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The 2003 CQWW DX Contest

I'm back now from my portable operation in the CQWW DX contest. No, I didn't go to some rare South Pacific location, and that wasn't me as one of the operators at 5U5F. I didn't even go to Aruba. I operated about 5 miles from my home QTH in Kittanning. Now, don't go running away just because I didn't operate from some exotic spot. I want to describe my truly minimal QRP operation and let you know that you too can have fun in a contest with a very simple setup.

I've decided to do this story a little different from my usual stories. Instead of telling it strictly chronologically, I'll do it in two parts. First I'll describe the station and any problems I had with it before and during the contest, then I'll go through the on-air results I got.

My story started back around the beginning of November when my cousin Virginia asked me if I could stay with her for a few days after Thanksgiving while her husband was off on a hunting trip. I immediately thought to myself that was the weekend of the CQWW DX test, but family comes first so I said I would.

She lives out of town away from the valley in which the main part of Kittanning lies and where I live. In other words her location should be much superior to mine for ham radio. I had wanted to hear what conditions were like out there for some time, and this would give me the opportunity to do so. I should at least be able to get my daily streak QSO without having to run into town each day. Maybe I could also get a few DX QSO's in the contest.

My friend Eric, KB3BFQ left his QRP+ rig with me a while ago since he wasn't going to be active for some time so I decided to use that since it is more portable than my TS-570D.

I threw everything together a couple of days before Thanksgiving. I grabbed a couple of coils of hookup wire from my wire box to use as an antenna. I took the QRP+ and a power-supply plus a very crude paddle that Eric and I constructed several years ago. Then I got out my old homebrew antenna tuner and SWR meter to couple the rig to the wire.

I set up the station Friday afternoon on a little round table about 20 inches in diameter. My seat was the bed most of the time until I got a folding chair on Sunday afternoon.

I spliced the ends of the coils of wire together (no soldering), tossed it out the window and attached the end of it to a grapevine that my cousin has in the backyard. I had no idea how long it was at that time. I did measure it after I got home so I could describe it in this story. It was a little less than 72 feet long. It was about 15 feet high coming out the window, and sloped down to about 4 feet high or less at the grapevine.

Without my computer, I'd be logging on paper. I should have made a paper dupe sheet, but I didn't, and when I got past the 150 QSO mark that I can usually reliably dupe check in my head, I had to go back through my log to do the dupe checking. I wasted a lot of time that way.

The paddle I used is made out of wood, some printed circuit board stock and a few bolts. The PC stock mounted on the wood acts as the paddle levers and the bolts attached to the wood base and the PC stock are the contacts. The springiness of the PC stock serves as the springs for the paddle. Very crude, but it did work with the built in QRP+ keyer. However it did give me problems. I just wasn't used to the different feel of it and often when I started to send K3WWP, I'd send an N instead of a K, then I'd usually wait through another QSO to avoid having anyone hearing me thinking I was NK3WWP. I made other errors with the paddle also.

My tuner has a coil with fixed taps wired to a rotary switch that works with my antennas at home, but I had no idea how it would work with my portable antenna. I never bothered to find the settings on the tuner for 20M and up until I was well into the contest. Even after I did find the settings, it was not all that easy changing bands quickly so I tended to stay on one band for a long while unlike at home where I can change instantly and often do a lot of band hopping. With the QRP+ and the homebrew tuner, there was a lot involved in changing bands.

The tuning of the antenna seemed to change at random so I thought I'd try some kind of a ground. I checked to see if the wall plug was grounded and it was so I connected my station ground to that. Now my tuning seemed more stable and with the grounding and at times opening the tuner and using jumpers on the coil, I got close to a stable 1:1 SWR on all the contest bands. 20M was the one band I had the most trouble with. It seemed every time I went back there, the tuning was different for some reason, and often I couldn't get it below 1.4:1 or so.

I was annoyed by the offset frequency in the QRP+. I'm used to the setting of 550 Hz in the TS-570D, and the QRP+ is quite a bit higher than that. I'm very used to zero beating by just tuning in a station till I get a beat note close to 550 Hz with the 570 and then I'm zero beat or very close. If I did that with the QRP+, I'd be off a couple hundred Hz and I often forgot to allow for the difference so I'd be slightly off frequency when I called a station.

Also I found out that the battery in the QRP+ was dead and that meant I had to practically re-program the memories each time I turned the rig on. It wasn't too much of a chore because all you do is turn on the rig with the MEM button pushed in to restore the frequencies to their defaults, but still the rig had to be changed to CW and the bandwith set each time. Oh, and the keyer speed as well. Sometimes it would default to 45 WPM, other times 10 WPM, etc.

I think from what I have said so far that you can see I was not all that organized and the setup was indeed truly minimal. Let's start now to describe the results I got.

