Top-Band Magic (WAC in 3hrs 6mins)
By Robert Ferguson GM3YTS
This story will gladden the hearts of all Top-Band DX enthusiasts but will also, I feel sure, excite the interest of all DXers. We had a totally amazing and somewhat freak occurrence on 160 metres, the story of which bears telling in some detail.
It was 26th November 2000, operating the CQ WW DX CW contest as 9G5AA in Ghana. We were only four operators: G3PJT, G3SXW, G4BWP and GM3YTS, but we had entered the Multi-Multi category anyway, just to have as much fun as possible running pile-ups with four stations.
The number of contacts to be made on 160 metres is always very small. During our ten years activating West African countries in this contest we have made:
With the exception of 1996, when sunspots were at their lowest and when we flew a 132 foot vertical on a helium-balloon, we generally make only 100-200 QSOs on this difficult band in the 48 hours available. Notwithstanding the rather low QSO-rates we have to pay a lot of attention to 160 metres because of the valuable multipliers that perhaps can be squeezed out of the band.
We actually have to fight against three severe problems. The first and obvious reason is our great distance from major centres of population. Secondly, the equatorial QRN levels are always pretty bad and DX propagation is, at best, unpredictable. But the third is perhaps most important, although less obvious. This is that top-band is very narrow and is completely and continuously filled in Europe and North America with contest-stations blasting out their non-stop CQ calls. As a result we always find that the best time to make contacts is on the Sunday evening, in the dying hours of the contest. This is when many of the S9+ signals that make it impossible for others to hear any DX have eased off somewhat. This is not a criticism – it is merely a contesting fact-of-life with which we have to live. We always make the majority of our 160m contacts in the last few hours of the contest.
9G5AA – 2000
For example in 2000, operating from Elmina in the west of Ghana we made a total of only 89 contacts on 160 metres and 65 of these were on the Sunday evening, 26thNovember, 2000. We made sure to be active on this band all of that evening to maximise the number of multipliers that we could put in to the log.
It started well. Our sunset is at 1740 GMT but we know from experience of operating on the West African equator that there is no propagation at all on 160 metres until a long time after sunset. We were pleasantly surprised to make our first QSO, with HA8IB, at 1859. There followed a healthy trickle of European and UA9 stations, so the band was obviously in quite good shape and we were hearing well through the rather low level of QRN.
One detail worth explaining at this stage is that each time a multiplier is worked the operator sounds a bell. This works as a marvelous motivator, especially in the dying hours of the contest. There then followed one of those never-to-be-forgotten operating experiences and the bell was ringing out every few moments. Excitement grew in the room as the 160 metres loggings were also being monitored by the other stations on the computer-network.
Worked All Continents
Oceania: At 2043 we worked Steve, VK6VZ. It is worth pausing here to emphasise how difficult the path is between 9G and VK. The number of stations that we had worked in CQWWCW on 160m in the whole of Oceania was: 1997 – 2, 1998 – 1, 2000 – 1, 2002 – 1. In the other six years we did not manage a single Oceania contact on this band. So we have made a total of only five contacts in ten years. This is super-rare and a big cheer went up in the room when this contact was logged.
Europe: several European stations were being worked around this time, a total of 44 of them during the evening. We have picked GI3OQR, worked at 2058, just a few minutes after VK6VZ, and a valuable multiplier.
Africa: geographically by far the closest stations were of course in Africa but there are few stations active in the contest. We had already worked 3V8BB at 2028 GMT.
North America: then there was another big surprise when Jack, VE1ZZ went in to the log at 2101. We only worked four North American stations on 160m the whole weekend so this was a very special contact.
Asia: having worked some UA9 stations as early as 1915GMT it was a special thrill to then have a brief opening to Japan. JA1JRK was the first at 2114, followed by seven other JA’s. The path from West Africa to JA is extremely unreliable so this was quite a rare treat.
South America: we then had to wait until the very last contact of the contest, at 2349, to work a South American station and complete the WAC in an evening. This is an easy path (all sea-water) but there just didn’t happen to be any callers that evening. But we did work PY5CC and there erupted quite a celebration!
The shortest time to work all six continents was from 2043 to 2349, a mere three hours and six minutes. In fact, to work five continents (less South America) was a mere 46 minutes. An amazing run of good fortune, especially bearing in mind that we made only 65 contacts on the band during the whole of that last evening, in a total of five hours operating.
We have no idea if this constitutes some sort of world-record for the fastest WAC on 160 metres, but we reckon that it must come close. What is spectacular about this happening is that so many rare and difficult paths were worked, and yet very few stations were logged. This suggests that there are just a few mega-stations available to be worked on this magic band.
Propagation on 160 metres requires the whole path to be in darkness, but it is also well-understood that sunrise and sunset sometimes provide for extraordinary propagation when the encroaching sunlight causes a tilt of the active part of the ionosphere. Therefore sunrise and sunset times can be critical.
The contacts with Europe and Africa were in darkness, however it is worth studying those other contacts (all times are in GMT):
All three were made on a darkness path but is this some form of major coincidence or is there something especially magical about the period around 25-30 minutes away from sunrise/sunset? It may be simply a matter of working what we can hear – or we can try to learn from weird band-openings to help future contest-efforts. Top-band is so unpredictable, hence any lessons that we can learn will stand us in good stead.
A Thrill Nonetheless
Whichever is the case, the fact is that the whole team were especially thrilled with this turn of events. It emphasised again, as if it were necessary, that volume of contacts may be the main thrust of this contest but that low-volume bands, like 160 metres, can and sometimes do also offer major impetus, not to mention extremely valuable double-multipliers.
We doubt that such an event will ever happen again but we will be there looking for these openings on 160 metres on each Sunday evening of CQ WW CW – the biggest and best contest in the annual calendar.
Here is the 160 metre log for 9G5AA on Sunday, 26th November, 2000. The six contacts which make up the Worked All Continents claim are marked in bold-type.
This was all achieved using a very short vertical from Force12 with a few radials although the location by the beach certainly helped. Since this experience I have become much more of a 160 metres fanatic. Previously it was a band that I used for local contests with modest antennas but now I keep odd hours by being around at sunrise and sunset looking for new ones and in the summer as well as gardening I spend a lot of time digging radial wires into the ground. I am hooked on this Magic Band and there is no cure !