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...


K6VAR said...

Congrats on the clean sweep from the far north! I also see you worked 9 stations on 10 meters. I was one of the nine -- well, at least I hope I'm in your log :-)

I'm a small pistol, barefoot, with a 40m inverted vee fed with 300-ohm twinlead. QTH is near Sacramento, California. When 10m opened up to a few stations on the east coast, I would rapidly spin the tuning knob between about 28.35 and 28.50 mHz to listen for new signals. After working several stations in 4-land, you popped up and you were very loud. When we did our exchange you sounded like you were next door, with full quieting on the audio. Why are you running an amp, you obviously don't need it ;-)

73 Jim, K6VAR

John Boudreau - VE8EV said...

Actually Jim, my amp doesn't do 10 meters so I usually run barefoot on that band. I'll probably borrow an FL-2100B for the ARRL 10m contest though.

73 and thanks for visiting!
John - VE8EV