.

At about midnight I had my first crisis. I was leaving contacts unlogged or holding my finger on the CQ button while dozing off. I decided to get my first sleep – very late for me. So resting before the contest and trying to live healthy paid off. But things were slow enough to justify a nap. I took off the headphones and heard a weird noise from outside under the roof. Oh no: the wind started to blow much harder than predicted. A quick look outside showed bent trees and my SO2R vertical was swinging outrageous. The top section of the telescopic tower was wiggling too and I swore I could see the lowest section move too. That would be virtually impossible or otherwise a recipe for disaster so I blamed fatigue and filed it under ‘figment of imagination’. Sleep deprivation can do that to you. This strong wind triggered a very unhappy and uncomfortable feeling. I went outside and inspected the tower base. The wind was howling and the antennas shaking but the lowest section, the one bolted to the support and concrete base, was absolutely NOT moving. Only vibrating which is normal. I guess the tower has never been at its full height in this strong winds before. Bloody WX and its incompetent forecasters. I asked myself: if I had known this, would I have cancelled the operation on Friday? Nah, unless they predicted 6Bft – I think it’s safe up to 5Bft. The forecast was 4 Bft until Friday when one online WX forecast mentioned 4 to 5 Beaufort. I landed on the couch, put on the TV and watched the rerun of the TV news with some politician blahblahing away. I set the cell phone alarm to ring three hours later but I woke up four hours later. So I was lucky to have lost only one hour more. Dangerous! The same politician telling the same mumbo jumbo. Overnight TV loop! I must have killed the alarm and fell asleep again. I felt fairly fit again and I don’t think I missed something.

The wind was still blowing but the tower had survived the previous 6 hours so it won’t be a problem after all. I am worried much too fast about winds and my telescopic tower. It is rated for much more than this but I always wonder… As a matter of fact the wind might be a bigger problem for my low band wires, especially the dual wire 80/160 verticals Those wires might get tangled but they didn’t. I can’t remember what and how but I started running again – run run run. When the sun got up and everyone seemed to be on 10 meter already, I took breakfast downstairs with the family. Again: can’t remember what follows, I was just deep into the contest. Around lunch I noticed the wind was calming down, as predicted. By sunset it was calm again outside.

My cell phone shows a message I sent to ON3DI who informed how things were going: 3200 QSO and 3.6 meg points at 12.20 utc on Sunday. I knew that 4000 QSO would be possible with almost 12 hours to go but I also knew they would not come by themselves so I attacked the bands. Still low on mults I decided to break the magic 4000 barrier and then try to score multipliers. The plan worked, thanks to some fast runs with the USA on 10 and 15. American CW ops, you gotta love ‘m! It felt good to break my own magic limit and much to my surprise I was feeling relatively fit.

I had many QSO with familiar calls and people I’ve come to know in the contesting scene. The biggest surprise was being called by a loud K3WWP on 15m. John and I have QSO’ed before but it was a long time ago. He operates strictly CW QRP with modest wire antennas. He does a great job and I consider him the living proof that QRP and CW is a working combination. But the sun has not been favoring his operating style when it comes to transatlantic DX. I had been thinking that with the recent rise in SFI and improved propagation, John and I might bump into each other again and there you go.

The afternoon strategy was simple: skim a band for mults first, then run it dry and reskim for mults before leaving. That worked for 10m and 15m. When it was time to hit 20, that band was in poor shape. It was very noisy and the signals were weak. Soon I found myself on 40 which was actually a relief for my ears. But things didn’t move anymore so I went to 160 to stay there. I had only 100 QSO so the chance for improved rate and some EU mults was pretty high on Top Band. In the mean time I took all I could on 40 with barefoot radio 2. This way I worked 8P5A, B1C, TO3A, ST2AR, OE4A, V26K, ED9M, ZF1A for multipliers and another bunch of other stations for the QSO points.

I was glad to switch everything off and go to bed. I slept like a log and felt like crap this morning when the alarm rang. I’m quite happy with the numbers… Will I do better next year?