2000 CQWW CW Contest: ZS6EZ on 28 MHz

Last updated 2001-01-23

Bottom line: 4218 QSOs, 38 zones, 138 countries for 2,22 M points.

In the 1999 contest, the 28 MHz Single Band category ended up being a horse race between me and ZX5J. N6TJ had operated PP5JR's station to a new world record, demolishing the old record by over 100 000 points. I was about 1% behind, with a new African record and sky-high frustration levels. Just imagine; the third highest single band score of all time, and not even a world win to show for it!

As the 2000 contest approached, I was faced with a dilemma. On the one hand, 2000 would probably provide the last real opportunity to set a decent world record. My effort from last year had been hamstrung by several problems, and I was certain that I could do substantially better this year if conditions were anywhere near the same level. On the other hand, I've been wanting to try my hand at an All Band effort from my new station. Waiting another year would put a significant dent in the potential score that I could come up with.

In the intervening year, several events helped to start swinging the scales in favour of another crack at the world record. For one thing, my 80 m beam stopped working some months before the contest. I wasn't certain how much work would be required to fix it, but fixing 80 m beams is not a trivial undertaking at the best of times. For another, one night in July on the shores of a lake in the Alps, there was a long discussion about the relative merits of Brazil vs. Ascension Island as a high band location. During this discussion, Jim Neiger mentioned that he would be at ZD8Z this year to re-write the record books properly. He felt that, from this location, he would be able to eclipse the existing record with ease. I decided that his presence would provide an excellent incentive for me to get my act together, and accepted the challenge.

I had relatively little time to work on the station over the following months, with a series of other commitments. However, I kept working at components to build a rotating tower, so that I could add another Yagi to the stack. During September, in time for the RTTY contest, I pulled down the 80 m beam and erected a 7 element Yagi on a 16 m (50') boom in its place at the 36 m (120') level. The RTTY contest was difficult, as I couldn't get the K6STI software to run stably. I still don't have it running to this day, but I'm assured that I'm the only person in the universe having trouble with it. I actually struggled until about 09:00 UTC during the contest, at which point I reverted back to my trusty but lousy PK-232. I'd never been closer to giving up in a contest; even the Tono terminal that I was using to monitor the second receiver died on me the night before the contest! However, I was glad that I'd stuck with it, as I managed to come within 1% of doubling the existing 10 m world record. The new claimed score is also substantially above the other bands' records. Certainly the first attempt at proving the new station configuration looked promising.

The Phone contest provided another opportunity to test drive some hardware. I had three antennas working; the stack, the long beam Yagi and a tribander. I could now select any combination of these antennas, and the stack could be selected to either or both of the antennas. The contest was a disaster. Paradoxically, the excellent conditions on Saturday cost me dearly, as strong east- west propagation in the northern hemisphere made it virtually impossible to be heard. I could not hold down a frequency, and was calling very loud multipliers unsuccessfully as they continued to run huge volumes of loud callers from the major centres. On Sunday, though, the sun exploded and wiped out the bands for several hours. Suddenly, I was being heard again. I managed to rake up a respectable score, but was soundly beaten by ZX5J and marginally by 5X1Z.

Just a few weeks before the CW contest, I exchanged emails with N6TJ. I mentioned that I did not intend losing by 1% again. He retorted that he would ensure that I didn't lose by only 1%. This retort sounded remarkably like fighting talk!

As the contest approached, my planning started lagging more and more behind schedule. One example was the work on the rotating tower mechanism. I had a visitor from out of town for a little over a week. We spent much time chatting and doing the tourist thing, and while I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it, it took substantial resolve to spend an hour or so every morning welding together bearing carriers before work! I finally handed the carriers to the galvanisers a little more than a week before the contest. The weekend before the contest, instead of erecting the new tower hardware, I spent much of Saturday commuting to and from the galvanisers, trying to extract my components in time to get them up for the contest. I also had to study for a university exam on the Tuesday. By Tuesday night, I had prepared the tower components, but lousy weather made it very difficult to erect anything that week.

I also spent more time than planned on getting a spotting antenna up and running. I'd lent the antenna to a local ham, and he'd returned it in disassembled form, despite me having pleaded with him to keep the elements intact. I only discovered the reason in the week before the contest: The antenna had clearly been involved in an "accident", and several element sections were damaged beyond repair. If he'd handed it back with the elements assembled, I would have seen the damage instantly! Hal Lund ZS6WB, who lives right next door, helped me a lot with getting the antenna together. We had to fabricate six antenna parts from aluminium, as HyGain didn't respond to any of my requests for parts. Hal, my father and I erected the antenna, vertically polarised, in darkness on Friday night. However, we took it down again when a thunderstorm threatened to rip the beam to pieces. It would have to be tilted up again in the morning.

