January 2012 North American QSO Party

Contest: North American QSO Party
Date: January 14-15, 2010
Mode: CW
Period: Starts 1800 UTC Saturday; ends 0600 UTC Sunday

80 / 1 / 1
40 / 37 / 17
20 / 135 / 43
15 / 91 / 39
10 / 17 / 13
TOTAL: 281 QSO / 113 MULTS
SCORE: 31,753 (TIME ON: 7 H 32 Mn)

SOAPBOX: Thankfully I had the day off from work and committed to a full effort in the NAQP. While I didn’t draw up any goals, I did use the 2010 NAQP results as a benchmark of what I wanted to achieve. Early on I figure 400 QSOs would be possible, but as the day wore on I realized I was going to fall short. Unlike 2010, I was able to start the contest, which made the difference this year.

When the clock struck 1800z I started off on 20M. Unfortunately CW is not my strongest mode, but one I thoroughly enjoy so my full effort was all S & P. While 20M was productive, it would be 15M that accounted for the bulk of my QSOs the first 2 hours. I also experienced a first for me and my station, as I was able to achieve 3 straight hours of a rate over 40/min, topping at at 50/min at 20z! I know this is small potatoes for those experienced CW operators who run a frequency.

10M seemed to be short lived as I made just 17 contacts during 19z and 21z, 13 of which were multipliers. At 21z, 15M seemed to slow down, but 20M picked up, which is where I remained until the sun set. I also took a few 30 minute breaks at 22z and 00z. In hindsight, I should have stuck around at 22z as another 40 rate might have been possible. 20M was also my “money band” with 135 QSO and 43 multipliers.

During my second 30 minute break I had to get the manuals to the SteppIR BigIR out and make sure everything was connected correctly as I could not hear anything on the vertical. While I didn’t open the antenna, I did home the element in hopes of making sure the element was the correct length for the band selected. What I did realize was the PL-259 connector on the coax  running to the SteppIR is bad. I had to wiggle the connector until I could get it to a point that allowed me to hear the band.

Unfortunately that was only have the problem. While the propagation had improved slightly leading up to the weekend I had a solid S7-S8 noise on 40M when I made the move (probably too early) at 00z. After wiggling my connector, I decided to connect it directly to the transceiver, which made no difference. Frustrated I decided to take another break. After 30 minutes to collect myself I returned, but was frustrated at the pace of the S & P, which yielded approximately 35 QSOs over the next 90 minutes. I could see my goal of even 300 slipping away.

Being more frustrated that enjoying my radio I made the decision to shut the shack down at 02z. Before I did, I was able to make only a single contact on 80m with Jack, KF6T. I thought 40M was bad, but I was either real early on 80M or had further antenna issues, as I could not hear anyone. Instead of riding out the struggling for the next 2.5 hours I thought it would be better for my sanity if I accepted my 281 QSOs and went to build Legos with my son.

My final tally was 281 QSOs, 113 MULTS for 281 points and a final score of 31,753. This would be a 33% increase in contacts and multipliers from my 2010 effort and a scoring increase of 17,803 points or 56%. Anyway I look at it the contest was a success for me and my station. I still call into question my low band antenna, which is really beginning to cause frustration when the sun goes down. I might need to inquire with the brain trust of the NCCC. Being confined to a small backyard, even the 1500 feet of copper radials I have might not be enough to get the signal I desire. The inability to get wires in the air due to no trees also could be an issue. Single band efforts during daylight hours might be more worthwhile if the low bands continue to be an issue, it will depend on the contest.

Life Priorities Over Contesting

The best laid plans…isn’t there a say about that? Heading into Friday I was thrilled to have Saturday off to participate in the first big contest of 2012, the ARRL RTTY Round up. I had hoped to put in a full 24 hour effort, unfortunately I was not able to get Sunday off from work, so my 24 hour effort was suddenly cut in half and the contest was still a day away.

The one thing nice about contesting in the world of amateur radio is, if you miss one this weekend, there is one next weekend. Sure, it might not be the same mode and RTTY is a favorite mode of mine considering all the hardware issues I have recently had, coupled with the fact the insurance claim took most of 2011 away from me and I would have felt too guilty to spend time in a contest when I had remodeling to finish.

While radio is a hobby of mine, family and friends take priority. That was the reason I spent only 46 minutes at the start of the RTTY contest participating. All but about 5 minutes was spent on 10M before moving to 15M right before I shut the radio off and hung out with a friend in need for the day. Thankfully it was wild card weekend in the NFL and we sat around drinking beer, eating pizza (or potato leek soup in my case) watching football, with a spattering of discussion over his situation.

Not sure if our time together was beneficial to him or not, I hope it was. I know there have been times in my life where I needed a friend and thankfully my buddy went above and beyond to spend time with me and discuss my situation, for that I was very thankful to know I have friends like that in my life. Sometimes just being there for others allows you to escape the current situation and just have a bit of a break from life before you must think about situation at hand. Maybe a Saturday together with pizza, beer and football was a well needed break for him.

Contesting seems to be very tough for me with a 6 year old son, my wife’s work schedule and the fact that I don’t have weekend off, when most all of the contests run. I do wish I would have been more involved in contesting when I was first licensed (1995) or even earlier when I didn’t have so many responsibilities to fulfill. While it’s not a problem, you don’t look at what you missed out on, but what is coming up. Thankfully that is a long list that runs the rest of 2012 and every subsequent year.

