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:

 

Year

No. QSOs

 

Year

No. QSOs

1994 97 1999 117
1995 97 2000 89
1996 549 2001 177
1997 350 2002 195
1998 223 2003 187

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, 26th November, 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!

Record-Time

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.

Sunrise/Sunset

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):

Callsign Sunrise Sunset QSO Time Path
VK6VZ 21:10 20:43 27 mins before his sunrise
VE1ZZ 20:35 21:01 26 mins after his sunset
JA1JRK 21:45 21:14 27 mins before his sunrise

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.

GMT CALL CONT   GMT CALL CONT   GMT CALL CONT
1859 HA8IB EU 2048 SM4CAN EU 2218 TS7N AF
1903 EA4ML EU 2049 RU1A EU 2222 F5IN EU
1904 UU7J EU 2053 EA6SX EU 2227 GJ2A EU
1906 UA9AT AS 2056 OZ7YY EU 2230 DK2FG EU
1907 UU1OA EU 2058 GI3OQR EU 2231 OM8A EU
1910 RA6AX EU 2101 VE1ZZ NA 2234 OT0T EU
1911 UU2JQ EU 2112 GM3POI EU 2236 DK4RM EU
1914 RK9SX AS 2114 JA1JRK AS 2238 SK6M EU
1914 UU0JX EU 2118 JA4CQS AS 2240 DL3MDZ EU
1915 EA8AK AF 2120 RW2F EU 2241 SM6DYY EU
1916 RN6BN EU 2122 JH4UYB AS 2243 G4OBK EU
1918 OM7M EU 2125 JA5CPI AS 2251 YL2PQ EU
1920 G3KMA EU 2135 JA5EXW AS 2256 EU6EU EU
1921 SV8CS EU 2139 JI4VWK AS 2318 GM0F EU
1923 UU2JZ EU 2145 JR6EZE AS 2323 LY7A EU
1925 UA6AF EU 2147 JA6BZI AS 2324 KC1XX NA
1926 HB9AFI EU 2156 OH1XX EU 2327 ES9C EU
1945 SV8CKM EU 2158 RU9TZ AS 2330 RF9C AS
1951 DJ7MI EU 2202 OM5RW EU 2338 ZS6UT AF
2028 3V8BB AF 2204 OH9W EU 2349 PY5CC SA
2030 G4DBN EU 2211 EI7BA EU
2043 VK6VZ OC 2217 SK3W EU

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 !