I also had to build an audio switch box to allow me to listen to my three receivers simultaneously. Apart from the two receivers in the FT1000MP, I also had an IC746 attached to an RF mixer and the vertical beam. I also had to build a sense antenna for the mixer, in an attempt to improve the receiver's rejection of the main signal. The idea was to allow me to look for multipliers on the band while I was running stations.

Finally, I had to try to repair my main radio. The FT1000MP's transceive relay had developed a problem during the Phone contest, producing intermittent attenuation of 20 dB deep in the received signal. I tried frantically to order the necessary replacement parts, but never received the parts before the contest. It turned out later that Yaesu USA had sent the parts by air mail instead of the requested express mail. I've subsequently had to order the parts from Europe, just to get them here in time for the ARRL 10 m contest. However, I just had to live with the intermittency for the CW contest, hoping it would remain within reasonable bounds.

By Thursday or so, it became obvious that I was not going to be able to complete the work to the main tower. I took the day off work on Friday, just to get the peripheral stuff completed. I spent most of the day with station configuration tasks, including the audio box. I had trouble getting the keyer running with the software, apparently because of faulty serial interface cables. I also had to sort out a memory management problem with the logging software, to ensure that the SCP feature would remain working. In the Phone contest, I lost SCP during the contest as the log started taking up more memory. However, try as I would, I just could not vacate more lower memory space for the logging software. I ended up disabling the DVP, losing backcopy and audio recording capability in the process.

By about 11 pm on Friday night, everything was working. I went to bed, hoping to be fresh in the morning and to start working at sunrise. I made the decision to leave one or two things, in the interests of getting at least a reasonable night's sleep. One piece of preparation that I neglected, was pulling the generator from the garage. It was safely stowed away, and the cable that I normally kept handy was rolled up in the store.

I slept the first three hours of the contest. Just before sunrise, the small tower with the vertically polarised spotting antenna was tilted up, and I started tuning the bands. Well before sunrise, DX1S was loud, and a few other stations were audible. This looked promising!

I started operating full-time just before 6 am (04:00 UTC). Within a quarter of an hour, fifteen zones were in the bag. These included some South Americans, via long path. They were around local midnight; propagation sounded very promising indeed! The first runs were dominated by Japanese, but within an hour the first Europeans started coming in. For the moment, though, I preferred to keep running Japan (east) with the big antenna to the Pacific (southeast) to try to attract some Pacific multipliers, and possibly even that elusive zone 29.

ZD8Z was nowhere to be found. However, 5X1Z was churning up the band (or I assumed it was him, as he seldom identified). Around 06:30 UTC, I had my first taste of what seems to be a new strategy in two specific European countries: A station firing up exactly on my frequency, trying to take over the run. These guys are generally very loud down here, well over S9, so they are either running massive power or just pretending not to hear us. I believe it is the latter, as it is possible to get them to break their rhythm by interjecting the right kind of transmissions. I assume they are trying to capitalise on existing packet spots, hoping to snare the stations that come looking for the rarer DX that they've seen spotted. One can only speculate about the ethics of this action. It certainly doesn't feel very nice from this end, as there is absolutely nothing a puny weak ZS can do about it. However, as I only heard this particular station doing it once, I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and not mention his callsign. I had to simply find myself a new frequency.

Just before 09:00 UTC, with most of the easy European multipliers in the log, the T/R relay started playing up again. It was going to be a loooooooong weekend.

My spotting setup wasn't hearing very well. In fact, the sense dipole about 1 m above ground was hearing better than the beam! The problem was traced around 10:00 UTC to a faulty barrel connector in the feedline to the Yagi. Once the barrel was replaced, I was able to find more signals, although the cross- talk between the beams was still at an unacceptable level. However, at least I could now tune for multipliers, or get an idea of what was happening on the rest of the band, while calling CQ. The magic audio box allowed me to listen to that receiver's audio only while the keyer was running, without having to throw any switches.

As was the case in the Phone contest, N2EE was the first station from North America to call me. In the Phone contest, Yuri had told me that he was using verticals on the beach. Well, they certainly seemed to be doing something for him! Shortly after his contact at 11:20 UTC, as the sun rose on the East Coast, I started running big numbers of W stations.

About 15:30 UTC, my computer suddenly went haywire. It turned out that the "G" key had decided to give up, remaining stuck in the depressed position. I ran to the other room, grabbed a pair of long-nose pliers, and extracted the key from the keyboard like an accomplished dentist would do to a molar. I discovered that I could still hit the switch in the gaping hole, and decided to keep going with the broken keyboard. I was lucky; the short interruption didn't cost me my frequency.

