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
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.