2012 ARRL Field Day

Contest: ARRL Field Day
Date: June 23-24, 2011
Mode: Mixed
Period: Starts 1800 UTC Saturday; ends 2059 UTC Sunday

20 / 6 / 17 / 2
15 / 0 / 5 / 0
SCORE: 96 (TIME ON: 1 H 06 Mn)

SOAPBOX: It’s not really an event I look forward to since it’s not a “true” contest, yet many treat it as such. That is not the reason why I am not fond of Field Day. Last year I operated ‘1E’ or emergency power using a portable generator. With all the problems I encountered I only hung around for about 3 hours, got bored and turn the radio off. This year, I was hoping to use FD as a stepping stone to better my ability to run a frequency, but that never happened. I did spend about 5 minutes on 20M and only received 1 call that I could not pull out of the noise. Conditions were rather sloppy and after 30 QSOs I called it quits. For me radio should be enjoyable and during this time period I was not having fun. Why continue?

Hex Beam Repaired

Ever have a project you expected to take a short period of time, but in the end you spend much longer than anticipated? While my “STD List” is long…that’s my “shit to do” list (thanks to Greg for the acronym), I thought I would take a few minutes to fix some minor issues on my hex beam antenna yesterday. I assumed it would be quick job before moving on to trimming bushes, mowing the lawn and taking care of things I do weekly. Well 90 minutes late the antenna was torn apart and I was rebuilding it in the backyard.

It was something that needed to be done, but I dread trying to get the antenna down from the mast, which is 34′ in the air mounted to the upstairs portion of the house. I thought I could do the repairs on the roof, but all I got was frustrated, along with sunburned, so I made the decision to lower it to the ground, knowing I would have difficultly remounting it.

The work took about 4 hours yesterday, as I untied all the elements and remeasured all the pieces back to their original factory recommendation. I also cleaned up the antenna, which was all for not since the spider colonies will be back within days I am sure. Hopefully I was able to correct an aesthetic problem with the fiberglass spreaders that are bent upwards. Think of an upside down umbrella (or see some images here).

I spent 2 hours this morning preparing the mast and rotator in order to return the hex beam to it’s perch, just above the peak of the house. I had hoped to add a hole for a cotter pin in the mast that would allow me to raise the antenna 50′, but quickly ditched that idea.

I had to make two attempts to get the antenna, which is 22′ in circumference, from the garage roof to the second story roof. I knew it was going to be a challenge, but was able to accomplish it on the second try with no major issues. I figured I would encounter more problems than I did, but that was not the case. Thankfully the antenna is fairly light weight and even with the wind blowing, does not really waver.

While this project was not a “must do” item on my list, I am thankfully it is done and out of the way. There are a few summer contests on the horizon that I will be hoping to work in. The first is ARRL Kids Day, hopefully I can get Zachary to make a few contacts this year, as we had no luck last year. Hank, W6SX has talked me into working ARRL Field Day and trying to run FD stations to improve my Morse code receiving, as practice for CQP, which takes place in October. Finally in July it’s the IARU World Championship, if time permits (as well as the XYL) I will put in a full, 24 hour effort.

Practice Makes Perfect

After spending 32 hours in the recent CQWW WPX CW contest I was a bit discouraged as I  finished the contest with 700 contacts, only to dissect the log file using SH5 when I hit upon many reasons why I did not achieve my goals. Even though I was frustrated, the contest was a success on some levels, as I wrote since I bettered my 2010 totals of final score, contacts and prefixes. On that level it was a success, but I wanted the opinion of another contester to give me advice, something the software program couldn’t accomplish.

I decided to contact Hank, W6SX who lives up in Mammoth and by his admission he doesn’t have the best set up, nor is very competitive when it comes to contesting. While his experience is measured years, he is much more fluent in decoding CW than I believe I am. After some discussion and comparison of our logs he provided some insight that I had not considered.

First and probably the most important was the lack of time I put into 40M. The low bands are the higher point bands in WPX and it was evident I did not spend enough time on 40/80M to make a dent into the totals I wanted to achieve. Part of the problem was staying awake into Saturday morning, but the other part of the equation was waking up 1-2 hours too late after a 4 hour nap. It was my hope to work 16 hours straight, but that didn’t happen. Needless to say conditions on Saturday night into Sunday morning were not as good as the previous day and unfortunately I missed many of the 6 point JA contacts.

