rexmtg part 2
Subj: F6BEE WW Ph stories
This is one story of the F6BEE entry, as perceived by K3NA. (The other
operators will have even better tales to tell.)
F6BEE was a multinational team which formed about a week before the contest:
F6BEE, G0JFX & xyl Taj from S5, F9IE, F6BHK, and me (K3NA). What a treat for
a man stuck in Paris on a business trip (life is sooooo difficult
The first job was to meet F6BEE, G0JFX & xyl at the station the Sunday before
the contest to reinstall the TH3 and low band wire antennas on top of a
tower. This was accomplished despite chilling weather, muddy fields, a raw
north wind up to 20 knots -- and a drenching rainstorm that trapped F6BEE &
me at the top of the tower for 45 minutes. Yes, we looked like drowned rats
and shivered a lot, but the sun broke thru afterwards at a low angle ...
drying us off and arching a beautiful double rainbow across the Normandy
plateau of farmlands. I think the ground crew had the worse job.
F6BEE's contest QTH is normally unequipped with radios living at Jacques home
in the Paris suburbs ... so Friday was spent stringing beverages, running a
new coax feed to the 160 inverted vee, installing radios and amplifiers and
computers (then debugging RFI and mic interface problems), and wondering how
this hobby ever got to be called "wireless". Naturally, we were ready to go
in plenty of time before the start of the contest -- about 15 minutest to
spare. The other subject of hot discussion: "which class to enter -
multi-multi or multi-single?" We decided to go for the lean, mean, 5o4x (5
ops 4 xmtr) class.
The 1am local time start saw three bright-eyed aggressive operators running
40, 80, and checking 160/20m. By 3am I started feeling sleepy; this is
perhaps understandable -- it had been 21 hours since I last saw sleep. At
this crucial moment we discovered G0JFX's french grocery shopping skills were
slightly lacking: the packages of coffee purchased that Friday were labelled
"decaffine". I crash into snoozyville on a nearby sofa before European
sunrise, missing part of the 40m run into the USA.
By Saturday mid-morning G0JFX was on 20m racking up tons of valuable 1-point
European contacts and multipliers. 15m has opened as well... But even
better: 10m starts to fill with multipliers. After chasing multipliers with
modest results for an hour or so on 10m, I noticed the antenna switch is
still parked on the 40m beam. Signals get stronger and the rate jumps when
the 10m beam is switched in. Ten meters is now runnable... gosh, maybe it
will even open stateside today!
At lunchtime I'm on 20m running the USA. Jacques antenna farm plays really
well in the pileups, and we are all having great fun on 20, 15, and 10m. The
minor auroral flutter on W0AIH and other signals from the black hole becomes
more severe, however, and by mid-afternoon even the east coast USA signals
have that distinctive hollow sound. The K index has gone from 0 at the start
of the contest to 5 in 15 hours. 15m never really opens to stateside.... but
we finish the daylight with a huge multiplier total nonetheless on this band:
over 120 countries. Ten looks pretty impressive for multipliers as well.
But the big number on the CT screen is the QSO total on 20m -- over half of
all QSOs are 20m QSOs! But 40m looks weak at 159 Qs, and 80m is down there
too. Clearly we have a lot to do Saturday evening: work tons of casual
Europeans on the lower bands.
But first: real coffee and more groceries. During a break I drive G0JFX's
Honda about 25km to the nearest town. I'm actually rather pleased when I
reach the "supermarche", for I have driven on 3 hours sleep a right-hand
drive (British style) car on twisty French countryside roads (where people
drive on the right side of the road), retraced all the turns back to town
without error, and even noticed that the car is low on gas. After buying the
caffinated version of the same brand of coffee, I pull the car up to a pump
marked "gas" and fill up. (For USA readers, this is an expensive investment.
A small Honda holds about 9 gallons of gas and that costs me $30.) When
leaving the pump, the car goes 30 feet and comes to a halt. "Gas" in french
marketing means "gas+oil" which means "diesel"! Maybe if I hadn't been so
tired I would have noticed the smell....
Two hours later a roadside assistance van pulls up and pumps out the $30 of
diesel. It is replaced by $40 of "super" (that's gasoline, which comes in
two flavors: leaded and unleaded... distinguished by the thin red or green
border on the sign). The visit by the assistance van lightens my wallet by a
further $55; its driver keeps the diesel. I am happy to be on the road back
to the shack, where G0JFX undoubtedly is wondering what happened to his car,
and whether he will be able to pick up Taj at the railway station when she
arrives. But my very marginal french has survived another communications
challenge in better shape than my wallet, and I'm thankful that "assistance"
is available on a rainy Saturday evening.
