AA5AU Contest Notes – 2005 CQ WPX RTTY Contest

The CQ World-Wide RTTY WPX Contest is one the most fun to operate because prefixes are multipliers which means there are LOTS of multipliers.  And because the rules allow the use of the Packetcluster for all categories, it allows a different type of strategy than most other RTTY contests by using the Packetcluster.  Activity is usually high which makes for a fun event.

I break this contest down to two strategies.  In the first three quarters of the contest, I go for rate only and do not chase multipliers spotted on the Packetcluster.  The reason for this is quite simple.  There are so many multipliers available that you can achieve more new multipliers simply by calling CQ instead of chasing them.  In the first part of the contest I only use the Packetcluster to show spots on the bandmap so I can see who’s on the band.  This helps when S&P on a second radio.

In the latter part of the contest as the rate slows down, I chase all new multipliers because they are so important to the score.

Strategies differ greatly between High and Low power as well.  This year I entered Low Power because I guessed from looking at propagation forecasts before the contest that conditions would be fair-to-good and Low Power might be fun.  The strategy when running Low Power is still to go for rate, but because it can be difficult to get good runs going, I end up doing a lot of S&P on the second radio.  For me, it’s not a problem because I’m SO2R.  I can CQ on one radio and S&P on the other.  This works well when SO2R.

I did not decide to go Low Power until after the contest started.  Because I was stuck at work on Friday, I decided to take the first two hours of the contest as a rest period in order to get home from work, eat a good meal and try to relax a little.  When I saw the solar flux was 114, the A index at 11 and the K at 2, I knew conditions should be good.  The flux had been slowly rising the previous four days as the A and K indices had dropped from highs of 36 and 4 respectively since the 8th of February.  This was very good news for at least the start of the contest.  When I quickly analyzed this I felt that conditions would be good-to-excellent for at least the first 24 hours of the contest and that Sunday would be a mystery.  With this data in hand I mapped out my off-time strategy.  I would try to operate as much of the contest Saturday as I could and take advantage of the good numbers.  I didn’t like the idea of taking the first two hours off, but I thought of several things that would help reinforce this decision.

The contest starts at 0000Z which means I normally start on 15 and 20 meters.  Since the start is right at my sunset, 15 meters usually goes away quickly so I have to go to 40 meters on that radio.  This means I have to work 40 and 20 meters at the same time until signals start showing up on 80 meters.  This is a problem at my QTH because of the interference I get when transmitting in the lower portion of 40 meters with the 2nd harmonic on 20 meters.  This is due to the close proximity of my antennas.  By starting the contest at 0200Z, I could start right away on 40 and 80 and not have to deal with this 40/20 interference.  And because 40 and 80 meter contacts are worth twice the QSO points as contacts on 10, 15 & 20, I felt justified in starting later.  Psychologically, I had to convince myself I was doing the right thing.

Another thing I had to overcome by starting late was seeing the higher serial numbers being given out by my competitors.  After all, I wanted to try win something in this contest, so seeing others way ahead in serial numbers can be psychologically damaging.  Taking rest at the start of the contest was a big gamble for me.  Conditions could change and I might not be able to catch my competitors.  Two things helped me overcome the psychological problems with a late start.  The first was the fact that just one week prior in the XE RTTY contest I started three hours late and was able to catch up with almost everyone.  The second thing that helped was that, unlike the XE contest, all single operators in WPX have to take the same amount of rest.  So I figured that if I optimized my operating time, I could catch up, get ahead and stay ahead to the end.

Since I was going Low Power, I threw out some numbers as goals for the weekend – 1500 QSO’s and 500 multipliers.  I felt these were achievable.

When I got home from work at 0000Z, I didn’t even walk into the shack.  I boiled fresh shrimp and had a nice dinner with my fiance Sharon.  I was a little nervous about not starting on time and over cooked the shrimp a little.  If there’s one thing that ticks me off is messing up my own cooking.  So it wasn’t a good start to the evening.  After dinner, Sharon and I watched TV until 0145Z when I finally entered the shack.  Everything was pretty much already set up from the XE contest and I had set up the WPX module in WriteLog on both PC’s earlier in the week.  So all I had to do was to synchronize the clocks in both computers and I was ready to go.  I started the Packetcluster and at 0200Z I started the contest.  The first problem I encountered was finding a clear spot on 40 meters because it was wall-to-wall signals from 7028-7065 KHz!  So I had to S&P on both 40 and 80 at the same time until I could find a clear spot on 40.  My first contact was W6DSQ on 7047 at 0202Z.  My first 80 meter QSO was with EA1AKS which was really cool.  EU on 80 low power is always a great achievement and this was an encouraging sign.

