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N3BB's WRTC Experience

from Jim George, N3BB/5 on August 5, 2000
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It has taken me two weeks to get back home and to absorb my experiences of the WRTC in order to be able to write this letter.  My wife, Diana, and I stayed in Slovenia after the contest and played tourist until Friday, renting a car and driving up into Austria Wednesday, and over into eastern Slovenia and Croatia Thursday.  Those days, coupled with the Tuesday minibus tour to Venice enabled us to get several new experiences and to see places for the first time.  The whole WRTC Slovenian experience was terrific, and I'll never forget it.

The contest week really started for me at the Frankfurt airport where K4BAI and K4UEE and I met for the flight to Ljubjana.  We were impressed with the efficiency of the military pick up support at the Ljubjana Aerodrome, and it was exciting to see the banners and promotional signs as we approached Bled.  Diana and I had been in Athens, Greece, the week before on a business trip, which came up at the last minute, and I had missed the announcement of the station location draws the week before.  N3AD and I had received an email from Ducan, S52DG, one of our station hosts, welcoming us to the station, and Alan had read that.  

The WRTC HQ office at the Astoria was very well done, and the efficient dispersal of the bags with the information and tee shirts, maps, etc. was very well done.  N3AD and his wife, Gloria, showed up at the Hotel Astoria contest HQ room, about the same time I did, and one day earlier than originally planned, with a rental car packed to the gills, and so we were all there.  We were excited with the map showing the station locations.  The initial gatherings around beer at the outside hotel tables were high energy and charged with excitement, and it was nice to see many old friends and to meet many, many new ones. Bled was such a pretty location that it took my breath away with the lake, the island, the castle, and the mountains.  It reminded me of my boyhood home in the Appalachian Mountains in southern West Virginia in the USA.

The week was well planned, and the competitors' meeting was very interesting.  It was clear that people had thought of a wide range of questions regarding things we had not considered.  The SCC handled things well, and the judgement call about off times policy was well received. Later, Alan and I set up his radio in his hotel room, and found that the CW keying cable did not key the radio.  The internal wiring had broken and was in bad shape.   I had not brought my extra cable.  That put pressure on us.  N5TJ and K1TO gave us an extra resistor and NPN transistor, so we could make another one if needed, but we didn't have the wiring diagram. Fortunately, VE3EJ had an extra CW keying cable, and we appreciate that loan very much.  

We did have several small things to resolder and repair, and my soldering gun running off the 220V-110V transformer came in handy, even if it weighed 12 KG!   When Gloria came back to their room one day, she nearly fainted when she saw the hotel room totally covered from one side to the other with radios, supporting gear, a laptop, cables, a monitor, soldering stuff and a big transformer.  One upsetting event occurred when we plugged in the six position AC strip I had brought from the station at home.  It had oversurge protection MOVs in it, and apparently didn't like the 50 Hz power, as it exploded with a big bang, blowing the breaker and shutting down the room power for four hours until an electrician came.  He was a ham, and secretly explained to us where the breaker box was, so we could reset the breaker if we did it again!   

Alan's six position AC power strip worked OK at 50 Hz, so we had one working AC power strip for the gear.  In the mean while, we set up the station on a table out in the 4th floor corridor at the Park Hotel, and were the subject of quite a few strange looks as hotel guests passed by. The other open ended item for us was an adapter we had forgotten to bring to connect the external keyboard to the laptop.  Thanks to S53R and S59AA for helping us find two, not one of these things! All I all, that day was unnerving!

The pileup tape competition was well done, and the process of conducting the two modes was done well in the Bled festival Center, a nice facility. Nervous energy was in the air now for sure. 

When Alan and I had the chance to meet the host group and our judge in the Hockey Rink over beers and a meal, it was really exciting.   Our judge was the well known Montenegrin contester, Ranko, YT6A.  The hosts were two brothers, S52DG and S52LD,  and their two really good friends, S52QM and S52MW.  

