2011 Sweepstakes Goals – SSB

Two weeks ago I participated in the CW portion of the ARRL Sweepstakes, which resulted in a mixed bag. I increased my score over last year, but found some glaring problems with my station that prevented me from achieving my goals. This weekend it’s the SSB potion of the contest, one in which I usually struggle given my antenna situation. Last year it was rain noise that caused problem. Unfortunately rain is also forecast for this weekend beginning Friday with a possible lull on Saturday, only to return on Sunday.

My problem with 15M still seems to exist on my FT-1000MP, it comes and goes. I will consider myself lucky 2 weeks ago the band worked on the radio. This past week I have not had use of 15M. Due to family and other commitments I have not had time to pull down the SteppIR BigIR and look into the reason why I was not getting a CW signal out, which was the main reason behind not meeting my goal 2 weeks ago. If that is any indication, I probably won’t have use of 40/80M this weekend, which is going to be very tough.

Looking back at last year I operated as a precedence ‘U’ in the contest. This year I might bypass running assisted and operate as an ‘A’ (low power), as I did in the CW portion or ‘B’ (high power) in order to get a signal out to be heard. Last year’s goal was to make up the balance of the 1000 total QSOs I was hoping to achieve and get a clean sweep.” Neither happened, partly due to the rain noise and the fact I missed the first hour of the contest.

I am still hoping for 1000 total QSOs between the two contests. After scoring 411 in the CW contest that leaves me with 589 remaining. That might be difficult if 40/80M isn’t working and 15M, due to the radio does play nice. I would much rather have 15M over 40/80M, but that is completely out of my control. I will pull down the SteppIR today and give it a quick look to see if there is anything I can  spot.

Last year I scored 94 contacts on the low bands, which is what I would like to see this year. Most of those 40M contacts were due to the NCCC Rally we heard during the contest that netted me more than 50 contacts in about a 30 minute period.

This year the hex beam is higher. I might extend the mast 10′ to nearly 50′ for this contest, but that still won’t resolve the other issues I have to contend with. Regardless of what happens I will have a have fun and try to keep my “BIC” as long as possible to maximize my score. With any luck 10M will possibly pick up the slack for 40/80M for me. The key band still is 15M, I need to make sure I have that band working or else it will be nothing more than a low power effort on my part working only the daylight hours.

2011 Sweepstakes Goals – CW

This weekend amateur operators around the United States participate in the ARRL sponsored Sweepstakes. It’s a two part contest (of sorts) using the operating modes CW and SSB in two separate weekend. There are many individual awards, of which I won last year for my ‘section’ (East Bay) give my precedence (power) in the contest (read 2010 Sweepstakes Award). More importantly is the club competition, which each member of their respective club participates in.

I was surprised and pleased to be rewarded with a certificate after last year’s contest. You can read my write up last year’s contest, but based off that information and predicted solar conditions, my score should be better than what I achieved last year. Usually I figure an increase in score by 20-25%. Based off my 366 QSOs last year I figure 439 QSOs this year, but am setting a goal of 500 QSOs and another “clean sweep” working all 80 ARRL sections and Canadian provinces.

Unfortunately I am at a bit of a disadvantage and the contest as not even started. I lost 15M on my Yaesu FT-1000MP, possibly a Local Unit program as diagnosed by Wa4GEG. This leaves me with 10M and 20M through the entire contest. 15M should have some good openings east for stations on the west coast, so I could lose out on quite a few points by not being able to use this band.

Conversely I missed out on many points last year by not operating on 40/80M on Saturday night (PDT), so what I lose by not operating on 15M I hope to gain working on 40M and 80M. Hopefully this  holds true and I can and when I break for the evening I will have close to 300 QSOs already recorded, which would be only 66 off my total of last year.

Of course I am looking at it optimistically. If conditions due hold and we experience no rain (noise/static) then I will need to really work 40/80M, which aren’t my best bands, but the low bands are needed to have success. Between the 2 bands last year I recorded only 89 QSOs, I hope to double that output this year to 175 QSOs.

