AA5AU Contest Notes – 2004 SARTG RTTY Contest

The SARTG RTTY Contest is one that I have not won.  It’s a very difficult contest to win from the United States and has only been done once up to this time, by Jeff K1IU in 1995.  I did score first place USA twice, 1988 & 2000, and held the North American record from 2000 until Mike K4GMH took it over last year. For all SARTG RTTY Contest records, click here.

When SARTG decided to add a low power class this year, I was surprised but excited.  I think all RTTY contests should have a low power category for those operators that do not own an amplifier or do not wish to operate high power.  I enjoy low power RTTY contesting more than high power because it is more challenging and you have less a chance of blowing things up and I hate blowing things up.  I felt the best chance I had to win this contest would be to go low power so I decided early on I would enter the new class E (single op, low power 100 watts max.) even though in this part of the sunspot cycle my chances were pretty slim I could pull it off.  (LZ2BE and LZ9R would post better low power scores than me after the contest so I’ll have to try to win this one again some other time.)

I planned a full-time effort and normally take the Friday off from work before the start of a major contest so I can rest and make sure the station is battle-ready.  However, because of the heavy workload at the office I felt it was important I work that Friday.  I got home from work around 2300Z (6 PM local time) that evening and had only an hour to eat dinner and double-check the station.  The station pretty much stays configured for contesting all the time and I had been testing the microHAM USB micro KEYER on my Dell PC and Icom IC-775DSP, so I felt everything should be good to go and it was.  After dinner I got my pre-contest things together – small cooler with Cokes and ice, plastic pee jug and BC headache powders.  I settled into the operating chair, turned everything on and synchronized the time clocks on both PC’s.  Did some pre-contest transmissions and everything looked good.

I looked at propagation numbers and didn’t like what I saw.  The SFI was 121, the A was 16 and K was 3.  I briefly thought to change my mind and go high power but remembered my neighbor complaining of TVI when I used my PW-1 amp at a KW.  Since I had not received the I.C.E. high-pass filters or ByteMark #77 toroids I’d ordered earlier in the week to take care of this problem, I decided to stay low power and just “brave it out”.  Conditions would not be good.

I also browsed the local weather radar on the Internet a few minutes before the start and saw a strong line of thunderstorms to the north of Lake Pontchartrain.  Since I live south of the lake, I wasn’t in any immediate threat but when I turned the A radio on to 40 meters, I could hear the static crashes from these storms.  I wasn’t looking forward to have to listen to this for the next 8 hours, but there wasn’t much I could do about it.  I turned radio B on to 20 meters and the static crashes were very light.  20 actually sounded pretty good.  I decided I would start CQ on 20 and S&P on 40 meters.

When the contest started I immediately worked 8 stations on 14082 kHz in the first five minutes.  This was encouraging but there wasn’t anything on 40 so I switched to 15 on the A radio and there wasn’t anything on 15 either.  I CQ’d a couple of times on 15 but nothing so went back to 40.  I picked up W8UL, DJ3IW, F6IRF, G3SEK, CM2ZK, ON6MX, S53S, OL1RY, AI9T, PS7TKS and OK2BXW on 40 meters S&P in the first 50 minutes while continuing to hold 14082 as my run frequency on the other radio.  This was encouraging but 40 was pretty noisy and didn’t find any more stations so I went to 15 to check it since it was just past my sunset.  I didn’t hear anything on 15 but felt there must be something so I CQ’d on 21085 kHz while beaming due west and John VK4UC called me at 0059Z.  I was then called by W8WEJ, AC6JT and K5WW but that is all that 15 would yield that evening.  I went back to 40 meters S&P.  I was able to hold 14082 on the other radio for an hour and when I went CQ on 15, I went S&P on 20.  Everything I worked on 20 in the first hour was stateside – no DX except OH4LRP.  At 0100Z I had 70 QSO’s and thought this was decent for low power under poor conditions.

I stayed on 20 and 40 meters for the next hour and twenty minutes when I decided to check 80 meters.  80 was very noisy and I had to put on the 18 db attenuator.  There were no signals on the band, so I called CQ on 3585 kHz and was called by W2YC, K0BX, KM4M, NC2N, KE4DYG, AB0RX, K4XO, W3FV, AI9T, K9MUG/4, W4GKM, K3UK and K0HW in 30 minutes while CQ’ing on 7045 kHz on the other radio and being called by I1COB, HB9CAL, I1BAY, XE1OK, YU1RH, YU7AM, EA5EG, YV5AAX and XE1JYL on 40 along with several stateside and Canadian stations.  Not bad stuff and I was having fun despite static crashes in my ears.  It was time for a BC powder and another Coca Cola.

