[CQ-Contest] ARRL CW 1998 at PA3DZN

Alex C.J. van Eijk DXIS at wxs.nl
Mon Feb 23 23:33:25 EST 1998

Hi gang,

The ARRL DX is a contest I have come to appreciate for its relative
simplicity as to where to point your beam(s) and which geographic area
to work. This would be the first time that I operated the ARRL DX from
Europe, as a SO/AB/HP entry. Here is the review of my participation.

PREPARATIONS: In technical terms my station was up to the task long
before the contest. I'm also an active DXer thus the station must always
be in good shape. Two weeks prior to the contest I installed a 80/160
K9AY terminated loop system as a low bands receiving system, which is a
good compromise if one does not have the real estate for some Beverages
or EWEs. Days before the contest I was already tiptoeing conditions in
general across the HF/LF spectrum; even 10m looked promissing in the
preceding days, but no Qs were made on that band during the weekend.
Based on this propagation sniffing I designed my bandplan for the
contest. Part of the preparations was also to get the right rhythm for
sleep/operating; there exists a 2-3 hour period from about 0800-1100z
during which none of the bands would be productive and therefore would
be ideal to catch up on some sleep. The remaining hours I simply had to
be on the bands! Adjusting your body mechanics (creating a jet-lag) is
not difficult to do, but it overlooks the fatigue factor as a result of
listening to statics, hiss, CW clicks, making QSO's (really!) and so on.
This part of the physical preparation eventually failed: after nearly 27
hrs of operating, I fell asleep at 05z Sunday morning and in doing so I
missed a crucial run on 80 and 40 to mid- and western NA. Fortunately
the F1-Repeat function was not activated at that time.... To prepare
mentally, I set the objectives: 1) Deliver a EU top-5 score, 2) beat
G4BUO's score, and 3) a QSO total of somewhere near 3K. Reality factor I
estimated at 75%. I knew beforehand that 40m (a one element fixed delta
loop as antenna) was going to be the bottleneck for any such serious
attempt to grab the gold, which proved to be right.

Friday 20 February. During the day I prepared the computer log, ran some
small pile-ups to the US on 20m to test the software, keying, check on
any anomalies, but all worked fine. I prefer to log on a laptop because
the keyboard area is smaller (less hand movement) and the display is
right in front of your nose (less head movement). Important of course is
to have a decent keyboard. I am using an obsolete Toshiba T1910, 486/25,
no color, no fancies, good keyboard. Very basic, thus ideal for the job.
At 1800z, after diner, I go to sleep until 2330z.

