GM0B : CQ WW SSB 2003
Tom Costford MM0BHX
March 13, 2004
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Our fourth MULTI MULTI contest, from our Third location !
By Brian Devlin GM0EGI, edited by MM0BHX
The Contest group of Mid Lanark Amateur Radio Society once again participated as GM0B, in the SSB section of the CQ WW contest, this year from a new location near the town of Stonehouse in South Lanarkshire, Scotland. ( IO85AQ )
Our planning for this years contest started almost immediately after we arrived home from the previous event, whilst everything was still fresh in our minds. We decided that we really needed to improve our LF scores, so we would have to purchase a 40 metre beam and a “4-Square” for 80 metres.
We also discussed the possibility of finding a contest site “Closer to Home”, as although the site at Dunnet head ( used the two previous years ) was great for antennas, the accommodation was a little cramped and it is a full days drive from where we live. We were also aware of the fact that we were driving NORTH when the solar cycle indicated that we should be going SOUTH !
Finding a site that is suitable for setting up an antenna farm for a “Multi- Multi” station is not an easy task. As I have said before, it takes a LOT of space to put up monoband beams for 10, 15, 20 and now, we also had to consider the possibility of a 40 metre beam and four verticals for our 80m 4-Square; not forgetting the top band inverted “L”. In addition to a large chunk of real estate, well away from houses with TV's, we needed accommodation with plenty of space for six contest stations, suitable catering facilities and sleeping quarters for at least 10 people.
Fortunately our needs were answered when Iain GM0OQV mentioned that there was a scout outdoor centre about 10 miles from our club premises and that it had dormitories, kitchen, showers, a large hall/classroom and about 2.5 acres of land. Iain having spoken to one of the centre members and knowing it would normally be empty in October, felt confident we would be able rent the place for the contest.
It was decided that we should enquire about hiring the Scout centre, so a delegation comprising of Iain GM0OQV, Bob GM4VWV, Phil GM0LIR and myself, arranged to meet the caretaker and have a look around. After our visit to the centre, we instantly agreed that it would be ideal for our purposes. The main hall was excellent and for the first time in our contesting career it would enable us to have all the radio stations in the same room. This meant that we could network the laptops we use for logging, enabling us to maximise our score by electronically passing multipliers and information from the DX cluster.
As this was our fourth year contesting we had already purchased a lot of gear and this year would be no exception, the main items of purchase being a two element 40 metre Cushcraft beam, four Chelcom verticals for 80 metres, a phased switching unit and a control box. The phasing unit and switch box were purchased new from Comtec in the United States and the antennas were purchased second hand from reliable sources.
We also purchased several 2.4GHz wireless network cards for the laptops and Tom MM0BHX spent a couple evenings in the club setting up the software to get the laptops to “talk “ to each other. We got the network fully operational and found it to be a great advantage during the contest, it worked faultlessly for the full 48 hours.
Spring and Summer of 2003 came and went and all of a sudden October was upon us. We planned to arrive at the site on the Wednesday before the contest to set up the towers on the first day. As Mark GM0WIB and Lorraine MM0BCR were coming from the North of Scotland, they came down the previous night to stay with me, to ensure an early start the following morning. Mark had a job interview on the Tuesday, which had originally been arranged for the day before the contest, but Mark rearranged the interview ( very little comes between a member of the GM0B and operating in the contest ). The Wednesday arrived and we converged from several directions to our new home for the next 6 days.
When we arrived at the site there was two inches of wet snow on the ground which was unexpected, however, it didn't deter us and we started to position the towers, run the coax and lay out the rotator cables. Everything went to plan ( for a change ) and by nightfall the snow had disappeared, the towers were in position and the majority of cabling had been run. In the evening we had the luxury of being able to pre-assemble the antennas indoors in the spacious dining room, The 10, 15. 20 and 40 metre beams together with the four 80 metre verticals were all built and placed outside for a quick installation the next morning. We also partially set up the large hall/classroom as or shack, arranging the tables in a “U” shape and roughly positioning the rigs, amplifiers, power supplies, laptops and rotator controllers.
Mark GM0WIB and Gordon GM7VYR had volunteered to be chefs ( Mark was a chef in a previous life ! ) and whilst most of the group were setting up stations, antennas. etc., they were preparing a superb meal for all of us. After dinner we discussed our plans for the next few days, then it was off to bed for a good nights sleep.
