Sunday, July 10, 2011

On the Road Home

Its been quite a trip, but all trips must end.  I start the road home today; right now, I'm waiting for the car to take me to Sofia Airport.  I board the plane at Noon Sofia time for the flight to England.  After the hour 15 minute flight to Gatwick Airport (taking into account the time change), it will be off to the Hostel for one last night in England.   Then its back to Gatwick for the flight back to USA and Boston Tuesday afternoon, arriving in Boston (again with time change figured in) early evening.

Its been an amazing trip.  Bulgaria is a lovely country, with many unspoiled natural assets.  Most of the US people on the trip thought it looked a lot like Pennsylvania, although the population of Pennsylvania (12M) easily dwarfs the population of Bulgaria (8M).  But it has the gentle rolling hills and lots of arable farmland.  We also noticed the acres and acres of sunflowers that are grown here; we heard it was for the Biofuel use here.  We also noted that the sunflowers all faced east and were surprised at that until I read the Wiki on it- sunflowers when small are heliotropic (they follow the sun all day), but when they have a single full bloom they face east and don't move their flowers.  That would agree with what we saw off the roads.

Enough rambling.  The car is here, and I must go.

IARU Radiosport

I was fortunate to be part of the LZ7HQ team for the 2011 Radiosport.  We were assigned to work 20 and 40 CW from the LZ5R station.  40M setup was an IC781 and Acom 2000 to a SteppIR Monster 40-6M beam.  20M setup was an IC7800 and Acom 2000 to one of two antennas: 6 el on 20M, or a Force 12 Log periodic. As an HQ station, everyone needs you for the mult so the strategy was to run, run, run.  It was also strange to be started a major 24 hour contest at 3pm in the afternoon local!

20M started out strong, with 9 straight hours of 100+ rate; the first 1000 Qs were in the log by 2000Z.  USA stations, to me, were surprisingly weak; only a handful were over S9.  K5 and K0 stations were the same strength as the East Coast stations; the only difference I could discern between the signals was that the East Coast stations were the first to work us and the last to work us.  We did work a KL7 but no VE7; VE7IO was spotted numerous times but we could never hear him.  We did miss a few mults- XU7 and JU1 being two of them- it would have taken too long to crack the pileup when you're doing good rates.

40M started out slower but continually cranked; the first 1000- Qs were in the log by 0100Z.  Conditions, again, seemed to be down; few US stations were S9.  Just like 20M, the K0s and K5 stations were just as loud as the East Coast stations, except the time we could work them as compared to the East Coast guys was even shorter.  NU1AW/5 was spotted for several hours on 40CW before we could hear them.  The West Coast suffered even more; one never called me, and it was Bulgarian sunrise before W1AW/6 and several other zone 6 stations could be heard here, and then they were quickly gone.  Missed VE7 again, even though it was spotted we could never hear it.

We finished with these band totals:
20CW    1894 QSOs     45 HQ stations     45 Zones
40CW    1342 QSOs     40 HQ stations     41 Zones
Total      3246 QSOs      85 HQ stations     86 Zones

Bottom line- it was a lot of fun!  Its nice to be the hunted, and have the stations line up for you.

First US station to work us on both 20 and 40M was George W1EBI.  Congrats!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Bulgarian Observations

I thought it might be fun and entertaining to examine some of the things I've learned while in Bulgaria.


Pizza- think cheesy bread sticks.  Or frozen pizza at a roadside stand.

Shopska Salad- the Bulgarian national salad.  Typically made of diced cucumbers, tomatoes, and onions, and covered with a Bulgarian cheese similar to Feta.  I've had several excellent shopska salads here and some not so good; the best ones use very fresh vegetables freshly cut up and a good quality cheese on the top. Add a little balsamic vinegar and its a great starter.

Rakia- Strong, sweet liquor, usually drunk before meals.  When you swallow, you can feel it all the way to the stomach.  Not bad if you like strong, sweet liquors.

Cukes and tomatoes- more flavorful than what you get in the US.  Seems like they haven't been bred for shelf life and ability to be transported, and have been bred for flavor.

Lamb- being in the Balkans, I expected  lot of lamb dishes.  Didn't happen.  Pork and chicken seem to dominate in the meats.

