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.

Single Operator, Two Contests (SO2C?)

p3-naqp-cw

After a weekend of RTTY and CW contesting, I’m starting to understand the Elecraft hype. While I’ve enjoyed operating the K3 for the past two weeks, the real beauty of the radio didn’t reveal itself until I tuned around on the CW portion of 40 meters during a busy contest weekend.

The image at the top of this post is a 20 khz slice of 40 meters captured from the P3 panadapter. While I’m used to gazing at a waterfall with PSK traces, I wasn’t prepared to see the entire portion of the 40 meter band covered in CW signals. Keep in mind, this is only 20 khz… it looked like this from 7.001-7.060 mhz!

Even more startling, is that I was able to work nearly every trace up in that image, owing to the capabilities of the K3’s filtering and weak signal reception. Yeah yeah, I know I’m about five years late on this revelation, but this is a new way to work for me, and I can’t see myself ever using a radio without a panadapter now, contest or not!

Whoa slow down… let me back up. So this past weekend I decided to put the K3 through its paces in a contest environment. Up until now, I’d only used the K3 casually around 20-30 watts doing digital modes and some CW. It was time to turn up the heat a bit and see how it performed in difficult situations. I’m happy to report that it performed flawlessly as I drove it hard on full power CW and 80+ watt AFSK RTTY for hours on end.

Friday night I participated in the TARA Grid Dip Shindig, a 24-hour RTTY/PSK-only contest sponsored by the Troy Amateur Radio Association out of New York. The exchange was simple: Name and 4-character grid locator. I enjoy these smaller contests, as they are typically low-pressure and the bands aren’t as jammed up. I began after dinner, about an hour after the contest started. Right off the bat I had success on RTTY, working every signal I could locate on the 20 meter band. Even weak signals were fine, as the K3’s RTTY pass-band filtering was helpful in pulling signals out of the mud. I had decent success in run mode on 20 meters also. I attempted some QSOs on PSK, but only saw one Grid Dipper on the waterfall and he vanished before I could lock onto him.

I went up to 15 meters, and even though the band seemed to be open, I didn’t see any RTTY, so it was down to 40 meters, where a couple operators were hanging out. I worked them, went into run mode again, and closed the evening with only about 25 or so QSOs. There just wasn’t a lot of activity for the Grid Dip.

I resumed my hunt for grids around noon Saturday and picked up a few more. While there were technically many hours left in the contest, I decided to call it quits, take a long, 6-mile walk to clear my head, and return for the start of the North American QSO Party CW contest.

The fact I’m even attempting to participate in a CW contest is laughable at this point in my ham adventure, but I do own a Winkeyer and I know enough CW to make a mess of things. I relied on a combination of the K3’s CW decoder and Fldigi to help me interpret calls and exchanges. I simply can’t copy these guys yet; they move way too fast. Even with the software helping me, it’s a slow process of trying to get the call right, figure out the exchange and work up the nerve to call the station.

Things started off well, but I quickly realized people may be copying my exchange (name, state) wrong. After receiving the station’s exchange, I would send “R ANDY SC” … Of course the R is shorthand for “roger” but if the op on the other side isn’t paying attention to spacing, he could copy my name as RANDY. I realized this was happening when an op repeatedly asked me to send my name. I finally did a fill on the paddles at a slow speed and he gave me a QSL and we completed the contact.

After that, I re-wrote my macro to say “thank you” instead of “roger ” — “TU ANDY SC” — and it seemed to clear up the issue.

Long story short, I worked about 70 CW contacts over the course of a casual evening, with the lion’s share of those on 40 meters. The P3, combined with the 200hz filter, made stepping from one station to the next very easy — even after a few adult beverages, hehe.

