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.

CQWW WPX Today!

Final preparations are being made as we are just about 4 hours away from the start of the CQWW WPX CW Contest. The transceiver, just back from being repaired is in top condition, ready to put in a 36 hour effort. Last night, thanks in part to Hank, W6SX located in Mammoth Lakes, I was able to get a signal check using the SteppIR BigIR on 40M and 80M. Hank was able to hear me on both bands, so my low band antenna is ready.

I didn’t really put much of an effort into low band antenna, my hex beam. It has performed excellent since I last upgraded it a few years back. I did get on the roof and check the connection and realign the hex beam with north. Due to some strong winds the past week, the antenna was about 15-20 degrees off north. I double checked the rotator was working, as well as my digital interface.

One minor problem I encountered last night while testing, was the fact my antenna tuner on my rig was not work. I overlooked a menu function, which might have caused some of my problems on 80M with Hank, but after I turned the tuner on, 80M seemed to work very well. As it stands now, I just have to set up my macro keys on Win-Test and decide what category I will enter. Right now I am leaning towards single operator, all band, low power, unassisted. That might change depending on how conditions are once we get into the contest.

I have spent the last 90 minutes reviewing propagation charts and my spreadsheet that breaks down this contest by the numbers, for each band, each hour. By the numbers 1 million points is within my reach. Hopefully the low bands come through. More importantly, hopefully I am able to stay awake until 4 or 5 am tomorrow morning. That will be the biggest challenge. Wish me luck!

2012 CQWW WPX CW Goals

Starting this Friday at 5pm (0000 z) is the beginning of the CQWW WPX CQW Contest. It’s become a favorite of mine, based off my 2010 and 2009 efforts. While I had set lofty expectations in 2010, I came up well short of my goals. Compared to 2009, I doubled my contracts and tripled my final score. Still out of 36 hours I only worked 24 hours and 50 minutes, which put any idea of 1 million points behind me.

I gotta give props to many of these contesters who can go all night without sleep, many of them older than I. This was something I was unable to do last year and at 01z I called it quits. Hopefully that won’t be the case this year, as I am planning on operating through Friday night into the daylight hours of Saturday.

The SteppIR BigIR is back, erected and in good working condition. I need to make one minor repair on an 80M radial, but am looking to get the antenna tested on Wednesday afternoon. The hex beam has been unused for nearly a month and a half since my Yaesu FT-1000MP has been in the shop under repair. I did receive confirmation that the rig will arrive on Wednesday providing me 2 days to get the shack reconnected and in working order for the start of the contest on Friday.

At the beginning of April I wrote a piece called WPX on the Horizon, discussing my failure to achieve my goals in 2010 and how to be successful 2 years later. It will be the low bands (40M & 80M) that will be the deciding factor. If I can have a productive first night, then I should have a legitimate shot at making my goal of 1 million points.

This year I have set 1 million points as my goal, how I get there is of little consequence. Based on my 2012 CQWW CW spreadsheet I would need 890 QSOs, 418 PFX, which would equate to 2400 QSO points for a final score just over 1 million points. This is predicated on a prefix variable of 0.47. Based on my 2010 score, my prefix rate ended up at 0.46 but as the contest wears on new prefixes are difficult to find, but worth quite a few points.

As mentioned, it will be 40M and 80M that will be the deciding factor (4 or 6 points per QSO). I need to total 475 contacts between the two bands. If not, the shortfall will need to be made up on the low bands and will end up requiring more contacts at a lower point per contact. Not sure this would be a possibility for me since my effort will be search and pounce, without running any frequency.

Looking at the numbers, over a 36 hour period I would need to average a 24.72 contacts per hour (known as rate) in order to achieve my goal. In any contest a 24 rate is very low, especially when compared to those who will be running a frequency or using a SO2R (single operator, 2 radios) operation. My Morse code is adequate and my skill is improving, as well as my speed, but running a frequency only to have to QRZ for a call sign does nothing but waste time. If the first 7 hours of the 2010 effort is any indication (was at a 32 rate), I should be able to achieve my goal.

The factor that remains a question mark, the solar conditions. I am using N6BV’s propagation software and hoping for high conditions (SFI  100+ and SSN 100+) and planning my contest out for each hour. I don’t plan on spending much time on 10M (only planning 40 QSOs), but will check at the top of each hour. Currently I am planning my sleep schedule. Initially I had it set up for one block of 10 hours during the daylight hours on Saturday. After some consideration I am breaking it up into a few smaller breaks, hoping to be at my 36 hour limit about 3-4 hours before the contest ends. Whatever I finally decide on the sleep schedule, I am going to make it a point to stay up when the sun is down to maximize my score.

I will enter this contest as a single operator, low power, unassisted. This too could change before the contest, but I don’t see much reason to fire the amplifier up and run high power, especially for CW. With any luck I will be reporting back the fruits of my labor and grinning from ear to ear that I have achieved my goal.

WPX on the Horizon

While May 26 is still a way out, it’s not too early to start planning for the CQ WPX CW contest. It’s one of those contests that I have really come to enjoy, next to the ARRL Sweepstakes. I find it interesting, now 3 years into contesting these two contests would top my list of “most enjoyable.” CW or Morse code wasn’t a mode I really thought of using when I upgraded without submitting to Element 1 testing, since it was dropped by the FCC. Sweepstakes, before participating, I could not understand the draw to the contest, but now 3 years later, these “messages” we exchange during the contest show the importance of traffic handling and being precise.

