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The 2003 ARRL DX Contest

As those of you who read these reports regularly know, I like to set goals before a contest. This year I knew conditions were down quite a bit from the sunspot peak of a couple years ago plus my time would be limited. As I result I didn't really set a goal other than to think that I'd try for 300 or so QSO's. As I went along, that backed off to 250 QSO's and I also tried to make 100K points. Read on to see how all of that came out.

I got off to a good start on Friday evening as 20M was open world-wide and 15M was active with many of the SA and Caribbean stations. My first 10 QSO's included 4 continents - WP3R, IK0YVV, EA8BH, and P40Y. Only 2 to go for my contest WAC which is something I always shoot for in every big DX type contest. QSO #21 at 0100Z was JA3YBK on 20M, an easy QSO for continent #5. I heard KH7X on 10M, but he wasn't hearing me. However I did work him on 15M at 0122Z to complete my WAC in my first 26 QSO's.

Actually in looking at my log just now, I see I had a 22 minute WAC from 0110-0132Z with EA5FV, RZ3BY/0, 9Y4VU, PJ2T, KH7X (those 5 QSO's in a row in 12 minutes), and then D4B 10 minutes later.

Although I had 35 QSO's at 0143Z, they were not coming all that easily, so I took a break for a while and came back later, hopefully to find 40M in good shape and perhaps work a bunch of EU stations there.

I did get 18 QSO's on 40M, but they also were not easy QSO's. It was very evident that conditions were definitely poorer than last year and perhaps the poorest in a few years. I was happy with my number of QSO's - one of my best starts in a DX contest - but I knew that didn't mean any records for me this year. Only 4 of the 18 QSO's were from EU. At the end of that period I tried 20M and got OA4DKC and PY7ZZ, then 80M gave me WP3R and PJ7/ND5S, the latter a new band country.

During that time I had one of those unusual happenings. I called DL3TD on 40M, and heard another station a little off frequency sending my call, so I answered him instead - it was 6Y0T. Then went back and got DL3TD.

After my 58th QSO, I went to bed and returned to the contest at 1323Z to find EU fairly good on 15M. I put 41 QSO's in the log by 1423Z, all but a couple of them from EU and all but 3 on 15M. 10M was nowhere near as good to EU as 15 nor as good as it was last year. 24 minutes on 10M from 1440-1504 gave me only 10 QSO's, 3 of which were from SA/Caribbean, and EA8BH from AF. The higher latitude path to EU just wasn't working all that well.

A break for lunch, then back to the contest. 10M was a little better, but still nowhere near the rates of 50-70 or more I was hitting in the 2002 contest. I seldom saw the TR rate meter go above 40 this year except for one period Sunday morning I'll get to later. Most of my activity was on 10M from 1539-1713Z and that period only produced 35 QSO's, some of which were on 15M.

This was mostly a contest of working the common countries, and although I worked 71 countries in all, none were overall new ones for me, and only 5 were new band countries - D4B 20, N7OU/HI9 10, TG0AA 10, PY0FF 10, and the aforementioned PJ7 on 80.

The biggest difference between this year and last was my ability or lack thereof to work deep into EU or to work northern EU. 3 SM's, 1 OH (OH0Z), and 1 LA represented Scandinavia. 2 UA1's, 2 LY's, no ES's nor YL's was the story for deep into EU. Last year it was 32 Scandinavians and 56 UA1, ES, LY, YL stations. I think that is a dramatic demonstration of the difference between solar flux values of near 200 in 2002 and 120 or so this year.

To take the comparison a step further, let's look at my Asian (JA and UA0) QSO's. In 2002 I had 15, this year 3. The high latitude paths were much poorer this year.

Saturday night on 40M was worse than Friday night, so I didn't stick around too long then, making only 5 QSO's from NA and SA.

Earlier Saturday evening I had a couple interesting QSO's. I worked XT2WP easily on 15M which would have excited me a couple years ago as being a new country, but I now have it confirmed so it was just another QSO this time. Well, not really. I still enjoy working those somewhat 'rare' countries, and also enjoyed the QSO's with D4B, 9G5ZZ, and 5B4AGC which came 3 in a row around 2330Z. JA8RWU was coming through very weak and fluttery on 15M at 2351Z. I was very surprised to work him with just one call and no repeats of my info needed. Other than he and JA3YBK, I can't even remember hearing any other JA's this year.

Off to bed around 0500 and up at 1330Z to find conditions about the same as Saturday morning. EU good on 15M and OK on 10M. 30 QSO's the first hour not very good, but about as expected. My second QSO that morning was another 'rare' country in PY0FF on 10M, one of my new band countries.

Also during that time, I had my only comments from anyone in the contest when my friend Stefan, DL1IAO told me I had good signals.

I took an hour break from 15-16Z. I wasn't worried much about my score this year since my contest period would end early today anyway. More about that later. At 1600Z I found my best conditions of the contest. 34 QSO's came during the first hour which was not a lot mainly because I had worked many of the stations before, but all the QSO's were coming easily now with no repeats needed. This was especially true on 10M which resembled 10M from 2002 for an hour or so. This was the only time I noticed the TR rate meter going above 60, and it would have been even higher if it had happened Saturday morning when there would have been more stations I hadn't already worked.

At 1639 I got QSO number 250 and somewhere along the line I also passed the 100K point mark to realize a couple of my goals. Now it looked like I would get my primary 'goal' of 300 QSO's.

Skipping around from 20 to 15 to 10M the rest of the day brought me finally to 312 QSO's, 151 mults, and 141,336 points in 14.25 hours of operating.

I could have had a few more QSO's, but I didn't log a few stations who never sent my call correctly. I hate that because I never know if they have me logged correctly or not. How do I know if someone has me logged correctly if he sends K3WW? 599 KW, then never corrects it after I send K3WWP WWP TU 599 PA. Maybe he got it right - maybe not. I'm not a mind-reader so I just don't log those stations.

I had to quit around 2100Z because I was invited to a birthday party. The little girl next door, Haley had her 2nd birthday. I found that to be more delightful than the contest. Just watching the delight in that young face as she opened her presents was much better than anything from the contest. It was especially rewarding to see my presents of a toy bunny and coloring book received especially well.

Anyway back from that personal digression to the contest. In looking back at my ARRL DX results from the past several years I find this year to be my lowest totals since 1999 when I had 291-141-123,093-19.5. Even had I put in my normal 20 hours or so this year I don't think I would have gone much beyond 400 QSO's. I wasn't hearing as many stations, and working them was not as easy as in 2000-2002 during the peak sunspot years. It's discouraging to think that the next several years should each get worse in turn

Let's examine my results over the past 10 years in this contest:
Year  QSO   Mul    Points   Hours   Rate
1994   17    11       561    2.25    7.6
1995  104    70    21,840   13.00    8.0
1996   57    41     7,011    9.50    6.0
1997   91    64    17,472   10.25    8.9
1998  178   106    56,604   17.50   10.2
1999  291   141   123,093   19.50   14.9
2000  512   182   279,552   23.50   21.8
2001  558   200   334,800   24.25   23.0
2002  633   203   385,497   22.75   27.8
2003  312   151   141,336   14.25   21.9
I think that little chart shows how my results follow the sunspot cycle. Especially the Rate column.