W4AU Sets Apparent New CW Record in
2011 Virginia QSO Party
By John Unger - W4AU of Hamilton, Virginia

     I think of myself as a CW operator, my fellow LARG club members think of me as a CW operator, and I do operate CW about 99.9% of the time. So I couldn't think of any reason why I shouldn't enter the Virginia QSO Party in the CW-only category this year. I have to admit that I also had my eye on trying to set a new record for the high-power CW category as an additional incentive.

     In the past I have always rationalized entering the mixed category in the VAQP with the idea of maximizing my score to help LARG do well in the club category, but this year I decided to be stingy and just enjoy operating my favorite mode.

     As usual, just like any other contest that I wanted to enter seriously, I put in a fair amount of preparation ahead of the start of the VAQP. I began by looking at my past mixed logs from the VAQP to see how I could use those data to help me plan my CW-only outing. I also looked at propagation forecasts, especially to see when 15 and 20 meters would be open for working DX stations and getting those needed mults. I knew from past experience that I would have to concentrate on 40 and 80 meters for Virginia county and city mults as well as for many of the state and Canadian province multipliers, but I felt that one key to doing well with CW was to make sure I would work western U.S. stations as well as valuable DX mults. I also realized that I would miss many Virginia mults because many of the hams in those counties and cities would only be operating on SSB or VHF FM.

     My station was in pretty good shape after this winter's storms and snow. I have three main antennas: a KLM KT-34A triband beam at 50 feet, a 191 foot extended double Zepp at 45 feet for 40 meters, and an 80 meter dipole at 40 feet. It's a modest antenna farm compared to 'real' contest stations, but it does seem to play well in domestic contests.

     I have spent a lot of time and effort in setting up and ergonomically organizing the equipment in my shack. I have a basic Single-OP-2-Radio (SO2R) setup using a DX Doubler two-radio controller connected to the N1MM logging program. My main 'run' radio is an Elecraft K3, and I use a TenTec Orion for search-and-pounce (S&P). However, the roles of the radios are not hard and fast and are often reversed during a contest. I don't have any automated switching for my antennas and keep the 80 meter dipole always on the K3, while the other two antennas can be manually switched between the two radios. I use two ICE band pass filters to reduce interference between the radios and generally don't have any problems with hearing one radio on the other. The K3 drives an old Alpha 78 amplifiers and the Orion an even older Drake L-4B amp.

     My real strategy to get the most out of a CW-only effort was to utilize the capabilities of SO2R as much as possible. This meant not only working other bands on the second radio but also monitoring activity on other bands to catch openings.

     As usual, I started out on 40 meters at 1800Z and had a modest run going at the outset. As I expected, things slowed down after an initial flurry, and at the end of the first hour I had 53 Q's including QSO's made using the second radio. There just is not the high level of activity on CW at the start of the contest that there is on SSB. For the next few hours I alternated between running on 40 and 20 while doing S&P on the second radio on whichever band I was not running. It was slow but reasonably steady, and at 2330, when I went to 80 meters, I had 220 Q's in the log. Now the pattern changed as I ran on 80 and S&P'ed on 40 with occasional forays to 20 looking for new mults. I ran out of steam and stations to work about 0400 and decided to call it a night, get a good sleep, and be ready for an all-day effort on Sunday. I had 387 Q's in the log when I quit and felt pretty good about my chances to break the HP CW record if conditions continued to be good on Sunday.

     Well, things began inauspiciously when I found that I had misjudged how soon 15 and 20 would be open to Europe. When I got on the air at 1145, both of these bands were already going strong, and although I did make some good DX Q's, I should have been on the air an hour or so earlier! I started slugging it out, alternating between 40 and 20 with the rate staying about 30 per hour. I discovered one big benefit of using SO2R is that the challenge of using two radios helps keep you from getting bored with these relatively slow rates. The big news happened at 1442 when my 453rd QSO put my score just ahead the existing HP CW record!

     From there on out I worked steadily on 40 and then mostly on 20 during the afternoon working central and western U.S. stations. I used an additional SO2R capability where I would alternately use each radio to send short CQ's on each band; it's a tactic that works pretty well when the activity level is low. At 2100 things came to a screeching halt as I had a command performance at a dinner party we were hosting. After being a gracious host for 3 hours, I jumped back on the radio on 80 meters at 0000Z to finish up the contest. I found a number of local Virginia stations who were willing to QSY to 10, 15, and 20 (and even 160 for K4C) and put some additional QSO's this way

     My final numbers are very satisfactory. I had put about 20 hours in the chair operating but found that I was much less fatigued than I am after a similar effort running mixed with SSB. My final score was 194,705 with 579 good CW QSO's and 165 mults. I think that my strategy of using SO2R as much as possible paid off in two important ways: it enabled me to be productive during the time that I spent operating and it kept me from being bored during the inevitable slow times. Checking over my log, I found that I made 103 genuine second radio QSO's.

     We will have to wait until the final numbers are in, but I think my score will stand up well. But win or lose, I feel really well about my efforts in the VAQP this year.

     Best Regards, John - W4AU


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