No Sweepstakes

It was a weekend I was looking forward to, as it brings a particularly enjoyable contest called the ARRL Sweepstakes. It’s actually the first part of a 2 part contest, this weekend participants use CW (Morse code) to make contacts with as many stations as possible in North America while trying to achieve a “clean sweep.” This year, the Ontario section has been broken into 3 separate sections, so operators must now work 83 ARRL/RAC sections. I have been fortunate to get achieve a clean sweep once in 6 tries (combined between CW and SSB) over the last 3 years.

Unfortunately due to the lack of people at work, no one signed up for my weekend shifts, so I won’t be participating in Sweepstakes for the first time since 2009. I was hoping to work the CW contest (this weekend) more so than the SSB contest starting November 17 since I was able to win my section the last 2 years, running low power (100 watts). While I haven’t done much contesting the past 6 months, I was looking forward to work on a combined total of 1000 QSOs (contacts). The last 2 years I was able to break the 500 contact mark, but was not able to put in enough time to double those numbers.

Chances are I high I will skip out on the SSB portion of this contest and wait in lie for the CQWW DX CW contest that starts on November 24. Its another contest that I enjoy operating in, but haven’t put in much over about 6 hours in this contest the past 3 years. It’s a long contest as well, 48 hours and trying to juggle work and family life when you have a 6 year old can be challenging. Hopefully my work schedule allows me that time to get at least 20-24 hours in. This would allow me to work some DX stations (outside the USA).

The only other contest I might consider this year will be the ARRL 10-Meter contest in December. It’s another one that is enjoy and you don’t have to spend a lot of time in to generate contacts. So not much radio left for me this year but I am disappointed to be missing Sweepstakes this year.

2012 CQP Weekend

This weekend is the California QSO Party, sponsored by the Northern California Contest Club. It’s a contest where everyone participating works as many stations from California as possible. This is the rare time that operators want to work a W6 station. It’s a 30 hour contest, of which I will be able to work 24 hours. The contest begins at 16z (9am) Saturday, October 6 and ends at 22z (3pm) on October 7. Last year I put only put in 8 hours before running into Mr. Murphy, which ended my contest

I had planned to work most of the contest but suffered radio issues with my Yaesu FT-1000MP and lost 15M. The other bands were nowhere near as hot, so I shut things down and hoped to return when 40/80M open. Unfortunately as I got set to start I could not hear anything on the low bands. Not even N6O, just 3 miles down could not hear me. This was my final effort for 2011 CQP. Going back to the 2010 CQP I had power issues with the rig, which cut my contest to just under 4 hours, in my inaugural year participating in the contest.

Last year I was assigned K6B by the FCC to help celebrate the 40th anniversary of the NCCC. I got the permission to extend using this call sign for the 2011 CQP. Each of the prior years I have operated as a single op, high power. This year I will be a single operator, but looking at running low power (200 w) for the contest. That could change and probably should since it is one of those rare times where people want to talk to me! Might make it more enjoyable as well.

Currently I am negotiating to get Sunday off from work in order to extend my operating period from 10-12 hours to 20-22 hours. I really have no plan as to where I will start or how I will operate. I will look to improve my 2011 totals, which were 382 total QSOs, of which 41 were CW. I am going to make more of an effort to secure CW QSOs. My goal this year will be to work all 58 counties. I ended up 7 counties short last year. With any luck doubling my operating time should award me with those missing 7 QSOs.

If I can’t secure time off on Sunday, then I will log about 10 hours during CQP. I will give the station a once over today and repair one radial for the SteppIR. I will run some power through the Alpha 76PA to make sure all if as it should be and be ready to go when I get home early from work tomorrow. I will miss the start of the contest by about 90 minutes.

Regardless of what happens, it will be a great operating time during CQP that kicks off the new contest season. Looking ahead (and time permitting) I will participate in ARRL Sweepstakes and CQWW DX CW in November.

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.