I get to the station some 15 minutes before the start. My bandplan
suggests to take of on 80m. A quick glance at 40m (the obvious
alternative) indicated that this was correct, as 40m showed meager
signals from NA. On 80m signals were plenty and strong, and even on 160m
healthy signals were coming in from the Caribbean and NA. LF was looking
good. At 23:50 I searched for a clear frequency in the 3.530-3.540 range
(on all bands I purposely used a frequency available to US
General-and-up classes) and gave a few contest style QSO's. So realistic
apparently that some were already giving me a contest exchange! Never
mind. A few seconds before the contest I switched logs and at 00z sharp
K5MR was the first in the log. However, the going was slow, and quickly
I decided that I rather go around S&P-ing for the first hour on 80 and
40m. Fourty was not in good shape, though good enough for S&P work, but
resulting in only 50 Qs the first hour. The next hour I had parked my
VFO on 3.532 and logged 135 Qs. At 02:00z I ventured to 160m, selected
1.827 as my target and netted 65 Qs with 19 mults in an hour's time.
Still no great rates, I logged VY2OX as PEI mult, and then it dried up.
For the next 20 minutes I did some S&P on 40m, band still sounds bad,
yielding only a few new QSOs. I returned to 80m, where on 3.527 I
managed to get foot on the ground and stay put for an hour having a
relatively good run. A quick side trip to 40m still had that band in bad
shape. In a hurry I left 40m for 160m at 0424z. Topband yields another
16 Qs in 20 minutes, but no new multipliers. Besides, the band is more
or less useless due to an enormeous wideband clicking signal from some
station. Alright then, back to 80m, where from 0450 - 0600 another 73 Qs
found their way in my log, including many west coast stations who where
very strong at about 0530z. The first dupes started to show. I found
dupes to be something peculiar to the ARRL DX contests. When I operated
the ARRL DX CW in 1997 as D25L, 40m only, over 5% of the QSO total were
dupes. This year would be not much different with a dupe percentage of
3. I rather log dupes and swiftly continue with the pile-up (if any)
than going into a debate whether or not someone is duping me. Just log
it! But it strikes me as surprising time and again. At some point I was
called by 5 dupes in a row! Back on 160m at 0604z, I worked 40 stations
and 4 new mults until sunrise 40 minutes later, and I tried my luck on
80m with working deep into NA but not with overwhelming success, and
only ND and NE were added as mults. It was probably  getting too late
for that. My best shot at this time would be 40m, and I fired up at
0710z to work 65 stations with 14 mults including some of the west coast
states but of course not as many as I had wanted. I made a mental note
that I would have to do more 40m on Sunday morning - but that was not to
be. At 08:39z I logged QSO #520 when also 40m closed, which is
noteworthy saying 2 full hours passed my sunrise. I disappeared to bed
and must have fallen asleep within 5 seconds. At 1030z I woke up, had a
quick shower to freshen up, and then a quick breakfast while tuning 20m.
The first NA signals started to come through, and nicely at that. I
started to S&P from the bottom to the very end of the band, getting
remarkable rates in doing so! Sometimes I purposely S&P from top to
bottom, because while reaching the other end of the band one easily gets
tempted to quit tuning and simply park your VFO to call CQ. Doing a band
both ways is sort of an insurance to cover it all. Clearly the band was
open only to areas where sunlight was just getting through. An hour and
a half later I was 136 Qs and 29 mults down the road. Ata-boy, we are
looking good! A glance at my bandplan reminded me to check 15m for early
openings, and boy was it open. Nine-plus signals from K4OJ, N3RS, KC1XX,
W1XM, K1AR, to name a few. Although 20m was doing fine, I decided to
move to 15m and work the multitude. Nearly two hours on that band
resulted in 113 QSOs with, again, 29 mults. During this period I
regularly checked 10m for that elusive opening, but zip. Both 15m and
20m were open to the US now, and given that 15m was slowing down
somewhat I returned to 20 at 1423z. I found plenty to work, and plenty
found me. 14.033 and the surrounding 200 Hz was declared my domain for
the next hour and a half, although often I had to shift up/down a few Hz
to get away from clicking signals or intruding collegue contesters, but
the necessary frequency defence was also applied as appropriate which
sometimes worked and sometimes didn't. Although remaining on a frequency
is important (think of all the DX spots that put you someplace), one
should not loose the objective which is to participate in a contest.
Fighting over the control of a frequency can greatly reduce the rate and
is not worth the price, so it is better (for both!) to give in and find
another spot. Maybe I am naive in this respect but I still ask 3 times
QRL? on a seemingly clear frequency, and only when I hear no reply then
I hit F1. Needless to mention how many times a "TEST DE ..." hit me in
the face on my running frequency. Back to the subject, great signals
from all over NA on 20m, but at 1600z I got this feeling that I was
missing something on 15m. I QSYed, found great signals, and I stayed
until the band folded at 1800z. I made a note on my bandplan that on
Sunday I would have to reverse this operating of today, i.e. be more on
15m during the day and take 20m later. The operating on 15m resulted in
a great multiplier score and the #1000 QSO mark was already passed at
1619z. Just after 1800z I arrive on 20m, and worked anything that moved
on the band. I was now going for quantity, not quality! A handful of new
mults and 250 stations were worked on 14.027 until also 20m became
unproductive at 2100z. And this posed a problem. This time is actually
still too early for 40m, unless you can push a really big signal into
the daylight zone with, for example, a beam antenna. My delta loop was
not enough to challenge the rules of Mother Nature and until 2300z the
Qs only trickled in and obviously no records were set here. To make
things worse, the PC (not my logging laptop) apparently could not deal
with the RF environment and the movements of the mouse/cursor seemed
somewhat sluggish. Then finally the COM ports did not respond anymore
(sigh). I lost Qs on 40m while I was trying to get the PC back to work
for no apparent reason because the PC was not used in the contest
process. I guess the slow and boring rate on 40m lurked me into getting
involved with the PC problem in an attempt to fix it (not so). At about
2300z I was back in full swing on 40m and I actually managed to hold on
to a frequency for a while. However, frustrated with the results (78 Qs
over a 2-hour period), I went to 80m at 00z.

