Part 6: Hello, Fat Lady!

by Dan Levin, K6IF

Today is Monday, March 30th.††† Iím on the puddle jumper (actually a small jet) from Halifax back to Newark to hook up with my family, who stayed in NYC over the weekend.Iím emotionally and intellectually exhausted, but after almost 11 hours of sleep last night Iím feeling pretty good physically.Here, as best I can remember it, is a rundown of the last 3 days.

12:00 zulu†††††††††† Up at 7:00 am local in NYC.In a taxi to the airport at 8:45 am local for my 9:35 flight.

16:25z††††††††††††††††††† Flight from Newark arrives on time in Halifax.Nice flight. I tried to sleep, but only dozed.

17:00z††††††††††††††††††† Got the royal treatment from the Canadian authorities.It doesnít pay to be dark skinned and to have a beard LFirst Immigration spent about 10 minutes with me.Wanted Jimís name, address and phone number.Why was I visiting?How long?What did I do for a living?The whole nine yards.Then on to customs, who went through my bags to ďverify my customs declaration.Ē

17:15z††††††††††††††††††† In the car, finally.A nice blue van.Called Jim to let him know I was on my way, and my wife to let her know I was ok.My U.S. cell phone worked, quite surprising.

19:15z††††††††††††††††††† Iím getting close.What is that huge stone ridge over there?Will it be between me and Europe? It sure looks tallÖ

19:30z††††††††††††††††††† Arrive at VE1JF.My first impressions arenít good. The tower is down at least 20 feet below the road, and on the other side of the road the ground appears to slope up to the big ridge I saw from the road.110í doesnít look very tall.How loud can this station possibly be in EU with that ridge in the way?

20:00z††††††††††††††††††† Jim and Hannelore are very inviting.The house is lovely, the station looks great.I tour the antenna farm Ė everything is first class.Iím still worried about the take-off to the east, but Jim assures me that the station plays.Well, Iím here now Ė Iíll take his word for it and do my best.

23:40z††††††††††††††††††† Checked out the key elements of the station.Discovered that the W5XD keyer didnít have power, fixed the broken wire at the 12v distribution center.Things seem to be working fine.Had a wonderful beef stew and orzo dinner looking out over the Fundy at the sunset.Magnificent.Finished dinner,took a shower, changed my clothes.

23:45z††††††††††††††††††† In the chair.Working a couple of JAís on 21.195 Ė my proposed starting frequency.The band is still open!Iím worried about JA multipliers.The conditions seem pretty good at this point, the flux is 147 and the K is 4 (pretty much exactly what I had forecast 27 days ago) Ė so Iíll try to get some JAís into the log while the getting is good.

00:00z††††††††††††††††††† I manage to work 3 Japanese stations before loosing patience.At 00:03 I QSY to 21.220.I work 2 US stations before deciding that this is no way to start the contest.I go to 14.175, and start running mostly US and Canadian stations with a few SA guys mixed in.Meanwhile, I realize that the voice keyer isnít working.I struggle with it for a few minutes before realizing that the volume is turned down on the computerís audio mixer.I fix it before my throat gets too annoyed (running all the time, while working on it).Of course, the Advil I took before the contest probably helped too JI work a couple of guys on 15 on the second radio, but that band sounds pretty dead.End the first hour with 132 in the log Ė not a bad start.

01:11z††††††††††††††††††† I QSY to 7.070.40 sounds open to EU, and I am supposed to be loud on that band. I had planned to spend the first night on the low bands, might as well get started.I listen up, and work the same mixture of NA and SA guys Ė the rate is pretty good Ė 107 raw.I end the second hour with 239 good ones.

02:21z††††††††††††††††††† I work VE2ZV on the second radio on 80 Ė that band sounds pretty good.I head down there to try it out.I set up on 3.780.I donít feel very loud.Jim has set up two 80 meter antennas, a linear loaded vertical and a sloper off the tower.I try both Ė the sloper seems better to the US so I leave that one selected.80 is tough.I donít feel loud, and I donít know the band from the east coast.Iím having trouble working EU, even listening down.I keep the rate up by working EU on 40 and US on 160 on the second radio.At 02:57 I go to 1.871 for a couple of minutes, but the rate isnít good so I move back to 3.770 with the run radio.I end the third hour with 307, feeling pretty unhappy with myself.At least they are high point count QSOís J

04:04z††††††††††††††††††† 418 after 4 hours.I finally got going on 80, mostly to NA, and made 111 Qís (but only four 6 pointers).I feel better.I take a break to hit the head and stretch.Then back to 7.072 listening here and up.