So into the night it was pretty much 40 and 80 meters which checks on 20 to work the likes of VE6AX, VK3DBQ, ZL2AMI, JI1RXQ, VK4UC, LU1NDC and 9A7R.  40 meters yielded some nice DX as well with EM1HO in Antarctica, KP2D, being called by ZV7AA, NP4BM, VP9GE and 9A3ZI, KH6GMP and GU0SUP.  While this was going on, the static crashes got louder.  I was getting quite tired from being up all day and the rate fell way off.  From 0500-0600 I worked only 20 stations.  20 meters was next to dead with only one signal on the band heard – 9A7R, and he was weak.  It was sunrise in Europe and I wasn’t hearing them on 20 meters.  I was not going to get that occasional 20 meter EU opening I sometimes get at their sunrise.  I could hear thunder outside with my headphones on.  So at 0623Z I decided to quit early and get some sleep.  I saved my logs, disconnected my antennas due to lightning and went to bed.  I had 280 QSO’s.  It wasn’t great but not too bad.  I slept all the way to 1500Z, an hour before the start of the second period.

I really love the SARTG format of three 8-hour contest periods separated by two 8-hour rest periods.  I like to think of it as three separate 8 hour sprints .  The second segment is usually the most fruitful for me.  It’s all in the daylight from 11 AM to 7 PM local time just before my sunset.  During this period I concentrate on 10 and 15 meters early then 15 and 20 meters later.  But this year would be different.  This year ten meters was completely dead and 15 meters was barely breathing.  Ten meters yielded no contacts at all and I only worked YV6BTF, LT0H, LU1NDC, W0SM (who was strong), EM1HO, W6RLL/7, K6HGF, YV5AAX, VE6YR, W3FV, and ZL2AMI in the first two hours.  I was very discouraged by this – no EU and a surprising lack of stateside.  20 meters was still decent with a steady mix of US, VE and EU stations.

I kept seeing SV8CS being spotted on 15 meters and actually heard him briefly.  I called and he came back to me but I couldn’t complete the contact.  I kept going back to the frequency and finally at 2005Z his signal peaked up, I called and made the contact.  After working SV8CS, I only worked LT1D, KH6GMP, and ZL2BR on 15 meters until there was a very short opening to EU where I worked IT9JOF, CT1EHX, I2UIY, I0QM in a 14 minute period from 2136Z-2150Z.  After that I worked only 4 more stations on 15 the rest of the segment – YV4GLD, K9MUG/4, KP2D and PY2SRB.  Meanwhile, 20 meters was good for stateside, Canada and Europe with nice multipliers like TA2ZF, VK2IMM long path, TK5IH, C4C, TF3KX and CU3GB.

I kept seeing HS72B being spotted on the cluster that afternoon on 20 meters but did not go to check to see if I could hear him.  HS is very difficult to work from my part of the world, let alone in the middle of the day, using low power in a contest.  Finally he started being spotted by US stations.  This sparked my curiosity and during one S&P sweep of the band I came across his call on the bandmap and listened for a few seconds.  I about fell out of my chair when I found him perfect copy.  He was working Japan and I wasn’t hearing any US stations calling.  He called CQ and I called but he came back to JA station.  Afterward, I called again and he came back to me.  That contact would be one of three highlights in the contest.  It was 1953Z (1:53 PM local time) – amazing!

About an hour and half before the end of the segment, a thunderstorm formed over the QTH.  A clap of thunder startled me and I saw the reflection of the ensuing lighting strike through the closed blinds on the window in the shack.  Yikes!  I quickly shut down, disconnected my antennas and decided to take a shower.  After my shower I checked the radios and the rain static was so loud I couldn’t copy anything so I took a short nap.  I was off for 40 minutes.  Afterward, the rain static went away but there was only 20 minutes to go until the end of period two.  I finished the second segment and my QSO total was 440 and it was probably my worst ever middle 8 hour segment in my recent SARTG history.

I ate dinner and then played cards with Shay and her nephew.  At 10 PM (0300Z), I finally climbed into bed.  The alarm sounded at 0730Z.  I got right up and made coffee.  By 0800Z I was ready to go again.  I wasn’t anticipating a lot of action.  I dialed across 20 meters and there wasn’t a RTTY signal to be found.  So I started on 40 and 80 meters.  It was 3 o’clock in the morning but I was wide awake.  40 and 80 were both relatively quiet (noise free) and I was happily surprised.  The start of the 3rd segment is normally very slow but also very important for certain multipliers like JA districts on 40 meters.  I found ZL2BR and YV6BTF right off the bat on 40.  I started calling CQ at 7034 kHz looking for Japan and was answered by JI1RXQ, JF3PNQ and 7L4IOU for three quick multipliers.  Later I would work JA1OVD, 7N4XCA, JM1XCW and JH3GCN.  The JA opening on 40 was a good one with strong signals but there were only a handful to work.  They didn’t appear to have any trouble hearing me and I was happy for that.  I went S&P and heard 9M6US call and work a few stations.  He was S&P and saw he was moving up the band, so I got up around 7034 kHz again and called quick CQ’s but he never heard me.  I went to look for him again but never saw him.  He had a great signal and I think I could have made a contact had I found him.  I was disappointed.  Still nothing on 20, and 80 was pretty much played out.

