I rolled into to Tom's driveway at about 2:30 pm local time (22:30 zulu) on Friday. The only thing left to do was to hook up my PEP reading watt meter - which took about 5 minutes. Then I settled in to work a few guys and check out the station. Got good reports, and everything was fine, but as the start of the contest approached, the band started to get more and more crowded. I finally settled down at 28.487, and worked N5OHL for my first QSO.
My immediate impression was that I could hear much better at Tom's QTH than I can from home. Even with my dual 2.1 KHz SSB filters, the QRM was murder. I felt like I couldn't pull out weak stations. It was a real lesson in the need for adequate preparation, including plenty of operating time at the station before the contest. I just wasn't comfortable with the different sound of this station. The noise really bothered me, and it broke my concentration.
All that said, I got off to a fair start. I stayed at 28.487 until 00:30, and made 112 contacts in that time. At this point, the band was open to both Asia and the US ( I worked 34 asians in the first 30 minutes). I had the top antenna pointed to Japan, and the bottom two pointed stateside. I felt that the band was in pretty good shape (any time you can work New York and South Korea in the same minute, 10 meters is pretty wide open), but with a fairly high level of QRN. At 00:30 I got fed up with the QRM, and went looking for another frequency. There was a mistake in here somewhere - either I should not have tried to settle into the messiest part of the band in the first place, or I should have stayed put and slugged it out. After looking around for a better frequency, I settled down at 28.495 at 00:35 and stayed there until 01:08. The rate was pretty good, but I was still shaken by the crowded band conditions. At 01:08 I moved again, this time further up the band to 28.521, where the QRM was much lighter. I was happier there, and I felt like I could actually hear. If I was going to move at 00:30, I should have moved further up the band like this then. At 01:13 the band closed for US contacts fairly abruptly, and I swung the middle antenna around to 300 degrees. I also pushed the top antenna over to 270 degrees to encourage VK's, ZL's and other Oceania stations. JT1BV called in at 01:27 for a real treat (although JT1CJ called in Saturday night, so I worked 2 Mongolians when I thought I would work zero!). I stayed at 28.521 and ran Asians and locals until 02:20 when the rate was falling fast and the band was pretty much closed. I worked a couple of guys S&P (including BW2000 for a needed mult), ran for a few minutes at 28.488 (all 6's and JA's), then S&P'ed again for a bit (picked up 9V1YC for another mult). JR2TQG was my last out-of-state QSO for the night at 02:36 - I hung around and worked 6's for a few minutes and packed it in at 03:05 with 438 contacts in the log.
At this point, I felt pretty good. I knew that I had blown it by not finding and sticking with a quieter frequency. But I also knew that I made only 350 QSO's Friday night in the 1999 contest, and that K3EST, my big competition, had made about 450 Friday night in 1999. So I was in the running, or so I thought. Tom and I went out and had a steak and a beer, and then I headed home and crashed about 10:00 PM local.
I was up at 13:00 zulu, and arrived at Tom's place at about 14:25. Local sunrise is 15:15 or so. The band was already open, barely, but open. I worked KC6AWX at 14:30. I worked CT3IA for my first European (sic) of the contest at 14:41. Then I made a fairly major error. At 14:44, I settled down at 28.544 and started running. I should clearly (in retrospect), have continued to S&P for European mults - especially northern and eastern Europeans. I did break my run at 15:29, and picked up DL, OT, and F - but then I went back to running on 28.542 where I stayed until 18:46. I took a quick tune around and worked P43E and C6AIE for new ones before settling down at 28.321, where I stayed until 21:34. I realized pretty quickly (certainly by 17:00) that I had made a huge mistake. I expected the band to open to at least western Europe in a pretty big way - so I figured I could run and they would come to me. Wrong! Only 18 EU stations called me Saturday morning, and the earliest was G3NAS at 16:06. I missed pretty much all of eastern Europe from 14:44 to 16:00 while I was working stateside stations. By 17:00, the stateside propagation was great, and I was rolling in W's, but Europe was pretty much history. After 16:30 I only worked 2 EU stations, both Scottish.
From 16:00 to 21:34 when I broke my run, I made 899 QSO's. That comes out to an average rate of 161/hr for five and a half hours.
It was here that I made my worst mistake of the contest by far. I made up (largely) for the bungled Saturday morning on Sunday. But I couldn't make up for this. I left my run at 28.321, where I had a quiet, well established frequency, to look for SA mults. I found two, VP5K and ZP5CGL, in 19 minutes of looking. In that time, I made only 14 QSO's. If I had kept up my run, I would have worked VP5K for sure on Sunday morning (he was loud), so I traded 1 mult. (ZP) for 33 QSO's (at 150/hr, which seems pretty reasonable). Worst of all, I gave up a great frequency for no reason. Not a good trade, or at least that is how I felt at the time. I finally found a new run frequency at 28.503 at 21:55, and did 143 QSO's in the next hour, but if you look at my rate sheet you can clearly see the hit I took by moving. At 22:57 I decided that the QRM was too much this close to 28.500, and I found a new home at 28.380 where I ran until 01:14. The band closed to stateside almost 30 minutes earlier Saturday than it had Friday - I worked K8ND for my last non-W6-W7 US QSO at 00:51. Luckily, the band was great to Asia, and I had a very good evening. 9M2, E20, and V73 all called in for good ones, and I picked up BA1DU and KH0A S&P before the band closed at 02:43. I packed it in at 02:50 and went home.
Again, at this point, I felt pretty good. I had 1,982 in the log - pretty much right on plan. I had most of the Asian mults that I had expected to get. All I needed was a good Sunday...
I was up again at 13:00, and at Tom's at 14:15 or so. There was really nothing happening, but things started to pick up at about 15:00. I worked V44NK and CP1FF for needed SA mults, and got much more aggressive than I had been Saturday looking for eastern Europe. It didn't take me too long to realize that that something weird was up - I had the top two antennas at 30 degrees, and was working Europe much better on the bottom beam (fixed at 80 degrees). Sure enough, all the early EU on Sunday was skew path over the Caribbean. I pulled the middle antenna down to 90 degrees, and ran the low stack. I worked S51TA, PA1TT, OK1RI and TK5EP that way, all for new ones. At about 15:30, very suddenly, the band snapped back to the normal path, and I pulled the middle antenna back up to 30 degrees and switched to the high stack for EU. I didn't start running until 15:49, when I settled down at 28.542 in a nice quiet spot. HB9CEX, MI0BVK and 3V8BB all called in for new ones during that first hour of running. I took a quick tune across the band at 15:58 and again at 16:35, but worked no mults. At 16:40 I settled down at 28.404, where I stayed until 17:43 when I moved to 28.327. I stayed there until 19:00, when I moved to 28.514. This was to be my home for the next 5 hours, I didn't leave until my last minute mult check at 23:57. During those 5 hours, I made 650 QSO's, for an average rate of 130/hr. Not bad for a Sunday afternoon!
Each afternoon, I ran with the high beam to South America and the lower two to stateside. Each evening, around 22:30 when the band opened to Asia, I swung the top beam over the 290 degrees (Japan is 303 degrees from here). That top antenna was like a laser. With nothing but darkness and ocean to the west, switching to that top antenna alone was nothing short of amazing. All the stateside QRM dropped away, and I felt like I could hear a pin drop in Tokyo. I don't think that there was a single Asian station that I couldn't work because I couldn't copy him.
After all was said and done, I had 2980 raw QSO's (all the rates etc. in the above section are raw numbers), 2847 valid QSO's, and 127 multipliers. I had a great time. A complete postmortem on my results appears in the next part of this series.
Part 7: He's Dead, Jim.