Russian DX Contest (by Denis K7GK)

Denis K7GK:

This story begins more than a decade ago, when I was still living in the Pacific Northwest, the home of the suffering 7-s. A business trip was going to bring me to Brussels, and, hoping to share a beverage and a story or two with a local contester I have posted a message on CQ-Contest, asking if anyone might be interested. This is how I met Franki, ON5ZO, known, perhaps, more by his contest callsign OQ5M. He was kind enough to invite me to operate his modest by American standards, but quite capable station in the now defunct EU Sprint. I very much enjoyed meeting him and his family and we kept in touch over the years, mostly by chatting during the long hours of DX contests. Fast forward 11 or so years, now I am on a work assignment in the Netherlands. Here too I’ve got in with local contest enthusiasts, members of the Contestgroep Oude Maas, PI4COM. They were kind enough to invite me to join them for a couple of the multi-op contests, including the CQ WW CW. I know I’m stating the obvious, but this event is so much more fun operating from the EU, compared to the West Coast f the US, but I digress.

COMers, as the members often address each other, have made a fateful decision to let me become the only non-Dutch speaking member of their club. Fateful, because it has a significant bearing on my fate as a temporarily misplaced contester, now that I have a place to operate, which does not require getting on a plane or driving for hours. Originally, I was planning to join a multi-op operation during the Russian DX Contest (RDXC), but no other members have signed up, so I was the only one left to operate. OK, single-op it is. Speaking of RDXC. Early on in its history I have been a bit of an enthusiast of this competition, I even managed to snag a plaque for the top US score in mixed category, which happened during a not very competitive year. This contest is a favorite of many others, so its strong points are quite well known. Over the years, however, I have soured on this contest and for a few years did not take part. The problem, of course, is that from the West Coast, especially when the propagation is average or worse, it is really an exercise in futility. The contest, like many others, is very EU-centric and there is hardly an incentive for anyone to work any US stations, let alone those behind the auroral wall of silence, as we are out West.

Coming back to this year’s event, I knew that operating from the Netherlands would be quite different, so I was ready to join the fun in earnest. After confirming with the club that I would be operating alone, I decided to spice things up a bit by challenging Franki, ON5ZO/OQ5M to a contest within a contest. Since geographically we are in reasonably close proximity, I thought it would be a more or less fair battle. I have dubbed this match the Lowlands Russian CW Shootout, LRCS for short. The category was to be single-op all bands CW. In LRCS I had mostly one factor going for me – better antennas on the high bands with monobanders for 20, 15 and 10, while Franki has a tribander at the ever so slightly lower height. However, on 40 his rotatable dipole is quite a bit stronger than the dipole at PI4COM, as confirmed during the CQWW contest. The other low-band antennas turned out to be quite similar. I have asked Franki to keep his second radio off, as I wasn’t setup to run SO2R either. A few other factors were on his side – familiarity with the contest, familiarity with the station are quite big, as I was learning as I was going pretty much the entire time. I was able to get an idea of what to expect based on last year’s open logs, published on the RDXC web site, but none of the top ones in our category were from Benelux, so I had to extrapolate using the logs from Germany and Sweden.

Prior to the contest, besides beating Franki in the LRCS, of course, I was hoping to achieve a couple of other goals. One was to set the new Dutch record in SOAB-CW category, held by PA3AAV. The other was to get into top-10 in EU. All of this was to become in great jeopardy when a couple of weeks prior to the contest PI4COM was vandalized. The team (Kees PA3BWD, Richard PD4RD, Alex PA1AW and Florian PB8DX) came together to do the repairs, which were done mostly in blistering cold. What a break for me, thank you, guys! A temporary solution was to be used, as permanent repairs could not have been complete at that time, but the operation was a go. Then on Friday, the day before the contest, I got a call from Florian, PB8DX, one of the club members. He said that there was another incident at the station and that the cables from the tower that holds the 15 meter beam were cut and stolen. This news was a blow, to say the least. After further investigation, Florian suggested that another temporary solution might be put in place, but we’d have to do it in the morning, just a few hours before the start of the contest. So, I was set to go again, but the plan had to be flexible. We were to try to fix the tower and if that didn’t work, change the category to a single-band 20. A few other snags on the way seem so insignificant in comparison. The morning of the contest when I was going to the station to start the repairs, the trains between The Hague, where I live, and PI4COM have all been canceled due to the track repairs and I had to use alternative transportation as well as coordinate with Alex, PA1AW, who was bringing his equipment to be used during the contest. Fortunately Alex has connected his TS-590 with the Microham interface and my computer without much drama. This was such a welcome change to the emotional roller-coaster, which the LRCS preparation was up to that point. There was plenty of drama to follow, however. In the best tradition of the last minute pre-contest antenna work, the entire morning was spent trying to setup all the antennas, including the repairs to the 15m tower, which with less than an hour to go was still unusable. While I was getting ready to start to operate in the shack, Florian was still up the tower doing his best to repair it. With a few minutes to go the decision was made to start running on 20, while Florian would finish the repairs on the 15 meter tower and if that was not possible, I would stay on 20 for the entire contest. So, it was off to the races, not knowing which actual race I was in.

