|2008 Summer Contests
I have generally not done much contesting in the summer months, but this year was different. I had more free time due to a change in employment status, and wanted to really exercise the station. So I did!
July - IARU Radiosport Contest
I have *never* operated this contest, except for the years when WRTCs were held (and I was operating a WRTC station each time...). I was not planning a serious effort, but a chance QSO with my friend George, K5TR, convinced me that it would be a good thing to do. In addition, this event accrued qualifying points for the 2010 WRTC, to be held in Russia. I entered the mixed-mode category, and things went pretty well...I had the highest claimed score for the USA, and only Jeff, K1ZM, operating at his VY2ZM superstation had a higher score from North America. I even had a higher score than the multi-op stations! It was fun...as a 24-hour contest, it was not too tough, and I got to push the station a bit.
I had a 10-Meter opeining that nobody else got quite as well. I had (apparently) multi-hop sporadic-E to both North America and Europe, and racked up a pretty good bunch of QSOs and multipliers there.
July - RSGB IOTA Contest
After I told some of my friends about last year's adventure in this contest, several of them invited themselves to come visit and do some operating that weekend. One thing led to another, and the final operator list included K5ZD, K1AR, NN1N, N5OT, N6AN, and N0AX. It was a terrific weekend, though propagation wasn't great (no 10M opening, and only weak 15M openings). And it is tough to compete with the European multi-op stations, since they can work so many more multipliers on the low bands. Our score is the highest in North America, and we made about 2200 QSOs in 24 hours (less an hour or two when lightning was in the area).
August - Worked All Europe CW
Another contest I have never entered seriously. But this year I did, partly because the station ought to be quite competitive, and partly because there were WRTC qualifying points available. Things went well...I got another of those funny 10M openings that nobody else got quite as well. One European friend sent me an email after the contest that said "I could hear a few other USA stations right at the noise level, but you were LOUD". I had one failure which had nothing to do with radios or antennas. I was moving right along and needed to correct something in a callsign, so I hit the backspace key a bunch of times, or held down the ENTER key too long, or something and got a new window on the screen telling me that I had enabled "sticky keys" or something like that. And when I closed that window, I could no longer enter numbers! That meant I could not enter exchanges or even callsigns. I did some experimenting, and discovered that whatever I did (it had to do with the Microsoft "accessibility features", had forced all the keys into SHIFT mode, so all the numbers (1, 2, 3...) were being converted into the shifted versions (!, @, #...), which the logging program would not accept. After a few frantic calls to some PC gurus I know, and 45 minutes later, I got things back to normal. That additional off-time cost me the contest - at least for North America, since the op at VY2ZM had a full 36 hours of operating time and squeaked past me for the highest score in North America. But I still had the highest USA score.
UPDATE!!!! STOP THE PRESSES!!!! K1DG WINS WAE CW CONTEST!!!
In the course of log-checking, it turned out that the VY2EJ (@VY2ZM) score was reduced more than mine, and I ended up as the top score in North America for the WAE CW!!! Further inspection reveals that a large part of the VY2EJ score reduction was due to an early end of the operation being counted as an extended off-time at the end of the contest that resulted in some QSOs being deducted. I feel bad for Mark (K0EJ, the op at VY2EJ), but I'll still take the plaque anyway.
September - North American Sprint CW
I got off to a slow start on 20M, and when I went to 40, the rain static was s9. I was working OK through it, then the receive signals started to occasionally drop about 20 dB. The SWR seemed OK, and the transmitting seemed OK. Then the rain static went up to 20 dB over s9. This made things really difficult. Anyway, I ended up with 300 QSOs exactly (before log-checking), and the highest score I've made so far in a Sprint from Maine.
But the intermittent 40M situation has me concerned.
