P40L-P49Y Contest Summary Information

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Another fun weekend on the radio! Thanks to the thousands of operators who participated in CQ WPX RTTY, few of which will be reading this report. As I've noted many times, the casual non-contest operators that fill our logs are the backbone of success in any contest and this one is no exception.

And, then, there was the sun with its obstacle course of solar activity that kept us changing our operation plans, especially single-ops optimizing their 30-hour score. Saturday night between 01-03z here in Aruba, both 80 and 40 exhibited a temporary short-term blackout followed by a period of extraordinary propagation. The signal levels from Europe were the strongest and clearest I've heard them. 80 meters sounded like a good 15-meter day, which was uncanny. Sunday morning repeated the same thing in a couple of on-again, off-again cycles on 15 and 20 meters. At 1746z, I took an unplanned one-hour break when both 20 and 15 were completely dead. My 120/hour runs on 15 and 20 went to zero in less than five minutes. Prior experience with these disturbances indicated that it would be short-lived, maybe 20-40 minutes. So, would that be the case this time? Or, would it be longer or shorter? Would the contest period end before I got my 30 hours in?! Interestingly, 10 meters continued limping along with its few South American and occasional US stations, seemingly unaffected. Many have reported great conditions, but they seemed about the same as 2010 from here, except for the three temporary black-out/extraordinary periods this weekend.

My third SO3R radio was on 10 meters all weekend with a bandscope and Packet-fed bandmap for monitoring activity. There were openings and light activity mid-day, at least into North America, but not enough participants to warrant spending any time there. My two 10m QSOs resulted from moving P43A to 10 at 8:39 p.m. local time from 40/80 and having a new LU prefix call me on the first CQ.

I came into the weekend expecting to fall short of last year's personal best in this contest, which was a high bar to strive for again. I usually start on 80 and 40, but looking at past logs, the rate on 80 is nothing for the first couple hours, probably because everyone is on the higher bands. So, this year I decided to start on 20 (and 40) to see what difference it made. Well, the 20m rate was outstanding, with strong signals from Europe much longer than I expected and I stayed until the rate dropped at 0240z.

Compared to my hourly and cumulative statistics from last year, the QSO rate was much higher but the point rate was way down. It looked like a bad decision to start on 20 when 80 was open. Then, some rough mental calculations showed that my points seemed incorrectly low. From Aruba, 99+% of QSOs are three-pointers. Watching the point total go up only 2 (or 4) points for US contacts and 3 (or 6) points for European contacts confirmed my suspicion. WriteLog was scoring as though I were operating in North America. Until my first break, then, I had the additional task of mental arithmetic to track how I was doing. I put a note out on the WriteLog reflector about a "bug" and W5GN replied that I should check a configuration file statement. Telling WriteLog that I was in Aruba instantly corrected the scoring, but I didn't get this figured out until Sunday.

Once I got my real-time statistics corrected in my head, I went from bummed out to ecstatic because Friday night was significantly ahead of 2010. Besides the sheer fun of just operating the contest, I was jazzed with such a head start on the Qs, points and prefixes. I was almost 800 QSO points up but that eroded to only 350 by 2000z Saturday. The rate was good on 15 and 20 but below last year, mainly on 15. Then, the first "gray-out" period occurred on 80 and 40 Saturday night where the signals nearly disappeared in the noise between 01-03z, followed by tremendous low-band conditions. When the rate dropped at 07z Saturday, I took my long early morning break and was now 170 QSO points behind last year. Shucks!

Sunday, after a short rest and some breakfast for renewed energy, I endeavored to make up the deficit, despite what the solar activity might have in store for us. There were a couple of gray-out cycles and then the lights went out at 1745z. Both 15 and 20 were dead. It was unreal to tune across both bands and hear nothing but white noise! Just minutes prior, both bands were wall-to-wall signals. I guessed that this would be temporary, but one never knows and I still had a couple hours left for my 30-hour score. My dilemma then was whether to start back up when the band came back, or to take a full 60-minute break and hope that the bands stayed open, and strongly so, for another two hours before 00z Monday. I opted for the hour break and that turned out to be perfect as the bands did come back and got heated up great before I dove in again.

I was intensely focused on my QSO point total and prefixes for all of Sunday. I wanted to make up the shortfall compared to 2010. I just barely squeaked out yet another personal best, at least in claimed score. At 30 hours, I was 87 QSO points ahead of 2010 and 2 mults ahead. A photo-finish that was very satisfying after dodging the several sudden solar disturbances. There were 124 more QSOs, due to 248 more on 20 but 95 less on 40. 15 and 80 were nearly identical between the two years. I'm doubtful, though, that the final results will exceed 2010 because with these conditions I expect a higher error rate.

The latest call sign stacking enhancements in WriteLog are extremely effective in handling pileups and tail-enders. (I'm not sure whether some of the tail-ending was brilliant or poor operating, but the call stack UI handled it all easily.) Several times as I was about to send my TU/CQ message, a new call sign would jump on the screen and I could stack it and immediately give a report in a "˜TU, NOW" message, thus saving a CQ and pileup cycle. It was also trivial to work stations in the order that they appeared in the pileup rather than first working the last station that called. Second, multiple decoders were a lifesaver in conditions like these. I had five parallel decoder windows set up on each of the three computers/radios. Many times they read the same, but very often only one or two would copy cleanly and that saved me from asking for repeats. For those interested, I used the Standard, Flutter (FIR), Multipath and AA6YQ 512FIR profiles in MMTTY plus the hardware DXP38 modem. The latter was universally best at decoding off-frequency calls, even as I was slewing the RIT to bring in a signal, the DXP38 acquired the call sign much sooner. But, there was no clear "best decoder" for all marginal copy. It was surprising how each decoder had its moment in the sun (pun intended, sorry) this weekend when only it would decode the signal.

Off-frequency callers: there were significantly more than I've ever experienced before. Are people using automatic frequency control and not using it properly? I do use narrow receive filtering on my side, but it has been the same for several years now. However, many of the off-frequency callers were much further away than a wide filter on their side would allow. There was clearly a frequency offset between their receive and transmit. I've come to have a call sign list in my head of who to expect to never call on my transmit frequency. ;>) On the other hand, I was very impressed with the many others who called in truly zero-beat, less than 5 cycles off. That really boosts rate. I'm not complaining, though. I contest for fun and off-frequency callers are just one more obstacle to deal with.

Thanks to John, W6LD/P40L, and Andy, AE6Y/P49Y, for the cottage station here. I'm setting up and looking forward to ARRL DX CW next weekend with John who arrives late Thursday. Let's hope these great conditions hang on through that weekend!

Ed - P49X (W0YK)