P40L-P49Y Contest Summary Information

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What a great contest weekend! The solar activity was optimum for a WPX contest and activity was high. Thanks to all participants for making it enjoyable for everyone. It seemed to me that folks were having a good time.

Because one can become stale and complacent repeating the same thing year after year, I try to find new ground to cover in each contest. I probably got a bit aggressive in that regard this time. There were three goals I set for 2013 WPX RTTY:

1. Beta-test K3 DSP firmware 2.81 which adds a narrow filter around the FSK transmitted signal. This results in significantly less bandwidth, which is a benefit to everyone else on the band due to less interference to nearby signals. The flip-side is that other signals can operate closer to narrower signals, but if they themselves are still wide, then the “good guy” gets QRM’ed more. Besides this worry, the firmware enhansement may have broken something else.

2. Evaluate the new 2Tone RTTY decoder created by G3YYD. There has been a lot of favorable, but anecdotal, praise of it and I wanted to see what difference it made in contest conditions. I did try it out at home in the BARTG Sprint and FMRE RTTY contests the past two weeks.

3. Item 2 requires N1MM Logger, and I use WriteLog for RTTY contesting. This is a big deal from a learning-curve perspective because I have thousands of contest hours under my belt with WriteLog. I can operate N1MM Logger just fine, but setting up SO4V (SO2V on each of two SO2R radios), callsign stacking and networked Single-Op (a networked PC per radio) is a real challenge for any logger, particularly one I have little experience with.

I pursued this path up until 12 hours before the contest and then decided that I was not yet proficient enough with advanced N1MM Logger operation (item 3), and retreated to my familiar WriteLog configuration. It was a hard decision because I found a lot of wonderful things in N1MM Logger and my experience in the BARTG and FMRE contests showed that the 2Tone decoder offered substantial advantages in a small percentage of marginal receive situations. There were a few times the 2Tone decoder gave perfect copy when MMTTY and the Hal DXP38 did not. (The opposite was also true, but having all three decoders covers a larger share of QSOs.) The tipping point was my pre-contest warmup operating on Thursday where I had far too many “surprises” with N1MM Logger. I suspect most of my N1MM Logger issues were self-inflicted, but the simple truth was that I would likely have had a miserable and frustrating weekend with it instead of my battle-tested WriteLog setup. So this abandonment reduced my risk of new things from 3 to 1, but of course I didn’t know what unforeseen surprises would await me prior to and during the contest.

The 19th annual event was my 7th straight WPX RTTY operation from this QTH. Normally, I arrive 4-5 days ahead of the start date to allow time for the inevitable unforeseen issues that arise. Antennas and equipment could be broken, and each contest is a unique, customized setup. It’s sort of like a Field Day operation, but with air-conditioning in the radio room. Since I had just been here for ARRL RTTY Round-Up last month, I rationalized a later arrival on Wednesday afternoon, just 2 days before the starting gun.

Arriving at the cottage at 4pm, I ran out to stock up on groceries, made dinner and then set about configuring the station. Late into the night I had the station running SO2R with N1MM Logger and a long list of issues and concerns. With respect to N1MM Logger, I have to say that Larry K8UT, Rick N2AMG, Iain N6ML, Hank W6SX and Dave K6LL were very gracious and patient with my questions and problems. Emails and Skype calls were flying fast between us as I tried to get a number of advanced features working effectively together.

Thursday morning, I arose later than usual due do a late retreat to bed at around 5am that morning, and found one of my K3s had no audio output and no RF drive. The P3 bandscope showed proper signal levels, but nothing was getting through to the audio stages needed for decoding and audio feedback. Moreover, there was no RF drive into the final amplifier stages. An hour of troubleshooting waiting for Elecraft Support to open up plus another hour of talking with technicians, resulted in discovering that my field test unit had tin-plated connectors between the DSP and RF PCBs. Simply unplugging and re-inserting those modules cleaned the oxidation sufficiently to bring back the DSP signal routing and the radio was fixed … until I return home and have the connectors replaced with the current gold-plated versions. Whew! That was a close call because I didn’t have a spare K3 along. Still, the attendant anxiety sapped some energy.