September - Worked All Europe SSB
The CW weekend was so much fun, I decided to go after the SSB weekend seriously. The 40M intermittent thing cropped up during the rain Friday afternoon, so I suspect water is getting into the feedline somewhere. It dried up some, and since it never bothered the SWR, it didn't cause much of a problem. Everything worked pretty well...I had some really fast runs on 20M and got off to a great start, with lots more QSOs than K1ZM, K1LZ, W1UE (at K1TTT) and KD4D. I did not do as well Sunday, and missed a bunch of multipliers on 15M (10 did not open), so it appears that K1ZM pulled ahead of me and has a slightly higher claimed score. Still, I'm pretty happy with the station performance overall. There are a few SO2R interstation issues yet to fix, and the PC interface to the Pro3 seems to get confused on 40M occasionally...not sure if it is a software bug or RFI.
Changes to the station during the summer of 2008
1. Figured out the problem with the Pro3 bad transmit audio - I had forgotten to add a dc-blocking cap in series with the mike line. Did that, and now everything sounds great. Got the DVK in the microHam SO2R box working too.
2. Discovered that both of my SteppIRs were manufactured during a period when new rubber boots to hold the fiberglass tubes were being tried. They have since been shown to be problematic, and so this year (with an assist from K1RX), all the boots were replaced. Good thing, too...several of them were cracked and split, and I would likely have lost an element during the summer. Glad that's fixed.
3. Replaced the Top-Ten Band Decoder on Radio 1 with a microHam band decoder the same as on Radio 2, mostly because it has relay outputs, and I got tired of replacing the TT driver ICs every summer after nearby lightning storms.
4. Last year in the CQWW, I discovered that I really needed to have the capability of working Africa and Carib/South America on 10 and 15 while using the SteppIR stack on 20. And I needed some more muscle on 15 to Europe. So this year I designed and built a side-mount system, and mounted a 6-element 10M beam and 5-element 15M beam on it. I now have low beams that can rotate from about 20 degrees to about 300 degrees, covering most of the important directions. These can be stacked with the SteppIRs or used separately. I am also adding a 5-element 15M beam at 75 feet, which can be stacked with the top SteppIR, bottom 15, or used alone.
These additions should help my scores in the CQWW this fall.
At completion, the N1LI antenna complement will consist of:
160: 2-element phased vertical array (wires hung from tower); Comtek controller, giving NE, SW, and bidirectional SE/NW
80: wire 4-square vertical array, Comtek controller
40: CushCraft XM240 at 103 feet
20-10: Stacked 4-element SteppIRs at 95 and 60 feet, on TIC ring rotors
15: stacked homebrew 5-element 28-foot-boom OWA yagis at 40 and 75 feet (bottom semi-rotatable, upper fixed on Europe)
10: homebrew 6-element 30-foot-boom OWA yagi at 32 feet semi-rotatable (next summer I will add another 6-element beam at 50 feet, and hope 10M comes back to life)
|Assorted notes from Fall 2008
Station improvements were completed as planned outside. I think the source of the intermittent on 40 in rainy weather has been found and fixed...a poorly-sealed connection where the coax jumper to the antenna meets the long line to the shack. I re-sealed it, and have not had any recurrences of the problem.
As a bonus, a friendly neighbor gave me permission to install a 500-foot 2-wire Beverage to help with receiving on 80 and 160. I used 450-ohm ladder line and the DX Engineering Reversable Beverage System. It runs NE/SW and shows about 20 dB F/B on 80, a little less on 160. Signals are almost equal in strength on 80 to the 4-square - maybe one s-unit down, but the high-angle noise goes down a little more for a gain in S/N ratio.
During the week before the CQWW SSB, the solar flux rose up to about 70, and 15M opened every day very well to Europe. The new monobander stack works very well - always louder than the SteppIRs. And the absorption was extremely low, yielding great openings to Central Asia on 160 - I worked EY8MM and several zone 17 and 18 UA9 stations easily.
Found some noise sources...one was interesting - the USB-powered PC speakers on my wife's computer generate horrible noise on the low bands, even with the PC switched off. She agreed to turn off the speakers when I am on the radio. There is also a lower-level broadband noise from the PC - I think I can cure both with an internal line filter.
