If a Dxpedition is the Cinderella of radio then a contest is her ugly sister. Hams endure huge pileups to make a Dxpedition QSO while a contester must fight the pack to get noticed. New Zealand is a great place to DX from but it is not the best place in the world to operate an international radio contest. Being far from the maddening crowd is the problem in many ways. ZL is not on the equator and doesn’t have easy access to NA, EU and AF like the east coast of the USA or the Caribbean.
Everything is difficult about trying to win a contest from ZL. During the 1990s, The Wellington based ZL6QH team and Martinborough ZM2K teams ran up some huge totals from their superb locations. Contesting in ZL was beginning to come of age. I was privileged to be part of the ZM2K team and the idea of forming another ZL team started to take shape. Contesting is intense and enjoyable and the thought of doing a multi operator contest from Hawke’s Bay was compelling.
During 2006 Stan ZL2ST, Peter ZL2LF and I talked about setting up a a competitive New Zealand contest team to do the Oceania and CQWW contests. We had already worked together on two Dxpeditions to Chatham Island a few years previously and were doing major contests from home and the Jock White FD contest from a local farmer’s magnificent site about 20 miles north of Napier at Tongioio. The site is a mile in from the Pacific and on a 300 foot hill with sweeping views into all parts of the world. You can look straight out over the Pacific Ocean towards the Americas. The site is electrically dead quiet. Jim allowed us to set up a permanent antenna farm and use his shed to operate the contest weekends. The East Coast Contesters Team was born in 2006 using ZM2M. The ZM2M callsign turned out to be a mouthful on SSB and after a while we changed to ZM4T.
Our focus is the Oceania, CQ WPX and the CQWW contests each year. Both CW and SSB modes are used. Entries in the Multi – Single, Multi- Two and Multi – Multi are decided upon depending on operator availability. Initially the operators were the core of our field day team and then we are joined by Gary ZL2IFB and Holger ZL2IO who had a wealth of contesting and DXpeditioning experience to offer. We discovered that we were becoming more competitive as our scores increased yearly. John, ZL1BYZ joined us a few years ago which gave us a pool of about 10 operators for each contest.
As time went on were able to add better antennas and equipment to our resources and now have permanently installed yagis and feedlines for 10M, 15M and 20M. We usually rank #1 or #2 in ZL and Oceania for each contest.
ZM4T is only one insignificant entry in the world of major contest stations as compared to the thousands of well funded and resourced major contest stations in other parts of the world. Some of these stations have over 100 members in their group with budgets we can only dream of. Our team funds itself by small donations from individual team members during each contest. That pays for the more than 20,000 QSLs we have sent and also a few bits of coaxial cable and rope for antennas. All equipment is donated by team members for each contest. Unfortunately we cannot leave our stations set up permanently and have to set them up and test on Friday morning and then remove the gear Monday afternoon when the contest is over.
We are fortunate to have a pool of very good equipment available. Reliable amplifiers are a problem as each station needs a capablity of about 800 watts for 48 hours continuous duty service. There is nothing worse that a flash, smoke and a sinking feeling at 3am in the middle of a good run. Redundancy is a must and spare equipment is always on hand to put a station back on line quickly. Radio, amplifier, antenna, computer failures and network dropouts are a fact of life in contests and we plan for them. A bad PL259 connector failure can cost thousands of points.
Operating a contest from ZL is challenging as we are so far from the rest of the world. Pointing Yagis NE gives us all of the Pacific and NA. Moving the antennas to NW gives us EUs and most of Asia. A ZM call is rare and we are highly sought after as Zone 32 multiplier. When the bands are open we sometimes generate huge adrenalin pumping pileups. The downside of competing from ZL is the location itself. We are 40 degrees below the equator and Africa is not easy as the path is over the south pole. With most of the big contest stations on the equator, NA or in EU it is often a struggle on 40M and 80M metres to crack the walls of international contesters.
2009 saw the team set a ZL Record in the CQWW SSB Multi–2 category. It was accomplished again in 2010. The ZL record was bettered again in 2011 and 2012 with First place ZL and Oceania. We finally knocked off the formidable ZM1A team led by Ken ZL1AIH and the VK and KH6 teams to win the Oceania No.1 Plaque in 2012. (Shown below)
2013 was a great year for the team setting new records again in the Oceania Contests and CQWW contests in both CW and SSB modes. The team keeps improving by constantly fine tuning antennas and equipment along with better strategy planning before and after each contest. We know what works for each contest and the a team debriefing after each contest brings out new ideas to improve our performance the next time around. Improving our error each contest is a high priority for us as one simple callsign copy error can cost us dearly. The CQ Contest computers are unforgiving!
Our goal from the beginning is to have a fun weekend each contest and improve our operating skills. We do set target totals and discuss strategies and how to achieve them before each contest. New multipliers get a ding on an old school bell to spur us on while a progress chart on the old refrigerator door shows how we are doing compared to the previous year. Incentives help. Team members are specialists in antennas, computer networking, propagation strategy and log checking after the contest. The East Coast Contesters ZM4T team are looking forward to the next season in 2014. Our website at www.zm4t.com maintained by Gary ZL2IFB tells the story of our individual contests.
Lee ZL2AL, Stan ZL2ST, Gary ZL2IFB, Mike ZL2CC, Michael ZL2MY, Holger ZL3IO, Wayne ZL2WG, Peter ZL2LF, John ZL1BYZ, Phil ZL2RVW. The team is indebted to Morrie, ZL2AO, Chris ZL2DX for their logistics help and to Jim and his wife Phips who allow us to have our antennas on their property and use their premises on contest weekends.
Amateur radio should be fun and it should be challenging. A contesting team is a fantastic way to bond with other hams and achieve lasting friendships while improving personal operating skills. I cannot think of any ham radio activity more rewarding than a group of guys getting away to play radio for a weekend.
73, Lee ZL2AL