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To: 3830@contesting.com, wc1m@msn.com
Subject: [3830] IARU WC1M SO CW HP
From: webform@b4h.net
Reply-to: wc1m@msn.com
Date: Mon, 14 Jul 2008 20:48:29 -0700
List-post: <3830@contesting.com">mailto:3830@contesting.com>
                    IARU HF World Championship

Call: WC1M
Operator(s): WC1M
Station: WC1M

Class: SO CW HP
Operating Time (hrs): 23
Radios: SO2R

 Band  CW Qs  Ph Qs  Zones  HQ Mults
  160:    32            5       12
   80:   216           18       22
   40:   555           28       34
   20:   599           25       31
   15:   217           19       24
   10:    25            7       16
Total:  1644    0     102      139  Total Score = 1,301,882

Club: Yankee Clipper Contest Club


CW Skimmer was used for at least 90% of the second radio mults. More on that

Congrats to Alex for a big win, well-deserved. Congrats to Chas and Steve as
well, for their fine performances (I didn't know New Mexico was such a good
contest locationâ?¦ ;-)  Alex blew away all of us with Qs and mults, notably
without Skimmer. 

Usually, I'm closer to the leaders in Qs, and far behind in mults. This time, I
was way behind Alex, Chas and Steve in Qs, but had more mults than Chas and
Steve. In particular, I did much better with HQ stations  than in previous
years. These stations are unique, so they're harder to find than new zones.
Since my operating skills haven't improved all that much from last year, I can
only assume that Skimmer is the reason for the better mult performance.

My QSOs were substantially lower this year compared with last year, even though
I worked over 50 more mults. I believe this was primarily due to poor conditions
on 20 in Northern New England on Saturday morning. As often happens at the
sunspot minimum, conditions favored folks to the south. I can see  from K1DG's
score at N1LI, which is at about the same latitude as my station, that his 20m
Qs weren't great, either. Quite a few northeasterners reported poor results on
20m at the start of the contest. Last year I had 123 Qs on 20 the first hour,
but this year only managed a paltry 54 -- and 10 of those were on 15m! 20
didn't really open up until 1500z, and then the rate was barely over 80/hr. The
band never improved after that, although there was a nice EU sunrise opening on
Sunday morning that provided a few mults. The band opened quite early Sunday,
at about 0930z. Haven't seen that phenomenon for years. Unfortunately, the
contest was almost over by then. All together, I worked only 65% as many Qs on
20 as last year.

What's really odd is that 15 was open to EU all morning, well enough to run for
 about 2 hours from 1630z-1830z. The peak hour was about 90, better than any
rate I saw on 20 Saturday morning. My QSO total this year was double last
year's, and I worked 50% more mults. Even more unexpected was the 10m opening
to EU that occurred at about the same time. I didn't run on 10, but picked up
23 much-needed mults. Actually, I was busily running 15 and S&Ping 20 for quite
a while Saturday morning when I suddenly realized that if I could run 15 at high
rate, 10 could be open. I remember audibly gasping at the thought. I put Skimmer
on 10 and, sure enough, the bandmap started filling up. It's not been worth
checking 10 much in the past couple of years, so this was a real surprise. For
all I know, 10 might have been open earlier -- I didn't check until about
1700z. Since K1DG had about the same mults on 10 as I did, and not a whole lot
more Qs, I must've caught most of the opening.

20 picked up again late Saturday afternoon, as expected, but the rate never got
much over 60/hr. 40 opened on schedule at about 2200z, and the rate took off
about an hour later. The 0000z hour was hot, and I pulled in 135 Qs. The
10-minute rate meter hit 190 several times. I had similar total Qs on 40 this
year as last year, but 10 more mults. That's probably due top Skimmer, though I
do have a better 2-el 40m beam up now (a Cal-AV 2D-40A replaced the old 40-2CD.)

80 and 160 were pretty noisy, but I had somewhat better Qs on both bands. Mults
were much better than last year. With antennas the same, and conditions probably
similar (possibly noisier), I suspect Skimmer was the reason I did better. It
takes a lot of time to tune through those bands, listening for weak signals,
and Skimmer can do the same in less than five minutes -- while I CQ on 40.

Why did I use Skimmer? Well, I wanted to get first-hand experience using it for
a serious single-op effort, and no one knows if Skimmer will be allowed in that
category beyond this year's IARU contest. The IARU format, which emphasizes
mults in general and includes unique HQ station mults, presented a golden
opportunity to test the effects of using Skimmer without packet. I'm something
of an ideal test candidate because my scores in IARU (and other contests that
emphasize mults) almost always suffer from low mults compared with the leaders.
Anyone who reads my posts on 3830 knows what a crybaby I am about my mult
performances. I can run, but I'm still learning how to S&P and use the second
radio more effectively. My best performances have been in WPX, where almost any
contact can result in a new mult (i.e., it's a run contest, and you don't have
to hunt for mults when you S&P -- just work everybody and they'll come.) 

I'm thinking about doing a detailed writeup of my experiences setting up and
using Skimmer. Suffice it to say that I spent many, many hours (and quite a few
late nights) getting it working, and in the end was not able to produce an
optimal configuration due to hardware and software limitations. For various
reasons, I had to share one of my SO2R radios with Skimmer, and that resulted
in some fairly awkward operating requirements. For deeply technical reasons,
which I won't go into here, I had to let Skimmer run for a while to fill up
Writelog's bandmap, then stop Skimmer while I worked the spots. I could only
scan one band at a time (my S&P band.) I had to stop Skimmer while I S&Ped,
which is why I did almost no manual tuning on the Skimmer radio. I felt that
was OK: it was a good test to see how well I could do with just Skimmer. Pretty
well: second highest claimed mults so far. Not bad for almost no tuning. I did
wonder if I could have done better by tuning for mults, but it seemed Skimmer
was picking up anything I'd have been able to hear, and a lot faster. Several
times I'd get to a Skimmer spot and the station had vacated the frequency.
Sometimes I found a different new mult, or happened to hear one calling
off-frequency. That's about all the tuning I did, except one period in the wee
hours when I could get any rate going and worked Skimmer spots on one radio
while tuning the other radio.