It took 10 minutes to find a clear frequency on 40.  I settled on 7054 KHz and suddenly had a huge pileup.  On the other radio I was S&P on 80 meters.  Eventually I wanted to run both 40 and 80 meters to go for maximum rate but there were two reasons for going S&P on 80 at the start.  I wanted more transmit time on 40 to get a good run going.  When SO2R, sometimes it’s not good to run CQ on both radios because of the longer time between CQ’s.  To run two radios on 40 and 80 meters, for example, you CQ on 40 and receive on 80.  When the CQ ends on 40, you start your CQ on 80.  If no one answers your CQ on 40, you have to wait until the CQ ends on 80 before you can CQ again on 40.  Even with very short buffers, this lengthens the time between CQ’s as compared to when CQ’ing on just one band.  When CQ on one band, if you don’t get an answer, you immediately call CQ again (unless you have a QSO going on the other radio S&P).  It may not be a big difference but I have found, in my experience, that you can get a run going faster and maintain it better when you have a shorter time between CQ’s.  This is why CQ on one radio and S&P on the other radio happens most of time with me.  When CQ on both radios and with the time between CQ’s longer, it’s possible for other stations who are S&P to pass over your frequency and not know you are there.

Once a good run is going on one band with station after station calling, you can then start running a second band.  This is more difficult to do Low Power, so most of the contest is CQ on one radio and S&P on the other.  It is the most efficient way to operate any contest SO2R.  However, it is possible to run both radios with success, even low power.  When running both radios is going well, it’s the best way to maintain high rates.

Back to the contest, the run on 7054 lasted for three full hours which included working 107 stations in the first hour.  This was a tremendous start.  I was S&P for about 45 minutes on 80 meters before I started running both radios.  I tried running 3593 KHz at the same time I was running 7054, but the rate on 80 was just too slow, so it was mostly S&P on 80 during these first 3 hours.  But it was a great start and at 0500Z I had 244 contacts.

Before the contest I had mapped a strategy for my off-times.  It was a rough draft written on a notepad.  It called for me to operate 40 and 80 meters until the sun was up over all of Europe, which is about 0730Z.  At that time I would check 20 meters to see if the band was open to EU or JA.  During years of higher solar activity, I’ve had tremendous openings on 20 meters to EU and JA as the sun rose over Europe.  As a fact, these have been the best 20 meter openings to these parts of the world for me.  So I always check for these openings.  If they aren’t there, then I’d rest for five hours and restart the contest at 1230Z which is about 30-40 minutes before my sunrise.  This way I could check 40 and 80 meters first, then go to 20 and hope 15 opens before or at my sunrise because I don’t want to have to be on 20 and 40 at the same time.  At 0729 I worked ZL2AMI on 40 meters and shut down for the night since 20 was dead.  I had 364 contacts and 180 multipliers.  That was an average of 66 QSO’s per hour for the 5.5 hour period.  It wasn’t great, but considering it was all on the low bands, I felt it was OK.  I was tired and slept well that night.

At 1230Z, I restarted the contest by checking 80, 40, 20 and 15 meters.  There wasn’t much at all going on 40 and 80.  20 wasn’t very good either and 15 was dead.  I thought about going back to bed, but listening time is operating time and because I wanted to be there when 15 opened, I kept operating but it was slow.  Twenty minutes later I heard my first EU station on 15 meters.  It was 15 minutes before sunrise and it was an encouraging sign – at 1250Z I worked UU7J on 21082 KHz.  In an instant, 15 meters was open to EU.  It was really cool to see the spectrum scope of the PRO III light up with signals as if someone flipped a switch.  I called CQ on 21077 KHz and immediately got a response from DK1VJ.  I continued CQ on 15 while I went S&P on 20.  15 to EU was a little slow yet, so I alternated CQ & S&P on both radios.  I couldn’t get any good runs going on either band all morning.  So I settled on short runs, then switched and CQ’d on the other radio.  But it was back and forth like this on 15 and 20 until I checked 10 meters and found IY4SS calling CQ at 1534Z.  Wow, EU on 10 meters.  I was optimistic but it really didn’t pan out.  I did stay on 10 meters for about 30 minutes, but the rate wasn’t enough to justify staying there so I moved the B radio back to 20 meters at 1600Z.  I would check 10 meters off and on during the day but made no more contacts there the rest of the day.

