July 2010 North American QSO Party – RTTY

Contest:North American QSO Party
Date: July 17-18, 2010
Mode: RTTY
Period: Starts 1800 UTC Saturday; ends 0600 UTC Sunday

40 / 40 / 21
20 / 143 / 50
15 / 5 / 3
SCORE: 13,912 (TIME ON: 7 H 54 Mn)

SOAPBOX: How’s the saying go, “the worst day of contesting is still better than the best day at work.” Okay, so maybe there is no truth to that, but yesterday had to be the longest 8 hours I have put into a contest. NAQP is traditionally a non-pressure event working the U.S. states and Canadian provinces, each act as a multiplier on the bands.

Anticipation was high, coming off a good score back in February, which if submitted to NCJ would have had me in the top ten in California. For seasoned contesters that is of little consequence, but for a rookie it’s a step in the right direction. Unfortunately this time around it was much more challenging to make a contact. I am sure I can point fingers in different directions. Maybe it was the hex beam, since I had just upgraded some of the components. Maybe the lack of another 5-10′ on the mast played into the equation. Maybe it was the poor to fair propagation. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

One thing is for sure my goals were not achievable, at least working from my shack. Maybe if I were at N6RO or K6LRG results would have been closer to my February score. As it was a combination of factors led to a very poor performance, in which I was frustrated for 10 hours.

Add to that the fact I left the contest 2 hours early and missed out completely on 80M and maybe an additional 20-25 QSOs on 40M. I think a poorly planned break did factor in as well. I took one 2-hour break from 23-01z. Don’t think that helped my cause as 20M was still hot and 40 had not yet come alive on the west coast. I didn’t want to push it back too much as I would lose time on the low bands. Although pushing it back 1 hour probably would have weighed in my favor.

As for the bands, 10M was non-existent. I would put a CQ out at the top of each hour, usually with no response. I did get W6YX to answer, but we could not make the contact. I knew 10M would not factor in to any substantial points.

15M was solid back in February, but I must have missed any substantial opening yesterday. After 60 QSOs in February, I could only muster 5 QSOs and 3 MULTs. That hurt my overall score since I had hoped to equal my February total.

I knew going in 20M was be my best bad, again! Although I had hoped to start the contest on 15M, it was dead, so I attempted some early runs on 20M. Much to my surprise I could not establish any successful run in my 8 hours of contesting. The best was 10 QSOs in 10 minutes. This was no better than spinning the dial in S&P IT was odd as many other stations seemed to have multiple stations calling them regularly as I was tuning through 20M. Why I couldn’t be successful yesterday is anyone’s guess. Maybe…here we go again with the maybes, I point towards the overall height of the hex beam at only 20?.

I had planned fewer QSOs on 20M than I had back in February, when in reality it should have been just the opposite with more daylight the band was still strong nearly 03z. I had set a goal of 150 QSOs and 54 MULTs. I came close on both with 143 QSOs and 50 MULTs. This was the best thing I could call a success.

When it was time to move to the low bands I had to change to the SteppIR BigIR. I think I need to recheck the SWR figures on the vertical because my power output looked good, but damned if anyone could hear me. The noise was strong on 40M with constant static crashes and assorted noise that it was difficult.Even the western states seemed to have problems.

I know 100 watts is a challenge especially on 40M during the summer. I had planned to best my February numbers (59 QSOs) but my 40 contacts were a far cry from my goal of 70 I had set. With 40 contacts, 21 of them were a multi, which is good and if I would have hung around after 03z I am sure that number could have approached 60 QSOs/30 MULTs, but we will never know now.

I never made it 80M but based on what I had seen on the 3830 reflector my numbers would have suffered a similar fate as those on all the other bands. I had laid down a few more 60? radials, but even those would not have helped much.

My final tally is ugly. I worked 8 hours, 188 QSOs, 74 MULTs for 188 points and a final score of 13,912. I was off some 33,000 points from February and 25,000 from the goal I set for the summer edition of the NAQP RTTY.

With only 8 hours recorded I powered down the shack 2 hours short of my 10 hours that I could have possibly worked. Now it is back to the drawing board to see how to improve my signal at 100w on the hex beam. Not much I can do in my situation. I think the best fix will be the purchase of a Rohn H50, which I could raise to 30-35′ (if needed). I have not done any EZNEC numbers when changing the height, maybe they wouldn’t be substantial.