By the Numbers

TARA Grid Dip Shindig, RTTY only

42 total QSOs on three bands

  • 40m: 6 QSOs
  • 20m: 26
  • 15m: 10

NAQP CW

74 QSOs total on four bands

  • 80m: 6
  • 40m: 39
  • 20m: 15
  • 15m: 14

Total unique states contacted over the course of the weekend (both contests): 35

DX stations (most were on RTTY): Slovak Republic, Canada (2-3 different provinces), Slovenia, Netherands, Romania, Czech Republic, Finland, Russia, England

I uploaded all my QSOs to LOTW and just after this weekend, I’m nearly halfway to Worked All States: CW. I’m going after that Triple Play!

NAQP RTTY July 2013 Afterparty

The much-anticipated North American QSO Party July RTTY contest has come and gone and I have 140 new contacts in the log to show for it. I really thought I’d have twice that many, but since this is my first real contest effort, I’ll take the low number and chalk it up as practice for the next one.

I’d been looking forward to this contest since I discovered I enjoyed RTTY during Field Day this year. I tried to get myself in the mindset of a true contester in the week leading up to it, getting my station optimized, making sure my macros looked OK, testing and re-testing N1MM, and finally, on Saturday, making sure my schedule was clear for the day starting at 1800z.

There are several aspects of this contest I really appreciate: One, it’s limited to 100 watts; two, the exchange is simple, just name and state; and three, the duration of the contest is only 12 hours, and operators are only allowed to participate for 10 hours during that period. I planned to work the full 10 hours.

When 2 p.m. rolled around I tuned over to 20 meters and found a wall of stations up and down and outside the segment of the band normally used for RTTY. I quickly discovered my rig wasn’t up to the task thanks to its lack of filters. Strong adjacent signals made it difficult to complete a single QSO and I spent more than 30 minutes just tuning around trying to get my first contact in the log. I thought my rig or software was screwed up, then I finally broke through and made contact with the first of many stations from Texas on 20 meters.

I decided to try 15 meters and see what the action looked like there. Within seconds of changing bands I had a new QSO in the log. I camped on 15 for a few hours and scored nearly 30 QSOs, then decided to break for about 15 minutes to grab a sandwich.

Things had calmed down on 20 meters so I tried a few contacts there and scored a dozen or so, then returned to 15 meters to grab a few more before the band closed down. By now dusk was approaching and a handful of stations had migrated to 40 meters. I called CQ and grabbed a handful of stations on a short run, and decided to return to 20 meters and try to work until the band started closing.

From about 10 p.m. onward it was 40 meters with a few dips into 80 meters, although the lower band proved very problematic, as most stations either couldn’t hear me or they couldn’t decode my signal. Almost every time I responded to a signal I was met with the irksome AGN? AGN? macro. Judging by how loud many of the 80 meter signals were, I’d be really surprised if all those guys were using 100 watts or less, but perhaps they just have awesome antennas.

Almost all my contacts were made from searching and pouncing on signals. That’s not how I wanted to roll, and no doubt that resulted in the lower QSO count. I just couldn’t get a run going.

I was also surprised at how many stations muffed my call sign, even though I sent it repeatedly in some cases. I think the issue may be that some RTTY contesters just don’t expect to see a KK4XXX-generation ham on the bands. It does look funny compared to all the 1×2 and 2×1 calls.

I stopped working at 1 a.m. to complete the 10-hour period. My score summary is below and I really don’t have anything to compare it to. I don’t know if this is a good score, a bad one, or just mediocre. I approached the contest with 110% intensity and I feel like I did as good as I could with the antenna and rig that was available to me. If nothing else, I gained some experience for the next one.