Water- I went 2 weeks here, drinking tap water judiciously, and have had no stomach problems.  I drank tap water at the Pirin resort, Milara plant in Plovdiv, and at the Sunny Beach resort- admittedly, all places with water from more modern purification plants.  I also had ice made from tap water in all 3 locations, and now at several restaurants in Plovdiv, all without incident.  Does that mean tap water in Bulgaria is safe to drink everywhere?  I wouldn't go that far, as outside of the above areas I've only had bottled waters.

Diet Coke- If you are in a restaurant or bar and ask for a Diet Coke or Pepsi, they will stare at you and not bring you anything.  You must ask for a "Coke Light" or a "Pepsi Light" and hope they have it.

Ice- If you want ice, you must ask for it.  Remember, if your ice comes from tap water in a small place, you might regret it.  But, if you don't ask for it, your drink will probably be served at a 50deg F temp.

Fruits and vegetables: fresh and tasty.  I've always washed first, and used bottled water if in doubt of tap water.

Pancakes: a little thicker than a crepe, but not as thick as what Americans think of as pancakes.  A nice light breakfast, with banana, chocolate, or jam.

Ice Cream- I avoided it from street side vendors, even though their displays looked great.  I did eat prepackaged novelty items, but overall this is what I probably missed most on the trip.

Money: Bulgaria uses the Lev as their currency.  1 Lev= .73USD, or 1.31Lev= 1 USD.

Gas Price: For you Americans, gas is priced per liter at 2.34 Lev per liter.  Multiple that by 3.8liters per gallon,and that equates to 8.892Lev per gallon of gas.  Now modify the price at 1.31Lev per USD, and you get a gallon of gas for $6.78 USD.  And we think its expensive at $4 per gallon!

Money exchange: I didn't use any of the money exchange services here; the tour books all suggest that you use your ATM or cash advances from credit cards.  That's what I did, and have no problems getting money when I needed it.  Now, of course, the trick will be leaving the country with a minimum of Levs, as I never know when I'm going to be back and there isn't a big demand for Lev exchanges in the USA

We're getting ready for the IARU tomorrow afternoon.  I was just messing around yesterday, calling CQ and DXing, when I saw spots for the USA on 6M.  I went up there, and with a Monster Stepp antenna was actually able to work K1TOL on 6M!  I was told by several that working the US on 6M didn't happen very often, so I was fortunate to be able to do so.  Right now, I see the US is coming to western Europe on 6M, so maybe we'll get another chance at it this evening.  K1WHS, W3UR and K3ZO have been spotted, but I haven't been able to hear either of them.  The antenna here is a small 3el beam above the Milara factory roof; it works, but K1TOL was barely readable when I worked him.  I also heard N1BUG and another W1 yesterday, but the band faded before I was able to work them.  I'll keep trying, but its probably too late for today and I won't have another shot until Sunday after the contest.

Web Sites Again

The web sites to check for more pictures and results:

and navigate to pictures or results.

continue with  perin2, perin3, etc. all the way to  perin10 so far.

Dennis LZ/W1UE

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Journey Continues

It has been several days since I've blogged.  The competition is now just a memory; if you're interested, the results are now available at

We left Pirin on Sunday, and rode the bus to Sofia and a tour of the Acom factory.  While there, we saw the new equipment that Acom will have on the market (a small transceiver, an 800w amp, and an amp combiner);after lunch, we bused to the LZ9W station in Breznik.  It is 50km west of Sofia, and not far from the border with Serbia.  The station is located on top of an abrupt mountain that is composed mostly of iron ores and metal; ground conductivity seems to be excellent.  Combine big antennas (3 stack of 6el 20M rotatable beams not too high, but in the direction of US, with the drop off of the hill, probably 200ft above ground when you go out 3 wavelengths).  Its easy to see why they have a big signal in the US, and indeed everywhere.  If you google Breznik Iron Ore, you will find out more about the area and its rich ore deposits of iron, silver, and gold.

We stayed at the Hotel Bardoto (which is owned and operated by the LZ9W team, it seems) (but no one seemed to know where the Hotel Bardasho was), and had dinner there.  It was a delightful time, good food, good drink, good friends.