I was on call at work this weekend and work calls started early and continued throughout the day.  It would slow down my rates as I cocked the headphones to one side to listen to the 15 meter radio and I would run only one radio while talking on my cellphone conducting business.  I ended up coordinating 15 jobs throughout the weekend which is a record number for me.

Back at the contest, at 1803Z I worked my last EU on 15 meters in YZ9A with all of EU now in darkness, but the stateside opening was good on 15 so rates remained high throughout the day.  I got that weird scatter to the Midwest and East Coast with the beam to the northwest on 15 and it helped.  On 20 meters, it was difficult to work EU.  I could copy them fine using the TPF in the PRO III, but they just didn’t hear my low power signal.  It was frustrating.  I worked a few EU, however there was an abundance of stateside and Canadian signals to keep the QSO and multiplier rate going well on that band as well.  During this time from sunset in EU to sunrise in Japan, I try to maintain consistency.  I was using the rate meter in WriteLog and it was staying near 70 QSO’s per hour and I tried to keep it there.  Between 1600 and 2100Z, I averaged 70.8 QSO’s per hour and was very happy with that.  It was mainly one-point QSO’s with USA stations, but it was the consistency I was looking for during this time frame.

At 2145Z I worked my first JA on 15 meters – JM1LPN.  The JA opening was not a great one but good enough to get some new multipliers and 3-point QSO’s in the log.  At 2200Z, I went over the 1000 QSO mark.  I felt real good about the operation so far.

My plan called for operating all the way to about 0030Z to take advantage of good propagation.  So I stayed on 15 and 20 meters during the entire time because I didn’t want to have to deal with the 40/20 combination.  At 0030Z, I took a rest period to eat dinner with Shay.  My plan before the contest was to take a 3 hour rest and restart at 0330Z.  But I was anxious to get started again so I restarted at 0300Z on 40 and 80 meters.  The bands were alive with signals.  There weren’t as many EU signals on 40 as the previous night.  However, at 0308Z while running 7036 KHz, I was surprised by RK0AXX calling in.  I don’t ever recall working Asiatic Russia this early.  I normally only work UA0’s at my sunrise.  It was cool to have him call me.

The rate that night was terribly slow.  However I felt it was more important to have slow rates on the low bands where the QSO points are doubled, than it would be to have to operate the end of the contest, which is almost always slow, with only 1-points contacts with the USA.  My plan was to operate 40 and 80 meters again until the sun was up over EU at 0730Z.  At around 0530Z, I was really fired up.  I was wide awake and working hard to make contacts.  I knew when 0730Z came along that I wouldn’t be tired enough to sleep.  The thought of tossing & turning in bed was not a good one.  I wanted to sleep well so I popped open my bottle of Crown Royal and starting drinking Crown & Coke.  I almost NEVER drink alcohol during a major contest so I had to be careful not to over-indulge.  Since it was slow I had time to finalize my off-times on paper.  By stopping at 0730Z, I would have 8 hours left to operate.  Propagation numbers were actually getting better so I decided I would operate from 1300-2100Z and finish the contest at 2100Z.  This would allow for any unforeseen problems such as an equipment failure or a solar flare that could disrupt the bands for a couple of hours.

While sipping my whisky and working a slow evening on the low bands, I started reflecting on the contest and other things.  The contest was going well and my score was looking a lot better than I had anticipated.  I was ahead of previous years on multipliers and I hadn’t even begun to chase them via the Packetcluster yet.  With it being slow, I started chasing multipliers from spots off the cluster but not much new was coming out.  ZK1WET was spotted on 20 so I went up there and worked him.  3D2RR was also spotted on 20 but I never found him.  There were no other signals on 20 other than the ZK1.

I started thinking about what I was doing.  I was sitting there late at night working two radios with slow rate and wondering why I was enjoying it.  Was it the Crown Royal?   I didn’t think so.  I wondered why I loved this RTTY contesting stuff so much.  What made me want to sit in front of a couple of radios for 30 hours in a weekend?  I couldn’t come up with an answer.  Instead, I was satisfied that I still enjoyed it after all these years and left it at that.  At 0730Z I stopped contesting and had a little bit of a buzz going but I was tired enough to know I would sleep well.  I set my alarm clock and fell fast asleep.

