1999 CQWW CW Contest: ZS6EZ on 28 MHz

Last updated 2012-02-18

Bottom line: 4198 QSOs, 39 zones, 139 countries for 2,23 M points.

Editorial note: All times are local, which is B time (UTC + 2 h).

Getting Ready

It had been a tough year. Apart from a series of personal and financial upheavals, I tackled a business degree during the year. Most of the spare time and finances were consumed, bringing my station building project to a standstill.

Imagine my pleasure when Jan van Niekerk N3NW (who had been ZS6NW once upon a time) invited me to join the IH9P crew for a Multi-Multi operation in CQWW Phone. I didn't know how I was going to fit it into my schedule, but I almost immediately agreed.

The months of planning went by in a flash, with studies, exams and hard work requiring most of my attention. My exams finished just days before departure, and I had to pull my part of the equipment together in record time.

The contest was an overwhelming experience. My only offshore contesting experience thus far had been as W6O in the 1996 WRTC. IH9P would add the buzz of a multi-op crew, decent antennas and high power to the equation. Jan and I spent a few days in Europe after the contest, and for the first time in a year I was able to unwind and think things through.

I made a decision in that week: I would tackle the CW contest seriously, and do a single band effort on 28 MHz. I hadn't done a serious single-band effort for some years, as I'd been trying the Single-Op Macho category. This sojourn was extended by the selection requirements for WRTC2000, and I found myself working with a partly-completed station in the wrong category for three consecutive years, producing finishes outside the Top Ten (between 12 and 20). This year, WRTC selection would not be a factor, and I could actually pull off a meaningful performance in a category where I stood a chance.

I didn't know how I was going to pull it off, because I had only three weeks to make all the preparations. As if that wasn't enough, I had a one-week business trip to Europe in the middle week.

My African 28 MHz record was bound to fall that year, as conditions were pretty reasonable and there was much activity in Africa. With the current activity levels, 1.4 M just wasn't good enough. I could probably defend my record with relatively little effort, but I spent much time eyeing ZW5B's world record, wondering if it was within reach. Randy Thompson K5ZD had travelled down to Brazil in 1998 to borrow PY5EG's station, and his record would be very, very hard to beat.

My strategy was to pull down my 20 m beam and replace it with a second beam for 10 m. The resulting stack would be a pair of wide spaced four elements on three-quarter wavelength booms, at 18 and 25 m (60 and 80 ft) above ground. I would use the WX0B StackMatch to feed the two antennas in any combination, including out of phase.

Hal Lund ZS6WB offered me an unused M-Squared 10M7 (7 elements on a 16 m (50') boom). He even offered to assemble it for me! I was planning to put this blowtorch at 42 m (138') above my 80 m beam, as a multiplier and diversity antenna. I would feed the stack, this antenna and a two element at 17 m (50') in different combinations, to have the ability to run common stations and attract multipliers in different combinations.

My trip to Europe had one benefit: I obtained the results of the previous year's contest during a visit to F6BEE. I could spend some time in the hotel room thinking about my upcoming effort. The QSO total seemed possible, but the multiplier seemed way out of reach. Maybe...

The week after my return went by in a flash. There had been problems with the beam, as the manual had been removed from the box. Hal couldn't find it anywhere. We had obtained a new manual from M-squared by fax, but they had revised the dimensions, and our antenna's dimensions didn't quite work out. Instead of an assembled beam, I was faced with having to do some creative metalwork. Hal and I finished the work fairly quickly, but the work did eat into time that was scheduled for greater things! On Thursday morning, I scheduled a helper to get the beam on the tower. Unfortunately, quite uncharacteristically for this time of year, we had hard rain and heavy winds. You don't get a huge beam like that in the air without some cooperative weather, so the seven element ended up lying in the grass.

I spent much time that week working on station wiring, and assembling cables for the various antennas. Bernie van der Walt ZS4TX helped a lot, by coaxing his professional suppliers into delivering the right connectors, tools, cables and hardware to my doorstep at very short notice. I also spent two evenings at the office, working until after 22:00. I didn't get to bed before midnight once that week, after having had to spend a full night on the flight from Europe. I also had to test drive and configure the software. I was pleased to hear loud signals from the States until almost midnight every night. We were in for a good weekend!

I wasn't exactly rested when Friday came around, but there was work to do. I got up at 05:30, pulled the big 20 m Yagi down, and installed the 10 m beam in its place. I didn't have time to install the StackMatch before leaving for work, but at least all the hard mechanical stuff was done. Six trips up and down the tower were all I saw my way open for before work...

That night, it was raining. Hal helped me as I installed the StackMatch and the phasing lines on the tower. I got to bed around 21:30 to get some rest before the 02:00 contest start. The wiring wasn't all completed, but at least the basic stuff seemed in order.