Monday saw our long drive to Sunny Beach, on the Black Sea, and stopping in Plovdiv on the way.  This was a 440km trip, and took over 8 hours.  We did it in two pieces; Breznik to Plovdiv, then Plovdiv to Sunny Beach, arriving a little after 10pm.  While in Plovdiv, we toured the Milara plant where K1LZ's company makes industrial robots.  It was quite eye-opening, to see what is being done with the technology and how the use of robots of expanding in industry.

Next we bused to Sunny Beach, stopping for some wine tasting in Thrace.  Again, good food, good drink, good friends.  When we finally arrived in Sunny Beach, I was exhausted and headed straight to bed while others played.

Tuesday, the group decided to take a down day.  Seems that everyone was tired, but always being on the go in a strange land and the stress of the competition finally caught up to many of us.  Tuesday night, we headed to Nesserba.  Nesserba is on an island, and is an old town with stone walls dating back several hundred years.  It was mostly souvenir shops, with some entertainment (in Bulgarian, of course), but the place was just mobbed when we got there at 9pm.  After a late dinner and many rounds of toasting, we headed back to the hotel in Sunny Beach.  A small group wasn't done, though, and 4 brave soles headed back out for more fun, not arriving back until almost 6AM.  I know, because my roomie was one that came back then.  I've had problems with my arthritis the last several days, so I've had to curtail my alcohol intake.  The medication that I have doesn't work as well when its taken with drink. 

I did have a chance to try some rakia (Bulgaria's national drink, and almost compulsory before each meal).  It is thick, sweet, and you can feel it go all the way down until it hits your belly.  Its also probably 160 proof, so a little goes a long way!

That's it for now.  Some of the non-LZ competitors left Monday, a few more are leaving tomorrow, a few more between Saturday and Sunday.  I'll be leaving next Monday, after getting an opportunity to be part of the LZ7HQ Headquarters team in IARU over the weekend.  I've never operated a contest with propagation from Europe before, and am looking forward to putting a few Qs in the log.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Contest Impressions from W1UE

Prior to last weekend, I had never operated a contest in this manner.  My impressions:
1. The playing field was about as level as its ever going to get.  Everyone had 1 watt to a small antenna, and
everyone was situated roughly 50M from the nearest stations, then another 50 M to the second nearest station, etc.  
2. The contest required CQ and S&P strategies.  Sitting on one frequency and calling CQ would mean you were losing. 
3. Frequency choice was also required.  In retrospect, I don't think it was an error that the only non-LZ station to break into the Top 10 captured the bottom of the band.
4. Unless you sat there and listened to the entire QSO of the previous station on the frequency, you could not guess at the exchange.  The exchange was made of your 3 digit serial number, and a 3 digit serial number your previous QSO had given you.  You had to copy it; it was not like CQWW where you know 99% of the reports as soon as you have the call.
5. A number of stations had problems with equipment, setup, etc.  IMHO, when setting up 86 stations everything is not going to go 100%.
6. I was the N1MM "expert" for the contest.  I probably helped 30 ops set up their computers for the program.  Unfortunately, many of them had never used it before.  Learning to use any program, let alone one as many options as N1MM, during the contest is not a good choice.
7. I was constantly busy during the contest.  Call CQ, tune the sub rx, call CQ, turn the sub rx, swap VFOs and work someone, swap back, check band map for blue colors, etc.  There wasn't time to waste.
8.  A large part of an international gathering of ops is the social connections that you make.  For me, I had never met a number of the ops.  There are some great ops out there, some that will never make WRTC but are great nonetheless.
9.  After the results were released, competitors were given their UBN report.  You could see what errors you made, and why. 

1.Propagation was eliminated as a variable.  No knowledge of it was necessary to successful compete.

Bottom line: Would I do this again?  Would I come all the way to Bulgaria or New York or somewhere to enter a competition like this?  Yes.  The social aspect, the competition, the uniqueness of the setting all contributed to an enjoyable experience. 

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Contest Results

Its all over now.  The Grand Banquet has been held, the winners  awarded.  While the fun isn't over, I always feel a little down after the anticipated contest is over.   Most of the narrative below will be on the YCCC members and how they did, as that is my primary readership.  My apologies to any names misspelled or to anyone that I may have overlooked. 