When the alarm sounded, I got right up and had no ill effects of the alcohol I had consumed the previous night.  The coffee tasted good as I checked WWV to see the solar flux had risen two points to 116 and both the A and K index had dropped to 5 and 1 respectively.  This was great news and when I put the headphones on at 1300Z, 15 meters was wide open to Europe already.  It was perfect.  Then my house phone rang in the other room around 1310Z.  I normally don’t answer my house phone during contests so I let it ring until the answering machine picked up.  Work calls me on my cellphone so I wondered who would be calling at 7:10 a.m. on a Sunday morning.  Whoever called left a message on the answering machine.  It was a male voice but I couldn’t make it out with the headphones on.  Then the house phone rang immediately a second time and again I let it ring and allowed the answering machine to pick it up.  But something told me I needed to go see who it was.  So I took off the headphones, walked into the living room and played back the message.  It was Randy, WX5L, nearly screaming “DON, GET ON THE REPEATER, NOW!”.

From the urgency of his voice, I knew what it was all about.  Randy had been working on getting Dave, VK0MT, on PSK31 from Macquarie Island.  The reports lately were that Dave was very close to operating PSK.  He must be on PSK now.  I flipped on the 2 meter radio and called into the repeater.  Randy responded with “Go to 7072 PSK now”.  I immediately turned radio B off and put radio A (which remains connected to PSK) on 40 meter USB.  I saved my WriteLog file and closed WriteLog because I can’t use the MMTTY plug-in and my PSK program at the same time because they both need the sound card.  In a matter of just a couple of minutes, I was copying VK0MT on PSK.  Randy was transmitting and telling him to standby for AA5AU and W5FKX.  Across two meters, Randy said “Don – go”.  I’m not sure how Randy knew I was ready but I was, so I called and Dave came right back to me.  I gave him a 599 and he gave me a 579.  I graciously thanked him and then Don W5FKX made his call and contact.  It happened so quick, it was astonishing.  It was my 331st current DXCC entity worked (not including the 7O1YGF contact that didn’t count).  I now need only 4 more to have them all on digital – 7O, BS7, HK0/M and VU7.  At this stage of the RTTY DXCC level, new ones don’t come easy.  So to be able to quit the contest, work a new country and be back at the contest all within 15 minutes, simply blew me away.  I called Randy on two meters and thanked him.  Told him I needed to get back to the contest and he understood.  Later he told me he knew what I was doing and why I didn’t answer the phone.  But Randy, you know my cellphone number! hi

After restarting WriteLog on the main PC, I got going in the contest again and immediately got a good run going into EU on 21081 KHz that lasted for 2.5 hours.  Anytime you can get a run going Low Power you have to be happy.  And I was very happy to be running EU on 15 meters with 3-point QSO’s and all kinds of new multipliers.  During that time I was mostly S&P on 20 meters and I chased every single multiplier that was spotted on the cluster regardless of band.  In doing this, my rate suffered somewhat, but seeing the effects of my score after logging a new multiplier reinforced my commitment to chasing multipliers in these last 8 hours.  As the multiplier total rose, I noticed that I was on a pace to break my NA Low Power record of 1,875,678 points set in 2001.  It was hard for me actually believe this was possible.  With my QSO point total low because the lack if EU on 10 meters, the only way to break the record would be with multipliers.  So I concentrated solely on multipliers.  With an hour left to go until I had to QRT for good, I watched as my score went over 1.9 million.  With electronic log checking, more than likely I would lose some points so I needed to get as many extra points as possible in the last hour in order to insure a new record (and depending on what 8P2K did).

In the last 8 hours, I worked an astounding 104 new multipliers.  In 2001, I did not work a new multiplier in the last 2.5 hours of the contest.  In the last 2.5 hours this year, I worked 10 new multipliers.  It was the major difference in my score.  At 2057Z I worked contact number 1616 and thought about quitting 2 minutes early.  But I gave out one last CQ and was answered by Glenn VA3DX.  I logged him at 2059Z, saved the logs and shut everything down.

