My CQWW CW
This past weekend of November 23, 2013, was the CQWW CW contest. This was the third time I really "dove in" to try and work the contest as aggressively as I could. Each year has been different as I have progressively added antennas to my station.
My planning began over a year ago, actually, for this WW just completed. I had numerous examples since moving to my QTH in 2010 that illustrated I needed better hearing capabilities on 160m and 80m if I was to make a reasonable number of contacts. My "L" shaped lot, location of transmit antennas, and the 19.2 KV power line traversing close to E-to-W on one side of my property, all but eliminated from consideration a beverage system. So I began seriously considering an active four-square arrangement. I designed a suitable active antenna preamplifier, with one prototype completed, and had begun working out the details of the switching matrix to switch receive into four different directions, when I began having to travel extensively. I knew I had no chance of completing my own design in time for the 2013-14 contest season so I purchased the DX Engineering four-square system ( not the "full-up" system but most of it ). I completed the installation of the four-square in September. It is arranged with the diagonals of the square hitting Europe, South American, New Zealand, and Japan. Each side of the square is 70 ft.
The addition of the four-square completes my plans for antennas at my location. While I would like to have more antennas, an additional tower, and the like, I have done as much as I can without looking like the "Beverly Hillbillies". My XYL may not agree with that assessment, believing perhaps that the QTH already looks that way J . For the CQWW I used a Cushcraft XM-240 at 80 ft for 40m, a Force12 C31XR at 71 ft covering, 10, 15, and 20m, a DX Engineering 80/40m vertical with 90 radials on 80m, and an inverted "L" for 160m.
My pre-contest plans included getting more rest throughout the week. I even took a nap, a recommendation from W4AU, the afternoon before the contest began. In total these things paid dividends and allowed me to sleep one hour in the first 32 hours of the contest. Prior to the contest I also made crib sheets for amplifier tuning settings for each band of operation and a few shortcuts that I planned to use in the contest logger, N1MM. It goes without saying that having a firm grasp of N1MM operation is essential when the QSOs are really rolling.
For the first time in my CQWW history, I secured a frequency on 40m and started calling CQ approximately ten minutes before the beginning of the contest. The lower you are in the 40m band, the more essential it is to do this if you are to have a hope of securing a "run" frequency at the beginning of the contest. I ran 40m for the next 2.5 hours before passing through 160m to catch 5 new ones. I then spent the next 2.5 hours on 80m.
The "mega-stations", with their multiple antennas, have not only "antenna agility" with multiple antennas on each frequency band, but also the inherent ability to keep their frequencies clear. For example, splitting your RF power in half to one antenna at 100 ft on Europe, and the other antenna pointed at South America at 60 ft, not only increases coverage but helps keep frequency encroachers away. A clear frequency comes at the small price of 3 dB in signal strength. With a single tower and primarily one antenna per frequency band, I am at a disadvantage. In my case I did alternate between vertical and low inverted-Vee on 80 m and my 40m yagi and vertical to attempt to keep the frequency more clear. I believe this tactic helped, although with some of the European "big guns" on 40m, multiple yagis were really needed.
A new experience for me occurred Saturday morning on 20m. I was able to work JAs going the normal way over Alaska as well as passing over Europe. I found that quite interesting.
Band conditions for the contest were very favorable, although they had been hotter the weekend before. During the daylight hours I alternated largely between 10m and 15m, but did spend considerable time mid-afternoon Saturday and Sunday on 20m as well. It was disappointing to hear so few stations from South America.
This year, as was the case last year, I struggled to get different countries on the six bands for multipliers. I would routinely do "search and pounce" when I would do a band change before finding a clear frequency to "run". My reasoning was that the rare ones were not going to come to me; it was up to me to find them. I operated "Non-Assisted", which means no spotting aids from the internet. I spent considerable time Sunday afternoon looking for new zones and countries which, obviously, diminishes one's run rate.
The accompanying graph shows my rates over the contest period. I am still in the process of analyzing this data with a) the times I did band changes and b) those periods of time when I picked up good numbers of new countries. At the end of this analysis I may decide I should not have changed bands quite as frequently.
For comparisons I looked at the running cumulative QSO count I achieved in past CQWWs and they are shown below.
