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The 1998 ARRL DX Contest

It's about an hour after the end of the ARRL DX CW Contest, and I want to get my thoughts of the contest down here while they are fresh in my mind. As I write, I am also watching the closing ceremonies of the Winter Olympics. It's interesting to draw a parallel between the Olympics and the DX contest. Both events bring together people from many different countries, and many different lifestyles. All with similar goals - to be the best at what they do. Many Olympic athletes realize they have no chance of winning a gold medal, or even a silver or bronze. Still they compete to achieve their personal best. It's the same way with contesters. Personally I know I can never win the big prize, especially in a DX contest because I do not have the resources to do so. You just can't do it with a simple wire antenna in your attic which is in a house down in a river valley. I compete to better my previous efforts in a contest. I did that this time, making more DX QSO's than I ever have in a DX contest. Therefore, I am a winner. That's how I look at it.

I was not as optimistic going into this contest as in the CQ WW DX test last November because the solar flux was almost 20 points lower this time, and the A index (0 last Nov) was just coming back down from a very disturbing 26 a couple days ago.

Since the sun set almost an hour and a half later than in November, I thought 20M would still be open as the contest started, so I decided to begin my efforts on that band. It was a good decision as it provided me with a fairly good start in the contest. The only DX QRP station I worked in the whole contest was my first QSO - VP9ID who had some very good sigs for QRP. I worked a C6 and a V2 for QSO's # 2 & 3. Then came a shock and a pleasant surprise. Those who are familiar with me know that I have always had trouble working certain countries, and will also be surprised to know that QSO # 4 was with JA3ZOH. That's right, Japan. It was an easy QSO - just one call, and he copied my call and exchange without any repeats. That turned out to be my only JA in the whole contest. I never even heard any others (well, a couple very weak ones, but no workable ones).

I finished out the hour, took a short break, and returned to see what was on 40M. I wasn't overly optimistic considering my poor results on Friday night in the CQ WW. It was a little better this time. Only common NA stations, but at least I was working them. I even worked a couple EU on 40 a little later in the evening. S52AW, who has great 'ears', and EA7KW copied me fairly easily.

I thought if 40M was good this time around, I should probably give 80M a try. Good choice! My first QSO on 80M was G0IVZ. I very seldom work EU on 80 with my short low antenna. I worked the common Caribbean DXpedition stations on 80M - V26B, K8CC/C6A, 8P9JG, FM5DN, VP5FXB, etc. However the highlight of my stint on 80M was working OM5DX - the deepest into EU I have worked with QRP on 80. It took a bit of work for him to get my call right, but he did take the time, and I appreciate that. A couple more Caribbean stations, then I quit for the night.

I was wondering if we would have the great EU openings on 15 and 10 like we did in November. I didn't think we would, and I was right when I started in Saturday morning around 1400Z. I went right to 15M, and only heard a few weak EU sigs, but plenty of American stations, so I worked them, starting with LT1F, and finishing the hour with XE2/W5WMU. I figured I better get to 20M, and see if EU was coming through there.

EU was there, but nothing spectacular or overly strong. I worked DL, PA, OH, ON, G, and I, then swung back to 15 to catch 6D2X. Still no EU on 15 so it was back to 20 again. There were good and bad periods with good sigs for maybe 20-30 minutes, then weak again for 15-20 minutes. I caught UA2AA for somewhat rare Kaliningrad (at least rare for me), SP2FAX, RU1A, HG3DX, OZ5W, plus many more, mostly east EU. There was no flood of OH, SM, LA like in November though. I only managed a couple OH and SM stations. One annoyance was chasing ES80R for an hour or so with no success. He was very strong, but just couldn't copy (or even hear) me. And I needed Estonia for an overall new country for me. How can stations (even weaker stations) in the same area copy me well, and he couldn't? Oh well...

Guess what? A little later I run across ES80Q..... (oh, you guessed it already). That's right, got him on the first call. Strange how these things work. Now with that QSO, I have worked all of what I consider the mainstream countries of Europe with the lone exception of Romania, which has been my most wanted country since working Japan and Russia the past couple of years.