Just after 17:00 UTC, the weather started looking really threatening. I called Hal on the FM radio to get him to look at the bank of clouds approaching. I don't recall ever having seen such a malicious-looking squall line. As the squall passed, it was instantly pitch dark and I could hear roof tiles being displaced by the howling wind. I could no longer turn any of the four rotators as the wind gripped those big beams. I could hear the rain lashing the windows, and I could hear water rushing into my kitchen. The rain static was unbearable on all the antennas, except the lower Yagi in the stack. Fortunately, with this Yagi I could keep running. A few minutes after the storm started, the power dipped briefly. It took me a few minutes to get everything running again, and I was extremely lucky not to lose my frequency.

For the next hour or so, I sat counting the time lag between lightning and thunder, to determine how close the lightning was getting. I decided that I would shut down if the lightning came to within less than 1 km of the station. Just after 19:00, as the lightning was down to just over 1 km, I was wondering whether to shut down. It seemed that the storm was letting up, and the lightning strikes were down to maybe one every five minutes. However, the few strikes that there were, were getting uncomfortably close. The next minute, everything was pitch dark. This time, the power didn't come back on again.

I ran outside to investigate, and noticed that all the neighbouring farms but one still had power. I drove my car down to the road to check the circuit breakers--they were not tripped. By this time, I was soaked to the skin. Hal came out to help, and we dragged the generator outside. I tried to get it started, in vain. After a few dozen tries, as I was approaching the limits of my physical powers, I remembered the ignition switch. It fired immediately on the next pull. I spent another few minutes laying a cable and trying to get everything out of the wall sockets and onto the cable. I'd lost almost half an hour by the time everything was running again.

I'd never used the generator for radio purposes before, as my power supply is generally rock solid. I was to discover quickly that the generator doesn't live up to its specifications, and I had to reduce my amplifier's power considerably to allow everything to continue working. The altitude is probably a major contributor to the generator's woes, as our air density at this altitude is down to about half of that at sea level. I had to make do with something like a third of the normal transmitter output power. The 5 dB reduction in signal was immediately evident, with decreased rates, difficulty breaking multiplier pileups and trouble holding a frequency. I could only hope that the power would come on quickly. Of course, the need to refuel the generator every three hours would also eat into my resources.

Just after 20:00, VE2IM called in for the precious zone 2 multiplier. I found VK4UC just after 21:00 for a long path QSO and the scarce zone 30. After midnight, a P29 provided another nice multiplier the wrong way round, with a fluttery signal reminiscent of a trans-polar path. I was able to keep running until 23:30, or one thirty in the morning, at which point everything was so slow that I decided to get some sleep.

Sunday started with VR2BG providing a new one, and a string of Japanese stations. Just after 06:00, KL7RA provided a nice surprise. Half an hour later, UT7L followed his countryman's tactics and took over my ready-made Japanese pileup. I'm publishing his callsign because I could hear him doing the same thing to another semi-rare station later in the contest. There is no doubt is was deliberate. A Russian station did the same thing again about half an hour later. It was certainly no accident, as there was nary a station within 500 Hz on either side of me, and the guy was 20 dB over S9! It would be interesting to look for more occurrences of the same tactic with other stations, given the availability of a complete spot database...

Power came back some time after 10:00 UTC. After allowing a few minutes for possible transients, I transferred everything to mains power and asked Hal to turn off the generator.

The next few hours produced few surprises, except for a few nice multipliers like TZ6DX, OY1CT, VP9/NC8V and TF8GX that called in on '097. Around 17:00 UTC, EA8BH fired up just below me. Although he wasn't close enough to be in the passband and I only found him on the second receiver, it was clear that his callers had blown a hole in the band, and I would have to find greener pastures. I held the lower band edge for a while, after which I happened upon 3E1DX for a new zone, and 3DA0NL. Just after 18:00, I was running 28129 when HK0ER provided a nice one, followed shortly after by TI5N. Shortly after, OX/N6ZZ stopped by. Just a few months before, we'd been on a bus in the Slovenian countryside, discussing the fact that I needed OX on 15, and that he was going there. We moved down to 15, although I only had a tribander. We made it for my country number 313 on that band. Phil was not audible on the great circle bearing. On both bands, the path was considerably skewed to the west, by at least 30 degrees!

Around 18:45, XE1ZOI provided zone 6, followed by JX7DFA for another nice one. Just before 20:00, I somehow became aware of a ZL on the frequency. I never really heard anything conciously, but I asked everyone to stand by for a ZL, and turned the beam slightly further north. There he was: ZL6QH for another double multiplier! It's over 32 000 km (20 000 miles) over the USA; a long distance by anyone's standards. Just a little later, TR8XX made my day by providing that elusive zone 36. The effect of the new double multiplier instantly blew me past the current world record. However, it looked doubtful that I'd be able to build a sufficient buffer to allow for the points that I'd inevitably lose in checking. Besides, the sticky T/R relay wasn't helping.