A few minutes pass 12 zulu, Florian asked me to try the 15 meter beam and it actually did work. Succes – as they would say it in Dutch! So, finally LRCS-2018 is truly on. Before the contest Franki and I agreed to post the scores on cqcontest.net, but with all the other problems I’ve been having, I didn’t manage to actually get my score updates working. So we were exchanging score summaries every hour on the hour. 0100 zulu, first score update – I am ahead by a few QSOs, 2 zulu – now I’m behind. Uh-oh, this is a real competition! Several exchanges later we were still very close. “Neck-in-neck” was the phrase I used a lot during the contest. As the time went on and we had to spend more time on 40, I was starting to fall behind. Franki’s lead has continued to grow, up to a couple hundred thousand points. This was not good. No matter what I tried, I could not close the gap. My hope was that since I didn’t spend time on 15 meters early on due to the antenna issues, when that band opens up again, I will catch up by working new muts and new Qs, hoping he would not get as may, as he already worked a few on that band. And that actually did work. With about 5 hours to go, I started to close the gap. When 15 opened, I did get a decent run, but not what I was hoping for. So I went back to 20 and was rewarded with a few nice mutls, such as RW0UM, RA0QD and UA0DX. Speaking of Russian 0-land, it was very strange to have worked so few of them, since from the West Coast all you hear are the 0s. Then finally, with just over 2 hours to go a good run on 15 has finally arrived. A nice mix of European and Asiatic Russia in addition to some DX mults (E20HHK, OH0X, P33W, 5Z4/LZ4NM) made me feel like I might have a chance to finally catch up with Franki. And catch up I did, with 1 hour to go I was ever so slightly ahead. A-ha, we do have a shootout on our hands! This is great, but what about 10 meters? I have been ignoring it so far, as I was watching the spots and not seeing much reported from around Benelux. Thinking, maybe I’ll just work a couple of mults, I left last 10 minutes of the contest for 10 meters. Of course here every QSO is going to be a mult, but the first one being 3B8XF was a good sign. A quick sweep of the band and another 3 mults are in the bag. OK, time to CQ for a bit. Another minute – another mult, this time EV5A with a good signal. Great! How is this for the last minute drama? The next 4 minutes or so were more than a bit disappointing, as I did not get a single reply to my CQ, zero Qs zero mults. But in the last minute I get called by 2 stations! Bummer, there is only time to work one, thus E7DX makes it into the log, while UT7QF does not. I am sorry, Igor, if only it was just a few seconds sooner!

So, what’s the end result?

PI4COM: total score 5,398,882 points – OQ5M: total score 5,425,440 points 

(c) OQ5M

Looks like Franki has won this one, despite that in theory I could overtake him on accuracy. Usually he is quite accurate, so my chances are pretty slim. Overall, we are quite even, with me having some room for improvement on the DX mults on low bands, except 40 meters is where we are not even at all. This is where he beat me handily by 100 Qs (about a quarter of my QSOs on that band) and by 12 mults.
Also it looks like I came up short against the Dutch record, as my score reduction is likely to take me down below 4.93M, which is the current record. The only goal I might have achieved is making it into the EU top 10, but even that we’ll have to see as all the scores in our category are reported and wait for the log checking. Even with two out of 3 initial goals likely to not being achieved, I’m not disappointed at all in the result. Where I definitely overachieved, though, is the fun factor. This was a real blast!