I decided to sleep in until 06:00, missing the first four hours of the contest. Conditions were seldom useful before that time, and I didn't think I was missing much. I was wrong, because the band was fairly full with signals when I got up. However, I felt rested and figured that the extra sleep had probably been worth it. My joy was short-lived; the amplifier wouldn't tune into the stack! Everything seemed OK the previous night, but that was only with the exciter. I threw some switches and concluded that there was a problem with the BOP phasing line. I didn't have time to troubleshoot, so I just climbed the tower and removed the line. I would lose the ability to get really high lobes, but I hoped that the lower beam alone would do the trick well enough.

The first hour produced a respectable JA run, with a sprinkling of Asian and Oceania multipliers. It should have been a bad omen, but several South Americans also called in. They were apparently coming in across the Atlantic, several hours before their sunrise. 5X1Z was also very busy, working stuff that I could hardly hear. He was obviously also looking for that African record.

By 08:00, Europe was starting to show. I really longed for that second antenna, but the stack would have to do. I could cover Europe and Japan to some extent with the stack, but the Oceania multipliers certainly wouldn't hear me.

Around 14:00, a quarter through the contest, the first North American run started. I had 910 QSOs in the log. I was well ahead of the game for my own African record as far as QSOs, zones and countries were concerned. However, the world record didn't seem within reach. I might just make the QSO total, but that multiplier... The next moment, I forgot all about my worries about multipliers. My run dried up completely! I removed the narrow filters, only to find that the entire band was devoid of signals. Nothing. Disaster! A quick check showed that my antennas were still standing and matched, but there were no signals. The next half hour shows only 7 QSOs, all made with weak signals and lots of perseverance. Fortunately, within an hour the band was back in full swing, and I was able to continue running a mixture of Europeans and Americans.

I ran continuously from 15:00 to 19:00, and produced a quarter of the contest's QSOs in that six hour period. I was above 28100, as I just could not hold down a frequency lower in the band. I guess no-one beams this way when there is good propagation between the main centres, and we are invariably weak in one of the beam's nulls.

An assortment of multipliers found their way into the log, but the main emphasis was on making use of the window to North America. Some of the highlights included KL7HF for zone 1 (although I managed to work around a dozen Alaskans by the end of the contest!), KH8/N5OLS over North America, and VK2PS over the same path. It's almost three-quarters around the earth! I was also still working Europeans in reasonable numbers. Whenever I lost my frequency, I would search and pounce while looking for a new one. When things got slow, I would generally look for new stations on the second receiver, but things were just fast enough to make the procedure very awkward. I didn't add significant numbers of stations or multipliers with the second receiver. Each time I would find something, there seemed to be a taker on my CQ frequency, and there would be a flurry of hands and fingers to get the correct receiver in the correct ears. My final run dried up at 01:00, almost halfway through the contest. I spent about half an hour searching and pouncing, and then decided that my dead-tired body required some sleep. The S&P had produced no multipliers, and while the band sounded alive, there were not many new stations to be had. I ended the day, half way through the contest, with 2330 QSOs in the log. I was on track for a big splash, but Sundays are never quite as productive. My multipliers were way ahead of schedule for the African mark, but the world mark seemed as elusive as ever.


I got up at 06:00 again, although I didn't feel quite as fresh this time. A quick search of the band produced a ZL multiplier, but nothing else that was interesting. I established another Japanese run. A dormant power line noise problem had returned during the night, and the run proved extremely frustrating. However, a steady trickle of stations found their way into my log.

WP2Z called in just before 08:00, apparently also over the Atlantic. Thank goodness that my F/B isn't too great on that stack!

At 14:00, three quarters through the contest, I had reached 3257 QSOs. Sunday was indeed slower than Saturday, but if I could duplicate my morning's performance in the afternoon, the world record seemed to be in sight! At this stage, I had 38 zones in the log. Another single-band WAZ seemed feasible; that would really produce a nice cherry on the cake. A search and pounce session around 15:00 produced OX/N6AA for my 39th zone. Dick was very hard to work; he had the biggest pileup I've ever heard in a contest, and I could barely hear him through the pileup. He moved every few minutes, and I finally nailed him down after about a quarter of an hour. I didn't find any other multipliers in this time, so it was expensive but satisfying! Only zone 10 eluded me. I knew that Trey was at HC8N. It was just a matter of finding him.

I kept running for the next few hours. Around 17:30, V8A produced a surprise multiplier off the back of my beam. He must have been close to midnight!

Several more S&P sessions didn't unearth HC8N, or anyone else in zone 10. It was disappointing, but with a sprinkling of South American multipliers and a steady stream of North Americans in the final hours, I was overjoyed to watch the score creep over the old world record. I figured I needed a 10% buffer to be really certain, and reached this target with about half an hour to go. My final half hour was spent searching and pouncing, and handing out a multiplier to CN8WW on 40. His mates on Ten had been bugging me all day!

I ended up very, very tired but happy. My final tally was 4198 QSOs, 39 zones and 139 countries, for a claimed score of 2,23 M points. While the QSO total was in line with expectations, the multiplier was amazing. I had studied the previous best performances on 10 m extensively. However, I hadn't checked the other bands. I was surprised to learn that only one station had ever exceeded my score: ZD8Z on 15 m. I should have recognised that snippet as a bad omen too...

