The 2006 QRP ARCI Hoot Owl Sprint
As we did last year, Tom KB3LFC and I went to the top of a hill on his wooded property to operate the sprint.
We went up a week earlier to clear out the area of some tree limbs, trees, brush, and grass. That went without incident and we had our area set up for the sprint. At least the ground was prepared. We also added another buried ground wire to the one that remained from last year.
Now it was just a matter of waiting for the day of the sprint. When that came, Tom picked me up in his Ram and we headed to the site.
Setting up the equipment went fairly smoothly. We had a different style of tent this year, and it went up in no time at all unlike last year's fiasco we had with that tent. Likewise setting up our equipment on the table went smoothly.
When we got the equipment set up, Tom soldered a couple alligator clips onto some wire to connect up the gel cell to his rig. While he was doing that, I fooled around setting up an antenna as I wanted to work a few stations in the CQ WPX contest which was still going on for another hour and a half or so.
I figured we'd put the antenna up higher a little later so I just ran a short random wire from the tent to a low tree. I listened for a while and the CQ WPX stations were booming in. I tried working a couple of them, but didn't have any luck. My homebrew SWR meter wasn't working for some reason (I didn't have an opportunity to try it out beforehand) and I was just guessing at the settings. Obviously I wasn't even coming close. Now I started to think of last year and the troubles I had. I hoped they weren't going to repeat this year.
I hadn't hooked up the ground wire yet, and I thought that may make a difference so I hooked it up. I was still guessing at the tuner settings and still not making any contacts. Fortunately Tom had brought an extra SWR meter he wanted to try out and kindly loaned that to me. I found out I was getting a very high SWR no matter how I set the tuner.
Tom finished his soldering and some other things while I was fooling with the antenna and tuner. When he was done, we got to putting up the antennas for real. We did mine first. After some looking around the site, I decided to run a sloping end fed random wire. After a couple tries, we got the wire up over a tree limb above the tent about 12 feet high. I then fastened the far end to a tree branch about 6-7 feet off the ground. I guess it was something like 70-80 feet long as it ran from the 6-7' high branch over the limb and down to the tent.
I tried it out briefly, and it looked a little better, but I still wasn't getting the SWR down. We had to get Tom's antenna up now. He picked a run of 3 or 4 branches that were uniformly about 15' or so high. Incidentally I'm very poor at guessing distances so take these figures as only extremely rough estimates. It took several tries at each branch to get the wire over the branches using the spool of wire as a tossing weight. The last branch eluded my pitching arm though as the spool just got too light as the wire ran off of it. So we used a hammer and some rope to throw and pull the wire over the last couple branches.
Now we got back to tuning the antennas. With the high SWR, we were both interfering with each other so badly we said the only thing we could do was to alternate 5 minutes on and 5 minutes off. Tom had just clipped his ground lead to the ground terminal on my tuner. We thought that may have been the trouble, so I ran a separate ground wire from his rig to our ground rod. That helped somewhat, but it still wasn't all that good.
Finally I got a little more familiar with Tom's SWR meter, and after twiddling with the controls on my tuner, I found a setting that gave me a 1:1 SWR. Likewise Tom tuned his setup for 80M with a good SWR. That cured the interference problem. We now weren't hearing each other at all.
Also my performance had improved. Before I got the good SWR I did make a couple contacts but they were rough ones. Now I was finding it easy to make QSO's.
I was hearing many EU stations on 40M in the CQWPX test. Many with good strong signals and it was still well before sunset here. That location of Tom's is really great. I kidded him that I'd like to set up a remotely operated station there.
Even though they were strong, I wasn't being heard by the EU stations except for AN6IB on the Balearic Islands. However he just never got my call right so I didn't count the QSO, but it was nice to know I was being heard in EU before sunset on 40M.
I worked a couple more stations in the WPX then had some chow before the Hoot Owl sprint started. Tom's wife JoAnne had brought us up a 'care package' of food and snacks. Thanks, JoAnne.
I started off the sprint doing a bit of S&P. That resulted in a couple QSO's, but there were not many stations being heard calling CQ, so I decided I'd call CQ myself and see what happened. I parked on 7029.2 for a couple of minutes with no luck, did a bit more S&P, well S'ing anyway - there weren't any stations to pounce on. I mentioned to Tom that everyone must be on 20M now, so I checked there and did hear quite a bit of activity. I was doing a 40M single band entry though so I didn't try any of the 20M stations.
When I came back to 40M, I parked on 7031.5 and called CQ. Now the results started coming. When 9 PM came, I had 16 QSO's in the log. I thought I might be able to make 50-60 QSO's or so as the stations started coming to 40 from 20, but the rush never materialized. Tom was finding it even slower on 80M.
One of the highlights for me was when Tom tapped my arm and pointed out in the field. There was a beautiful deer standing there maybe 100 feet or so away staring at us wondering what those two were doing. I'm not a hunter so I don't get the opportunity to see deer up that close and personal very often. I continued calling CQ and watching the deer until it ran away after a few minutes.
I was able to hold the 7031.5 frequency for about 3 hours straight. That is unusual in that I am usually stepped on sooner or later while I'm calling CQ, but not tonight. That shows that either activity was down or my signal from that hill was stronger than what I put out from my normal valley QTH. Perhaps it was a combination of both.
Still even though I had the open frequency, the QSO's came slower and slower. In the 9 PM hour, I only made 9 QSO's. There was a 21 minute gap where I had no answers to my CQ's. The 10 PM hour showed 9 QSO's again, then one final QSO in the 11 PM hour. By that time both Tom and I were ready to call it quits, which we did around 11:25 PM.
I wound up with 35 QSO's in 16 sections. That was 5 less QSO's and 4 less sections than last year even though last year I missed virtually the first hour of the sprint with rig/battery problems. All my QSO's this year were with stations in the northeast quarter of the USA and a few Ontario stations. I believe my most distant QSO was KW4JS in TN or NE9H in IL.
Tom's totals were also lower than last year although I don't have the exact figures for him.
Still it was an enjoyable time, and again I thank Tom for the opportunity of doing it.
I also learned from the experience. I'm sure those of you who operate multi-xmtr setups in contests or in the field on FD know this already, but being a single op all my ham career except for the past two Hoot Owl sprints, I didn't know. If you want to keep from interfering with the other members of your group, run separate ground wires or at least separate wires to a central ground point rather than from rig to rig. Also you must get the SWR of all rigs and antennas down to 1:1 to avoid interference. At least that held true in our situation this year. Last year we didn't have any co-interference so I guess we hit it right back then.
Thanks to all who worked us. It was nice to work so many NAQCC members. We hope those whom we worked who are not NAQCC members will join our 1,400+ members and take part in our many activities.