I have barely been home since the WRTC ended, but I had been gathering my
thoughts while on the road. I have not written a detailed contest story in a
long time since they were getting repetitive. However, the WRTC 2010 was an
awesome event, unlike any other, and I wanted to remember it by putting the
story in writing.
The first thoughts of WRTC 2010 began at the closing ceremony in Florianopolis
Brazil in 2006. After stating several times that this would be his last WRTC,
Randy said he was up for doing this one more time. We were disappointed in our
performance in many respects, and we both were convinced that we could do
better than our 10th place finish. A bunch of clear drinks with green leaves
at the bottom may have influenced our decision as well.
When the qualification criteria was announced, it was not going to be possible
for me to qualify without doing a number of high point contests from my home
area of California. The idea of trading off several of my favorite contests
from Barbados to operate one WRTC was not very appealing. Randy was clearly
building the points to qualify, but I was not certain he really intended to
participate again or whether that was just the alcohol talking one late night
in Brazil. Once he reiterated the plan, I could return to my normal operating
schedule from Barbados.
We were both very busy and spent very little time preparing. We touched base
in March, before my last trip to 8P prior to WRTC to be sure that I brought
back any necessary gear. I would bring my two K3's, power supplies, Dunestar
filters, master control box and a myriad of small items and cables. We agreed
that we would get together on the WPX CW contest weekend to assemble the
station and work on our operating strategy with the new rules.
We spent some time talking about the implementation of the lockout. I had also
seen some sample designs on the reflectors that used the TX INH functionality
of the K3, but I did not like how they worked. Instead I went ahead with a
different approach and I designed a custom box with a small processor inside.
The next issue was the triplexer. I had never seen of such a device, yet I was
hearing that it was a common item in this type of competition. In doing some
research on the web, I found a reference to a Field Day team that used one
successfully to share a tribander. I was very intrigued, but there was no
design data. However, in the course of the search, I found that QST was about
to publish an article on this design. When the article came out, I was
embarrassed that I did not think of the simple concept myself. Since time was
of the essence, I ordered the identical parts and had a unit built a week later.
The testing of the unit was a total surprise. Using the decoupling head as
described in QST and my switchable bandpass filters, I could share a dummy load
without any hint of interaction, with the exception of the 20 meter harmonic on
10 meters. While the isolation was good, the impedance match was not great and
I did not have much time to work on it before traveling cross country to
Randy's for our test session.
I did the redeye flight arriving Saturday morning and we immediately started
setting up when I arrived. We decided to use my station automation from
Barbados to do the filter and antenna selection as well as the keyer function.
It required making some custom cabling to connect to Randy's W3NQN filters and
6-pack. We also had to get the audio recording solution to work as well. We
decided to use a third computer to record and the referee could use the mixer
controls to adjust the levels of what he heard in each ear. This should give
enough flexibility to handle any scenario. Overall, we spent more time that
weekend working on audio issues than anything else.
With the station fully assembled, we began testing in earnest. This was the
first real test of the triplexer and the isolation was as good as I saw at
home. It was also good to use it for an extended period to test the
components. However, the SWR through the decoupler was still not what I wanted.
Overall, the station worked fine, but there were some more switching options we
wanted to add to the control box and we wanted to change the functionality of
the lockout box. Both would require some programming in the interim
In the intervening period before WRTC, I did reprogram the lockout and control
boxes and got them all retested. I also spent a lot of time with the
triplexer, including an alternative implementation. I could not improve the
SWR on the existing box and confined my experimentation to the second unit,
knowing I had a usable baseline in the box we originally tested. I eventually
understood the design tradeoffs the author had made, and wished I had just a
little more time to optimize the outcome. In the end, I had a unit with a
better match, lower loss, and slightly less isolation. However, it used more
fragile components than the original design and had never been tested over an
Also, in the mean time, I had the 15 meter section of my Dunestar fail. I
ordered a replacement, since I wanted a new one for Barbados anyway, and Ron
sent me some replacement caps for the 15 meter section. The repaired Dunestar
looked good, and we now had a backup set of band pass filters.