Thursday dawned and after a large breakfast, again provided by Mark and Gordon, it was heads down and off to work ( Hi Ho, Hi Ho ! ). We had 2 teams, one team installing the beams and the other installing the 80m 4-Square. It took most of the day to get all the antennas installed with no major problems except one vertical snapped, but was quickly repaired and an exceptionally high SWR was experienced on the 40 metre beam. We therefore decided to replace the existing matching coil at the antenna feed point, Kenny GM1MMK our “Mr Fix-it” constructed a "Monster Choke" and after its installation everything was fine.
Iain, GM0OQV had recently purchased a Yaesu FT 817 5 watt QRP rig and he plugged it into the coax cable that was hanging from the 40 metre beam and started to operate from the field. It was quite amusing to see him standing under a 60 foot tower holding this tiny rig connected by heavy coax, through the "Monster Choke" to a huge 2 element monobander.
We were in the unusual position by Thursday tea time that everything was erected, set up and fully operational. Therefore as a treat and to reduce the workload on our “chefs”, we had a Chinese meal which was ordered from the local carry out.
Friday morning, not much to do, but to check that the guy ropes, make sure the verticals were still standing ! ( See stories from previous years ), some fine tuning and really just playing radio to test out the equipment. Whilst fine tuning our antennas, a man appeared and announced that he was the local farmer from the house just behind the trees. TVI I immediately thought, as we had spent quite a lot of time on the bands the previous evening, operating with the full legal limit to test the gear.
Fortunately, my first thought was wrong, he wasn't there to complain about TVI, he was just investigating why there was such a hive of activity at the centre. Apparently the centre had been broken into and vandalised a few years earlier, but due to the farmers quick actions and telephone call the culprits were caught red handed by the police.
On seeing the amount of antennas that had suddenly “sprung up” he was very interested and we explained to him that we had rented the centre to take part in a world wide radio contest. He told us that the centre had been used before by VHF operators and as the site was more than 220 metres above sea level, with no obstructions in any direction, we could see why. We invited him in to see the “shack” and he was both extremely surprised and impressed at the amount of gear we had. We told him to come back during the contest and see us in action, but he never returned.
The rest of the day was taken up with the group pottering around, saving their energy for the contest and playing with the 40m beam. This was the first time anyone in our group had used a 40m Yagi and it was great fun ~ Phil, GM0LIR broke a pile up to work VK9XD, Tom MM0BHX worked VU and I worked a BY4 station ! Later Mark, Phil, Simon and myself went for a walk down the road to have a look at our antenna farm from further a field. ( As you do ! ) Evening came, we had our last meal together as a group, then relaxed to get ready for the contest.
Midnight ( 01:00 local time ) the contest started, there was no propagation on 10 or 15m, but all the other bands were open. Everyone was involved, working the bands, logging, arranging skeds, passing details over the network, watching the cluster, no-one was idle. I was operating top band and for the first hour and a half, everything seemed to be going fine then the Ameritron 811 amplifier suddenly stopped working, zero output ! Time to call "Mr Fix-it", the amp was taken out of line and the problem found ~ one of the 3 valves had blown. Kenny removed the faulty valve, tested the amp and surprisingly it was working albeit at two third output.
What caused the problem ?, well “Murphy's law” dictates that if something can go wrong it will go wrong. We chalked that one up to Murphy. Phil GM0LIR who owns the amplifier had ordered new valves, but they had not arrived in time for the contest, ( Lesson 1 : Get everything sorted well in advance ) so we had to use the existing valves. The station had been set up and the drive level from the rig had been regulated, but someone must fiddled with the settings before the contest started and it hadn't been noticed. ( Lesson 2 : Check, double check and then check again. )
The contest continued, lively at times and quiet at others, with each operator working their allocated slot things went well for the rest of the night. During the Saturday afternoon shift we decided to put the Acom-1000A amplifier, which we had used on 80 metres through the night, onto 10m to increase our QSO rate. After just a few minutes, Craig MM0BUL who was operating on 10m suddenly shouted “The amplifier has shut down”. The Acom which has an excellent auto protection system, had tripped reporting **soft fault mode** and diagnosed there was an “ARC“ problem. We quickly swapped the linears back and rechecked the gear, everything seemed fine so we assumed that there was nothing seriously wrong and carried on.
Later that evening I had gone to bed to get some sleep, when Bob GM4VWV came in and woke me saying “The 10m beam is on FIRE !” The arcing problem that had first came to light in afternoon had come back to haunt us ~ the plastic tube in the gamma match section of the 10 metre beam was melting and we had our own fantastic fireworks display illuminating the sky. The beam was lowered and Kenny got to work immediately to quickly sort the problem. With a “GM0B” modification the beam worked perfectly for the rest of the contest. Later investigation proved that water ( perhaps melted snow or ice ) had leaked into the gamma match and had caused high power shorting. We really should have investigated the problem during the afternoon when we had the first indication of something being wrong, another lesson learned ! ( Lesson 3 ? )
Interestingly enough I had purchased the book “up 2“ by Roger G3SXW, a few weeks before the contest and had read he had a similar problem with an A4S beam whilst operating as ZC4SXW in 1992, although his arcing problem occurred when a cross arm worked loose in the wind.