On Thursday, the opening ceremonies were quite impressive to us all, and everyone enjoyed the "procession," the speeches, the dancers, and the whole scene.  Later, at dinner that night the atmosphere turned a bit more serious as the week was moving on, and the time to drive to the stations was approaching the next day.  Our hosts had put together a station on an 850 meter hilltop close to a very small village named Golica (pronounced Go-leech-ah), about 10 KM from Zelezniki. There is an electrical power line to the station because the ten houses in Golica are only a KM away, so no generator was needed.  That 10KM takes a while to drive because it's straight up and the narrow road becomes gravel!  The station was well designed with good electrical grounds and a terrific view of the valley below, and beyond to the OE alps about 40 KM away.  There is a clear shot to the northwest (USA and Europe) and to the east.  

One of the stunning churches seem commonly in Slovenia is located on a near hill top about 100 meters higher, and the carillon bells late at night and early in the morning were surreal with their clarity and loudness in the high mountain air.  The station is located in a container building about two or three meters wide by five or six meters long.  A Slovenian army tent had been erected 30 meters away for sleeping Friday night.  We were excited and ready to set up the station, but Ducan (pronounced Dushan), S52DG, politely requested that we drive to meet the parents.  "It will just take a few minutes," he said.  The meetings were terrific, with each of the three stops having a nice spread of white wine and some sort of fruit juice, usually home made, plus some killer good pastries and cookies.  All the parents were really nice and would not take "no" as a reasonable position when they offered their specialties.  No one spoke a word of English but there was a lot of serious smiling, grinning, and gesturing and laughing, and things went swimmingly.


'Honestly, the overall scene was such that I expected Julie Andrews to walk up over the hillside'

We got a chance to see the very nice home stations of the four hosts, as the hilltop station was fairly new, and all had maintained their stations at home as well.  So after three hours or so of the home tours, we were on the way back to the hilltop, but we had one more stop to make, lunch with the mayor of the region around Zelezniki.  A nice man, he spoke some English, and Alan and I had a wonderful meal including veal and mushroom sauce, a terrific treat.  We were presented nice gifts including the lace doilies and small cakes for which Zelezniki; a town of 5000 residents is famous.  Zelezniki is translated as Iron City in Slovenian, and it has a history as an iron center back 1000 years in time, with the original iron metal smelter still standing in the town center.

By this time, we were anxious to set up the station, and confirm that everything worked, plus we wanted to get on the air with our S5 portable calls.  The hosts told us that the weather forecast was dreadful, with a major cold front from the northwest dropping into Slovenia Saturday during the contest.  The forecast was for very bad storms, with severe weather possible!  Things looked bad.  So the whole group drove back up to the hilltop dwelling on this news.  Since we were the closest station to Bled, about 50 minutes away, and since Ranko had his family with him, he went back to Bled Friday night.  Alan and I finished setting everything up at the station about 9 PM.  The 1000 Watt transformer was running the station on 110 Volts quite well.  There were a few RF feedback issues, but when we grounded all the equipment, that went away, and we appeared to be set.  

The hosts left, and we were sitting at an outside table eating a late snack right at dusk.  Only the two of us were there.  Honestly, the overall scene was such that I expected Julie Andrews to walk up over the hillside to our meadow in the fading light, an orchestra to appear out of the thick woods nearby, and for Julie to launch into "the hills are alive with the sound of music!"  What a memorable scene.  Later, as we were starting to get on the air, my KC CW keyer (to be used along with the keyboard) suddenly went berserk and would not send CW.  A check of its small power supply showed that it was putting out only 7.8 Volts of DC with the 50 Hertz supply, and the spec on the keyer was 8-15 Volts.  We swapped another 13 Volt DC supply and it worked fine.  So out came the soldering iron, a spare male RCA plug was connected to some wire, and we used the 13 Volts outlet off the back of my FT1000MP.  All that took another hour to fix, with some additional angst, so now it was 11 PM Friday night.  We taped the great circle map,our band plan, and an ITU chart to the shack walls, and finally we were ready!  

Both of us got on the air and worked some people, and the station seemed to get out well.  Then we had to force ourselves to sleep.  About 12:30 AM, I went to the tent, and lay there listening to the sound of Alan working people on SSB.  About 1:30 AM, I walked back to the station building through the meadow and told Alan it was important for both of us to get a decent night's sleep.  He finally came to the tent, and immediately fell asleep with a serious case of loud high altitude snoring!  So now he was asleep, and I was the one still awake!  It was hot Friday night before the weather front, but the tent was comfortable up at the 850 meter elevation.