After the first day, Hank said he only had about 500 contacts, similar to where I was after my first full day of contesting. Unfortunately with the sun going down, I faded and hank was able to collect further points. Why? Because of how we operated. Hank ran high power (1500w) and used the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN), I on the other hand, shooting for wallpaper (another term of an award) decided to run low power (100w) and unassisted, not getting the luxury the RBN or cluster, which I felt provided me the best opportunity at winning at least my call district.

Something that cannot be replaced is experience. I enjoy working CW and know Morse code, but I am still working on improving my skills. This is like many other skills, which if going unused might take some time to get back up to speed. During contests many exchanges are down at 25-30 WPM, sometimes at a fast rate. My feeling is I might struggle at trying to decode call signs at 25-30 WPM during a contest, thus part of the reason I don’t try to run a frequency and decide to search and pounce all my contacts, like I did in WPX.

The other suggestions I was given, was to use some of the upcoming summer contests as practice. He said the ARRL Field Day was a great event to use, while not an “official” contest, stations on the air will run all modes. This would allow me a chance to get on the air when many stations are participating in this event and probably be able to strength my CW skills without the worry of my performance. The second suggest was to download and install Morse Runner, which is a program that simulates a contest. After initially setting it up, you can start the program different modes from pileup to one call at a time, which improves your receiving and typing skills. Unlike myself, Hank uses this to work on while typing, but felt it would help improve my ear and decoding call signs.

His last piece of information was to set a goal to work the IARU HF World Championship that take place July 14-15. He believes 1000 QSOs is a possible goal, much like WPX was. The difference in this contest is that you are able to work CW and SSB contacts on all bands, which means that activity should be higher than it was in WPX. So between now until the start of this contest I will look to improve my skills, my goal being to improve my CW count for the 2012 CQP. I only made 41 contacts using CW last year and most all of those were calling other stations, not having those stations answer my CQ calls.

Field Day: Results

While conditions were terrible…still. I did manage to work some contacts on 2M, 10M, 15M and 20M yesterday. I really had no intentions to put forth much of an effort. As I have written in the past, Field Day does not really get me excited like it does other operators. I love what the event stands for, but really no desire to participate.

I did leave work yesterday around 21z and since I did not have the ATAS-120A installed on the truck decided to use the 2m/440cm antenna and see if I could make any 2M SSB contacts. As luck would have it, I was successful! ON my drive from Oakland to Oakley I made three contacts, WW6OR, WA6TOW and K6XN. I did hear K6LRG and N9JIM as well, but did have a QSO with either of them.

When I got into the shack, I hooked up the extension cord to the Honda generator and fired it up and went to 20M. Strangely enough, I did not even bother with SSB, moving to the CW portion of the band. Not surprising the band was FULL of signals at varying WPM rates. I decided on about 25 WPM and started working stations in all categories. For the most part many signals were good, I did have a few that were tough to copy and required a repeat.

After getting through the CW portion of the band I punched in 14.150 and changes to SSB. Wow! Conditions were bad to begin with, it was noisy and many signals were just above the noise level. Signals on top of signals or so it seemed. I did not last long in SSB. I decided to check 10M and 15M, but only made a single contact on each. I decided to forget about working SSB stations and went back to CW for about another 30 minutes.

In total I worked  about 90 total minutes. As I mentioned yesterday I did not plan on putting in more than about an hour. In that time I worked 16 states and 24 counties. I had 2 QSOs on 2M, 1 on 10M, 2 on 15M and 22 on 20M. Of those QSOs only 5 were SSB contacts the rest were CW.

2011 ARRL Field Day

Contest: ARRL Field Day
Date: June 26-26, 2011
Mode: Mixed
Period: Starts 1800 UTC Saturday; ends 2059 UTC Sunday

20 / 0 / 21 /0
15 / 0 / 2 / 0
10 / 1 / 1 /0
2 / 4 / 4 / 0
SCORE: 102 (TIME ON: 3 H 00 Mn)

SOAPBOX: Operated using a portable generator this year, but cut it very short due to the generator not really being strong enough to handle the output at 100w. Although it was better on CW than SSB, still I had problems, so I only spent a few hours on the air.