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.

Post Mortem: WPX

Looking over the 3830 submitted scores, there could be quite a few scoring records shattered during WPX this past weekend. While I didn’t set any record worth noting, I did set personal records for the number of hours I worked in a contest (32 hours) and the number of contacts (703). Overall I had a great time, but still have much to learn and experience. Interesting to read a few comments in support of RBN or the Reverse Beacon Network. Personally, I haven’t used it during a contest, but have sent a ‘CQ TEST’ at various times to see where was signal was being heard. Couple this with spotting capability using DX clusters and technology seems to be setting the pace when it comes to “assistance” during a contest.

Personally, I am not sure where I fall when it comes to assisted versus non-assisted. When I first bought a HF radio and I wanted to run assisted to help me find contacts. When I acquired my first amplifier I wanted to run high power so I could be heard. Now, three years later I find myself entering contests running low power and unassisted. Unlike many of my elders I don’t remember the days of ham radio gone by where logging meant writing each contest QSO down. Logging checking was going through the log in search of dupes (duplicate calls) before mailing your results in. These days software and e-mail make results nearly instantaneous!

There seems to be a lure, for me, in running low power and unassisted. First I don’t end up chasing spots on the band map. Many times in the past this has been erroneous information passed on in the form of an incorrect or incomplete call sign. Other times I arrive at the frequency of the spot and there is a massive pile up, one that I am not a willing participate in running low power. This combination also provides me the best chance at achieving an award, even if it’s only for the 6th call district.

Contesting for me is more about setting and achieving my personal goals and improving my operating skills. Now that I have seen how I did this past weekend compared to 2010 I will look at further my score next year when WPX rolls around. First and foremost, as I wrote about yesterday building confidence in Morse code and copying to allow myself the opportunity to run a frequency as opposed to searching and pouncing for 32 hours. This is the key to increasing the number of contacts I make and will lead to an improved score.

I am still sifting through the call signs, entering them into my logbook and uploading to eQSL and Logbook of the World. Some quick numbers I worked 68 countries and 41 states. No real surprise that 53.6% of my contacts were from North American, but surprisingly 24.9 came from Europe, while Asia was 11.8%. Out of my 703 contacts I worked NR6O and KH6LC on 5 bands and HK1NA, JE1ZWT, KC7V, KL7RA, KY0W, NR4M AND VE7UF on 4 bands.

2012 CQ World Wide WPX CW

Contest: CQ World Wide WPX
Date: May 26-27, 2010
Mode: CW
Period: Starts 0000 UTC Saturday; ends 2359 UTC Sunday

80 / 14 / 3
40 / 123 / 43
20 / 233 / 135
15 / 316 / 177
10 / 14 / 8
TOTAL: 700 QSO / 366 PFX
SCORE: 556,686 (TIME ON: 32 H 03 Mn)

SOAPBOX: Wow, what fun! Third time in the past 4 years I have had a chance to participate in this contest and it’s one of my favorites. Unfortunately I missed out last year but looked to make up for it this year and I feel as I gave it a very strong effort. Yet at the end of the contest there are positives to take away and negatives that need to be addressed. This was also the first time I was given the opportunity (by the XYL) to give it a full 36 hour effort.

I had some good success to build off from 2010. I put in nearly 25 hours and just eclipsed 500 QSOs. My goal that year, much like this year was to score 1 million points. K6MM made it look easy in his slideshow presentation! As I am finding out, it’s a bit more difficult than what numbers on a spreadsheet say. The goals I set for 2012 were 800 QSOs, 1700 QSO pts, 368 PFXs, which would give me a chance at scoring 1 million points. Now that I am looking over my spreadsheet the math doesn’t quite add up. My point being, the numbers were juggled by band and QSO location to give me a baseline on which to start. I also used the .OBF file from my 2010 contest to give me my target projections per hour.

One of the negatives was I planned too high for contacts on 40/80M. I had a goal of 450 contacts on those bands, 125 of them being 6 point contacts on 80M. In the end I scored on a total on 14 contacts on that band. For me, 40M wasn’t much better. While I did make 123 contacts it was nowhere near enough points to give me a realistic shot at 1 million points and I knew this early in the contest, which caused me to rethink my goals during my first break.

In fact, things were looking good as I took a 60 minute break for dinner about 01z. I already had 510 logged in just over 13 hours. My hopes were still alive as the sunset waiting for the low bands to open. Even when they did open, I found myself on 20M up until 08z working EU. That was a surprise. 40M was okay in some regards, although I did expect a much better showing, as this was the first time I had put the refurbished SteppIR BigIR to the test. As for 80M, it was miserable, so instead of working straight through the first 12 hours I knocked off at 09z, but overslept by 1 hour and didn’t get back in the shack until 13z.

I started Saturday morning with some QSOs on 40M, but moved to 20M because 15M took over and became my money band for the next 10 hours. In that time I did work a few contacts on 10M, at the top of each hour for about 10 minutes and went to 20M at the bottom of the hour. Some good morning numbers gave me false hope that I could still challenge for 1 million points, but after breaking at 02z I was met with frustration.