NAQP RTTY July 2013 by the Numbers

  • Total QSOS logged: 140
  • Unique states worked: 35 (Did not get AK or HI)
  • Unique provinces worked: 3 (ON, QC, NB)
  • Unique DX worked: 3 (Cuba, Belgium, Mexico)
  • Total points: A meager 8,820

N1MM band/QSO summary

 Band  QSOs  Mults
-------------------
   80:    5     4
   40:   68    24
   20:   32    19
   15:   34    12
   10:    1     1
-------------------
Total:  140    60  Total Score = 8,820

So NAQP RTTY is in the log and I’m looking forward to the ARRL Rookie RTTY Roundup (Yes, I’ve been licensed less than three years, so I can participate) on August 18! I may have a secret weapon ready for that one…

IARU 2013 in the log

I decided to try and work some of the IARU HF Championship this weekend, just to get more experience contesting and to hopefully add some new countries to my log.

I took a somewhat relaxed approach. The bands weren’t great Saturday and I just wanted to have some fun with it. I estimate I put in about 5 hours total during three different sessions in the shack, using a search-and-pounce approach. I focused on CW and about two-thirds of my contacts were code. I actually had a better success rate with CW than phone and found myself annoyed with sideband pile-ups for countries that were typically easy grabs on any other night (Mexico, Brazil).

The Winkeyer/N1MM combo made some CW contacts little more than two presses of the “enter” key. Most of the CW ops were moving at speeds well beyond my capabilities, so I relied on Fldigi’s ability to decode CW to a large extent, along with careful and repeated listens of callsigns and exchanges to ensure accuracy. I likely muffed the exchange for my Puerto Rican contact because I couldn’t make out his exchange information to save my life, despite listening to it for probably 20 minutes or more. I grabbed the paddles once or twice to send a fill, but for the most part, N1MM’s default macros did the trick.

I stopped around 9 p.m. Saturday night and didn’t continue into Sunday.

IARU 2013 by the numbers:

  • 50 QSOs logged
  • 8 HQ Stations
  • 10 ITU stations
  • 17 unique U.S. states contacted
  • 3 Canadian provinces
  • Assorted DX included Germany, Brazil, Czech Republic, Spain, Italy, France and Cuba

Onward to the NAQP RTTY contest this weekend!

The accidental contester

I was killing some time before dinner last night tuning around to see what was going on down the bands and happened to switched over to 7.070 to see if anyone was doing 40 meter PSK. I was surprised to find many signals across the band, mostly from midwestern states. They were calling CQ TEST, and CQ 40 METER TEST.

Curious. I wanted to work some of these guys so I looked up the contest calendar to see what was going on. Turns out it was the “Firecracker Sprint” a 40 meter-only PSK31 contest that runs from 8 p.m.-2 a.m. local time. I checked the clock and it was 10 minutes after 8. I didn’t have anything planned for the evening, so I quickly rewrote a set of Field Day macros for the sprint (the exchange was simply signal report and state), and started calling CQ.

I’d worked 20 stations in an hour using the FT-847, keeping the power under 50 watts so I could remain in the low power class, mostly running, with a very narrow CW filter in line.  I’d turn the filter off every now and then and see what other stations were on the band and do a quick search and pounce if there were any unique ones. I broke for dinner around 9 and came back 20 minutes later intending to work until 2 a.m.

I’d worked 62 stations total (two of those were not contest stations, and I had to turn away several dupes) when around 12:45 a.m. we suffered an inexplicable power failure that lasted for more than two hours. The laptop was still running on battery and I had my FT-817 charged, but the SignaLink was configured for the 847. I decided to close the laptop and call it a night.

I uploaded my logs from the sprint this afternoon and at the time of this post, I’m around 5th place. I expect I will drop as more logs are submitted and cross-checked. I managed to work 24 different states and one province. I definitely felt like I held my own and I enjoyed this contest quite a bit. Had I not lost that hour near the end, I think I could have improved my standings significantly. This just makes me look forward to the NAQP RTTY contest later this month.

More fun on 6 meters

The midwest was coming in strong Saturday morning, so I aimed the antenna towards Nebraska and worked a couple quick stations on JT65, including another Oklahoma contact. Despite making several contacts to OK, it continues to be the last hold-out for Worked All States Basic on Logbook of the World.