I was very pleased to receive the results of the 2023 Commonwealth Contest a few days ago. In the past I have often struggled to make more than a few tens of contacts in the contest so this year I was very surprised and excited to make 160 contacts, about 100 more that I have ever achieved before. For the first time conditions were such that I could operate as a “run” station instead of strictly “search and pounce”. From my QTH near Whitehorse it is also difficult to make contacts in AfricaI so it was very special to contact 5Z4VJ in Kenya. I also really appreciate the summary I received that shows my errors. I think these summaries are really helpful because they show common errors that suggest improvements for next time.
At the time of the Commonwealth Contest the weather here is often cold with morning temperatures in the mid minus 30C range, although it tends to warm up quite a lot by the afternoons. It is nice to be inside enjoying the contest and the sense of friendly comradeship that seems to me to be a feature of this contes.
Every BERU weekend we have a strong storm. No exception yesterday with high winds and heavy wet snow! Early on, my remote fan dipole was impacted with high SWR and the ATU was going crazy trying to keep up. I moved to the high bands early as aresult. Later around dusk the situation had resolved itself somehow and I could operate on 80 and 40 but with reduced power to 200W. The expected promise of a wide open 10M did not materialize for me but 20 and 15 were very productive. Suprised by calls from 9J2REK 15M and 5H6PJ 20M ..thanks! The storm dumped about 20cm here at home and I took two breaks to clear snow during the day. A number of requests for QSY were gladly accomodated. Managed to break 500 Q’s in the 12hrs which is better then last year by a nice margin. Many thanks to all who called and especially those who called me by name! I was able to recipocate in several cases. 73 Frank VO1HP
This year’s travel had a late change meaning it was in the end a more direct flight from Heathrow to Cayman, my usual Chicago leg instead occurring afterwards. Lucky perhaps as the US weather took a big hit at the time I would have been there and could easily have floored me. This still means I arrive at Cayman airport somewhat overdressed with my anorak over my jacket, as straight afterwards I will be driving three hours North from Chicago into Wisconsin to a regular customer and it can still be wintery there. They can only predict their weather a few days ahead at this time of year. On the last hour of that drive the local radio stations’ knowledge of The Good Book is something to behold. Think rural Essex, but much, much bigger, and with a few big humps as you go further up. But back on Cayman the customs guys just cannot get their head around my dress code and laugh out loud at this silly Brit. But I digress.
The ZF1A club station continues to be improved by its team of US regulars as a combined year-round contest site but now always with full remote capability, IT managed from the US by Marty and Bill who fortunately are on hand to help me fix things. During these moments I am the local tech, pluging and replugging as I am told. Covid drove this evolution and my 2019 picture now looks remarkably dated. This year there are the requisite big screens as seen in so many shacks, four indeed. I chose to operate the two K3s as SO2R from one PC and on one logging screen as the DxLog User Interface is designed to do this and networked handling of serial numbers has never been without at least small glitches, for me anyway. In the end even despite this there was one when I tried to enter things rapidly knowing I could put the callsign in the field after the fact: DON’T DO THIS – it remembers the last serial you had used on that line – which was 8 back – and sends it. So that old serial also gets used twice.
The sea air and winds here means there’s usually at least one antenna with rotation issues, but not this year, I think for the first time. There were a couple of software issues that were most likely RF-induced – who knows? It seems that I am the only regular op who turns the beams shack-wards to point at VK/ZL. The US regulars achieve their world leading scores in the big 48 hour events without doing this. However, after application of a big ferrite there was nothing fatal apart from one of the radios lost its amp part way through (it ‘logged itself out’ – different from fusing or sticking relays I guess!), and the beverage selector stuck. So the last few hours was SO1.5R.
The first ten minutes on 80 said everything I needed to know about LF conditions – I’ve never heard VE3EJ quiet on 80 at the start here, ever. So it was slow. And moving to 40 was slow too, until time to move to 20, or even further HF. The game became: not missing where the action was going to move to by the time the sun comes up. As usual there were big scores ahead of me by that time. Would I catch up during the last hours as often happens? – I guess we’ll find out.