I tried the station out Friday afternoon, and was impressed with the reception I was getting. It seemed much superior to what I was hearing back home. The signals were crisp and loud and the noise level was lower than at home. I guess that's when I decided I'd try to put in somewhat of a serious effort in the DX test. I made a couple contacts on 40M and 30M to see how I was getting out. I got only a 539 on 40M, but the 30M reports were 589 and 579.

I started out shortly after 0000Z Saturday. I got a regular QSO for the streak on 30M working AE4DT, then went off to the contest on 40M. I was right - reception out of the valley is vastly superior. EU signals on 40M seemed about the same as what I would get at home on 20M, or 15M. Wow! I wonder how easy it will be to work them if they are this strong. Well, pretty easy, I'd say. The pileups were tremendous as usual at the start of a contest, but I did make 3 easy QSO's with TM6X, IK2CIO, and VP9I before I quit to go spend time with my cousin. I thought I'd return later around 0400Z or so when EU is usually good for me on 40M at my home QTH. By then the tremendous pileups should be somewhat diminished.

I got back to the rig at 0430 and EU was still just as good on 40M. I actually started with an AF station when I worked EA8EA very easily. That at least was similar to my results at home. The northeast part of Africa is easy to work from home and it was also that way at my cousin's. In fact my next station was CT9M from the same general area. The ITU HQ station 4U1ITU followed. Then came TG0AA. Further down my log were D4B and CN2R from a couple somewhat rare countries. Both were worked very easily. At bed time I had a total of 24 contacts on 40M, mostly EU stations from 4U, S5, OK, SP, DL, GM, I, ON, GW, and F.

I got up the next morning at 1420Z and ran a string of stations on 15M before going down for breakfast. All were common EU stations from DL, HA, F, S5, OK, G, GM, 9A, and OH plus HC8N and KP2/N4EXA. Thanks to G4IFB in that time period for giving me an honest RST report of 449.

I didn't do a lot of operating Saturday as I spent a lot of time with my cousin. In fact, another half-hour or so around 1630-1700Z was it for the first day. In that half-hour I probably beat my biggest pileup of the contest when I worked P40TA through a lot of stations. I pretty much decided that my goal for the contest was just going to be to see how many different countries I could work. I finished the first day with only 47 QSO's.

The second day I had more time to spend in the contest and I started out at 0000Z on 20M and worked some Caribbean stations plus 5U5Z whom I had chased earlier without success on other bands. The 20M QSO was pretty easy. After 45 minutes on 20M, I went down to 40M where I was still amazed by the strength of the DX signals there.

I started off with EA6IB - an easy QSO through a small pileup. IH9P seemed very popular and each time I'd tune him in, there was a pileup after him, but I did finally get him. Some of the common EU countries were missing from my log. I never did work or even hear a Romanian station the whole contest. HB9 was another one, but after not getting one for the first half of the contest, I worked 2 on 40M within a minute and another one about 25 minutes later. I thought I might still need Prince Edward Island (the Canadian province) on some bands so I worked any VY2's that I heard although otherwise I made this just a DX contest for myself and avoided the W's and VE's. I worked VY2ZM and VY2TT easily on a few different bands.

One of the frustrating stations was DJ4AX. He was just booming in on 40M, but couldn't seem to hear me at all the many times I called him both Friday and Saturday night, but I was determined and finally did get him at 0632Z on Sunday. A very popular station was PX0F and he always had a huge pileup, but again I persisted and finally got him at 0639Z Sunday. Sometimes I get too stubborn for my own good and am determined to work a specific station even though I don't really need the QSO that badly. DJ4AX was definitely in that category. However since I was trying to work as many different countries in the contest as I could, I did want PX0F for that reason. Some other countries worked on 40M during that session were YU, PJ2, CT, LZ, T9, OE, 9A, and UA1.

I went to bed shortly after working PX0F and woke up around 1115Z. I was surprised to hear 8S2F coming through on 40M with a not too strong fluttery signal, and even more surprised when I worked him easily. That's probably the latest I've ever worked EU on 40M. CM2UE followed, then with conditions not all that good, I went back to bed till 1300Z.

When I got up, I spent about 20 minutes and 8 QSO's on 15M including new contest countries EW and YL. I tuned up to 10M and was delighted to find it wide open with good strong signals and I hung out there for the next 3 hours or so and had my best QSO rates of the contest. It seemed almost like we went back in time a couple years to the great 10M conditions of the sunspot cycle peak, although this time the stations didn't seem to extend as far up the band. I didn't notice much beyond 28150 whereas I had several QSO's in the 28200's a couple years ago.

