Why I Like Contesting

The March 2011 issue of CQ Magazine introduces George Tranos, N2GA who will pen the ‘Contesting’ column taking over from John Dorr, K1AR. The column basically introduces himself as he writes about “A wire and a dream.” The articles centers around what draws amateurs to contesting. While I found very little “new” when it comes to contesting, I did take some time to reflect on what draws me to contesting, which I thought I would share, thanks in part to N2GA.

When I upgraded to General in 2005 I was excited to be introduced to a larger portion of the HF spectrum. Until this time I had done very little with my Technician license. I did buy a HT, as well as a dual band mobile for my vehicle while being introduced to Amateur Television (ATV, thanks John, W6DTV former KG6CZX). Unfortunately with some changes to the spectrum and military radar on 70cm, I was forced off ATV and decided not to upgrade my equipment.When I finally purchased the equipment upon my upgrade I was not sure where I wanted to start. After a year of working primarily PSK31 I turned my attention to contesting. While my set up was not optimal, it didn’t need to be I was able to work some contacts as I “got my feet wet” working DX. I had a misconception that I would work the world with 100 watts on SSB. I could not have been more wrong, especially being at solar minimum.

This gave me the opportunity to learn CW (Morse code) as well as purchase an interface for digital modes (PSK, RTTY, Olivia, FH). While learning CW, I did participate in DX and domestic contests. I still remember my first contest, the 2008 RAC Canada Winter Contest. Not only did I work 31 QSOs from my QTH, I worked from N6RO (big gun station) locally. It was a great experience and I was hooked.

But what made contesting exciting, aside from working DX was the fact I could spend as much or as little time as I had participating in a given contest. I was not intending on competing with other hams, but I was competing with myself. It would take a year or two in order to work most of the major contests, but by 2010 I was hoping to improve on previous year’s score. Prior to each contest I would set my personal goal, usually 20% increase over last year and do the best I could.

For the most part, more “BIC” or “butt in chair” time equated to more contacts and I surpassed my expectations. By this time I was looking for a way to get more operating time. I found myself fortunate to fall within the 175 radius of the Northern California Contest Club (NCCC) whose main focus IS contesting! Add to that fact, I had N6RO just a few miles down the road in Oakley and was introduced to him by Glenn, K6NA.

Since my operating time is limited even a few hours of contesting gives the satisfaction I am after. Sure I would love to spend an entire weekend participating in contests, but priorities and family life prevent me from spending all weekend. Thankfully some contests like NAQP are only (try explaining that to my wife) 12 hours long, which is a “short” contest, unlike the ARRL DX Contest this weekend, which runs 48 hours.

I still consider myself “green” when to comes to contesting and HF in general when chasing DX. These contests provide me the time to work DX with a quick exchange and move on to another contact. Right now, I am working on initial DXCC, as well as some other basic awards (wallpaper), which I like chasing, purely for personal satisfaction. Being introduced to the NCCC has also allowed me to tap the knowledge or many like-minded contesters. Many of these individuals have years of experience, which is always great to draw upon. The likes of Ed, W0YK when it comes to RTTY, Jim, K9YC when it comes to RFI, Dean, N6BV when it comes to propagation and the “locals” like Ken, N6RO, Iain, N6ML and Chris, N6WM have really helped the past few years get to me where I am now.

By no means have I peaked as a contest operator, as learning is something you do over your entire life. But I must still work within the restrictions I have. Being HOA controlled I am limited on antenna height (currently 20′ for my hex beam) as a SteppIR BigIR (mainly for 40/80M). After every contest I write my personal “soapbox” and post it to the NCCC and 3830 Refelctor, as well as here on The 6th Floor. This serves as a reminder to me how the contest went, what problems I encountered and where I can improve next year.

While contesting might not be for every amateur radio operator, I encourage others to try it. If I had more time I would probably spend more time on the bands spinning the dial and calling “CQ” and rag chewing, but at this point in life, time is something I don’t have a lot of, so contesting is my niche. Contesting is what YOU make of it. Any contest in which I exceed my expectations I consider myself a winner. Even those that I miss my goals on, I work on seeing the positive side how to continually improve.

Contesting: Send Your Log In!

Okay, so after 18 hours or more competing in a contest you deserve a well taken break. One hour here and there through out a long haul contest of 48 hours is not much time. But once the contest is over, it is time to do some paperwork. Unfortunately, I am learning this the hard way. N6WM posted a message on the NCCC Reflector this afternoon that the preliminary results from the NCJ NAQP RTTY Contest had been posted.