Friday morning, I got cold feet with my #3 goal and bagged N1MM Logger for WriteLog. That took several hours of reconfiguring my three PCs and making sure all messages, keyboard mappings, databases, etc were ready to go. I prepared some contest food, took a nap and did some more warm-up operating.

It looked like band conditions would be similar to 2011, so I used an hour-by-hour analysis of my operation in an Excel spreadsheet to guide me through this one. In the end, it proved to be an accurate prediction. The low bands were nearly as productive as two years ago and the high bands were even better balanced with the sweet spot being 15 meters. 10 and 20 were about equally effective, but down from 15. Had the sunspot number been substantially higher, the high-band sweet spot would have moved up to 10 with 20 being nearly useless, as it was in the 2011 CQ WW RTTY Contest which enjoyed the peak solar activity of this cycle. This weekend, though, the solar activity was moderate enough that the low bands worked well for the double-QSO-points in WPX.

Hour-by-hour, my QSO statistics tracked a bit ahead of 2011 and in the end my raw score was nearly 12% higher. 3% was due to higher accumulated QSO points while 9% was due to a larger number of prefix multipliers. I’d like to think my increased proficiency at SO4V allowed me to pick off Packet-spotted mults (on Sunday, I kept the bandmap clear of mults), but I’d guess that there were more prefixes active this time. My QSO count was up 7%, which translated to only 3% more QSO points because of a shift from low-band 6-point QSOs to high-band 3-point QSOs. (OK, I’m a bit of an analytic!)

So, I’m rolling along nicely on Saturday afternoon, running pileups on 10 and 15 at 140/hour, down from 200+/hour in the morning, when suddenly my 15-meter amplifier faults out and I’ve got high SWR which looked to be an open circuit through that side of the SixPak. I opted to take a 30-minute break time to address the issue and get refreshed at the same time. I’d had trouble in the past with the 15m position on this side of the SixPak, but it always resolved itself before I completed the troubleshooting. Same thing happened again and at the end of break everything was working fine again. I attributed it to some operator error I didn’t understand. This was not a great time for a break and it undoubtedly cost me some final QSO points. (NOTE: Little did I realize it at the time but this 30-minute break and a couple others I took will result in a significant reduction in my score. I forgot that the minimum break time in WPX is 60 minutes. It appears the final log-checked score will still be a new world record, but with less margin. The good news is that the bar is lower for the next guy to break the record, hi!)

When you’re 29.25 hours into the 30-hour WPX RTTY Single-Op scoring period, it’s a great feeling coming down the home stretch. In my case, I was clearly ahead of my prior personal best in this contest, despite being short of 4000 QSOs that I felt were attainable in the absence of a couple interruptions to my high run rates on 10/15 meters. Having survived the first disaster (described above) on Saturday afternoon, I was pretty confident at this point so close to the end. And then the second disaster occurred! A GI4 new multiplier sent me his report, but I couldn’t confirm. Same thing (15m amp faulted) but this time as I was troubleshooting on my new 30-minute break I discover that the K3 was giving an error message that 12 volts was not getting to the 100 watt amplifier module. I chose not to start down the path to diagnose and fix that, so I opted to move that side to 10 meters and drive the amp with the K2 12 watt output for a whopping 250 watts out on that band. At 31 minutes, I found new run frequencies and fired up again to finish the contest. (Noting once again after the fact that the next 29 minutes of QSOs would be removed from my final score.)

With another round of diagnosis over Skype with the K3 100-watt amplifier designer, I discovered yet another oxidized tin-plated connector problem, this time on the 12VDC pins to the amplifier. Cleaning them up and actually soldering jumper wires around the connector fixed this problem for the rest of my trip, including ARRL DX CW the following weekend.

Thanks again to all participants. Despite my difficulties, you all made it a great experience. As always, thanks to John W6LD/P40L and Andy AE6Y/P49Y for sharing their Aruba cottage station. And to Sue AI6YL/P40YL and Carl AI6V/P49V for treating me to a post-contest dinner at the local “B55 Restaurant”. Will see some of you and more in the ARRL DX CW Contest next weekend as P40L with W6LD in another MS effort.

Ed - P49X (W0YK)