2012 ARRL DX SSB Goals

Not sure it will be a real big effort this weekend, on the heels of the ARRL International DX CW Contest a few weeks ago. This time around it’s the SSB version, a contest in which I won my section last year running single operator, high power, assisted. This year, still without my low band vertical antenna, I will be relegated to 10/15/20M…again!

It’s not that I don’t like using SSB as a mode, I do. I find it thrilling to actually talk to someone in a distant land. My shack and set up seem to do CW and RTTY much better than SSB. So I found it surprising that 315 QSOs, 113 DXC and a final score of 106,107 was the top score in my category. This year I doubt I will spend 13 hours participating in the ARRL DX. I will put in a few hours at the beginning of the contest, beaming Asia/Oceania, possibly South America.

Conditions have been in decline since the CW version of this contest just a few weeks ago. As of this writing the SFI is 104, SSN of 24 and an A of 14. Not really optimal conditions to operate under, still I suspect I will be able to make a few contacts to start this contest. I am hoping to put up 100-150 QSOs in 3 hours of BIC (butt in chair).

Sunday might be worthwhile, as I am planning on taking the day off from work, but have an 11am engagement. That might give me sunrise and some time after 2pm, in order to finish out the contest. Again, not really looking for any real goals this time around. While it would be great to surpass what last year’s score was, I just don’t think I will find the time to put in a double digit effort. Having the hex beam only about 40′ high won’t help. If I decide to run high power again, the Alpha 76PA will be flawless as always, so I will be able to get a signal out. Then again, as the saying goes, “if you can hear them, you can work them.”

Running low power in the last few contests I have been able to hear many signals, but my problem has been getting a 100w signal out at only 40′. Regardless of what happens I will put in a good effort and look to add a few new DXCC entities on a few bands, namely 10M (if open) and 15M. Strangely enough, 15M outnumbers 20M when it comes to the number of DXCC entities I have worked.

2012 ARRL DX – CW

Contest: ARRL DX
Date: February 18-19, 2012
Mode: CW
Period: Starts 0000 UTC Saturday; ends 2359 UTC Sunday

20 / 82 / 39
15 / 210 / 61
10 / 48 / 19
TOTAL: 340 QSO / 119 DXC
SCORE: 120,666 (TIME ON: 12 H 00 Mn)

SOAPBOX: Some questions going into the contest since I am without an antenna for the low band, do I run SOSB or SOAB? I decided on a SOAB, low power operation this weekend and was shooting for 450 QSOs with 150 MULTS. I figured those were appropriate given the time I would have for operating, none of which would be on Sunday when I shut the shack down (0144z). I decided against a SOSB based on what I experienced in CQ WPX RTTY last weekend. It was a long and arduous contest and at the least I would increase my DXCC counts on 10M and 20M.

Overall I had a GREAT time, probably one of the most enjoyable contesting experiences I have had in the past 12 months. Why I have not been able to work a full contest in about 18 months, I do the best I can and also aim high, looking to pull something positive from all contests I enter. These 12 hours I operated don’t compare to my SOSB effort last week on 15M. While 15M was the “money band” this week I was still able to make some good headway on 10M, especial over the poles, while 20M was somewhat of a let down. That based on my limited experience and the fact that 20M since I got into contesting has usually been my best producing band with my hex beam at 40 feet.

I had some early questions as to where to start the contest, since rate is not my driving factor, I figured I would search & pounce to start on 10M, but it was short lived. It was no more than 7 minutes later and I moved to 15M, where I spent a majority. While rate for contesters is an important factor, being at the level of experience I am at with Morse code, I aim for a 30 QSOs/hour when in search and & pounce. For all CW contests that is all the time, so my rate suffers when compared to that of a more competent CW operator. A 30 rate will usually help me attain my goals, obviously duration plays a factor. Realistically I should have decreased the number of hours I was going to operate from 16 down to 12, or even 14 hours. I still stuck with a 30 rate and was hoping I would have a few hours over 30 and close to 40 or 50, but those gains were offset by a few very down hours as well, including one 60 minute break.

I operated just over 2 hours at the start of the contest, all but 7 minutes were on 15M and dominated by JAs. I usually rely heavily on QSOs with Asia in most of the contests I participate in. The numbers tell a different story, where 37.9% of my contacts were from Europe, while Asia accounted for 35.6 with Japan at a 29.4% of my total contacts dominating all other DXCC entities. I was disappointed with the number of JAs on 20M, I had hoped that more would move to 20M by 00z or 01z on Sunday but in that never appeared to happen while I was operating.

What was even more surprising were the 10M openings to EU via the poles. I made a number of 10M QSOs with Europe including ES5RR, OH0Z and SK3GM. On Saturday 15M still dominated the log by a big margin mainly from Europe. My best 60 minute rate was 49/hour from 1606-1706 and it was not JAs I was logging. I found that somewhat surprising. Search & pounce was rather slow and from 1900-2200z things got very slow. I couldn’t find a suitable band to be on bouncing from 10m to 15M to 20M in a vicious cycle that didn’t see activity pick up again until 2300z.

