Monday, August 20, 2012

IARU 2012 @ EF5HQ


After several years of absence, the URE (Unión de Radioaficionados Españoles) decided to field once again a multi-station team distributed throughout peninsular Spain as their representation in the 2012 IARU HF championship.

It was with pleasure that the organizers decided to invite the ED5T team (Torrent Contest Club) to participate in the contest, and we soon came to an agreement that we could best serve the cause by operating 15 metre phone.

The organization of a contest of this nature is quite complicated. It requires a calculated choice of 12 stations, on each of the 6 HF bands, one on SSB and another on CW. URE decided that they would place emphasis where possible on consolidated contest stations, that way ensuring both competitive stations and experienced operators.


Preparation started many months ago, and after an initial selection and distribution of bands and modes, we set to work. One of the big handicaps we had to deal with was the callsign. Spanish regulations do not make it easy, and while URE did everything possible to try to get a single unique callsign, the authorities turned down our applications and eventually we settled on the EFxHQ format. This has a distinct disadvantage, since IARU rules state that on one band, the CW and the SSB station must have the same callsign. This means that we were not able to make the best possible use of the stations available, and that we were not able to make use of alternative stations in other parts of the country to take best advantage of propagation.

Apart from the callsign issue, one of the biggest problems was the IT, although to be fair, it only seemed like this because radio-wise, all stations were pretty much up and running on a regular basis. Based on previous experience, we decided to use WinTest, in part because many stations already use it, and also because it has a special HQ station option which allows all the stations to be connected online via a private internet connection, allowing real time scoring and multiplier checking between stations on the same band. The connection method used was Hamachi, which had previously been used successfully by the EF8HQ station.

This caused a headache for some of us. Running a successful contest station means that stations are often located at sites which are good for radio, but sometimes deficient in other aspects such as for example internet coverage. As already described in this blog, it took many visits to the station and a lot of head scratching and work before we were able to get a stable link with enough speed to handle the constant traffic of 12 online stations and corresponding DX clusters. In the end our solution was to use a Wifi link using a home-made bi-quad antenna, to our club president’s ADSL at around half a kilometer from the station. Similar solutions were adopted by other stations.

ED5T is designed for eminently multi-single use and so we had to make a bit of a change to adapt it to make full use of our hardware on one single band. There were two things to take into consideration. First was how to use more than one high power transceiver on the same band, if possible, without blowing the receiver of the other station, and second, how to make best use of the existing antennas.

The first problem was solved after speaking to fellow team member and friend Imanol, EC2DX, who made a station interlock system for us. This system is based on relays which means that when one station keys up, the antenna and amplifier going to the other station are disconnected, that way avoiding input of excessive RF energy to the receiver, and possible amplifier failure too. I would like to take advantage to publicly thank Imanol for making this for us in a short timeframe!

With regard to the antennas, our first idea was to phase the two 11 element Optibeam tribanders. However this required knowing the exact coax length of the antenna on our fixed tower, which was impossible due to tower climbing restrictions imposed by the club. We do not discard this option for some future occasion however. Our second idea was to install a 2 element vertical quad several hundred metres from the main towers, where we normally install the K9AY receive antennas for the low bands, and this idea was carried out.

The only other novelty for this contest was the use of two new rigs, an FT1000MkV Field, and an FT2000D with the AC0C 3 KHz roofing filter installed.


We arranged to meet on the Saturday morning at 9am, I was a bit late after having to load lots of things in the car and when I arrived Juan EA5GIE and Elías EB5KT were already preparing the 2 element quad and Paco EB5TC and Jose EA5GS had cleared out the bunker, ready to install the rigs and amps. First in was the Field and Acom 1000, second the FT2000 and then we had to wait for Victor to bring his Acom and the patch leads needed to connect up the interlock. Vic had unfortunately had to work on Friday night until 5am so we let him get at least a bit of beauty sleep! In the meantime, we tried to wade our way through the outstanding updates on the logging system, not an easy task and we got a bit frustrated at some points.