Eighty sounds great again, and I do some S&P-ing and running. Again I
target numbers of Qs, reasoning that I already worked nearly all mults
that can be worked at this time, propagation wise. Except for VE9VIC in
NB, no new mults were worked but a decent 106 Qs were logged until my
QSY to topband at 0211z. One-sixty was again in great shape but I found
mostly the same stations which I had worked the night before. After
completing 26 Qs and finding 3 new mults, I checked again 40m and tried
unsuccessfully to create some noise there. Fifteen minutes later I
escaped to 80m, the band that I had come to appreciate for its good
rates. I glued my VFO on 3.535 and about 100 stations ended up in my
log. But the going was slow, and after 17 hours of non-stop operating,
boredom and fatigue hit me hard. It must have been about 05z when Mister
Sandman took me of this planet, where I returned hours passed my
sunrise! OK, damage done, but that black hole on the rate graph kept
gaping at me. (Actually, it still does). I could not possibly make up
for the mults and Qs that I have missed in that period of time.
Transposing the number of Qs from the previous morning, I concluded that
I could have logged an extra 200 stations, let alone multipliers. I
resumed operating at 1100z, and I was pleased to find the band good
open. For an hour and a half I stayed on 14.037 working only 76
stations. Searching the band resulted in *DUPE* messages on my screen.
It appeared I had worked all participating stations. At that time I had
nearly 600 Qs on 20m, and 15m lagged 200 by that number. At noon I stood
at 1800 QSOs, and with 12 hrs to go the objective of 3000 QSOs appeared
realistic. From 1246z I ran on 15m for an hour logging 50 stations, but
no new mults. There were still quite a few mults out there to be worked
but it was too early to reach these areas on 15m at that time. At 1400z
I was back on 20m where I would stay until 1500z working precisely 100
stations, of which 10 dupes. Beats me! The #2000 mark was passed at
1452z. Some quick mathematics showed that I would have to stay at an
100/hr rate until the end to get to 3K Q's. Obviously this was not going
to be, with another lousy 40m stint in foresight. For the 752nd time
that day I cursed myself for falling asleep at 05z. The modified
bandplan had me on 15m an hour earlier than the day before, and it was a
strategic decision to stay on until the band folded, reasoning that the
hunderds of difference in QSO totals between 15 and 20 was simply too
much. Besides, 15m had the potential to yield many more multipliers and
20m had nearly all at this time. With the VFO stationary on 21.035 I
worked nearly all mults except for DC (!), SD, PEI, LAB, MB, SK and NWT.
About 350 Qs were logged, and 15m actually showed a higher total than
20m! I was pretty pleased with that result. I left 15m at 1810z, having
logged 766 QSOs of which 24 were dupes. Twenty sounded different from
the previous night. Fewer and weaker signals, and I feared that staying
on 15m for so long had not been a good choice. The contrary became
evident rather quickly, though. The band would close at about 2100z, and
I managed to work just over 200 stations in the 3-hour period, picking
up the occasional mult and the more-than-occasional dupe. Clearly I was
falling behind the 100/hr rate required to reach the 3000 QSOs. At
2100z, forced by the closure of 20m, I ventured into the world of 7 mHz
which opposed to the previous nights showed more and stronger signals.
After working anything that moved on 40m, I searched for a clear spot
(hi) and actually got something going there. I was impressed, although I
worked only 100 stations during 2 hours. This period was almost
mult-free, were it not for KJ9C to give me IN. The last hour of the
contest was hectic. Forty was going steady, but slow. At 2315z I decided
to have a look on 80 and I found VE1ZJ. I moved him to 40m for the NS
mult, but nearly 10 minutes had already elapsed. By 23:30z I peeked on
160m: zip except for the usual. I call CQ and VO1MP replies with the NF
multiplier. A few more CQs and nothing new happened. At 2345z, after
scanning 160 and 80 as good as I could to check for new mult or new
stations, I went to 40m to sit out the contest on 7.041. Given that I
had ignored 40m the first day, and missed the sunrise opening Sunday
morning, a few mults into the mid-west would a welcome addition to the
40m score. Judging from the grayline there should be possibilities to
work into IL, IN, MO, CO, to name a few. It was a good move. WO9S called
to give IL, and in the very last minute of the contest W0SF gives IA for
a new one. That was tough! The closing seconds of the contest were spent
in an exchange with VE3CSK, QSO number 2677.

THE RESULT: If you are still reading this message by now (...), then you
have come to the point where the results are displayed:

         Q     S    D
160    162    29    5
80     484    44   17 
40     274    37    3
20     935    59   31
15     742    54   24
10       0     0    0 -> Need I say more?
      2597   223   80  Score: 1,737,393

Did this meet the objectives? Whether it is a Top-5 score remains to be
seen. I did not beat G4BUO's 1997 score, but at least a got near the
3000 QSOs. With 2597 I am nearer to 3K than 2K :)

- I need a beam on 40! 
- Sleep hurts your score, especially at sunrise.

Alex C.J. van Eijk
Email: DXIS at wxs.nl

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