This is the biggest contest event of the year for me, and the SOAB CW category is generally regarded as the event that decides the Top Gun.
After the storm in the SSB weekend, I managed to get the SteppIRs pointed back where they belonged, although I didn't figure out how they managed to slip.
No new antennas except a makeshift 250-foot Beverage for receiving on 80 and 160.
No new equipment...still one radio (756 Pro III), one amp (AL1200).
Conditions were poor at the beginning, but I was doing OK. About 3 hours in, I noticed that the radio did not always go back to receive mode...sounded like a hung relay somewhere. Took time off and tried to diagnose it. Decided it was the T/R relay in the amp. Took apart the amp, inspected it all, resoldered a few connections, put it all back together, and it was OK for a few minutes, then the problem resurfaced.
Tried to jury-rig an external relay with the meager assortment of parts on hand, and managed to miswire it and kill the relay. Ultimately resorted to using a footswitch to key the amp for every transmission. It was not ideal, but it worked. But the lost time messing with the whole thing was disappointing. So much for a serious effort...although going in, I knew with one radio I really could not hope for a top-3 finish.
Felt pretty loud on the low bands, but the short Beverage was not useful, limiting my ability to hear.
Operated about 30 hours total, made 2800 QSOs.
Things I learned:
1. Icom radios have trouble keying AL1200s.
2. I was a bit disappointed at the high-band performance...I did not feel really loud on Saturday, especially on 15M. However, on Sunday, I played with the stack a bit, and found that the low antenna at 60 feet was >10dB better than either the top antenna or the stack. I went from a few people calling me to a huge pileup. Upon further modeling, it appears there is a big null in the pattern of the stack or top antenna alone at about 12-15 degrees takeoff. I sort of suspected this while planning the station, but now I've decided I will need a lower 15M beam to fill in those angles.
3. Single-radio contesting is definitely a problem for me. I had no idea what was happening on the other bands, and missed some openings.
4. Really need directional antennas for 80 and 160.
5. Two tough QSOs I recall. First was XU7MWA calling me on 40LP. Since I hadn't been very active in the weeks leading up to the contest, I did not know the callsign. When he called me, there was so much multpath echo on his signal (which was s9) it took many tries before I was sure I had the callsign correct. Second was my friend 9M6NA...it took several calls to get through to him on 20M near the end of the contest. Later, all the locals told me that the band just wasn't open very well from northern W1 to SEA, and a lot of people never got through.
Things to fix:
1. Bring up Radio 2 and Amp 2 (and all the required SO2R stuff). It will take a lot of time to figure out the antenna & radio switching, especially if I have the SteppIRs track the radio frequencies, since I will need to option of using either antenna (or both) on either radio.
2. Directional antennas for 80/160.
3. Install a lower 15M beam...I have one at my NH QTH that is not in use, and will move it to N1LI. 5 elements on a 30 foot boom ought to solve the 15M problem.
4. Figure out next spring why the SteppIRs slipped during the SSB contest.
5. Fix the ProIII-to-amplifier interface (and get the ProIII fixed).