I volunteer to hump along on 40m, listening split on the TS950. Today's
receiver front ends are better, but I'm still cranking -20 and -30 dB of
attenuation with the S-meter still parked at s5 in the "quietest" part of the
bands. Finding listening frequencies for USA isn't too bad... there are
maybe 5 holes in the band where the S-meter gets below s6 (with just -10 dB
of attenuation). It is frustrating -- I can hear plenty of USA signals
calling me, but they are not loud enough to whisper above the din of European
braodcast station splatter. There is this constant "aural striptease" show
on the band: callsigns are revealed only a letter or two at a time, and then
the crud covers up the station again... and later reveals another letter --
but, wait, that was one of the letters we heard last time! It seems like
forever to reach the point in the "QRZed, your call again?" dance to where
the whole callsign has been revealed. Now, how long will it take until the
zone number is uncovered? No, I'm not interested in hearing the "five nine"
part of the exchange -- a man can hear that every day on the bands. I want
to hear first the call, and then the zone, and then experience the thrill of
striking the ENTER key when the dance is completed and the QSO has been
When 3am arrives, it's time for coffee. My grocery shopping french also
proves to be lacking, for the coffee package's label of "grains de cafe" does
not mean ground coffee, but rather beans. I crush a bunch of beans manually
and, while rooting around the pantry for some good crushing tools, also find
a jar with real ground coffee ready to go. The hardwon caffeine injection
helps the operators, but not the bands... for it seems like either all the
USA single ops are boycotting 40m on their Saturday evening or the MUF has
gone crashing down thru 7 MHz in these wee morning hours. With no 1-point
casual European participants remaining up at this bizarre hour, and few
answers from USA while listening up, snoozyville calls for another 3 hours
nap starting just at sunrise.
By 10am Sunday I'm parked on 20m. Conditions are much improved, and the
pileups just roll along. The short-term feel-good CT rate meter for 20m
flirts with 330+, altho long-term rates remain below 200. By lunch the USA
is being heard above the intra-European din. How nice to QSO all the friends
from the reflector! 15m is still way behind in QSOs, but F6BEE is crunching
more Europeans into the log there while F9IE and F6BZH sweep up the mults on
10m. Eventually Jacques starts to hear USA on 15m and, taking a break for a
bite to eat, hands me the mike. Woops! This rig has only a hand mike and no
footswitch. Typing on a french AZERTY keyboard (where Q, A, Z, Y, W, M and
all the numbers appear in different places) while handling a mike at the same
time keeps one busy! Signals strengthen and the opening spreads westward to
the front range of the Rockies, and the rates touch 300 for a flash thrill.
But never is Zone 3 heard on 15m... A handful of weak east coast stations
are worked by F6BEE on 10m -- a remarkable ionospheric recovery from the day
Sleep deprivation is not the only toll. First a FT-102 transceiver's relays
give their last. Then the 20m rotator refuses to turn CCW past north unless
coached with little short pulses of power to the tailtwister. The 15m
rotator also gets a bit squirrely -- high winds occasionally reduce the rate
as the antenna sneaks back to a north heading against the remains of the
rotator's brake. Later in the evening it's discovered that the 40m beam no
longer is working -- probably a broken wire in the feed system. The SB220
amp never worked on 10m.
By the last two hours we are down to one op running a slow run on 80m, trying
to add some more Qs. At the end it's about 6M points for the team --
certainly not enough to win Europe against the likes of the UK's now famous
"stealth multi-multi" antenna farm and many skilled operators. It was great
After a few hours sleep and a hurried packing job, it was off to the aerogare
for the flight home. I felt a bit guilty, like someone who was just at a
great party ... where things got out of control and at the end all the lawn
furniture was in the pool and the house was trashed. Here I was, leaving for
home, and the gracious host F6BEE is stuck in the rainy Normandy chill with a
list of big repair jobs (as well as packing up the last of the station,
merging the logs, submitting the scores, and crunching out the QSL cards).
At the airport chapel I spent my last francs on a candle and prayer to the
gods of chaos, asking for kinder treatment... for Jacques is one of the best:
a top-notch competitor and a great guy. His antennas and radios should be
honored to be owned by a such a person, and not give him so much grief for
being installed in the climate of Normandy.