It has been a great contest and I was very proud of my effort.  If my score holds up, I owe the record to Icom.  Using the IC-756PRO III is the main reason I was able to break the record in the low part of the solar cycle.  By using the Twin Peak Filter in the PRO III with the receive RF gained turned down, I was able to easily copy every single signal I could hear and a few I couldn’t hear!  I used the TPF for the entire 30 hour period after discovering it’s value in the last 4 hours of the XE RTTY contest the previous weekend.  It’s a RTTY contesting tool that is of the utmost value.  For more information, refer to my Icom IC-750PROIII evaluation page here.

By ending the contest early, I was able to do some chores around the house, get some paperwork done and get prepared for another busy week at work.  It had been a heck of a weekend.  To do as well as I did in the contest despite the constant interruptions from work and to work a new digital country was really to much too ask.  But I’ll take it!

Some after the contest thoughts are:  What happened to Dean 8P2K?  And why it’s so hard to win this thing from the USA.

I figured Dean 8P2K would be my biggest competition in North America.  After all, he whipped me pretty good last year.  Dean and I traded E-mail the week before the contest and he said he was ready for an all-out SO2R operation.  When Dean goes all-out, it’s next to impossible to beat him because 1) He’s an excellent contester.  2) He has a superior QTH.  And this in this contest 3) The QSO points structure gives him an advantage over me.  Each time I came across Dean I would check to see what serial number he was giving and I was always way ahead of him and couldn’t figure out why.  Conditions were good so either he had some sort of problem or he took rest early.  From reading Dean’s post on 3830 after the contest, he did have some problems and suffered from Europeans beaming to the USA and consequently not hearing his Low Power signal.  It’s funny how things work out sometimes.

After the contest was over, I felt that my 1.9 million points would not be good enough to win Low Power world and I was right.  Both F6IRF and OO4ADZ posted higher scores over 2 million points.  Congratulations to both of them for excellent efforts.  It got me to thinking what might have been had I not been disturbed by work, but that was water under the bridge.  I know how difficult it is to win this contest outright from the USA with the QSO point structure disadvantage.

Last year I had more QSO’s and multipliers than Dean 8P2K but he still beat me handily.  This year I have more contacts than both F6IRF and OO4ADZ, but their scores are enhanced by the 2-point contacts within EU whereas my contacts within the USA are worth only 1 point (on 10, 15 & 20 meters).  On the low bands, the points they get are double from what I get with USA contacts but that’s just the way it goes.  I’m not at all disappointed by this.  I am happy for them and their great achievements.  F6IRF won the 2004 OK RTTY contest and was the first station from France to ever win a RTTY contest.  It’s really cool to see others succeed.  What fun would it be if I always won?  Not much fun at all actually.  I’ve won the world high score three times Low Power in WPX.  That is a great accomplishment on my part.  To not win in no way takes away from fun, excitement and feeling of achievement I have from this year’s WPX.  It was such a fun contest in the low part of the sunspot cycle and I couldn’t ask for any more.  And I won’t.  I’m happy and I feel fortunate to have been a part of it.  And to be there with the rest of my peers to experience a weekend of good propagation, fun and camaraderie is what this sport is all about.

Thanks to everyone who made the WPX RTTY a memorable event for me.  In two weeks is NAQP RTTY and, man I can’t wait!

73, Don AA5AU


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

Class: SOAB LP
Operating Time (hrs): 30
Radios: SO2R

Band  QSOs  Pts
80:  191   454
40:  361  1084
20:  435   686
15:  592  1276
10:   38    96
Total: 1617  3596  Prefixes = 529  Total Score = 1,902,284

Station A:
Icom IC-756PRO III
Icom PS-60 power supply
Dell 2.66 Ghz Pentium 4
WriteLog beta version 10.53D
MMTTY plug-in
NIR-12 DSP audio filter
Dunestar 600 band filter

Station B:
Icom IC-756PRO III
Astron PR-40 power supply
Compaq Deskpro 233 Mhz Pentium II
WriteLog beta version 10.53D
MMTTY plug-in
NIR-12 DSP audio filter
Dunestar 600 band filter

Cushcraft A3S w/40 meter add-on at 62 ft. (Yaesu G-800SDX rotor#1)
Cushcraft A3S at 55 ft. (Yaesu G-800SDX rotor #2)
80M inverted vee
Butternut HF2 vertical (40/80)

WX0B SixPak antenna switch
Dunestar 2 radio headphone selector
Heil headphones
Bird wattmeter