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The 2004 January NAQP Contest

I was 'fired up' about this contest since I had recently resurrected CT as my contesting program of choice after trying out several different programs. CT was my original choice several years ago when I first started contesting with the aid of computer logging. For one reason or another I abandoned it and switched over to TR. I used TR for quite some time even though I was never really completely happy with it. I didn't like the idea of it having two different sets of programmed exchanges, one for a 'CQ' mode and one for an 'S&P' mode. I'd often accidentally switch between the two modes and when I'd press F1 to send my call in what I thought was S&P mode, I'd wind up starting to send a CQ instead and have to quickly hit ESC to cancel that, hit tab to get back to the correct mode and hit F1 again. This brings up another shortcoming with TR. When I'd abort sending via ESC, there was a short but noticeable delay before it would send something else.

I tried several other contesting programs off-air and they all seemed to have some feature that I didn't like. Some of them only supported one specific contest or only a limited number of contests. Others seemed good, but they were shareware and the fully functioning version was quite expensive for my very limited income. Still others seemed cumbersome to use or had far more features than I needed for my simple SO QRP contesting. A couple of them seemed really good, were freeware and worked well in my off-air simulations. One was GenLog which supported over 200 different contests. However when I tried it on air on my old 66MHz shack computer, the CW it sent was choppy and it just generally ran slowly. It probably would be very good on a faster computer.

As I'm typing this, I remember now that one reason I abandoned CT was that the freeware version I had was limited in what it could do, and the commercial version was quite expensive. Recently CT was released as freeware up through its latest version (v9), so I went back to it. Since that release, it has been upgraded to v10 and continues to be completely free. The latest major upgrade was to add a template for the NAQP's and the NA Sprints. I tested the program off-air extensively and found some bugs that I reported to Ken, K1EA (CT's creator). He came up with the fixes to those and other bugs reported via the CT reflector.

Just one more paragraph about CT, then off to the actual contest report. With CT, the keying and performance in general were excellent on my old shack computer. Using it seemed much more intuitive than any of the other programs I'd used. Going from CQ to S&P came very quickly to me and was just like second nature. The exchanges sent by the F keys are the same in each mode, so no confusion there. After aborting sending with ESC, you could immediately send something else. It is just a delight to use and will be my program from now on when I'm contesting.

My goal for the contest was to reach the 500 QSO mark as I had done the previous two January NAQP's. I figured it would be easy with the aid of CT. I got the program all set up the day before the contest, programming the exchanges, making sure my computer clock was accurate, etc. Then came news on the CT reflector Saturday morning that a final NAQP bug-fix version of CT was available for download, so I got it and installed it.

I started out at 1800Z on 15M. There didn't seem to be a big rush of activity in the contest, but conditions seemed good. Sam, VE5SF was first into my log at 1801Z, and the action continued as I went up and down the band, albeit my rate was short of the 50 I'd need to reach 500 QSO's. At 1830 I logged only my 21st QSO - Greg, K4NO in AL. That was on 20M as I'd pretty much worked all the really strong stations on 15M by then and started band hopping to see how conditions were on the other bands. Earlier QSO # 10 provided the first and only problem with CT I encountered in the contest. I worked N2NL/MM who gave his section as R2. CT wouldn't accept that, and I had to enter a fake state to log the QSO. I figured I could fix it up after the contest. I thought quickly enough to enter a state I had already worked so it wouldn't count as a multiplier since /MM stations count for a QSO, but not a multiplier.

My sojourn to 20M netted 18 QSO's in 20 minutes which was a little more like it, but things were still going slowly and at 1900 I had only 41 QSO's logged. I'd definitely have to pick up the pace. Back to 15M where I picked up a few more including two SD stations - K7RE and WD0T. It was a secondary goal to try to get a WAS in the contest, so at least SD was out of the way, even though it actually is not that rare in contesting these days.

I wondered if 10M might be open so I slipped up there and found a few stations, mostly from the mid-southwest part of the country like TX, NM, CO, AZ. In fact along with VE5SF and Loco, XE2MX, stations from those states were all I worked on 10M at that time as the opening seemed rather localized. I should have 75 QSO's at 1930 to keep on pace for my goal, but my log showed only 66. I was a little closer to the pace, but still not there. That would be a repeated theme for the next few hours as I'll show.

There were quite a few interesting or at least different names that showed up in the contest. There were Loco (XE2MX), BB (K3CQ - one of a few stations I got via CQ), Duck (K8DD), Ludwig (WX3M), Isaac (NJ3C), Hoot (N2GA), Jack (N4CW - I'm so used to typing in Bert when I work that station), Putz (KT8X), Ace (KM4M), Fos (N3KCJ - who sent the name and section run together as Fosma which confused me for a second or two), Ho (W8MJ), Ez (K2AAW). I guess that's about it. It seems everyone else was named Bob - well anyway I sure worked a lot of Bob's this time around. Another interesting quirk about names and callsigns was having both K4FCG and N4FCG in the contest. That definitely would have confused my brain in dupe checking, but of course the computer had no problem. I worked both stations on 40M back to back at 2316.

