In the shadow of giants

by Antony Chazapis

This year, I decided to be brave enough and run the RSGB IOTA Contest on my own. After all, I was already on an island and had the experience of J48A and SX3AM. This was not my original intention, but the economic situation here in Greece finally rendered any friends’ plans to come to Crete very difficult to implement.

20 m dipole antenna

I was not going QRP this time. I had my FT-897D ready, pumping 100 Watts to the 20 meter dipole. That would suggest making more contacts than SX3AM. On the other hand, I was alone, not expecting to handle 24 hours in a row on the radio, and without low band antennas, that were a missing necessity to the J48A team as well.

Two weeks before RSGB’s IOTA Contest, was IARU’s HF World Championship. I thought it would be a good idea to try it out, to see what QSO count I could accomplish, and to pass the equipment through a proper test.

On July 11th, a little before 12:00 GMT, I was already on the radio, waiting for the contest to start. The 20 m band was pretty active, but not really crowded, so I was hoping to find a nice spot to call CQ. Amazingly, the second it started, there was a station calling every 2 KHz – and in some cases even closer! I quickly dumped the idea of calling CQ and chased the headquarter stations of nearby countries: Poland, the Czech Republic, Croatia, etc. However, my rate was not really good, ranging close to 1 contact every 3-4 minutes in the first 3 hours.

Eventually, I tried calling CQ. I had to go towards the edge of the band to find clear space. The radio’s DSP filters would not help much. Neither did the amplified signals of fellow competitors that would splatter multiple KHz around their center frequency. Some stations did answer my call, but it was not until I was announced in the cluster that I got a small pile-up, resulting in an hour’s worth of contacts in several minutes.

After about 5:30 hours, I took a break. I was very tired and my ears where buzzing. I managed to sit 3 more hours on the radio, before calling it a day. The next morning I was welcomed with a light headache – I assume I owed it to the initial long operating streak of the previous day. After that was settled, I “searched and pounced” for a couple of hours, before calling CQ again. This time the results were better. At about 9:00 GMT, I guess the big guns were in other bands and the propagation was low, so it was easier for close-by stations to hear me and reply. The QSO rate was initially pretty much the same as when scouting around the band. Once more, as soon as I hit the cluster, I got a pile-up. But it was too late. The band opened up again and the giants were back. Stations would pop up so close that I couldn’t stand their high-pitched noise and it was evident that no one could hear me anymore. With small breaks, I managed to make contact #250 just 2 minutes before the end. RUMped recorded almost 11 hours of operating, 512 QSO points, and 61 multipliers, for a total score of 31,232 points.

I didn’t expect to do much more in the next contest. Indeed. The moment it started, it was easily recognizable that participation was much larger. More giants around and I was in their shadow, struggling to be heard. Another problem was that this time I had much more things to say for each QSO. I had to give the island number, in addition to my lengthy, non contest-friendly callsign. I took the challenge a bit lighter, trying not to push myself. Again, on the morning of the second day, although earlier this time (at 5:25 GMT), other stations started replying to my call and some minutes later I was in the cluster. During a little bit over an hour, I managed to log about 60 QSOs – nearly a third of my overall count. In total, I did 170 QSOs in about 7 hours, which gave me 1,440 points and 34 multipliers. My final claimed score of 48,960 points was very close to last year’s.

The summer contesting season ended with a very casual participation in the European HF Championship, on August the 1st.

I certainly wouldn’t expect to reach the 1,338 QSOs of J48A. That was a team of 5, working 24 hours on 4 bands and both modes. I was one person, working less than 12 hours on 1 band and SSB only. My initial thoughts were that I would certainly need more and better antennas to be more competitive. I would also like a radio with better filtering capabilities to avoid the fatigue. I even started thinking of buying an amplifier (take a look at this talk for an explanation on how dBs relate to contest score). However, given my QSO rate at both contests, a 24 hour run would yield about 540-580 QSOs (assuming of course the same band conditions throughout the period). So, I surely need to build my operating skills as well. To become a giant, I must grow stronger, not only get larger. After all, isn’t that what contesting is all about?

Thanks to all stations that participated. The giants are there to raise the bar and make this even more interesting and fun to all – big or small.

On a side note, I now have 73 DXCC entries in my SV9/SV1OAN log, 48 of which confirmed. I am nearly halfway to my goal.