While I was working on the triplexer and lockout boxes, we ordered a pair of
LDG automatic antenna tuners. Randy tested these in various combinations. One
of our concerns was the sensitivity of the power monitoring device and we
wanted the option of putting the ATU after the monitor to avoid any issues with
SWR. In the end we decided to install the ATU's in the 40 meter and 80 meter
feedlines so we could move around the bands without returning, and we could
also use these antennas on the high bands, if necessary.
I had been exceptionally busy at work and simply could not keep up with the
complexity of the hotel, VISA's, tours, applications, etc. . None of this
would have come together without the help of my executive assistant at work.
She not only followed up on every item for me, she also took care of my wife
Kathleen and son Alex who would be going with me.
Every step of the way was on a tight schedule, including the arrival of my
passport with the Russian visa the day before I was to leave for Europe on a
business trip. We also wanted to extend our trip to visit St Petersburg after
the WRTC weekend. Eventually all the plans came together, but some of the
tourist options were not resolved until we were in Russia.
The trip was finally upon us. Alex and Kathleen spend the summer in Maine so
they left the week before I did. I flew all day on Thursday 6/31 to Randy's
house in Massachusetts for one last check out of the station. We wanted to
validate the new lockout and control box software as well as get some run time
on the triplexer. I also wanted to get a feel for how the antenna tuners
I was to arrive late in the evening at Randy's, but flight delays made me even
later. Around 2AM, I arrived at his QTH and we immediately started to set up.
Things were going OK until we could no longer match the 40 meter dipole on 15
with the ATU. As it turns out, we blew out the 15 meter section of his W3NQN
filters. Randy had another NQN filter set that had a couple of bad sections s
well. Our plan was take parts out of the 15 meter section of the old filter to
replace the ones in the newer unit. Unfortunately, there were no obviously
damaged components so we used the smell test to guess which ones to try.
Although the process was not pretty, we eventually substituted six caps and the
filter now worked OK.
Once we had everything working again. We did a final checkout of the station.
In the process, it seemed like the triplexer isolation was better with two
dunestars than with one Dunestar and one NQN filter. We decided to go with the
dual Dunestar configuration with the NQN as a spare. We also chose to go with
the new triplexer design, despite the lack of run-time.
We then spent the rest of our time contemplating what we would do in the event
of failures of individual components. If the Control Box failed, we would need
two keyers, filter selection, and antenna selection. We chose to bring two
spare W5XD keyers and build another manual switch for the Dunestar filters (I
already had one). For the 6 pack selection, we would bring the manual switch
and wire it in if necessary. For a lockout box contingency, I would build a
version of the cable documented on the reflector that used TX INH. We piled up
a bunch of spare cables and were all set. We had nearly enough backup hardware
to operate a second WRTC station.
Around noon, after being up all night, I left for Maine to join Kathleen and
Alex. In addition, my daughters were coming up with friends for the holiday
weekend. Over the weekend, I made a trip to Radio Shack and gather parts to
build the last items. They came together, but it was a challenge in a
All seemed well, until Sunday night. I happened to turn on my computer to
print a file, and the screen never came on. I connected it up to a monitor and
it seemed to be working, so possibly just the screen had failed. However, it
also had an unexpected message about new USB devices found. While there would
be monitors provided at the contest site, I could not be sure that it was the
only problem. Out of desperation, I called my admin in California and asked
her to send me another computer from my house. My plan was to have it shipped
to our DC office, and I would pick it up during my 5 hour layover at Dulles
airport. After a few false starts, the plan came together.
On Monday night, Kathleen, Alex and I, along with six suitcases, drove down to
Logan airport in Boston to stay overnight for our morning flight. Our first
flight to Dulles was without incident. Instead of driving out to the DC
office, they took the PC that was shipped, and took another of the same model
they had around the office and brought them to me. It was a huge relief to
have options in the event of more PC trouble. We then took off for a long,
but pleasant, trip to Moscow.
We arrived in Moscow late morning, had an uneventful pass through customs and
we were off to the hotel. A few of the competitors were already there and we
renewed some old acquaintances in the lobby while we checked in. The room was
very nice. It had a small separate room for Alex and a very effective air
conditioner. The local broadband Internet was very slow (and expensive for me)
but they had wired service that worked just fine.
