Monday, November 22, 2010

SS - Living on the Edge

I was actually a bit nervous going into this year's running of ARRL Sweepstakes Phone. Everyone counts on at least some activity from the Northern Territories section to get that clean sweep of all 80 ARRL and RAC sections but there are very few active stations here and I sure wouldn't want to disappoint anyone. As a result, I always approach SS with a more serious attitude than I do for any other contest. You can just never tell when the aurora will be out in force and conspire to silence all the far northern stations. That said, I think we've all done the best that can be expected from up here to keep NT off the most-missed section list, at least on phone.

I watched the geomagnetic forecast with a bit of trepidation as there was a big bump in the activity predicted for right around the weekend of the contest. When it passed before the contest started, I began to think that maybe this was "the year". With the high demand for NT I've always thought that if the darned aurora would just go away for a couple of days and a few sunspots would show up, one could run up a pretty decent score from here. I wasn't under any illusions though. Here on the far northern edge of North America we're a long, long ways from everyone else (Miami, Moscow, and Tokyo are all about the same distance away) and once everyone drops down to the low bands (which are the most affected by the aurora) to spend all night working their neighbors with low wire antennas we're pretty much shut out until morning.

For the first four hours I kept up a decent rate at first on 15m and later on 20m but at 0100z, with over 400 Q's already on the books, the band closed as if someone hit a switch. 40m was wide open but EVERYONE was already there and packed about three deep from one end of the band to the other. With the new 40m yagi I didn't have much trouble working anyone I could hear but most of the weaker stations were buried under the QRM from the big guns. I tried repeatedly to get a run going but nothing worked. Every time I thought I had found a tiny bit of elbow room to squeeze into I quickly found out that there were guys I couldn't hear already running there. I struggled all night but by the time I gave up and went to bed at 0600z I had only made 65 Q's in five hours. I even checked 80m a few times in the vain hope that I might pick up a few contacts there but there was still enough aurora out that I didn't hear a peep anywhere on the band.

I was back at it by 1100z for east coast sunrise. There was no activity at all on 20m yet so while I waited I S&P'd on 40m. The first station I heard was VO1TA and after missing NL last year I wasn't going to let him get away. He had a big pileup of stateside stations that I couldn't hear but luckily he called for a VE and I managed to get his attention when the din went down. We were careful to get all the details right because we both knew it wasn't likely either of us would get another opportunity to work our respective sections (and I never did hear another NL station).

With the addition of NL to the 70 sections worked the day before I started thinking about a sweep. I've been the last section for a lot of guys but I've never had a sweep myself. Since I was unassisted all I could do was run run run and hope for the best. Once I found a frequency and started on 20m I thought my missing sections had been broadcast on CNN because all but NT and PR called me in the first 15 minutes. The other thing I started thinking about was the section record. VY1JA had set the high-power record of 229,000 back in 2002 and some quick math told me that if I could keep the rate up until the high bands went out I might have a shot. I started skipping the voice keyer exchange on the stronger stations and just spoke the exchange as fast as I could. The rate meter crept up to about 150/hr and I can't believe anyone could get much faster than that in SS without sounding like a chipmunk!

Around lunchtime my spider-sense started tingling (or maybe I just caught a bit of a Spanish accent in the pileup) and I asked if there was any Puerto Rican stations on frequency. Sure enough NP4G was in there and that only left Northern Territories for the sweep. I'd hate to miss my own section! I had reminded VE8GER before the contest started to make sure he found me but here it was noon on Sunday and I hadn't heard from him yet. I started to think that maybe he had run into equipment problems or had an accident on his way out to his cabin but I needn't have worried. About an hour later he called in and the sweep was in the bag! I checked the log after the contest and except for one each of PR and NL I had multiple contacts for all the sections so pretty sure I'll be sipping coffee from the official mug next year. Sweeeep!

