Monday, March 3, 2014

PACC contest experiences 2014

(impression by PH0NO)

PACC contest experiences

A small team from the Arnhem region (PG8M, PD7YY and myself) set out to activate our club call PI4ANH and try to achieve an acceptable score. We used a single radio multi op set up. PG8M did some CW while PD7YY and myself handled the phone contacts. Two club members that are avid CW OPs (PA3GWC & PA3DCX) came by late on Saturday to boost our CW performance for a couple of hours.

The weekend featured typical autumn weather (even though it is winter in February on this part of the planet): rain and strong winds. The heating of the cabin we were in was limited so we were happy it was not freezing but the grounds were soaked after days of rain, causing everything to end up covered in mud (clothing, wires, masts, etc.). The wind posed a challenge both while setting up the antennas as well as in keeping them up (more on that later) and it made for a lot of alarming noises shaking the cabin we were in.

Set-up with 5 antennas in a rare moment of low winds Saturday evening

On Saturday morning we arrived on the camp site and started to set up the station consisting of my IC-756ProIII, various microphones, a mobile amp and 5 different antennas: hexbeam (10-20m), yagi (10m), inverted V for 40m, inverted V for 80m and an end fed half wave wire antenna for 160m. Setting up the two HF beams was familiar territory - as I have used them more than once in /P operations. The inverted V for 40 and for 80m was a bit more work than expected. I acquired a new 17m long pole from Spiderbeam that I had not used before. Putting that up, with all the guy lines and two inverted V's in very windy conditions took quite some time. PG8M was in the mean time busy tuning the 160m antenna - a new end fed wire antenna he prepared specifically for this contest. We set that last antenna up using two 12m poles attached to the goal posts on the sports field next to our shack. The 160m was very low (around 10m high in the centre) relative to the wave length. The wire was however running across a very very wet field. Maybe that helped us a bit..

In action
We had the hex and yagi up well before the contest began. PD7YY reminded us of the DX-pedition on Amsterdam Isl. and we could indeed copy them on 10m. Both PG8M and myself lack a good antenna at home so we used the opportunity with the 4 element to get into the log of FT5ZM. A nice start of the day.

At noon UTC PD7YY started things off behind the microphone while PG8M and myself completed the low band antennas during the first part of the afternoon.  We took shifts sleeping, making sure we were on the air 24h. Apart from the fact that you still end up exhausted, this worked as planned. We had a second cabin for sleeping, a short walking distance from our temporary shack.

Our CW support: PA3GWC & PA3DCX
PD7YY and PG8M after a long night...

Conditions on the higher bands were not very good. They had been excellent in the days preceding the contest but with Aurora that very morning 10m was almost killed and DX was sparse all together. We did use all the bands but logged only around 60 contacts on 10m - for which we brought a separate mono band yagi. My impression was that there was a considerable group of OMs active in the contest - allowing for a nice steady flow of contacts now and again and even some pile-ups. 

Strong winds - check out the inv. v pole
The wind kept on pounding our set-up but we were fine until 20 minutes before the end of the contest on Sunday early afternoon. PD7YY was on the radio and we copied EK for a new multiplier on 20m. His signal was quite al-right but he did not seem to hear us. My gut feeling told me something was wrong and indeed it was. When I came out of the cabin I saw the main mast had collapsed taking down the hex and the yagi. The hex had luckily folded upwards without sustaining any structural impact as far as I have been able to assess slightly helped by the yagi breaking the impact. This does mean that the yagi lost 4 elements (one side of the yagi) as they are all bent beyond repair. Nothing else had been hit and the elements are replaceable - so nothing too dramatic.

Just 20 minutes before the end of the contest we lost our beams - hex looks dramatic but turns out OK

It is definitely time for a better support - I am thinking about a drive-on support like the one developed by M0UOO (but that is something for a future post).

Funny thing is that we could copy EK well with just a bunch of wires on the ground (the collapsed hex)... incredible.

After looking at the mess PD7YY completed the last minutes on 40m (no time to waste.. we were in a contest, remember) and PG8M and myself started to clean up the muddy mess.

We managed to log 803 contacts, 5 of which were dupes and 3 were contacts with PJ4NX who was using "CN" as exchange - an exchange not officially accepted it seems. This leaves 795 points. We scored 178 multipliers bringing us to a total of 141.510 points.

This is of course before the organization filters out our many typos....

We scored most of our points on 20m (204 x 40), followed by 40m (164 x 36), 15m (142 x 34) and 80m (136 x 28). The "edges" 160m and 10m are close - with 160m (87 x 17) beating 10m (62 x 23).. that is completely against what we expected (we expected far more points on 10m and far less on 160m).

Lessons learned

  • We have learned that setting up all antennas takes more time than expected. This was partly due to the new components used (new pole, new wire antenna) and the weather.
  • We have learned some operating efficiencies regarding the switching between modes and operators.
  • We think we now know a bit better what band and mode to use at what moment in the contest.
  • We have learned that for working local / regional stations it is useful to have a vertical in place at least for 20m - in addition to the hex. 
  • The yagi did not bring a lot of benefit, so we will skip it next time.
  • Investing in a 160m antenna does pay out.
I expect we will be back next year to see if we can beat the 2014 score.

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