With no contacts on 10M in 2010, this band could replace 15M for me, which saw 48 QSOs last year. I am planning 75 QSOs this year and depending on how the band holds maybe even an increase over that number. No matter how I look at it my “BIC” time will be equal to or better than last year. I put in just under 16.5 hours, missing 23-10z and calling it quits at just prior to 03z on Sunday.

I have moved the hex beam and now approach 40′ in height, which seems to be the optimal height for this antenna. I am now able to get the hex just above the roof pitch, which should be a plus. I also installed a replacement rotator on the mast a few days ago and aligned the antenna. Unfortunately there won’t be much moving the antenna in SS this weekend.

The only other event I have this weekend is a soccer game at 14z (9AM) Sunday morning, which will take 4 hours of my required time off. I hope to work 20 hours, but realistically it will probably end up somewhere between 16.5 and 18 hours when I turn off the radio and call it finished. Regardless I look to have a good time, which is the main factor in participating in a radio contest.

2010 ARRL Sweepstakes – SSB

Contest: ARRL Sweepstakes
Date: November 20-21, 2010
Mode: SSB
Period: Starts 2100 UTC Saturday, ends 0259 UTC Monday

80 / 4 / 0
40 / 90 / 17
20 / 206 / 53
15/ 48 / 6
TOTAL: 348 QSO / 76 SECT
SCORE: 52,896 (TIME ON: 15 H 18 Mn)

SOAPBOX: There is always a thrill and excitement at the start of any contest. I had planned on working the full 24 hours in order to better my combined score, break 1000 Qs, achieve a second “clean sweep” and contribute to a potential club victory. Things did not begin well, as I was an hour late to the contest, forgetting there was 7 hours difference (not 8 hours) and while I had made accommodations at work to leave early, I still arrived home minutes before 22z. Rule 1: Know the rules.

No real harm done…I guess. It would mean I shorten my overnight break by an hour, but it also meant I missed out on what is usually my best rate of many contests I enter. This was confirmed when I had a 45 rate during 22z and a 30 rate for 23z. Not great, but for my modest station and contesting skills these are numbers I am continually striving to improve. So I figured I lost out on 45-50 Qs that first hour.

Things would go from bad to worse because dinner plans were dropped in my lap about 3 hours prior to the start of the contest. It’s not as if this contest just sprang up out of nowhere, I had been talking about it since the end of the CW portion. But as they say, family comes first, so after about 2.5 hours I was forced into a break.

For the first 6 hours of the contest I had about 3.5 hours in unscheduled off time. Getting my “BIC” around 02z I encounter some terrible rain static. Working only from the SteppIR Vertical I made a combined 3 QSOs in about 30 minutes on 40M. I moved to 80M, but it was no better. The weather was here and between the rain noise (S9+20), the wind and cracks of thunder and flashes of lightning I decided to disconnect the station and call it a night with only 79 QSOs logged, well of my anticipated totals and behind the curve on the goals I had set.

There was a marginal improvement when I returned to the shack at 112z, but it was a long 90 minutes on 40M waiting for 20M to open. I had planned on running on 15/20M, but when I found a relatively quiet spot I never received any answers to my “CQ SS” calls. I did this a few times for about 5-10 minutes through out the contest and the results were also the same. All I have to point to is the hex beam at 20′ as the problem.

The contest was all S & P for the 15+ hours I participated, my ears are still sore and ringing. By far the best part of Sunday was the NCCC rally on 40M. I ended up working 35 stations in 41 minutes. All but three (2, ID and SDG) were NCCC members. It was a great strategy and sort of give me a second wind for the rest of the contest.

With my goal now unattainable, I was focusing on achieving a “clean sweep.”  The only challenge was breaking through the pile up to log VO1TA. I tried numerous on occasions, but kept on the hunt for other sections I was in need of; WPA, SC and LAX. I saw spots for W6AFA on the cluster, but never could hear him on 20M and figured I would find him on 40M. As 15/20M started to close I began ruling out finding WPA and SC, both of which I never heard during Sunday. I would end with 76 sections.

Much of Sunday was back and forth between 15/20M. As I mentioned I was never successful in running on any band during the weekend. While my rate goal was only 26/hr, that number jumped dramatically higher with all the unforeseen issues at the start of the contest.  About 22z I started moving between 15/20/40M but the rate and number of new stations was dropping dramatically.

