P40L-P49Y Contest Summary Information

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I could say “the devil made me do this”, but it was only Don, AA5AU, who suggested there might be value in documenting my contest experience. He’s right, of course, because I often repeat the same mistakes year-to-year due to an imperfect memory 12 months later. Moreover, if anyone else reads this, I may learn even more when they comment, “You know, if you did this or didn’t do that, it might work better”.

Going into the 2012 RTTY Round-Up, my goal was to achieve a personal best in the contest. After all, RTTY contest participation continues to grow and propagation is bringing back 10 meters, albeit at the expense of the low bands. However, RTTY Round-Up is a rate-fest, so 10 meters is much more important than 80 meters, especially in Aruba. My personal best was back in 2009 when I made 387K with 3166 QSOs and 124 mults. In 2010 I fell way short at 358K, 2931 QSOs and 124 mults and in 2011 I almost equaled my 2009 results with 385K, 3177 QSOs and 123 mults. But, this would be the first year when 10 meters was really “in”. I could always work a few southeastern US stations or a couple SA stations in the past, but 2012 promised good east-west propagation on 10 meters, meaning that many people would actually go there and transmit, providing lots of QSO opportunities for me.

I felt I had opportunity to improve in both QSOs and mults. Hopefully, my operating skill had improved and with the help of some nice WriteLog enhancements, notably the call stack operation, I was bullish that QSO count could be increased. In 2011, I setup SO3R with the third radio dedicated to 10 meters so I could catch whatever openings or activity there was and instantly capitalize on it. Betting that 10 meters would be in solid for most of the day with lots of activity, I decided to configure for SO4V in 2012, also schlepping two P3s down so I’d have excellent bandscope views of the bands. In theory, this would allow me to S&P on either or both bands I was simultaneously running on, checking out each RTTY signal on the waterfall. And, of course, it is invaluable to see who is around your run frequencies and find holes for new run frequencies. Especially with the K3 which so completely suppresses close neighbors. SO4V (or SO2V on each radio in SO2R) is supported by yet another nifty WriteLog enhancement which makes working stations on the second receiver highly effective with the K3 transceiver. Basically, a decoder window is assigned to the K3 sub-receiver (a comprehensive duplicate of the K3 main receiver) and when a call sign is clicked on, WriteLog puts the K3 in SPLIT mode and moves the Entry window focus to that VFO. This allows an immediate QSO with the station and a single click moves the focus, and transmitter, back to the Run frequency where the main receiver is.

This SO4V really is a slick configuration with WriteLog and the K3, but it requires a very skilled operator to maintain 150+ QSOs per hour running on two bands while searching and then pouncing on new stations or mults on the other two receivers. I actually found needed mults on the second receiver(s), but never had a long enough gap in the runs to go work them. They often QSY’d before I got to call them! I arrived in Aruba several days before the contest and one of my top priorities was to practice this SO4V thing. In retrospect, I need a LOT more practice than I got, so this is something to work on. With CQ WPX RTTY coming up and Packet allowed for all entry classes, I can practice the pouncing with SO4V before having to also build skill in the searching task.

Don and I debated about what bands we should start on and I was outspoken that it would be 10 and 15 meters. He wasn’t so sure, but eventually agreed that made sense. However, as we got closer to the contest, I got cold feet and began to think 15/20 would be best to start on. There was little question that all three bands would be hopping at 18Z, but the big question was which would be the best two at that time at the start of the contest. My last rationale was that 10 meters was still too “new” for most of us and that it was more probable that 15 and 20 would be the optimum bands to start on. In retrospect, I believe that was the right call. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to clear up the pollution I’d done to Don’s thinking on this topic and he started on 10 and 15 like we’d agreed! What are friends for?

So, 1800z Saturday is approaching and I rotely go through my pre-contest routine of eating, showering, resting, preparing contest food/water, turning off anti-virus and other unneeded programs, clearing the log, making sure the right messages are on board, syncing the PC clocks with WWV, etc. Except that at 1758:30z, I discover that I haven’t setup my contest log … I’m still in my warm-up log … on all three computers! Mad scramble and I make it in time, except that distraction threw me off balance and took the time when I would normally be finding my starting frequencies. Needless to say, I didn’t hit the start time running full speed. On the other hand, I thought I had reasonably good frequencies around 21081 and 14081.

OK, so I’m off and running, literally, with not much lost traction in the beginning. But, QSOs were taking just a second or two longer than I’d like. I just couldn’t get the rate above 150/hour. This was devastating because in the prior three years I had one or more hours above 200 out of the first four hours. In fact, my bogey was to exceed 800 QSOs in the first four hours, hopefully closer to 900. However, at 2200Z I was at 633, a real bummer but also a tremendous motivator as I really dug in for the rest of Saturday to do the best I could. A bit of good news was that my rate was increasing and I had a 184 fourth hour. By 2300z, though, the rate on 15m began to sag and I made the move to 40 which was wide open to Europe and eastern North America. The next couple of hours on 20 and 40 the rate held at about 150 and then dropped to 130 when I moved from 20 to 80. But, at European sunrise, the rate kicked up to 150 again on 40 and 80.