05:00z††††††††††††††††††† 473.A pretty slow hour, but more than half were 6 pointers, and I did take a short break.40 is feeling good.The EU guys arenít too loud, and there is plenty of QRM, but Iíve never run EU on 40 before (ever) and it feels great!

06:00z††††††††††††††††††† 535.Another slowíish hour, but again mostly 6 pointers.I was expecting to be able to keep the rate around 90 during the night. Iím falling behind, but not by much and my good first couple of hours make up for it.Iíve been picking up guys on 80 and 160 on the second radio all along, which helps to keep the rate up.

06:57z††††††††††††††††††† Forty is slowing down a bit, so I head back to 80 to try again.I settle on 3779 listening down, and finally work some Europeans.I work some big guns on 40 with the second radio, but at 07:23 I decide that the rate is down enough that I can go to sleep.With 660 in the log, I am 55 behind my pre-contest goal.Still I feel good about the way things are going.I know I can play on the high bands Ė running is running.I was worried before the contest about my ability to deal with the low bands, which are so different from here than from home.Things went pretty much as I would have hoped Ė which makes me very happy.I set the alarm for 10:30z, since I plan to be back on the air at 11:00z for what I hope will be a big hour on 15 meters.At 07:40z or so Iím in bed.

10:59z††††††††††††††††††† Shit.Shit shit shit.15 is deader than a door-nail.I work CX7BF and then head to 20 meters.I try 14.168, but I canít hear well, so I head down to 14.147.†† Wow.So this is what 20 meters sounds like from Atlantic Canada.I can live with this!By 11:11 I have a pileup going.In the 11:16 minute I worked 6 guys.I end up with a 162 hour, all 3 pointers.Considering the relatively unruly pileup (remember, I am used to US and JA stations, both of which tend to be very well behaved in my experience), I was ecstatic.A few enterprising Asianís call in Ė ZL1ALZ and JH6AYU to name a couple.Iím disappointed that 15 isnít open yet, but Iím happy with the rate on 20 as an alternative.After all, 15 will open soon, right?I end the hour with 825 in the log, and keep on running.

12:45z††††††††††††††††††† NQ4I is loud on 15 meters, but the band still sounds pretty dead.No EU.

13:11z††††††††††††††††††† I end the 12:00 hour with 960 after another good hour on 20 to EU.At 13:11 I decide that I have to try 15, even though it sounds terrible on the second radio.I set up on 21.268 and give it a try.

13:54z††††††††††††††††††† Very disappointing.No EU at all, and pretty low rates to the US.I head back to 20 meters.I figure I havenít spent any time in the US phone band Ė so I should be able to get good rates up there as fresh meat.I end the 13:00 hour with 1027 in the log after a 67 hour. Yuck.

14:55z††††††††††††††††††† Well, the good news is that my theory was right on.I set up on 14.181 and had a good solid 141 hour of US stations.At 14:55 I take a quick break and then head back to 15 meters for more punishment.

15:44z††††††††††††††††††† Well, it was better this time JThe rate was ok, but the band sounds terrible and there is still no EU.The flux is plenty high (155), but the K is 4 and something bad is going on with the solar weather.The aurora looks like a red street light Ė not the pleasant light yellow that I had hoped for.I decide that if some pain is good, lots of pain must be better Ė so I head down to 10 meters.I had been working guys on the second radio, and the band sounded open Ė so Iíll give it a try.

15:54z††††††††††††††††††† Well, that was quick and nasty.Nothing but the big guns and single banders on 10 meters.Stations are loud, but the rate is terrible.I go back to 20 meters, my money band, worried.

17:00z††††††††††††††††††† 1393.I spent the last hour camped out on 14.181 running a mix of US and EU.A 124 hour Ė Iím beginning to see a trend.11:00, 12:00, 14:00 and 16:00 hours on 20, my rates were 162, 136, 141, 124.13:00 and 15:00 on the higher bands, my rates were 67 and 94.I stay on 14.181 until 17:30, when I try 15 and then 10 again briefly.Nothing doing, so I decide to take an hour off at 17:44.Iím tired, and frustrated.This is the low point of the contest for me.Remember, my plan was to workover 1500 Qís on 15 meters.At this point, I have less than 150.I hope that things will get better later in the day Ė but Iím worried that if 15 doesnít open it is going to be a very long and very boring contest...Once out of the chair, I decide that a nap would be a good idea.I ask Jim to wake me at 19:30z and head to bed for what I hope will be a 90 minute snooze.

19:05z††††††††††††††††††† Iím awake.I donít know if I slept or not (I tossed and turned quite a bit, I know that), and I donít know what woke me if I slept, but Iím awake now.

