Monday, August 22, 2016

WQ6X Survives the summertime NAQP SSB contest

Thanks to horrible space weather afflictions, the weekend's NAQP SSB contest was a considerable disappointment.

Business requirements kept me in the bay area prevented me from joining the NX6T crew in NashVille.  In all honesty, they had so many [now] veteran operators that I doubt that my contribution would have much improved what turned out to be an incredible 3rd place Multi-2 score; beat only by KD4D & NV9L.
Comet CH-250 Vertical

Agreeing to be on one of the SCCC (Southern California Contest Club) single-OP teams I again setup operation from W7AYT's QTH (Concord, Ca.) on Friday evening giving me ample time to configure the N1MM logging software for voice-keying.  Unfortunately, I could never manage to get the audio link to work properly, so I did the unthinkable and used my own voice FULL time.

I ran the Yaesu FT-1000mp into a CH-250 vertical (already at W7AYT's QTH) and a hastily raised sloping Cobra dipole - 10mh at the apex.  The FT-1000mp supports two separate antennas (A & B) making it easy to rapidly switch between the two looking for the best signal level.

Overall, the sloper seemed to be the better antenna for 20 meters and the CH-250 vertical produced stronger signals and (surprisingly) lower noise-levels on 40.   Having both antennas available allowed for QSOs on 80 meters.

QSOs by Hour

While the CH-250 was miraculously able to tune on 160, I was unable to raise any of the stations
I heard there.

Space weather wise, conditions were HORRIBLE.  From Concord, 10 & 15 meter activity was non-existent.  Hoping that band conditions would improve, I chose to not begin operations until 19:45z.  While signal levels had improved a little, I could see that it was going to be a slow go. 

By 00:00z (1/2 way into the contest) I accomplished a WHOPPing 26 QSOs.  As you can see things didn't begin to pickup until 02:00z.

A disadvantage of starting nearly 2 hours into the contest is that after 04:00z one-by-one the single OP stations run out their 10 hours and QRT.  Because most of the remaining multi-OP stations have already been worked it takes a combination of CQ's and S&P's to add a handful of QSOs to the log.

While this contest is overall a lot of fun due to the personal exchange (Name and QTH) this particular event was one of the most frustrating NAQP contests
I've ever engaged in.

I submitted the NAQP score to the 3830 website and even made a short video showcasing the operation at W7AYT's QTH.

FT-1000mp + Electro Voice 664 Mic

Did You operate the NAQP SSB contest?

Is WQ6X in YOUR log?

Friday, August 19, 2016

WQ6X dabbles in WAE-CW 2016

NX6T - Station #1

For this year's WAE (Worked All Europe) contest I had to make a decision whether to drive to NashVille (in Fallbrook) to operate the NX6T station, operate portable from W7AYT in Northern California with only a vertical antenna, or, operate NX6T remotely.

As it turns out, the rock band GAMMA+ was playing at Club Fox in Redwood City on Saturday night so I compromised and got a room for two nights at the Comfort Inn in Redwood City to see the show and ran the NashVille station remotely as WQ6X.

C-31 Yagi - 12mh
Operating from the East coast or Midwest gives operators there a significant advantage in working Europe.  Operating from NX6T's QTH had the advantage over Northern California of a C-31 yagi on the high bands and a 2-element 40 meter Yagi.

Because propagation was poor on 80/160/10 I heard no signals on any of those bands, making this operation a 20-15-40 meter affair; not surprisingly with most of the action on 20 meters.

40 meters on Friday evening was a tough go.  It seemed as though I was weaker into Europe than I thought I should have been.  On Saturday morning I discovered why - the K3's power level had been dialed down to 25 watts (probably for station testing) and I neglected to check power levels before starting.  It could've been worse - dialed back to 5 watts.  (Maybe I shoulda run as QRP).

Running the K3 @ 95 watts made all the difference.  Unfortunately, 40 meters was nearly a no-show on Saturday evening, so I largely missed out.

The WAE contest is unique in that you have the opportunity to send/receive "QTC" (traffic) messages for extra points.  Because I was running remotely using "canned" function keys, making QTC work with N1MM was way over my head for the weekend so I replied "no QTC" to traffic requests; probably disappointing a lot of EU stations.

One of my goals in working the WAE contest was to put the WQ6X callsign in as many EU logs as possible for callsign recognition in future contests.  WAE also put a guaranteed 34 countries on my solo DXCC list from NashVille.

Countries worked in WAE
Being a CW contest, I further developed my SO2V operating skills; thanks to the dual-receive capability of the FT-1000mp.

Operating remotely, internet latency was a BiG problem Friday evening and somewhat less of a problem on Saturday afternoon.  By Sunday, things had settled down.  I could no longer blame internet latency for my poor performance; by then it was all about operating skill.

