I'd never operated the Commonwealth Contest before - I don't really know why either. I mean, I'm not exactly an ardent monarchist but I've never been the type to let politics get in the way of a bit of juicy DX. I suppose I never really worked many VKs or ZLs from my ill equipped station in GI, so never really bothered, and just never happened to be on much any of the weekends when the contest was taking place.
Anyhow, I decided to have a go in 2005 with the new Wunderstation. Well, I knew I could work VKs and ZLs on 40 metres, I'd done a bit of it during the previous couple of months, and I thought there would probably be a bit of juicy dx like 9J2 or 9M2 I needed for new countries on, so I thought to myself, well, what the hell, give it a go. The new 24 hour, single element antenna only class is a bonus - is this a contest I can win?
Just before 10 UTC (conveniently 10 am local as well!) I had a flick around the bands. 15 metres - dead. 20 metres - not sounding too pretty. Not a sign of Oceania on 20. Ooh dear, this was going to be painful.
After a minute or two, I find a weak and watery station calling CQ BERU. Is it ZL6QH? Is it VQ9LA? No, it's GB5CC, on extended groundwave from all of 30km or so away. 6 or 7 QSOs (for him) later, I finally put my first QSO, a HQ bonus, into the log. I start to worry that might be one of the few stations I put in the log this weekend. This was going to be very painful.
A sweep of the contest window finds only a very weak and watery VE1OP, coming in at his sunrise. Competition is fierce but I manage to put him in the log after a few minutes. Time to check 15 again.
15 produces 9H1ZA and 9H3RN booming in, and a quick check of 10 produces a very pleasant surprise with 7Q7BP and ZC4LI in the log very quickly indeed. Yesssss! This is more like it. It also produces a few clueless local CBers who I chase of 28.012 (FM!!!) with ill temper and not until I remember to turn the mic gain up (my mic is used as much for turning as for anything else). They accuse me of 'button pushing' them, then when they finally twig who I am and where they are, they start congratulating me on my 'huge' signal. Oh dear, how embarassing. Beyond this 'big nine pounder' report, 10 is fruitless, so I QSY again.
It's now 11Z, and after bagging GB5CC on 15, things start to pick up. Bouncing around between 10, 15 and 20 over the next two hours bags Eastern Canadians as the sunrise line sweeps across North America (not on 10!), as well as Carribean and African stations. Goodies include 9J2BO and I am amazed to work Z24S second call when he makes the briefest of appearances on 15.
Three hours into the contest I have 23 QSOs in the log. I have a feeling this is a piss poor performance, only later do I realise this is fairly creditable by BERU standards. A quick check of 20 brings in VK4EMM on the short path to Oceania which has finally opened, and he is joined by sundry VKs and ZLs over the next half hour. This is more like it! 15 continues to produce a fair number of Canadians, and a two even come back to my 'targeted' CQ calls, while 10 provides more Africans and the briefest of openings into the Carribean provides J88DR and non-contest TO7C (the nice thing about this contest is the rate is slow enough to pick up other goodies you need in the margins). No sign of VP9/G3PJT, however. So the pattern continues for the rest of the afternoon, with 9M2 and 9M6 making it into the log later in the afternoon on 20, and farther VE5/6/7 stations being much stronger than I expected on 15 after 16Z... that path doesn't always open well from here with my poor aerials.
It was during this period that I began to notice a very strong G3LET kept beating me in pileups. I found out later that Peter is about 30km from here, but on elevated ground in the North Downs and almost visual line of sight from the flat. No wonder he was so strong. He was also to crush me in the single element low power category!
Despite the good high band conditions, I knew I had to be disciplined and make the switch to 40 early to make the most of the greyline. So I went down to 40 at 1725Z, and quickly found VK2BJ at a good S7, but buried under S9++ stations around Western Europe. However, the competiton was much less here, generally only being beaten by G4BUO and G4PIQ, which doesn't really count. I knew I had to score well on 40, by far my best band, and the next half hour put ZL6QH, 9M2CNC, 9H1ZA, VK6VZ and 9M6BG in the log - nice short path opening! I checked 80, but only GB5CC went in the log - I really don't have the aerials for that path on 80. 20 and 15 were still producing the odd Canadian, African and Mediterranean station, while a mix of Mediterranean and 9M/VK stations were added to the log on 40. VO1HP was the first Canadian on 40 as early as 1909(!!!) and after a long period of trying with no success (no competition, he just couldn't hear me), finally got VE7CC in the log on 20 at 2009Z for another nice band call area. By 21Z, I had 91 QSOs in the log, some nice DX and some nice bonuses. Sunset was about to sweep across Toronto and the Atlantic Canadians had been banging in on 40. I was feeling confident.
