Eskip is awesome.
I never imagined that I could top last year's QSO total and score.
I was getting a little concerned about even being able to start the contest on time this year. I left work two hours before the contest start, expecting to arrive at K5TR about an hour later. Earlier in the afternoon, however, a squirrel apparently got into an electrical substation and took out power to most of southwest Austin, including the stop lights. Power had been restored by the time I got there, but the traffic was still a total mess. I got to the station with about 20 minutes to spare.
Friday evening was, I thought at the time, going to be a prelude for the rest of the weekend to come. There was very little propagation anywhere except South Carolina and a few other stations scattered in the more southern U.S. latitudes and Mexico. Australia was coming in from the get-go, and in fact VK4CZ was my first QSO of the contest, but I could only put three Australians in the log that first hour. The 0100 UTC hour didn't really improve in terms of rate, but I did work a few New Zealand stations in addition to more Australians. For the rest of Friday night, the propagation never really improved, although I made two meteor scatter QSOs to pick up Indiana and South Dakota. I finished the evening with 99 QSOs total and a best hour of only 35 QSOs, over 200 QSOs behind last year's running total.
On Saturday morning, I didn't get to the radio until 1250 UTC or so, when it was still quite dark outside. I freaked out a little when I put on the headphones and heard several stations in Maryland calling CQ. I don't know for how long the band had been open. I put seven QSOs in the log in the next ten minutes, all in total darkness. The Eskip was there for the next hour or so, and I picked up Virginia, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Illinois, and Kentucky. The skip faded out in the 1400 UTC hour, but I still picked up Wisconsin and Kansas on backscatter and worked my first Chilean. F layer propagation to the south started to pick up in the 1500 UTC hour, and together with the thin Eskip, things picked up stateside as well. I worked a VE9 at 1543 on F2 propagation, which was still rather long at that point. Most of the stateside stations were loudest when I was beaming to the southeast.
The 1600 UTC and 1700 UTC hours are typically some of the best in this contest, and I knew they were the best time to pick up Europe short path if it could be done at all. The band began to open up to statewide as well, and more and more stations were loudest on their direct path bearing. I worked my first European, an EA7, at 1626 UTC and then picked up a 6W at 1631 UTC. I wouldn't work another station across the Atlantic until an EA8 called in at 1726. Other great multipliers I picked up in these two hours included Guantanamo Bay, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and Labrador. A 5U station called in at 1806 UTC for my third African multiplier.
The rate slowed down in the 1800 UTC hour, and I was mentally prepared for a slower afternoon. A station from Washington called in at 1854 UTC, and then a British Columbian station called in at 1900 UTC, the first QSOs I'd had so far in that direction. By 1900 UTC, I only had 380 QSOs in the log, a little over half of the running total I had at the same time last year, and (unbeknownst to me at the time) still fourteen QSOs behind W5PR.
The next six hours, though, were amazing. The Eskip just got better and better. The vast majority of my QSOs were to the northeast, covering the entire span from Minnesota to Quebec to Florida, with the occasional LU or PY calling in. I picked up all the remaining needed W/VE multipliers in that direction except VY2 during this opening. Conditions peaked in the 2200 UTC hour, when I worked 175 QSOs, and had the ten-minute rate meter at 240 QSOs/hour. I have had bigger hours in this contest before, but not in several years. I had six hours in a row with over 100 QSOs. Sometime in the 2200 UTC hour was also when I (unbeknownst to me at the time) finally passed W5PR's QSO total.
The opening faded around 0130 UTC, and the rest of Saturday evening was spent working a scattering of stations out to the west. The band had still not really opened up to the west coast for me in any significant way, but there were stations to work, every other minute or so, for several hours. This opening was mostly to New Mexico, Arizona, and southern California, although I did work a few in northern California and picked up the Nevada, Wyoming, and Utah multipliers. I worked North Dakota on what I think was meteor scatter. When I called it quits around 0600 UTC, I hadn't made a QSO in 28 minutes. My running total was 1257 QSOs, 96 QSOs ahead of last year. Wow.