The high bands were good to me all afternoon. When I heard some activity on 10m I even gave it a try just for the novelty but I knew my rate would still be better on 15m. That said, after 10 minutes on 10m the rate was 60/hr so I'll definitely have to keep an eye on that band as conditions keep improving. Back on 15m I watched the score and QSO count creep slowly towards the record all afternoon but eventually I realized I wasn't going to make it before 20m closed up. After the frustration of the previous night I was dreading going back to 40m and when I was on 20m I milked it for as long as I could. I figured as long as I could keep the rate at least in the double-digits it was probably more than I'd get on 40m. Towards the bitter end I was hearing more and more serial numbers of "001" and even walking a few non-contesters through the exchange! Eventually, though, I had to move. 40m was a bit better than the previous night but almost all the stations CQing were already in the log. I managed to squeeze into a wider-than-average gap between a couple of stations, put the attenuator on to blot out some of the QRM and started calling. Surprisingly, I was able to work a steady trickle of stations, almost all with a precedence of A and very low serial numbers but the rate meter was stuck in the 20's the whole time. I came pretty close but at the very end I was still about 125 Q's short of the record. Still, not a bad score considering the limited contribution of 40m and a total lack of any 80m contacts. Maybe next year! Final numbers before dupes and log checking were 1309 Q's x 80 sections for 209,440 points.


Finally a clean sweep!!! I wanted to tie the broom to the mast on the trailer for the ride home but I forgot...

SS SSB VE8EV Single Op HP

ARRL Sweepstakes Contest, SSB

Call: VE8EV
Operator(s): VE8EV
Station: VE8EV

Class: Single Op HP
QTH: Inuvik, NT
Operating Time (hrs): 24

Summary:
Band QSOs
------------
160: 0
80: 0
40: 117
20: 592
15: 591
10: 9
------------
Total: 1309 Sections = 80 Total Score = 209,440

Club:

Comments:

I worked hard at this one and finally managed to get my very first sweep! Band conditions were the best I've ever had on SS weekend. I even worked 10m for a few minutes.

Full write-up at http://ve8ev.blogspot.com

73
John - VE8EV

Monday, November 1, 2010

CQ World Wide - Let's Make Lemonade!

Regular readers here might think I sound like a broken record but contesting from this far north is all about the aurora. Now that the sun is starting to wake up from its lengthy slumber the increased activity is both improving propagation and stirring up the aurora in equal measures. I started checking the geomagnetic forecasts a month before the contest and everything said October 29-31 would be three of the quietest days this month. With a positive auroral outlook, our goal for the contest was to double our Multi-Two NT (VE8/VY0/VY1) record set last year and it looked like everything was on track. In addition to myself and VE8DW we had not one but TWO new operators on the roster. VE8GER had been active since this time last year and VE8NE just moved to town and had never operated HF before but was willing to give it a try. We had a new Mosley S-33 yagi for 40m and 20m (it also does 17m) and I arranged to borrow a 50 foot trailer-mounted crank-up tower to hang it from. The TH6DXX and low band vertical were still up from last season and my mobile shack trailer had a number of upgrades added over the past months. In short, we were ready to make some noise!

The one guest operator who is never invited but ALWAYS shows up is Murphy. He arrived early this year so he could help out the week before the contest. His first contribution was (relatively) warm weather. Good for working on antennas and such but it also kept the river from freezing enough for VE8GER to get to town from his cabin out in the bush. Scratch one operator. Murphy also wanted to help out with the propagation. The Wednesday before the contest the geomagnetic forecast for the weekend changed from "mostly quiet" to "active at high-latitudes due to arrival of a CME". Being one operator short was not a show-stopper but active geomagnetic conditions surely was. I could easily foresee having the K-index at 5 for the whole contest and only hearing a few fluttery signals on 20m from guys that couldn't hear us calling. Been there, done that. The final blow was on Friday afternoon. After helping to get everything set up on Thursday, VE8DW had a family emergency come up and wouldn't able to operate on the weekend. The only good part was that after his triple-play of bad news, Murphy eventually left to help out others (did he show up at your station on the weekend..?)

As always, there wasn't anything that could be done about the propagation. We'd just have to fight through the aurora and hope for a few openings. I thought about going SOAB but I knew VE8NE was still keen to get on the air so I decided to be the good Elmer and planned for Multi-Single. He wasn't going to be available during any peak hours but would still be able to get his feet wet chasing multipliers on 20m for a few hours at night while I cruised the low bands. After a quick read of the M-S rules we were more-or-less ready to go at 0000z. My plan was simply to run on 40m during the night, 20m during the day, spend every other hour chasing multipliers, and hope the aurora held off long enough to at least get a few hundred contacts in the log.

