OK, this is your first ever AFS contest, you have little experience of 80 metre operation, you suffer from intermittent 20 over 9 QRN on 80 and youíre not convinced your antenna is the best. How do you start the contest? Well, if you're me, the answer's simple - get on 3.5103 about 20 minutes before the contest and CQ, and try and hold the bottom of the band!
When I finish my initial CQ CONTEST call about 4 stations are calling me, with G3NOH, all of 7 miles or so away in Ealing being first in the log. For the next few minutes I am piling them in! I have never quite had this experience at the start of a contest, however, and in a panic I completely forget what the pretty little buttons on my radio are for and I am sending morse like I have gloves on. Anyway, G4PIQ opens up 3.5100 dead after about 5 minutes, with lots of power and what I supposed (correctly) was a key click machine, aka an FT1000MP (sorry mate, but they are!) I tried to hang on for a minute or so, but then my intermittent local QRN burst open at 20 over 9 - time to S&P the big guns still loud enough to be heard over the top of it. Lesson - if you're going to take the bottom of the band, take the bottom of the band.
S&Ping up the band I was more worried to find that I was continually being beaten to the punch in the frenetic first half hour of the contest. However, I get most of the big guns between 3.510 and 3.530, when the QRN starts again and I scoot between the really big sigs and I'm up at 3.548 or so when it stops, where I find G0PZA for an intra-team point. However, between here and 3.570 action is less frenetic and I can work most stations first call and in a blessed QRN free period coming up to 1500 I keep the rate meter up at 60/hour.
I decide not to enter the QRS corral at this stage but go back to the bottom of the contest segment. 3.5125 is as free as anything ever is down there for a run but I struggle to get rate going. Returning to S&P, I already seem to have picked the 10 to 30 window clean, but the 30 to 48 section, which I skimmed through when plagued by QRM keeps the rate up. However, after about 1530 things go phut and I can't find many new stations, nor does CQing produce much - the rate is dismal around 565 but I can't keep a free space around 545 or below. I do find G4KLF working another station around 535 and call him 200Hz or so off for another intra-club QSO. Around 1545, I move up into the QRS corral in search of fresh meat, and although the QSOs are exceptionally slow every CQing station is new. I pass the 100 QSO mark at 1604Z and am feeling confident that with a bit of luck I can hit the 180 QSO mark as I am much more in my stride than at the beginning of the contest.
From about 10 minutes after sunset, 1615 or so, the band seems to change dramatically and goes long, producing another reasonable burt of rate while S&Ping, and the other South East England stations seemingly weaker reducing QRM levels. GM and GW calls are much in evidence. By about 1645 however, this new source of points also goes flat and I start to flap a bit. It reminded me a bit of running out a CQWW CW on 80 metres. The next hour is steady but frustratingly slow. Every time I CQ, the QRN bursts and when I S&P, even with the noise level down to the local background S3-4 I just canít find anyone to work.
I crawl along putting QSO 150 in the log at 1747. However that includes a dupe and I'm sure to lose some points in adjudication so I need a few more to be sure of my pre-contest absolute minimum acceptable score of 1500 points (I'd been hoping for 2000!). I just can't find anyone to work and tread warily back up into the QRS corral at 1755 for 2 final QSOs - both painfully slow for this self-professed speed merchant but they bring me up to a final claimed score of 1510 points. All but two QSOs - LY2BX and DK2IO are inter-G - but I was pleased to pick up GU4YOX and GD0EMG for my last two UK DXCC countries (I've only been active from England since September and my GI QSOs don't count for DXCC from here).
I CQ on 3.524 and after chatting to Garo G0PZA, my fellow Whitton club member, I start nattering to a DL. During the QSO, a friend calls over and turns my heating on while heís waiting for me to finish. Instantly the QRN bursts and I think I have located the source of my QRN problems - the electrical control system for my gas boiler. If this is the case (experiments over the next few days!!!) there's stuff all I can do about it other than not turn the heat on when I'm on 80 metres, as I don't own this flat and am under dire threats if I do anything to the heating.
Anyway, the contest was good fun, and I'll be loaded for bear next year. Maybe a trip to the country with an amplifier and a wire just off the ground? In any case I was glad to have got the Whitton club to enter this contest for the first time and to fly the CW flag from the amateur radio desert of Central London.