I arrived late Wednesday to put in 2nd prep day at the station to get SO2R working properly with this year’s investment in a Microham MK2R+, and also to make sure I was reasonably topped up on sleep. Good job as hours were lost trying to get CAT control of the 2nd radio working but I think static damage had done for it, so it was in Dumb Radio mode. Lost a few friends learning how to work the combo earlier this year, but it’s kind of there now. Microham support is great, Win-Test support seems to have gone into retirement.

Did some beacon monitoring Thur and Fri so knew when the bands would open, especially 15. Except of course, it barely did on the day and was late arriving even then. At times it was reasonable, but signals have to be present too! It was the two on 10m that made me smile, particularly as VE3EJ who found me out of nowhere. He had to have had a skimmer watching as I was only there on a QSY visit, which itself was a nice surprise. Even the 20m opening to VK/ZL was late arriving. Reasonable when it did though I learned again that signals in ZF often do not arrive by great circle routes; should have been almost due West but needed to be due South – off the side of the beam if you are not watching out. And turning via North.

If only the QRN had been kinder on 80m Sunday morning, true S9+20 most of the time, no matter which antenna. You do not expect to have to struggle to work G4PIQ in the morning. I’m sure there were loads I could not hear, apologies.

On 80 for receiving I had the choice of the 2-ele or the Shared Apex Loop Array or beverages for EU and US. In the end I settled for diversity with the 2-ele and mostly the SA loop and let my head sort out the mess as the signals and QRN danced around each other in a 3D soundscape. Try it if you get the chance.

Lost a few minutes at the start on 80m owing to high antenna SWR – Nooooo! Must be my switch box; quickly find another piece of co-ax and route around it. Knew I should have uprated it for 1kW working, though it seemed ok last year? Still 3:1 and linear tripping. AND on the dipole. What’s wrong?????? Bugger – had accidentally put K3 in ‘Split’ so had been CQing on 3795; explained the slow start. Entering ‘split’ too easily is one of the K3’s few ergonomic faults.

The club station at ZF1A has been upgraded to include high power band filters and tri- or quadplexers for the antennas, with antenna switching so you can beam in one direction or multiple simultaneously, selectable per band. This is a luxury that is a great investment, even if installing it on a large wooden board did cost the view out of the window.

I’ve got the food preparation down to a finer art of pre-packed sandwich bags and can almost eat without stopping in the quieter times, though crumbs in the keyboard remain a hazard. This year’s choice was half a round each of cheese and peanut butter or of ham and peanut butter, which I find very contest friendly. A 4-bar Twix was handy as individual treats after long pile-ups. Fluids were water, a large flask of coffee and two flavours of fruit smoothie; Mighty Mango and Berry Blast. Add a banana and a Corners yogurt and it was almost a balanced diet. No micro-ants this year so immediate washing up was less of a burning priority that it had been last year. Though at one point a large caterpillar crawled around the top of the Win-Test screen and gave me a fright…

Sleep is now rationed to one 90 minute deep cycle and some unwitting microsleeps especially in the last hour; there is no good time except with hindsight. But I can see from the scoring rate charts that some just don’t seem to need sleep. Beats me how they do that.

Again almost nothing from the Far East. Must work harder looking for them next time.

Travelling was mostly straight forward with the same route in as last year, via a prospect – now a customer – in Reedsburg, Wisconsin (population 10,000), which involved driving through a white-out as evening fell to night; somewhat scary. Travellers’ tummy appeared but settled soon after getting to ZF. Now already in the US and having TSA pre-check meant my entire baggage (K3, MK2R+, antenna switchbox, keyer, key, +etc only in carry-on as always) all passed through the final security check without additional inspection. There is no rhyme or reason. Though the K3 now has a war wound from the heavy key. This year’s route home is via Las Vegas, Winnipeg and San Diego, so there is yet opportunity for some airport security excitement.

I was due to meet the next party to use ZF1A mid-day Sunday, though they are late to the shack owing to their baggage having been lost on the way…

80           66

40           242

20           227

15           49

10           2

Claimed score 6630

See you all next year!

73 Colin ZF2CA  (G4CWH)