EU continued to be good on 20M till around 1930Z. After that it was back and forth between 20 and 15 to catch some more American stations. As usual, Argentina was common on 15 late in the afternoon, and I worked a handful of them easily. I also got my Oceania station in the form of KH7R on 15M. Now I only needed Africa for my weekend WAC. However, that would never come. I did work OK1DX/MM, and if he was in African waters that would be an unofficial weekend WAC again. I didn't hear a trace of ZD8Z, EA8EA, or any of the other common African calls that show up in contests. Don't know if they were on or not. The only African I heard was 9X0A, and he had a continual HUGE pileup, so I couldn't work him. Another good one with a HUGE pileup was KH8/N5OFZ. Both these stations were strong, and workable without the pileups.

I also worked KH7R on 20M at 0013Z Saturday evening. Other than that, and a few other common stations, Saturday evening was a waste of time. Oh, I did get another EU on 40M in the form of F6KPQ/P. There were a lot of strong EU's on 40M, but I just can't seem to work them well any more. It seems that I used to do better on 40M a couple years ago as far as working EU.

As I went to bed Saturday night, I again wondered if I would find good openings on 15M and 20M (maybe even 10M) the next day.

On Sunday, I started on 20M instead of 15M as I had yesterday. Sigs were pretty good, and I worked RZ9UA easily, OT8T for a new prefix, another Estonian for good measure - ES4MM, and several others. I thought that EU was stronger on 20M than yesterday, and that could mean 15M was open to EU, so I headed up there. I was right, and ran off QSO's with OK, DL, I, SP, G, ON, PA, S5, UA2, etc.

Remember what I said was now my most wanted country? Among those EU QSO's above, I also worked YO3APJ. It took several calls to get him, and a couple of repeats so he could get my call right, but it was a solid QSO to complete what I consider the mainstream EU countries.

After working the band dry - well at least as far as the strong EU sigs that I could work easily, I headed off to 10 to see what that band had to offer. It offered many American stations, but no EU. I worked 16 stations on 10, including a few new band countries for me. It was interesting to observe how the sigs would come and go, with a station being S9 for a half hour or so, then almost disappearing for a while, only to come back just as strong. It was also interesting to note that YV5A did not behave that way. His sigs seemed to be a constant S6 every time I came across him. That's one of the things I enjoy about DX contests - observing how propagation changes. I learn from that when it's best to try to work someone, and when I should pass them by for now, and try later.

As it did yesterday, the 1800Z hour provided very good EU sigs on 20, and I worked quite a few more until the sigs faded around 1900Z or so. Then it was mop up time for the rest of the contest, jumping between 10, 15, and 20 to try to find someone I hadn't worked yet, and who was still strong enough to try.

My last QSO of the contest was one to think about. It's now 2235Z, and here on 15M is LZ0A running 200 watts with a fairly strong signal. I work him easily after a couple calls. Now, it's the middle of the night over in Bulgaria. He shouldn't be coming through, or is LZ0 something like a Bulgarian Antarctic station? Yes, I have since found out in my search for QSL routes that LZ0A was in the South Shetlands as I surmised, so it's not really a mystery.

And what did I get out of the contest? Many hours of enjoyment - that's the biggest reward of contesting. 2 totally new countries - Estonia and Romania. 14 new band-countries. 24 new prefixes. A little more confidence about my 80M DXing thanks to working OM5DX deep into Europe.

	Totals by band:
       AF    AS    EU    NA    OC    SA    TOT
80                  2     7                  9
40                  3    12           1     16
20            2    59    19     1     3     84
15                 24    17     2    10     53
10                        8           8     16
tot           2    88    63     3    22    178 + 1 /MM

	And for comparison my Nov CQ WW stats:

       AF    AS    EU    NA    OC    SA    TOT
160                       2                  2
80                        3                  3
40                        9           2     11
20      2     5    13    20           3     43
15      2          63    21     1    12     99
10                  2     5     1     4     12
tot     4     5    78    60     2    21    170
Since I put in equal efforts in both contests with the same equipment, this gives a good idea of what the solar flux can do to the bands. This time the SF was around 95, while back in November it was around 115. Especially noticeable is the difference in EU QSO's on 15 and 20. Everything else is basically the same in both contests with minor variations.

Just thinking ahead to the next CQ WW and ARRL DX tests. If we gain another 20 or 30 points in the solar flux to push it around 150 or so, and assuming no ionospheric disturbances coincide with the contests, 15 and 10 should really be good for the QRP DXer. I can hardly wait.