However, the night shift on 40 never really lived up to the band's earlier promise. There were only a few VE2 and VE3 stations workable on 40, although 80 produced more Canadians than I expected as well as the Mediterranean stations I did, and 20 was still producing the odd QSO. However, I started feeling really tired about 2230Z, so I went out to do some shopping instead. Oh, the joys of living in Central London.
I was back at the rig at 2320, but things hadn't changed that much. I bagged a gaggle of VE3s as well as J88DR and ZB2FX on 40, and there were a few more VE3s on 80, but the only signals on 20 were Africans I had already worked and non-contest South Americans, but I was slowly picking the bands clean. I have a low boredom threshold which is fatal in a contester, but things really were tough for a while. I worked P3J on 80 metres at 0046 for QSO number 121, then nothing, despite bouncing around between 80 and 40, until VO1HP on 80 at 0125Z. The Ontario and Quebec stations on 40 were weaker than a few hours before, and there was no sign of the Prarie Provinces on 40. 40 sounded awful actually, really noisy with some flutter on VE and Northern European signals. I decided to grab a few hours shut eye.
I was back at 0350Z, and bagged VE2AWW on 40 at 0355. Things were slow but steady with a few new stations on 80, but I really felt I hadn't missed much by sleeping. VP9/G3PJT was a nice surprise, first call, on 80. There was also a Ukrainian domestic contest about this time on 80 which littered the spectrum above 3.510 with S9+20 signals. Tough going! I could hear PIQ and BUO working VE4s and 5s at this time, many inaudible here but some of them solid S5-6, but targeted CQ calls produced nothing, and none of them were calling CQ. J88DR did come back to one of these CQ calls on 80, though, which nearly made me fall out of the chair and made my night!
I could hear a lot more Canadians than could hear me on 80, and some of them had strings of G stations call them without reply, although a few did make it into the log. This was frustrating, although I was glad to note it wasn't just me. I seem to remember there were big signals from Cyprus very early on on 20 as well, but I'd worked them all previously.
Just before 6, things started to pick up. ZL6QH appeared on 40 like magic almost at the stroke of sunrise, which heralded an excellent long path opening to the South West Pacific. ZL6A hadn't heard me the night before, but he was easy game this time. A few other ZLs made it into the log, but frustrated calling of VEs on 80 produced only VE3JM, and there wasn't a hint of a ZL on 80. At 0630Z VE7CC popped up on 40 with a huge if fluttery signal and was easy meat, the only VE west of Toronto on 40 all night. At 0655 I woked VK9NS on 40 for an all time new one, second call out of the pile up! Yes!!! I also had 2 ZLs come back to CQ calls, though one was a dupe.
By 0730 I'd pretty much picked 40 clean, very fluttery ZL1MH was the last 40m QSO at 0735, and though there were nice sigs from VK and ZL on 20, I'd worked them all except VK6VZ who was running a huge pileup which I was not breaking through. At all. However, ZL1DD was a beautiful, strong, stable signal on 15 metres on what is a very a polar path from here. I hoped this would herald a great 15 metres opening, but only ZL6QH made it in the log after that from VK or ZL on 15.
The last hour and a half were very frustrating. The 12 hour crowd had all come back and the Sunday morning casuals were out in force too. 5 QSOs in 90 minutes, ZL6A, VK6VZ (after an hour of trying intermittently), ZB2EO and VK7GN on 20 and 9J2BO (another real slugfest) on 10. Nothing on 15. Spent ages in pileups getting nowhere, especially with VK6VZ on 10 right at the end. Bad end to a good contest. 150 QSOs and 3240 points claimed. Seem to be 3rd in the UK in the single element low power class. We'll see what the log checkers do. However, it was fantastic fun, more like a DX chase than a contest, and I'll definitely be back next year.
Some people obviously don't like this contest - I head G4BUO being abused calling CQ VK on 80 metres at Perth sunrise and when I asked VE2/VE3EXY/P for a BERU number on 40 - which he had been happily giving out - someone told me I was 5NN 001. I knew this wasn't right - maybe because the pirate was a pure T9 and 30 over 9 and the VE2 was a fluttery 579?