Prior to November I had never participated in Sweepstakes and honestly I had no idea what it was all about. I had read prior comments from hams on different forums saying this was their favorite contest to operate in, so I posed the question, “What is the draw to Sweeps?”
I believe I got my answer over the course of two weekends, the first and third weeks of November. Thanks to the NCCC I did not go into the CW portion of the contest cold, thanks to their Webinar: Sweepstakes 101. This gave a quick and simple overview of what the contest entailed, but really it was nothing like I expected.
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).
With 9 hours of contesting in the bag, it was time to prepare for the SSB version of Sweepstakes. It was up in the air where to start, 15M or 20M. I decided on 20M but after only an hour I jumped to 15M. It was 8 QSOs in on 15M when the neighbor came over and he said he could hear me through the TV and computer speakers. He also said his wireless phones were acting weird. So I vacated 15M, where I was running about 1000w and went back to 20M
I logged my best rate only an hour in at 2100z, 31/hr rate. SSB was going a bit quicker, but I was still taking more time than needed to make a contact. I was unsing Win-Test and had the prefills selected, so I had some idea of what to expect, but did not rely solely on it.
My first sit yielded about 5 hours, at which time moving to 40M and then to 80M caused nothing but pain and heartache, as my XYL was in the garage every QSO wanting to know why she was disconnected from the Internet. So with one QSO on 80M at 0208z I stopped. Well short of my first planned break, but what could do I? How could I operate if I keyed up, even at 100w and disconnected the Internet?
I got up real early, 3am (1100z) and jumped on 40M and 80M to see what I could salvage before the sun came up and 15 and 20M were back on the air. There were no great rates and I did not run any frequencies again. It was all search and pounce,which ended up hurting my final score.
Things only went from bad to worse when my XYL got up. I was using the Alpha 76PA and it was delivering a nice, solid 1000w out, but it was also causing more RF issues in the house. I finally decided to turn the amp off and run with 100w. This seemed to be worthwhile, as I still made many contacts and would only turn the amp on if I had to bust a pileup or make sure a section I had could hear me with the first call.
Unfortunately even barefoot at 100w my wife still complained of latency issues from my operating. No way I can rally verify this was actually the case. I had the Internet up and running and from what I saw, I did not disconnect while running 100w.
Much like CW I had to cut the SSB effort very short…way shorter than I had anticipated because I had taken time off from work on Sunday in order to give it a solid 20-24 hour attempt.
In the end I had a better SSB performance than I did on CW. I operated for 13.5 hours and made 267 QSOs, logging 71 sections for a total of 534 points and a final score of 37,914. All these numbers were an improvement over CW. For that I guess I can pat myself on the back. But even these numbers were a far cry from my intended goals of 400 QSOs and maintaining a 40/hr rate.
For SSB I also spotted EVERYTHING I worked and other stations as I spun the dial, This in hopes of giving my fellow club members a shot at picking up another QSO. This gave me a satisfaction that I was helping our cause to take back the gavel from PVRC.
So with Sweepstakes now over, all but submitting the logs and tallying the points remains. I will look forward to next year and the changes I will have in place in order to achieve a better score and clean sweeps on both CW and phone. This was one of the first contests where I truly learn a lot of valuable information that I can use, not only for SS but other contests that I will participate in this season.