Interestingly, the average rate didn’t drop off as fast or as much as it did in prior years. That is, my average rate was holding up and by 0630z Sunday when the rate dropped enough for me to take my main break of the contest, I was only 87 QSOs (4.4%) behind my prior high at that point. Not a disaster, but also not on track with my goal of setting a personal best!

My hope was that Sunday would be better than any prior year since there would be three high rate bands rather than only two during the long daytime period. Moreover, since I hadn’t been on 10 meters at all, there would be plenty of stations to work all day long there. So, there was still a possibility that I could meet my goal of a personal best. My plan was to sleep and get as much rest as possible before 10 and 15 were runnable on Sunday morning. I got up a bit earlier than I predicted that would be and fixed a full breakfast. But I only got halfway through breakfast before 10 was ready for rock and roll to Europe. At 1146z (7:46am local), I started running Europe on 10 and 15 with the first four hours at 160/hour. (I still had 44 minutes of off-time which was a nice buffer for any unforeseen problems that might arise on Sunday. In 2011, there were some propagation blackout periods of 15-30 minutes on Sunday but that wasn’t really expected this year. I was more concerned about station failures that might need some off-time to resolve.) The rate dropped a bit the next few hours and 15 dropped enough that I considered going to 20, but it picked up again so I never left 10 and 15 on Sunday. A few stations who had worked me on all bands except 20 asked about 20, but I didn’t feel there was any advantage to me going there before my 24 hours ran out, 45 minutes before the end of the contest period.

Sunday afternoon, my messages began aborting midstream. Sometimes it would take 3-4 restarts before they would complete. Obviously, this torpedoed the rate and my anxiety escalated. Then, it occurred to me that this behavior was like the Last-One-Wins interlock in WriteLog was being invoked even though I wasn’t initiating transmit on the second radio. On a whim, I turned of the LOW interlock and presto! No more message aborts. I just had to mentally manage my transmissions so that only one signal was on the air at a time. Well, problem solved without burning some off-time. Almost immediately, though, the 15m PC froze. None of the normal procedures could awaken it. So, while running all out on 10m, I pulled the battery and power cord on the 15m laptop to get it to reboot, re-load WriteLog, get networked and running again. Second disaster resolved without a break.

Prior to the third near disaster, I decide that I should check 20 meters since the rate on 15 is dropping a bit. In between QSOs , I jump the 15m rig to 20 to check the bandscope. It is filled with signals and much better than 15. At the same time, 10 is still crammed with signals, so what’s wrong with 15? Oops, the 15 amp has faulted and the band seems to be dead. Well, it WAS dead locally because something, probably the 15m port on the SixPak, was open or shorted. Having had problems on that same SixPak 15m port a month earlier, I quickly reconfigured to swap 10 and 15 between my two rigs and PCs, but more importantly on the SixPak. I didn’t lose either run frequency, nor much time at all, and once again an off-time break wasn’t needed to deal with this third problem. Of course, all these Sunday afternoon events left me very nervous for the rest of my 24 hours, but I wrapped up with no more issues.

My rate the last 3 hours dropped to 110/hour and I was glad that I didn’t have to operate the last 45 minutes. In other words, I felt I had operated the highest rate 24 hours from Aruba given the weekend’s conditions and activity. I had more QSOs by 250 or 8%, but essentially the same mults (124) as the prior four years. But, this should be enough to set a new personal best score even after log check reductions. And, it looks like the score will stay above 400K, a new milestone for RTTY Round-Up. My goal was met, although I felt I could have made more out of the weekend than I did. I guess the good news out of that is that the bar isn’t as high as it might have been for next year!

In summary, my expectation that 10 meters would boost the total QSO count held out although I frankly expected even more. My multiplier count didn’t improve at all and remains a focus area for improvement. In particular, I only had seven Canadian mults compared to about 10 in the past. After the fact, it looks like some of them were only CQing and I didn’t find them. The others may have worked P40YL and avoided my pile-ups. Finally, I am still baffled as to why my starting rate was so low. It was the lowest of the last six years and only slightly higher than seven years ago when I started doing this contest from Aruba. This is a troubling result that I have no insight into. On the other hand, my average rate for the entire contest increased from the previous high of 135/hour to 146 in 2012. Perhaps it could have been even higher.

This write-up is all from my perspective, but that is only half the story. The other half is the gracious efforts of the 2054 different stations who worked me on one or more bands. 29 stations got into the log on all five bands even though the P4 multiplier only counts once. 100 stations worked P49X on four bands, another 245 worked me on three bands and 547 worked me on two bands. I have to repeat what I often say, that much of the credit for these results go to the stations who were kind enough to call in and work P49X.


Ed - P49X (W0YK)