WRTC 2002 – My Story as a Competitor (Part 2)

For Part 1, click Here.

Part 2:  The contest, Play-by-Play

          Before I start with the play-by-play of the contest, let me first describe the rules of the WRTC competition.  Although the competition was held during the annual IARU contest, the rules for WRTC competitors were quite different.  Contacts with European stations were worth 1 point, and all other stations outside of Europe were worth 2.  Multipliers consisted of DXCC entities and headquarters stations, once per band regardless of mode.

            Although we were permitted two stations, the rules were quite strict.  Only one radio was allowed to transmit.  This station was allowed to be networked with the logging computer, which in turn was networked with the computer at the second station.  The second station was not allowed to transmit nor be connected to the network.

            We had spent months leading to the beginning of the contest to discuss and plan our strategy.  Obviously, it was to our benefit to work as many 2-point stations as possible.  We would have to work Europe at a 140/hr rate to match a 70/hr rate with USA.  In addition, CW generally works better than SSB when running 100 watts, so we figured the majority of our QSOs would be with that mode.  Finally, the low bands, 40 and 80 meters (we were not permitted to use 160m), have very narrow and noisy SSB sub bands so we decided to only work CW there unless we needed a multiplier on Phone.

            I sat down with all the logs I could gather from the region to study and try to set up a band plan for the 24-hour contest period.  I noticed that 10 meters did not open often, but when it did, it usually was E skip to the rest of Europe with astonishing rates.  We would definitely have to keep an eye there so we would not miss any openings.  It was obvious that 15 and 20 meters were the money bands, and both seemed open for the entire 24 hours of the contest.  The nights are extremely short in Finland in July; the sun set at 10:30PM and came back up at 3AM, with the sky never getting darker than a twilight.  As a result, we figured we would have to hit 40 and 80 meters hard and heavy during that short period to work as many multipliers and fresh QSOs as possible.

            Our game plan was set.  Dan mentioned that he always starts with a good first hour, so we mutually decided that he would start the contest.  I really enjoy digging in the noise for multipliers, so I was happy being delegated to the receive-only station.  Although we didn’t have a set schedule to change operating positions like many other teams had, it worked out well for both of us.  Dan operated about 60% of the time, running the vast majority of phone.  Neither of us took a break, whomever was on the multiplier station kept working the dial, looking for new multipliers and QSOs that needed to be worked.  One final comment relates to the software.  Although CT has an effective band map, we never used it doe to some bugs in the software.  We passed all multipliers and new contacts on a pad of paper, listing the call and frequency for the run op to see.  We used some codes for additional information.  For example, if the new multiplier seemed easy to work, we would circle the call.  If it had a huge pileup, we’d just list it to check back on frequency later.  Once it was worked we would cross it off the list.  During the 24-hour period we completely filled a steno notebook with comments and call signs.

            With all that explained, it’s time to start the contest play-by-play…

        As soon as the clocks read 1200z, 3PM local time, we quickly grabbed our headsets, threw them on, and turned up the volume on the rigs.  Mika, our Judge, settled in with his own headphones, sitting on a couch behind us.  We were hoping for 15-meter propagation to the states, so Dan quickly shuffled the dial up the band, looking for a hole, finding one at 21012.  After the 1st CQ, K8MFO called in, followed by VE3KZ and RW9QA.  Things were off to a good start!  Although the signals weren’t that strong, there were lots of stateside callers, a good sign.  After the 1st 15 minutes, Dan had logged 43 stations, most of which were the more valuable 2-point stateside guys.  During this time, I worked my way up and down the band, creating a long list of multipliers.  Due to the low power and a clean transmitter, we were able to listen in the same sub band which we were running, making QSY’s easier and making sure we didn’t miss anything.

            Unfortunately, after the 1st 20 minutes, the run seemed to dry out.  The rate dropped, and we were worried.  Dan started working down my list of multipliers, quickly knocking them off.  We quickly worked a string of multipliers, including W1AW/5, 9H1ZA, JH7BZR, and P41HQ.  I was surprised to find BD4XA calling high in the phone band with no takers, so Dan went there and snagged him quickly.  I thought it was cool when he worked EK8WA until I realized he was probably as rare in Finland as a P4 is from W3!  By the end of the first hour, we were quite disappointed.  Although we had quite a few good mults in the log, we only had 92 QSOs, which was far too few.  A small consolation was knowing a lot were worth double credit, but we were really bummed out and only one hour had passed.  Dan and I decided that 15m just wasn’t working, and we swapped operating positions while moving to 20 meters.

            I quickly had a frequency at 14016 and began running European stations.  The rate was absolutely incredible, and everyone calling was booming in.  Wow – so this is WRTC! Cool!  The rate meter jumped over 200, then 250 as the pileup continued.  By 1330 we doubled our QSO totals and our spirits rose.  The vast majority of QSOs were with Europe, but I was surprised when VE7CT called in.  I operated about 30 minutes, and relinquished the seat to Dan once again.  All the callers were loud, often with several calling at a time; it was almost exactly like playing the PED pileup program.  Since Dan does so well at the game, I figured it would be right up his alley.  I took my place back in the multiplier-spotting chair while Dan worked the PED Pileup.

            Dan stayed on 20 CW for much of the remainder of the hour, and the rate continued.  During quick lulls he began working some mults with the second VFO.  Headquarters stations such as PA6HQ and DA0HW were all loud and easily worked this way.  The rate dropped in the last 15 minutes of the hour, and we went back to 15 after snagging VK2APK.  There we finished out the hour working a string of JA’s.  The 1300z hour finished with 261 stations in the log.

            Although the rate wasn’t as good on 15, the callers were all worth 2 points so we stuck around.  The extra time we had was spent snagging 20m mults such as 8N3JHQ (Japanese HQ station) and HB9A.  After only 10 minutes however we realized that we were wasting our time here, and went back to 20, this time phone.  Once again the rate skyrocketed.  First 150, then 250, and then 350!  This was my first time to watch Dan operate phone and I was amazed, laughing out loud at times at his skills.  I looked back at Mika who himself was shaking his head in disbelief.  By 1430Z, the rate (last 10) was peaking at 420 QSOs/hr!  Unfortunately, the frequency was getting more and more crowded and the rate suffered until we were forced to QSY.  Since I had put together a decent sized list of mults on 15, we went there and worked several, including 8N2JHQ and E21EIC.  We were both amazed by how well the simple antenna setup was working.

            At 1440z, it was back to 20CW where I was running Europeans at a reasonable 150/hr rate.  I kept thinking in the back of my head, if the rate here is this good, how much better would it be on phone?  We tested the theory at 1500z, now with more than 400 stations logged.  Before moving, however, we quickly worked a loud ES9A on 10m, our first QSO on the band and an easy one, since Estonia is just a short hop across the sea.

            The rate was better on phone, but not for long.  15 meter was still open stateside, so we went there to work a few more USA stations, including K6AM in California.  The band was open but we couldn’t get anything going.  On 10, we worked R3HQ, our second QSO there.  It looked like we wouldn’t get any openings like I’d seen going through past logs.  On the contrary, 20 CW was opening up nicely worldwide so we went back there, running Europe and the additional 2 pointed from North America and Asia.  Nice multipliers that called in included BA4DW and HL5UOG.  The clock read 1600Z and there were 505 stations in the log.

            20m was open nicely to Asia and Europe, and the UA9’s kept calling in.  We kept the second VFO on 15 meters, moving back there for multipliers.  9V9HQ and Robin 4D70RG were both good ones worked.  We were happy to break the pileup to ZD9IR V51NAM on 15 phone.  I was listening on the multiplier station to 5Z4IC, who had a huge pileup.  There were plenty of OJ stations calling, but none getting through.  Dan remained on 20, running stations, while I listened to the pileup. That’s when I heard the 5Z station asking for everyone “Will everyone please QRX, are there any World Radiosport teams on frequency?”  I yelled to Dan who quickly changed VFOs and called.  Damn – another OJ beat us.  I’m nervous as Dan calls again.  Cool! We got him! After us, he went back to working Europe, and I still hear a couple OJ’s calling. Phew – that was cool! Man contesting is fun – little things like that make it all worthwhile.  Later on 20 we snag 9V9HQ once again.  We finish the 1600z hour with another 100 stations logged.

          We’re on a rate to make nearly 3000 contacts, would that be enough?  Before the contest, most of the Finns believed that the winning team would have somewhere around 1800 QSOs, taking into consideration the Aurora which often rears it’s ugly head this far north.  The morning of the contest, while eating breakfast with Steve, N2IC, he mentioned that the winning team would need 2800 QSOs.  I’m not sure where he came up with that number, but as you’ll see, his prediction was pretty close!

    20 meters is still rocking and rolling, and we stick around a while longer.  We keep an ear on 10m, hoping for some life, and about 20 minutes into the hour we start hearing signals!  We log G3TXF, SN0HQ, and G3WVG, who’s calling “CQ OJ”.  While the band is showing some signs of life, the conditions are odd.  Signals pop out of the noise, quickly come up to S9, and dissapear to nothing within a minute.  It reminded me of meteor scatter.  The other OJ’s are swarming the band by now, all searching for multipliers.  We work several, and the band quickly opens to Argentina, where we work several before they dissapear into the noise.

    By 1740z, 10 has dried up again.  It is obvious that we’re wasting our time there.  We try 15 meter sideband, and find the band open stateside.  The rate picks up again as Dan knocks out the QSOs.  I find a lonely 9Q0AR and he makes a quick QSY to work him.  The band is open across the states, with W7’s logged amongst the eastern USA stations.  We finish the hour there, now with 737 QSOs.

    20 seems good, so we go back there for a try.  It is a mistake, as the rate plummets.  After only 5 minutes, it is back to 15, now CW.  K3ZO is logged, followed by VU2UR.  The rate just isn’t as good as the previous hour.  We pop the VFO back to 10 to work PA6HQ and S50HQ, and then try 40, which is now filled with loud Europeans.

    The morning before the contest started, as I was heading toward Mika’s car for the ride from the hotel, I ran into John, W2GD.  He pulled me aside and gave me this tip: go to 40 early.  He had operated from OJ0 before and noticed that the low bands opened early, even when it was bright daylight out.  At 1821z, I hopped quickly to 40 and ran a few eastern Europeans.  Dan tuned up 10m and noticed signals again.  I quickly QSYed there, and began to run Eastern Europeans.  Is this the big Sporatic E opening we were hoping for?  We quickly found out it wasn’t, as the signals dropped into the noise after about 20 quick contacts.  Back to 40 we go.

    I tuned up the band, noting that it was sunrise in Japan.  I was hoping to find a Japanese station to work before it was too late.  There!  JH4UYB is Cqing, and loud too!  I called several times, never getting a response.  It got very disappointing, so I spun the dial to the bottom of the band with the intension of tuning and quickly search and pouncing some multipliers.  Right above band edge, there’s 8N2JHQ, sitting fat and pretty, Cqing away.  I call him, and he comes back quickly for the double mult.  It turns out we were one of only a couple teams to work the JA headquarters station; several teams never worked a JA on the band.  We settled in on a frequency, and began running guys.  The band was wide open into eastern Europe and Asia, and there were many UA9s and UA0s intermixed with the OK’s and DL’s.  The 1800z hour finishes up when JH4UYB, whom I wasted 3 minutes trying to work, calls in for an easy contact.  There are 836 QSOs in the log.

    10 meters is showing some signs of life again, so we return there to work CT9M, OI2HQ, and a couple more OJ’s before everyone fades into the mud.  Unfortunately we waste nearly 15 minutes there, and once we return to our senses we go back to 40 which is still hopping.  It is 10:30PM local time, and while the sun is just beginning to set here, most of Europe is in darkness.  While I was on 40, Dan compiles of huge list of multipliers he hears on 15.  He go there, and work a large string of needed HQ stations, as well as J75KG and OA4O.  HS0AC is one noted double mult we easily worked.  After a string of about 15 multipliers, it is back to 40 for the remainder of the hour, with Europe and the occasional UA9 calling in.  We stay there through the hour and on into 2000z, as the rate is very good.  At 2045z, we make the hop to 80 where we find the band also wide open to Europe.  We finish the hour there, working mostly Europeans and even some UA9’s where are now coming into sunlight.  The clock strikes 2100Z, midnight local time, and we’ve finally hit the 1000 QSO mark.

    20 is started to sound good stateside, as it is coming into late afternoon there.  We move there and begin a good run of stateside stations with a few Europeans mixed in.  Although the rate is better on 40 and 80, these guys are all worth double points.  We finish the hour there, with another 160 stations logged.

    Dan comments that since we have limited darkness, we need to be on 40 and 80.  He comments that 20 will be open all night stateside, and we better work the guys on the low bands while we can.  I agree with his thinking, and we move back to 80 at 2200z.  The rate is incredible once we get spotted, jumping above 250/hr.  Not bad for CW! By now all of Europe is in darkness, and we feed on the endless pit of Europeans.  Dan is running, I’m on the spotting radio.  While he’s running CW, I hop up to SSB and search for multipliers.  Our strategy for the low bands is to only run guys on CW there, and to work SSB only for mults.  I find several, mostly headquarters stations, which Dan jumps up to work.  Once the packet pileup starts to dry up on 80, we decide to hop back to 20, sideband this time.

    20 is still wide open stateside, and we start the run off with P40B.  We work a long string of stateside guys, and it’s time to go back to 40 once again.  We really want to maximize our QSOs there.  While 20 will be open for the entire contest, we only will have about 4-6 hours of propagation on 40 and 80.  We finish the first 12 hours there, hopping between 40 and 80.

    Now that the contest is half over, we see that we’ve worked 1400 QSOs.  Half way to the magical 2800 N2IC said would be needed to win.  However, upon reflection, neither Dan nor I felt particularly good about our effort.  We spent too much time calling multipliers, and too much time especially on 10 meters.  While the QSO total is pretty darn good, we just had a feeling of “bad mojo” over the first half of the contest.  It turns out that our thoughts were correct, as we had dropped into the middle of the standings.  Mika told us after the contest was over that we had dropped to 26th place overall by the halfway point.

    We started out the second half of the contest on 80 meters, by working a couple new headquarters multipliers we still needed on sideband.  We discovered a major RF problem, with horrible RF feedback into our headphones.  It’s not something we checked ahead of time, and fortunately we spent so little time there that it didn’t make a difference.  After 20 minutes there, I hopped back to 20 CW for another decent run of stateside guys, with the last 10 on the rate meter pushing 250.  Dan had made up a long list of multipliers we needed on 40, which was now beginning to open to NA.  At 0030 we moved back there, quickly working VY2SS who was our first Canadian on that band.  Also quickly worked were PJ2E, and P41HQ, a nice double multiplier.  We still needed a bunch of multipliers on the low bands, so we stuck it out there even though the rate was slower.  Like Dan said, 20 would be open all night long. We finished the hour out there, swapping between 40 and 80 numerous times to work European multipliers we still needed.

        It was back onto 20 CW for the 0100 hour, and the second caller was AA2F, who happens to be my ham radio Elmer.  My mother told him I was competing, and he made an effort to work as many of the OJ stations as possible.  Although it was disappointing not to be able to say hi, it was cool that I was at the rig when he called.  The rate continued to be outstanding.  Dan found NP4Z on 40, who had a large pileup with several OJ’s in the mix.  Dan listened for a while to the large pileup, and we were happy that none of the OJ’s were making it through, since we didn’t want to leave a good run to call someone we might not work.  All of a sudden Felipe asked for only OJ stations!  We made the quick QSY and called, and worked him immediately.  We were the only OJ calling – all the others we heard had given up by that time!  Before returning to 20, I hopped to 15 meters quickly to give KL9A a call.  Although we had already worked KL7RA on that band, I wanted to give Chris a call.  I cranked up the speed to 46WPM and ripped off a quick call.  He came back immediately with my report.  Chris is one hell of an op.  Conditions were amazing – that’s normally a difficult path and he was pounding in.

    After working KL9A, it was back to 20 CW, our “meat-and-potatoes” band.  We stayed there for the next couple hours, working an endless pit of USA stations.  Infact, we stayed there for several hours, only leaving the band for quick QSYs for multipliers.  The band was wide open to the entire world.  Although the majority were stateside, we had other parts of the world call in such as VK8AV and a couple ZLs.  We mixed up modes, switching from CW to SSB from time to time, to keep the rate going.  We did this for the next 5 hours, adding another 500 contacts, the majority of which were worth 2 points.  It turns out this was a smart strategy and we were beginning to claw our way up the standings!

    Although the sun had been up for hours by the time the clock read 0600z, only then did 15 meters begin to open up.  We were hoping for some real good 15 and 10 meter conditions to finish the last quarter of the contest.  We started working Europeans at about this time, however the rate was still better on 20.  The 0600z hour finished out on 20 meters with about 30 QSOs on 15 meters mixed in.  We were hoping for a good run of JA’s, who were surely interested in our rare prefix, but it never developed.  We didn’t work a single Japanese station this hour.  We also were keeping an eye on 10 meters, hoping for that magical opening.  About midway through the hour, we worked a loud LZ1NG there, the only signal on the band.  It seemed like conditions were not as good as the first part of the contest.

    We continued to tune 10 meters while running 20, and at the top of the hour Dan heard the first JA of the morning – surprisingly on 10 meters!  Even more suprising, he was louder to the south!  Weird.  We went there and quickly logged JA8RWU, who clearly was loudest beaming South.  10 was showing some signs of life, so we made the QSY there early into the 07Z hour.  The rate wasn’t fantastic, but at 100/hr, it was good enough considering everything was a multiplier.  The band was open to Eastern Europe, and we were working mostly Ukrainians with an occasional UA9 caller as well. It certainly wasn’t the super opening we were hoping for, but it was better than nothing.

    We finished the hour there, but decided 15 would be better and started the 0800z on sideband there.  It was a good decision as the rate exploded.  We hadn’t spent much time there so we were “fresh OJ” to the masses and a large pileup ensued.  The Packet Pileup dried up after about 30 minutes, and after a short time on 10, it was back to 15 meters, CW this time, for another packet pileup explosion of Europeans.  This was fun!  At this point we changed out strategy somewhat.  We would swap bands or modes about every 30 minutes.  This would continue until the end of the contest.  Every time we switched, we would have an instant pileup which would last for about 20 minutes then dry up.  A mode of band switch would create a new pileup.

    We continued to listen to 10 meters, hoping for an opening.  There were a lot of OJ stations calling CQ there, but very few working anything.  We knew they were wasting their time as we concentrated on 15.  During this period, I heard and worked the Japanese HQ station on 10, who was this time louder direct path.  We wasted about 5 minutes calling the Taiwanese HQ station, who would have been a nice double multiplier, but he never heard us.  It was very weird listening to him.  At times he was louder direct path, other times pointing south was best.  We never worked any other Asian stations there, which was a disappointment.

    The European pileups continued, and even the last 100 rate topped 200 QSOs per hour for a while.  We worked GM3POI on 10, who then asked us to QSY to 40.  He was trying to work as many OJ stations on all the bands.  I was like “yeah sure, its Noon here – no way!” but he asked us to try anyway.  We went there, and there he was, 20 over S9 at noon.  Wow – he’s got quite a station!  Up to this point we had moved very few multipliers.  Most of the rare guys we would want to move were in locations where there was only one or two bands open to that part of the world at that time.  I think for that reason very few guys were moved.  I thing we ended up moving 14 multipliers, which was about average for all the competitors.

    The time flew by as the rate continued.  We would be on 15CW, then 10CW, than 15SSB, then 10SSB.  Every time we would QSY there would be a flurry of contacts made which then would quickly drop off, signifying as time to move again.  10 really never opened up although we spent some time there.  The band was weird.  For a couple minutes, we would work a bunch of guys.  Then for another few minutes, nothing.

     After the contest was over, I was finally explained why by a couple of the Finns.  This far north, the Aurora is what mostly affects propagation.  What was happening, was the Auroral zone was fluctuating, moving down over our location for a short while before receding back north.  This happened all morning long.  That’s why the Asian stations were louder in different directions.  When the Aurora was over us, we were working them scatter, pointed south.  When it was receded, we could work them direct path.  Very interesting!  We were lucky, because the Aurora could have affected us in much worse ways!

    By 1100z, 15 meters was starting to dry up.  We had simply worked everyone.  Dan wanted to try 20 meter Sideband, which was a great decision.  We hadn’t been there all morning, and the band was wide open to Europe.  He ripped off 139 QSOs in the last hour, including an incredible 14 in the final 2 minutes after we were spotted near the finish.  Mika and I sat there in amazement of his sideband operating ability.  The pileup was incredible at the end!

    At the final bell, we took off our headphones and looked at Mika.  He’s the one who would know how well we were doing.  We had no idea of how well we were doing, however every hour he went into the other room to look at our real-time score on the web.  Every once in a while we would look at him when he was walking back into the room, but he was always stone faced, not giving anything away.  How well had we done?  Mika said “I think you will be happy with your result”.  We went to the other room and saw our standing at 5th.  Woo-Hoo!  We’d done pretty well!  We saw that the team of N6AA/N6TJ was at the top of the standings, but it was soon noted that their score was incorrect.  We had finished 4th!!  We had worked 2714 QSOs, of which 1692 were CW and 1022 on SSB.  In addition, we had 436 multipliers, which would later drop a couple since the IARU regional secretaries didn’t count for us.  Not bad for 100 watts and modest antennas!  As for N2IC’s prediction; the top few teams were all at or close to the 2800 QSO total he had predicted.

     After tearing down all the equipment, we had a late afternoon meal of soup and bread with our host and we loaded up in the car to return to the hotel.  We returned to the hotel to find several other competitors there, all looking at the top claimed scores.  N6TJ was running around telling everyone that his logging software miscalculated their score, so we confirmed out claimed 4th place standing. 

     I went up to the 4th floor where the log checkers were located to give them a hand written summary of our score and some notes I had taken during the contest.  Dave, K1ZZ, had asked me for the summary so they had something go run off of as they began crunching all the logs.  Dan and I were physically exhausted, so we both went to bed early.  I wasn’t able to sleep well; our room was located directly below the log checking room and there was bumping and banging all night long as they crunched the logs.

    I had to get up early the next morning to catch the tour bus for the “Nature tour of Finland”, hosted by OH5NQ.  The day consisted of a long drive into the lakes region of eastern Finland, a boat ride and a light lunch on an island, and a ride to a horticultural park located on OH5NQ’s property.  All in all, it was a good trip, because I was able to spend considerable time chatting with W4AN, N6ZZ, N5KO, and others.  I’ve worked these guys uncountable times in contests, and considered them good friends.  It was enjoyable to finally spend some time with them in person, exchanging stories and having a good time.

    That evening, we left the hotel and boarded two passenger ferries for a ride through the harbor and around Helsinki to the dinner gala location.  It seemed that the majority of the famous contesters in the world were all sitting on these two boats.  Andy, N2NT, commented that if they sank, contesting as the world knew it would cease to exist!

    The boats pulled up to a small island located off the old district of Helsinki.  Atop the island was a very old style building where the restaurant was located.  It looked a lot like the Bates Motel J  Dan and I found seats and were joined by WC4E, RN9AO, and UA9BA.  Although the Eastern Russian contesters seemed somewhat reserved, probably due to the language barrier, the UA9’s were extremely cool and I was very happy to enjoy the dinner with them.  As the top 10 teams were called up, I was hoping that maybe, just maybe, we would make it into the top 3 after log checking.  It wasn’t to be and we were called up as the 4th place team.  All in all it was an enjoyable evening, and it wasn’t until late into the night when we rode back to the hotel to finish packing.

    Tuesday morning, I was up bright and early at 5AM for my departure flight.  I got on the bus with W4AN and K4BAI for the ride to the airport, where we joined K1AR, K1DG, K1ZZ, K5ZD and others who were waiting outgoing flights.  7AM rolled around, I boarded the plane, and I took off for the long flight home.

    In retrospect, WRTC was easily the most memorable ham radio experience in my life.  I got to meet all the “famous” contesters of the world, and can now consider many as very good close friends.  I am extremely happy about my 4th place finish.  Dan and I were the only team in the top 10 who hadn’t competed at WRTC before.  I think we really turned some heads and perhaps gained some respect in the contesting community.  On the other hand, it was a little frustrating to be the 1st team NOT on the podium, and the 1st team to go home empty handed.

My future goals?  Originally my goal was to participate at WRTC.  That goal is completed, but I want to WIN WRTC.  That is my goal.  I hope we will have the opportunity to do that in 2006.  It is a long time away, and until then I plan to remain active and competitive on contests, and improve my friendship with those I met that week in July. 

    In closing, I want to thank a number of people.  Without the Florida Contest Group, I probably would not have even made it to Finland.  They helped me financially to offset some of the costs, and they were great supporters of me.  Paul and Pidge, K1PT and KD1BG, who have opened their home to me many times in order to remain on the air and make competitive scores in contests. Dan, K1TO, who I knew was supporting me even with all the good natured ribbing.  The Finns, OH2BH and others, who put on one hell of a program.  And more than anything, my wife Mickey who stood by me and supports me with my hobby.  Without these people and more, I would never have placed 4th, or even had the chance to compete in Finland.  Thank you!

Click here to download the contest log (saved as OJ3R.TXT)

                  Continent Statistics
               OJ3R   WRTC    Multi Single     14 Jul 2002  1159z

                 160   80   40   20   15   10  ALL   percent

North America   CW    0    0    9  367   75    0  451    16.4
South America   CW    0    0    6   14    5    4   29     1.1
Europe          CW    0  146  248  400  229   64 1087    39.4
Asia            CW    0    9   29   57   43    5  143     5.2
Africa          CW    0    0    1    1    1    0    3     0.1
Oceania         CW    0    0    0    7    1    0    8     0.3

North America   SSB    0    0    0  160   43    0  203     7.4
South America   SSB    0    0    0   15    7    3   25     0.9
Europe          SSB    0   17   13  374  264   81  749    27.2
Asia            SSB    0    0    1   19   22    2   44     1.6
Africa          SSB    0    0    1    0    9    1   11     0.4
Oceania         SSB    0    0    0    3    0    0    3     0.1

BREAKDOWN QSO/mults  OJ3R  WRTC  Multi Single

HOUR      160      80       40       20       15       10    HR TOT  CUM TOT  

  12    .....    .....    .....    .....    92/35    .....    92/35   92/35 
  13      .        .        .     158/38    10/2       .     168/40  260/75 
  14      .        .        .     122/6     17/5       .     139/11  399/86 
  15      .        .        .      87/5     12/5      2/4    101/14  500/100
  16      .        .        .      66/9     26/13      .      92/22  592/122
  17      .        .        .      68/5     48/4     16/8    132/17  724/139
  18      .        .      63/20    10/2     12/3     16/8    101/33  825/172
  19      .       2/4     49/8       .      11/16     9/7     71/35  896/207
  20    .....    22/12    84/19    .....    .....    .....   106/31 1002/238
  21      .       8/2       .     144/10      .        .     152/12 1154/250
  22      .     107/30     1/1     31/2       .        .     139/33 1293/283
  23      .      17/10    63/10    18/5       .        .      98/25 1391/308
   0      .      15/9     18/17    48/2       .        .      81/28 1472/336
   1      .        .       7/2     72/5      1/1       .      80/8  1552/344
   2      .        .       3/1     85/4      1/1       .      89/6  1641/350
   3      .        .       8/4     87/8       .        .      95/12 1736/362
   4    .....    .....     4/5    115/3      2/3     .....   121/11 1857/373
   5      .        .        .     100/2      6/5       .     106/7  1963/380
   6      .        .        .      60/9     20/4      6/7     86/20 2049/400
   7      .        .        .      12/1     32/6     68/6    112/13 2161/413
   8      .        .        .       1/1    144/3     12/0    157/4  2318/417
   9      .        .       1/1      1/1    161/6      3/1    166/9  2484/426
  10      .        .        .        .      66/3     26/4     92/7  2576/433
  11      .        .        .     113/0     25/3       .     138/3  2714/436
TOT       .     171/67   301/88 1398/118  686/118   158/45      .   2714/436

WRTC 2002 – My Story as a Competitor (Part 1)

Dan, N6MJ, and I first met on the air back in the early 1990’s.  At the time he was KC6CNV, and I held KE2PF.  We were both beginning contestors spending a lot of spare time chasing counties on the county hunters net.  This was enjoyable, because every time a mobile moved into a new county, there would be a new mini-pileup to break in order to work the “new one”.  Dan and I often found us in the same pileups.  I guess we had something in common as we were both young – Dan in his early teens and me in my early 20’s.  Dan went on to successfully work all 3,000 plus counties, I lost interest with about 2500 confirmed.

            In addition to county hunting, we found ourselves working each other in a lot of the domestic contests, such as NAQP and the Sprints, in which we were both beginners.  We quickly became friends as voices on the air.

            Later in the decade, I was transferred back out to Guam for a second tour of duty (I am an active duty member of the US Coast Guard).  By this time we were both making a name for ourselves by often placing in the top 10 and winning our category in an occasional contest.  This is about the time the WWYC, the World Wide Young Contestors, came into existence.  This is a club for active contestors from around the world under 30 years of age.  We didn’t have any dues, no president, and no meetings, however in the advent of the Internet we had the IRC chat page #WWYC.  I often spent numerous hours chatting with others my age here, including Dan, and our friendship improved.

            About the time of WRTC 2000, I’m not sure who asked whom first, but Dan and I commented that it would be really cool to be able to compete at a WRTC event as teammates.  We figured we had the skills to really do well!  We discussed it quite a bit and determined that it would be a goal of ours.  At that point I made it the top priority of mine:  to have the honor to compete at WRTC!

            As WRTC 2000 finished, rumors began flying about another one being held in 2002, this time in Finland.  How cool!  I’ve never been to Europe, and Finland isn’t one of those countries you normally visit on a package European tour.  Our excitement built as the details firmed up. 

            By this time I had rotated back stateside, transferred this time to West Palm Beach Florida where I quickly became involved with the Florida Contest Group.  This is a great bunch of guys and I finally had the opportunity to meet two-time WRTC winner (at the time) and FCG President K1TO.  I mentioned to Dan my interest in competing at a WRTC event and he mentioned that it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility.  Fortunately, Paul K1PT, another FCGer, liver nearby and allowed me to guest operate from his station.  His modest station is extremely competitive and Florida is a great location for domestic contesting, as I succeeded in winning the 2000 NAQP CW – the first contest I operated since returning stateside.  I made an effort to make myself as visible as possible, operating as many contests as possible, trying as much as possible to make myself known as possible WRTC competitor. 

W4AN, N5KO, and N2NL in Finland

   In November 2000, I was fortunate to be able to operate alongside K1TO from K4XS’s in the CQWW CW contest.  I was finally able to see first hand how the mutant operated!  I’ll be honest, one side of me expected to see multiple arms extending from his body each controlling a different function…. rotators, keyboard, paddle, RIT…. everything moving at double speed.  After all – he’s the Mutant, right?  I was pleasantly surprised to see his operating style wasn’t very much different from mine – he had just fine-tuned it a little more.  At this point I just KNEW I could do well at WRTC.

            Over the next few months, as details firmed up about WRTC 2002, Dan N6MJ and I continued to be active.  Dan was a perennial top scorer in both modes of the Sprints and NAQP, and I broke the low power USA record in the ARRL DX CW contest from K4XS’s.  We were both working on the goal of selection as WRTC competitors. 

            Finally, the details emerged.  There would be 10 teams from USA, and the top 10 contest clubs each would select 10 nominees, 5 from each side of the Mississippi.  I was somewhat disappointed by the selection process; I had hoped that the top 10 clubs would be able to select their own competitor such as the case for Slovenia (K1TO was already guaranteed a spot as past WRTC winner).  Although the new selection process was probably fairer, since it gave the chance for a top competitor not a member of a top 10 club to participate, it did leave the door open for it to be a popularity contest.  I figured Dan would have a much better chance at getting selected, since it seemed that there were fewer guys interested from the west.  Dan figured I had the better chance since I had been around longer and possibly had more exposure.  The one thing we were sure of is that we decided to pick the other as a teammate if either or both got enough votes to be one of the 10 team captains.  We kept our fingers crossed as the clubs held secret ballots and the votes were tallied by the Finns. 

            Finally there was a press release – the 10 team captains had been selected – and N6MJ was one of those nominated!!!  WOO HOO!!!!   Our dream to compete is coming true!!!!

Now that we knew that we were going, we realized now that we had to prepare.  Heck, neither of us owned a competitive rig!!  Fortunately, Paul K1PT came to the rescue once again.  He was considering buying a FT1000MP to see how it preformed compared to his Omni VI.  We found one and he bought it, and outfitted it with INRAD filters.  Although he owns the radio, he was letting me use it during contests to familiarize myself with it.  Dan figured he was going to be able to borrow a rig from someone.

            We also wondered how well we would operate as a team.  Although we are both very easygoing people who have known each other for years, we had never actually met in person and operated a contest together.  K4XS’s station was once again available for CQWW CW in 2001, and Dan joined me there for a M/S effort.  Things went perfectly – we won the M/S competition by more than 1 million points!  Granted, conditions that year greatly favored us, but it was still a great morale booster.  We discovered that we worked extremely well together, neither wanting to hog the run radio and both open to ideas from the other.  Although we are both good CW operators, Dan is outstanding on SSB where frankly I consider myself a lid, almost like a fish out of water.  On the other hand, Dan’s weak point is his technical skills, which are a strong point of mine, with computer and station setup knowledge learned from several years of guest operating and moving around the country.  It seemed like we were good to go as a team, with one’s strengths covering the others weaknesses.

            After CQWW CW, preparation sort of took a back stage to other things going on in our lives.  I was still extremely busy with work, focusing on preparation for an advancement competition in May.  Dan was attending college classes and working a part time job to boot.  Once that was over in early May, we totally focused on preparation for WRTC.

            The first thing and the most important was station setup.  We were going to use K1PT’s FT1000MP as the transmit radio.  Dan’s parents bought him a FT1000MP MKV, and that would be used as the spotting radio.  We decided on this because not only had we both used the older MP, it was fully outfitted with INRAD filters and had the key click modification performed on it.  Additionally, the power output was 100w versus 200w for the MKV, so it would give us one less thing to have to watch during the contest, making sure we didn’t exceed the 100w contest limit.  Since Dan’s MKV was brand-new and untested by either of us, we determined it should be delegated as the spotting radio.

            Once we had the radios, it was time for the accessories.  Almost all of the teams were going to use automatic band switching and bandpass filters.  I just couldn’t see how using automatic band switching for just 2 antennas would be a major asset.  Not only that, it would be more gear to carry over and something else which could possibly break.  Neither Dan nor I even owned any of this equipment either.  I decided the easiest way to do it would be manually changing the antennas and filters, using PL-259 quick disconnect fittings.  This turned out to be a MAJOR error on my part and I will go into it more during the contest play-by-play.

            In addition to the antenna switching, we also needed a CW and voice keyer.  Dan owned a good CW keyer, but neither of us had a DVK.  Since I owned neither, I was able to purchase at the last minute a Super Keyer Combo, designed and built by ZS4TX.  I was looking for the best of both worlds, and I wasn’t very impressed by the MFJ DVK.  The W9XT card couldn’t be used with a laptop, so ZS4TX’s unit was pretty much the only option.  The ZS4TX keyer combines the best of both worlds, a very good voice keyer combined with the best CW keyer on the market.  I received it just a couple weeks before we had to depart for Finland, and I was just able to get the cables made up before departing.  This was my second mistake.  I ended up wiring the cables wrong, creating a ground loop, which put an A/C hum on the recorded messages.  Although we used it for CW, we didn’t use it for SSB, which ended up making it very difficult late in the contest for Dan.  I highly recommend this keyer to anyone – it is a very high quality piece of equipment if the cable assemblies are wired correctly (N2NL=LID). 

            Finally, we would need logging software.  CT was made available to the competitors, and since we were both familiar with it, we decided to use it.  Dan owned a laptop and my Mother donated an older one to me to use for the contest.  I spent about 2 weekends, several hours a day, trying to get NETTSR to work so we could network them via Ethernet.  I was banging my head against the wall because no matter what, I couldn’t get the packet drivers to load correctly to make the DOS version work.  We really needed the single COM port freed up to be able to have the transmit rig networked with CT.  Finally, I gave up, and we decided to use the Windows version.  We had very few problems compared with other teams during the contest, however we didn’t end up using most of the functions.  Ken, K1EA, created several updates to CT during the week in Finland trying to correct some problems but wasn’t able to get them all worked out by the start of the contest.  I think he felt bad because of some of the problems teams were having but I think it was solely a result of a lack of beta testing and feedback by the teams before the contest.  The software locked up only twice during the contest for us, but I think it was a result of RF in the laptop, not a software issue.  There were, however, some problems with the band map and some other special CT functions, but we ended up not using any of these tools.

            For the most part, we had the station setup.  There were a couple more things that we were considering.  First of all, I read up on the windom antenna, and discovered it worked best against an earth ground.  A little light bulb went on in my head.  I figured that the antenna would perform better if we had a good ground underneath it.  K1PT, an outstanding electrical engineer, recommended we used aluminum foil for grounding since it has a much lower impedance compared with copper braid.  We decided to try to lay some radials under the grounding point to try to improve the antennas performance.  This was one of our “Secret Weapons” which ended up being worthless – we didn’t even try it.  Our other secret weapon was a tuner.  I figured it would be much better than the rigs internal tuner at loading the windom.  Additionally, I wanted to try to load the tribander feedline as a receive antenna for 80m if for example we were running guys on 40 with the windom.  This also ended up being worthless as the windom ended up matching good on all bands and we were able to hear fine with the tribander on 40/80 without matching. 

            Finally, we printed out as much information as possible.  We analyzed logs, both previous Finland logs and the logs from WRTC 2000 to try to glean as much information as possible.  We printed out bearing maps, propagation forecasts, and anything else we figured might help us for the contest. 

            Once we had all this together, it was time to pack.  Two solid months of preparation, all down to this.  I packed the radio into its original shipping box, packed into an additional box for protection.  All the other equipment fit into a suitcase along with my clothing.  I carried my laptop as carry on luggage.  Dan packed similarly.  Now all that was left to fly to Finland!  My excitement was building!

Monday, July 8th, was an early day for me.  I needed to get to the airport in Miami for my 5PM flight.  I had heard nightmares about the airport and decided to get there early.  I ended up arriving at the airport at about 10AM, expecting a huge line at the ticket counter and security.  I was completely wrong.  No line at the ticket counter.  Although one bag was several pounds overweight, nothing was said.  Security as well was a quick procedure as well.  Although I was selected for additional screening (checking all my bags and even shoes), I was through in 10 minutes.  I ended up spending the remainder of the day hanging out at the gate, waiting for the flight, which was still more than 6 hours away.

            The day crept along, and finally it was time to board the flight.  I’m finally on my way!  The first flight was 10 hours long, a DC-10 red eye flight to Amsterdam.  Although I’d been on much longer flights in the Pacific, this particular flight was much more painful.  I couldn’t sleep, and couldn’t get comfortable.  I finally arrived in Amsterdam at 8AM Tuesday morning, July 9th.  Although I was sore and tired from the flight, I was excited to step foot on European soil for the first time!

            I had a 4-hour layover in Amsterdam before my connecting flight to Helsinki.  The time passed quickly, as the airport was excellent.  I was able to kill some time at an Internet café, and enjoyed my first European meal at McDonalds.  I spent the last hour waiting at the gate, watching the people walk back and forth.  We finally boarded the 737 to Helsinki at noon.

            I discovered during that flight that Europeans are much smaller.  I don’t know how KLM could put the seats any closer than they were.  I’m lucky no emergencies occurred during the flight, because it would have taken me 10 minutes to just pry myself out of my cramped seat.  I was dead tired, having been up for more than 24 hours at this point.  Fortunately the sky was clear and I was able to look out the window at the sights as we flew over Denmark, Sweden, the Aland Islands, and finally Finland proper. 

            The flight lasted just over 2 hours, but due to the time zone changes it was 3:30PM when we landed in Helsinki.  My mind was racing – I thought it was so cool – I’m now in Finland!  I never would have thought I’d be here a few months earlier.  At the same time came apprehension.  Did my bags arrive OK?  Will I have problems at Customs?

            The airport in Helsinki is beautiful.  I walked to the baggage claim to find my bags in good condition – it looks like they made it.  I proceeded to customs, looking for a customs officer to present my paperwork.  Before I knew it, I was already through.  No customs officers – nothing whatsoever.  I just walked into the receiving area with my bags.  Standing there was Martti, OH2BH.  I’ve never met him before but his face is unmistakable.  Wow – I’m in Europe, shaking Martti Laine’s hand!

            Martti looked more ragged than I did, trying to arrange transportation to the hotel for the dozens of competitors.  Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I shared the flight with the Hungarian team of  HA1AG and HA3OV, and the English team of G4PIQ and G4BWP.  We shook hands all around, loaded our gear into a trailer, and hopped into the minivan for the ride to the airport.

            The beauty of the country overwhelmed me.  Everywhere was evergreen trees.  Finland has three primary species of tree; not much variety but beautiful due to the density and dark green color of the foliage.  The roads were immaculate, and traffic light.  I was later told that studded snow tired were the law in the winter, and due to the studs every road in the country was repaved every two years.  I never saw a pothole during my stay.  Additionally, there was no pollution.  The air was warm and clean, and there wasn’t a piece of trash to be seen on the road.  I can easily say that Finland is the cleanest country I have ever visited.

            About 30 minutes later, we rolled into the Raddison hotel in Espoo, the center of operations for WRTC.  I gathered my bags, and walked into the lobby where I was blown away by the people I saw.  K1TO was there.  There’s James, 9V1YC.  K1AR and K1DG, practically twins, walking down the hall.  All these famous callsigns, guys I’ve talked to dozens of times over the years and never before met.  I definitely wasn’t tired anymore.

            I registered, got the room key, and went up to the room.  My teammate Dan was already there, resting from his flight.  I dropped my bags, and we both went back to the lobby.

            The first night was a blur, never ending handshakes and greetings from the who’s who of contesting.  There was a large tent set up outside where a light meal and drinks were served.  There I met AG9A, NT1N, K7BV, K1ZM, DL1IAO, ETC, ETC, ETC.  The list is just too long to remember.  Soon, Dan and I turned it into a contest.  Every new person who’s hand we shook was a new QSO, and if that person was in a new country, it was considered a multiplier.  I gave up count after 100 QSOs and 30 some countries.  I even ran into ZL1ANJ, whom I still remember as my first real good DX contact as a novice.

            Slowly, the drowsiness returned, but it was still bright sunlight out.  I looked at my watch – 10:30PM – holy cow!  I guess they weren’t kidding when they said it was the land of the midnight sun.  I forced myself to stay away longer, to see just how dark it would get.  I finally went to bed at about 12:30AM Wednesday morning.  Although the sun had gone down, it was a kind of twilight, which allowed you to see everything clearly.  I went up to the room – jeeze it’s hot in here.  Since there are only two or three weeks of summer, nothing is air-conditioned.  It was in the 80’s the whole week and the rooms were extremely warm.   I laid down in bed and instantly fell asleep.

            Soon later, I awoke with bright sunlight in my eyes.  What time was it?  I looked at my watch – 3:00AM.  Ouch! Midnight sun? They aren’t kidding!

            The next morning we were up bright and early at 8AM, and after eating breakfast it was time to take a quick walk to a local grocery store with N6MJ, N2NC, and KM3T for some bottled water.  Although tap water is safe to drink, we wanted to make sure we had some on hand since it was so warm and it didn’t seem water was readily available elsewhere.  At 10AM, the initial kick off meeting began at the Dipoli center (nice name!), a convention hall next to the hotel.  There, in a big auditorium setting, we were introduced to the head-honchos that be in the Finnish community, and an introduction of the week to come.  After lunch, we were to head to Himos in south-central Finland for a couple days of rest and relaxation before the WRTC competition was to start.

From left, K4BAI, KM3T, W4AN, N5RZ, K2UA, N6MJ, and N2NL

 After the meeting, we had a buffet style lunch where I was able to sit and chat with DL1IAO and LY1DS.  It was really nice to be able to see the faces behind the callsigns of two good friends of mine.

            Once lunch was over, there was a mad scramble to pack before the trip to Himos.  It was expected that the trip would be a time away from the competition and would truly be a time to celebrate and meet other hams.  All of our radio gear was to be left in the hotel rooms, where its safety was guaranteed.  In fact, I never heard of one instance of theft during my trip, showing how trustworthy and how little corruption there was there.

            At 1:30PM, we boarded the buses for the 3-hour trip to Himos.  We were fortunate to have Martti Laine as our host for the ride, and during the trip up he told us stories of Finland, Nokia, and his personal life.  In addition, we had Ward, N0AX, lead us in a sing along of some WRTC contesting songs prepared before the event.  Although he tried, about the only people he was able to get to participate were himself and K1ZM’s daughter.

            During this time, we were discovering the fun you could have with a cell phone.  Each of the team captains were given a cell phone for the week, with free air time to keep in touch with the WRTC committee and the other competitors.  In addition, they had the ability to send SMS text messages back and forth.  As the trip progressed a flurry of SMS messages began flooding the airwaves.  K1TO teasing and calling me “Mr Big Tires”, me giving him a hard time, N5KO sending “blah blah blah” to everyone.  The text messaging was one real enjoyable memory of the trip.

            Finally, at about 5PM, we arrived.  Himos is a large campground surrounded by a large lake and wooded areas.  Every summer the Finns have their version of Dayton, with a week of camping and get-togethers at the site.  The area includes a large hotel and restaurant surrounded by campsites and cabins.  Each of the teams were assigned a cabin, with two teams per cabin.  We found out that Gator, N5RZ, and Rus, K2UA would be sharing our cabin with us.  That turned out to be a great thing – they were both great guys and I really enjoyed the stay.  Across from us was a cabin shared by W4AN, K4BAI, and N4GN.

                        That evening, following the dinner, we were allowed to participate in a pileup competition.  OH6YF made the tapes himself, which were played over the speaker system.  The audio was lousy, which made copy quite difficult.  This coupled with a lot of local QRM by non-participants upset some of those trying to make an effort of it.  One funny note, since OH6YF made the SSB pileup tape as well, all the callers sounded exactly alike.  He imitated a JA and W5 accent however which was priceless!  I personally only took the CW pileup competition, and didn’t feel all that good about it.  I really can’t operate a radio without headphones, and had a difficult time with all the people talking.  I talked with K1TO, and he also said he did lousy.

            Thursday morning, we had an additional competitors meeting, followed by the opening ceremonies.  Teams were led in by country, with Dan and I following in between N2NT and N6RT, and the K1AR/K1DG twins.  This was followed by some formalities by the WRTC committee, and introductions of the judging staff consisting of G3SXW and K1ZZ.

            The afternoon was open, so a large number of us decided to play a round of golf on the small, 9 hole, par three golf course located there.  We had three teams of four each, playing best ball.  My team consisted of K5ZD, W4AN, K3LR, and myself, with N6MJ acting as caddie.  Since none of us had golf clubs, we shared a few between us.  The funniest moment was on the 2nd hole, a 60-meter par 3.  Randy K5ZD was teeing off, and asked me for a 9 iron.  I mistakenly gave him a 5 iron, and he took quite a swing at the ball with it.  The ball was launched, flying well past the green, bouncing off the roof of KQ2M’s cabin.  This shot however, was destined to be on an ESPN highlight reel, and bounced back off the roof, rolling back onto the green where we tapped it in for birdie.

WRTC Open, from Left, W4AN teeing off, K3LR, K2UA, K1TO, N2NT, N5TJ ( I think), and N2NC

          That evening we had dinner under the large tent.  It was a large affair, with a large number of the station host families present as well.  At this time the results of the pileup competition were announced.  It turned out that James, 9V1YC, won the SSB portion, proving that in order to break his pileup on SSB all you need to do is call in a high pitched voice with a Finnish accent.  Second was N5TJ – no surprise there.  On the CW side, N5TJ won once again, followed by – can you believe it – K1TO!  I went up to Dan and called him a King Lid for telling me how poorly he did.  His reply was memorable: “Dave, you have no idea what you’ve gotten yourself into”.  This completely deflated me!  I walked back to my table, and sat down.  Sitting right next to me was one of the contesting gods himself, N5KO.  Looking at Trey, I was completely deflated.  Here I am, completely out of my league.  All my pitiful attempts at intimidation were wasted.  For the first time I was actually nervous about the competition.

            Friday morning, following breakfast, was the moment we were all waiting for, selection of the referees and the contest.  In order to speed the process, there were 52 envelopes, each with a number written on the front.  Inside was hidden a callsign.  Each team captain’s call was written on a piece of paper and placed in a bucket.  One by one, papers were picked out of the hat.  The selected team captain would walk up to the front and pick any envelope of his choice.  Each number corresponded to a referee and station host, which was read out loud by Pasi, OH2IW.

         Each of the competitors had a magazine containing a map showing the locations of each of the sites.  As the teams selected their envelope and discovered their location, everyone would look to see where each of the competitors was going.  Personally, I looked as each host was announced, happy if it was a bad looking spot and worried when a good-looking spot was assigned.  Finally, N6MJ’s call was pulled from the hat and he went up, selecting our envelope.  My heart was beating as Pasi read our assignment.  Our judge was going to be Mika, OH2JA, and our host was OH2FQ.  We quickly looked at the map.  It wasn’t on the ocean as some of the stations were but it looked pretty good!

          We met our host, Mika, who was an extremely nice individual.  He informed us that our host was elderly and was unable to meet us at the hotel.  Once we returned to Helsinki, he would bring our gear and us to the contest site.  He also kept hold of the envelope, which contained our callsign, not to be opened until the last 10 minutes before the contest started.

            Once the stations were assigned, we boarded our buses for the ride back to Helsinki.  This time, our host was Jukka, OH2BR, well known for his VP6BR operation.  During the return trip he told us of his travels to Pitcairn and Malyj Vysotskij Islands.  As soon as we returned to the hotel, it was a mad dash to gather our gear for the trip to the host site.  We packed our gear into Mika’s car, and we were off.

            OH2FQ’s home was about one half hour west of Helsinki.  As we turned off the main road, I got nervous, as we got closer to the location.  Would it be a good one?  My heart skipped a beat as we drove down into a valley.  I hope it isn’t here!  I began to feel better as we drove up the other side.  We turned off the road onto a driveway and up an incline through a heavily wooded area. There it is!  I can see the antennas!

            Jansson, OH2FQ, has a beautiful house located in a densely wooded area next to a small lake.  He lives there with his wife, and pet dog.  He built his home in this particular location for the sole reason of Amateur Radio, and he considered it to be a very good location.  That was a great morale booster for Dan and I!  Mika introduced us, and led us to the operating position, a large table in a room next to a Sauna.  He left Dan and I to set up while he and Jansson went to the other room to talk.

QTH of OH2FQ; windom can be seen in the foreground

        I looked at the antennas.  Each of the 52 sites have identical antennas.  A Finnish made tribander (similar to a Force 12 design) and Yaesu rotator atop a 12m mast.  In addition, there was a windom antenna strung between two trees.  One end was about 45ft high, the other about 20.  They set the windom up so the average height above ground would be 9 meters for each of the 52 sites.  Jansson had a large tower of his own but for the most part it was invisible in the trees and not located anywhere near our WRTC antennas. 

            Dan and I quickly set up the stations, and except for some RF in a computer, we had absolutely no problems.  There was almost no inter-station interference and band pass filters were not needed.  We got on the air for the first time and were amazed at the strengths of the European stations.  I called CQ, signing OH/N2NL and quickly had a pileup.  This looks like it’s going to be fun!  

The Finnish tribander and antenna mast

        Once the station was set up, we returned to the hotel to try to get a good night’s sleep.  There we met up with several of the other teams, some of which who were happy, some not, of their station.  The team consisting of K1ZM and N6ZZ had horrible line noise, and their station had to be moved in the middle of the night to OH2BH’s contest station site.  It must have been disheartening, because they mounted the tribander 12m high on a 60m rotating tower, which held a three element 80m beam!  On the contrary, N2IC and K6LL were both happy with theirs.  Some of the guys commented on working some real good DX into Asia and North America, however all we worked was Europe.  That slightly worried me; maybe our station wasn’t getting out as well as some of the others.

            Saturday morning we awoke, and after breakfast returned to OH2FQ’s station to make some final station setups before the contest started at 3PM local time.  We played around a little bit with the computers, trying to get everything as perfect as possible for the contest.  I decided to get on the air again, and quickly had a pileup again.  Conditions seemed excellent!  About this time, a large caravan of dignitaries led by OH2BH stopped by.  They were visiting a few of the stations before the contest start, and the group included Martti, K1ZZ, G3SXW, and W6AQ among others.  Dave, W6AQ, was filming for the WRTC video and wanted to get a few shots of me running the pileup.  He set the camera atop the rig, pointed directly at my face, as I picked callsigns out of the pile.  No pressure here!  It was perfect timing.  I had a SP station call me, at about 15 words per minute, and proceeded to tell me his name, QTH, rig, antenna, and pet cat’s name.  All the while I’m sitting there with this camera pointed at my face.  What an uncomfortable position!  During this time, the other guys were looking at our setup.  They noticed our manual antenna switching setup, the only team not to have automatic antenna switching.  Although Dave K1ZZ commented that simple may be better (My opinion exactly!), Martti had a look on his face of “these guys don’t know what the hell they’re doing!”  We hoped to prove him wrong!

            They left us after a while, and we took a break to have lunch with our host and Jarmo, OH7JR, who had joined us in case we ran into any station troubles.  We had an excellent local meal consisting of a hearty soup with bread.  It was about time for the contest start!  We handed our cell phone to Mika, who would use it to send in the hourly scores for the real-time score web page.  The minutes finally ticked down to 2:50PM.  We were as ready as we’d ever be!  For the last 10 minutes, we took off our headphones and turned the volume down on the rigs for the required quiet time.  Mika handed me the envelope.  I quickly tore it open.  OJ3R.  Cool call!  Phew – at least it wasn’t OJ5S or something worse!

            We were fortunate to be busy for the last 10 minutes so not to get too nervous.  I was busy loading the callsign into CT’s configuration file, and Dan was doing some final station arrangements.  The clock ticked down to the 1200z mark.  Just a few seconds left…. there!  We quickly threw on our headphones, Dan at the run station and me at the multiplier station, and we were off!

End of Part 1, click here for Part 2