Thankfully when the sun came in Asia/Oceania 15M was great! Many loud stations, some of which I had not worked at the start of the contest, but I had hoped more JAs would move to 20M but only 13 QSOs with JA were made on 20M (out of 121 total). I was also pleased with the activity I found on 10M running 100 watts.

While I did not achieve my goal I had a very enjoyable 12 hours participating. In total I worked 275 unique call signs and 70 DXCC entities. Now, if I only had more confidence to run a frequency that 30 QSO/hour rate would increase. This was only the second time I had participated in the ARRL DX CW contest, the last time was 2010 with only 99 QSOs made.

ARRL International DX CW Goals

I’ve spent the past 75 minutes or so going over previous contest results and looking at the most recent propagation charts prepared by Dean, N6BV and Stu, K6TU. These charts were actually for WPX RTTY last weekend, but solar conditions are shaping up much the same for this week, so the information contained within these charts should be relative. The ARRL International DX Contest is a 3 point per contact contest, so I will be trying to work all contacts that are not in the US or Canada.

I was planning on another SOSB (single op, single band) effort, but after further consideration I think I will work all the high bands (10/15/20M). This should give me many more operators to work through out the time I have set aside to participate. If this weekend is like last weekend 15M was probably the best band, based on what I read on the 3830 Reflector. My hope 20M is strong for me, which has usually been the case in many prior contests.

Looking at my time, I am going to hope for 16 hours of operating, which would be 4 hours to start the contest and then 12 hours on Saturday (6am-6pm), maybe a bit longer if possible. Based on my 2010 resulted, I averaged 22 QSO/hour. Not great by any means, but I hope to keep a 30 rate but will knock it down just a bit shoot for 450 QSO, 150 MULTS and a final score of 202,500 points.

My CW skills have improved, but are still not at a level that I feel comfortable attempting to run a frequency, which would equate to a rate of over 30/hour. Even though all my contacts will be in search & pounce I feel confident I can achieve my goal with a bit of work. Over the last few contests I have entered, CW has become my strongest mode. I wish I could say it was more proficient at this point, but it’s still a learning process, one that I am improving every time I use the mode.

Dahs & Dits Return

So last weekend was a learning experience, to some degree as I participated in the CQ World Wide WPX RTTY for nearly 12 hours. Instead of working all bands, I decided to use a single band and run low power (100 watts). It made the contest much easier since I didn’t have to watch the propagation charts and make decisions as when to change bands or miss those 10M openings that suddenly appear.

This weekend, I was able to get Saturday off and will hopefully put in 12-14 hours in the ARRL International DX Contest – CW, which begins on Friday afternoon. Unfortunately I am still without the use of my SteppIR BigIR, so no low bands again in this contest and I still have not taken down the antenna and sent off the EHU to SteppIR to get it fixed.

This will only be the second time I have participated in the contest, the first was in 2010 and I only made 99 QSOs. I expect a much better showing this time around. I have some decisions to make tonight as it relates to the contest. I have not decided if I want to run single band again or go all band, using 10/15/20M for the period of time I will be operating. Chances are high I will continue to chase new DX in this contest and go all band, unlike I did last weekend in the RTTY contest.

I am going to review propagation charts, as well as my efforts and put together my goals on Friday. Just a guess I should be able to put up 400 QSOs and hopefully work lots of new DXCC that I need on all of those bands. Looking at what I have confirmed (in LoTW) I only have 22 confirmed DXCC on 10M and 20M along with 45 on 15M. That means I have a lot of work to do to increase those totals and work towards the 5BDXCC! I assume those numbers are a bit low unless I include QSL cards I have received. Regardless, I am looking forward to my operating time.

Part-Time Effort

With all the things on my STD list to complete during my days off, I was not able to get my transceiver, the Yaesu, FT-1000MP boxed up and shipped off to Byron, WA4GEG in Tennessee. He is my source for all things concerning my radio, as it has been there two previous times. Unfortunately looking at the calendar there are some enjoyable contests on the horizon that I was hoping to participate in. Thankfully George, K6GT has loaned me his back up radio, which was unused until I get mine repaired and returned.

Next week is CQ WW WPX RTTY and while it was a very strong contest for me a few years back, it will only be a single band effort next weekend, depending on if I get both days off from work. This decision after speaking with SteppIR tech support last night on the phone only to realize I probably did more damage than I thought to the mechanical workings of my BigIR MkIII. So much for operating on the low bands (40M/80M). Much like my amp going out 2 years before prior to this contest, it could be a blessing in disguise.

Looking at the 2011 and 2010 results from WPX RTTY, this would give me the best chance to win some wallpaper (ham speak for an award). My best best will be 15M or 20M, depending on what the propagation is doing next weekend. This means I would operate about 2 hours before sunrise to about 2 hours after sunset. This could go longer depending on sort of activity I would get beaming JA/OC.

It doesn’t get much better as the following weekend is ARRL DX CW followed by NAQP RTTY the week after. I will need to get the “okay” from the XYL before I ask W6ZJH if I can guest op from his shack for this contest. Chances are it will be all of February and a part of March before I get my radio and antenna back from being repaired. Until then, I will have to pick and choose my efforts when it comes to contesting. With any luck, I could have everything back up and running by the time JIDX CW rolls around on April 14.