P40L-P49Y Contest Summary Information

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WPX is a low-band contest and the 2012 RTTY event really demonstrated that from Aruba. With twice the points for QSOs on 40 and 80 meters, compared to 10, 15 and 20 meters, final score is very dependent on the low bands. At P49X, total QSOs and prefixes were nearly the same between 2011 and 2012, but score is 11% lower:

Year           2011   2012
QSOs-low       1585   1192	
QSOs-high      2026   2349
QSOs-total     3611   3541
Mults           895    876
Score         13.9M  12.4M

In summary, there were 70 less total QSOs, but 393 QSO that shifted from 6-pointers to 3-pointers. That coupled with 19 less mults had a tremendous impact on score.

The first two hours of the contest rank down there with the worst I've experienced! Signals on 40 and 80 were relatively strong but the RTTY audio sounded weird. It's hard to describe in words, but the audio wasn't clean and clear. There was some combination of echo and hollowness. All my decoders thought so too because achieving clear print was extremely difficult. After struggling to get a call sign, it took several repeats to get a serial number that I had any confidence in. My F10 NR? key has aged considerably from over-use this weekend. I apologize to for all the repeat requests. Sue, P40YL, reported the same receive problem, but Roger, PJ4R, didn't notice any problem on 40m over in Bonaire.

I estimate that 19 out of every 20 QSOs required at least one repeat on 40/80 during the first few hours. That killed rate and compounding this further, 18 out of those 19 repeat requests (NR?) were answered with P49X DE XY4ABC 599 005 005 P49X. Invariably, the serial number got garbled on the repeat and we had to go another round. If the other station had a message key with only the serial number, they could have simply tapped it 3-4 times to send a message less than half as long but with much higher probability of enough clear copy to allow me to figure out the serial number. Once I had at least two numbers that were the same, I logged it. RTTY contesters could greatly benefit by paying attention to the repeat request. When a station asks for NR?, all you need to send is the serial number! If they want to hear RST and everyone's call sign again, they will send AGN. Although, even when I hear AGN I still only send my serial number several times and that always seems to satisfy the other station.

In the first 8 hours, I was down almost 400 QSOs from 2011 with an average rate of less than 100/hour compared to 134/hour last year. This was extremely discouraging, especially since I was completely worn out from the frustrating struggle to copy call signs and serial numbers. I even asked myself if maybe it would make more sense to abandon the contest and go get some beach time for the rest of the weekend! But, of course, that was an even worse alternative than simply sucking it up and doing the best I could with whatever conditions and activity presented me with.

I was greatly relieved when the knee of my rate curve drop-off occurred around 08z. I was overdue for a nap and some time away from the radio. And, despite half-points on 10-20, I was really looking forward to some high-band operation Saturday morning. Even under the best of conditions, though, I knew it was improbable to recover from the disastrous first 8 hours on 40/80 meters. But, the important challenge for me is to do the best I can with things out of my control and there were more out-of-my-control surprises ahead of me that I didn't foresee.

I didn't rush to get back on until the high bands were really in solid. Although all three bands were open to Europe at our sunrise, I waited a few hours in order to spend my limited single-op time with the maximum rate. However, I was not able to achieve the peak rates that I had in 2011. Last year I had a 176 and a 188 clock hour on 15/20, but this year those same peak hours (17-18z) were 158 and 160 on 10/15. Basically, my two primary high band choices moved up a band this year. 20m QSOs went from 1035 down to 273 while 10m QSOs went from 2 up to 988. 15m went from 989 to 1088 as well.

Looking deeper at the rates per band, 10m had nearly 100 QSOs/hour while 15m only had 60. The problem with 15m was QSB, requiring more repeats (which I was very familiar with!) and even some abandoned QSOs. Both Saturday and Sunday, I found 10m to be more solid than 15m with respect to QSB although not immune. When the rate began to sag in the 19Z hour, I took a one-hour break and finished my (now very cold) breakfast at 3pm local time. My decision point for breaks was 150/hour on the high bands and 75/hour on the low bands. However, by this time I knew that I had to be less aggressive due to relatively lower rates than 2011.

