One of the very few advantages we have from our location is virtually unlimited real estate for an antenna farm. All the seeds are in place and by next fall we should have permanent towers and multiple antennas for all bands. At the moment, however, we're still doing it 'Field Day Style' and it's a HUGE amount of work to get set up for a contest. Then, even with all the antennas up, we haven't yet had decent conditions on more than one band at a time. Tearing everything down after the ARRL DX contest two weeks ago we decided that for WPX we'd pass on the multi-op, big gun station and just run from the driveway with the little tribander. A nice, casual, no-pressure operation was just what we needed. My only goal for this contest was to fill up the little multiplier window on the contest software (N3FJP) and maybe work a few new ones. By lunchtime Sunday I had both of those items checked off so I pulled the plug and walked away. But... I can't shake the feeling this would have been a great weekend to go big. Instead of closing down around 0200z like it usually does, 20m was open into the wee hours. The aurora came up a few times but for the most part the K-index was close to zero for the duration. Saturday night I accidentally clicked on a 40m cluster spot and the Europeans were booming in through the little tribander. I didn't hear anything on 15m all weekend but maybe with the big yagi up on the hill things would have been different. I think if we had set up the big station we could have finally made a 1000 Q's in a single contest.
Still, the contest was a lot of fun and best of all it was interesting. Lots of propagational quirks to add to the mental database, refined a few operating tricks, worked some new ones, and got some good feedback from other stations.
It's All About the Grayline
Sounds like a simple concept but the more I operate the more I see how it works. The best paths are always around our sunset to wherever the sun is rising. A month ago our sunset was around 6pm local time and coincided with JA sunrise. Not surprisingly, I could work JA's by the bucketful at that time. Now, our sunset is already pushing past 10pm which is sunrise in East Asia and the Middle East. Saturday night at that time I worked a couple of Khazakstan stations who both told me I was loud. I started CQing, had a few callers, got spotted on the cluster and BOOM. Instant pileup. The main reason this is really significant for us is that being on top of the world we have long sunsets for most of the year . In summer time the sun never quite sets and in mid-winter it never quite rises. You can sit there all day long and just track the gray line by who's loudest. Being at the equinox right now the sun sets pretty quick but in another month or so it will be skimming the horizon for hours at a time. I probably could have milked that opening all the way across the Urals into Eastern Europe but I had been up since 5am and...
Working Really Weak Stations is Exhausting
My guess is that the ratio of small stations (100W and wires) to big stations (yagi and amplifier) is probably about 10:1 if not more. This means that if you're getting out well you're going to have far more weak stations calling you than loud ones. Digging weak signals out of the QRN and QSB is hard work and even more so when they're DX stations that speak with an accent. Once I got spotted on the cluster I had lots of guys calling me who were barely audible. Throw in the accent, some QSB and a non-guessable contest exchange and it was hard work to complete the contacts. I didn't enjoy it at all. After half an hour of that the first time I called twice in a row with no answer I pulled the plug. I was too tired to worry about it at the time but the next day I actually felt guilty. I spend 90% of my time (or more) on the other end of that stick, shouting at guys that can barely hear me. Like the 3V8...
Spring Must be Just Around the Corner Because I can Hear Africa
March is the only month I have ever worked Africa. Maybe now that I'm running a bigger station in contests that might change but with the little tribander Africa only comes calling in March. Of all the countries I'm missing, most of them are in Africa. From here, Africa is straight over the pole and then all the way down the other side. No oceans to bounce off, just aurora, ice, and Europe. I was surprised to hear 3V8BB with a reasonable signal (the meter was twiching a bit). I had never worked Tunisia and he didn't have too many callers so I decided I was going to work him. It took about 10 minutes before he finally got a partial. Then another minute to get my full call. Then we came to the exchange. We tried about 10 or 15 times but he didn't get it. Then he gave up and called QRZ! I shouted the exchange at him a few more times but he had obviously moved on. Why didn't I just give him a ROGER ROGER when he came back with the wrong number? He'd lose the mult but I'd still get the card. Well, that wouldn't be very sportsmanlike, would it? So I hung in there for another twenty minutes and kept calling him. Finally he heard me again, recognized the call right away, and managed to catch my exchange. It was time for...
The Dance of DX
Come on, don't tell you've never done it. You're sweating it out in a pile-up for a new one. Propagation is going down hill, you know you might not get another chance. Then you get a lucky break. The DX calls again when everyone else is still shouting. You wait a second or two for the pileup to die down and you throw out your call with every decibel you can muster. You're rewarded with "Who's the Echo Victoria?" or some variation like that. Right after I got the 3V8 I was feeling cocky so I punched up the spot for the C91TX Mozambique expedition. I was hearing him pretty well and after the fourth or fifth call he came back with "Who's the Victor Echo Eight?" That's usually a show-stopper in a pile-up because right after that is always "Everyone standby, just the Victor Echo Eight station". The new one goes into the log and some obscure force of nature compels you to get out of your chair, pump your fist in the air and lead a little imaginary conga line around the shack. Note that for some reason, this only happens when you're calling them. If you're running and a rare new one calls in there is no dancing. If you're in a multi-op though, you can at least turn to one of the other guys, point at the screen and give a thumbs-up and a big grin.
Everyone Likes Positive Feedback
Another one of the very few perks of operating from up here is after a while people start to recognize your call. Every time I get on in a contest I get a few comments from other operators. Most of them are "Hope to work you in Sweepstakes!" but every now and then I get a compliment along the lines of "You guys are doing a great job up there, keep it up!". I even had OH2BH, Mr. Martii Lane himself, pause to say hello from OG8X when I called in. My favorite one all weekend though was from Bob, KQ2M, who said he really enjoyed reading the blog, keep it up. Who would have thought? The propagation on the Internet is excellent from here!
Next weekend we'll be on NA-192 Ellice Island in the Arctic Ocean as VX8X. Please drop by and say hello.
John - VE8EV