The Aftermath

The next week was a blur of paperwork, office work and catching up on things that had been allowed to slide because of my contest and business trips. However, I kept watching 3830 for claims. My log was in on Monday morning (no, I don't sanitise), but for the first few days no significant claims appeared. During the contest, I had identified 9G5ZW, 5X1Z and ZX5J, as well as some other South Americans as potential rivals. A check of the Webcluster spots proved hopeful. I had twice as many spots as anyone else, even more than the mighty CN8WW!

The claims appeared over the next week, and 9G5ZW proved a real threat at 2.00 M. His soapbox comments indicated that he'd used a commercial log periodic and an unspecified PA, but his radio was a simple FT101ZD without CW filters! 5X1Z broke the old African record, but did not threaten 'ZW and 'EZ. Then I heard a rumour that N6TJ had travelled down to Brazil for the contest, and operated ZX5J. He was one of the rivals I'd identified, and I suspected I might be in trouble.

I was right. Jim's claim finally surfaced after more than a week. He'd beaten me. I was 12% above the current world record, and Jim was a further 2.7% above me. Oh well, maybe I'll take up stamp collecting...

I could indulge in "what ifs", but I don't think there was much that I could have done better. I had constraints of time and resources to work with, and I did what I could. What happens next time? I guess I could sell my antenna hardware and book a plane ticket to a ready-made station with air conditioning and a three-holer.

But then, maybe not. Isn't the challenge partly in fitting the hobby into a life with demands and limited resources? Would it really be fun to have unlimited funds and time? Or is half the challenge maybe in building a station from scrap metal, fitting things into a busy schedule and fighting sleep deprivation to try and come out on top? I wouldn't know; I haven't tried the other option!

Some random remarks

  • I had around 100 emails in the first week after the contest. Most were ecstatic about their first ZS or their first African. One guy was terribly upset at me. I hope we've resolved that one, but I put it down to a deliberate decision to economise. I didn't follow my normal custom of signing "TU ZS6EZ", but instead just signed "ZS6EZ" after every QSO. I guess it doesn't sound quite as polite, but it does help to speed things up.
  • I often heard a specific station, also 10 m single band, who made literally dozens of consecutive QSOs without ID. I cannot even begin to imagine what he was trying to achieve, but it is clearly a sign of an ego that has spun out of control. Only testosterone can justify that behaviour, as many of his QSOs were marred by "CL?", "?" and other avoidable interruptions from loud stations without Packet. He also wasted several minutes of my time, as I had to sit and wait for him to ID each time I was on a S&P session. I identified after every QSO, with probably less than two dozen exceptions when tailenders were picked up, and I don't regret it. It was particularly satisfying to beat this particular guy hands-down.
  • I had software problems that didn't surface in two previous contests and four nights of testing before the contest. I specifically decided not to upgrade to the latest version to avoid surprises. I expect the software problems cost me around 100 QSOs (no, I still wouldn't have beaten Jim).
  • I expect next year will see one of the most difficult decisions ever in terms of what category to tackle. On the one hand, next year may be the last opportunity in a while to set a really solid world record. If I start on the hardware now, maybe I can pull it off. However, there are other horizons to conquer, and it would be a terrible waste to do the same category two years in a row! Some serious soul-searching lies ahead.
  • As this is being written, three weeks have passed since the contest. Mail takes around two weeks to get here from major population centres. Would you believe that I've already answered and mailed fifty direct QSL requests? How can a country with 5000 licencees be that rare? They really do breed faster than you can work them!

    Note (added 2012-02)

    When the final score came out, ZW5B beat me by about 1%. His score was a new world record. Mine was a new African record, that stood until 2011.


    Best 12 hours

    180 17Z Saturday
    178 18Z Saturday
    174 16Z Saturday
    172 14Z Saturday
    165 07Z Saturday
    149 13Z Saturday
    149 15Z Saturday
    145 09Z Saturday
    142 09Z Sunday (best hour for Sunday)
    137 10Z Saturday
    135 19Z Saturday
    134 05Z Sunday

    Most common countries (13)

    K 1611 38%
    JA 481 11%
    DL 262 6%
    UA 209 5%
    OK 146 3%
    UR 105 3%
    UA9 97 2%
    VE 97 2%
    G 88 2%
    SP 86 2%
    I 80 2%
    OH 78 2%
    F 72 2%

    Unique multipliers (55 countries)

    3B8 3V 4J 4U1V 5H 5N 5X 6W 8P 9J 9M2 9V 9Y A4 A6 BV C6 CN CT3 DU E4 EY FM FR GI GJ HB0 HI J3 JT JY KH0 KH2 KH8 OX PJ2 PY0F PZ S9 SU TA TI TK TZ V2 V8 XU XX9 YA YS Z3 ZA AC4 ZD8 ZL

    Other multipliers (71 countries)



    Missed zone 40 (although HC8N was the winning SOAB stations, and we ran just a few kHz apart for several hours!)

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