Looking back at CQ-WW-WPX 2012, and forward to CQ-WW-WPX 2013

I started dabbling in contests several years back, but it was only when the Steppir went up a couple of years ago that it actually became feasible to be competitive, at least in certain contests. Thinking that you might place well in a given category is certainly an incentive to entering a contest – trying to better your own score each year is interesting, but trying to better everyone else’s is something else! For me, a large part of the fun of ham radio contests is in the planning – figuring out exactly how you can be competitive in a particular contest, and what you can do to place well or win.

CQ-WW-WPX CW is my favorite contest for a number of reasons:

  • I like the “work-anyone” format. This is great for a fairly modest station like mine, where I can be sure to find a couple of bands at any one time which will give a decent rate to keep the score ticking over, whether they be locals or medium- or long-haul dx. 
  • The unique system of prefix multipliers work well for me. Being on the east coast I’m well placed to score lots of European prefix multipliers, as well as plenty of multipliers from the USA. Even better, the ground slopes away from my QTH to the west and north-west, so the antenna height is effectively increased; my 3-ele Steppir on a 40 foot tower plays more like it’s at a height of 50 or 60 foot towards multiplier-rich EU. On the other hand, this location is in the shadow of a slight hill to the north, which really hinders propagation to JA and Asia; still, they’re not so rich in WPX multipliers as EU, so overall this is a decent situation for me for WPX (doesn’t work as well for other DX contests where DXCC entities are multipliers, I can’t compete well for Asian multipliers).   
  • There’s a category called “tribander-wires” (TB/W) in the WPX contest, which K3EL actually has a chance of winning. It’s a category which is designed to “…enable competition by similarly equipped stations, where the station uses “… only one (1) tribander (any type, with a single feedline from the transmitter to the antenna) for 10, 15, and 20 meters and single-element antennas on 40, 80, and 160 meters.”. This gives a category in which relatively modest suburban stations can actually compete to win (as opposed to competing to see if they can break the top 20 in the country in the unlimited SOHP category in most contests…).

In the TB/W category, K3EL is fairly competitive.  A couple of years ago I had the top score in the US in the tribander-wires category, low power, and in CQ-WW-WPX 2012 I was delighted to have the high score in the US for the tribander-wires high power category. 

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So why is K3EL competitive in this contest? Well, the east-coast location helps, as mentioned above. After that, it’s mostly about antennas! My 3-ele Steppir at 40 feet  (with some terrain advantage towards EU) probably beats out most trapped 3-ele tribanders at an equivalent height, at least for gain. F/B is lousy on 10 m, but that’s ok in WPX, US contacts count, so putting out a decent signal off the back of the antenna isn’t a disaster. Furthermore, the fast 180 degree switching on the Steppir allows more agile coverage of all bands compared to a traditional beam.

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There are woods at the back of the garden and tall trees around the property, so this is good for setting up effective antennas for the low bands. On top band, I use an inverted-L, with the vertical section about 50 feet high, supported by the top branches of a Sassefras tree. It’s about 170 feet long in total, with a variable capacitor at the base to tune it.  However, WPX doesn’t do multipliers by band, so for this contest, 160 m isn’t really important. Will I spend any time on 160 in WPX 2013? Maybe not at all! On the other hand, 80 m can be a good rate band. Last year for WPX I was using an 80 m dipole at about 45 feet up. Since then, the dipole has been relocated, and a 80 m delta loop is available. The loop has performed very well, and it will be used instead of the dipole in WPX 2013. 40 m is my weak point, antenna-wise. The Steppir has a folded dipole element for 40 m, but the performance is just “ok”. One day I might add another delta loop for 40 m, but it won’t be in time for WPX this year. 

Apart from antennae, what helps make a competitive score? I find careful pre-planning is useful and did a lot of this for WPX 2012. Before the contest, I knew when I should be on what bands (based on propagation prediction software as well as recent experience on the bands – although the plans were modified based on actual conditions). Overall, conditions shouldn’t be so different this year from last (barring any new burst of sunspots or a solar flare) so I’ll be dusting off last year’s plans and tweaking them. If the support team (XYL) is around, meal times are planned – should be the case this year. If not, as in 2012, food was pre-preared for breaks (in WPX you’re allowed to operate only 36 h out of 48 as single op, so you have the luxury of eating and sleeping…!). Last year I added an Acom 2000 amplifier – the auto-tune amp makes it very quick and simple to jump from band to band. No major changes to the station equipment for this year.

During the contest, the main thing I try and do is to keep actively mining the bands; if CQing isn’t doing much, what’s available via the 2nd VFO? If the band is overall not too productive, what other bands should be open? What continents might be opening up (if you’ve WPX’d out EU, where is the next multiplier coming from?). With many WPX multipliers coming from the USA, 15 m is a great band for contacts in the afternoon when conditions to EU may be dropping off.