Chris R. Burger's Report on WRTC2000

Last updated 2000-07-21

This report was written immediately after our return, to report back to interested friends and fellow South African radio amateurs; hence the introduction. There have been some minor additions since the original version was released, and some minor changes were made when the final results became available.

We're back!

Results were, unfortunately, not spectacular. Full results are available on the WRTC site. Here's a summary:

  • Overall 33rd out of 53 teams. Our score is about 73% of the winning score.

  • A joint 4th place in the SSB pileup competition, with 92% of the winning score.

  • A joint 13th place in the combined-mode pileup competition, with 84% of the winning score.

  • Joint 23rd on SSB in the contest, with a relative score of 75%.

  • The most accurate log, with a score reduction of 0,4%.

    The total score was calculated out of 1000 points, as the sum of the following scores:

  • A point out of 300 for the number of SSB QSOs.

  • A point out of 300 for the number of CW QSOs.

  • A point out of 300 for the number of multipliers (ITU zones, headquarter societies etc. on each band-mode)

  • A point out of 100 for the pileup competition.

    WRTC2000 was an unforgettable event. Around 200 of the world's most prominent contesters were there. In addition to the 106 competitors, everyone who is anyone was there either as referee or as visitor.

    Slovenia was a wonderful surprise. This little Alpine country looks very much like Austria or north-eastern Italy. The people are very friendly and well-educated, and the country appears to have shaken the last vestiges of its communist past (except, perhaps, the rather officious attitude of anyone wearing a uniform!). We were located in the village of Bled, by a lakeside with a number of medieval castles in close proximity. The Alps towered to the north, and the lake water was crystal clear.

    The organisation was flawless, and all of us were treated like kings. They managed to organise military transport for all participants, television coverage (both African team members were interviewed on national television), several outings and several kg around the middle on our return.

    The contest also achieved its objective, as can be seen from the scores. Unlike normal contests, where gross inequities exist between stations, scores in this contest were very tightly grouped together. You can see that our overall score is three-quarters of the winning score, yet we ended up around two-thirds down the field!

    Why did we miss the boat so badly? We could immediately identify some reasons:

  • Our off-times were not planned ideally, as we didn't anticipate the impact of a widespread Sporadic-E opening at the end of the contest. Some of the locals managed to plan their off-times to allow them to catch this opening, and scored handsomely for it.

  • We had an interference problem on 80 m, probably because of the proximity of our two antennas, that prevented us from spending much time there. We also had to spend much time working on the low-band antennas to resolve an intermittency problem, something that we finally traced to poor connectors at both ends of the feedline.

  • We had a dance party in the room above our basement, that lasted into the early hours of the morning. We had to stuff our ears with toilet paper and turn up the volume WAY loud to hear any signals at all.

  • We had intermittent line noise and rain static, as well as local thunderstorms, for many hours of the contest.

  • We seemed to have a signal strength disadvantage relative to some other teams. Several low-band multipliers never heard us, but while we were calling, several other teams made it through. Also, there were times when other teams were able to run, and we were not. Of course, this perception may have been mutual, and it's hardly an uncommon feeling for a contester!

  • Ironically, we did very badly on CW. The reason was that we decided halfway through the contest that we'd been spending too much time on CW, and emphasised SSB on Sunday. Clearly, we overdid it!

    However, none of these reasons explain the magnitude of the defeat. None of these "excuses" could result in us landing around the two-thirds mark in the results tables! There had to be other reasons.

    After the contest we felt confident that at least our multiplier total would be right up there with the best. We were obviously not correct! After listening to competitors' strategies and thinking through the whole thing, we have concluded that our basic multiplier-searching strategy was inadequate.

    I was the "running" guy, and Bernie was the multiplier guy. We had two means of listening for multipliers: The FT1000MP's second receiver and a separate IC746. Bernie alternated between the two. The FT1000MP allowed him to work multipliers directly without my participation, but only on the same or adjacent bands. However, every time one of us transmitted (which we could do independently due to some creative electronics), both receivers on the radio were blanked. If I was running a pileup, Bernie's receiver would be blanked whenever I transmitted. His frustration levels were obviously high, as he would often have to listen through several QSOs before being able to identify a station.

    The root of the problem is that feedline length constraints forced us to support our low band Windom from the same tower that our Yagi was supported on. Some of the other teams had as much as 50 m between their two antennas. These teams could find multipliers on the same band, using the second receiver, even while the first operator was transmitting! They would then transfer the frequency into the first radio, work the multiplier, and continue as if nothing had happened. With less cross-talk between the stations, we should probably have followed the same strategy.

    However, the primary objective of not disgracing the southern tip of Africa, was definitely achieved. Also, construction work to implement in-band multiplier hunting at ZS6EZ will start soon. There is obviously some fancy footwork involved, as one will have to keep the transmitter's signal out of the receiver to enable the receiver to hear weak signals while the transmitter is going. It will be interesting to see the extent to which this ideal is possible in practice.

