We’re always saying about the many different facets of Amateur Radio and how there’s “something for everyone”. Contests are one of those facets can tend to draw a bit of unfair criticism – but I guess it depends on which side of the fence you sit.
To those who like Amateur Radio for ragchews (having a good long chat with friends old and new), contests are a right pain in the proverbial. All of a sudden, the bands go from being nice and quiet, with loads of available bandwidth, to being overcrowded and there not being a single frequency available for the regulars.
Furthermore, you’re lucky if your contact lasts loger than “59 133 IO83NN QSL”. Yep, all the contesters are interested in are your signal report, the number of the contact (serial number) and your locator. That’s right, they’re not interested in the fact that it’s 103 degrees outside, you’re married with two kids and a dog named Boo, and that the erection in your back garden is 85 feet long. It’s contact after contact after contac.
So, what’s it all about? Points. Maybe every kilometer you are from the contest station is worth one point and the total number of points is multiplied by the number of different locator squares the contest station worked. And what do points make? Sadly not, no prizes here, just recognition of winning the contest and maybe, just maybe, the temporary loan of a small natty trophy for a year.
Having cursed contesters for years, I thought it was time I jumped over the fence and saw what all this contesting malarkeywas all about. truth is, I did a few contests many years ago but got bored with them so gave up. So, had the contest scene changed? Had the etiquette changed? Would I be tempted to take up the mantle again and become the scourge of the ragchewer’s once again?
As I said, I’ve not entered a contest on my own for years, so after participating in the recent VHF National Field Day (VHF NFD) with my friends from the Southport & District Amateur Radio Club over the first weekend of July, I was intrigued as to how well I could do on my own. So, the following Tuesday (7th July) I decided to enter the RSGB 144MHz UK Activity Contest (144 UKAC).
I’d forgotten how difficult it was to raise contacts during a contest. The VHF NFD proved that you had to pointing your antenna towards the target station even before they started transmitting or they were gone before the rotator had even got started – there’s no patience here. You also had to have good hearing because contesters don’t like repeating themseleves – every second spent telling you the callsign for the sixth time is three hundred contacts lost. Then there were the drinks – it’s amazing how dry you get after five minutes calling CQ, those drinks just don’t come quick enough.
So, I was knackered for the three hour 144 UKAC. My meagre 8 element Maspro beam is fixed in a south westerly direction, my hearing’s shot and four pints of water means that you have to spend a significant amount of time away from the radio for obvious reasons. Couple that to terrible conditions (a couple of weeks earlier VHF had been alive, but not this week) and I wasn’t destined to win the event.
In the end I managed to achieve, what I thought was a fairly respectable score – I think, in all honesty, the best that can be said is that I didn’t come last. My 31 contacts, 5 locator squares and 7,245 points has somehow dimished to become 21 contacts, 2 locator squares and a measley 1,326 points now that the results have been ajudicated by the VHF Contest Committee. This is probably the result of my poor hearing and the details for the contacts I’ve logged not matching those logged by the station’s I worked.
So my hearing let me down, the two five minute trips out of the room to empty water tanks lost me valuable contacts and the rotator’s fixed position meant that I couldn’t work moderatly distant stations off the side of the beam.
Oh, and that half decent score, how did that compare? Well at 7,000+ I was happy until the results started to be entered on the RSGB web site. How could somebody get just short of a million points? Did he work the contest on the same night I did? Now, at just over a 1,000 points I’m gutted – I was awful.
So what does the future hold for my contesting career? Not much really. I will do the next 144 UKAC, if for no other reason than your individual score can be used to bolster your club’s standing in the annual table. However, I will need to purchase a better antenna, get the rotator aloft and have an operation on my ears if I’m to improve my ability to work more stations over greater distances. Unfortunately, that all adds up to a lot of money and time that I haven’t got at the moment.