Sunspots! Rejoice!

All signs point to Sol finally waking up after 11+ years of solar minimum. I mention this because on numerous conspiracy web sites the activity of of the sun have “doomtards” running for the hill. Recent M-class and X-class flares have cause some strong geomagnetic storms. For amateur radio operators, the activity on the sun is a welcomed sight!

Never having experienced a high sunspot cycle, recent activity has see me spending a bit of time in the shack, spinning the dial, chasing DX. While I have not had the sort of time I require to participate in a contest, I have started to get my feet wet in 2011 (finally!). There is another 48 hour contest this weekend, the ARRL International DX Contest (SSB) and while I don’t have the antenna farm I will put in some time beginning today (4pm PST) working DX.

The past few days I have worked nothing but DX on CW and RTTY including East Malaysia, Haiti, Senegal, Belize and many other entities worldwide. Hopefully we continue to see the  SFI and SN numbers climb and the A and K-Indexes remain low for this weekend. While I am setting any goals, I will hope to work more than 71 contacts (54 DXCC), which is what I worked in 2010, just under 4 hours in the chair.

The equipment is all in good working order, but I continue to be unhappy with the performance of the BigIR (w/ 80M coil). Maybe it’s I am much happier working 10-20 (5-bands) on my Hexx. It’s nothing but frustration on SSB working 40 and 80M. I might give it a shot tonight, but I know I will spend a few hours on the high bands at the start of the contest. I did have an issue with the FT-1000MP last week, when the radio shut itself down for no apparent reason. I have not been able to duplicate the issue in the past week, but have seen this occur in a prior RTTY contest.

Shack: Where to invest?

Above anything else, amateur radio should be enjoyable. This goes for ANY hobby, if at any time you do not have fun, then maybe it’s time to get out and find another hobby. This piece is bring written because I was frustrated with my effort and performance during the NAQP RTTY Contest.

Earlier this year I was looking at the possibility of adding hardware to start an SO2R operation, especially during RTTY contests in order to maximize my score and learn how to operate a two radio set up effectively. While I have a second radio (FT-857D in my truck) as well as a West Mountain RIGblaster Pro, I have not made the jump. I am still short an antenna tuner, which will undoubtedly run a few hundred dollars.

I have turned to the NCCC Reflector and posed a few questions to them regarding my situation in order to maximize my operating time and increase my scores. Under  Shack and Antennas I have detailed the equipment I use on a regular basis.

I am very limited in terms of lot space, as the house it situated on a 50′ x 100′ lot, of which I have a swath of 50′ x 30′ that is usable space in the backyard. Now if I were to invest $1000 where should I put it? I am shying away from going with the SO2R set up because of introducing new problems, inter-station interference because my antennas are no more than about 30′ apart.

The inexpensive fix would be to increase the height of my mast and add a rotator with a thrust bearing in order to turn my hex beam. An even cheaper fix would be to forgo an personal goals and achievements and work in a team environment at N6RO or K6LRG, since they are the local stations and usually work the major contests.

The free fix to many of my problems, MORE SUNSPOTS! Unfortunately no amount of money will resolve that problem. Only patience through the doldrums of the solar cycle will reward all amateurs when the sun becomes more active.

So hopefully the membership of the NCCC will have some ideas for me in order to improve the station, which will hopefully increase my scores in all contests I participate in. I’ll share some of the details as they start to roll in.

What I Learned: Part 3

Hmmm…I guess this could be considered an ongoing series as is relates to contesting. I have written two previous parts focusing on filters in part one and having patience in part two. This third installment deals with knowing your limitations, which is directly proportionate to your station.

The ARRL International DX -SSB is in full swing, beginning at 0000z, 07 March. Filled with the anticipation, like a kid the night before Christmas I was in a hurry to get home and get the FT-1000MP fired up. I got into the shack, turned on the rig and computers and configured Win-Test for the contest. I started off well securing a VE with my first call, but that would be the extent of my work for the next 90 minutes.

Over the course of that time the band was full of call signs up and down 20M. I was hear new countries that I had not logged in the Caribbean, as well as into Centrat and South America. With only 12 confirmed DXCC entities, contests like this are exciting because it provides me with an opportunity to log many new countries. None of these entities are rare by any account, but with a real lack of DX I am excited when I log anyone outside of a VE, XE or JA.

There were DX stations reporting, “59 Kilowatt” while others were giving out “59 100.” This contest any non W/VE stations provided a signal report and the power they were running. Needless to say the “Kilowatt” stations were easily heard. Unfortunately I was not being heard very well or at all. I tried for 30 minutes to contact YN2NB, as well as a station in Brazil and Argentina. Both to no avail. Even NL7V and KH7X were unreachable in Alaska and Hawaii respectively. Both of which I have logged in previous, yet in RTTY and CW.

*sigh* So that left me frustrated, yet again. Another contest weekend and another failed attempt to log new entities. Some times we must face the reality that we might not be able to work stations in some modes, like SSB because of our station. I believe I fall into that category. Sure, I had some success in the NAQP SSB a few months prior, as well as the Winter RAC, both of which are really North American contests, where international participation is not as strong as the ARRL DX contest.

Knowing your limitations is an important aspect that some hams just don’t need to worry about. Given we are at the bottom (still) of the solar cycle does not help the situation at all, but if there were sunspots these limitations would still exist, but possibly not as extreme as they are now. I am beginning to understand my limitations, which has shows that SSB is not my strongest mode, given my antenna, rig and conditions. Sure I can make SSB contacts, but this contest is one that was worth trying, but understanding that you might not be very successful.

Thankfully I will be participating as part of N6RO this evening on 80M and 160M in order to add points to the overall score. Here there are very few limitations, unlike the ones I face operating from my home QTH. Regardless, the fact remains to have fun and enjoy what you partake in when you are engaged in your hobby.