Having learned a lesson, I got on the air much earlier on Sunday, just after 1200 UTC. Of course, there was no propagation at all until sometime after 1300 UTC, and I didn't make my first QSO of the morning until 1322 UTC. The next five hours were rather slow, working Caribbean and South American stations, other Texans, and other stateside stations that were also beaming south. It was not until 1544 UTC that I made my first short path QSO to the northeast, with a station in Maine - the F2 propagation was still quite long. At 1650 UTC, a CU station called in and at 1658, I worked another EA8. By the end of the 1700 UTC hour, I had 1347 QSOs in the log, and for the first time in a while, I was now behind my 2004 running QSO total.
At 1720 UTC, an OH station called in, and in the next hour, I was able to work nine northern Europeans, including the SM, TF, GM, and LA multipliers. OH6NIO gave me a three digit serial number, but the other stations were all single digit or low double digit numbers. I also picked up the VY2 multiplier at 1753 UTC. As that opening closed, Eskip to the northwestern US and western Canada opened for the first time in any significant way. I finally put multipliers like Oregon, Montana, and Saskatchewan in the log. The skip got to be very good, covering the entire west coast at the same time that the F2 propagation to the east coast was beginning to shorten enough to cover all of New England and as far south as New York. I had two more 100+ QSO hours at 1900 UTC and 2000 UTC. ZD8I called in during the 1900 UTC hour for my final African multiplier. KH6/W5ZL called in for the Hawaiian multiplier and VP9/K0ARY called in for the Bermuda multiplier in the 2000 UTC hour. I would eventually work a second KH6 station, as well. By the end of the 1900 UTC hour, my QSO total was once again ahead of last year's pace.
The opening faded during the 2100 UTC hour. I actually went for fourteen minutes, from 2135 UTC to 2149 UTC without a QSO. There was still some skip to the west, principally to California, and the occasional South American would call in. My last new multiplier of the contest was a station calling from the Falkland Islands at 2154 UTC.
The contest ended with three hours of 39, 42, and 32 QSOs respectively, which were a lot better than the last three hours of the contest last year. Almost all of those QSOs were to the U.S. southwest with the occasional South American or Mexican station as well.
In the end, I finished with six fewer multipliers, but 247 more QSOs and a claimed score about 29,000 points higher than last year. I had eight hours of 100 or more QSOs this year. That's amazing to me.
I've noticed this contest season that there are a lot more Mexican stations operating in the phone contests than there were just last year. I worked sixteen XEs in the contest. Last year, I worked only two. I always wondered why there were so few XEs in the contests - I wonder what has changed? I think it's awesome that there are more active stations there now.
I never did work Asia in this contest. I knew from previous years just how narrow the potential short path opening to Japan was likely to be. (Un)fortuntely, that possible opening on Saturday coincided with my 175 hour, when I was highly focused on the east coast. I listened hard in that direction on Sunday, but never heard any stations in Asia or even in Alaska.
George hooked up the station so that almost all of the antennas were available on the left radio. The switching arrangement allowed me the flexibility of combining almost any combination of the antennas I could need, although some of the combinations including the fixed west antenna had moderately high SWR. The right radio was connected to a half-wave vertical, mounted about 20' up in the air, that George was borrowing from KI5DR. It was very useful for finding new stations to work while I was calling CQ on the other radio. About half of the time, I was able to get through on the vertical, but the other half of the time I'd have to quickly QSY the run rig and use the yagis. I did occasionally make an S&P pass with the yagis because not every station I heard on the yagis was also audible on the vertical and vice versa.
I'm really happy with how the station performed. There were no mechanical or electrical issues all weekend long, and I think the station really gets out well on ten meters.
Contest Logging was done with TR LOG contest logging software. The following reports and log were created using TR LOG's post-contest processor.
Last Updated 29 November 2018