Being a remote operation I relied heavily on internet spots via the N1MM bandmap.  Unfortunately, many of the spots were significantly off frequency requiring "manual" tuning in order to make contact - not always easy to do remotely.

Additionally, many of the spotted callsigns were surprisingly incorrect (despite being spotted by a skimmer), requiring me to actually LISTEN before blindly calling the station.  Then again, because I ran frequencies much of the time I was helped along by a number of East coast skimmer radios adding WQ6X to the network.  I submitted a contest score report to the 3830 Scores website.

WQ6X remote view of NX6T
Did you work the WAE contest?

Is WQ6X in YOUR Log?

Monday, August 8, 2016

WQ6X Joins SCCC Team #1 for NAQP CW

WQ6X operating position
Comet CH-250 Vertical

The CW/SSB NAQP 12 hour contests happen twice a year: January and August.  (RTTY variations of NAQP happen in February and July).

For the August 2016 NAQP gig, I joined SCCC (Southern California Contest Club) team #1, again operating portable from W7AYT's QTH in Concord (East Bay ARRL section).

While the location sports only a vertical antenna, for ease of setup the location can't be beat.  Dennis' other contribution to my operation was some EXCELLENT homebrew food Saturday evening.

For this NAQP event my main goal was to learn/perfect the art of SO2V (Single OP, 2 VFOs) encouraged by a VE3 writeup on the subject.  Reading all about SO2V is one thing; making it actually work is a completely different contesting challenge than what I am used to.

Luckily, the FT-1000mp and N1MM software are integrally integrated.  The N1MM keyboard layout to make SO2V work was well thought out; using keys on both sides of the alpha key structure.  My only beef with N1MM is that during program startup the ENTRY window for VFO-B is hidden behind the window for VFO A - even if you save window positions before shutting down the software.

In implementing SO2V, a number of times I got frustrated and manually swapped VFO A & B to quickly make the contact so as not to confuse the station on the other end.  Eventually I got the feel for SO2V and it became more "fluid".  Practice (and not giving up) breeds more precision.  It will be interesting to see if I can repeat the SO2V experience in 2 weeks for the NAQP SSB contest.

Space weather wise band conditions above 15 mhz were rather bleak at the W7AYT QTH; altho it seems that most W6 stations shared a similar experience.  I only worked one W6 station above 15 mhz (on 10 meter CW).

Other W6 stations suggested that 15 meters possessed sudden propagation shifts allowing them to work other countries.  In retrospect I should have checked 15 meters more often.

Country wise, the only entity I worked was NP2X (Virgin Islands) on 40 meters.

20 meters became the predominate daytime band followed by40 meters during the evening. Although I made a number of 40-meter run attempts throughout the afternoon, they yielded merely a handful of QSOs.  Considering that I had run out of 20-meter stations at that moment I guess the switch to 40 meters at those times were warranted.

Surprisingly, altho I ran the Yaesu into a roof-mounted Comet CH-250 vertical, the noise level at W7AYT's QTH was quite low - no need for the 1000 MP's DSP noise reduction facilities.

Unfortunately, signal levels were ALSO way down.  Whether that was due to the use of a (no-gain) vertical or the poor propagation conditions has yet to be determined.  Nevertheless I managed to work virtually every station I heard.

As a part of SCCC Team #1, I operated in conjunction with a lot of "heavyweight" operators.  Out of the 6 members of Team #1 while my score was at the bottom of the heap, the bottom line is that I did the best I knew how with the setup I had available to me and improved my operating skills considerably this weekend, making it a worthwhile endeavor for all concerned.

Because NAQP requires a minimum of 2 hours off time for single-OP stations, part of the contest strategy must include when to start and when to take the mandatory 30+ minute (minimum) breaks.  I took a risk and began operations at 19:00z (12 pm local) - one hour into the contest.  Due to poor band condx I found two other off time opportunities, for lunch while ostensibly "waiting" for space WX condx to improve; which it eventually did.

On 40 meters, while I did hear the Russian "K" beacon (on 7.039), there was not the usual intentional QRM I am used to on 40; no belches, no VFO swoops and no bursts of RTTY out of the blue.

Unfortunately, this contest's 80 meter activity was quite a disappointment.  While I was able to work up into Washington, east to Colorado and Kansas and into Southern California, the actual number of stations on 80 meters was very small.

The CH-250 does not natively work 160 and I did not bring a manual line tuner so working top band did not happen in this contest.

In retrospect while the QSO count in this summer's NAQP contest was much less than I am used to, the upside is that there were no equipment failures.

The WQ6X callsign made yet another contest appearance for 2016; becoming one of my more contest-active years.

Before I forget, the WEIRDEST thing about this NAQP-CW was working a DOZEN people with the name MILT; most of them in AZ.  Before this event, I RARELY see the name Milt in NAQP.  Wassup with Milt?

Did you play in the NAQP CW contest?

Is WQ6X in Your log?