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.

2011 CQP

Contest: California QSO Party
Date: October 1-2, 2010
Mode: SSB/CW
Period: Starts 1600 UTC Saturday, ends 2200 UTC Sunday

BAND/QSO/STATES/DX
20 / 214 / 38 / 5
15 / 113 / 33 / 7
10 / 62 / 20 /0
TOTAL: 389 QSO / 51 Mults
SCORE: 41,973 (TIME ON: 8 H 25 Mn)

Soapbox: After participating last year and having my log submitted as a comma delineated I was excited with anticipation at the start of the California QSO Party this year. My original plans were grandiose in scale, but in the end it was nothing more than me in the shack with my hex beam at 20′. Unfortunately Mr. Murphy decided to pay me a visit on Saturday afternoon that left me a dumbfounded and lacking a solution.

Solar conditions were calming down after a week of flares and CMEs had the A index in double digits. By the start of the contest on Saturday it had come down to a reasonable level, as the SSN was 89. Conditions seemed to be good as the contest started. I had set my goals at a “reasonable” level and took into consideration my family responsibilities and weekend duties, even though I had taken the weekend off. I had hoped to make the most of the low bands. Wasn’t I in for a surprise.

As with some contests I enter, being a “lil pistol” I have to pick and choose my spots. I figured I would give 10M a shot before moving to 20M, which is arguably my best band. No surprise I start the contest with N6O, just a few miles down the road, but 10M wasn’t all the fruitful and I quickly vacated and moved to 15M, where I picked up my first multiplier in TX and 6Y6U as my first DX. And again, there was N6O.

Guess I wasn’t surprised when I moved to 20M and N6O gives me my 3 contact with them inside my first 6 contacts. I would go on to work them on CW as well, 10-20M. I would pick things up about about 1712z when I started running on 15M and keep a modest rate for about 45 minutes. This first run would bump me over 100 QSO at 1754. Again not great when compared to other stations, but then I am comparing my score to last year, so this was an improvement over what I achieved last year running as K6B.

Just after 1809z I decided to give 10M a second shot and it paid off for about 10 minutes, putting together a short run, adding some new multipliers for my score. It was also my intention to use 10M to potentially work all 58 CA counties and each time I moved to 10M I was picking up a new country here and there. Unfortunately it would not be enough in the end.

I would end up working my best 10 minutes of the contest running on 20M between 1859z and 1909z and would log 25 QSOs. I had hoped to work more CW and attempted to call and answer CQ on each band “at the half hour” as based on the CQP rules. It really wasn’t as lucrative as I thought it would be. There were also two rally times, 0300z and 0700z on 40/80M, somehow I missed both of them during the contest. It also helps if you are actually on the air come 0300z. I wasn’t.

After my 20M run it was back to 15M and that is when Murphy struck. I was about 12 minutes into a run when after a QSO with VE2SHF 15M on my Yaesu FT-1000MP seemed to die. The station that had called me, asked for a repeat, but his signal got very weak and soon all I heard was static on 15M. I figured it might be RF, so I bypassed the amp and turned the RF power on the rig up to 100 w. No luck. I tried changing antennas from the hex beam to the vertical. No help. The rig was keying, but no power was being transmitted with and without the amp in line. After about 12 minutes of fiddling with it, I said “screw it!” and moved back to 20M at 2035z.

It would be a steady dose of contacts, but 15M is where the action was. About every hour I would move to 10M and swing through the CW and SSB portion of the band and then go back to 20M. I was frustrated at this point with no 15M and was trying to make the best of the situation. I would close out Saturday strong on 20M with my final contact at 1351z. This left me with 377 QSOs after about 8 hours of work.

With my wife and son leaving for Disneyland I played “Dad” for the rest of the night and saw no action on 40/80M. It might have been a blessing in disguise, because I got up very early the next morning to try 40/80M and I had no luck. Even N6O about 3 miles down the road could not hear me on the SteppIR BigIR.

Most of the morning up until about 1530z was a waste of time for me. The radio was on, the contest was going, but I wasn’t with it. I was still frustrated with the loss of 15M on the rig and 20M wasn’t happening. 10M was noise and conditions were worse than the previous day. All I could make were 3 more QSOs 2 on 20M CW and 1 on 10M CW and I called it a contest. At 1551z I was done.

Comparing this to the 2010 CQP results I saw a 49% increase in QSOs, but I worked more QSOs in 3:48 as K6B last year, than I did this year as W6ONV. The only number down from last year was the number of DX stations worked, 11 compared to 3 this year, CA counties, US states and Canadian provinces were all up over 2010. All in all it was a successful contest. Maybe next year I will look at putting in an every bigger effort. Who knows I might even get the mobile plans kicked into high gear. See you in 2012!