Finally Vic arrived and we installed the rest of the station. In the meantime Elías had finished installing the quad, all looking good on the antenna analyser. Once the shack hardware was installed, it was time to test the interlock. First time, nothing happened. No noise from the relays made us realize pretty quick there was no DC power, a quick change of PSU and the familiar clunk-clunk of relays. Sighs of relief. Then, looks of worry since there was noise on the receivers that were supposed to be cut off from the antenna, but in the end we could tell that the stations really were getting cut off so it was working ok. But….hot switching on one of the Acoms, seems the relays were too slow. We took stock of the problem and I decided that with an hour to go before the contest, the best solution was to put the Acom back in its box and put our trusty old Ameritron AL1200 back on the bench. Problem solved.

Then, after connecting the quad to the sixpak and checking everything, back to the computer and phone calls to Jose Ramón EA7KW for help. At the start of the contest, I started running on the mult station since we still didn’t have super check partial or the updated .dat files on the run computer! Not a great situation to be in. After 10 minutes I switched over to the run station, then my first problem with Wintest…how do I edit the call field??? I hit the tab bar and it takes me through the reports and exchanges but not the call…help! Vic to the rescue: “Hit space bar!”. After an hour running I feel I need a break, it’s been a long and frustrating morning so I hand over the running and go to hit the sack for an hour or two.

I wake up and check the whatsapp chat on the phone that Jesús EC1KR created for the event. Seems like everyone else had time for a proper lunch and was prepared and are now running like crazy. I make myself a cheese sandwich and wander over to the bunker. Running is good but I see that our CW partners have extended their lead and are nearly 100 QSOs ahead of us. Other stations don’t appear, it seems from the whatssap chat that there are internet issues at some stations, and then its us that have a temporary disconnect. But as the afternoon progresses, everyone returns and we can see progress. The running is fast and furious and its difficult for the mult station to manage to find a moment to first listen and then make QSOs. But Jose EA5GS is a trained mult hunter and little by little, between his efforts, the calls we get on the run, and our CW partners, the mult counter creeps up.

Our next worry appears on the horizon: a CME (solar Coronal Mass Ejection) is heading our way and due to hit earth at some stage during the afternoon/evening. How will it affect conditions? On 15 we notice a drop in signals, it starts to get really hard to hear the weak stateside stations (as opposed to just hard). We struggle on, noting that our 20m colleagues have had a blackout for about an hour. José and I decide that the best thing to do is leave Vic to suffer and head to the McDonalds drive in…..

At about 2 am local time the band is now dead. We have around 1350 contacts in the log. Taking into consideration the dead hours ahead of us, plus the CME, we reckon we will have a hard time making our target of 2000 qsos. We take advantage of the dead time to figure out how the digital voice keyer works and hook it up to writelog. Ahh, long live the F1 key! I have already slept so Vic and José get some shut eye while I entertain myself with the F1 key.

The band doesn’t come to life again until 5 hours later when we finally bag the India HQ mult. The only station we heard all through the night was DA0HQ. I leave the guys to get cracking, go and have some weetabix, and off to sleep. Short lived sleep, as my inflatable mattress now has a slow puncture. Oh well, back to the station I go, strong coffee in hand. The rate is agonizingly slow, but we see a decent score now, the night shift on the low bands has shown its fruit and now Imanol has packed the 40m SSB station in his car and gone off to work portable from a Trig point to see if he can rustle up a bit more interest locally, now that we are in daylight there’s no more DX to be had so, why not? We plod on, there is little to be had in the way of DX on 15 either and its one zone 28 contact after another. We keep the stints short and rotate the operators, there is little to be had on the mult station but Jose keeps at it and finally works a zone 32 out of the blue who is not spotted on the cluster. In the last hour, we are caught off guard when a P29 calls us from Papua New Guinea, in amongst a pileup of Germans.

And finally 1200 UTC comes around again, we take the headphones off and we check the score. We didn’t reach our QSO goal, but we did reach our multiplier goal, together with our partners on 15m CW down in Alicante at EA5RS’s place. Our colleagues had varying success too, but all in all we did OK.

And then our usual teardown routine. The quad was already taken down beforehand, so it was a case of taking out the rigs and amps and putting back the usual rigs. The Torrent Contest Club is based at URE Torrent, so we have to combine our activities with the rest of club members, half an hour later the door was closed and it was as if nobody had been there all weekend….

My contest reporting is never complete without giving thanks to those make all of this possible. As always, thanks to our families, the tech team, and our colleagues at URE Torrent. In this particular case, thanks are also due to URE for counting on us for the contest, to Imanol EC2DX for the Interlock, and to all of the team colleagues at the other 11 stations who made this an unforgettable event!

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