What 40M did offer me was a chance to work many of the western sections I had not yet heard or worked. The band never really was as good for rate with the exception of the “rally,” which yielded a 41 rate. I finished up on 80M with just a few Qs, most of which were NCCC members.

As for problems, I had the FT-1000MP cut out on my once, it just seemed to loose power for some unknown reason. I had this same problem occur a few months back in a RTTY contest, but the failure rate was much higher, than the single time I had it on Sunday.

The only remaining problems I have are with the antennas. The hex beam is still stuck at 20 with the only possibility of getting 30′ higher through the purchase of a new Channelmaster mast. Not sure 10′ is going to add much improvement for the investment. It has been nice to read the reflector and see two towers for sale, while a tower is not prudent at this point i am still trying to justify the purchase, just to stash it away for when conditions allow me to raise the antenna higher, as well as add the Force 12 C-4XL. I continue to struggle on the low bands with only the BigIR at my disposal. Not sure adding more radials is going to improve anything at this point, with nearly 2000′ of copper already under the vertical now.

While I missed my goal for SS SSB, I need to look at this experience as a whole. What did I achieve? First I worked my second ARRL Sweepstakes in 2 years. I improved by 40% in CW, QSOs up from 218 in 2009 to 366 in 2010. I also achieved my first clean sweep during the CW contest this year. My final score for CW was also up 47% from 30,520 in 2009 to 58,560 in 2010. On the SSB side QSOs were up 23% with 267 in 2009 to 348 in 2010. As for the final score it was up 28% this year from 37,914 in 2009 to 52,896 in 2010.

So looking at the contest as a whole 2010 I logged 714 QSOs, 156 sections and a final score of 111,456 points for an overall improvement of 38% from 2009. All in all I see this as a success even though I did not meet my original goals set for the 2010 ARRL Sweepstakes.

2010 ARRL Sweepstakes – CW

Contest: ARRL Sweepstakes
Date: November 7-8, 2010
Mode: CW
Period: Starts 2100 UTC Saturday, ends 0259 UTC Monday

40 / 45 / 5
20 / 230 / 57
15/ 48 / 5
TOTAL: 366 QSO / 80 SECT
SCORE: 58,560 (TIME ON: 16 H 26 Mn)

SOAPBOX: First off, the most important goal set, was achieved. I had fun, if it was not I would not have spent nearly 17 hours operating, even giving up prime operating time 2 hours into the contest to go to Thanksgiving dinner (some 3 weeks early). With that out of the way, I had set a goal of 400 QSO and 64,000 points, while I came up short on both of those, I did achieve my first “Clean Sweep” operating SS for only the second time (first time was in 2009). Unlike last year, where I operated as a “U” (or unlimited, using spotting) this year I chose the “A” precedence and ran low power (not over 150 watts).

I can;’t make any excuses for how Sweepstakes began. I was ready and had planning only to S&P for the entire contest, as my running abilities on CW are not good. Being a contest in which you must copy a serial number, precedence, callsign, check digit and a section, it takes me multiple times (on occasion) to get all the information down. I usually put a 30 rate as my target rate, but I only achieved that figure (31/hr) in the first hour of the contest on 20M.

After just 2 hours I had only made 56 QSOs before walking out of the shack, something I regret doing now, as I probably could have talked the XYL into one more hour before I left to join her and my son at the in laws for dinner. But why dwell on that? My second mistake was not coming home and getting more “butt in the chair” time. Instead of getting on 80M or “rallying” with NCCC members I decided to call it a night and went to bed with the intentions of being up early on Sunday morning.

I believe I was up just prior to 4am, made some coffee and warmed up the shack. I configured the BigIR and off we went. I spent the better part of 2 hours on 80M and made 41 QSO picking up some important mults, such as NNY, ENY and WV, which I needed for my ARRL Triple Play Award. I decided to move to 40M just a few minutes prior to 14z but didn’t spend an hour of the band before moving to 20M. I did add 5 mults on 40M including WNY and PAC.