I continued to fool around jumping from 10M to 15M to 20M for the next couple hours. 15M got quite good around 2000 or so, and the 2100 hour gave me 49 QSO's. Still at 2200 with 168 QSO's in 3.5 hours, I was still 7 QSO's short of a 50 overall rate. I did have some hope though as I'd still have 20, 40, 80, and 160M going into the evening. My last 10M QSO had come at 2121 with Lee, KY7M in AZ. I closed out 15M with Geo, W0UA in CO at 2215.

Just after that at 2217 I checked on 40M. 25 QSO's in 21 minutes there pleased me and I felt better about my goal now although I was still off the pace. At 2230 it was 4 hours and 194 QSO's which was about as close as I got to that magic 50 rate.

Something happened to the bands around 2300 or so. 20M had pretty much died out, and that seemed early for that to be happening. Also I was working fewer W1, W2, W3, W8 stations on 40M and more W5, W0 stations. 40M was going into long skip far too early and I was missing a lot of the close in stations there. By the time 2330 came, my goal had pretty much seemed really out of range. The 5 hour mark showed 233 QSO's, now 17 short of what I needed, and with only 80M working well for me now, I knew I wouldn't make it.

However, even 80 wasn't all that good. My first extended visit there from 2349-0044 gave me only 38 QSO's. After that I checked 40M and found some short skip had returned there. I worked KT1V and K1DG in NH and a couple of VA stations. However the short skip was quite directional and only certain areas provided workable signals. The areas did change from time to time and I also worked PA, NJ, MI, but at the same time I was working CA easily. It was kind of strange.

At 0125, even 80M was in rather long skip as I worked some TX and OK stations quite easily. Checking my progress, around 0130 with 7 hours and 319 QSO's I decided to take my second half hour break. I was certain now I would miss my goal of 500 QSO's, but I knew I had worked a lot of states. Maybe I could make my WAS - well probably not since I hadn't worked KH6 or KL7 yet and was unlikely to do so. I knew the only chance I had might be on 40M. Certainly not on 80 or 160M. I wound up with 45 states, also missing NE, MT (where was K7BG?) and VT.

It was getting to be a struggle making QSO's on 80 and 160M when I returned at 0201. I plodded on till 0333 and said that's enough. I quit at 370 QSO's in 8.5 hours, only a 43.5 rate. That was disappointing, but I knew it wasn't my fault. Conditions just weren't supportive like they were in 2002 and 2003. I was more efficient this year using CT than I was the previous 2 years. Otherwise my station and antennas were exactly the same. Activity seemed to be about the same, although it might have been down slightly according to the impression I got. It will be interesting to see a report on the overall contest in the NCJ. I didn't work as many non-W/VE stations this year with only KP4, XE, and ZF providing 4 QSO's. Also I didn't hear the big contesters working the DX stations as much as the last couple years.

Well, I lied in that paragraph. I didn't really quit. I decided to put in another hour or so and returned to the bands at 0430 for a final go. I wanted to make it to 400 QSO's at least. When I hit 401 around 0530 I quit for real at 9.5 hours and a rate of just 42.2. That final hour showed 160M pretty good. I worked the stations I expected to be able to work there. On 80M I was having trouble though and many stations weren't hearing me, especially the slightly more distant ones like the W0's and W5's. Also the southern stations in FL, AL, MS as it must have been noisy down there.

Let's look at some stats now. First the story at the end of each of my 9.5 hours of operating. The columns are: Hour #, ended at, total QSO's, QSO's that hour, overall rate.

1 -   1900  41   41  41.0
2 -   2000  92   51  46.0
3 -   2130 140   48  46.7
4 -   2230 194   54  48.5
5 -   2330 233	 39  46.6
6 -   0030 267   34  44.5
7 -   0130 319   52  45.6
8 -   0300 353   34  44.1
9 -   0500 385   32  42.8
9.5 - 0530 401   16  42.2
Next QSO's and mults by band.

160M -  21   9
 80M - 114  30
 40M -  83  29
 20M -  68  24
 15M -  83  24
 10M -  32   8
The bottom line - I had a good time working all my contesting friends. It was a little disappointing falling so far short of my goal. I really enjoyed using CT in the contest. It is a true joy to have such a great contesting program. Remember, you too can have a ball contesting with QRP and simple wire antennas as I do - especially without the task of paper logging. Just because you're a minimal QRPer, that doesn't mean you can't use amenities like computer logging. Hope to see you in the next contest, whatever that might be for you and me.