AA5AU Contest Notes – 2011 February NAQP RTTY
It’s been several years since I wrote a Contest Notes on a contest. Many of my RTTY contest efforts in the past few years have not been worth writing about. As RTTY contesting has become mainstream, I found that I could not compete with operators showing up from “super” stations. My antennas were not good enough to compete even against above-average home stations. So in late 2010 and early 2011, I made major changes to my antenna system. I replaced my two Cushcraft A3S tribanders with a 3 element SteppIR with the 30/40 meter loop dipole and a 4-element KT34M2 on a second tower. It’s not a super station but it’s better than what I had.
I had great success in NAQP RTTY contests for many years using my old antennas. From July 1996 to July 2005, I finished no worse than second place in every single NAQP RTTY contest and won eight times (NAQP RTTY in February was added in 2003). From July 1999 to July 2005, I won every event except the February 2005 running when Tyler, K3MM, set the single operator record of 149,574 points. Two months after my July 2005 win, hurricane Katrina hit. Everything changed.
I wouldn’t return to NAQP RTTY until July 2007. I had a very good contest that summer but Larry, K7MI, made a surprise appearance and waxed the field for his first NAQP RTTY win. I didn’t feel badly. Have you seen his antennas? Check them out here. During that time, another RTTY contester from Louisiana, Charlie, KI5XP, would match my number of wins at eight. Charlie swept both NAQP events in 2006. He didn’t participate in February 2007, then whipped off six in row by winning July 2007 and sweeping 2008, 2009 and winning February 2010. In July 2010, Bill K5GA, surprised everyone by winning from NR5M in his first ever RTTY contest. Charlie finished second. In all that time, Tyler, K3MM, remained the single operator record holder.
I hoped 2011 would be different. With the best antennas I’ve ever had, I was riding into the February NAQP RTTY contest with a lot of confidence. A week before the contest I sent email to Charlie to see if he was going to set up the Louisiana Contest Club (LCC) team. He replied that he wouldn’t be operating the contest because he had a function to attend. I was disappointed. I was looking forward to our semi-annual competition despite having to play second fiddle to him for the past 3 1/2 years and was hoping for a sixth team win. I was also hoping to see what my new antennas could do against him. Did I really think my SteppIR, KT34 and 80 meter inverted vee could be good enough against his stacked monobanders on 20, 40 meter beams, 80 meter arrays and beverages at W5WMU? YES! I really did. With Charlie out of the contest, I thought I might have a chance to win. It would take my best effort. I knew other SO2R ops would be out there gunning – W0LSD, KI1G, K4GMH, WA5ZUP, K5AM, AA3B, N0XR, K6LL and K5GA@ NR5M, to name a few, are all stations capable of winning. But the one I was worried about the most was Ed, W0YK, in California. With all the experience he has gained in the past few years with this record-smashing efforts from P49X in all the major RTTY contests, Ed scared me the most, especially if the west coast got better propagation on 10 and 15 meters than me. But history was on my side. This contest has only been won outside W5-land twice since 1999 (and maybe longer since I’ve been unable to find earlier results) – once from the US East Coast with K3MM’s record setting performance in February 2005 and once from the US West Coast with K7MI’s win in July 2007. All other wins have come from either Texas or Louisiana by myself, KI5XP @ W5WMU, or K5GA @ NR5M. So it’s obvious W5 stations have a geographical advantage most of the time for NAQP RTTY. I don’t deny this and I try to use it to my advantage. Just as East Coast stations have a huge advantage in CQ WPX RTTY, W5 stations have the big edge in NAQP RTTY.
The weather would be near perfect for contesting on Saturday. The skies were clear although it would be warmer than normal at near 80F. I wouldn’t have to worry about thunderstorms or rain static. That is always a relief. The station was battle-tested two weeks earlier in WPX RTTY which was the very first contest for the KT34. Everything was still working well as I tested the antennas and radios Friday night and again Saturday morning. As I tuned 20 meters before the contest I came across a station in Pennsylvania calling CQ. I answered and asked for signal report comparisons between the SteppIR and KT34. To my surprise, he said there was no difference in signal. Both were 20 over S-9 on this G5RV antenna. I was happy but surprised. A little while later I would find my friend Jay, WS7I, on 15 meters. I asked him for a comparison and he said maybe the SteppIR was a little better. Robbie, VY2SS, broke in and said the SteppIR was definitely better but both antennas were pointing NW and he was off the side. I decided to start the contest with the SteppIR on 15 and the KT34 on 20 meters.
