Monday, February 22, 2010

ARRL International DX Contest -Arctic Anticipation

This past weekend saw the annual arrival of the ARRL International CW DX Contest. As with many of the contests, it's always a good idea to skim over the rules of the contest for any changes. I always have to double check to see if Alaska is a state or DX country in many of the contests. In this contest, we were a DX Entity therefore, we only work stations in the lower 48 states. With that said, it makes my rotor happy as I keep my beam parked around 135 degrees to catch just about everyone down that way.

As I had posted earlier, this was the first time I used Win-test in a contest situation. Using N3FJP's software for years, the key assignments are a bit different as are the macro's. After spending a few evenings prior to the contest tweaking the software, I was ready to begin taking contesting to a new level. I found every aspect of this software awesome and it was well worth the investment for me. Now I'm looking forward to configuring it for RTTY. My final tweak with the macros was to get the cursor to jump past the canned "599" reports and get right to the state. I also wanted them to automatically log the contact after hitting my F3 key which was the final "TU" before calling CQ again. That one threw me off a bit as I had the $C at the end of the macro and it was not sending the other stations callsign. I moved the $C to the beginning of the macro and life was perfect.

I caught the beginning of the contest and 20 was in great shape. I only operated a few hours on Friday and spent Friday evening with my wife and daughter. I was going to be ready to hit it again early Saturday. I got up at my normal time (too early for most, especially on a day off of work) to find Europe just pounding in on 20 meters! I really could not start to work the lower 48 until propagation from Europe started to fall off. The lower 48 was still working plenty of Europe so it was my usual struggle to get their attention as most had their beams pointed toward Europe. With Europe still strong at 1830z, it was really hard to find a run frequency. Eventually Europe faded and the lower 48 stations started listening west and things picked up dramatically.

I wanted to keep an eye on 10 and 15 meters as I wanted to stray away from my single band life on 20 meters. 15 meters was outstanding both days!! Saturday and Sunday both had activity on 10 meters but a large part of that time, propagation favored South America skipping right over the lower 48. Lots of LU's and YN's heard very strong into Alaska. I was running on 20 meters but kept checking 10 meters and it came to life around 1900z for me. I quickly vacated 20 for 10 to start calling CQ. Seems 10 meters favored UT, CO, TX and AZ as I worked several stations in those states. 10 produced some much needed and unusual multipliers for me. Once 10 fell off, I would move to 15 meters.

My Ameritron AL-1500 started having issues on 15 meters during the RTTY contest last weekend and this weekend was no exception. It just did not want to load up on 15 meters and eventually just gave up on that band. During my Sunday run, I noticed the AMP had quit and I was only running about 25 watts (my normal drive power). I put the AMP into standby and cranked it up to 100 watts and ran the rest with low power. I hope to pull the AMP apart today and thanks to Rich, KL7RA I have a few hints as to what the problem may be. I had some fun working some pile-up's on 15 and I had a chance to do a quick recording of the fun. Nothing Dxpedition massive by any means but at times, challenging trying to grab a callsign from the group. Below are some of my quick snippits of 15 meters.

A typical Run on 15 meters (click Contest Recorder button below)

This next clip is my running a bit slower on sending but the frequency is starting to get a bit busier. Click on recorder button below for this recording.

This next clip is once again of my 15 meter run but the pile-up is getting a bit thicker. This is where my weekend activities will help me with management 101 someday. Click recorder below to listen.

I experienced the usual problem of someone posting me as KL7DX. I figured as much when I started to get several DUPE calls. I investigated that after the contest by searching DXSUMMIT and searching for "KL" spots. Yep, that explained the near 20 duplicates in my logbook. Was really surprised how people often times jump on a cluster spot and rely on it being 100% accurate. Hint, KL7DX was not on in this contest (not that we both have not been on in the same contest before).

In working stations who have several people calling, there is always a trick or two that may help your signal be heard amongst the masses. Sometimes calling a bit off frequency could help distinguish your callsign from another. As in this clip below, you will be able to hear an example of this with N0IJ.

Often times, simple timing can be the difference. One persons lag could be another persons success as heard below with VA1MM. Needed him on 15 so it worked out perfectly!

With my comment being "DX" in this contest, I had a few DX stations try to call. One refused to give up until I worked him and that being an XE2 station. I have a macro set up for just that scenario but the message was not received. Better to work him than listen to the QRM while I'm trying to work stations.

Turned out Sunday I got a late start again due to a family obligation but the contest sure went out with a bang. With my AMP on the fritz on 15 meters, I ran full break in and it's much easier to manage several calling. I don't have QSK capability set up on my amp so often times I miss the first letter or two of a callsign, should the sending station be sending at over 30 wpm or send too quickly. After running SEMI break in for years, this took a bit of getting used to hearing what was going on while I was transmitting. A QSK example is below on the sound clip and you can hear me changing from SEMI to FULL during the first part of the recording.

I do a bit on Twitter and I follow several other ham radio operators. One of them happens to be Bud, AA3B. Bud does an outstanding job in contests with his station and operating skill. It just so happened in my few short clips of the contest, Bud showed up on one of em. See if you can hear Bud in this recording below.

All in all, this was another great weekend! Lots of great contacts and even though I did not operate a large part of the weekend and did not get a sweep on any band, I had lots of fun. I am always out to improve my CW skills and getting into the thick of it has sure helped. I find myself less nervous but I have a long way to go to be "contesting material". Figured I might have this down by 2019?

Thanks for the contacts and God willing, I will return next year and hopefully the bands will be the same if not better. I would love nothing more than to work 10 meters all day long! Sunspots, gotta love em!

Final result as posted to 3830. Lots will be uploaded shortly to LOTW and E-QSL. Good DX'n from the little DX station in the 49th!

ARRL DX Contest, CW

Call: KL8DX
Operator(s): KL8DX
Station: KL8DX

Class: SOAB HP
QTH: Alaska
Operating Time (hrs): 17.5

Band QSOs Mults
20: 802....... 58
15: 283........ 48
10: 43.......... 16
Total: 1128... 122...Total Score = 412,116

Club: North Coast Contesters

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