This was one of two contests I entered in February running low power (NAQP is only 100w), the other was WPX because my linear amp had been sent in for repairs. I was hoping for a good showing and improving on 2009 numbers. At the end of 10 hours I worked 342 contacts for a score of 46,854 points. I spent hours going over the log making sure I got all the information imported into my logbook, as well as sending in my scores to 3830 Reflector and to the NCCC.

Somewhere along the line it seems I forgot to submit the log to NCJ. Scrolling through sent e-mails I see documents to the two aforementioned sites, but nothing to NCJ. Which leads me to one of two conclusions. First, I used their online log submission at the NCJ site and did not fill it out completely and was rejected or I flat out forgot. I don’t know which it was.

Regardless of the end result I made the blunder, which leads me to this. Make sure you have your log submitted as soon as possible when the contest ends. Make sure you receive a confirmation e-mail via a contest robot (if applicable). Thankfully my points were not enough to receive any individual awards, but my team (NCCC #2) and club, the NCCC. It would have improved out team score to 224,231 points, good for 7th in the USA, as opposed to 11th without my log. Personally I would have ended up with the 10th best score in California as well.

So I learned another contesting lesson the hard way. This was not the first time I have had submission issues. Ed, W0YK brought another RTTY contesting issue to my attention when a group of QSOs were completed, after the end time. The problem? Not sure, I believe my PC clock was incorrect resulting in problems. Hopefully lessons learned like this help others avoid repeating them.

WPX RTTY: Final Score

I guess there is much to say about hams, their love for the hobby, as well as the support and guidance they provide. As I previously posted I thought my weekend was shot after reading about my inverted RTTY signal during the Thursday night practice session. I guess this is my answer to WHY no one on 15/20M would ever answer my CQ call, because they could not hear it. So I owe N6ML, Iain some props for drawing that to my attention. I am still not sure why the set up was not working correctly. There is time to troubleshoot before the next RTTY event.

The first 4 hours of the contest were slow, to say the least, only 27 QSOs. This was after my attempts to solicit for help from three different Yahoo Groups, as well as the brain trust of the NCCC. Thankfully, Dean, n6DE, Hank, W6SX and Bob, W6XX came to my aid and provided me enough information to correct my problem and get myself “righted” and moving forward. In fact, I knew what the problem was and how to fix it, but there are some “issues” with the FT-1000MP that I will be addressing in the coming days.

In my pre-contest strategy I was told by Ed, W0YK to maximize scoring by taking advantage of the scoring on 40/80M. It comes as no surprise that 80M was my weakest band…again, but of the 48 QSOs I managed 23 PFX. 15/40M were nearly identical, 96 QSOs on 40M to 94 QSOs on 15M. I had hoped to hear more from Asia and the JAs on Sunday afternoon, but that never materialized. I am glad I took advantage of the “West Coast” chip shot across the Pacific the prior day and scored some good points with the JAs. In the PFX count I had 57 PFX on 40M and 44 on 15M.

This meant that 20M was my workhorse band again, which in WPX makes it challenging because QSOs are either 1, 2 or 3 points. This worked to my advantage in the early morning hours on 15/20M when I was able to get a window into EU and AF, although I still missed out on CN2R. EU was very strong and accounted for 18% of my total QSOs. Surprisingly AS was a distant 11% of my QSO total.

As I figured, NA accounted for the majority of my contacts (64%), most of which were worked on 20M. Just think of the small increases I could have taken advantage of if some of these 20M QSOs were on 40 or 80M? That difference alone could have put me well over 400,000 points.

While I won’t call it handicapped, I was without the use of my Alpha 76PA linear amplifier. Guess what? I really did not miss it much. Sure it would mean I would have submitted a SOAB HP, as opposed to SOAB LP. Looking at the scores roll in from 3830 and the NCCC reflectors, the low power option seemed to be a blessing in disguise. In reality, I am sure I missed out on a handful of contacts, but I sure did well making needed contacts. Sometimes it was as simple as a single call into EU or three or four calls for a JA. Heck even got BA4RF on a single call to start the WPX!

While W0YK provided me strategy information, I set my goals the week leading up to the WPX. I looked at 2009 results and how low power in ’6? land fared. I took the top 5 scores and did some statistical analysis on them. I also took the fact I had a very good run in January during the RTTY RU with 652 QSOs in 22.5 hours. Being able to operate another 6.5 hours meant that I could see 600 QSOs again.

If those figures held true, then I might have an outside shot at being the top score in ’6? land as a SOAB LP. Last year’s high score for that category was 313,730 by W6FFH (618 QSO, 274 PFX). It was with this information in mind I decided upon my goals. I held off on making it a second RTTY contest at 600 QSOs because the WPX is more of a DX contest and I didn’t believe I would be competitive on the low bands.