As most plans are wont to do, mine did not survive first contact with the enemy. At only fifty feet high the new yagi was just "ok" on forty but the band sounded like daylight-20m with wall-to-wall signals one end to the other. I couldn't find a decent place to get a run going but didn't have much trouble S&P'ing and since it was just the start of the contest there were more than enough stations to keep me entertained. There was not much activity on 20m but VE8NE managed to put a handful of mults in the log including a VU and an S79, both of which were the only ones heard during the contest. After midnight local I dropped down to see what was happening on 80m and 160m (not much) and when VE8NE left I spent the rest of the night jumping from band to band to band, always being mindful of the "10-minute rule". The bands were all still going strong at 5am when I finally hit the bunk for a 3-hour snooze.


The new S-33 at sunrise. 40 foot elements on a 24 foot boom is
small for a 40m yagi but it sure seems like a monster to me!



The next morning I got up expecting to see the K-index at 5 but it was still zero. I guess the earth managed to get out of the way before the CME arrived because the forecast had now been revised to "quiet" all weekend. Sweet! The TH6 was still pointed at Europe from the night before so I found a quiet spot on 20m away from the USA wall-of-noise and started running. And running. And running. By early afternoon the Eu run finally started to slow down so I turned the antenna stateside and started running guys on 15m. And running. And running! I didn't eat. I didn't check the packet spots. I didn't visit with the visitors. I didn't answer my phone. It was already early evening when I realized that other than a quick mid-afternoon excursion to S&P a few stations on 10m (ten meters!!), I had been running stations for twelve solid hours! The QSO count was already over 1000 and the score had even surpassed last year's final Multi-Two tally. The rest of the night was mostly spent mult hunting but I did manage a nice hour-long run in the wee hours on 40m, my first ever on that band. 80m and 160m were in much better shape than the previous night. Only two Europeans were worked on 80m but I did manage to get all of the "easy" zones (1,3,4,31) on both bands as well as a handful of South Pacific multipliers. Thanks to KL7RA for moving to 160m to get me the double-mult for Alaska/Zone 1 and then on a whim, I decided to call CQ on 160m for a little while and see if I could scare up a W6 or W7 for the zone 3 mult. Imagine my surprise when RT0C called me from zone 19 for the double-mult followed shortly thereafter by W7AT for zone 3. An hour or so after that I checked 160m one more time and found KH7U for my last "easy" one before I turned in for the night.

The next morning I poked around over the pole on 15m and 20m but never got anything big going. 15m opened early to North America and the Caribbean so I found a spot and started running again. After the 200/hr rates the day before I ran at a somewhat more relaxed pace this time. Every hour or two I'd slip away to grab a few mults on 20m and when 10m opened up (10 meters!!) (AGAIN!!!) I managed a little mini-run there to pick off all the "easy" zones on that band. Special thanks to VE8GER, still out at his cabin, for finding me to provide the double-mult on 10m. As soon as N0KE called in from zone 4 it was back to the endless run of stations on 15m. The last hour is usually tough going so I decided to just point the beam out west, find a nice quiet spot on 15m outside the US phone bands, relax and run JA's and Pacific stations for the last hour with a few quick QSY's here and there to pick up a final few multipliers. As the last minutes went by, the 15m QSO counter ticked over 1000 beating the 20m count by 150 Q's and marking the first time in my experience that a band other than 20m had the most contacts. Final numbers were 2058 Q's, 300 mults, and 1,509,300 points, breaking the 22-year old NT Multi-Single record by almost a million points.

Thanks to everyone for calling in and being there to be called.
73
John - VE8EV

Backing up the logs right after the contest ended. I haven't even turned the amp off yet.

CQWW SSB VE8EV M/S HP

Call: VE8EV
Operator(s): VE8EV VE8NE
Station: VE8EV

Class: M/S HP
QTH: Inuvik, NT
Operating Time (hrs): 40

Summary:
Band QSOs Zones Countries
------------------------------
160: 5 5 5
80: 22 12 11
40: 151 21 47
20: 846 33 88
15: 1003 25 42
10: 31 6 5
------------------------------
Total: 2058 102 198 Total Score = 1,509,300

Club:

Comments:

A few sunspots and no aurora can sure liven up a weekend; the propagation was outstanding! I spent most of the daylight hours running and the nighttime chasing multipliers. 15m was the money band during the day but 20m and even 40m were going non-stop. I even managed to get all the "easy" multipliers on 160m and 10m for the first time. Newcomer VE8NE got on for a few hours in the evenings (his first time on HF) and thanks to VE8DW for helping set up the second position.

73
John - VE8EV