Before this year's Commonwealth Contest, I sent a promotional e-mail around the Northern Ireland ham radio reflectors, trying to drum a bit of GI support up for the contest. It gave advice on how to tackle the contest for a newcomer and was eventually posted on the UK Contest reflector where it seemed to drum up further interest. All good stuff indeed!
Indeed this casual e-mail posting seems to have morphed into a RadCom article to appear sometime before BERU 2007, so never forget that from little acorns to big oaks grow!
Anyway, back to the contest - with my well thought out operating plan and a good night's sleep in hand, I switched on the radio at about twenty to ten local on Saturday morning to find that... conditions were way, way, beyond shit. While the Solar Flux was a paltry 73, only to be expected at this stage in the solar cycle, the A-index was a less than enticing 13 as well. And the bands sounded like it. Oh, dear!
When conditions are poor, one tends to hunker down on 20 metres, so that's where I started at 1000 UTC. That was my first tactical mistake of the contest - I missed a very brief opening to 5B4 on 10 metres which a handful of others found. It took 6 minutes to put 9H6A in the log for QSO No. 1, then the rest of the first hour was spent bouncing between 15 and 20 for Mediterraneans and GB5CC, who I also worked for my only 10 metre QSO of the contest. VK4EMM was my first Antipodean of the contest, on 20 Long Path, at 1048, and I found 9J2BO on and 7Q7BP on 15 just after 1100, but despite repeated efforts I couldn't hear either on 10.
The long Canadian opening on 20 began at 1111 with VO1AU, but signals were getting worse through the lunchtime period rather than better, and even J88DR, usually a whomping signal at that time in the morning, was weak. ZL6A and ZL6QH popped up on 20 short path right on queue at 1200, but where was everyone on 15?
I really struggled during the 12Z hour, finally managing to make it through to ZF2NT on 15, although it was real ESP level stuff. So ESP that a later QSO with Bruce on 20 revealed I hadn't made the QSO at all - whoops! VQ9JC was a nice bonus on 15 at 1303, however, as the skies darkened on a grim Saturday in London.
So I squatted on 20, with a mix of VEs and VK/ZL short path stuff, grabbing the odd bonus on 15 like J8, 3B8 and VE3EJ (when John is 449 you know conditions are terrible). Things were really slow. This was non, non, non, non-heinous.
At 1510 I heard G4BUO try and move VK4EMM to 40. I thought to myself "you've got to be kidding mate", but followed them down to 7.010, where VK4EMM was indeed audible, if weak and unable to hear my punier signal. I was taking G3LET's advice to hit 40 several hours before sunset to heart! Then at 1607, two hours before sunset, I put ZL6QH in the log on 40 for the start of the short path antipodean opening - then at 1642 the floodgates opened (in BERU terms) on 40, with ZL4BR, 9M2CNC, ZL6A and VK4EMM in the space of 10 minutes. Gotta love that rate!
I was still checking 15 to little effect, and no sign of the 9Ms who are often so strong on 20 at that time, although I did eventually break VQ9JC's unruly 20 metre pileup. At 1715 I checked 80 to hear ZL4BR - and five minutes of patient teasing from Frank finally brought him my serial number for my first ever, ever, ZL on 80! Yeeeeeeeeeha!
20 also opened to the West Coast at that time with VA7ST and VE7CC in the log leading up to 1800. There was no sign of ZL6QH on 80, though.
I finally bust V31JP's 20 metre pileup at 1756, but couldn't bust the 40 metre piles on VQ9JC or 9M6/G3OOK - should have been more persistent, because there wasn't much else on. Made it 5 bands with GB5CC on 80 at 1911, but 80 still seemed disappointing at this stage.
My first Candaian on 40 was VO1MP (who else) at 1903, barely an hour after VK7GN, my last antipodean, while I worked VA5DX on 20 as late as 2031, before successfully tail ending VP9HW at 2038 - and I even had C6ASV come back to a CQ call at 2131, just before the band shut. ZL6QH was coming in on long path on 20 at the same time, but I already had him. What a station.
40 was getting poorer and poorer as the evening went on - as so often, the opening seemed to go as far as Toronto at their sunset and then peter out completely. 80 was slow but steady when I made tactical error number two by going to bed at 0130 - by the time I woke up at 0400, the MUF to Canada was already below 3.5 MHz (yes, I did say that) and my two VE QSOs between 0400 and sunrise were really hard work. No QSOs at all in the hour and a half or so between 0438 and 0602. The 40 metre long path to the antipodes was really poor and there was no sign of VE7s at our sunrise. Managed only 2 ZLs on 40, heard VKs I couldn't get to hear me but did work another two (!!!!!!) ZLs long path on 80 - ZL6QH and ZL6A. Indeed, on low latitude paths, 80 had been amazing all night, with ZF2NT and non-contest HQ9F putting in huge signals in the wee hours.
I've never heard the morning long path so poor on 20 - only VK6VZ (ugly pileup), VK7GN and ZL4BR added to the log in the last two hours. No QSOs between ZL2JKY on 40 (0659) and V31JP on 40 (another ugly pileup, 0800), and none after ZL4BR on 20 at 0846. Got dressed for church at 0930. Was back at the rig at 0950 to hear VK6VZ at about 319 work G3LET on 21.020 or so but couldn't get him to hear me and my heart wasn't in it by this stage.
I knew G3IAF had overtaken me on serial numbers overnight (actually kicked my head in badly in the morning period), but I had a much higher bonus and overtook him on log checking to claim runner up spot for the John Dunnington, LET being ineligible this year! Some of this contest was definitely not too much fun, although some of it was a ball - 3 ZLz on 80? I don't do that every day.
Last updated 6 November 2006