Some of the interesting contacts on 10M were the following. TS7N who was another very popular catch with huge pileups. I found a lull in the pileups and got him easily. I always like working Albania ever since I read a book by a prominent DXer whose last country worked to get them all was Albania. So I stayed with ZA1A a few minutes till I got him. MU/DL2OBF was rather weak compared to other EU stations (QRP maybe?), but I worked him easily. At 1450Z I got my best catch of the contest. SU9NC gave me my first ever Egypt QSO for country # 203 with QRP and simple wire antennas. I worked H7A, but forgot which Central American country H7 belonged to till I looked it up and found it to be Nicaragua. Another D4B QSO came easily making him a two-bander so far. When I left 10M around 1715Z, I was up to 169 QSO's. That meant 77 QSO's on 10M in just about 3 hours.

After that, I went back to 15M and stayed there for a couple hours. I got 5U5Z and right after that it was D4B with just a single call for a third band. Still another pileup plagued station was 9Y4ZC whom I finally got with a single call when I tuned back to his frequency for a last try. In the same category was TK9A. Right after TK9A I worked N0IM just to put a USA station in the contest log to increase my country total. Phil, NP4Z had a good signal for his QRP operation. At least I assume he was QRP since he usually is. I grabbed VE2IM in case I needed zone 2 on 15M.

One interesting QSO came with WP2Z. I sent my call rather sloppily, more like K3WrP, but WP2Z came back with a snappy K3WWP 5998. I guess he recognized me from us having worked so often. Recognition in contests is an important asset and is one reason why successful contesters enter just about every event. We all get to know each other and just like family we can communicate very easily without even saying that much.

When 15M wound down I went to 20M around 2000Z. The band was just absolutely crowded from 14000 through 14100. I tuned up and down slowly and picked out those stations I thought I could work easily or those who would be a new contest country. I wish I had had a good 20M antenna at the top of one of Virginia's 40-50 foot trees. I could have really made a killing on 20M. As it was though, 20M was my poorest band. I did manage to get, among others, CQ0T, CT9M, CT3/OL8R, D44TD, RU1A, and PT5A in the half-hour or so I spent there.

I took some time off, then came back around 2200Z and spent the last couple hours jumping around the bands as best I could. I still needed 2 continents to make my goal of a contest WAC. I figured I probably wouldn't make it. However the last hour finally brought me a QSO with KH7X for OC. It was interesting to note that I hadn't quite got my SWR down to 1:1 when I was hopping around changing bands, and with the SWR up around 1.4:1 or so, I couldn't raise KH7X. I then fiddled around with the tuner and got my 1:1 and got him on the first call. I don't know if the SWR made the difference or if it was just a coincidence. Probably the latter as 1.4:1 isn't really very high.

I added some other new contest countries in the last couple hours from ES5MC, LY2IJ, CX7CO, CU2F, 8P5A, and RW2F. Still Asia eluded me till my very last QSO when I got P3A. Although a friend of mine said the openings to JA were the best he'd ever worked, I only heard a few weak JA's here and couldn't raise any of them for one reason or other. I had to go the other direction to get my Asia QSO.

With all the limitations I've described during the first part of this narration, I managed to make 230 QSO's of which 4 turned out to be dupes after final checking. I got my contest WAC. I worked 73 different countries in the contest. I think that definitely shows that you don't need much to be successful if you use CW as your operating mode. As I've repeatedly said you can have fun on the ham bands using CW, QRP, and simple wire antennas. This was an even more minimal QRP operation for me than what I do at home, yet 73 countries are in my top 5 total countries worked in a contest. I operated about 14.5 hours for an overall rate of only about 16 per hour. I could have done better in that regard if I'd had a computer or even a paper dupe sheet for dupe checking. That was the major time waster for me especially Sunday afternoon.

Now I'd love to put in a serious contest effort from Virginia's QTH some time. I imagine with better antennas (but still simple wire ones), my computer logging program, my TS-570D, and a better keyer/paddle combo, I might approach 1000 QSO's since I can hear so much more from her location than my home QTH in the valley. I've made 633 QSO's in a big DX test from the valley, so I just wonder.

Let's close this by looking at some statistics. My country totals per band were: 40M-33, 20M-23, 15M-42, 10M-35. QSO totals per band (less dupes) were 40M-56, 20M-26, 15M-63, 10M-81. By continent (including dupes): AF-20, AS-1, EU-150, NA-38, OC-1, SA-20. New band countries: UA1 on 40M, D4 on 40M, 5U on 20M, SU on 10M (overall new country # 203).

So think about what I've said if you're in a situation where you think you can't do well in a big DX contest. Come the February ARRL DX Contest, jump in and give it a try.

And a final note. On Monday I worked T77C on 12M to make it 74 countries worked in 3 days. That also gave me QSO's on all bands except 160M and 17M during my stay.