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.