My last niggle about this contest, the fact quite a few stations were LOUD. I am not talking 100w loud, I am talking linear loud. The lone exception in my case, N6WM working out of N6RO. He should be loud. Now I am not pointing any fingers but some of these stations had to have linear amplifiers running. I know, the antenna makes all the difference. It does but power also increases your signal strength and some of the signals were BIG. I guess I only need care about myself and the 100w I was running.

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As has become customary prior to any amateur radio contest I participate in, I post my personal goals. This is the competition I chose, myself. Most all of the contests I enter I know I won’t be awarded a plaque or certificate, but if I can best my previous score in a given contest, I consider myself a winner. And above all else I have had fun.

The NAQP RTTY Contest from February was one of my best efforts to date. Unfortunately, goal aside I forgot or overlooked sending my log in and no score was recorded on the NCJ website. IF my score would have been submitted I would have cracked the top 10 in 6-land (California) with a score of 46,854 points based off 342 QSOs and 137 mults in 10 hours.

Current propagation looks a bit better than what we saw in February, 2010. Predicted Smooth Sunspot Number is higher for July than they were for February, so hopefully that is a sign of good things to come this weekend.

As I look at my Excel file with all my NAQP facts and figures I am shooting for a goal of 400 QSOs, 150 mults for 60,000 points. Looking back I had a bad two hour stretch last contest from 23-01z which yielded about 22 QSOs in that period. This hurt my overall performance on 40/80M since I gave up the last two hours of the contest.

I fully expect 20M to be my workhorse band (41% QSO). I do plan on starting on 15M for the first hour in hopes of establishing a run early for about 30 minutes before moving to 20M unless the rate holds up to continue calling CQ.

I would like to increase the percentage of multis on 20M, which was 29% in February on that band, compared to my 40% mults on all bands. I should be able to improve on 40 and 80M, taking those 2 hours off when the sun is setting. I do expect about a 25% higher QSO total on both bands, which would hopefully keep my multi rate at about 35-40%.

My only concern at this point is my hardware. I have just replaced the feeder for my hex beam and added a new feed line choke. I measured SWR across all bands and was acceptable. I am hoping my FT-1000MP and US Navigator are both configured correctly and I am NOT transmitting my RTTY signal inverse. I was hoping to check that today, but activity on 20M RTTY for me, has been nil.

With any luck I will have a very good NAQP, putting in a full 10-hour effort and SUBMITTING MY SCORE! Not sure what NCCC Team I will be placed on, but will find out in the morning.

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NAQP is Coming!

I have toyed with the idea of not participating in the July 17th NAQP RTTY Contest because of all the other responsibilities I have during the summer. Radio is usually not included in many of those. This is the “off season” for many in radiosport, but I have decided to get the day off from work and put in my 10 hours in hopes of bettering my score from the February version of this contest. If you recall that was the contest that spurred me to write, Contesting: Send Your Log In!. I mention this because somehow I forgot to send my results in to the NCJ. If I would have, I would of had a top 10 finish in 6-land and would have bumped my NCCC #2 Team up in the standings. How this happened, I still don’t know.

In hopes of having a good showing for NAQP I need to get on the roof and drag down the 5-band hex beam. I believe I am having issues with the antenna that have not been addressed. Given the current solar conditions, there might be absolutely nothing wrong with it, since I was able to make a good number of Field Day contacts last weekend. At any rate, I am looking to upgrade my DXE Hexx Beam.

Thanks to Al and Rod at DXE, I am going to add a HEXX 5-Band Stainless/Teflon® Rigid Balanced Feeder and feedline current choke as recommended by DXE. I have been cheating and using the vertical feedline current choke.

After placing my order with Rod I spoke to him at some length regarding the new, rigid feeder. Thankfully I have SWR measurements for the hex, but made mention I might need to shorten the wires on the hex near the low ends. We will see if that is indeed needed once I get the new feeder in place. But will that happen prior to NAQP? I doubt it. At any rate I will get on the roof or pull the antenna down and install the new feed line current choke and clean up the wires. It’s looking like a shabby antenna again as the spreaders are either collapsing on themselves or the clamps holding the wires are loosening. Nearly all 5 bands are sagging, which has been an issue since I first built my hex.