The second night was not what the first night was. I sat in the shack struggling for nearly 4 hours before it I decided to call it a night just after 06z. Looking back, I might have taken a break earlier in order to rise on Sunday to start on 40/80M at 10z or earlier. I put together my best run on 40M at 12z, which did help to recover some of those lost points, but it was not nearly enough. My last shot was to see a repeat performance of the activity on Friday afternoon and Saturday morning. All I needed was a 25 rate to help me hit my goal of 800 QSOs.

Unfortunately conditions deteriorated as the SSN decreased to 71 (from 86 the day before) and there was a minor disruption on the sun. There also seemed to be a lack of stations on the bands. Now I could account for this by saying all my QSOs were S&P and none were made running a frequency (more on that shortly). I would spin through the CW portion of a band and find I had already had a QSO with a majority of the stations, so even making a run for 800 was going to be difficult.

As Sunday worn on I had kissed 1 million goodbye for the second year and made a push for 500,000 points and a bit later in the day challenged myself to make 700 QSOs. I was able to accomplish both of these goals about with less that 50 minutes remaining in WPX. At that point I powered off the shack, grabbed an 801 and relaxed.

The final tally is my best attempt in any contest to date. Given I sat around for 32 hours, it stands to reason this is the largest QSO count I have put together. My XYL made the comment, “gosh honey 700 contacts doesn’t seem like a lot in 32 hours.” *sigh* She has a very valid point. As previously mentioned I made all my QSOs in S&P mode. I still hesitate to attempt to run a frequency as my CW is still a bit weak. I can copy fairly well, but don’t want to struggle sending ‘?’ or ‘AGN’ with every operator that calls me. I figure that would only put more pressure on me to get it right the first time. Guess it calls for more practice as well. Instead I sit back and listen to the call and exchange once and then make my call. This drastically decreases my rate.

I participated in this contest as a single operator, unassisted, low power, all bands. Looking at the past 2 years of results, I feel this would give me the best chance at challenging myself and the field for some wallpaper. While I came up short on my goals I do feel the final score will be one of the best in the 6th call district in that category. Even though I didn’t meet my original goals I am still very pleased with how I finished. I’ll look forward to the 2013 event and hopefully furthered my CW and make changes to get my 1 million points.

WPX: Final Stretch Update

I feel like I am sitting in traffic and not going nowhere quick. That is how I compare the past 5 hours I have operated in the CQWW WPX CW Contest. This time yesterday I was putting up some good numbers, but the sun, being unpredictable has thrown a wrench into my plans.

While my time should be better spent in front of the radio, which is where I am currently sitting I have modified my goals a few times since yesterday. Hell, a few times since this morning for that matter. I am hoping to break 500,000 points as a final score. Currently I am just over 465,000 points. Typically I would say this would be a snap to get with the scoring being weighed in my favor. Unfortunately the solar conditions have taken a turn for the worst and I have one band to work, that’s 15M.

I continue to spin my dial and listen to stations I have already worked and logged. Right now I am making contact with maybe 10 stations an hour. Talking about dreadful! Still it beats being at work. Maybe things will pick up as the afternoon rolls on. Although I expect I will have a challenging time with these last 35,000 points I am chasing. I will provide a complete synopsis at the conclusion of the contest.


WPX Update

As expected, things did not go as planned. Currently sitting here on a break since conditions have deteriorated since yesterday and I am not able to keep up the sort of rate I expected. So I will give it an hour (or two) and get back to the radio. This puts me at about 5.5 hours off from the contest, leaving me with 6.5 remaining to use up of my total of 12 hours.

Unfortunately the overnight hours were not kind to me. I as hoping for better on the low bands (40M and 80M) but the antenna and solar conditions did not allow me the luxury of keeping a reasonable rate. There seemed to be a bit of local noise, which kept me on 20M well into the late hours of the night. Oddly enough I was working Europe after the sun went down. Wish I could be working EU on 15 or 20M now, but there does not seem to be an opening.

Based on my projections I will probably come up about 350,000 points short of 1 million. Last night I believe has done me in. I didn’t see a reason to spin through static and noise making very few contacts, so I dropped out at about 0930z (230am) and returned about 13z (600am). I put up one good hour and one crappy hour, only to find myself here, typing about why I won’t achieve my goal.

With daylight brings the return of the high bands (10/15/20M), which are all lower scoring than 40 and 80M, so exchanging out 6 point contacts for 1 and 2 point contacts won’t help my overall position. Still I will be pleased with the effort so far. I am on pace to beat last year’s mark before hitting the 25 hour mark, which is how much time I put in last year.

Still 36 hours in front of the radio is better than 2 days at work. So no further complaints from me. As I said yesterday, numbers can be manipulated to reflect anything you want. In this case, I was probably a bit off in some of my predictions, which will cause a major scoring change. I decided to run low power, unassisted, meaning not using any spotting resources like a DX cluster of the Reverse Beacon Network. All search and pounce for the the rest of the contest.