Posted by: GW7AAV | November 12, 2010

The Storm, The Sprint and The Shock

If you had told me not so long ago that I would be enjoying ham radio contesting I may well have not believed you. I could never have seen myself doing the 59 next thing, I am after all a bit of a self opinionated motor mouth. My normal modus operandi is to put a kettle of water on top of the rig at the start of an over and when the whistle blows it is time for someone else to have a go.

I suppose it all started when I got in to Summits on the Air. SOTA guys are a friendly lot and usually if the sun is shining and they are not trying to do half a dozen hill in one day then they have time to pass a few pleasantries even if they do not tend to engage in long drawn out waffles. Getting on the hills I realised that I needed the batteries to last and tried to keep things brief. As SOTA became more popular I got better at handling the pile ups, so much so that one or two people actually said nice things about how I handled them compared to when I started. To be honest more said the same thing about my wife Helen GW7AAU’s advancing skill, but who is keeping score?

It was one of the SOTA stalwarts John GW4BVE that got me into the contesting thing. I got an email asking if I wished to join a contest group and thought “What the heck” if I don’t try I will never know if I enjoy it and I also thought that seeing how there is no room for anything else when a contest is on the “If you can’t beat them, you might as well join them”. It made a lot more sense being part of a team than going it alone, because I did not have the ‘Top Gun’ station that I needed to be competitive. In a team I could hone my skills and have a chance at being part of winning something.

We started off with the RSGB’s 80m Club Championship but because of my shift pattern I only got a couple of the monthly evening contests, but to my surprise I found them fun. Hard work but fun. I was hooked. I had for years joined in the 2m SSB contests to give away points but I started to take them a little more serious and I tried to get on for all the VHF and above contests. I still haven’t entered a log for those, maybe it is that when I have 60 contacts and some of the stations are giving me serials numbers around 270 I get a bit put off. It has made a difference because these days I don’t just work the locals and if I don’t hear the south coast and Scotland during a 2m contest I feel cheated.

When the 80m Club Championship ended for the year the Travelling Waves Contest Group turned their attention to the 80m Sprint. Last night I was finally able to participate in the 80m Sprint at last. I have not been available for the other rounds due to my shift pattern and other commitments. I feel sure that someone out there does not want me to join in. I must say that I did not have a clue what to expect, but that is the most fun I have had yet in a contest.

For those that don’t know (and I didn’t until last night) a sprint works a bit like a relay race. If you call CQ on a frequency and get a contact you must change frequency after that contact. It sounds like it should be chaos but it is not. In fact it is a quite gentlemanly affair. I answer a CQ call, we exchange serial numbers and our names and then the other station says something like “The frequency is all yours” and you call CQ. When you make a contact the process is repeated and you hand over to the newcomer. So when everything is going well it is a sequence of search and pounce then call CQ. Rinse and repeat and so on. Strange that after all these years on the air I did not know that. It is probably something to do with the fact that I usually turn off when I hear a contest on.

My first problem last night was that I lost about twenty minutes due to a late meal ten minutes in. The meal would have been out of the way if it was not for mother-in-law problems, she must always telephone as we are about to sit down to eat. After that it went well until during the last half hour things got a bit sparse, with no one answering CQs and the only stations calling were ones already worked or too weak to hear.

I had a few problems with the logging as there is no option in Winlog32 for this particular contest. Consequently the required names were left out when I exported my log to the format required. I first tried copy and pasting the names into the report box in the log but that only worked for names five letters or under. In the end I opened the Cabrillo file in a text editor and kept my fingers crossed that it would work, fortunately it did.

I did not have any record breaking numbers in the log but this time I only found one duplicate, that was an improvement. I had recorded the contest on the PC using Audacity this time and was able to correct a dodgy call I had entered. I had got the call right during the QSO but transposed the letters when I entered it. I later found a couple of transposition errors from my scratch pad to the computer log as well. I can see room for improvement but it seemed to go okay. There were several weak stations who I could have worked with a lower noise level, better antenna or receiver and I am starting to wonder what difference a straight 80m dipole might have over my 80/40m trap dipole. Unfortunately the present dipole is attached to the chimney stack in the centre of the roof and so swapping over antennas for the contest would not be straight forward. Anyway I am quite happy with points tally for the evening and 5 DXCCs. I hope my participation is enough to push the group past fifth this time.

Today I had to repair the damage caused over the last two nights by winds hitting 90mph. My 10 element crossed Yagi for 2m was lying in a tangled heap and the collinear at a precarious angle. Because my 2m beam was a cross I mounted it on a glass fibre scaffolding pole. The wind had snapped the pole at the junction with the aluminium pole and it all came down. I managed to repair most of the elements, made a few new ones fitted a new pole and it is back up.

All the radios were silent here this morning due to the damage and a Belkin surge protector that exploded when I switched it off due to a short on the on/off switch. I got a slight electric shock and a blackened thumb. Thank God for circuit breakers. The bang when it blew was most impressive as was the bright blue blinding flash. I hope I am not a cat because I think I am getting close on the nine lives thing.

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