I also isolated some noisy power poles in the area, and the local power company guys came out the week after the WW SSB and fixed the loose hardware. I had built a 135 MHz yagi and used a portable air-band receiver to track down the noisy poles. It was quite dramatic - as soon as the lineman touched the loose connection, the noise disappeared. They were very cooperative, and thankful that I found the loose connection for them before it had a chance to come down in the middle of a stormy night.
|2008 CQWW SSB
This was billed as the K1DG vs K5ZD shootout. The solar flux dropped a few points on Friday, and I noticed poorer conditions that persisted through the weekend. I was ready for this. All the antennas were working great. The new 15M system is a big improvement over the original setup. In the week leading up to the contest, every day Europe was booming, and the 5/5 was the best antenna of all available combinations. DVK working, software running, ready to go.
When the dust settled, K5ZD had smoked me on 40M, catching a 300-QSO run of Europeans at their sunrise Sunday. He also croaked me on 20M...it was such a zoo trying to find a frequency on that band, that I really hope we get some sunspots soon!
K1LZ also beat me, on the strength of 200 more QSOs on 75M and about 200 more on 40.
The major victory for me was beating ZD in multipliers...that has always been a strength for Randy, and beating him was an accomplishment.
Turns out that my big advantage in multipliers was on 160M (and a little on 75). That 160M antenna is working amazingly well. W3LPL sent me an email after the contest saying that I was the only station that beat them in every pileup on that band. My country total is comparable to the multiops! I did not CQ much, and decided to do lots more in the CW contest.
15 was a bit of a disappointment, but it was one of those weekends when the 100-mile difference between my QTH in Maine and the guys in MA was huge. Kind of worried about 40, but I figured it was just a strategic operating error on my part. I did notice some times when ZD and NT (at K1EA) were working guys I could not hear. Or maybe the Pro3 was not up to handling the huge intermods on that band. Hmmm.
USA SOAB HP
Call 160m Q/Z/C 80m Q/Z/C 40m Q/Z/C 20m Q/Z/C 15m Q/Z/C 10m Q/Z/C
K5ZD 112/14/ 55 412/21/ 86 771/27/100 1905/36/127 462/23/ 90 44/ 6/ 12 6.3M
K1LZ 99/11/ 45 588/20/ 89 403/26/ 88 1749/33/121 486/25/ 89 66/ 6/ 12 5.4M
K1DG 117/16/ 71 378/24/ 90 245/24/ 92 1709/33/123 381/23/ 93 52/ 6/ 19 4.9M
K4ZW 68/15/ 47 406/20/ 85 660/28/ 94 1301/37/122 525/25/ 90 15/ 5/ 11 4.85M
N2NT 94/12/ 46 383/22/ 85 421/23/ 86 1703/31/118 350/24/ 92 73/ 6/ 16 4.79M
Take away ZD and LZ and it's a close race!
Things I learned:
1. See above re 756 Pro3.
2. See above about hitting the band openings - especially 40M 06-09z
3. The new lower monobanders work fine, and enable real SO2R.
4. Man, is this station loud on 160! L O U D!!! I had 71 countries - same as the KC1XX multi-multi. Nobody beat me in pileups on that band, to Europe or to Caribbean/SA. That put me past Randy in multipliers for the first time ever. I did not feel that I was hearing particularly well, but several people commented that I was hearing things they were not. Of course, the distraction kept me from running on 80 and 40, but it sure was fun! Also got a JA, VK9 Willis, and other goodies on 80.
5. The Beverage really showed its value on Saturday evening, when the weather turned rainy and windy. The 80M 4-square was clobbered by noise and unusable, while the Beverage was immune.
6. K5ZD is a very good op and very hard to beat!
|2008 CW Sweepstakes
I think the last time I did SS CW full time was at least 25 years ago. I had not planned to do it this year, other than to try to make a Clean Sweep and get a mug. I have mugs from almost every other year, usually from an 8-12 hour effort on the SSB weekend. But we may have company on the SSB weekend, so I figured I would try for the sweep on CW. I started the contest, and found several bugs in the SO2R programming, that I fixed - better now than during the WW CW! Then I kind of got hooked. Yes, I got the sweep (thanks to VY1EI!), and beat the ME section record (but K8PO beat it by more). 1184 QSOs seemed like a lot.