As for the contest, I started looking at my February 2010 results that had me log 342 QSOs, 137 mults for a final score of 46,854 points. I had a goal of 350 QSOs, which I fell just short of but exceeding my goal on mults and final score. This will be the first time I have put a full effort in the July edition of this contest. The way solar activity has been damn near nil, I hope it takes a turn for the better and quickly.

One change I plan on making this year is the scheduling of my 2-hours off time. Last year I worked 10 straight and took the final two hours off. I think that was a mistake as I missed out on 40/80M. This year, based on my February results I am going to take 00-02z off since those were the two worst hours I had. If all goes well I could lock up a number of personal achievements: 80M WAS (8 states needed), 40M WAS (5 states needed), RTTY WAS (1 state needed), 80M RTTY WAS (9 states needed), 40M RTTY WAS (9 states needed), 20M RTTY (3 states needed) and if 15M is open then I could add to the 24 confirmed states I already have.

Delaware. Nevada. West Virginia. Maine. Rhode Island. All these states seem to share a common theme because I need them for all the aforementioned awards. What frustrates me more is I have worked many of these states at the start of 2009 (ARRL Triple Play Award), but the amateur on the other end either hasn’t uploaded to LOTW or doesn’t use LOTW. Yeah, I know send a QSL card. I could and I probably should, but LOTW is so convenient and in my experience RTTY operators are the more faithful in uploading their contest logs to LOTW.

So in the coming week I will set my goals for the NAQP. I am looking forward to a quick 10 hour contest and hopefully adding some new wallpaper to my shack.

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2010 ARRL Field Day

Contest: ARRL Field Day
Date: June 26-27, 2010
Mode: Mixed
Period: Starts 1800 UTC Saturday; ends 2059 UTC Sunday

20 / 5 / 6 / 0
15 / 14 / 7 /0
10 / 7 / 7 /0
SCORE: 268 (TIME ON: 3 H 05 Mn)

SOAPBOX: I had never operated an FD event before, even prior to becoming a ham. It was one of those events that I did not put much thought into working this year, but I had some free time and figured I would work for a few hours to see how I could fair.

I operated as a single transmitter, Class ‘D’ using commercial power since I do not have any sort of backup power in my shack. All in all it was quite enjoyable as most contests are. The bands were packed, especially on 20M phone from 14.150-14.350, but many of those signals were weak signals and I did not even attempt to to work them.

I was able to work some needed states for various awards. All in all it was enjoyable. I would consider working this “event” again next year. Hopefully at that time I will be using some source of alternate power, as opposed to commercial power.

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Contesting: Send Your Log In!

Okay, so after 18 hours or more competing in a contest you deserve a well taken break. One hour here and there through out a long haul contest of 48 hours is not much time. But once the contest is over, it is time to do some paperwork. Unfortunately, I am learning this the hard way. N6WM posted a message on the NCCC Reflector this afternoon that the preliminary results from the NCJ NAQP RTTY Contest had been posted.

This was one of two contests I entered in February running low power (NAQP is only 100w), the other was WPX because my linear amp had been sent in for repairs. I was hoping for a good showing and improving on 2009 numbers. At the end of 10 hours I worked 342 contacts for a score of 46,854 points. I spent hours going over the log making sure I got all the information imported into my logbook, as well as sending in my scores to 3830 Reflector and to the NCCC.

Somewhere along the line it seems I forgot to submit the log to NCJ. Scrolling through sent e-mails I see documents to the two aforementioned sites, but nothing to NCJ. Which leads me to one of two conclusions. First, I used their online log submission at the NCJ site and did not fill it out completely and was rejected or I flat out forgot. I don’t know which it was.

Regardless of the end result I made the blunder, which leads me to this. Make sure you have your log submitted as soon as possible when the contest ends. Make sure you receive a confirmation e-mail via a contest robot (if applicable). Thankfully my points were not enough to receive any individual awards, but my team (NCCC #2) and club, the NCCC. It would have improved out team score to 224,231 points, good for 7th in the USA, as opposed to 11th without my log. Personally I would have ended up with the 10th best score in California as well.

So I learned another contesting lesson the hard way. This was not the first time I have had submission issues. Ed, W0YK brought another RTTY contesting issue to my attention when a group of QSOs were completed, after the end time. The problem? Not sure, I believe my PC clock was incorrect resulting in problems. Hopefully lessons learned like this help others avoid repeating them.

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