For me 20M was the money band, then again it seems every contest this band ends up being my top band. The stations worked flawlessly as I had no problems with rig, key, antenna, computer for logging program.  After moving from 40M, I remained on 20M for nearly 3 hours before jumping to check the action on 15M at 1745z. Interesting note I logged VE5DX (SK), VY1EI (NT) and VE4DR (MB) inside of 27 minutes with no pile ups. A few hours later it would be VO1TA on 15M again to record NL.

The “clean sweep” was starting to look possible. I had already locked down sections I did not record last year, but I was fearing DE or worse SB would be my downfall. At 2104 I logged W3NX and got my DE, a few contacts later I worked N8NA and then WW3DE. Another section that eluded me much of the contest was ID, but I logged N7ZN a few QSOs after DE and that left me with 2 sections remaining; NE and SB.

Earlier in the day while spinning through 20M I had heard KA3DRR, but he could not hear my call and there was a fair number of signals coming at him, I decide to keep moving through 20M and figured I would catch him or another SB (not sure there was one) later in the contest. As luck would have it I heard KA3DRR calling around 00z and decided to stick around since this would put me to 79 sections worked if I could log him. It wasn’t but about 2 minutes and 3 calls later I had SB in the books. That left me with NE. Of all the sections; NL, NT, DE I was left with NE to find in S&P. But as more luck would have it, I found W0KT calling CQ 4 minutes later up the band on 14.084 and logged him to record my first ARRL “Clean Sweep!” This was great my first sweep in only my second SSCW event.

But the question still at hand, would I meet or exceed my goal of 400 QSOs? In the end I would end up 24 QSOs short. I looked at the clock, but I had forgot to set my clocks back an hour, so when I shut down the shack at 0232, I thought I was at the end, when in reality I had another hour to operate. My stupidity and error or not moving back my clocks cost me my goal of 400 QSOs. I would finish with 366 QSOs, 80 SECT for 732 points and a final score of 58,560.

When comparing this to 2009 I improved my QSO count by 40% (218 vs 366). I also increased my sections from 70 in 2009 to all 80 (and the clean sweep) this year. So while I gave up some prime time operating early in the contest, I left I made a good comeback, not only to improve my score but walk away with a smile and a clean sweep, knowing I did my part in an attempt to take back the gavel from the PVRC.

ARRL Sweepstakes 2010: Goals

Well last week was a complete bust when it came to the CQ WW DX Contest. I put in no time, even though I wanted to improve my 2009 totals. Oh well, that is contesting when you are married with a family and still banging out a remodel, which has been going since April.

This weekend it is the ARRL Sweepstakes (CW) that starts on 2PM, Saturday and runs through 7PM Sunday (PDT). Looking over last year’s details from the SS CW I worked the contest for the first time without understanding the “draw” to the contest. In just under 10 hours I worked 218 QSOs and 70 sections. I had set a goal of 400 contacts last year, but without enough “butt in the chair” time I missed that mark by 182 QSOs. Add to that I was not really up on the exchange, where you must send a ‘Serial #, Precedence, Call sign, Check, Section.” It took some time to get up to speed, but once I did it was easy.

The contest runs 30 hours, of which I can work 24 hours. I am hoping to put in a solid effort to start the contest from 1400-0000 PDT. That would put be at 10 hours, and best my “butt in the chair” effort from last year. I do have an 0900 commitment on Sunday morning for about 3 hours (although it is supposed to rain), which would leave me about 7 hours to operate. Not sure how realistic a total of 17 hours is. I am going to keep the 400 QSO goal and based on working half of the contest (15 hours) I would need to average a 26 rate in order to make my goal of 400, which would be an increase of nearly 46% from 2009.

The other goal this year, which I didn’t actively chase last year was the ‘Clean Sweep.’ That is working all 80 ARRL/RAC sections. I came up 10 short in 2009 (EMA, SNJ, DE, WPA, VI, WTX, SB, MAR, NL and NT). All of which I have worked in the past. With those figures and potentially working all 80 sections I am shooting for a score of 64,000 total points. This point total will be my best in 2 years, but more importantly my points will go towards the club competition (in favor of the NCCC) as we attempt to take back the gavel, which has been held by PVRC for some time now.