We both woke at sunrise at about 5 AM local time Saturday.  We tried to nap a bit more but soon we were up.  It was hard to believe that this was the actual day the contest would begin, only a few hours from that time.  For the past several years, I had hoped and planned for this day, and now it was here!  The carillon bells were cascading us with great church bell music, and the overall scene was fantastic.  Soon, our wonderful station hosts were there with a big continental breakfast with terrific mocha coffee and home baked breads.  The morning was spent meeting quite a few townspeople from Golica and Zelezniki who drove up or walked up the mountain the see the "Americans who are going to represent our area" in the international competition, according to the newspaper interview with Ducan, S52DG.  Apparently we were the first Americans to be in the area, and were some sort of item of interest.  As 1200Z approached, Ranko returned from Bled, the townspeople left, the hosts retreated to the tent, and we got ready to go.

Ranko opened the sealed envelope and we looked at our call, S563X, which I could not pronounce.  Each separate letter and number requires separate facial muscles to say the sound, and the whole thing was and is difficult for me.  But since Alan was going to do the SSB and I the CW, it didn't matter that much as Alan had no problems pronouncing the call.  The new call was programmed into the laptop, and at 1200Z, the magical bell rang! 

We started on 15 meter SSB, but with no results at all!  Finally we got one answer to our CQ, but it was clear that we could not run SSB at that time.  We switched to CW, and had a good first hour.  The contest was a blur.  The weather front hit Saturday night, and it rained all night steadily until Sunday morning-ten hours straight.  S9 rain static for hours on end.  The temperature dropped sharply, and we had the keep out shack door closed to keep warm.  The cold weather clouds raced up from the valleys and across our hilltop.  We did poorly on our mult plan, as well as with the inability to run phone rates.   All in all we were very disappointed, and would like a replay, but such is life. 

Shortly after the contest ended at 12Z Sunday, my wife, Diana, arrived from Germany at Ljubjana, where our hosts met her at the airport.  Gloria Donziger came up to the site, our host families brought their kids and parents, and all of us were a great big family.  A "combi" vehicle, big enough to carry all the radio gear, was there, and we packed up and loaded it with a lot of stuff!  Good byes were made, and down the mountain we went, on our way to a wonderful restaurant on another high hilltop nearby.  Ducan, Borut, Tomasz, and Neyo insisted on treating us all to a final great meal and we were able to wrap up the contest and be driven back to Bled. 

Sunday night was fun, but the scores indicated we had not reached our goals, and so we were worried about that.  Monday brought the group excursion to the Postoina Caverns and the prosciutto ham place on the bus tour, and concluded with the closing ceremonies and the top three team awards, and the final supper gathering in the ice rink.  On our minibus trip to and from Venice, I got to know VA7RR, LY3BA, and K3NA a lot better.  We talked about the contest almost the whole ride there!  'RR and his XYL and Diana and I did the gondola ride together, and it was fun.  What a week.

I speak for Alan in offering sincere thanks to the SCC Organizing Committee, which did such a first class job.  The gracious hospitality of the station hosts was a common theme among all the teams, and our hosts were simply wonderful.  I believe that lifelong friendships were made.  Future WRTCs will have a high level of overall competence to match based on the Slovenian WRTC in 2000.  Thanks to the competitors and judges for the collegial atmosphere.  

This was an experience of a lifetime!

73,  Jim George N3BB/5

Austin, Texas

Member Comments: Add A Comment
N3BB's WRTC Report Reply
by N4ZR on August 6, 2000 Mail this to a friend!
Great job, Jim! I hope other contestants will contribute their stories, and that someone is working on a full-blown QST article, rather than a quick Up Front note as in the past...
WRTC 2000 Reply
by WW3S on August 7, 2000 Mail this to a friend!
After the last WRTC there was a lot of notification about how the non-WRTC stations did; who worked the most WRTC stations, who won shirts/letter openers, etc. Is this information available now? If not will it be ready soon?
73 Jamie WW3S
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