There is more to entering a contest than winning, especially for an operator like myself with a very modest shack and equipment compared to other stations. Unfortunately due to our remodel in 2011, I was unable to participate in the CQ WPX CW. Go back just 2 years and I posted one of my best overall performances in ANY contest to date. Again, I didn’t win the contest in my category (Single Operator, High Power, All Bands), while placing 19th out of 71 operators in that category.

The best part of this contest is that you get to work EVERYBODY! It’s also a contest where the other station’s prefix (like W6 or WD6, etc) are multipliers. If you work stations on the low bands (40/80M) they are worth double the points. If you work stations on other continents, they are worth more than if I work many domestic stations. So this is my best opportunity to score 1 million points in a contest.

John, K6MM and Dean, N6BV made a presentation back in 2010 at our May meeting of the Northern California Contest Club. After seeing the numbers as presented by K6MM and the outlook for propagation, even an operator like my could put up 1 million points. I had grand visions of that goal back in 2010, but sleep got the better of me when the sun went down. From that point on I was behind the goals I had set, unable to recover.

This year hopes to be a different story, especially if the solar weather picks up in the next month with an increase in sunspots. Regardless I will attempt to put a full weekend into contesting in order to achieve my 1 million point goal. Getting back to the band information, as long as I can stay awake, the low bands (40/80M) should be worth their points in gold. Even 6-8 hours when the sun goes does should provide me with the push I need to make 1 million points. The great think about this contest is I only need to make 27 contacts per hour and I will achieve my goal.

Currently I have working up the details on a spreadsheet I use for where my antenna will be pointing, possible contacts per band, broken down into different categories based on points. I also have to figure out a sleep schedule, which could be during the day, as opposed to night time when points are at a premium. Still some work to do before the contest arrives, but planning is always a key when it comes to contesting.

2012 ARRL DX – CW

Contest: ARRL DX
Date: February 18-19, 2012
Mode: CW
Period: Starts 0000 UTC Saturday; ends 2359 UTC Sunday

BAND/QSO/DXC
20 / 82 / 39
15 / 210 / 61
10 / 48 / 19
TOTAL: 340 QSO / 119 DXC
SCORE: 120,666 (TIME ON: 12 H 00 Mn)

SOAPBOX: Some questions going into the contest since I am without an antenna for the low band, do I run SOSB or SOAB? I decided on a SOAB, low power operation this weekend and was shooting for 450 QSOs with 150 MULTS. I figured those were appropriate given the time I would have for operating, none of which would be on Sunday when I shut the shack down (0144z). I decided against a SOSB based on what I experienced in CQ WPX RTTY last weekend. It was a long and arduous contest and at the least I would increase my DXCC counts on 10M and 20M.

Overall I had a GREAT time, probably one of the most enjoyable contesting experiences I have had in the past 12 months. Why I have not been able to work a full contest in about 18 months, I do the best I can and also aim high, looking to pull something positive from all contests I enter. These 12 hours I operated don’t compare to my SOSB effort last week on 15M. While 15M was the “money band” this week I was still able to make some good headway on 10M, especial over the poles, while 20M was somewhat of a let down. That based on my limited experience and the fact that 20M since I got into contesting has usually been my best producing band with my hex beam at 40 feet.

I had some early questions as to where to start the contest, since rate is not my driving factor, I figured I would search & pounce to start on 10M, but it was short lived. It was no more than 7 minutes later and I moved to 15M, where I spent a majority. While rate for contesters is an important factor, being at the level of experience I am at with Morse code, I aim for a 30 QSOs/hour when in search and & pounce. For all CW contests that is all the time, so my rate suffers when compared to that of a more competent CW operator. A 30 rate will usually help me attain my goals, obviously duration plays a factor. Realistically I should have decreased the number of hours I was going to operate from 16 down to 12, or even 14 hours. I still stuck with a 30 rate and was hoping I would have a few hours over 30 and close to 40 or 50, but those gains were offset by a few very down hours as well, including one 60 minute break.

I operated just over 2 hours at the start of the contest, all but 7 minutes were on 15M and dominated by JAs. I usually rely heavily on QSOs with Asia in most of the contests I participate in. The numbers tell a different story, where 37.9% of my contacts were from Europe, while Asia accounted for 35.6 with Japan at a 29.4% of my total contacts dominating all other DXCC entities. I was disappointed with the number of JAs on 20M, I had hoped that more would move to 20M by 00z or 01z on Sunday but in that never appeared to happen while I was operating.

What was even more surprising were the 10M openings to EU via the poles. I made a number of 10M QSOs with Europe including ES5RR, OH0Z and SK3GM. On Saturday 15M still dominated the log by a big margin mainly from Europe. My best 60 minute rate was 49/hour from 1606-1706 and it was not JAs I was logging. I found that somewhat surprising. Search & pounce was rather slow and from 1900-2200z things got very slow. I couldn’t find a suitable band to be on bouncing from 10m to 15M to 20M in a vicious cycle that didn’t see activity pick up again until 2300z.

Thankfully when the sun came in Asia/Oceania 15M was great! Many loud stations, some of which I had not worked at the start of the contest, but I had hoped more JAs would move to 20M but only 13 QSOs with JA were made on 20M (out of 121 total). I was also pleased with the activity I found on 10M running 100 watts.

While I did not achieve my goal I had a very enjoyable 12 hours participating. In total I worked 275 unique call signs and 70 DXCC entities. Now, if I only had more confidence to run a frequency that 30 QSO/hour rate would increase. This was only the second time I had participated in the ARRL DX CW contest, the last time was 2010 with only 99 QSOs made.