Also read Franki’s part of the story at on5zo.be.

Denis K7GK in action

PACC 2018 is history

Despite a limited antenna park and a small team of operators, PI4COM was active in the PACC contest last weekend. Not an easy task, but in the end we look back with pleasure.

As is known, our main weapon, the 5el 20m yagi, did not come out of the winter storm unscathed, so we had to promote another antenna for 20m to head antenna. Fortunately, we have a 3el 20m yagi which is fixed on a lower mast. This antenna therefore had to play an important role for our score. After all, 20m is one of the bands which every contest is the basis of the score.

Saturday morning we started early, in good spirit, with the plan to make this antenna “armstrong” rotable, but when the antenna was checked it was not usable. Part of the coaxial cable had disappeared (cut off) and the connection to the antenna itself had been damaged by the vandalism in such a way that a completely new connection to the antenna had to be made. A firm job that took a lot of time. It was only an hour after the start of the contest that this antenna became available and valuable 20m qso’s were lost.

The further building of the station went smoothly. We had chosen to build the 4-square for 40 meters. A lot of work, but this certainly paid off during the long PACC night ….

If Murphy comes to visit then then this usually does not go unnoticed….
The N1MM network also did not work well, so the 2 stations did not communicate with each other. Fortunately, we were able to solve this for the first QSO, but a lot of valuable time was lost again. Also tThe CAT system of one of the stations also did not work well in combination with N1MM. As a result of which all qso’s were logged in CW. In a mixed mode contest very awkward because the software sees all qso’s in SSB as a dupe. Remedy: Work and log everything what calls you and after the contest manually adjust the log based on the frequency.
But Murphy was not finished yet …. After about an hour of contesting we discovered by chance that there were major problems with one of the stations. Why we still do not know, but the 40m CW signal could be heard worldwide at 20m second harmonic and was even shown on the Reverse Beacon Network.

Although the station was equal to many previous contests, the signal we were transmitting was  very very dirty. After a long hour of testing and replacing cables etc. the amplifiers of both stations were swapped and the problem was solved. We still do not know what caused it but this was a situation that we do not want to experience again. And of course we lost another 2 hours running on one station and the other station also at half strength.
After these problems Murphy happily said goodbye and we could finish the contest without further technical problems.

At the end of the contest the qso’s on 10 and 15 meters could be counted on one hand and also 20m was disappointing. This band closed exceptionally early on Saturday night. We do not know whether this has to do with our limited antenna but the focus had to be shifted to the low bands very early in the evening. A long night on 40, 80 and 160 meters was the result. But… this was the moment when the choice to build the 4 sqaire paid out.

As said before, this contest was not only a technical challenge. With a minimal team, we had to man the entire contest and we managed. A mixed-mode contest such as the PACC actually requires mixed-mode operators for the best result. A lot of mode shifting is important for both the qso number and the multipliers. Dividing the attention in both modes with a “single mode” operator in action means that you have to often change the band, which in our stations means a walk to the other shack/station to take over a band in your mode. Florian PB8DX (SSB) and Rob PA2R (CW) have had that experience as they had the honors for the first 8 hours of operating. Early in the evening they handed over the baton to Ronald PA3EWP and Alex PA1AW who had taken on the long tiring nightshift nightshift. Station 1 rotating over 80 and 160m and station 2 with the focus on 40m. Fortunately, Ronald and Alex work both modes which made no shack change necessary. This had certainly not been a fine task because the weather during the night was really bad. A lot of wind with snow and rain. To walk from shack to shack in that weather is no fun. In the morning the baton was handed to Florian PB8DX and Kees PA3BWD. Because both do not do CW Ronald and Alex had to stay on standby because in the morning there had to be activity in both modes. The advantage of this is that they could do a lot of work in preparation for breaking down the station after the contest would be finished.

Despite all the challenges, we were certainly not dissatisfied with the final result: 2145 QSOs with a multiplier of 364 would bring us 780K points. Whether it is enough for a place of honor we will know in due course when the results are checked. Anyway, we have taken the maximum out of our possibilities and that is what counts. Many learning moments and plans for the next contest. We especially hope for a storm and vandalism free period …..

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