I started the contest by running on 15 and 20 meters but I immediately saw that 15 meters was not good enough to run on. After only five minutes, I went S&P on 15 meters. There are times when I know S&P will net more contacts than running under certainly band conditions and this was true for 15 meters at the start. The band was mainly open to W1 and west coast but I did work VY2SS, VE9DX and VE4EAR in Canada and KA2D in NY. 20 started out great and seemed open everywhere as I netted 29 mults there the first hour. In the first hour I worked 76 stations on 20M and only 42 on 15M. But 118 Qs the first hour was a excellent start. The 20M run slowed way down the 2nd hour with only 50 contacts and 15M S&P was nearly identical as the first hour with 41 Qs. I was happy with 91 Qs though. As 20 started to slow down just a bit, I decided to put the SteppIR on the Kenwood on 20M and put the KT34 on the PRO III for S&P on 15 and 10 meters. That 3rd hour the 20M rate jumped up to 59 Q’s on 20M with only 20 Qs on 15M but I did find signals on ten. I tried an occasional CQ on 15 but the runs were just not there as W1 faded and it was only the west coast coming through. I did manage to get Nick W4GKM in TN to hear me calling him on 15 at 2020Z on some weird skewed scatter path to the west. I kept checking checking ten meters and heard nothing the first two hours then found W6YX on 28081 kHz at 2009Z. They were the only signal on ten meters. I tried CQ there for a couple of minutes, got no answers and quickly returned to 15M. After another S&P pass on 15, I returned to ten to find W6OAT with a big signal at 2040Z, KF6T at 2041Z, K6MM at 2043Z and W0YK at 2044Z. I watched Ed for a minute or so and it “appeared” he was working several 4-land and 5-land stations. This wasn’t good (for me anyway). I didn’t watch long because there simply isn’t time to sit around and watch the competition. I tried calling CQ on ten and got a couple of CA stations to answer but that was it. I left ten and went back to 15. In my mind I was thinking that the CA stations were working the entire USA on 10 and 15 meters and racking up valuable multipliers. This worried me greatly and I knew the only chance I had was to out “rate” them. My rate for the 3rd hour was 86 and included seven contacts on ten meters. I was happy about it.
20M was still going strong and I had a good solid run on 14079 kHz for two and half hours! At 2125Z I went to 40M on the Icom with the SteppIR and put the KT34 back on the Kenwood on 20 meters. On 40M I found LOTS of RTTY signals so I worked everything I heard S&P and tried a quick CQ or two but no takers. This is not unusual on 40M early for me so I was satisfied with S&P on 40 until I got a small run going on 7083 kHz starting at 2233Z. At the same time I went S&P on 20 meters. The run on 40 only lasted about 15 minutes (one S&P pass on 20) when I went back to run on 14081 kHz and S&P on 40 again. My rate for the 4th hour was 88 with 24 contacts on 40 meters. In the 5th hour, the rate rose to 94 with 40 contacts on 40M and 54 on 20M. Things were working well.
Just after 2300Z, I was able to get a run going on both 20 and 40 at the same time on 14081 and 7083 kHz respectively. But the 20M run was not great and I soon went back to S&P on 20. The band was still in good shape and I was able to keep the rate up with S&P on 20 while running on 40. That 5th hour rate from 2300-2400Z was 89 with 51 contacts on 40M and 38 contacts on 20M.
I wasn’t running a rate meter but I kept hard at it with “go get that next contact”. I kept saying it over and over in my head and pushing harder and harder. 40M was getting busier so I started running on 40M and S&P on 20M. I wasn’t finding anything new on 20M so I went to 80M at just past 0000Z. There were only a handful of stations on 80M, but I worked everything I heard S&P, then went back to 20 S&P at 0024Z and found a few more new stations there. There were enough new stations to be found S&P on 20M to keep me there but the band was fading fast. I did manage 93 contacts between 0000-0100Z. With 20 dying and 80 not quite alive, I was pondering my next move when Sharon stuck her head in the shack door at 0046Z and asked if I was ready to eat. It just seemed like perfect timing even though I had made 93 contacts in 46 minutes that hour and was on my way to a big rate hour. I knew 80 was not going to be going full yet so I decided I would take an hour off for dinner. This may have been the best move of the contest for me and I didn’t even make the decision! Hey, when it’s time to eat, you better eat around here. Now there’s a couple of thoughts going on here. I was on the verge of what possibly could have been the best rate hour of the entire contest so far when I took my break. In those last 46 minutes before my break, I had 64 contacts on 40M, 16 contacts on 20M and 13 on 80M. With 20 fading and 80 not yet at full strength, it was a calculated risk I was willing to take. I know it was crazy strategy but it seems like it worked out well now.
Dinner was great – hamburgers and fries. I was full of energy from the contest and it was hard to settle down. After eating I washed all the dishes and kept looking at the clock. It seemed to be going slowly. I thought about taking a shower but didn’t really want anything to relax me. I wanted to stay fired up for the remainder of the contest. I couldn’t wait the full hour. I kept thinking about that big rate I had just abandoned. So I made a quick decision to take only 45 minutes off. I got back on at 0033Z. By then 40M was going full bore as signals filled the band scope of the PRO III. But 80 was a bit slow. At first I had a hard time finding a place to call CQ on 40M, so I used an old trick I know and that is to S&P from the bottom of the band upward until I found an open frequency. When I ran on 40, I would S&P on 80. