Commonwealth Contest 2010 by Nick 5X1NH
Arrived in Fort Portal nearly two months before BERU - I go there to do "pro bono" work in a community university and my extensive time on the air is "out of hours". This was my third year so I know the challenges. I had solar power available for the contest but (amazingly) I had mains power (“hydro”) throughout. My usual Uganda antenna is an inverted v dipole with links for each band. In BERU that means a trip outside every time you need to change band - particularly unhelpful in the middle of the night. Last year I took an HF2V vertical for 40/80 and that certainly helped. This year I also added a "nested" three band dipole for 10, 15 and 20. I made it in the UK but it appeared to be resonant about 1 MHz on each band! I did some local redesigning using the thinnest (top) section of my two fishing rod masts as spacers and very soon managed to get it resonant on each band. Finally the low band problem - static is terrible in Uganda during March as the rains and thunder have started. I tried hard to improve signals - added 18 radials and some top loading for 80M – better but static is just a matter of luck.
I had big trauma before the contest when my laptop got a nasty dose of viruses – despite being very careful. I had to use a separate operating system to recover my logging system (although backed up) and reloaded virtually all my software from the internet (including SD). The download speed is usually about 4kbps (yes,seriously).Yuk.
I foolishly decided on a last minute SWR adjustment of a 15 M dipole. The 10 foot section of plastic water pipe “mast” decided that it was so hot it would bend like a banana – managed to prop it up and then splint it - worked OK but looked very ugly and put me in a panic for the start.
15M was a good band for me - performed well through the contest. 40 was also good but with night-time static of course. 20M remained stubbornly noisy through - there was a sort of roaring frequency-sweeping noise around for the whole contest - I have heard it many times before in Africa and you just have to dodge round it. 80 M was....80M. Worked 19 QSOs between the crashes - better than last year but poor reward for a lot of effort. And finally 10M - capricious would be the best description. It never really got going although I did lots of listening and calling. It would come to life for just a few minutes and then go back to sleep.
Propagation was also strange - seemed very difficult to work Canada - and I just heard nothing from the Caribbean. Australia was fine - and so was Russia!
Overall had a great time. Time for a few words more than 599 and only two stations gave me a real report - thanks guys - I hate having to play around with the logging programme!
73 Nick 5X1NH