2009 ARRL Sweepstakes – CW

Contest: ARRL Sweepstakes
Date: November 7-9, 2009
Mode: CW
Period: Starts 2100 UTC Saturday, ends 0259 UTC Monday

40 / 14 / 4
20 / 148 / 51
TOTAL: 218 QSO / 70 SECT
SCORE: 30,520 (TIME ON: 9 H 33 Mn)

SOAPBOX: Not having participated I had no baseline on which to judge myself or my potential score. Knowing my habits over the course of the last 12 months, I usually do not have enough “butt in the seat” time to really put in a serious effort. But, what is nice about the NCCC, all the points I earn go towards the club and a potential victory.

During the CW portion I set a goal of 400 QSOs over the course of 10 hours, which equates to a 40/hr rate. I felt that was realistic, but what I did not account for was the fact I was a new contester to this game and I did not run a frequency at any time. With that said I came up 27 minutes short of operating for 10 hours and missed my mark of 400 QSOs by 182.

I was somewhat shell shocked at 1300z and it took nearly 11 minutes to get that first S&P QSO under my belt. In the time I was operating (9.5 hrs) I was able to maintain a 23/hr rate. Not great by any standard but again I was dividing my operating time with my family, work and other responsibilities. The second day provided me with a 34/hr rate starting at 2300z, but that would be nearly my last hour of operating. I made my last QSO at 00:45, well short of the contest end time.

I managed 218 QSOs and worked 70 sections, missing EMA, SNJ, DE, WPA, VI, WTX, SB, MAR, NL and NT. I had not set the goal of achieving a “clean sweep” as I figured that might be easy. Some surprising sections I just could not log, like Santa Barbara and West Texas. I was in a pileup for the Virgin Islands, but went searching for others when I should have stayed and logged the contact. I hear the Maritime on air, but much like the Virgin Islands I did hang around the pile up. It was no surprise I did not find NL or NT. And as has been for my WAS Delaware eluded me. Final score was 30,520 (436 points).

Final Thoughts: Sweestakes CW

Now that the CW portion of Sweepstakes has concluded, I have some further and final thoughts as to the contest itself and my performance. First, the webinar that was sponsored by the NCCC was a wealth of information. Without that introduction I don’t think I would have done as well as I did. The exchange is complicated, as compared to the standard serial number and report in many other ARRL and CQ contests. I am glad I did not make the mistake of using cut numbers of other information that the receiving station did not need, such as leading zeros or a ‘TU’ and even a ‘QSL’. When I responded to an exchange, the only piece of information I added was ‘R’ prior to my exchange.

I saw the importance of a second radio too. While I was on the low end of a 20/hour rate, I could have used the “down time” to my advantage and been calling “CQ SS” on a second radio. This too was made apparent, but not in the webinar but once the contest began and I found myself waiting to answer a CQ call, when I had pre-filled all the information I would need for a contact. Never operating SO2R before, I am not sure this would have been the contest to do it in since all my time seemed to center around getting the exchange correct THE FIRST TIME. Maybe in some of the upcoming RTTY contests I will attempt SO2R and see how I can do, but rest assured the QSO rate would increase.

I ended up 10 sections short of a “clean sweep” in my first Sweepstakes. I know I could have been at least three closer if I had remained in pileups for VI, MAR and NT early on Saturday. I listened, threw out my call a few times and sat around with the Q rate decreasing the longer I stayed. I finally gave up and kept moving up the band with intentions of coming back or picking those sections up at a later time. Big mistake. Sunday the pileup on sections needed were even worse, so getting some of these hard to get sections will be on my must do list early in the contest. Who knows calling CQ they may even come to me.

While 20M was my workhorse on both Saturday and Sunday, I lost out when I made the switch to 40M and then to 80M. The BigIR just does not have enough radials to be all that effective. It does work, but adding more, longer ground radials with a minimum of 33′ is a MUST! Sunday I had a nice run on 40M, nearly to the East Coast, but by that time I knew I had no chance to pick up sections I needed in the northeast. With the hex beam pointed at 70 degrees, only 4 meters high on a mast. I know the signal would have been even better if I could have pushed the mast up a full 6 meters. With that said, the hex operated flawlessly with the Alpha 76PA in line. I had no RFI issues on 20M, which was a big plus. Problems only cropped up after the sun set and I needed to switch antennas.

Looking at the NCCC webinar, I might make a change in the precedence next year. I participated as a ‘U’ that allowed the use of packet. The bands were so chocked full of signals, this was almost unnecessary. I could probably operated as an ‘A’ with the amp pushing my signal to 150 watts and made just as many contacts as I did in the ‘U’ category. There was the push to spot everyone you worked, for the others in the club to take advantage of, especially when it came to the club competition. I must say I failed in that respect, as I did not make a single spot. Something I actually need to see how to do using Win-Test.

Software, I toyed with the fact of using N3FJP over Win-Test. I downloaded trial version and dropped a message on the Yahoo Group to see who had used this software and if there were advantages over using Win-Test. I had also played on using each program one night during the practice rounds, but I did not get to practice. I ended up using Win-Test, really the only contesting software I use for all contests I participate in. It also incorporated Microkeyer’s WinKey, which is built in on my US Interface Navigator. N3FJP had some positive points. I do believe it had a better layout, was larger, making it easier to see. I also liked the fact that each section fell under it’s own heading and you could quickly see what areas were missing. I think the packet cluster left a big to be desired and operating as a ‘U’ I felt this would be a disadvantage and not work to my benefit. With SSB coming up in a few weeks I will probably give Scott’s software a shot.

All in all, it was a great experience. I learned much and realized what I need to do differently next time to improve on my score. The most important of all contesting factors that I succeed in was, I had fun. If you don’t have fun in amateur radio, then maybe the hobby isn’t for you. I enjoyed the contest and the contacts I made. While I won’t win any awards or be recognized for my operating skills. I did the best I could when I was on air operating. That in itself made this a wonderful experience for me.