This last graph shows my performance improved over previous years, which indeed was the case.I managed approximately 500 more QSOs than any year previous and I improved my final score by ~ 25%.I want to give credit to my XYL who kept me hydrated and nourished over the duration of 43 hours of operation.
As Norm would say, "May the Morse be with you!"
It seemed fitting to review this year's 2014 CQWW contest in light of last year's results which I described in "My CQWW CW" posted on the LARG reflector. My station has changed considerably in the past year and it is gratifying to see some identifiable characteristics in the results.
Rather early in 2014 I decided to embark on a complete SO2R (single operator two radio) configuration. This is not for the "faint of heart" from the standpoint of the additional work involved AND the additional money required. Having a second radio for the SO2R operation was really the smallest part of the station changes.
Throughout 2014 I did multiple things toward realizing the full SO2R configuration. The first change was outfitting the "antenna farm" with a full 2 X 8 RF switch matrix. Fortuitously, I had the forethought in 2011 to run two heliax cables to my remote junction box from which all but one of my antennas are fed. This is a prerequisite for SO2R unless you have a dedicated cable to each and every antenna running into your shack. I purchased the Array Solutions 8-Pak. While a home-built solution was considered, the cost and complexity of getting all components on a single PC board was fraught with problems, mostly financial. I was unable to find a PC layout program under ~ $1,000 which would provide a PC board much larger than 4" x 5" which was entirely unsuitable. The Array Solutions box is very attractive, integrates well with my other station hardware, facilitates automation in the shack, and is rated at 3 KW for a 3:1 VSWR. Upgrade #1.
A second hurdle was that of modifying my single coax-fed C31XR tribander to three cables, one for each band. I simultaneously did some maintenance work on my tower in the process. This required that I pull both the XM240 and C31XR antennas back to the ground and tip over the tower. The open-sleeve coupling of the C31XR was replaced with three single coaxial feeds - an absolute necessity for SO2R.
The modification to three coaxial feeds, while beneficial to my net VSWR and an absolute necessity for SO2R, came with antenna interactions between the two antennas which took several weeks to sort out. The details are too complex to review here. The net result, however, is that all my antennas work very well now with the best VSWR I have experienced to date. Upgrade #2.
The most expensive upgrade came in the area of dedicated bandpass filters for each of the two radios. NC4S and I have been planning to build our own, but the continuing impediment to execution is an inexpensive source of high voltage, RF stable capacitors. The route of standard silver mica capacitors cost about half the cash outlay of commercial filters, and the desirable route of MLCC capacitors (multi-layer ceramic chip capacitors) encounters the difficulty of sufficient board real estate to layout each filter at a reasonable cost. These factors and my continual visit to California resulted in my purchasing two Bandpasser II filters from Array Solutions. Their performance specifications are outstanding, and an added plus in my case is that the control box for the 2 X 8 switch matrix talks to each of the filter boxes seamlessly. Upgrade #3.
I ended up receiving a new kit-form K3 Tuesday night, Nov 25th. I told John, W4AU, that I would probably just "leave it under the tree" and assemble it later. Upon reading that the warranty period begins the day of shipment I thought that idea was perhaps not the best ( you're all thinking I was looking for a reason to open it earlier, I know), so I started some assembly Tuesday night around 8 PM. My first thoughts were that I'd get it finished sometime in December.
December came early as I had the K3 entirely assembled and in the shack by Thursday, Thanksgiving morning. A new radio as complex as the K3 requires more than one day to master, along with all the other things going on at this time of year. Needless to say, I used it in this year's CQWW and was very thankful for the 8-pole bandpass filters with all the selectivity they provided.
Enough of the rambling and now on to the results! The first graph below shows my run rates for 2013 and 2014. A quick study of the graphs immediately shows some improvements compared to last year (thankfully).
Some of the time I operated as though I had a single radio, and at other times when two bands were mildly busy I would toggle between the two radios. This SO2R concept keeps you much busier and you have to stay on your toes, so to speak.
This second graph is a comparison of the results over four years since having moved to my new country QTH. 2014 CQWW ended with slightly more than 2,800 QSOs and 42 hours "in the chair" I quit early to attend to a thermostat problem with one of my furnaces. At least it waited until the end of the contest!