CQWW CW From Down Under – The VK2GC Story201705220212CQ.200609-026
My XYL, Kay, and I jokingly said that there were only two places in the world we had never been – Australia and North Dakota. With that in mind, and not being able to find much of a reason to go to North Dakota — although I am considering it for Sweepstakes — we decided that the time was right for a trip down under. After months of planning, we took off on a five week venture in early November 2005 with both VK and ZL in our sights. Doing the CQWW CW contest from the continent of Australia was an imperative since over the years we had done this contest, and many others, from five other continents.
There were so many highlights to the trip. We met many fantastic contesters along the way — David, VK2CZ, Bernd, VK2IA, Serge, VK2IMM, Richard, 9M2CNC, all members of the VK Contest Club, Dom, VK2JNA and other members of the VK2MB club, and Martin, VK7GN, and his XYL, Linda, VK7QP, in Richmond, Tasmania, with whom we spent three glorious days seeing the spectacular sights of southern Tasmania. Martin patiently taught me to drive on the “wrong side of the road”. His thoughtful coaching paid off, as I would later drive the Great Ocean Road, a beautiful but treacherously winding drive of 1000 km from Melbourne to Adelaide. Later in Rotorua, New Zealand, we had a magnificent visit with Graeme, ZL1ANH, his XYL, Roz, and their family. Knowing that we would meet a number of hams along the way, I took a supply of Florida Contest Group (FCG) Orange hats and shirts! Spreading FCG Orange proved to be a hit with the contesters, as the photos tell.
On a cold rainy Friday before the contest, Kay and I climbed the Sydney Harbour Bridge for her birthday. This climb to a height of 450 feet above the water is an undertaking not to be missed when visiting Sydney. Another thing not to be missed in VK-land is hand feeding kangaroos and wallabies; they are beautiful and gentle creatures. One evening, Martin and Linda took us to a night feeding of Tassie Devils. When the Devils feed, they put on a screaming fit, which is said to be why the early explorers named them “devils”.
In Alice Springs, we had a memorable visit to the School of the Air where children living on sheep and cattle stations in the outback — some 130 of them in an area larger than Texas — attend school via HF radio and modern video conferencing that is transmitted over satellite links. Early radio gear was all built by Australian radio pioneer, Alf Traeger, VK5AX, who built the first pedal wireless for the Royal Flying Doctor service. (The story of Alf Traeger and his early radio inventions can be found at http://www.antiqueradio.com/traeger_pedal_07-99.html. Particularly interesting to read about, is a typewriter-like machine that he developed to send Morse characters.)
Enough of the travelogue, and on to ham radio. In advance of the trip, I spoke with Kenny, K2KW, and Tom, K1KI, about possible QTH’s from which to operate, and put out a “CQ Australia” on the CQ-Contest reflector asking for a CQWW CW invitation. Aussies active in the VKCC in VK2, VK3, VK4, VK6 and VK7 all responded with juicy invitations. After sorting out the choices, locations and constraints in our itinerary, I decided to accept the offer from David, VK2CZ/VK9XD, to operate the contest from his local club’s station north of Sydney. (Incidentally, VK2CZ holds the VK record in the Florida QSO Party!) Bernd, VK2IA/VK9AA, who is also a member of the same club — the Manly Warringa Radio Society, VK2MB — assisted in planning my visit. Bernd got the doors open in Canberra with the VK licensing folks, and I managed to get one of the last two-letter calls — VK2GC — before they stopped issuing them (for reasons I never understood). Incidentally, I tried to get VK2OJ (in memory of Jim White, K4OJ, SK, founder of the FCG) but that call was unavailable, as was VK2KG and any other code friendly two-letter combinations I could think of. VK2GC was meant to be.
David and Bernd mobilized the VK2MB club members to ready the station, which included replacing a defective rotor on their TH6 and adding 40 and 80 meter antennas. My contribution to the effort was INRAD filters for their new FT1000MP MkV, which they installed upon my arrival in Sydney. The station is co-located in a facility with a coastal marine monitoring station and a fire brigade. The club had previously had some RFI problems with these other services, but fortunately got them resolved in advance of the contest so I was able to operate without getting any knocks on the door in the middle of the night!
The contest is now history. I was pleased with the results: 2347 Q’s and 369 mults in 42 hours of operating, bagging a score of 2.52 meg. Now this is not an earth-shattering score by any means, but considering the circumstances, I didn’t think it was too bad. Runs were excellent on 10 m through 40 m. On 80 m, I was an “alligator” (all mouth, no ears) due to QRN and no pennant or beverage for receiving. Additionally, I had no 160 m antenna and, therefore, missed the few multipliers that would have been picked up on that band. Difficulties encountered included being unable to get radio control working with the logging software, RFI in the computer on 15m forcing me to run barefoot on that band, and having to QRT on Saturday night for two hours due to lighting.
I used a pre-production microHam CW Keyer loaned by Joe, W4TV. It worked flawlessly, and offered the advantage of CW keying and speed control that was fully integrated with the logging program, N1MM Logger. Code generation was handled external to the computer which resulted in perfect CW — no more stuttering CW when the CPU got overloaded!
Contesting from VK was out of the ordinary. Doing it from down under was reminiscent of contesting I did from LU back in the 80’s, and made me appreciate once again that the world’s population is largely north of the equator, making it essential to get into distant population centers to garner any kind of score. Furthermore, being south of the equator offers interesting long path openings over the course of a day. I spent a lot of time staring at the great circle map while CQ’ing, and wondering where to point the beam!
