Sunday, July 8, 2018

Insurance Contact Dilemma

An insurance contact is when you work a DXpedition a second time on a band-mode. This is generally frowned upon since it takes time away from the DXpedition operators to work other stations, stations that may not have worked the DXpedition at all. Sometimes it's done by mistake.

Most often it is done to be extra certain that their call is in the log. Rare DX can cause anxiety! Before the internet became prevalent in the DX sport insurance contacts were more often due to anxiety about whether they got in the log the first time.The uncertainty may be due to QRN, QSB or QRM (deliberate or accidental) that obliterates part of the QSO. The DXpedition operator can contribute to the anxiety by not clearly repeating and confirming the received call before moving on to the next QSO.

There are also less than stellar individuals who do it to show off their big antennas and big power. With computer logging braggarts risk being called out by the DXpedition operator so this behaviour is no longer as common as it once was.

With near real time log uploads to services such as Club Log there is less cause for anxiety. It used to be that you might only learn one or two years later that you weren't logged! That happened to me a few times so I am appreciative of the benefits of modern technology. Since internet access may not be available or reliable from remote locales, resulting in upload delays from hours to days or until after the DXpedition is over, anxiety still occurs.

Which brings me to the recently completed Baker Island DXpedition: KH1/KH7Z. There were two QSOs that caused me some anxiety, and ultimately a pursuit for insurance contacts.

The first was 15 meter CW. Despite the poor solar flux there is a brief propagation peak in the late evening my local time. Signals are quite weak, putting us at a disadvantage to those further west on the continent. Nevertheless I managed to eke out a QSO around 04Z with my TH6 up 43 meters and with my usual 200 watts. Having a kilowatt would have helped get through but with a lesser antenna I may not have heard them.

The QSO was not without drama. It took a few overs until he copied my call correctly. Finally I heard it, sent my report and heard the confirmation. One more band slot in the log. Or so I thought.

The QSO was not in the online log after it had been updated up to and beyond the time of our QSO. This is not necessarily a problem since it often happens that logs from all operating positions are not uploaded at the same time. So I waited another day. Still nothing.

Perhaps I had been wrong when I heard him send my call that final over. I felt (and still feel) it was correct. I could wait and hope for the best or consider trying for an insurance contact. For many this would be simple to resolve: just get in there and do it. My reticence is due to my dislike of bothering the DXpedition operator again or, worse, hearing the dreaded "QSO B4".

Nevertheless I went ahead. Propagation peaked at the same time a few nights later and I made the QSO easily enough despite the weak signals. No incorrect call to correct this time. Lo and behold the QSO appeared online the next morning! It seems I had made the correct decision.

During the intervening time I got lucky one morning and worked them on 80 CW about 10 minutes after local sunrise when signals usually peak. I heard my call clearly above the noise after one extra over to communicate my call sign suffix. There was a smile on my face as the pile up crowded onto my transmit frequency for their attempt to make it.

The smile didn't last. As you can guess the very same thing happened. Again the QSO failed to appear. There was no happy ending this time since I was not able to catch them again on 80 at the right time and mode.

How does this happen? As the DXpedition wound down I happened to be chatting with a serious DXer friend of mine and we talked it over. We could think of several possibilities.
  1. My mistake: Skill, experience and diligence can still fail us. Despite my certainty it is possible they copied my call incorrectly and I failed to hear the error and correct it. This happens quite a lot in contests, so I am accustomed to these irritating mistakes. However I tend to be especially careful when working a rare country.
  2. Accidental erasure: Endurance operating takes its toll, whether in a contest or on a DXpedition. A wrong or forgotten keystroke and a QSO can vanish without a trace. Although this certainly happens I don't consider it highly probable in the case of my missing QSOs.
  3. Typo: Operators have many different styles. Logging software can smoothly handle transmission of partial calls that are typed in and re-sending of updated call signs. Some operators are more comfortable sending the partial call by hand. Only after they believe they have the call correct do they type it in and log it. In this way I could hear my call being sent yet not be correctly logged. The likelihood this happening twice does not seem high to me. It's just a possibility.
Frankly the most probable explanation is that the mistakes were mine and mine alone, despite my confidence about what I heard. It is nevertheless a healthy exercise to explore the range of possibilities. Even if errors occurred at their end it does not absolve me: perhaps there are things I could have done to improve the outcome. That is, to make it easier for them to copy and log me. Insurance contacts are a poor substitute for accuracy.

All of this said there remains the faint possibility that my QSOs are correctly stored on the DXpedition PCs. There may be gaps in the records uploaded from the database, gaps that will be filled when they get home and process the logs. I am not very hopeful this will happen

Screen capture from Club Log

I did pretty well despite the lost 80 meter QSO. Unfortunately my 160 meter antenna is down for the summer since I did hear them on that band a couple of times. Baker Island on the low bands will have to wait for another 10 years, which is the earliest another DXpedition will be permitted on the island.

It give me one more thing to look forward to. I'd better get back to work on towers and antennas so that I'll be ready when that long awaited day arrives.

No comments:

Post a Comment

All comments are moderated, and should appear within one day of submission.