19:13z††††††††††††††††††† Back in the saddle.I work ZF2NT while tuning 10 meters before settling down on 21.274 for more punishment.That lasts 3 minutes before I head back to 10 and try my luck on 28.482.By now, Iím really annoyed about this whole high band thing.From California, even if conditions are lousy, you can work a ton of US guys on 10 and 15 meters.From VE1, I canít seem to get anything going.At 19:43, disgusted, Iím back at 14.146.So much for hoping that conditions would improve while I slept.

21:00z††††††††††††††††††† Luckily, everyone else seems to think that 20 is the only place to be too!I have my best hour of the contest between 20:00 and 21:00 Ė 177 QSOís.Top 10 minute rate of 216.This is more like it.This is fun.Even with the fairly bad behavior (lots ofguys who donít give their entire call, or who call over someone else giving their exchange), I have a great time.I end the hour with 1818 in the log Ė but things are starting to slow down.At 21:31z I move up to the US phone band.At 21:56 I make my first second radio Q in the long time Ė a sure sign that the rate is dropping.

22:25z††††††††††††††††††† I briefly try 15 meters again, with little luck.I go back to 20 with the run radio, but start working 2nd radio QSOís on 80 and 40.

23:09z††††††††††††††††††† I decide to try running on 40, with little luck.At 23:36z I try 3.804 listening down, and do pretty well Ė but the frequency gets noisy and I decide to move on.The rate isnít that good, and I donít feel loud.I try 3.820 listening down for a while, then move back to 20 at 00:32z.At this point I just donít feel good about 80 meters.I canít seem to find a good frequency under 3.750.I canít hear EU all that well.I donít feel loud enough to slug it out at 3.803.This isnít fun.

01:33z††††††††††††††††††† Iíve spent the last 90 minutes on 14.218, doing pretty well.I ended the 23:00 hour (half way) with 1937 QSOís Ė but I have 7 hours of off-time still to take.Now I decide to try 40 again, and I land at 7.063 listening up.I donít know why I donít try simplex to the states, but I donít.I run duplex, hoping to work 6 pointers on my frequency but really working mostly US stations split.

03:07z††††††††††††††††††† Itís been a good 90 minutes.A solid run Ė 92 in the 01:00 hour and 93 in the 02:00 hour Ė a good mix of 4 and 6 point QSOís.Iím still hoping that 15 will open tomorrow morning, but I decide to try the 20 and 40 meter JA opening at dawn.Iím desperately short of Asian multipliers, and if 15 doesnít open Iím going to need to get them somehow.I know that Jim has had some spectacular JA openings on 40 meters at VE1 dawn, so I set the alarm for 09:30z and fall into bed.

09:34z††††††††††††††††††† Back in the chair, and very disappointed.No JAís on either 20 or 40.Oops.I slog along until 10:32z before deciding to take my last hour of off-time.I grab a shower, have a real breakfast (2 eggs and cheddar cheese on a piece of toast), and wait until 11:33z.

12:00z††††††††††††††††††† I spent the last 27 minutes below the US phone band Ė doing ok, but not great.I end the 11:00z hour with 2265, and head for 14.233.Iím pleasantly surprised by the result Ė I have a 99 hour from 12:00z to 13:00z.At this point, 99 is great JAt 13:34z I head back to 21.285 to try 15 again.Iíve been working guys on the second radio while running on 20 Ė the band sounds open to the US although there arenít that many stations on.Still Ė I feel like I have to try.

15:23z††††††††††††††††††† Iíve spent the last 2+ hours running on 15 and working the second radio like crazy.Now I try 10 meters, were the stateside multiís are pretty strong.†† The rate isnít bad, and I stay until 16:28z.During that time, I work over 100 QSOís Ė mostly pretty weak west coasters and pretty strong southerners and mid-westerners.Then itís back to20 meters in what is becoming a joke.

17:22z††††††††††††††††††† Back to 15.For the first time, I feel loud.I spend the next 2 hours on 15 and then 10 and then back to 15 Ė and have good hours.114 from 17:00 Ė 18:00 and 102 from 18:00 Ė 19:00.For a while on 15 meters, from around 17:30 to 18:00, it feels just like a radio contest.I worked 74 guys in those 30 minutes.In the 17:54z minute I work 6 guys.The rate isnít amazing, but it is steady .I work no second radio contacts in those 30 minutes, a sure sign that I am busy.ZL6QH calls in at 19:21z on long path, but still no EU.

19:26z††††††††††††††††††† Back to, you guessed it, 20 meters!I stay there, running at a steady 90 or so an hour and working the second radio on 15.Around 20:52z I work NH7S on 15, and immediately after I start listening to the beacons on 21.150 Ė hoping to hear the band open to Asia.

