A Travelling Ham

K3EL, OZ1AA, W2GD

A few days ago a post appeared on the Frankford Radio Club reflector, saying that a Danish radio amateur, Thomas, OZ1AA, was cycling through our club’s region and was looking for places to stay. Thomas was not just doing a local tour, he’s cycling around the world and is into his fifth year of two-wheeled travelling. He has a fascinating blog which details his travels at http://www.cyclingtheglobe.com/

We thoroughly enjoyed having Thomas visit, and were joined for the evening by John, W2GD, who has been following Thomas’ progress for a while. Over dinner we swapped stories of DX, cycling, and contesting. Word of Thomas’ travels has spread through the ham community all the way up the east coast as he heads for Canada, and almost everywhere he’s been welcomed by radio amateurs who have offered him a place to stay and been rewarded by tales from countries we often reach out to by radio, but rarely visit in person.

CQ-WPX-CW 2013

Conditions, conditions, conditions!

Being located on the east coast, my strategy for WPX is fairly simple; work lots of EU, then work some more EU, and make sure you work ’em on the low bands to make the best of the higher points value.

Didn’t work out this year. Just before the contest the bands tanked. Last year I’d done well by starting on 20 m for an hour, then moving to 40. Tried the same again in 2013, but the first hour was very disappointing. With a slow start, everything seemed uphill after that.

CQWPXCW 2013 Qs by hour

40 was ok-ish for a while. 80 m did nicely too; the delta loop I have up is a good antenna for that band, and in another contest where per-band multipliers are important, I’d spend more time there. In WPX it’s not important to work mults on each band and so and when the rate started dropping off on 80 it was back to 40. With nothing much happening, sleep seemed a good option, hoping that by the following morning the bands might be coming back. Not so. Running up and down the bands to try and find openings kept a trickle of contacts coming, but not enough. Conditions finally picked up in the last couple of hours on Sunday, but too little, too late to pull out a really decent score.

Congrats to Paul, N4PN, who looks to have topped out the Tribander/Wires category in the US this year. Hope to give you a closer run for your money in 2014!

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. 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

compressed-0101

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.