I knew going into it that conditions were going to be lousy. The geomagnetic forecast was for active conditions at high latitudes so I wasn't expecting much but this is one of my favorite contests so I thought I would give it a shot. VE8DW had other commitments so this was also going to be a solo op. The fact that it was on a weekday made it challenging to find people that weren't at work or sleeping. I was constantly juggling gray line and local times to find the best places to point the beam at.
I was still set up at the campground from Field Day but running on 'shore power' instead of the big generator so I could only run 400W from the little amplifier. With the poor conditions I decided the best strategy would be single band 20M and B-I-Triple-CQ-L or Butt In Chair, Call C Q Lots. I set up the voice keyer, loaded up on coffee and sugar and settled in for a full 24 hour stretch. If figured if I just kept at it I should be able to scrounge up a couple of hundred contacts and make sure all the deserving got the VE8 multiplier.
As it turned out, conditions weren't great but not as bad as I expected. The first hours were spent on NA and generated a surprising number of contacts. By 0230z I already had all the phone multipliers (except VY0) and that alone motivated me to keep filling the log. When the rate dropped into the single digits I swung the beam north and for several hours kept running a slow trickle of central Asia and eastern Europeans. European sunrise brought a couple of hours of big pileups and I even spent about a half hour running split trying to pick up as many stations as I could before they headed off to work for the day. I must have been the only NA station making it across as the log is filled with 59-001 contacts. Once the Eu stations started drying up things were pretty slow for the next few hours. I had the beam out to the Pacific and worked a dribbling of VK's and JA's. I don't think the rate ever went over 20/hr but at least it kept me awake. I was anticipating a big run of JA once their work day ended but it never materialized. At one point I was sitting there in the middle of the night listening to my unanswered CQ's and suddenly had a flash that the next station to call in was going be an HL. Sure enough, 10 minutes later a weak Korean called in, the only one in the log!
At east coast sunrise I swung the beam back to NA and started the long, slow push to the finish. I don't know what the aurora was doing but other than a lone VE1 and a VE3 there was nothing heard. I was still getting the occasional JA and European calling so I just kept at it. I checked the CW part of the band and heard quite a few stations so for the rest of the contest I would tune through every hour and work 10-pointers and mults with my rudimentary CW skills. Conditions finally started picking up a little bit around noon and for the afternoon the rate hung in around 20/hr.
By mid-afternoon I was down to just needing four mults (not including VY0) on CW to have a full set. I had worked VY1RAC and VE9RAC the night before in the first hour and was kicking myself for not moving them to CW when I had the chance. I did get a lucky break when VE8NSD stopped by to say hello. I had also worked him the night before on phone and now I had a second chance to ask him for a CW contact. He said he wasn't set up for CW but he'd see what he could do and get back to me. About 10 minutes later VE8RAC called in for the double 20-pointer and NT mult on CW!
In the late afternoon I was hampered by auroral-QRN coming in from the east and west. I desperately wanted to keep the beam on the east coast but signals were still weak and the noise was up to S-5 in that direction. I tried to find the best spot I could with a tolerable noise level and kept at it. As the aurora would go up and down I'd get little mini-runs of four or five stations then nothing for 10 or 15 minutes. By 5pm I was just about wiped and somewhat relieved that it was over. I turned off the radio and called VE8DW to share my results and coordinate a teardown of the station later in the day. I was looking at the computer screen while I was talking to him and realized that the contest wasn't over for another hour yet! I quickly jumped back into the fray, found a clear frequency and started calling CQ again. After a little while conditions picked up for about half an hour, the noise went away and I finally got a decent run going. I only needed VE9 on CW and surprisingly I had about a half a dozen VE9's call in during the last hour but no amount of begging and pleading would convince any of them to do a CW contact. The highlight of the last half hour was working Bob, VA3QV. He had blogged extensively about his long quest to work a VE8 station and I'd been keeping an ear out for him the entire time. He was thrilled to make the contact and I was pretty happy about it too.
Once it was (really) over I was shocked to see how well I had done. Even with the lousy conditions I managed to make 609 Q's and collect 22 mults. The breakdown was 203 VE (11 RAC) and 406 DX.
Final score was 65,120 which is not at all embarrassing given the conditions.
73 - John