I was really surprised at the accuracy of Skimmer's spots (I used "paranoid"
mode with the SCP master.dat file.) I was also surprised at how Skimmer was
able to dig out really weak ones, and how fast the bandmap filled. What more
could I have done with manual tuning? I certainly benefited from not having to
do that while running at high rate. I also benefited from Skimmer continuing to
gather spots while I took a bathroom break or went to the kitchen for something
to eat. (That's fine in this contest, but what about contests that have
mandatory break periods?) I also benefited from increased rate during dedicated
point-and-shoot sessions. By focusing just on the Skimmer spots, and not running
on the other radio, I was able to get the rate up over 90/hr for a sustained
period -- and this was at a time when I was struggling to make 50/hr on the run

One important note: as I do with packet, I never trusted the Skimmer spot. I
always listened for confirmation of the call sign. It was accurate well over
95% of the time. Probably over 99% of the time.

There were a few problems. I had technical glitches early in the contest that
wasted some operating time. I also found the new configuration required new
techniques, things I had not practiced before. Skimmer was a bit of a
distraction at times, which may have affected my run proficiency. But not all
that much. Probably the most serious problem was that Writelog wasn't able to
identify HQ stations as new mults unless they were new zones. I guess it picks
up the HQ information from the comment field in packet spots, which doesn't
apply to Skimmer spots. W4PA implied that his Skimmer knew the HQ mults, so
perhaps N1MM is smarter about that. Skimmer's spots slowed down if I CQed on
the radio it was monitoring, but it was still able to get a few spots between

There are a number of software changes that would make Skimmer much more useful
under contest conditions. I can think of at least one logging program change
that would enhance Skimmer as well (being able to grab spots to VFO B on my K3
would have helped a lot.)

If I had it to do over, I would use Skimmer on at least two dedicated radios in
addition to the S&P radio (and maybe the run radio, too.) That would require
rewiring my switching system to route  antennas to receivers other than my
original SO2R pair. Probably some dedicated verticals and/or receive arrays
would be helpful, too.

My experience and reaction are similar to W4PA's: Skimmer is a lot like packet,
and it definitely helps. With an optimal setup, and more practice, I believe I
could have done even better on mults. Maybe not enough to win, but that's
because 20 was so bad for us up north.

I have to say, however, that I had a lot of fun using Skimmer. I've never felt
that way about packet. I used packet for a couple of all-out efforts back when
I first got serious about contesting in the late 90s. I used autotune amps so I
could point-and-shoot packet spots very fast. But my friend W1ECT shamed me by
pointing out that there was little skill involved in clicking on packet spots
to work mults. I knew he was right, because I quickly found using packet to be
boring -- not enough challenge. I've done all my single-op efforts unassisted
ever since. I've used packet extensively at multis over the years, but have
never liked it. I've even suggested informal packet-less competitions between
multis, but no one has been willing to take me up on it. I always look forward
to clearing out the spot window so I can tune for new mults.

So why was Skimmer fun? Well, I think it had a lot to do with the heavy
challenge I had getting it setup. Skimmer technology is fascinating, and
appeals to the software engineer in me (30 years in that business.) Also, it
was challenging to work out a system for making the most of my limited
configuration, and I was learning on the job so to speak. I was also awed by
how quickly Skimmer filled the bandmap, and very pleased that all the spots
were coming from *my* antennas. This was truly the list of calls that my
station could hear. It was actually gratifying near the end of the contest to
see, with a fair degree of certainty, that I had pretty-much cleared  the bands
of new mults.

If I were to continue to use Skimmer, however, I think it would remain fun for
only a few more contests. Once I optimized my configuration to eliminate the
awkwardness, and could see and work spots at will on all the open bands, then I
think it would be a lot like packet and I would get bored with it. Although it's
nice to see all the calls my station can hear, I would miss the old thrill of
the hunt -- working a new mult I found myself by tuning and listening.

Something to think about.

73, Dick WC1M (see below for station details)


160M  -  trapped vee @90', trapped vee @65'
 80M  -  delta loop @75' (broken), trapped vee @90', trapped vee @65'
 40M  -  Cal-Av 2D-40A @110', 4-square
 20M  -  4/4/4 SteppIRs @96'/64'/34' on TICs, C3E @50', 4-el @72'
 15M  -  4/4/4 SteppIRs @96'/64'/34' on TICs, C3E @50', 5-el @50'
 10M  -  4/4/4 SteppIRs @96'/64'/34' on TICs, C3E @50'
Tower#1:   Cal-AV 2D-40A, 4-el SteppIRs, 160/80 trapped vee
770-MDP:   Force-12 EF-420
AB-577 #1: Force-12 EF-515
AB-577 #2: Force-12 C3E

Delta loop and trapped vee hung from trees

580' beverage aimed 20-degrees


Elecraft K3 + LP-PAN + CW Skimmer + Alpha 87A, Ten-Tec Orion + Acom 2000A,
Writelog, W5XD+ keyer/switcher, homebrew Windows antenna switching/tuning
software ("AntennaMaster"), Hamation Relay Drivers, TopTen and KK1L SO2R
switches, Green Heron and Hy-Gain rotor controllers, microHam Stack Switch and

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