In an attempt to acclimate to the time change, Kathleen and I tried not to
sleep right away. Instead, we went on a walk around the hotel grounds. We saw
the "beach," the "ship," and the Scandanavian Hall. We also saw one of the
ground teams assembling a sample station at the hotel. The tower was on the
ground and they were just installing the dipoles and feedlines. The tower was
so thin that I could not fit my foot on a rung between the corner pipes.
After our walk, I set up the station in our room. I had all of the control
gear and cables along with the filters. I would be able to test the computers,
radios, power supplies, lock out box, keyer, filter selection and antenna
selection. It all came together quickly and it looked like all the gear
survived the trip. Once complete, we had a brief dinner and went to bed.
The next day, my company's representatives in Moscow arranged a tour of the
city. It was an intense all day tour in extreme heat. It was very enjoyable,
but exhausting. K1VR said I looked wiped out when I returned.
It was now Thursday night and most of the competitors and referees had
gathered. It was great to see people that I had never met before, or had last
seen in Brazil. There was a lot of probing among the teams with regard to
strategy and equipment. The new technologies this year were the triplexers
and the lockout schemes. In general, the conversations were honest, but
circumspect. Most teams were not completely willing to disclose the full
extent of their thinking. More broadly, while everybody was friendly and
pleasant, there was an overarching tension and anxiety about the competition
that I did not recall in Brazil. It seemed to me that late nights and heavy
drinking were not as prevalent as last time.
The tension and intrigue grew on Friday with the opening ceremony, station
draws and the competitor/referee meetings. The opening ceremony was very hot
but it was organized and serious. The draw was also well run. We all had maps
of the stations and created our own preferences when, in fact, it did not
matter. The stations were essentially identical and relatively close to the
hotel (unlike our 300kM drive in Brazil). Our only wish was to be far from any
civilization. We ended up with a station that looked as good as any other,
our only concern was that we had another station very close by. We also were
privileged to have HA6ND as our referee. We had fun with George all weekend.
We also met the unsung hero of the weekend, RU3BH. Vladimir, along with his
family and another couple, set up and maintained the station, as well as
giving us great support all weekend, despite his limited English (and our
The competitors meeting was relatively calm with a few contentious issues
around recordings and Russian language operation. The bigger issue was the
rule that the station you work must copy the call and exchange correctly for
you to get credit. There was a fair amount of passion around this point but
the judging committee did not yield. For the record, we lost three times as
many Q's due to copying errors by others than we lost due to our copying errors.
While in the meeting, Randy and discussed the station setup. We were to get
to the station around 7AM but the contest did not start until 4PM. If we had
issues, we would appreciate the time but, if things went well, it would be a
long time in the hot sun waiting for the contest to start. We decided to
arrange for transportation back to the hotel in the event the station was ready
with plenty of time to spare.
After the meetings we had a very subdued dinner that broke up early. Clearly
people were getting their game faces on.
Between the time changes, preparation issues, and pre-contest anxiety I had
been having a very difficult time sleeping. I had set the alarm for 5AM and
tried to get as calm as possible. I fell asleep quickly but eventually woke
up. I looked at the phone by the bed and it said 4:40. I was very pleased
that I had slept so well. When 5 o clock rolled around and the alarm did not
go off, I realized it was my son's phone and it was still on US time. The
actual time was really 1 AM and I had not really slept much at all. Most of
the rest of the time was tossing and turning, waiting for 5 AM to arrive. One
thing that was different was that it was not the normal anxiety, it was more of
excitement. I was not nervous anymore, I was eager for the event to start.
Based on conversations with the other players, I felt we had engineered enough
station capability to be competitive, and we were ready.
Our driver took us out to our station at 6:30 AM. Besides the normal setup, I
was worried about three specific items, antenna interaction, generator noise,
and RF in the tent. The station was exactly as advertised and RU3BH and team
were ready for us. They took fantastic care of us all weekend. They also
seemed to perfectly position the tent to allow the breeze to pass directly
through. Although very humid, the tent was very pleasant inside.
