Monday, February 21, 2011

2011 ARRL CW DX Contest - The Rest of the Story

ARRL CW DX Contest 2011
February has two very busy weekends for me and those are the CQ World Wide WPX RTTY contest mentioned in my previous blog entry and this past weekend, the ARRL International DX Contest. With the sun being as active as it had been in the past several days, I was not sure what to expect for this past weekend. It was obvious that the Solar Flux Index (SFI) was the highest I had seen it in months but with the solar flares, I was unsure what conditions we would have for operating here in Alaska. It was reported that we would see the effects of three separate solar wind blasts and often times when this happens, we are treated to beautiful auroras but poor band conditions. I operated three bands last year, 10, 15, and 20 meters, so I opted to take the safe way out and just do a 20 meter single band entry. This way, if the bands were poor, my efforts would be focused on my strongest band. I am still unable to run anything more than 100 watts on 15 meters, so that would also effect the outcome of any effort placed on that band.

It worked out that I was able to get started right away on Friday afternoon (Saturday) at the beginning of the contest. I had a pretty full weekend planned so I also knew I could not do a full outright effort. Another reason I wanted to only focus on 20. Several stations were on the band holding their frequencies and once the clocked ticked midnight, the race was on. I found a hole to operate in on 14.041 MHz. I would much
ARRL DX CW Run Rates
rather call CQ than to Search & Pounce (S&P) any day. As I struggle to get better at operating, I think this really pushes me to the next level as often times, I get more than one station calling and it can be very challenging to pull just one out of the mix. When I am hunting stations with S&P, sometimes I can hear them well but they can't hear me. If I am parked calling CQ, then if they are calling me, there is no doubt they can hear me.

I stuck to that same frequency from the beginning of the contest until around 0300z. I threw in the towel until later that next morning, 1700z. Again, I was unsure what the next day would bring but being an early riser, I was hoping I could catch the band as soon as it opened. I knew I would find the morning challenging as many of the lower 48 stations are pointed to Europe and often times, I can hear them well but they cannot hear me off the back or corner of their beams. One of my classic experiences with this was when I called NE0U. He was loud here but it took me a few calls for him to get who I was. He sent a few "dit dot dit dit's" as he turned his beam toward Alaska and he went from 529 to 599 plus. We easily worked and he went onto working Europe. But thankfully it was not long before the band opened up and I was calling CQ with stations answering me. In the photo above, you will see my operating times and run rates. I have been working on my CW abilities for many years but have leveled off and just can't go to that next level. My max rate was 120 per hour as seen above. That is about my max. I find that using Morse Runner is a great way to work on your CW decoding skills in a contest setting. I can't say enough about this program but even when warming up with it, I'm still not able to do much better than that. No records will be broken from this station with the exception of personal operating records.

The contest turned out being much better than I had expected as far as band conditions and contacts. The band was extremely full so you always have to deal with people jumping on your frequency without sending QRL (something I always will do) or people moving in close. I made good use of the CW filters in my Icom 756-PRO this past weekend and toward the end, my 250 Hz filter was locked in place. 20 meters always seems to get super busy right at the end as many people are cramming to make their final contacts. I have an average station (one rig, one beam at around 40 foot, and some wire antennas) so I get pushed around pretty easily. More than once, I had to vacate my operating frequency as I was pushed out. But that's all part of the contesting experience. Often times this is a blessing as I will normally S&P and I can end up with new multipliers anyhow.
Sunday Quiet
The last states I needed for my lower 48 sweep were DC and WV. My first DC station was NN3RP and was I glad to have Rafael call in. To my surprise, I also got DC contacts from W3DQ and KB8UUM. So it turned out the WV was my last state and I was on pins and needles until AA8UL saved the day and called. Same applied, I had nothing to worry about as by the end of the contest, I worked a handful of WV stations. But as with any of these contests, the lower 48 is normally not the problem, it's Canada! Once again, I was stuck at 58 multipliers and missing NF, LB, NT, YT and NU. I was hoping for YT but that never happened. Maybe doing a bit more S&P would of helped me come up with one or two? Either way, I missed those much needed multipliers.

Many times throughout the weekend, flutter and echos added a bit of difficulty in copying stations. As seen in the graph above from HAARP, there were some challenging times but we took a hit on Sunday as seen from the graph above. I remember 20 meters going short and then for about two hours, there was not much heard. The absorption went up around 1945z and did not stop until around 2115z for me. My spectrum scope went from crowded to flat! Only a few stations were heard. I took advantage of no propagation to eat lunch and catch up on a little work but thankfully the band came back for the last few hours. Lower 48 may not experience this effect as much as we do here in Alaska but when the switch gets flipped, it's amazing how fast propagation can fade away to nothing.

In looking back, I should of probably went with working three bands which would have really helped my score and helped the North Coast Contesters with the club score (I believe it counts, in some contests, I live too far away). I opted for 20 meters, which is a sure thing if we have propagation. I have not looked at my past contests but even though this is not the highest score I've accomplished in this contest, I think the QSO's for 20 meters were my best, or any single band effort for that matter. I did have more QSO's last year with a higher score due to operating 10 & 15 meters along with 20. If I had operated 15 meters, there is no doubt my highest score would of been achieve this past weekend.