The competitors were all required to submit their Cabrillo files on a memory stick 1 1/2 hours after the contest end.  That seemed odd to me, so I asked why so much time (my log was ready 5 minutes after the contest ended).  I could see maybe 30 minutes, as everyone had to be transported back to the Clubhouse center, but 1 1/2 hours?  Well, it turns out that there must have been at least 10 competitors that logged on paper, and sent by hand, the entire contest.  We heard that one LZ even used a straight key!  So those that logged on paper needed the time to create their Cabrillo files.

For the contest, Saturday morning we had a general meeting where we discussed the rules and pulled the envelope with our station location and callsign.  The station callsign envelope could not be opened until 0815Z, but each of us had to be transported to our location.  None of the locations were what I would call ideal; Fred K1VR was on a little ridge right off the main road; the largest plants around were all about knee high and a brisk wind sapped the heat out of you.  Jeff K1ZM, Krassy K1LZ, and myself were about a mile away down a dirt road in a forest, and I'd say about 40 ft less elevation than VR.  There was also a hill between VR and the rest of us.  We were in a forest, with many tress around; with a gentle breeze; I moved my table and chair to the shade of a tree (no umbrella at this location) and operated the contest from there.  I was fortunate that there were high clouds for the first 3 hours of he contest; I was only in direct sun for the last hour or so, but even with that I was warm.  Fred froze, and I sweat. 

Upon arriving at the station, we found a generator, a table, a chair, an antenna (already assembled), an AC cord to get the AC to the table, about 50 ft of RG58 with connectors already on, and (at most sites) an umbrella.  I got to my spot around 0700Z, and had everything set up in 20 minutes or so.  Based upon some comments from my two next-door neighbors (CT1ILT and K1ZM), I started up my generator and made sure it ran well.  I was fairly fortunate, as my generator did not produce RFI; some had a major problem with it.  ZM's generator didn't want to run, but seemed to stabilize after awhile; unfortunately, the generator problem came back to bite him during the contest.

All the callsigns were of the format LZ6xx; I was LZ6AU, VR was LZ6AG, LZ was LZ6BA, and ZM was LZ6AT.  LZ6AA to LZ6BD were international competitors, LZ6BE to LZ6CY were LZ ops.  The station locations were spread around the outside of the Golf Course, at least 50 meters from the nearest station.

The competition started at 0830Z; signals ranged from S9 (my next door neighbors) to unreadable (I could hear others working stations that I could not hear).  My strategy was to stay on one frequency the entire contest and CQ there, and use the sub receiver in the K3 to S&P between CQs.  Once marked on the bandmap, I would go back to the S&P frequency after 30 minutes and quickly work them a second time, and so on.  It worked less well than I thought it would; many ops did not return to their CQ frequencies, and many did not return to me via the bandmap but instead found me S&P every time.  ZM had generator problems early in the contest and lost the better part of an hour of operating time; VR had problems sending CW while he was shivering from the cold,  Krassy had persistent RFI problems, and I had a normal antenna instead of one of the QRP models.  We all had problems with our stations, but that's part of the game.  One of the leading stations operated by YO9WF had 270 Qs going into the last 30minutes of the contest when his generator just quit.  That's part of the adventure of traveling half way around the world to operate; you never know what you're going to get.

The results?  Not surprisingly, the top 3 stations were all LZ: 
Call           Raw QSOs      Verified Qs    Accuracy
LZ2PL           298                  284               95.3%
LZ3YY          304                  281               92.4%
LZ2JR           285                  271               95.1%

Top raw QSOs: LZ1MS with 306.  Top accuracy went to LZ4UU with 97.5%.

US Stations:
K1LZ           254                    241              94.9%
K1VR          232                    219              94.4%
K1ZM         222                     212             95.5%
W1UE         225                     211             93.8%
W6OAT       190                     179             94.2%

Evey QSO was cross referenced by the computer checking program; all 6 numbers of the received and sent reports were verified to be correct.  If not, BOTH competitors lost the QSO.  For example, I lost a Q with K1ZM; I sent 008002, and he copied 000800.  Since the program handles only 6 numbers, he probably hit the zero one time too many without realizing it, and the 2 got lost as the 7th digit.  I recorded the contest, but haven't yet gone back to figure out if my rx errors were my fault or the sending stations fault, and if my partner errors were my sending errors or his copy errors.

Its breakfast time.  This posting has been more concerned with operating the contest and the results; more later on my impressions of the contest.