WPX on the Horizon

While May 26 is still a way out, it’s not too early to start planning for the CQ WPX CW contest. It’s one of those contests that I have really come to enjoy, next to the ARRL Sweepstakes. I find it interesting, now 3 years into contesting these two contests would top my list of “most enjoyable.” CW or Morse code wasn’t a mode I really thought of using when I upgraded without submitting to Element 1 testing, since it was dropped by the FCC. Sweepstakes, before participating, I could not understand the draw to the contest, but now 3 years later, these “messages” we exchange during the contest show the importance of traffic handling and being precise.

There is more to entering a contest than winning, especially for an operator like myself with a very modest shack and equipment compared to other stations. Unfortunately due to our remodel in 2011, I was unable to participate in the CQ WPX CW. Go back just 2 years and I posted one of my best overall performances in ANY contest to date. Again, I didn’t win the contest in my category (Single Operator, High Power, All Bands), while placing 19th out of 71 operators in that category.

The best part of this contest is that you get to work EVERYBODY! It’s also a contest where the other station’s prefix (like W6 or WD6, etc) are multipliers. If you work stations on the low bands (40/80M) they are worth double the points. If you work stations on other continents, they are worth more than if I work many domestic stations. So this is my best opportunity to score 1 million points in a contest.

John, K6MM and Dean, N6BV made a presentation back in 2010 at our May meeting of the Northern California Contest Club. After seeing the numbers as presented by K6MM and the outlook for propagation, even an operator like my could put up 1 million points. I had grand visions of that goal back in 2010, but sleep got the better of me when the sun went down. From that point on I was behind the goals I had set, unable to recover.

This year hopes to be a different story, especially if the solar weather picks up in the next month with an increase in sunspots. Regardless I will attempt to put a full weekend into contesting in order to achieve my 1 million point goal. Getting back to the band information, as long as I can stay awake, the low bands (40/80M) should be worth their points in gold. Even 6-8 hours when the sun goes does should provide me with the push I need to make 1 million points. The great think about this contest is I only need to make 27 contacts per hour and I will achieve my goal.

Currently I have working up the details on a spreadsheet I use for where my antenna will be pointing, possible contacts per band, broken down into different categories based on points. I also have to figure out a sleep schedule, which could be during the day, as opposed to night time when points are at a premium. Still some work to do before the contest arrives, but planning is always a key when it comes to contesting.

WPX: A Look Back

Up to now I cannot recall another contest I have prepared so diligently for, somewhat odd that it would be a CW contest and not RTTY. Regardless of the contest I felt I was ready for a challenge as the zero hour approached. Thanks to the May meeting of the NCCC, I was loaded with numbers and propagation predictions that would allow me to formulate my plan for the CQ World-Wide CW WPX Contest.

The plan was simple, operate for 36 hours on all bands (excluding 160M, since I don’t have an antenna) in search and pounce and average a 26 rate over that period of time. I had toyed with the idea of a second radio, but decided against attempting it in a CW contest (this is an item to investigate this summer). That left me with a Yaesu FT-1000MP, a Alpha 76PA amplifier and three antennas. For this contest I decided to raise the Alpha DX-EE to go along with the DXE 5-band Hexx Beam and SteppIR BigIR. While it probably made no difference I did add a 10′ section of mast to the hex, so I was close to 30′ at the start of the contest.

For 10/15/20M I used the Hexx Beam (from DXE) as my primary antenna. Now and then I would switch to the vertical or wire depending on what high band I was on. For 40/80M, the BigIR was the primary antenna. I was not able to added another 10 radials, each 60′ to the current ground radial configuration. Much like the mast, I don’t feel I would have noticed much of a difference given the solar conditions.

Thanks to the club I was fired up for WPX! Two presentations, one by K6MM, John detailing the contest purely based on numbers. I obtained a copy of his presentation and created a plan tailored to fit my operating skills. In the end I might have set an unrealistic goal, more on that in a moment. The other presentation, which I was not able to see, but did get was from N6BV on propagation for WPX. Dean was kind enough to send me a copy. While I was not able to get Dean’s words of wisdom when it was shown at the May meeting, I was able to interpolate.

Prior to all contests I participate in I set my personal goals. Rarely will I win any wallpaper, but achieving my goals give me a feeling of accomplishment. Originally I had planned on scoring 250,000 points, but the more I played with the numbers I was beginning to get a sense that 1 million points could be possible. Along with N6BV’s data and K6MM’s presentation I put together my own spreadsheet that broke down all the numbers based on band and points. I revised my plan on a daily basis, until I put together a plan that I thought was a challenge, but also achievable.

