P40L-P49Y Contest Summary Information

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Fun contest! Thanks to everyone who showed up, even for a short while. Each of our individual results are really not “individual”, but rather the combined efforts of many, on both sides of each QSO. It was great to contact so many familiar stations around the world. Thank you for working me! Extra thanks go to those many who responded to my QRV message and went to my other band to give another QSO. This was especially gratifying on Sunday when I was fighting to catch up to my 2013 Round-Up results. There was even one station who interleaved QSOs on the two bands at the same time. That gave me a double-take for a second as I thought I’d somehow got the two radios mixed up!

Despite an impressive sunspot number over the weekend, conditions didn't live up to my optimistic expectation. Saturday was mostly pretty good where my peak full-hour QSO rate hit 252, about 20% higher than my prior best. Then, all of a sudden there would be no one calling, although there were still signals on the bandscope with reasonable signal strength. Strange.

At the end of my first 12 hours, the net of these ups and downs was about 100 QSOs ahead of my best in this contest (2013). I hoped that solar conditions would settle down and actually improve on Sunday, so it was hard to take a sleep break … I was excited to see how high the rate might go!

Well, it was not to be. Sunday was also up and down, just like Saturday, but was never really great. As the day wore on, I watched my QSO total drop comparatively with Sunday last year, until I was 100 QSOs behind. Very discouraging to be tempted by such seemingly promising conditions, only to be let down. Not to be deterred, I dug in and pushed hard. At the end of my 24 hours, I ended up 54 QSOs ahead of 2013. But with one less mult, it’s not certain that this will hold up as a new personal best after the ARRL completes log checking.

Speaking of mults, once again I fell short. I only got 8 VE mults and already several stations are reporting 9-10 with additional ones heard but not worked. And, I’d expect the country total from here to be much higher than 75. However, it is a challenge to search for (and, work) mults on the second receiver in each radio (while averaging 150/hour for 24 hours (at least for this operator!). Most of the mults I did find were not able to hear me and just kept CQing back to my calls. With the weak signal levels and any amount of local noise, it is not surprising to find “alligators” on the bands.

This station worked well with only two scary moments and one miraculous positive occurrence. Late on Thursday before the contest, while running on 10 and 15 meters, the 15 meter SWR started rising, until it got above 3:1 and the amp couldn't be used. Checking the home-run to the 15 meter Yagi with an antenna analyzer showed there was basically no antenna at the end of the coax. We've be replacing some defective PL259s throughout the antenna system this past year and the 10/15 tower has yet to be refurbished. So, I figured that was the problem and I prepared to climb up there early Friday and replace coax jumpers as well as the PL259 at the end of the home run coax.

Working my way toward the antenna feed-point with my analyzer, I ultimately found a fried Balun. Replacing that and one of the coax jumpers fixed the problem. The antenna has been solid since then, and it got a heavy workout during RU. It’s both a good thing and a bad thing that RTTY stress-tests the hardware in your station.

The next key moment came late Saturday afternoon when I noticed the power out of the Alpha 86 on 10 meters was gradually dropping. I kept lowering the grid current to keep it tuned properly, but eventually it was at about 150 watts. Not my preference for a high power entry. My guess was that the (very old) tubes were beginning to give up the ghost. There is a spare 86 here, but I never like equipment problems. I resigned myself to take one of my two break periods to swap out the amp. Before doing so, though, I moved that radio from 10 to 20 while continuing to run on 15. The power out was just what it has always been. All parameters looked good. So I kept going.

The next morning after a 5-hour break (saving another hour as a contingency for the rest of the contest), I checked that errant 86 on 10 meters and all was good again. Hmmm. Well, don’t push fate. I decided to only use that amp on 15 meters and see how it would hold up. I could always take my last one-hour break to swap in another amp. But, the amp held steady at 1200 watts all day. Second problem skirted and I finished my 24 hours before the end of the contest period.

The miraculous happening was that Saturday night there was virtually no RFI from the 40 meter station into the 20 meter side. This has always been a huge obstacle in this station for years now, and for some mysterious reason it was gone. Even the day before, the RFI was huge, just as it has been for a long time. But Saturday night, I could run unimpeded on 40 and 20. I was stunned, but not at all ashamed to take advantage of the good luck!

I started the contest on 15 and 20, but in retrospect I should have started on 10 and 15. After struggling on 20 meters for the first 28 minutes of the contest, I moved that radio to 10. I then experienced my highest-ever rate. There were 252 QSOs in the following 60 minutes, evenly split between 10 and 15 meters. What a rush! Makes a case for not being shy to change bands if things aren't working well. Of course, it can go the other way, as it did on Sunday. At that time, when I hit a slow period on 10 meters, I moved that radio to 20 for a while but wasn’t able to do any better, so moved back to 10.

This time I setup 6 decoders on each radio, 4 on the main receiver and 2 on the sub-receiver. On the main, I used 2Tone Normal, 2Tone Flutter, MMTTY Standard and the Hal DXP38 hardware modem. On the sub, I used 2Tone Normal and MMTTY Standard. Later, I may elucidate the gory details on how each decoder performed throughout the weekend, but the short story is that this complement of decoders was absolutely crucial to minimizing requests for repeats. There were many times when only one of the 4 main decoders copied clearly and I was so thankful I hadn't bet on only one of them. There also is not a clear winner among the 4. They each have their strengths and weaknesses.

I’m continually grateful to John (W6LD/P40L) and Andy (AE6Y/P40Y) for sharing their quaint station here with me. It’s amazing what a few modest antennas on a city lot can do … if it’s located off the coast of Venezuela! Thanks to the hundreds of stations who worked P49X this weekend. Together we made for a fun weekend, at least on this end.


Ed - P49X (W0YK)