Preliminary Win: 2011 SSCW

On the NCCC Reflector this week there was a message sent about the initial results being posted by the ARRL for the 2011 Sweepstakes CW. After reading through a series of comments from other KB’ers I decided to check the initial results. I was happily surprised when I saw I had retained my title from last year (last year’s win) winning the 2011 SSCW in the single operator, low power, unassisted category.

For me, it’s about picking and choosing a category I can be competitive in. Winning is nice, but not necessarily the priority for me when it comes to “BIC” and participating in any contest. It’s nice to achieve a winning effort and while they haven’t been all that often, it is nice to know I can compete. Granted, I was only competing against 8 other stations, but this effort was a daytime operation only since I had all sorts of complications on the low bands (40/80M) with my SteppIR BigIR. Unlike 2010, when I had 88 low band contacts, 2011 yielded only 2, the bigger difference was 10/15M.

With any luck I can put aside all the station issues, find a full effort and really see what I can do. Based on my numbers from the last 2 years a goal of 600 QSO (all S & P) is possible. Then again taking a chance and running a frequency should allow me to easily achieve this goal, but I am still not as comfortable running as I am in S & P. So there is a big tradeoff in my rate. We still have 10 months before 2012 Sweeps, but I am already looking forward to what is the most enjoyable contest for me.

2011 ARRL Sweepstakes – SSB

Contest: ARRL Sweepstakes
Date: November 19-21, 2011
Mode: SSB
Period: Starts 2100 UTC Saturday, ends 0259 UTC Monday

20 / 106 / 39
10 / 51 / 16
TOTAL: 157 QSO / 55 SECT
SCORE: 17,270 (TIME ON: 6 H  Mn 22)

SOAPBOX: Dreadful, disappointing and discouraging is the only way I can sum up my (lack of) performance in the ARRL Sweepstakes SSB Contest. I went into the contest handicapped since I lost 15M on my Yaesu FT-1000MP to a Local Unit problem. Although it worked

during SS CW, it failed to work for phone this past weekend. The second problem
I noted about 90 minutes before the start of SS was a noise coming from the
SteppIR BigIR when I turned it on. It didn’t sound as if the sprockets were moving the tape. I decided to open the EHU and lo and behold, the Copper-Beryllium tape has come off the spindle. Now I know why during SS CW when no one could hear me on the low bands. So before the contest even begins I am down to two bands; 10M and 20M. Of course most of the action seemed to be on 10M and 15M.

The first 4 hours were the best of the contest for me, but without the low
bands I didn’t keep the BIC past sundown. No low bands meant time with the
family and thoughts of getting up at sunrise on the east coast for some 20M
activity. Of course I get “railroaded” into take my in-laws to the train
station, only to find out their train was cancelled. I ended up losing most all
of the morning and when I did get on the air, I was done. I logged maybe 2.5
hours and couldn’t do it any longer. I was not having fun on 20M and running as
an ‘A’ I could not be heard by many stations. I finally called it quits at 2053
and tried to fulfill the rest of the afternoon with other thoughts.

I didn’t come close to meeting any goals I set, how could I with no 15M, which
probably hurt me more than 40/80M did. I did try to salvage 40M by quickly
raising a wire to about 20′, but it was really not worth the effort I tried
calling from the local stations after sundown and could still not be heard. But
there is always next year, which I will look forward to. Just need to make sure
the ham gear is in WORKING condition during the summer so I don’t run into
complications during the contest. On a positive note, I did work DE on phone,
which was my last outstanding state for my ARRL Triple Play Award. Now to wait
for the LOTW uploads.

Radio Woes

I recall making a post on the QRZ Forums asking the question, “What’s the draw to ARRL Sweepstakes?” It drew a wide range of comments and opinions from both the contesting crowds and the LIDs making off colored comments. Now that I have participated for 3 years I understand the interest and why so many enjoy this series (CW & Phone) of contests. Unfortunately for me this weekend for the phone portion of the contest it would have been better to watch from the sidelines.

I was handicapped going into the contest with a Yaesu FT-1000MP that had no 15M, seems I have a Local Unit that has failed in the radio. Oddly enough, I did report it working for the entire CW contest just 2 weeks ago. I also figured out my antenna issues on the SteppIR BigIR. It see the Copper-Beryllium tape that extends up the fiberglass tubing has come loose and was twisted inside the EHU. I also noted quite a bit of moisture in the housing, which is also a cause for concern. The moisture seal around the EHU seemed to be intact, might require a closer look before I make repairs on the tape.

While I will have a full SS Phone write up later in the week, it was not a good contest weekend. There was some hope beginning the contest on Saturday as I had 3 good hours, unfortunate with the lose of 15M on the rig I could only S&P on 10M and 20M. Still it was a better performance than how I started last year. Dropping the SteppIR BigIR revealed the copper tape problems minutes before the contest, so I erected the Alpha Delta DX-EE for the possibly use of 40M. No one could hear me.