At 22:00 UTC, I couldn't produce anything anymore. The band was extremely weak, and I was tired. It was midnight, and I decided to snatch some sleep. It was unlikely that any propagation would come back before the end of the contest. However, I wasn't taking any chances. At 23:00, I got up. I managed to add a few more stations to the log, including a 6Y multiplier. I was frantically calling an XE1 station when he moved with a multiplier, leaving a clear frequency. I called CQ, and was amazed to be rewarded with several callers. Within minutes, I had a full-blown run of stations. The last 20 minutes of the contest, two hours after local midnight, I was amazed to suck 43 stations into the log!

I ended the contest just over the world record, but with an insufficient margin to survive the checking process. I was about 1% below last year's score. Given the difficulties I'd encountered, I guess I couldn't complain.

A few questions remained unanswered, of course. First and foremost was the fact that I hadn't heard ZD8Z at all. I later heard that he'd gone to KH6 for a single-op all band effort. I was amazed, as just weeks before he'd been insistent he was going to thump me on 10 from ZD8Z. During the contest, I'd identified a few potential contenders, mainly 5X1Z and a few South Americans. By Monday lunchtime I'd submitted my log and posted my claim on the 3830 Reflector, after fetching LX1NO and LX2LX from the airport and getting stuck in traffic for several hours. All that remained was to ride out the rat race while waiting for other claims to surface.

By Wednesday, most of the serious contenders had put their cards on the table. Thursday produced a surprise: K7JA had operated NP4A to the tune of almost 1,8 M points. The South American contenders were all between 1,5 and 1,7 M points. All that remained was to hear how 5X1Z had done. I expected that he would beat me, given the trouble I'd had to contend with.

I had to wait until Friday to get the answer. Mats had had a guest operator, OH5BM. Tapani's claim on 3830 was posted almost simultaneously with the arrival of his reply to my email enquiry. He'd done about the same as Mats the previous year: 1,4 M. It looked like I stood a very good chance indeed! Tapani had also had his fair share of trouble. He'd had trouble with rotators and a bad coax cable or connector that produced some unscheduled tower climbing. At one point, the line voltage dipped down below 130 V, forcing him also to resort to a generator. He likewise had to reduce his output to accommodate the new power supply. However, Tapani doesn't rate any of these as decisive. I'm curious about this effect, as Mats had beaten me in the Phone contest, yet I'd managed to beat his station by a factor of 3:2 in two successive CW contests. Could it be that the time of year favoured me so much more, just because of a few hours of additional sunshine? It certainly appears that way! It certainly couldn't be operator skill, as N6AA had labelled me very decisively as a Phone Guy, based on the WRTC results. He really knows how to hurt a guy...

The 3830 Reflector also carried lots of remarks about a solar storm on Sunday, auroral conditions etc. I must admit that this event didn't have a huge effect on me. I did notice on Sunday that the signals were fewer and weaker, but partially attributed this phenomenon to the customary reduced activity on Sunday. A few W7 and VE7 stations had a very raspy auroral sound, but they must have numbered less than a dozen. However, K0SR said after the contest that I'd peaked from WNW at times; pretty much the reciprocal of the normal heading. I was still beaming short path at the time.

Now what? I must admit that I was disappointed that ZD8Z didn't deliver as promised, although of course with the troubles I'd had I would probably have lost hands-down. While a world win in a relatively competitive category of the greatest contest on earth is not to be sniffed at, I must admit that getting so close to the world record again, and yet being disappointed, is no fun. However, I doubt if I'll tackle the category again. I might do that threatened All Band effort next year, or I might move down to 15 and see what one can achieve there. There's still a lot of station building to do, and I need to look at reducing crosstalk between the two radios, especially if I'm going to be doing single band again.

In the mean time, I guess I have to get back to all that paperwork that's accumulated while I was devoting too much time to my hobby. Now if only I can find time to complete that tower before next November...

Best hours

189 10 Saturday
172 14 Saturday
165 17 Saturday
154 08 Saturday
153 11 Saturday
150 13 Saturday
143 07 Saturday
141 15 Saturday
140 18 Saturday
137 16 Saturday
136 12 Saturday
131 07 Saturday
131 15 Sunday (my best hour for that day!)

Most common countries (13 countries)

K 1493 35%
JA 441 10%
DL 313 7%
UA 274 6%
OK 153 4%
UR 115 3%
UA9 114 3%
G 94 2%
SP 90 2%
I 86 2%
OH 77 2%
F 76 2%
VE 70 2%

Unique multipliers (57 countries)


Other multipliers (68 countries)



Missed zones 29 and 34 (although SU9ZZ was one of the leading SOAB stations)

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