I went into the contest with set up still happening. David, VK2CZ, and Dom, VK2JNA, completed the final antenna work after the contest began at 11 am (local time) Saturday morning. I slept at the shack on Friday night which gave me time to arrange the operating position and get a feel for the station by running some pile ups. Being somewhat unfamiliar with the FT1000MP, I took the time to go through the manual and set the menu settings to my liking. Final equipment set up, however, did not happen until moments before the start of the contest.
I was plagued with computer problems. A week before the contest, my laptop developed a cantankerous problem of refusing to turn on and randomly locking up due to some kind of a video driver problem. Fortunately, David, VK2CZ, was able to lend me his laptop for the contest. I used N1MM Logger for the first time along with the microHam CW Keyer and VK2MB’s new FT1000MP MkV. I tried with the help of David, VK2CZ, Bernd, VK2IA, Serge, VK2IMM and Joe, W4TV, to get establish communications between the logging software and the MP, but the efforts were in vain, and I was forced to work the contest without radio control. Bernd, in the meantime, had to leave for Cocos Keeling, where he would make a tremendous score as VK9AA. A few times during the contest I realized that I was logging on the wrong band and, of course, had to stop and figure out exactly which station was worked at the time of the band change — something you don’t want to be doing in the heat of a pile up!
Antennas used were a TH6 at 60 ft., a full size half-wave 40 m vertical (designed and built by David), and an 80 m inverted vee hung from a tower at 100 ft. The terrain at the station is high and David says you can see the Pacific Ocean from up on the tower. Space limitations and power lines at the property prevented a 160 m antenna from being strung up. Not being able to get on 160 m was probably not a big loss, however, as QRN on 80m was horrific due to thunder storms and there was no receiving antenna anyway.
Here are my band by band comments:
80 m – 55 QSQs in 11 zones — 3, 15, 16, 17, 19, 21, 25, 28, 29, 32 and 33. NA stations making the log were all in zone 3. In order of being worked, they were W8AEF, W2VJN, K6OY, N2IC and K7UA. Many times stations were calling, but it was difficult, if not impossible, to pull them out of the QRN.
40 m – 537 QSOs, 111 mults. VK2CZ’s half-wave vertical played very well. It was interesting using the vertical and not having to think about an azimuth. Given the space limitations at the station, I am convinced that this was the right antenna for the job. VK2CZ is building a 4-square using this full size vertical design that should be dynamite!
20 m – 939 QSOs, 127 mults. 20m was a LONG PATH wonder. Many times I found long path preferable, and I was able to pull off two brilliant — to coin frequently used Aussie term — openings to NA zones, 2000z to 2145z on the first day, and a four hour run that began at 1900z on the second day. Also on the second day, I encountered a nice opening into SA over the South Pole around 0530z.
15 m – 677 QSOs, 92 mults. This was the workhorse band for JA, AS and EU. NA was sparse with only 16 stations being worked in zones 1, 3, 4 and 5. SA was even thinner with only HC8N, PJ2T and CX5AO making the log. Bill, K5GA, was the first NA station to be worked at 19 minutes into the contest on 15m.
10 m – 139 QSOs, 18 mults. 10m was an AS only band, with the only exceptions being HC8N, ZL6QH, KG6DX, T88AA and 6 VKs.
Here is a breakdown by band and zone of the 575 NA stations that were worked:
At least one QSO was made in every zone except for 2, 35 and 36. Three stations were worked on all 5 bands. They were ZL6QH, ZM1A and the ever-present UU7J. RL3A took the honors of being the most duped station in the log!
Sunrise was about 6 hours before the end of the contest on Monday morning, and it was during this time that I was blessed with the strong four hour long path opening on 20m to NA. After that the bands essentially died — probably due to a flare — to the point where there were no JA’s to speak of even on 15m. During the last hour, I eked out a few AS stations on 15 and 20, and even K9NS at 2307z on 15m, the last NA station to be worked in the contest.
I must offer special thanks to the members of Manly Warringa Radio Society, VK2MB, for the use of their facilities. And a special thanks to David, VK2CZ, Bernd, VK2IA, and Dom, VK2JNA, for their personal efforts in welcoming me into their inner circle and making this operation a success. Also kudos to Steve, N2IC, and Joe, W4TV, who helped me by recovering a damaged log database after we returned to the States.
VK2GC-1.jpg – George, K5KG, at the VK2GC contest station
VK2JNA Dom Bragge.jpg – VK2JNA, Dom, earned an FCG hat for hanging the 80 m antenna at 100 ft. in the cold rain!
VK2GC-ants3.jpg – TH6 in the background. The 80 m inverted vee was strung from the commercial tower in the foreground. Note the preponderance of antennas — mostly belong to the coastal marine monitoring station and the fire brigade.
9M2CNC_K5KG_VK2IA_VK2IMM.jpg. VKCC meeting in Sydney. L-R – Richard, George, Bernd and Sergey all earning their FCG Orange.
VK7GN Martin Luther.jpg. Martin Luther, VK7GN at his shack near Richmond, VK7. Martin was previously VK5GN when he lived in Adelaide and VK4GN when in Brisbane. Although an avid contester for many years, Martin expressed serious dissatisfaction about the negative impact packet has had on contesting.
ZL1ANH Graeme Hunt.jpg. Graeme Hunt, ZL1ANH, at his shack in Rotorua on ZL’s North Island. Following a personal tour or Rotorua’s geothermal pools and a Maori village, sharing a bottle of local red, and enjoying a barbie with Graeme and his family, it was off to the ham shack in the basement for an enjoyable run of JA’s, UA9/0’s and Euros while signing ZL/K5KG.
George Wagner, K5KG
5113 Higel Avenue
Sarasota, FL 34242