The good HF conditions meant I was able to hear more VKs/ZLs than usual and a bunch I have never previously heard. Some seemed to have antennas for 10m only – what is it they do when there are no sunspots? 10 and 15 were at times equally high rate while 20 was potentially oblivion for the people I led there.
By afternoon tea time – I stay on UK time for eating and sleeping – it was clear this was a quiet year for the micro-ants. They never found my coffee cup (and I wash up my plate and any cutlery immediately) but stayed busy on a bit of horizontal conduit seeming very involved with a spiders web behind a switch box. I decided to leave them to it and just watch when things were slow.
So I spent a long time on HF working until for the first time some of the bonuses started to dry up before making to move to 40m for the UK opening. But the HF opening had started very slowly – I could see from the map that the sun was high over me and well up over ZL and then Eastern VK but no activity. I really wonder if it was just that – no activity – I’m not sure they get out of bed that early. And maybe who can blame them as their average tally can be twenties or thirties for the whole event, like for some in the UK but even more so. Remember when this contest lasted a whole week – what must it have been like tuning and tuning and tuning?
So to 40, but wow, what was that all about? Weak, watery raspy signals when they would normally have been really clear and loud. But a few were really clean – e.g. G4BUO – were you on your T-vertical Dave with no high angle? Then I switched to the on-ground Beverage – and that cleaned up the signals a treat. And still 70% of pile-up callers on zero Hz offset – AGGHH. The smart money at 50-100Hz off win every time.
80 was worse still, with a thin blanket of QRN. This was going to be a long night! So I went back to use up what I could of HF until it was time to get my 90-minute nap. Alarm set properly this year! It was great though to work G4NBS on 20 at 01:20.
When I awoke 40 was now working pretty well, and 80 somewhat better, though still a bit thundery making me have to work slowly and carefully to hopefully keep the error rate down on received serials. I know there were some weak ones hiding in the noise, apologies. There isn’t a SW beverage – an improvement for the future.
I remember reading in ‘Reflections in a Rosebowl’ Dave BUO had said words to the effect of ‘never make the mistake of moving to 20 on the Sunday, it’s not worth it’. Up to now that has always been true, but not this year. Everyone was there having a ball just after 07:00 until in the last hour or so when they had all moved to 40 again. It was a difficult balance whether to look for bonuses really slowly by dipping onto 80, or stay on 20 where the raw Q-rate was so much better. Force of habit was fighting against the lack of action. Doing both was not really an option on account of having the listen so carefully on 80.
I’ve not yet been here in a sunspot high year – is it always like this? I hope next year I will find out more.
I saw G5WS comments about non-BERU callers – it was an averagely challenging year for me, I would say, with callers insisting they are deaf. Even once you get the message through they are back 20 minutes later. I too heard the W sending BERU – thought I’d made a mistake in my tiredness. The last three hours always involve micro-sleeps, often during QSOs. I think three during one QSO was the peak – what must it seem like at the other end?
I know far too much about S versus H versus 5, having H at the end of my home call. It’s no coincidence that my contest call ends with an E. Although on balance I now think I is best – IIY is so easy to read, don’t you think?
Noise is creeping up year on year, and even noise at night on HF is a challenge with conditions open later. Interestingly, the ‘80/40 beverage’ made for better RX clarity even on 20m.
Its great fun having all the HQ stations – thanks to all those who sacrifice their own entries to do this.
One more year on and the Covid thing is seemingly totally over, even here, and the stats are no longer reported. Apart from airport staff, I think I only saw one mask over the five days. However, I paid a visit to my favourite restaurant, the Lighthouse, with its private jetty to watch the sunset from, only to find they had obviously let the gardener go. And the head chef.
I am still invited to drink water out of jam jars with thick, coarse threads. I told this story somewhere and was told “You are supposed to use a straw – silly!” But I’ve yet to be offered one.
I enjoyed the BERU this year but as is the case for several stations
it didnt look good the week before.
Down here at 43 deg S the Roaring Forties arrived with a vengeance.
