Last weekend was the ARRL Sweepstakes and I took advantage of the high bands to work a few stations. This contest has a format that can be intimidating due to the required exchange. Stations must accurately copy a consecutive serial number, precedence, callsign, check, and ARRL/RAC section. All this must be copied accurately to obtain credit. It's very hard to "guess" and fill in the blanks if you missed any part of the exchange so it really presses an operator to get it right before moving on. And when you listen to the contest, you will find there are many high speed CW operators that send and receive this data at a mind boggling speed. So when you add speed to a long exchange, it takes contesting to the next level. I'm glad this contest does not sport the normal "5-9-9" useless signal report but it actually throws a curve with the extra exchange information.
My CW (Morse Code) is far from fast so I normally have to ease myself into this contest. It takes me more time to get my flow going on the keyboard between all the fields than it does anything else. The callsign kinda gives you a buffer if you're running a bit behind, more so on S&P (Search and Pounce). I use the default Win-test settings which utilizes the Space Bar to jump between fields. I'm so used to using the tab button, it takes me a few QSO's to just get my mind and fingers to communicate correctly with the Space Bar. But once I get my rhythm, it's all about copying the exchange accurately.
I only had a few stations that sent their exchange data other than what is suggested in the rules. It can throw me off when I'm Space Bar hopping across the fields entering data especially if the other station is sending quickly. But you're gonna have these variables in contesting and in a way, it's good to expect the unexpected from time to time. It's kinda like working a contest at 3 AM and there is not much on the band. You've been calling CQ for what seems like hours with no response and then out of nowhere, a station calls you so loudly that it almost knocks the headphones off of your head and you off your chair.
I did have one station that after I sent my information, he immediately went back to CQ'n. I was left with that empty feeling of, "Am I in his log or am I not." A simple "TU" or "73" or something would of made me feel a bit better before tuning up the band.
My main personal peeve was when stations would not space between their serial number and their precedence. A cut number is not uncommon in a contest and the most frequently used in this contest was "T" for the number Zero. But when you have the letter "A", which is a possible precedence letter and you don't space between your serial number and precedence, my brain wants to think it as the number 1 rather than the letter A. My brain recovers when the station sends their callsign and I realize the letter was not a number but actually a letter. For a seasoned CW operator it's probably not a problem but for me, I need some space between those darn things!
I really like the work only once format of this contest as well. Again, something out of the norm as you normally can work the same station more than once as long as it's on a different band or mode. For me, this contest was all about working on my CW skills and trying to get better on the mode I enjoy the most.
I enjoy this contest more and more, especially now since I have participated. I used to avoid it like the plague thinking I would get run over by the contesting freight train. But, the operators are very skilled and repeats are a-okay! It's better to ask and make sure you get it right otherwise, it's a point-less QSO. It may have just been me but my personal observation was that the operators who were sending more my speed hung out a bit higher on the bands. I was not in the contest to work hundreds of QSO's but just to see if I could work all the sections. As the graphic here shows, I missed the following sections;
RI, AR,WI, NL, NE, SD, and NT. I can
understand NT and NL but the rest? Not sure how they escaped me but without using the cluster, it can be like finding a needle in a haystack. The band was there but I once again came up plenty short of a clean sweep! A humble congratulations to all those stations that did manage a full clean sweep. A great accomplishment for sure, especially hard if it was a single band effort! I know I made some errors but with continued practice and participation, I can only get better!