When the smoke and dust cleared, I made 1164 contacts on 20 meters working 58 States and Provinces but I had a whopping 38 duplicates!! I often get confused with KL7DX, but this weekend was the worst I have experienced. I normally don't send faster than 28 Words Per Minute (WPM) on CW when I'm parked and calling CQ but I backed that down to 26 WPM. With Win-test, I can slow or speed up various parts of my report so I think I will experiment with slowing down my "8" so it's very obvious while keeping up to speed the rest of my callsign. I'm not sure what I can do different but the problem is not on my end. In looking back, I see that I was spotted only once as KL7DX but maybe that is all that it takes.  I made several keyboard mistakes so some got more than they asked for in their report or maybe got their report twice. My receive was cutting out do to a relay issue which I believe is with my AMP, so I had to ask for a few more repeats than normal. All in all, it was a blast and one of my favorite contests came through yet again. If you are an award chaser, it's easy for most anyone to get Worked All States (WAS) in this contest weekend.

With each and every contest, I learn more and better my score. I owe a large part of my success to the Alaska Contest Group lead by KL7RA and several of the other regulars you hear on from up here. I have also learned lots at Field Day, compliments of Larry, N1TX and the KL2R gang. There is an art to contest operating and I'm here to tell ya, I don't have an artistic bone in my body. But in the end, getting on and operating is the best experience of all. Take the good with the bad, and never give up. I may have reached my maximum CW operating speed (or summit as I like to refer to it since I appropriately have Denali in my backyard) but surely I haven not maxed out the fun! My stations too small to be a serious threat to anyone but I'm serious when I say, CW is the KEY to DX success!


  1. Hi Phil, enjoyed your contesting story. It really is a challenge to operate from your part of the world. Interesting statistics...any plans to join he CQ WPX SSB as well? 73, Bas

  2. Bas, as of now, I don't have any plans to operate. I am entering a very busy time right now and not sure what free time I will have. I am going to be working a few weekends so even though its not that far off, I still am unsure of my schedule. I don't care much for SSB contests anymore but I may get on to hand out a few points. With all the studio type microphones in use today, the band is hardly big enough and finding a clear spot, even with filters, is tough on SSB. That's why I like CW and digital so much. How about you?

  3. Hi Phil, I too enjoyed your take on the contest. I worked one Alaskan station and it was likely you. I usually don't KL stations too often and it has been a very time since I worked the last one I heard.

    My radio's filter was more often set to 200 or 300 hz than any other. I will never be a threat to any of the big guns as my station is somewhat more modest than yours - FT-950, one 65 foot off center dipole hung at 20 feet and can operate all bands 80 through 10 with the radio's internal tuner.

    Lots of fun patiently waiting for the next one- I prefer CW and am starting to get into RTTY and digital contesting as well.

    cheers, Graham ve3gtc

  4. Graham, not in my log here so you probably got one of the bigger stations. RTTY is lots of fun just really hard on the equipment. I have done RTTY for many years now and just glad I do FSK. I'm currently trying to get my IC-703 to work on FSK but so far, no luck. I know it's possible but I just can't get the correct settings. I will keep trying. I normally have a good path into VE3 land so I'm looking forward to adding you to the logbook here at KL8DX. Good DX'n and thank you very much for reading!!

  5. You're right Phil. I finally got around to checking my log and it was one of the BIG contest stations - KL7RA on 20M.

    In any case it was nice for a change to have conditions that I actually heard a station from Alaska.

    cheers, Graham ve3gtc

  6. Graham, Well, hopefully someday I can get you in the logbook here. I'm active in most of the major digital and CW contests. I'm always looking back that way for my 8'land friends and of course, all the other lower 48 friends I have made since moving to Alaska. Being an old neighbor to VE3 land, originally from Northern Ohio, VE3 land was right across the lake from me so I worked many on UHF and VHF during contests. Thanks again Graham for following along!

  7. Good morning Phil, great score and nice blog entry about the contest. I heard you in there and tried several attempts to make the contact but it was not meant to be....besides this contest I was working with 1 watt and down to 500mW's.

  8. VE3WDM - Mike, congratulations on your QRP efforts in the contest!!! You're a brave ham to attempt this contest QRP :0)

    I have recently installed Win-test in my Dell Mini and plan on doing a few contests QRP this year with my IC-703Plus. Been trying to get it working on FSK RTTY so I can do that as well but so far no luck, just straight tones. A continued effort project.

    I remember a few times some very weak stations calling and one stands out in my mind. Usually I have a pretty good path your way but darn, wish I could of got you in the log here but there hopefully will be plenty more chances.

    Again, congrats on your QRP effort! Nicely done! Enjoy Europe and I think it's neat your taking it with you (ham radio) :0)

    Thanks for reading and posting!