Rookie mistakes

I participated in three contests this weekend, and didn’t do brilliantly in any of them. I treated all three very informally, mainly just using them to pad my log a bit in search of states/DX for the Worked All States Triple Play and the DXCC awards.

The strategy paid off to a degree, as I added several new states on phone to my log, some of which have already been confirmed.

Friday evening I was tuning around looking for some action and ran into a European RTTY contest, the Scandinavian Amateur Radio Teleprinter Group (SARTG) Worldwide RTTY Contest. This seemed like a good way to add some DXCC to my Logbook of the World account, so I scanned the rules, fired up N1MM and made about 14 contacts operating casually for a few hours. Most of the stations were stateside, but I did grab Sweden, Cuba, Italy and Germany.

Saturday morning the bands seemed quite dead, but by 2 p.m. they crackled to life with the North American QSO Party SSB contest. I only managed to operate for a few hours starting on 15/20 meters, then broke for dinner with friends and came back around 10 p.m. to hit the lower bands. I finished with 31 contacts, which seems low, but I felt like I worked everyone I heard, in rather noisy band conditions. Since I still don’t have a PTT switch for my new mic, I employed VOX for the first time and it worked great!

The contest I was actually looking forward to was Sunday’s ARRL Rookie Roundup. Hams who have been licensed less than three years are considered rookies, and since I’ve only been in the game for two years, that put me well within the range to work this contest.

I prepared for an all-out assault on the airwaves, starting around 1 p.m. As soon as my time-server-synced clock hit 2 p.m. I was furiously CQing on the 15 meter band. I could tell from glancing at the P3 that there was no activity on the RTTY portion of the band, although the band was open because I could see our friends on PSK and JT chatting away 10kc down the band. A solitary RTTY trace appeared ahead of my position and I pounced on it, only to find a European non-contest station.

I only managed to grab one station from my failed run on 15. From there it was down to 20 meters, where I was able to work a couple stations immediately. I tried to settle into a run and started CQing. There was plenty of room to spread out. I managed a few contacts, but at least two guys muffed up their exchange and wouldn’t come back to me after issuing AGN? AGN? several times. Then a ragchewer latched on to me and I had to go off-macro to explain to him what was going on.

I pounced on a few more contacts, and decided to take a break, thinking perhaps the participants were still at church or having a family dinner. Surely the action would pick up in a few hours.

Nope. I operated about another hour and a half, sending endless CQs into the aether, where they apparently bounced off the ionosphere and landed down in the proverbial forest where no one hears falling trees. Where was everybody?

I decided to pull the plug around 6 p.m. — two hours before the end of the contest — and go pick up something for dinner. Either participation was very low, the bands had crapped out, or my antenna is just very, very deaf. Maybe a combination of the three.

I think I logged 15 contacts total, at least two have broken exchanges, and one of them wasn’t a contester. I was pretty much skunked.

I’ve been doing these contests mainly for experience and curiosity, but they have also been helpful in exploring propagation trends and the limits of my system. I know now to do better, I need to get more hardware in the air, and higher. The bottleneck is the low elevation at my QTH (I’m down in a valley), and a multiband dipole raised just short of 30 feet at the apex. With these conditions, the K3/P3 is like a really fine camera with a broken lens attached. It’s capable of greatness, but taking blurry photos.

My immediate priority is improving my antenna system — which is where it should have always been.

Such a rookie mistake.

For a perspective on the Rookie Roundup from our friends right down the road: Check out AB4UG’s account of the day.

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