Sunday was dreadful, disappointing and discouraging (enough of the ‘D’ words). I got a late start and when I finally did start the money bands were 10/15M, not 20M, but it was here I could only operate. So I put in maybe 2 hours and called it quits. The “fun factor” was lost and I was not enjoying myself. Too many problems going into the contest, which handicapped me. I guess a saving grace would have been to run as a precedence ‘B’ (high power) over ‘A’ (low power). Not that it would have helped much, as I could work nearly everyone I heard with 100w.

There are only 2 contests that interest me the rest of the year the CQWW DX – CW this coming weekend and the ARRL 10-Meter in December. I will need to send the rig back to WA4GEG in January when he reopens his repair shop. Hopefully I can find a loaner for the time being to compete in a few early January contests.

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 ARRL Sweepstakes – CW

Contest: ARRL Sweepstakes
Date: November 5-6, 2011
Mode: CW
Period: Starts 2100 UTC Saturday, ends 0259 UTC Monday

80/00 / 00
40 / 02 / 00
20 / 264 / 50
15 / 106 / 24
10 / 39 / 04
TOTAL: 411 QSO / 78 SECT
SCORE: 58,560 (TIME ON: 16 H  Mn 07)

SOAPBOX: Much like I started in 2010 after SS CW, the main goal was achieved, I had fun, because if you are not having a good time, why participate? This year was a bit of a mixed bag when it came to weigh the positives against the negatives. After receiving my certificate f0r my winning performance (First Place Single Operator Low Power CW East Bay Sectional) from 2010, I figured I would try to repeat the achievement. So this year I entered the contest as an ‘A’ precedence (less than 150 watts), unassisted (using no packet).

I thought I would be running the contest without the use of 15M on my Yaesu FT-1000MP, since I had been having some sort of issue with the Local Unit problem that generates all of the various local oscillator signals used for frequency conversion. As luck would have it, 15M did work and I probably would have been better off start on 15M as opposed to 20M. Unfortunately the low bands, 40M and 80M were nearly non-existent for me. It wasn’t conditions or the radio, but I figure a problem in the SteppIR BigIR with the metallic tape. Those bands combined accounted for only 2 QSOs, which is down from nearly 90 last year! This would end up hurting my chances at my original goals.

Aside from a “clean sweep” I was hoping to make 500 QSOs in SS CW, which would put me half way home in achieving a ‘KB-1000’ certificate from the NCCC. As I just mentioned, only have 2 contacts on 40M and none on 80M pretty much killed any chance I had for 500 contacts. Like last year I did all my contesting in search and pounce, not one QSO was attained running a frequency. I should become a stronger CW operator, as running a frequency would easily allow me to increase my Q/hr rate.

I started on 20M for the first hour of the contest, which was my best hour at a 36 rate, I would flip to 10M just before the hour was up to log a few contacts, but returned to 20M to start the second hour. It wasn’t but a few minutes and I moved to 15M and was able to log a good amount of contacts that would push me over 30 QSOs in that hour, but I would return to 20M at 23z. Unlike last year I could work until the sun went down and 20M gave way to the low bands. But as luck would have it I logged only 2 contacts on 40M in about 3 hours.

I did not diagnose the problem on the low bands, propagation was good, so I could run out no sunspots. The radio was working or so it seemed to be, but my power output was quite low, but that was to be expected. The last piece of the equation, the antenna, a SteppIR BigIR. Not the best option for the low bands, but being in an HOA controlled neighborhood I will take whatever I can get away with. Unfortunately I had to struggle with the two contacts I had as both asked for fills across the board. Even N6RO about 2 miles down the road couldn’t hear me. That let me wondering what was wrong with the antenna.

Since the low bands did not produce I called it a night at about 02z. I returned for the NCCC rally on 80M, but again no one in the 175 mile radius could hear me on the low bands. Since this was to be where I would make up from last year, I all but wrote my 500 Q goal off for 2011. I did return to the shack early on Sunday morning, hoping  for a change on 40/80M, but it would not be. I sat spinning the dial on the Yaesu for about 90 minutes before moving to 20M real early, hoping to add to my total.

Sunday would be consistent, for the most part on 20M, which is band that dominated. I did work contacts on 10M and 15M over the course of the next 8 hours, but none of those hours would even see a 30 rate. I was pleased to work Glenn, K6NA in Valley Center, always a pleasure, as he is a long time family friend.

As for some of the specifics, I really had no issues work towards the sweep, as I watched the clock I spent the better part of 6 hours looking for SC and MB. I did hear one MB station (can’t recall the call), but the pile up was ugly and left, not wanting to waste time. I knocked out all the other Canadian sections and US sections without much trouble. Even the ones that traditionally (okay over 2 years) have given me fits, like SB and DE. I found both rather easy. I only heard K4HR answering a CQ and I tried to follow him on 20M, hoping he would squat on a frequency and call, but it never happened. The same goes for VE4YU, who I heard and followed for about 20 minutes, but again he never called CQ. That left me working 78 section this year and missing the sweep.

Out of 411 contacts, 64.2% were on 20M, while 15M accounted for 25.8% and 10M with 9.5%. The low bands, as I mentioned completely killed me. Hopefully I can resolve the low band issue before the SS Phone in a few weeks, as I have a lot of work to do in order to achieve a total of 1000 contacts between the 2 contests. Thanks to all operators who I worked, had a great time.