The Jan 2019 VHF contest was different than ones in the past. Radio station N1OFZ was plagued from the start with issues. The contest also didn’t have the same feel as contests in the past.
Contest prep started around Christmas time with the installation of rotor cards to enable computer control of antenna pointing. Unfortunately something went wrong and the main rotor controller box the day before installation into the top tower section. Lucky for us our good friends at radio station W1QK offered to loan us another rotor and we walked out with a Ham IV set up for a ground mounted mast. This posed a few new configuration issues but we were able to overcome them, more on that later.
The next issue was that our primary radio, the Yaesu FT-847, was having issues with distorted audio. This problem is still under examination. We were able to press our Icom IC-7100 into service for both digital and voice. Not ideal but at least we were going to be on the air. Still trying to figure out what happened to the FT-847, this is a big loss. If there was any good news it was that the newly acquired RayTrack 6m amp worked flawlessly and provided a little warmth for the shack. Really warmed up the pair of 3-500Z’s over the weekend!
The plan was to run 50/144/222/432 but with the rotor issues and the subsequent loaning of the Ham IV we ended up going with a push up mast and only 50/144. It ended up being a good call as we were hit with a huge ice storm that left everything covered in ice. Couple that with the high winds and it would have been disastrous with the added weight of the other two bands. I’m surprised that the mast held the two beams as well as it did!
When contest time came I started on SSB. Worked a few on 6 and 2 but it seemed pretty dead. Turned to FT8 and 6m looked like 40m! Band was full of signals. Worked a bunch of stations and took a break for dinner and to check out the snow. Came back and lots of FL stations coming in. Worked most of them and decided to flip to MSK144. The midwest was coming in like crazy with signals over 0 to +17!
Ended up working most of the stations there as well and called it quits about 10 PM. Woke the next morning to crazy ice. Antennas were covered and SWR was really high on 2 but 6 was barely workable. So spent the second day of the contest between SSB and FT8 on 6m. It was open most of the day to the south and worked all of FL, Bermuda and even Puerto Rico. The new amp was doing it’s job well.
All and all it was a bit disappointing to only make about 100 QSO’s. The activity on non digital modes was a bit disappointing as well. FT8 is a great mode and I love it but I also miss the excitement of digging out a contact on SSB or CW. There is a certain satisfaction in using your ears and brain to make the contact rather than watching a computer screen and clicking a mouse. Maybe the ARRL should look at increasing the point value of SSB/CW contacts. 1 for digital, 2 for SSB and 3 for CW? Would make for an interesting contest! See everyone in June.
Addendum: Looks like I’m not the only one who saw some of the same issues with FT8. Terry W1TR came up with the idea of allowing up to 3 contacts per band (CW, SSB, digital). I like this idea as I think it would encourage people to use as many modes as possible to pick up the extra points. There is still a lot of fleshing out to be done as you would have to figure out if a new grid counts only once as a multiplier or as a new mult per mode. If the later the contest scores will potentially get huge! The other issue will be the need for software rewrites of all the logging/contest programs. So I wouldn’t expect to see a change soon but something to surely keep an eye on.