During the contest we discovered that there had been a massive magnetic storm and SID, these are the problems that we cannot sort ( not even Mr Fix-it ) On the Sunday evening the higher bands really did suffer and both the 10 & 15m bands started to close around 17:00 GMT. There was no activity on these bands at all and they appeared to be totally dead. However, unexpectedly at 19:00 GMT whilst CQing to an apparently dead band I was called by a W7 station. I was completely taken by surprise, being convinced the band was dead and yet this contact was the first of a run of 46 west coast USA stations in the ensuing hour. ( Lesson 4 : CQ even when you think the band is dead )
Almost 48hours had disappeared, the contest was nearing conclusion, everyone was tired and calling upon their reserves to try and get as many more QSO's as possible before the finish. Iain GM0OQV was on 80m, Phil GM0LIR on 40m and Lorraine MM0BCR was doing a great job on top band. Operating top band during the last few hours of the contest is one of the most thankless tasks of the contest, as by this time you have worked all of the top band stations heard. This is the second year running Lorraine has had this operating slot and the statistics show that Lorraine worked more than 30 new contacts in the last two hours. This hard work really helped increase our overall score, well done Lorraine !
The contest finally came to an end, it was over, the event we had spent a year planning for had finished ! A feeling of fulfilment ! yet a feeling of emptiness ~ a strange feeling ? A few of the rigs and linear amplifiers were quickly packed, but the main stripping of the stations could wait until the morning. We had a quick group debrief, a beer, then off to bed for a well earned rest.
The next morning we had breakfast and then started the task of stripping down. After four contests as a Multi-Multi, at three different locations, it still surprises me at how quickly a team of dedicated people can dismantle an antenna farm and clear the site. By 14:00 the site was completely cleared, the towers were down, the trailers were filled, hitched to the cars and we were ready to head off home. ( This is when the short drive home is really appreciated ! )
How did we do ? We made more contacts this year than any other contest before and we made our highest unconfirmed score. All equipment had worked well, the laptop networking had been excellent working faultlessly for the entire contest. The 40 metre beam worked better than expected and we worked almost 1,200 contacts, a vast improvement on previous years.
The 80 metre 4-Square also worked well and it was great being able to “beam“ into the quadrant of our choice whilst at the same time nulling signals from other directions. The other bands were as expected at this time of the sunspot cycle, although we did suffer at our latitude, especially when the sun decided to erupt on the Saturday.
What did we learn ? We need to increase our score on top band by improving our antenna system, as an inverted “L” and/or dipole is not good enough for a contest. Top band Skeds made with Caribbean stations earlier on 40m could not be fulfilled ~ We could hear them, but they could NOT hear us. We also have to get our 15m & 20m monoband beams higher, they were far too low this year.
We thank everyone who helped us this year, particularly the Mid Lanark Amateur Radio Society for their cash donation and for the loan of club equipment, the Lanarkshire Area Scouting Association for letting us hire their outdoor centre which suited our needs to a tee. ( We hope to use this location again in 2004 and our deposit has already been sent. )
Thanks also to Peter MM0CEZ and Colin MM0FCM who helped us with initial problems setting up the network on the laptops. Colin also assisted in stripping down the antenna farm after the contest and now looks forward to operating as a member of the GM0B team in CQ WW SSB 2004.
We presently await receipt of the special printed QSL cards and will forward them to all contacts, direct ( where envelopes were provided ) or via the bureau. We anticipate they will be sent out mid February 2004.
Finally thanks to everyone who worked us, we appreciate your QSO's and hope you will work us again in 2004 where once again we will be operating as "Golf Mike Zero Bravo" If you haven't already worked us, please listen out for us and give us a call, we need your point !
The GM0B team for CQ WW SSB 2003 were.
Phil - GM0LIR, Iain - GM0OQV, Tom - MM0BHX, Mark - GM0WIB, Lorraine - MM0BCR, Kenny - GM1MMK,, Gordon - GM7VYR, Craig - MM0BUL, Simon - MM1GBK, Bob - GM4VWV and Brian - GM0EGI.
If you have enjoyed this tale and would like to read about our trials, tribulations and experiences in previous years, please visit our website at -
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