Thankfully I was able to get things together and ended up with my best ever attempt in any contest. While I could have spent more time in the early morning hours of the low bands I didn’t so I probably lost out on 50-75 QSOs per night. I don’t think I made up all of those missed points by spending more time on 20M, but hey, that is how I did it.

I finished up the contest working a full 30 hours, I made 564 QSOs, 307 PFX for 1243 points (2.20 avg) and a final score of 381,601! Not only did I beat every personal goal I went right by last year’s winning total. Could I see my first award in my future? Dunno, but I am very pleased with my performance this weekend.

WPX RTTY: Personal Goals

This week the CQ WPX RTTY Contest comes to town. I am thrilled to say I will be in full pariticipation, hopefully operating 30 hours (48 total) as a single operator, low power. I must say low power because I lost my Alpha 76PA last week, due to what Dick Byrd diagnosed as a step start relay problem. Now that we are a few days prior to the start of the contest it’s time to set our personal goals for WPX RTTY.

RTTY does seem to be my best mode of operation, as referenced by my RTTY RU score in January. This was by far my best contest to date, 652 QSOs in 22 hours for final score of49,552. Unlike the RTTY RU, WPX is a bit of a unique contest in that the low bands (40/80M) provide a higher score than 10/15/20M. All contacts from a different continent are 6 points on 40/80M. Hopefully JA comes through for me in this contest. I have been e-mailing W0YK, Ed Muns for my “sleep strategy” and he provided his insight. While 20M is my strongest band, this will most likely be the band I spend the least amount of time on, depending on conditions on 40/80M.

Looking at my schedule I created much of the first day will be spent on 40/80M, with maybe an hour or two on 20M to open up the contest. I am currently planning on operating from 0000z-1600z. This is contingent on the point rate after 1000z or 1100z. With any luck I will operate through the night. Any shortfall on the 15 hour total will be made up during my scheduled off time from 1600z-0000z. The second day will mirror the first day with any luck, again it is all contingent on the point rate at which I am logging QSOs.

Unlike other RTTY contests, WPX is unique because of the scoring. Multipliers are each unique prefix (once, regardless of band). I have been looking over the 2009 results at those who operated low power from ’6-land’ and I am quite excited about what I see. The winning ham logged 618 QSOs, while the second place logged 608 QSOs. I have been playing with QSO and prefix statistics in order to come up with a personal goal.

After all my number crunching I am going to shoot for 500 QSOs with 245 contacts being scored as mults. The variable is the point rate as opposed to the QSO rate. Based on the top five scores from 2009 the average point rate was 1.976. Given these figures I approximate my final score at 242,060. These are big numbers to achieve for a “little pistol” without the use of my Alpha.

If I work 15/20M it will be using the 5-band hex beam, while work on 40/80M will be on the SteppIR BigIR Mk III. The vertical proved itself during the recent RTTY RU, where I logged 207 QSOs between the two bands. So while my goals are lofty I think I have a good chance at setting a new operating standard for myself, as well as having a good showing for the NCCC.

SO2R Ability

It comes as no surprise the real way to increase your contest scores quickly is to run two transceivers simultaneously in what is terms SO2R or “single operator two radios.” While my skills are nowhere up to par to run this setup when in a CW contest, I thought it would be rather easy to accomplish in a RTTY contest, since you do not have to decode what is coming over the air. It was with that and the upcoming RTTY contests I decided to look into the possibility.

I posted to the NCCC Reflector and received some great information from many experienced and winning RTTY operators, Ed, W0YK (P49X) and Iain, N6ML come to mind. While I have the equipment to run SO2R, there were some issues that I never thought of. There are two main problems I currently face. The first is the size of my lot and the fact I have two antennas (hex beam and vertical) in close proximity to each other (30? apart). The next is providing isolation between the two transceivers, which would require bandpass filters and notching stubs.

With contesting season in full swing I have decided this is something to explore further come summer. I don’t want to compromise my current setup, when I have all the necessary parts in good, working order. Once I get my FT-1000MP back from being repaired, I will look at hooking both radios up, but won’t enter any contests as SO2R until next year. Hopefully I can work out the issues that were brought up on the reflector.

My reason for doing this is to increase my score in the limited time I usually get to operate. It would be great to work both 15M and 20M or 40M and 80M simultaneously. This would definitely boost my score. While I would still not look at winning any awards I would achieve my personal goals I set on a contest basis, something that is very important to me. It would also increase my scores, which would contribute to the club score, as it is always nice to see the NCCC on top of whatever category we are entered in.