I also discovered an interesting bug in the microHam band decoder. In my station, the band decoder is controlled by the serial port between the PC and radio - the output of the decoder is a CI-V line that goes to the radio and the SteppIR controller. I have a manual box that steers the SteppIR RF and control lines to either the left or right radio, including the lockout for when the SteppIR is tuning so I don't inadvertently key the amp and blow the balun up. Turns out that with no SteppIR on the left radio, 40M RF from the right radio gets into the unloaded cable, and confuses the microham box. This can disconnect the selected antenna, for example. It also blocks the radio from sending frequency info to the PC. I need to remember to keep one SteppIR on each radio during the night, then after the season is over, experiment with a light load or series RF choke when the cable is open.
Things I learned:
1. See microHam box info above
2. Sweepstakes is all about the first few hours. Debugging SO2R box and SW interfaces will kill your rate and get you off to a really really bad start. You cannot recover from a bad start in SS.
3. When the time is going to change from Daylight Savings Time to Standard Time during the sleep period, and you use your cellphone alarm as the wake-up source, it's possible that you will get an extra hour of sleep whether you want it or not.
There is an intermittent broadband crud being generated by something at the top of the tower...probably something loose on the XM240. I have a Force 12 D240 in the garage that I might put up to try to eliminate the problem, but unless I prove that is tihe XM240, I'm not going to go through the hassle of doing it. It will be a lot of work to remove the XM240, since it is above the top SteppIR. I thought I had diagnosed it - it appeared to be worst when the end of the SteppIR driven element was underneath the XM240 loading coils, but attempts to reproduce the effect were not successful. I will probably live with it for the rest of the season, and worry about it in the Spring.
|2008 Phone Sweepstakes
I really had no plans to operate the Phone SS seriously - we were expecting visitors, and I had to be a good host.
Turned out the guests did not come after all, so I figured I would operate enough to get a clean sweep (all 80 sections) on SSB. We discovered there was a community dinner Saturday night, and I decided to attend that rather than operate the SS. Later Saturday night, I discovered that the 80M 4-square had no F/B ratio at all. I was getting out OK, and running pretty fast, but it needed to be fixed, so that's what I did Sunday morning.
Turned out that one of the inverted-L elements had broken and came down. I fixed that, and thought that was the only problem, so I declared victory. Back to the SS...when I went to bed at 11:30 PM Saturday, I only needed ND and KP4 for a clean sweep. Firing back up at about 1 PM Sunday, I went to 15M, turned the beam south, and figured I'd find a KP4 there somewhere. I started tuning at the bottom of the band, and the first signal I heard (21205) was KP4SQ, with a big pileup, and giving out serial numbers in the 20s. I got through fine, and only needed ND.
Switched to 20, started tuning at the bottom, and the first guy I heard was VE8EV. I already had NT, but it's always good to work another one! So I did. The other signals on 20 were mostly further west than ND, and the band seemed a bit long, so I went to 40. I got a good run going, but the furthest west was only IL. After about 30 minutes, I went back to 20, found a semi-clear spot, and started running. It was mostly W6s, but with a sprinkling of all call areas, so I just kept running, and waiting for ND to call in.
I took 51 minutes, but one called in for the sweep! I worked a few more guys then was done for a while.
I got on a bit later to say hello to old friends on 75M. I determined that the 4-square was still not right. Darn. Should have taken some more measurements while it was light out.
I ended up with 701 QSOs in 7 hours. When I was in college, 700 QSOs was a kind of milestone, since it meant a score of over 100k points. It generally took me the full contest to get there. Now it only takes 7 hours.
Monday morning, it was back to the woods to figure out what was wrong with the 4-square. After some investigation, I determined that two of the other elements had the wire broken - inside the insulation! I replaced one element with a new wire and re-installed it, then hauled down the other two, spliced them, and hoisted them back up. The array appears to have its F/B ratio back now...more testing needed before the CQWW CW. I procured some stronger wire just in case.
I've added a photo album to this site. The first set of photos show the N1LI antennas as they exist in the Fall of 2008.
|2008 CQWW CW
This is the weekend it ALMOST all came together.
I was ready. The station was humming, I was in a good mood. A few weeekends before the contest, there was a power failure on the island - actually ALL the islands in the Bay. I went out and bought a generator and brought it to the island. I was taking no chances.