21:25z††††††††††††††††††† What was that?!?JO6???My brain doesnít know what to do.I had been tuning the second radio on 15 meters Ė a bit lazily to be honest.I was up near 21.300 when I heard JO6 something work someone.It didnít even register until I was a couple of kHz away.He was perfectly readable!S3 at least, and the band was quiet.

21:26z††††††††††††††††††† The middle antenna was already pointed at around 270 degrees, so I nudge it up to JA, head for 21.195 and call CQ.I start the top antenna rotating to 350.

21:26z††††††††††††††††††† ď7M2PSC, domo!You are 59 number 3160, dozoĒ.ďArigato, QRZ contest, Victor Charlie One Radio!ĒIn the next 20 minutes I work 11 Japanese stations for 4 new multipliers.After the contest, I realize that I had worked 28 JAís on 20 meters, but I didnít realize that at the time.The opening was gone as quickly as it had started, and I moved my run radio back to 40 meters for the dusk opening.

22:45z††††††††††††††††††† An ok hour on 40 Ė 56 QSOís there plus some on the second radio Ė but I feel that Iíve worked 40 meters out.I head down to 20 just to see if I can get anything going.

00:00z††††††††††††††††††† I finished out the contest with an amazing 100 hour on 20 meters.The band was quiet, and I worked a whole bunch of very weak US stations Ė many on back-scatter.They werenít loud, and given that I already had over 1600 QSOís on 20 I was amazed that they were there Ė but they were.No QRM, no Europeans, just a steady diet of S3 US guys sprinkled with the occasional (mostly Latin American) treat.5U7JK and 8P6DO call in.VY2LI calls in for a new one, as does CP1FF, LU2EE, PT5A, LU8XW and ZZ8Z.It was a great way to end the contest Ė I was pretty tired at this point.

01:00z††††††††††††††††††† I ate a quick dinner, listened to K5TRís score on 3830 (nice job George!!!), and went to bed.The alarm is set for 11 hours from now Ė time to head for the airport and back to the States.

I ended up with:

††† †††QSOís†††† Points†† †††Prefixes†††††† Pts/QSO

160 †††††23††††††††† 79 ††††††††††6 ††††††††††††3.4

80 †††213†††††††† 870 ††††††††53 ††††††††††4.1

40 †††564††††††2580 ††††††201 ††††††††††††4.6

20 †††1745††††††4325 ††††††††550 ††††††††††††2.5

15 †††491††††††† 1025 ††††††††88 ††††††††††††2.1

10 †††235†††††††† 494 ††††††††38 ††††††††††††2.1

†††††† 3271††††††† 9373††††††† 936†††††††††††† 2.9

 

8,773,128 claimed

 

Some quick thoughts.

 

1)        VE1JFís station worked, and it is loud. Especially on 20 and 40 meters, I felt dominant.I never worried much about QRM or frequency fights, I just did my thing, confident that others would move. I kept my signal very clean, constantly managing the mic gain and output power to avoid splatter, keep the radioís operating within their ALC range, and keep the Alphaís at 1500 watts.But I was loud, and I knew it.On 15 meters, I didnít feel so good Ė but I think that was propagation, not the station.

2)        There is a time to head for VE1 land, and there is a time to head for Aruba.When the K is high and the aurora is strong, you want to be in Aruba.Oh well.There was no way to know that before the contest, and no way that I would have stayed home even if I knew.The lack of Europeans on 15 meters forced a complete change in my strategy Ė if you told me before the contest that I would end up with more QSOís on 40 than on 15 (or even more on 20 than on 15) I would have laughed at you.I had more Europeans on 80 (31) than I did on 15 (14).Yikes.

3)        40 meters to EU stinks.Even simplex.The band is too small, and the big guns take most of it up.I only managed 184 Europeans on 40 meters, many fewer than I had expected.That was made up for by many more US stations than I had expected Ė but 40 meters is just no fun.

4)        It never occurred to me that I might have the highest score in continental North America by over 1.5 million points.It also never occurred to me that I might do so well relative to my local competitors, and still do so poorly (relatively speaking) compared to the rest of the world (especially those closer to the equator).My going-in goal was 10MM points and top ten in the world.10MM points wasnít possible given the conditions.I donít know yet whether I made the top ten, but if I did I was probably the only station in the US and Canada to do so.That is very surprising.

5)        I had a great time.Conditions were lousy, and I still had a great time.Running into friends (both new and old) is a big part of that fun for me.NB1B, who I met as a result of my planning for this contest, was full of encouragement every time we worked.Working KO7X, one of my mentors back in the early 80ís at K6RU, is a joy every time.All my buddies from the NCCC gave me pats on the back throughout the contest, and VA7RR (another friend from my high school days) kept me on track with a stern ďyes, conditions are lousy, but keep going!Ē.