CQP Weekend!

This weekend I might actually forgo watching NFL football and European football and participate in the CQP or California QSO Party. For those new to The 6th Floor, this is a year radio contest sponsored by the Northern California Contest Club (of which I belong to). The object for stations inside California is to work as many stations outside the state as possible as well as work all 58 counties.

Last year I had intentions to work much longer than 3:55, but my parents arrived in town and I never got back on the in air. In that time, operating at K6B (a special 1×1 call sign) I made 196 contacts that included 11 DXCC, 8 CA counties and 35 states/6 provinces. It was my intention this year to pull a 35 county mobile operation, but with planning that started early this year ended about 3 months ago when I lost the driver and interest in putting together the operation. It is still a goal of mine and the route is plotted.

Unfortunately the N3FJP software I used last year spit out a bad Cabrillo form and my log was not accepted. I don’t believe it was even used as a check log. Ah well, guess I learned the hard way. I like Scott’s software too. I might take a second look at it and see if there is a way to convert the log file before I give up on it. Right now I am considering TR4W,w which is what I was using for the CWT mini contests.

No idea what I will shoot for as a goal. My son and wife are leaving for Disneyland on Sunday morning, so I should have much of the afternoon, if I don’t’ commit to playing soccer that morning. If I do, then I can write off the afternoon playing radio. Depending on commitment, I would like to get all 58 counties and work all 50 states and about 500 contacts on both CW and SSB. The CW might be a bit slow, please put up with it. I enjoy the mode and love use it, but not the best at running a frequency. See you this weekend in the CQP!

Ready for Radiosport?

The contest season is warming up, as are those sunspots. Solar conditions have been excellent, unfortunately I have not been spending much time on air due to other activities filling my free time. I was looking at the SSN of 141 and K of 3 yesterday and turned the radio on with some outstanding 10M signals to T32. Unfortunately when I tried to turn my hex beam in that direction I noticed I had some issues.

I leaned a ladder up to the roof and climbed up for a closer look but could not see much. I then decided to pull the antenna down to return the rotator to Radio Shack and get a replacement, since I had purchased the 1-year warranty. After collecting some tools, I needed to use a hacksaw to cut away a small piece of metal that was holding a set screw against the telescoping mast.

After the tension on the released the mast slid down. It was more evident when retracted the upper sections of the mast and was eye level with the rotator. It seemed the weight of the antenna has collaped into the rotator box. I figured it had damaged the gears. I unbolted the hex and disconnected the feed line. After lifting the antenna off I pulled off the rotator box and took it to the work bench for further inspection.

When I opened the access panel on the bottom all 4 bolts dropped out that held the rotator plate in place, which attached to the casing. Maybe I knock it off to being cheap Chinese made crap! But what should I expect for $99? I tightened up the 4 bolts, cleaned the casing and closed up the rotator and made my way back outside to reinstall on the mast.

Since picking up the last a few months ago I have been working on trying to get the mast to 40′ and have not had much luck. I am about 5-10′ short in what is really a two man operation. The two lower sections of the mast will now be fully extended totaling about 18′. The third section will put me close to 27′ It gets a bit dicey approaching 30′ and above because the mast is only about 2″ in diameter and I should be using guy wires up at 40′. Possible? Yes. Desired? Not really and I am trying to keep a clean (but safe) installation for the HOA and my neighbors.

I reattached the mast to the brackets on the back of the garage and installed the rotator box to the top of the mast. I then placed the hex beam antenna in the slot on the rotator so it can be controlled from inside the shack. With any luck the bolts will remain in place. I guess this will be an item I will need to check periodically to make sure they are not coming loose. With any luck I will be able to slide the mast up to 35-40′ a bit later today.

This is all in preparation for the CQ DX WPX RTTY contest coming this weekend. While I would love to take the entire weekend off and participate, especially with solar condition still very good, I won’t be putting in any sort of real effort. With any luck I will combine for about 10-12 hours, opening on Friday afternoon with 2-3 hours and 7-8 hours over the weekend.

The following weekend it’s the NCCC sponsored CQP, which I am hoping to participate in. While I would like to say it will be a full effort, chances are it won’t. Right now I am planning on taking Oct 2-3 off from work, due to the contest. My XYL and son are leaving that Sunday morning for Disneyland, so it would end up being a free day for me.

Right now, it’s been almost a month since I have really put any time into the radio and even less when it has come to any of the contests over the summer. Not really sure why. I have very little time to take off from work for one, I am trying to save that time and use it wisely, which isn’t easy. I am highly involved in fantasy football and spending too much time on FFS as well as dedicating time with my son and at his school. So radio loses out. Not to worry, it will always be there and as conditions continue to improve all I need to do it turn the rig on, I am sure I will be able to find a signal.