Listen to all the terrific contest operators! Call-Listen-Wait. A real pleasure to hear after the recent horrific pileups for the FT4TA dxpedition to Tromelin Island...
The PileupsThere's no shortage of people in the contest who want to work NT. Trying to maximise the number who get into my log is challenging. As a newly minted VE8 amateur I remember the first time I tried calling CQ in Sweepstakes. Within a few minutes I was simply overwhelmed by the huge number of callers. Learning how to efficiently manage the demand took a lot of practise. There's no good way to work split in a big contest like this so there has to be discipline on BOTH ends. If the operator has it together then usually the pileup will cooperate nicely. If you keep everything moving at a steady pace you can run at some pretty good rates, too, despite the lengthy exchange!
This rate chart in QSO's/hr clearly shows the 'Saturday Night Doldrums' and this year's 'Sunday Morning Blues'
One of the biggest problems with being an NT station in this contest is that nobody points their antennas at me. Oh sure, if its getting kind of late on Sunday afternoon some ops will beam our way hoping an NT station will drop by. That usually does the trick, but for most of the contest guys will beam West if they're in the East and East if they're in the West. That means its hard for them to hear me off the side of their antenna! This causes two problems. First off, its very difficult for NT stations running low-power (or running high-power and having it all absorbed by the aurora!) to make contacts. The second problem is trying to run. First I have to find a clear frequency. Of course 'clear' is a somewhat relative term in a contest but even if I can get a run going there's nothing to stop someone with their antenna pointed away from me plunking themselves down right on top of me and just CQing until I go away (if they even know I'm there in the first place).
The Antenna Challenge
It doesn't seem right in some way but, like an expedition to a semi-rare DX location, we're almost completely at the mercy of the DX spotting networks. This is how it works: I find a 'clear' frequency (see above) and start calling CQ. If I'm lucky, someone tuning by happens to hear me and gives me a call. Sooner or later, if I don't get run off the frequency (again, see above), eventually one of those callers will spot me on the spotting network. At that point, all the guys that are watching the spots and want to work NT jump to my frequency and call me resulting in an instant pileup. The ball is now in my court to work as many of the callers as possible before its ends. When it does end I start over. If it ended because someone ran me off the frequency then I have to start over at the very beginning again. If I'm lucky, though, I keep getting spotted often enough to sustain the run for a while. Even better, now the guys with their antennas pointed away from me can at least hear the stations calling me (which slightly reduces the probability I'll get run off the frequency) and stations that aren't using the spotting networks hear all the commotion and turn their antennas to find out who everyone is hollering at...
The sky over VE8EV early Sunday morning during Sweepstakes.