About an hour later I would see Bob ZL2AMI spotted on 80 meters.  I went there but didn’t hear anything.  Then I just happened to come across him on 40 meters and saw him ask someone to QSY to 3580.  I jumped to 3580 on the other radio and he was working K0FX and I could copy Bob fairly well.  I sent my call 5 times and it sounded like he came back to me.  I got a serial number and sent my report.  He asked for a repeat and I sent my number several times.  When he came back I saw my call, then “SRI” and “QSL” in the same transmission.  I wasn’t sure if I made the contact but I logged him anyway at ten minutes past my sunrise at 1145Z (after the contest, Bob did confirm the contact was good which I originally had thought).  That was one of two highlights of the 3nd period – working Bob with only 100 watts.  I had only worked Bob on 80 meters one other time I could recall – in last year’s CQWW RTTY contest while I was high power.  I later would find out Bob was running 500 watts but had a lot of static crashes from local weather.  I certainly knew what he was talking about!  That contact lifted my spirits and along with the fact that I finally found signals on 20 meters, I started having a little fun again.  But it was really slow.  40 was now dead and signals on 20 were too weak to work.  15 was completely dead.  So I took a nap from around 1230-1330Z.  It was good timing because I found my first signal on 15 meters at 1346Z with N2XD/4.  This was a positive sign since stateside, or any other signal, was rare the previous day.

15 meters opened up to the East Coast & Midwest USA and I found KM4M, K0IDT, W1ZT, NO2T, K3ONW and W1AJT/VE3.  I worked my first EU station on 15 that day, LA6FJA, who answered my CQ on 21094 kHz at 1414Z.  A few minutes later I would come across DU7/G4DUM while S&P on 20 meters.  His signal was weak but the band was very quiet and he was good copy at S-zero signal level.  I called once and he came back to me.  I was surprised and it would be the last of the three highlights of the contest.  Six minutes later W4ZE/3 called me on 15 meters with a very strong signal at 1426Z.  It was the strongest signal I had heard from stateside all weekend on 15.  The first thing that came into my mind was that maybe 10 meters was open to the East Coast, so I asked him to QSY to 28085 kHz.  I called him and he came right back to me on ten meters and he was loud!  I then worked KK5OQ, K4GMH, W4PK, W1MAG, N3NZ and KB1JZI in the next 14 minutes on 10M and at 1444Z, ten meters went away again and I did not hear another signal there the rest of the contest.

I finished out the contest working 15 meters as hard as I could because I knew just about every European I worked would likely be a new multiplier.  The band was crap but I did manage to work a few weak EU stations such as PI4CC, G0MTN, F6IRF, SM3PZG, OT4L, DJ5JK and 7S4E to help push me over a million points.  At 1554Z I worked KE1F on 20 meters for my final contact and could not find anyone to work in the last 5 minutes.  It was the end of a pretty miserable contest as far as band conditions were concerned.

I did have fun and it was interesting to run the microHAM USB keyer.  It worked splendidly.  I did lose the USB connection a couple of times while operating on 40 meters.  I figured it was RFI.  I looked around the shack and found a small toroid core.  Since it was the only thing I had available, I wrapped one turn of the USB cable from the keyer to the PC around the core and it fixed the problem.  I’ve reported the problem to microHAM and they are looking into it.  Today I received some new larger #77 ferrite toroids and will use these to see if I can isolate and totally eliminate the RFI problem.  I plan on fixing the neighbor’s TVI problem when the I.C.E. filters arrive and will probably go High Power in the the SCC RTTY Championship next week in a limited effort and do more RFI testing on the micro KEYER.

Well, I didn’t win this year and will probably not win next year or the year after that, but I’ll keep trying.  This contest is a challenge from this QTH, especially in August in the declining sunspot years.  But I like this contest, always have and probably always will.


                    SARTG WW RTTY Contest

Call: AA5AU
Operator(s): AA5AU
Station: AA5AU

Class: SOAB LP
Operating Time (hrs): 22
Radios: SO2R

Band  QSOs  Pts   Mults
80:   50   485    19
40:  136  1540    48
20:  263  3120    75
15:   70   820    33
10:    7    65     5
Total:  526  6030   180  Total Score = 1,085,400

Station A:
Icom IC-775DSP running 100 watts
JPS NIR-12 Dual DSP audio filter
Dell 2.66 GHz Pentium 4 running WriteLog for Windows under Windows XP Pro
microHAM USB micro KEYER for radio control and FSK transmission
MMTTY Plug-in for WriteLog in the main Rttyrite window
HAL DXP-38 in a cloned Rttyrite window for receive only
DXTelnet 5.1

Station B:
Kenwood TS-870 running 100 watts
JPS NIR-12 Dual DSP audio filter
HP Pavilion 200 MHz Pentium I running WriteLog for Windows under Windows 98se
MMTTY Plug-in for WriteLog in the main Rttyrite window
HAL DXP-38 in a cloned Rttyrite window for receive only

Cushcraft A3S triband yagi with 40M add-on kit @ 62′ controlled by a Yaesu SDX-800 rotor
Cushcraft A3S triband yagi @ 55′ controlled by a Yaesu SDX-800 rotor
80 meter inverted vee with apex at 60′