Before we oriented the tables, I wanted the generator started so I could hear
how loud it would be. As it turns out, the generator was barely audible in the
tent. Our plan was to put the three tables in a line with the pelican case
behind the middle table. This would give me something to sit on while I
assembled the station, and it would be a platform to hold the RF parts
(triplexer, filters, and six pack)
Everything was going OK, when I made a huge mistake. I was sitting behind the
table connecting cables (all of which were labeled) and handing ends to Randy
to plug in. I thought I was done when I had a cable left over that said "+12V"
on it. I thought I had handed Randy a cable to connect to power. It turns out
that I had, and the other end was plugged into a signal input on the lockout
box. Not good. I then put the cables in the right place, but the lockout box
did not work correctly. The signal input goes directly to the microprocessor,
and I had just burned out an input with the 12V. I have a very low resting
heart rate, but it was now sky high. I tried to calm myself to consider
options. I had the schematics with me and frantically searched for a solution.
Restoring full functionality would require a soldering iron and the ability to
reprogram the processor. I still had the cable for use with TX INH, but I did
not want to use it since we never practiced with that functionality.
Trying to contain my emotion, I went into my spares box to get my programming
cable. Looking through the box, it occurred to me that I had brought a spare
microprocessor. If the programming worked, I may be able to recover. I
connected the cable to the existing processor and it communicated just fine. I
popped the other processor out of the socket and put the new one in. The
program loaded just fine. There was one more step in that we made a design
change since the original implementation and I needed to solder a wire to pin
one of the chip. We could live without this, but we would lose a little
functionality. It turns out that RU3BH had a soldering iron and I was able to
tack the wire on, despite shaky and sweaty hands. The wire was on and we were
back in business, although I had just burned off a lot of nervous energy.
The rest of the set up was entirely uneventful. I used the LCD monitor with my
PC with the bad screen and it worked fine all weekend. Randy dealt with the
power monitors and the score reporting software with George, our referee. We
played around with the power monitor and it was not the ordeal I had
anticipated. Randy and George had some occasional words about the indicator
during the contest, but it was mostly a non-issue.
Randy also tuned up the ATU units so we would not need to touch the antennas.
We did an overall test of antenna interaction and it was non-existent. We also
had no RF in the tent despite the fact that the 80 meter inverted Vee was
staked about 5 feet from the radios. The triplexer isolation looked good and
we started to make a few Q's. I had a quick pileup and the bands sounded good.
We could hear numerous other WRTC stations warming up, including our nearest
neighbors. Signals were a full 60dB over nine but, with one exception, the
close by stations had clean signals and were not a problem all weekend.
It was some time after 10:30 and we started thinking about returning to the
hotel. The station seemed ready and we would just burn nervous energy in the
extreme heat waiting for the contest to start. Instead we would return to the
hotel, get some rest, get cool and eat. The plan was to leave the hotel at
I returned to the room took a shower and tried to rest for about 90 minutes
before having lunch. There were a number of other competitors back at the
restaurant as well. Some were close enough to walk, others had referees with
cars. We left to go back to the station and the traffic was remarkably heavy.
We did not get back until around 2:30. There was a last test I wanted to run
that I forgot in the morning. I wanted to test path loss through the switching
by using my Elecraft signal generator at the tribander port to make sure there
was no unexpected loss in the system. It looked fine. After adjusting
microphone audio some more, we were ready to go. In honor of our Hungarian
judge, I put on my Hard Rock Café - Budapest shirt.
About 15 minutes before the start we were to turn off the radio audio and an
open our callsign envelope. We drew R34P. Randy was not at all happy about
the "P" at the end. My concern was the "4" in the double number call. We
decided that I would start on 20 CW and Randy would work the other bands.
After a little discussion, we chose to go for 14001.
The bell rang and we were off. I was able to hold 14001 but I had K0DXC on the
other end of the circuit. I did not know he was operating from K1LZ but I
figured people would be beaming our way to work the WRTC stations. The rate
was a pleasant surprise and it would continue all weekend. The way we started
remained the pattern all weekend. I was mostly running while Randy was
frantically combing for mults and Q's. We tried alternating CQ's all weekend
but they were only effective when the rates were slow. As soon as one operator
had rate, it was more productive for the other op to S&P. Generally, the S&P
op had priority and could interrupt the running op any time he wanted.
