Monday, February 17, 2014

2014 ARRL DX Contest. What a Difference 3,250 Miles (Over 5,000 Road Miles) & 95 Watts Make!

ARRL CW DX Contest 2014
This past weekend was the ARRL DX Contest, CW version. This contest has always been one my my most favorites, second only to the CQ World Wide DX Contests. The ARRL DX Contest has stateside stations looking for DX and DX stations looking for stateside stations. I decided on Friday to make my first limited QRP effort in this contest. I knew that my weekend schedule would not accommodate more than a part time effort but I wanted to take the plunge. Since I was going to be running my Buddipole antenna indoors, I wanted to just concentrate on a single band effort. This way, I could tune the antenna and leave it for the remainder of the weekend.

Getting it Close
I set up my antenna on late Friday night. When it's set up, it resides in our upstairs hallway. Not the best setup but since it's winter, I have no desire to put it outdoors. Besides, this seems to work pretty well considering. I was able to get the Buddipole SWR actually flat! I found that when I rechecked my match on Sunday morning, things were very different. It may be been bumped by another household occupant so I had re-tune Sunday morning. I was able to get it down to what you see in the photo to the right. I could not imagine trying to tune any antenna without a good meter. Matter of fact, I'm in the market for a smaller, portable meter to use in the field. I like my MFJ but it uses plenty of batteries and it's not the smallest to tote around. Since I will be doing more /P operating down here, I want something backpack friendly.

I landed on 15 meters ready for my Search & Pounce (S&P) effort just before 1700z on Saturday. I found the band to be in great shape. Such good shape, I started the contest at 1 watt output from my IC-703+. It was great hearing so many European stations so darn strong! 
I began at the bottom of the band and slowly worked my way up.

Search & Pounce QRP Style
It was obvious the band was loaded and many of the stations had pile-ups, which is typical during the first part of the contest, I opted to bump my power up to the full 5 watts after my first 10 or 15 QSO's. On a quiet band, my 1 watt may have worked but with the crowd, I was easily pushed to the sidelines and not heard. As I encountered many a new country, I had to make a mental note and tell myself that many of them would have to wait until Sunday. As I slowly worked my VFO up and down the band, my contest log began to slowly add points with a bump in the score adding the occasional multiplier. I wanted to document a bit of my QRP activities so I kept the Samsung S4 handy for a few videos. Below is the video I shot of me working F6KNB with my rig set at 1 watt. I worked F6KNB approximately about 5 QSO's into the contest (for me).

QRP is bittersweet. It's often a struggle for both the station running QRP and then for the receiving station. Some who are in contest mode won't take the time to work with a QRP signal meaning any more than one repeat, they are moving on. It's a contest, so expect a level of aggression. Since I enjoy QRP, I always made sure I would listen for the little guy when I ran as KL8DX. Now mind you, in a large pile-up, you take the loudest first and work your way down the calling list. But there are those times when timing is everything! Yes, it's possible to sneak that weak call in between BIG stations calling and be heard. A good operator will take the time to make sure they get the call and exchange correct. I have to hand it to SN5X (and several others, but I only got a few on video) for taking the time work me and get our exchange right. The video below is of me working SN5X on ½ watt!

Walking the VFO up the Band

As the afternoon progressed on Saturday, I worked the contest until around a bit after 7 pm local, or midnight UTC time. I threw in the towel until the following morning due to those "other" obligations that tend to arise over contest weekends. By the time Saturday came to an end for me, I had worked roughly 48 stations. Again, to the average ham, that's obtainable in the first sixteen minutes at 3 QSO's per minute. But I was a happy ham due to the fact that as the propagation swung west from Europe, I worked several Central & South America stations not to mention those enjoying their winter getaway down in the Caribbean. But the highlight for me on Saturday evening was working JF1NHD and KL7RA.

KL7RA has a great station and I knew that if I was going to hear an Alaskan station in this contest, it would surly be Rich's station. I captured the next video showing how strong Rich's station was here both on Saturday night and on Sunday as well.

So again, my Saturday ended on a pretty positive note. I was hoping that Sunday would see the same great propagation allowing me many more QSO's. 

2014 Winter in New England. More on the way!
As I mentioned earlier, New England has seen a pretty snowy winter. I'm actually enjoying working outside doing my snow relocation activities and it's well above zero! I loved Alaska but plowing and shoveling snow at -30F can be a bit rough at times. So for me, this winter has been easy. Now, we have received more snow here this winter than we would normally see at Denali. Our snow in Alaska was normally very dry and light but this snow, especially this last storm dump, had some weight to it. Anyhow, a large part of my weekend duties was clearing the driveway, walks, decks and of course the beagle roaming area. We have a 14½ year old beagle and when there is more than a few inches of snow, I plow a large spot in the yard just for her. I'm sure she is also enjoying the warmer temperatures as well, especially since she has to do her business outside. 

Getting back on track, Sunday turned out to be great on 15 meters as well. I was back on the air shortly after 1100 UTC once again working my way up and down the band. On Sunday, I heard contest stations working as high as 21.138! I had several stations which were strong but I could just never get their attention. In one case, I was trying to work E7DX and I apparently had a little helper. You know the station, the DX station was trying to confirm my call and for what ever reason, he was having problems copying it. It was either due to my low power or adjacent QRM. Either way, I heard another station telling him what my call was! It was either a impatient station wanting to get me out of the way so they could work E7DX or someone who felt they were doing the right thing, which they weren't. 

By the time it was all said and done, I made 150 QSO's and worked 57 countries (entities). I used N3FJP's software which gave me a nice overview of my country breakout -

AK2MA's Contest Summary Report for ARRL-DX
 Created by N3FJP's ARRL International DX Contest Log
 Version 3.4

 Total Contacts = 150
 Total Points = 25,650

 Operating Period: 2014/02/15 16:53 - 2014/02/16 23:28

 Total Contacts by Band and Mode:

 Band       CW   Phone     Dig   Total       %
 ----       --   -----     ---   -----     ---
   15      150       0       0     150     100
            --   -----     ---   -----     ---
 Total     150       0       0     150     100

 Total Contacts by State \ Prov:

 State       Total     %
 -----       -----   ---
               147    98
 HI              2     1
 AK              1     1

 Total Contacts by Country:

 Country                      Total     %
 -------                      -----   ---
 Federal Republic of Germany     14     9
 Italy                           12     8
 Poland                          10     7
 Croatia                          7     5
 Czech Republic                   7     5
 Spain                            7     5
 Serbia                           6     4
 Slovenia                         6     4
 France                           5     3
 England                          4     3
 Hungary                          4     3
 Aruba                            3     2
 Bosnia-Herzegovina               3     2
 Brazil                           3     2
 Finland                          3     2
 Netherlands                      3     2
 Ukraine                          3     2
 US Virgin Is.                    3     2
 Belgium                          2     1
 Canary Is.                       2     1
 Estonia                          2     1
 European Russia                  2     1
 Hawaii                           2     1
 Japan                            2     1
 Slovak Republic                  2     1
 Switzerland                      2     1
 Alaska                           1     1
 Antigua & Barbuda                1     1
 Argentina                        1     1
 Asiatic Russia                   1     1
 Austria                          1     1
 Bahamas                          1     1
 Balearic Is.                     1     1
 Belarus                          1     1
 Bermuda                          1     1
 Bulgaria                         1     1
 Cayman Is.                       1     1
 Colombia                         1     1
 Costa Rica                       1     1
 Curacao                          1     1
 El Salvador                      1     1
 Grenada                          1     1
 Jamaica                          1     1
 Kazakhstan                       1     1
 Latvia                           1     1
 Lithuania                        1     1
 Luxembourg                       1     1
 Madeira Is.                      1     1
 Morocco                          1     1
 Nicaragua                        1     1
 Portugal                         1     1
 Puerto Rico                      1     1
 Saba & St. Eustatius             1     1
 Scotland                         1     1
 Sweden                           1     1
 Turks & Caicos Is.               1     1
 Uruguay                          1     1

 Total Contacts by Continent:

 Continent   Total     %
 ---------   -----   ---
 EU            114    76
 NA             16    11
 SA             10     7
 AF              4     3
 AS              4     3
 OC              2     1

My goal is to submit for the QRP ARCI's 1,000 Mile Per Watt Award. Going into this contest, that was going to be one of my main goals. Without plugging in the numbers, I think my QSO with SN5X or IR4M would be in the area of 8,000 Miles Per Watt. Several of the stations I worked with 1 watt would also easily qualify, too. 

I uploaded a few more videos to my YouTube page and one highlights the coax run from the QRP kitchen set up to the Buddipole antenna in the upstairs hallway. We are still organizing so the clutter will hopefully be short lived. The coax runs from the kitchen, through our living room and up the stairs into the hallway where my Buddipole was standing proudly. 

I posted my first 3830 summary with this contest. I've sent my log in to the ARRL but still need to upload it to LOTW after importing it into my regular logbook. I'm hopeful many will be confirmed electronically. Any that are awaiting confirmation on eQSL will be confirmed on my next log in. 

All in all, it was a humbling experience being on this end of the pileup. Lots of great operators / stations and I had a blast. The only thing that would have made it better was being able to use my Mosley TA-34-XL for the high bands. I would have surely ventured off of 15 meters as I see on 3830 that the propagation on 10 meters was pretty good as well. Hopefully I did not bust many callsigns and there were a few questionable contacts so I opted to not put them in the log. If I did not hear the confirmation that my information was received, I did not log it. The only problem I had was several missed the "A" in my callsign and heard me as K2MA. As always, I attempted to correct the DX station and I think only a couple may have been too busy to correct it. 

As far as the weather is concerned, we are under another Winter Storm Warning for Tuesday. Seems another 4-6" of fresh snow headed to my QTH. Thankfully, I still enjoy winter so it's no big deal. That added to a bit of QRN as our transformer was busy causing me interference with the snow and wind that we encountered this past weekend. With my indoor antenna, I no longer have to worry about Mother Nature, just the other occupants of our residence. As for the family beagle, she spends most of her day sleeping so she is no threat to the indoor antenna. Other than the occasional walk by, contest weekends to her are something she is used to. She knows all to often that I won't finish anything I'm nibbling on so she gets what I don't finish. The photo below is of our beagle since I switched to drinking decaf.

Contest Dog

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