With any luck my schedule and priorities will allow me to participate in the winter sessions of the North American QSO Party. The CW contest is January 14, while the SSB contest is a week later on January 21. Just like last year I was not able to participate in either contest, but only have 2010 numbers to go off. With any luck I will be able to put in a full effort for both contests, but we will see what happens.

I guess this one of those instances, where you cherish the family and friends you have, forgo contesting and be thankfully for the people around you. Sometimes it might seem difficult to set aside but contesting won’t go away. The last thing you want in your life is for family and friends to do the same.

August 2011 North American QSO Party – CW

Contest: North American QSO Party
Date: August 6-7, 2011
Mode: CW
Period: Starts 1800 UTC Saturday; ends 0600 UTC Sunday

SOLAR CONDX: A=15, K=5, SFI=109, SSN=81

80 / 08 / 05
40 / 42 / 22
20 / 46 / 45
15 / 24 / 10
10 / 16 /07
SCORE: 20,025 (TIME ON: 8 H 05 Mn)

SOAPBOX: I had planned a full 10 hour effort, but I wasn’t being true with myself and knew 8 hours was more realistic. With the XYL at work and my son at a friend’s house, the shack was mine, along with the dogs lying at my feet. I had taken time off from work to participate in the NAQP, I missed out on WPX at the end of May and the last time I had spent any sort of ‘BIC’ was during the 7QP.

After reading up on the current solar conditions, as well as the solar flares and CMEs that were earthbound I suspected conditions were going to be challenging, to say the least. I fired up the Reverse Beacon Network site and starting looking at where signals were being heard. I sent out a few ‘TEST’ messages but never did say responses from the network.

Much like all the other CW contests I have participated in, this effort was all S&P. I guess one day I will be a great operator, like many of those who participated this weekend, so I must keep everything in perspective when I set my goals and attempt to compare my effort to that of another CW operator. My goal was set at 225 QSOs and 80 MULTS, which was a 25% increase over my 2009 total. I achieved both of these goals in my 8 hours.

My best hour was 23z when I topped 33/rate. This was one of 2 hours in which my S&P results in over a 30/rate. The other hour was 19z with a 31/rate. In fact every hour, except 01z was over a 20/rate. Now those might not be impressive to the many CW operators, but I have seen a real decrease in activity from my QTH after the first few hours. This time that drop off never happened. In fact I had 5 hours in which I was over a 25/rate. Now the next thing to do is gain more confidence in my CW skills learn to run. I have yet to attempt to run and very infrequently call ‘CQ TEST’ during a contest. That alone would increase my rate!

I started out on 20M for the first 30 minutes, gave 15M a quick check, picked up a few East Coast stations and the local “big gun” (N6RO) but the activity was spotty at best and went back to 20M until 20z. Every time I moved to 15M there was a new multiplier to add but the conditions were terrible. When I finally found stations on 15M most were West Coast stations, which I logged and it was back to 20M.

I did check 10M at the top of every hour and had it up on my second VFO listening for a good duration of the contest. At 23z it seemed there was an opening, which is when I logged a majority of my 16, 10M contacts even got a few East Coast stations, K2SSS, NC4KW and W3YY. I took my break at 2359z and returned almost 2 hours later.

It would end up being 20M as my money band, which of often happens are my QTH. By far, 40M was the most challenging of all bands. I probably moved too early at 0145z, but all the signals I heard on 20M I had worked, so I figured I would try to add new multipliers to my score. There was still a spattering of new signals on 20M, so I was jumping back and forth, but finally left 20M at 2031z for 40M where I started adding new multipliers to the log.

I was able to hear the East Coast, for the most part but my calls when unanswered. Only W8FJ, KT3Y and N2MM were able to copy my signal from California. All of my other contests were mainly west of the Mississippi River.

As my 8 hour time limit approached I was pushing myself to meet my 225 QSO goal. I jumped to 80M at 0336Z and started searching for signals. I only had 8 QSOs on 80M, 5 of which were CA stations. Thanks to W0BH who was my final contact of the contest.

All in all conditions were poor. I had hoped for a better showing on 15M, but that never really materialized. 20M seemed a bit slow at the start of the contest, but seemed to pick up nicely as the day progressed. 40M was the most challenging of the bands, lots of QRN to deal with. I did not spend enough time on 80M, but knowing hour 40M turned out I suspect I did the right thing and shut down just prior to 0400z.

I had made a minor change to the antenna by adding a Rohn H50 mast in hopes of getting the DXE Hexx Beam up to 40′ but I broken off a screw anchor when tightening one of the lower sections. I don’t believe the loss of 5′ had anything to do with just how poor conditions were.

Finally the only other change I keep toying with, changing the name I use during the contest. I selected ‘STU’ a few years back, but on CW especially it has been a cause for name fills, “NAME?” It’s fine to use on RTTY and SSB, but I had quite a few operators ask for the fill. Thanks to all who worked me, had a great time as always in the NAQP and unfortunately will miss out on the summer SSB version of the NAQP in 2 weeks.