    An interesting side-issue is the fact that all teams were using randomly-assigned callsigns, and were not supposed to be identifiable. In fact, the rules specifically indicated that operators were not allowed to identify themselves. When the need arose to work non- participants who insisted on names, I invented a name (Jon). However, obviously everyone was interested to know which team was which. We were able to identify maybe five teams for certain. When we returned to Bled after the contest, we noticed that several other teams and even non-participants had lists on which they had tried to identify each team. The only team that was identified on every single list we saw, was S572L--Team Africa. There's a certain sense of discomfort associated with being the only transparent player in the field. I wrote an article on Sunday night, providing some tips on how to identify teams. Maybe, if the article makes it into print, Team Africa won't be the only transparent entrant at the next WRTC!

    I produced another small article directly after the contest. This article breaks new ground, in that it presents a list of excuses from which each participant can select the ones that were applicable to a specific contest. That way, no-one has to suffer through having to listen to all the same old lame excuses presented in different combinations by all the participants. One can simply look at the matrix, nod knowingly, and then get on with discussing more interesting stuff. Such a table could probably eliminate at least 90% of the published Soapbox section in a typical contest writeup, thereby saving tons of paper and gigabytes of disk storage world-wide each year. I'm even thinking of automating the process so that each team can select the relevant excuses when submitting the log, so that no human intervention will be required.

    Let's not get the wrong impression, though. The bottom line is: We had a lot of fun for a week or so, swopping lies with a number of big-gun contesters and DXers. Bernie spent much time chatting to other low-band DXers like K1ZM, and has also come up with a few interesting ideas worth exploring.

    There were also some fun moments unrelated to ham radio, like the desert camel that Bernie saw and the sing-song at our hilltop location. The house is used as a restaurant and dance venue (the Alpine dances are not at all unlike "Volksspele"!), and Bernie took it upon himself to teach our host, Damjan, to sing the old Afrikaans folk-song "Sarie Marais". It's not my favourite song, being a rather melancholy dirge about a lost chicken that orginated in the Anglo-Boer war at the turn of the previous centuries. However, it has the advantage of simplicity, a major advantage in the context of teaching a native Slavic speaker to perform the song in public without interrupting his live performance noticeably.

    I started writing down the sheet music for Damjan, but he quickly explained that he didn't read sheet music. However, after writing down all the names of the notes and all the words, we coached him into a reasonable pronounciation and the necessary accompaniment. We even sang along! Unfortunately, there was one line of the song that we couldn't quite remember, so we improvised by repeating a line from earlier in the song. The situation was almost surreal: Three guys singing an Afrikaans folk song to a crowd of rather bemused Slovenians, on a clear Friday night in the Alps under moonshine and starlight.

    However, the biggest surprise was yet to come. Just after midnight, as the last notes of the song faded and we left the stage to polite applause, our team referee, famous low band DXer John Devoldere ON4UN, arrived back from a dinner. He boisterously sang "Daar onder in die mielies by die groen doringboom"; the line we'd been missing from our rendition of Sarie Marais! As this story is being recorded for posterity, we're still trying to understand exactly how a Flemish boy could come up with the missing line from an Afrikaans folk song, but we'll just write it off as an aberration caused by fresh Alpine air and a lot of guys having fun...

    Another interesting piece of history, hitherto unrecorded, must not be left untold. Whenever the WRTC crowd gathered, scores of empty brown bottles with red labels sporting the name "Union Pivo" would accumulate on the tables as if by magic. It can now be revealed that the Slavic name for beer, "Pivo", is a derivative of a phrase popularised by Allied soldiers during the invasion of 1945. Whenever they were offered a beer, these soldiers would reply: "I'd love to! I'll have to go for a pee, though!".

    One thing did leave a wry taste in the mouth: Watching people carrying on with their lives without having to a pay a security subscription, without having to spend big money on barbed wire and burglar bars, and without having to pay people to watch the vegetables in the shops, did emphasise that South Africa has some way to go. I saw several mountain-top houses in eastern Slovenia, several km from the nearest habitation, totally unguarded and unfenced, with expensive radio equipment in plain sight through the windows. These locations remain untouched...

    We're all back in the thick of things, and trying to catch up on everything that has lagged behind because of our absence. The wonderful break is almost forgotten, and I guess we'll have to start working at it now if we want to be selected again for the next one. Contest Club Finland and the Yankee Clipper Contest Club have both indicated that they are prepared to present WRTC2004. Both New England and Finland would be very interesting locations, being much further north that any location most South Africans have operated from. We'll have to see if the points for selection, the necessary air miles and the time can come together, but rest assured that we'll try!

    Chris R. Burger ZS6EZ, Member of Team Africa with Bernie van der Walt ZS4TX

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