Strong gusty winds that brought some of my antennas down. I managed to
get them up again but as the 15m delta loop was tangled in a tree I
had to hastily make a new one Hi.
To add to that I had to replace the plate choke in my amplifier. Not
an easy job but pleased I did it and survived the EHT hi.
The higher bands were really good. I ran barefoot on 10m but did
pretty well. A good reply rate, theres more room on 10m Hi.
I was happy with 40/20 and 15m. I worked mainly VK and ZL on 80m but
also CF3A at 1013 Z.
I worked all the UK HQ stns, some on more than one band .The exception
was GD5WS who I missed.
I was pleased with my 279 QSO's. As always I wish I could have worked more.
I managed my sleep schedule better this year I feel.
Thanks to Bob G3PJT. The RSGB and my VK colleagues, Steve VK6VZ and
others for their operating and organisational skills.
73 Alan VK7BO
From: Andrew VK1DA Date: Wed, 15 Mar 2023 21:56:05 GMT Hi all,Thanks for the invitation to operate as vk1wia, it was a pleasure and I believe I worked all other VK HQ stations at least once, which was neat. From my perspective the portable operation was great fun, I am definitely a field day junkie and this was an opportunity not to be missed.I find those huge signals from UK and VE stations quite astonishing, and working some African prefixes as well is a real treat for someone who rarely even hears any African country during the rest of the year. I can still recall marvelling at hearing GB5CC at s9+20 on either 20 or 15, simply amazing. I had to overcome some station deficiencies which I will write about elsewhere, but eventually arrived at a combination that worked. I used my Begali key, which I rarely take to a field location but it is simply a pleasure to use for higher speeds (20 is about my usual limit!) It’s also very nice to have the big guns in the vk teams knowing my name and including it in the contacts, that is appreciated by all HQ stations I’m sure. Note to self: keep a list of names of the HQ ops handy for same purpose. 73 Andrew VK1DA/VK2DA
This email is a thank you on behalf of the 2023 Commonwealth Contest participants who managed a QSO with one or more of the VK HQ stations.
Apart from VK3WIA,operated by Lee, I know that you have very modest antenna systems and don’t normally compete against the QRO stations. Andrew operated VK1WIA as a portable station from battery and solar panel power on a hill in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT).
The VK HQ team racked up 807 QSOs that would not be in participant logs with out your time and efforts. Below is the contact summary from your entered logs:
I will be in contact again early in 2024 to see if you are available to operate a HQ station again or know someone in your call area that may be able to take over your operating role.
The great conditions of 10m made 2023 a hugely enjoyable CC – in fact, the conditions on ‘Ten’ reminded me of those back in 1970 just before I got my licence as G3ZZD
However, an IC-7610 into a 2-ele cubical spider quad at 15m is much better to use than an HRO MX into an attic-mounted dipole! Perhaps not quite so much fun though?
I actually did go a bit back to the future this year in terms of equipment – N1MM+ got ditched in favor of EI5SD’s Super Duper – the latter is so much easier in terms of keeping track of bonuses to me.
The PC keyboard was used entirely for logging and all sending done on a single-lever paddle attached to a Samson ETM9C keyer – with no memories used. And I ditched the IC-7610’s built-screen in favour of having an HDSDR bandscope – on the same screen as SD.
Going back to sending with my right hand and entering logging data with the left was quite testing, but kept me wide-awake, even during the middle of the night. And, as used to happen, in the last couple of hours of the contest, my sending got pretty ragged. Apologies to Peter G4BVH, who suffered the worse instance of the paddle getting away from me.
I also used a tip that learnt many years ago for contesting, when filtering in rigs was much simpler and cruder. Leave the receive bandwidth about 500Hz and let your ears do the filtering. I think I missed a lot less stations in pileups who were calling a couple of hundred Hz up or down.
As for the rest, 20m had a really rough, noisy feel in the first six hours of the contest, it was fantastic to hear 15m LP to the UK open up and to work right across VE on 10m. Memo to myself: spend more time on 40m next year.