Some time Saturday I had my 15m run annihilated by QST QST QST DE W1AW W1AW W1AW! Innocently, I had been running on the ARRL bulletin frequency for several hours and they just start transmitting without listening on “their” frequency. That is a first for me and a learning to store away. I need to look up those frequencies and avoid them like I do the oft-used PSK frequencies, e.g. 14070-2.

But the mother of all surprises came at 2345z Saturday when the power grid went off for this entire area of the island! This has never been a consideration here because the power system has been very reliable. This was another first for me after a decade of visiting Aruba. Of course, 2345z was prime time on 40m where I needed more of those 6-pointers to make up for the prior night. The thought of quitting entered my mind again, but instead I coached myself, no quitting allowed. A major component of the competition is how you deal with surprises and other variables. So, I had a glass of wine and a bit of cheese, salami and fruit. Then, I got into bed with all the light switches on so I could get as much rest as possible before the power came back. Fortunately, power was off only an hour, but it took a few minutes to reboot my three computers, reload WriteLog, setup all my decoder windows, initialize VE7CC-User and Packet, and then find run frequencies on 20 and 40.

The rate drop-off occurred about an hour earlier the second night on 40/80 and I was ready for an even longer nap than the prior evening. I had less than 7 hours operating time left so I planned to catch the best 7 hours of 10/15 on Sunday. That provided a good 4 hours of sleep, time to fully awaken and have some breakfast, and a start time close to 15z. Sunday high-band rates were better this year, but not nearly enough to make up for the low-band deficit. My 30 hours ran out at 2122z, later than I've ever operated WPX RTTY from Aruba. I immediately shaved, showered and drove over to P43A and P43C's QTH (Jean-Pierre and Chris Lauwereys) to take them up to Noord where P49V and P40YL (Carl and Sue Cook) treated us to dinner at a favorite local restaurant. It was J-P's birthday so we had something more pleasant to celebrate than the contest! Sue and I were most happy to get our minds off the contest we'd just finished. After a nice evening with friends, I returned back to the cottage at 11:30pm with little energy to file a 3830 report.

In retrospect, perhaps I should have expected less out of the low bands, especially 80m. This is to be expected as the MUF moves higher. On the other hand, this weekend's solar forecast had degraded over the past month as it fell from a SFI peak of 150-155 on 11-12 February to 100. Then, on Friday, the prognosticators raised it back up to 110-120. It probably wasn't realistic to expect 80m to do as well as 2011.

This is the second contest I've done with a SO4V configuration and I have to say that this is ideal for WPX RTTY where there is only one single-op entry category and Packet assistance is allowed. The WriteLog K3 drivers allow both receivers in each radio to constantly feed their own decoding window. This provides constant monitoring of the run frequency while pouncing on spots on the same band. The K3 transmitter simply goes into SPLIT mode to transmit on the sub-receiver frequency with a single key stroke to exit SPLIT and resume QSOs on the run frequency. I can't see how to make it any more efficient and with Packet identifying the mults, this is a real benefit for this contest.

I downloaded and used VE7CC-User for the first time and ran it on my third computer which the two radio computers linked to. With its automatic reconnect feature, I never had to mess with Packet the whole weekend. Instead, the two bandmaps on each radio were always current the mults and unworked stations available to me. Hats off to Lew for a great piece of software!

Finally, unlike our CQ WW CW experience last November, the cottage wireless system and WriteLog networking was solid and flawless the entire weekend. The logs on all three computers were constantly the same. A couple times one of the PCs dropped off the network, but WriteLog transparently reconnected it with no intervention on my part. The logs sync'd up and the summary boxes read identically across all PCs. When the power mains came back on Saturday night, the wireless Internet system came up immediately, again with no action by me.

Thanks once again to everyone for working P49X and providing a rate-fest for us down here. As always, I'm very appreciative of P40L/W6LD and P49Y/AE6Y for sharing their wonderful cottage station with me. Andy comes in Wednesday for a single-op in ARRL DX CW. Conditions should be bit better than this weekend.

Ed - P49X (W0YK)