Really enjoying the brevity of CW

I’ve been hanging around the Sked Page enough lately to see some regulars from time to time, and I’ve even made a few e-mail pals in helping a few folks get their SC QSOs. I typically hang around the Logbook of the World section unless I’m checking into the NATA net.

When I first started using the Sked Page, I mainly tried to stick to digital mode QSOs, specifically, I would hang around the JT frequencies because that seemed to be the mode of choice: QSOs take place without much human interaction (macros), and lower levels of power and compromised antenna situations still yield decent results.

But lately, I’ve tried to avoid the JT modes in favor of CW. First of all, the contacts are a hell of a lot more direct and take less time. It’s far easier to say “meet me at 7.043 CW” then actually go and pound out a quick QSO at that exact frequency. “UR 5NN IN SC DE KK4DSD 73” and it’s done.

Occasionally, I even get in a nice “rubber-stamp” QSO, as I did a few nights ago when K9AAN assisted me in grabbing Kentucky on 40 meters.

I’ve found CW to be extremely reliable too. Only weird late-night efforts on the daylight bands (such as 12 meters), have been problematic. I rarely need to run at the full 100 watts

The JT modes are straightforward enough, but the direction is always something like “I’m at 14.078.5, calling odd, -500” … then by the time I tune over, lower my rig power, adjust my drive and receive audio, sync my clock, wait 1-2 minutes for an even/odd cycle, check the location of the specified offset, navigate/filter around the lids running too much power/ALC splatter, etc. then not even hear the guy I’m trying to communicate with for whatever reason, I can’t help but feel like a CW contact would have been “one and done.”

Of course, if your goal is to complete a digital mode QSO (And yes, I still need North Dakota…) then JT modes are still a nice way to accomplish it, particularly if the less-used and technically superior JT9 mode is used (less bandwidth, more sensitivity, same method as JT65, minus the “ice cream truck of the apocalypse” tones).

Be careful what you ask for…

I ventured over to the SKCC board on the Sked Page last night. I forgot so many guys hang out there, and all of them are CW ops. I joined SKCC last year and haven’t really done a lot with it, outside a few random contacts and a sprint.

To make a long story short, there were several states I needed, so I posted a public message to one of them, and stated the specific frequency I was monitoring on 40 meters.

I first grabbed N5OBC out of Oklahoma with considerable difficulty, as his signal was very light. I was about to shut down the rig when another station, W1UL, called me using considerable power. I made out his call and noticed he was hanging out on the SKCC board. I completed that QSO. Then another station called me! It took me a few tries, but I got N4OW’s call nailed down and in the log. After issuing my final SK, yet ANOTHER station called me; KB1UOH was running /QRP and I had to send bits of his call with some ??s before I could eventually make it out. His signal was clear enough, but my brain wasn’t cooperating. I got him in the log though, just before waves of QSB made conditions difficult.

About that time my pal Gary, N5PHT out of Texas, started pinging me with private messages on the Sked Page wanting to try a 30m QSO. That was a good enough excuse to get off 40 meters, as my mini “pile-up” had left me somewhat unhinged. I ended up completing the QSO with Gary and breathed a sigh of relief then headed to dinner.

All in all, an exciting evening, made nicer by the fact that all the guys were patient and gentlemanly — plus, I got some crucial practice and added a few new ones to the log, bringing me only 14 QSOs away from my WAS Triple Play goal.

Two more for good measure

I managed to work W1AW/7 on two bands tonight via CW, one on 30 meters, and the other on 20 meters.

In both cases, the ops were running split, and thanks to the panadapter, I was able to zero in on where the stations were listening and insert my call right into the pocket.

Had some difficulty on 30 meters, as my antenna doesn’t really like that band and the best I could manage was a 2:1 SWR. It took me many tries, but he came back to me, with a somewhat garbled version of my call. I resent twice and he pulled out what appeared to be a perfect copy.

Over on 20 meters, it only took me about five calls and he grabbed me, perfect copy on my callsign on the first shot. Hopefully that wraps up Idaho for now. I may still try to work a few stations in the Idaho QSO Party this weekend though.

Am I in the log?

W1AW/7 (Idaho) was on several bands tonight and I need ID on CW, so I decided to try working him on 40 meters. Everyone else was there too, and there was quite a pile-up, with /7 operating split to accommodate the action.

Having never worked a CW station in split mode, I figured it was time to go ahead and pull off the band-aid. Using the P3, I managed to find what I believed to be the exact spot where he was listening and narrowed my focus there. I sent my call nearly 40 times over a 20-minute period, when he finally came back with what sounded like “4DSD” along with a signal report. I sent my call again, then my signal report, but before my final characters, he sent TU and started CQing again.

Somehow I doubt I’m in his log, but we’ll see. At any rate, I shall attempt to work as many /7 stations as I can this week just to be sure.

The previous night I was on the sked page and noticed N4HID, a Kentucky station. I asked him if we could try a quick CW QSO, since I needed his state. He told we’d give it a shot in 30 minutes. True to his word, he came back to me in a half hour and we completed the QSO.

Then, via the sked page, I noticed W1AW/4 was on 40 meters. I quickly tuned over and got in before the pile-up started. Turns out the /4 operator was the guy I had just had the CW QSO with. He recognized my call and explained to me his /4 shift had just started. We chatted briefly and after I 73ed, what sounded like 1,000 stations started calling for him, and one of the most chaotic pile-ups I’ve ever heard ensued. I have to hand it to these W1AW operators, they are operating in god mode to deal with these pile-ups!

Two new ones

I got really lucky tonight. I stopped by the K3UK Sked Page to see if there were any stations on I needed for the Triple Play.

Sure enough, Jim, N7ESU, out of Idaho was on. I need both digital and CW contacts from that state, so I messaged Jim and he graciously agreed to help me get a digital contact. He was already on 80M JT65, so we made the attempt there. Several passes in and it looked like the QSO wasn’t going to happen. He messaged me back on the sked page and indicated he could see me on the waterfall. I couldn’t copy him though.

After about 15 minutes of trying, I messaged him and told him the conditions just weren’t right on my end. I had S9+ noise on 80 meters. I was going to give up, when my computer suddenly decoded N7ESU’s signal out of a seemingly empty waterfall. He sent me a -20 report and I sent him a -27 to complete the QSO.

I was about to call it a night when I noticed KF2T out of Nevada on the sked page. He helped me last year with a digital mode QSO, so I figured he may be able to help me score a CW QSO in short order. We popped over to 40 meters. He was 539 and I suspect I wasn’t much better but we both sent 5NN reports for the exchange.

It’s nice to get both of these in the log. I’m already looking forward to this weekend’s NAQP RTTY contest.

100 countries in the log

I can’t claim a true DXCC because I don’t have all the QSLs to prove it, but according to my logbook, I have contacted 100 unique countries. The entity that finally put me at 100 was the Balearic Islands, more specifically, the party island of Ibiza, via a CW contact.

I decided to try and add some countries to my log this weekend with the ARRL DX contest so I operated very casually Friday night, Saturday morning, and Saturday evening. I only logged a paltry 52 contacts, but still had some fun and scored some decent stations. I was able to one-shot many of the contacts, but some, such as the always-elusive Alaska, and Senegal, required some persistence.

I’ve been at this HF thing for almost exactly two years now. I certainly haven’t been the speediest DXer. When I started, I virtually ignored stateside stations in favor of DX. Then last year around this time I began focusing on states. Like any other hobby, my interests come and go: DX one weekend; states the next; RTTY another weekend; and QSO parties the next.

I’m going to get off the dime for the evening and enjoy my Ibiza contact with some “Balearic ambient music” and a refreshing beverge!

Slow weekend

I had all day free Saturday and managed to complete a whopping four contacts. Several events were happening on the bands that I wanted to participate in — the Straight Key Century Club Weekend Sprint and a Summits on the Air event in the northeast part of the US, New England SOTA Day.

I hooked up my straight key in anticipation of participating in my first SKCC event and headed to the K3UK Sked Page to try and hunt down some of the participants. They were out there, but for whatever reason, I couldn’t hear any of them. When I finally did get a lock on one guy, he QSYed before I could call him and I never found him again.

I decided to check out the SOTA action via www.sotawatch.org and found a handful of activations in progress. The only one I heard was Jeff, NT1K on SSB, stationed on Mt. Tom in Massachusetts. I completed a QSO with him on 20 meters, even though he was buried in the noise. He gave me a rather terrible signal report, even though I was running 100W. I’ve worked Jeff three times before (two of those times were SOTA activations on 20 and 40 meters) and we’ve always had a good signals. The bands were not in my favor on Saturday.

The most satisfying SOTA contact I’ve had to date came on 40 meters Saturday afternoon. Tommy, W4TZM, had a loud signal on Apple Orchid Mountain in Virginia operating CW. I called him on the straight key and we had a textbook QSO. It felt good using the old key to accomplish it.

Another fun contact came later in the day when I managed to work Randy, KX1NH as part of the SKCC sprint. The exchange is a little long for the the sprint — Name, QTH, RST and SKCC number — but I just took it slowly and carefully and got through it. Randy’s code was very legible, both in signal strength and in terms of spacing and timing, and for that I was grateful.

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!

A couple interesting ones tonight

Another random evening. Nothing too far out there, but interesting all the same:

  • YV5DSL, Venezuela on 20m RTTY
  • HC2AO, Ecuador on 20m PSK63 (I think this is a new one for me)
  • N0MNO, Minnesota, but it was a ragchew and it was fun trying to type fast enough to keep up with PSK63
  • SV5AZK, Dodecanese, 20m PSK31, a new one for me
  • YT1AA, a big signal out of Serbia on 40m CW. I know he copied my call properly and gave me 5NN. I returned a report and he acknowledged, but there was QSB and he was too fast for me so I wasn’t sure what he said next. I panicked a bit on the paddles and let the QSO die. I hate when I do that… instant lid shame.

Still haven’t worked any phone with the new rig. My lash-up on the Icom mic apparently wasn’t good enough, because it was acting erratic today. It sort of worked when I plugged it in half-way, but I wasn’t able to break a pile-up to get a report. I may work on it again and see if I can figure out what’s come loose inside there.

New kit build: The K1EL Winkeyer USB

wkusb_fJust a couple quick thoughts on the K1EL Winkeyer kit. I didn’t break out the camera last night to document the build because 1) this is a very easy kit to build and if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all, and 2) since I started the build around 10:30 p.m. and finished the assembly around midnight, I was too tired to fool with dragging the lights and background out.

First off, I don’t intend to use the WK anytime soon, as I’m still a straight-key-5-WPM tyro. But I want to get to the point where this becomes an integral part of the shack when/if I ever decide to participate in a CW contest.

As far as ham stuff goes, it’s hard to beat the value and utility of the WK kit. I understand they used to be cheaper, but at $79, you get a well-spaced, well-labeled circuit board, along with a really nice enclosure. The quality of the components seems to be high also. I can think of many radio gadgets that do a lot less and cost a lot more.

Thanks to my recent kit builds, I felt well-prepared to construct the WK. I laid out all the parts in a tray to begin, and sorted the resistors using a VOM to check the values since I don’t trust my eyes. The parts come expertly packed in a compartmented bags, so there weren’t loose ICs rattling around with heavier parts and vice versa.

I decided to use a lower power setting on my soldering iron this time (20 watts) and I found that to be a comfortable temperature for working on kits like this. The solder seemed to flow in a more predictable, controlled fashion and the handle of the iron didn’t get hot. I was struck by how nicely spaced out the pads are on the PCB. I only intended to solder in the resistors, but I was moving along at such a nice pace that before I knew it, the entire kit was built.

Before mounting the gadget in the enclosure, I performed the recommended testing (install the serial driver, plug in the board, wait for Windows to recognize it). The pre-flight check went OK, so I dropped in the ICs, reconnected to the computer and received the satisfying dit-dah-dit “R” start-up chime. The board fit perfectly in the enclosure too.

A few moments later I configured N1MM and Ham Radio Deluxe and everything seemed to check out fine. I will perform the final test tonight after I build a few cables to connect the rig and paddles.

This kit is genuinely useful and belongs in the shack of any CW enthusiast. Mechanized Morse for the masses!