The goals for the contest were 1000 QSOs, 2000 QSO points and 500 prefixes. Over the 36 hour period this worked out to 25.75 rate, less than 2 QSOs per minute. Other factors that contributed to the final score was the 0.6 prefix figure I took from K6MM’s presentation.

Now to the contest! KB! If the first 7 hours were any indication on how the contest was going to go then I was well on my way to my 1 million points. I had not planned on running a frequency because my skills as a CW operate are not strong, so it may take a few calls in order to get the call sign or when getting my number. So my plan was a purely search and pounce operation.

After 7 hours I was ahead of my goal, with a 32 rate at 04z, my best during the contest. I also surpassed my 25 rate each of those hours. Unfortunately the wheels quickly came off as 08z approached. Let me preface this my saying, I don’t know how some of these OM’s do it through the night. It was all I could do to keep my eyes open, spinning the dial looking for QSOs. I had to call it quits at 08z and that decision probably did my in for my 1 million point goal.

This is a contest in which the low bands play an important roll because of the points. Part of my problem, not having good low band antennas, being on a small plot of land and controlled by CC&R’s the SteppIR BigIR is the best I can do for 40/80M and I don’t even own a 160M antenna. Conditions were less than favorable as well for this contest. More on that later.

I climbed back into the chair just after 12z and things were looking up, but I was already 120 QSOs down from where I should have been if I were able to work though the night. That number would only trend the wrong way as the contest rolled on. I was hoping to make some of it up during my original off time from 18-23z. I put a small dent into that number and got about 40 QSOs back, but it continued to trend the wrong way. 13z was my the last hour I worked more than a 25 rate, after that point it was evident I would not get to 1 million.

Not only were the low bands rough, but 15M and 20M were difficult because of the conditions. This is the second contest where I was hoping the JAs would come out in droves, since I could not hear Europe (1% of total). Japan only accounted for 7% of my contacts, while North America accounted for 85%!

Saturday afternoon I made the decision to spend time with my wife and son. The high bands were terrible for me and the number of contacts was trending down as the time neared 00z. I could hear nothing with the hex beam pointed towards Japan. When I put the shack to bed at 03z on Saturday I had only worked 23 JAs.

I gave the low bands another shot on Sunday morning. The shack came to life at 05z, but noise and lack of contacts did nothing for me. I could still not hear Europe and spinning the dial on 80/40M in the morning I worked everything I could hear. I moved to 20M probably an hour early trying to added prefixes to my total but finally decided to make something with my day after 16z.

I still feel the goal was possible to achieve, even with my antenna set up. Along with the lack of sleep, solar conditions were terrible for those of us on the West Coast. Even the super stations were noting a lack of contacts with Europe. I had a good plan, based on good statistics. I don’t believe there is much I can change when it comes to my antennas. Being controlled by an HOA I don’t think they would be so kind if I raised my Force 12 C4XL.

So we will look back, reflect and making alterations for next year’s WPX. I will take a deeper look at the actual numbers next time and where I made mistakes in my calculations.

160M Options

The last band that I have not yet worked has been 160M. Living on 100? x 50? lot does not allow for many options, especially since I removed the two eucalyptus trees the first year we moved into the house. Oh how I wish I had those trees back! Currently I have a SteppIR BigIK Mk III (32?) for work on 40/80M and the 5-band hex beam (from DXE) for 10/12/15/17/20M. I ran across K6MM’s presentation from a joint PVRC – NCCC webinar, October 2009 titled The 160M “No Excuses” Homebrew Vertical.

All things considered, with a lot of my size ANYTHING that I am able to get on the air with on 160M will be a compromise and I know that going into this potential project. While the BigIR (good product) has produced modest results on 40/80M I figured I might be able to build this 160M helical wound vertical and possibly work some contacts on the “top band.” Right now, the main concern is a radial field that will provide desired results. Then again, any sort of antenna on any band is better than none, right?

Depending on the location of the antenna in the backyard I could possibly run 60? ground radials. The only drawback is they would be in one direction. One of the main concerns would be to place it where it is out of sight of the XYL, which would limit me to either side of the backyard, with a radial field running west to east or vice versa.

With any luck I could tie in the current ground radial system I have set up for the BigIR and tie it into the 160M vertical, while adding a new radial field for this antenna, regardless of where I place it. I have posted a few questions on the forums at QRZ, as well as e-mailed John, K6MM for some further information. But until I decide to move this would be one of the few ways to get on the top band and see what all the excitement is about.