Monday, November 01, 2010

Taking part

On Saturday I blew the dust (literally!) off my K3's microphone. After I had finished sneezing, I started making some contacts in the CQ WorldWide SSB DX Contest.

This was not intended to be a serious competitive effort. My intention was to spend all of the time I could spare that weekend making contest contacts and see how many stations I could work. I spent about an hour on Saturday morning before going with Olga to the garden centre, and a couple of hours in the afternoon. On Sunday I was up earlier than normal because the clocks went back overnight, so I operated for about three hours in the morning before lunch. I had intended to do some operating in the afternoon as well but the three hours in the morning had left me feeling a bit tired and stiff so I went for a walk after lunch and then fell asleep on my return home. Getting old is my excuse!

I made a total of 154 contacts in 43 different countries and 4 continents during my six hours or so of operating. The detailed breakdown, for those interested, is shown in the screen grab of the contest statistics dialog from KComm (the Extra field shows the number of CQ zones.) This would give me a claimed score of 17,487 points if my calculations are correct, which by comparison with last year's results would place me well down the second half of the All Band Single Operator Low Power Unassisted results table.

This was the first time I had made such an effort for an SSB contest. Until now I hated turning on the radio during big SSB contests because the bands sounded like bedlam. But I had never tried with the K3 before. Instead of a mush of intermod, splatter and AGC pumping I could hear everything clearly. Sometimes I could hear two or three stations on the same frequency simultaneously, one in the foreground and a couple in the background. And the superb DSP filtering made it easy to shut out close-by stations so I could copy a weaker one. I often had the passband down to 1.8kHz and copy was still crystal clear.

Initially I started off just working the loud ones because I didn't want to waste the serious contesters' time by making them struggle to hear my call. But I found there was no hard and fast rule relating how strong a station was with whether they heard me. One Finnish station, 10dB over 9 with me, just kept on calling as if I wasn't there. But many weaker ones came right back to my first call.

Frustratingly, a significant number of stations came back to me as "Golf 4 Lima India Oscar" - exactly the same error that was made when I ordered my QRSS beacon kit a couple of weeks ago. What is it about my call? This doesn't happen on CW (though I used to get replied to as G3ILO very often as the holder of that call is a well known QRP CW operator.)

Conditions didn't appear to be very good this weekend. I'd hoped to hear some interesting DX on 10m but I heard hardly anyone at all on the band. As always, 20m was the liveliest band, but I made almost as many contacts on 15m, probably because the QRM was less making it easier to make contacts.

I didn't work any DX and I only worked one all time new DXCC entity - Svalbard, JW5E. I did hear a VK on 15m on Sunday morning but he had a big pileup going and after trying for about five minutes I decided not to waste any more time and move on.

Despite my unspectacular results I thoroughly enjoyed my few hours in the CQ WW DX SSB contest. No doubt and other online forums will be full of grumbles about contests taking over the band for the entire weekend, the only time working people can get on the air etc etc. But if you can't beat them, why not join them?

My feeling is that contesting is one of the many different activities you can pursue and to get the most from the hobby you should try as many of those different activities as you can. As this post has hopefully shown, having indoor antennas is no obstacle to working a decent number of stations and earning a respectable score for the time spent. It's not the winning, it's the taking part that counts. I certainly felt like a real participant in this radiosport event and I look forward to seeing my call in the results table next year.
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