Several hours into the competition, the sky began to darken and serious winds
began to blow. It was clear that there were electrical storms in the areas as
we could hear the static building in the radios. When static levels were over
S9, rates dropped and we needed to start thinking about shutting down.
Fortunately, we were never faced with that decision. Our QTH had very high
winds, but others had torrential rain and hail. One station had a lightning
strike about 50 feet from their tent. After an hour, the sky cleared but it
was tense while it lasted.
Twenty eventually gave way to the low bands. The excellent rate continued
through some excellent hours on 40 and 80. With daylight lasting until around
11PM, there were limited hours of darkness and the bands stayed productive. It
seemed like one or both of us could generate rate somewhere all weekend.
Before the contest, I did not think anyone would get to 3000 Q's, but we passed
that with many hours to go. I started to think about 4M points and 3500 Q's.
After passing 3500 Q's with nearly an hour to go, we pushed for 3600 and 4M.
It was going to take a bunch of mults to get to 4M but Randy kept finding new
ones. Finally XU7ACY called in, putting us over the 4M mark, but we fell 3
short of the 3600.
When 1200Z rolled around it was time to stop. We had no idea where we stood,
but it seemed like we did well. It was hard to tell since, every other station
had the same openings we did, the question was whether we missed any. Time
No matter what the outcome we worked as hard as we could. On top of that, all
the custom gear worked exactly as advertised, and without incident. At no time
in the course of the weekend did we ever even suspect a problem. I remember
thinking that we tried our best and the station performed flawlessly. There
were no excuses, any team that beat us did so because they did the better job.
I can think of no higher praise for the competition organizers. This was
arguably the best radio competition ever held.
We more or less jammed everything back in the bags for the ride home. We
gathered out by the tower for final pictures and goodbyes. We were told that
the station builders may want our help to take down the tower. We offered, but
RU3BH was fine with doing it with the team that put it up. There was heavy
traffic and it took about 30 minutes to get home. After unloading the car, I
went up to the room to take a first look at the scores. Admittedly, I was
expecting a finish better than 5th. I suspect, with QSO totals so high, many
of the other stations had similar reactions. Before the contest, we would have
been more than happy to finish 5th, but we could not avoid the "what if's"
The teams convened for dinner. Most operators had nothing but praise for the
conditions and the stations themselves. Clearly this was a draining event as
dinner was subdued and broke up early. I went back to the room expecting to
watch the World Cup final. As soon as I hit the bed, I knew it was not to be
and I was asleep before kickoff.
The next morning we went on a large group tour of Moscow. It was great to
share war stories with the other competitors. Some of the stories were not so
pleasant, like the OE team that lost both radios. There was a lot of
discussion of lockout strategies with teams that tried dual CQ's all weekend
and those like us that had one running and one searching. Another area of wide
variance was the amount of SSB QSO's. Among the top teams were those with the
most and least percent of SSB Q's. It seemed that there was no firm winning
After a long hot day, we were back for the closing ceremonies. There was some
jostling at the top and the N6MJ/KL9A team slipped into the top three and the
RW1AC/RA1AIP securing a very close, but well deserved victory.
With the scores in the book and much more pleased with our effort than in
Brazil four years earlier, it was time to speak about next time. Both Randy
and I said beforehand that we would never do another WRTC. I told Randy my
mind had changed somewhat. I would never do another traditional WRTC where
station selection was critical to the outcome. However, I would do another
event like this in a minute. The Russians raised the bar, and it is critical
that WRTC embrace this format. Otherwise, it may become more of an exhibition
and irrelevant as a competition.
We all stayed up reasonably late and said our goodbyes. The passion for the
sport and appreciation for what the organizers had done made for an emotional
evening. It was my distinct honor and pleasure to have participated in the
most compelling event of my RadioSport career. Words cannot express my
appreciation to the Russian team for putting this competition together. It was
an extraordinary experience I will never forget.
73, Tom W2SC
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