Got off to a good start, and things just got better. I got some great runs going on 160M and 80M, and did OK on 40M at the beginning, and again in the early mirning horus before sunrise. After sunrise, and the move to 20M, I was flying...I was pretty sure nobody else was running as fast as I was on that band. Several consecutive hours over 180, and some nice second-radio stuff on 15.
Second night, things were going OK, but the 40M beam SWR had two states - 1.5:1 or 3:1. When it snapped into the 3:1 state, nobody called me. Fiddling with the amplifier controls sometimes brought it back, and I figured it ought to last one more night.
It didn't. Around 03z it failed for good, stuck at 3:1 SWR, adn nobody calling or even answering me. Game over.
But I hung in there, and did what I could on the other bands, and kept very busy until Sunday afternoon, when the only runnable band was 40. I took a little time off to build a makeshift 40M GP, and hung it off a tree branch. I could not run with it, but I could get a few answers (including some multipliers), and I managed a few 30-QSO hours (when I should have benn running at 100 or so).
The 3830 claims:
USA SOAB HP
Call 160m Q/Z/C 80m Q/Z/C 40m Q/Z/C 20m Q/Z/C 15m Q/Z/C 10m Q/Z/C
K1LZ 233/18/ 62 987/22/ 93 1151/30/118 1285/29/115 290/26/ 87 23/ 8/ 12 7.0M
K5ZD 126/16/ 55 717/24/ 97 1217/32/112 1755/32/124 149/24/ 69 14/ 4/ 6 6.8M
K1DG 305/17/ 71 810/23/ 95 543/24/ 95 1887/29/116 168/21/ 77 6/ 2/ 2 6.0M
K3CR 141/16/ 62 512/24/ 89 966/30/114 1593/33/122 204/26/ 76 7/ 4/ 3 5.8M
What really sticks out is another huge 160M score, very good results on 80, a great 20M score, and (aside form K1LZ's 15M score) a good showing there. If only the 40M beam had not failed, I think I might have won it. See how far down I was on 40? Sigh. MORAL: If something is intermittent, FIX IT! Otherwise it will fail at the worst possible time.
But the 160M score got me thinking that I ought to stay a week longer and do the ARRL 160M contest the following week.
|ARRL 160M Contest
The last time I did this contest full-time was in college. I did something like 400 QSOs that year (1974), but remember that was in the days when the night-time power limit was 100 W.
Things have certainly changed on Top Band.
I had no QSOs in the first 4 minutes. Then the roof fell in! A mix of Europe and USA callers swaremd me, and the rate hung at 130+ for the first 5 hours or so. All kinds of good stuff called in. Short trips to tune the band always resulted in a nice basket of multipliers. The second night wsa kind of slow, but still managed some good stuff. The Beverage helped a lot, and I don't recall getting beaten in a single pileup. I had something liek 400 5-point (DX) QSOs.
When it was over, the 3830 postings looked like this:
Call QSOs Sec Cntry hr Score Club
All Single Op HP
K1DG(@N1LI) 1633 76 55 30 578,758 YCCC
K3ZM 1701 75 55 30 572,130
K1LZ 1594 75 53 549,888 YCCC
K9DX 1860 77 51 35 529,536 SMC
W8JI(VE7ZO) 1792 77 47 35 508,400
VE3EJ 1605 76 51 31 489,585 CCO
W1UE(@W1KM) 1442 72 53 31 484,625 YCCC
W4MYA 1644 76 48 24.5 482,484 PVRC
K1ZZ 1467 75 48 26 438,741 YCCC
VE3EY 1489 77 45 29 412,360 CCO
Even cooler: here are the multiop scores:
Call QSOs Sec Cntry hr Score Club
All M/S HP
KC1XX 1761 76 55 40 575,352 YCCC
WE3C 1580 75 56 37 516,533 FRC
WB9Z 1845 78 43 37 486,420 SMC
K3WW 1544 76 52 24. 471,680 FRC
W2GD 1595 76 49 34 454,625 FRC
Somehow I managed to beat all the Multiops as well! That doesn't happen much.
I love that salty water.
And THAT got me thinking about going back to Maine for the CQ160M contest in January.