¡SSB en fuego!

This past weekend was the CQ WW SSB contest — one of the big ones. I usually have a vague idea about the approach of a contest and decide whether to take part on Friday of the contest weekend, but I had marked this one on the calendar ahead of time and was prepared. Aside from setting up everything and working a bit of SSB earlier in the week, I spent some time looking at propagation and figuring out where to point the antenna at different times of day to hit both areas with high densities of hams (NA, EU, Japan), but also beam heading that would cover the most DXCC entities, the multiplier for this contest.

Looking at commitments for the weekend and the need to be functional at work on Monday morning, I opted to enter in the “classic” category — i.e., 24 hours operation out of the 48 possible. This category also meant that I would not use spotting, which is not a big loss for me, as most of the stations doing the spotting are not in my area and the stations that are spotted are often on bands and antenna headings that would not work for me. I don’t know if it would help much to have a spectral display such as the K3 pan-adapter. My method of spinning the dial works reasonably well for me, and it doesn’t take long to dial through a band and mark stations on the N1MM band map.

Band conditions over the contest weekend were a welcome improvement from the last few weeks. Even so, I did less well with calling CQ than I had hoped. While being in Madagascar, and in this case, being one of the few stations in CQ zone 39, does add a few dB, that only works if other stations know that you exist. Given my location and distance to contest stations around me, it is hard to attract attention with 100W and a relatively low gain antenna. Even when I am calling a seemingly clear frequency, at the other end, I have to wonder how my signal coming from an odd corner of the world sounds wedged between contest stations putting out way more effective power.

Occasionally when calling, I would be answered by one or perhaps a few stations in a row, probably when propagation became very favorable or neighboring signals gave me some room to be heard. However, it being a contest, the other stations were unlikely to spot me. I was spotted a few times, mostly by stations not in the contest, and on those occasions, I had nice runs, with stations flocking in form all over to pick up the double multipliers. Once the pile ups formed, they tended to persist — even if other stations couldn’t hear me all that well, they assumed that something interesting must be under that pile.

Towards the end of the event, I had a sked with a US station – totally outside the contest, and no, I did not log it as a contest contact. We started with a CW contact on 15 meters, and I was stunned by how clearly the signal came through versus all the voice stations I had just been working on 15 meters. It was such a relief to hear and be heard. We then went to 12 meters and were successful with a voice contact, but with each of us running 100W, we were just above the noise in both directions. That experience really makes me long to participate in the CW version of this contest under similar band conditions; unfortunately, I’ll be away on business in November when that one takes place.

Bushfire locations over the contest weekend.
Bushfire locations over the contest weekend.

This weekend gave me one more reason to prefer CW to SSB — a sort throat. I don’t have a voice keyer, but now I really wish I did. Even working only half the contest time, my throat was raw at the end of the event. Part of that was CQing over and over, but it’s also a matter of environment. The radio room gets warm, and now that Spring has begun here, I tend to keep the window open to get some air. I thought our neighbors must be burning leaves or trash because it was smoky outside, so I tolerated it figuring that it would go away. The problem, though, is regional – right now there are bush fires all over Madagascar, some natural or accidental, and some likely due to slash and burn agriculture. Even in the central highlands, air quality has suffered over the few days. So, a little smoke inhalation added to the drama of the contest.

At the end of my 24 hours in the seat (broken up with reasonable quantities of sleep, some breaks, meals, etc., — overall, pretty civilized for a hard core contest), I ended up with 758 contacts and calculated my score at about a half million, which I thought was pretty respectable. A major limitation affecting both the hours that I am able to work and the resultant score is my limitation on lower bands due, which is a matter of location and local noise. In this event, I did not have any contact on 40 or 80 meters. I have some thoughts in that regard, but nothing I can act on for at least a few months, and probably not until the end of the rainy season.

I counted ninety DXCC entities in the contest log, some of which were new to me: Aland Island, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Aruba, Asiatic Russia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Azores, Bahrain, Balearic Islands, Belarus, Belgium, Benin, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Canary Islands, Ceuta & Melilia, China, Crete, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, England, Estonia, European Russia, Federal Republic of Germany, Finland, France, French Guiana, Greece, Guernsey, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Isle of Man, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jersey, Jordan, Kaliningrad, Kazakhastan, Kuwait, Latvia, Lithiuania, Luxembourg, Martinique, Moldova, Morocco, Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Norway, Paraguay, Phillipines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Reunion Island, Romania, Samoa, Saudi Arabia, Scotland, Serbia, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, St. Helena, St. Kitts and Nevis, Sweden, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Thailand, Trinadad & Tobego, Turkey, Turks & Caicos Islands, UAE, Ukraine, UN-WFP, US Virgina Islands, USA, Wales, West Malaysia, and Zambia.

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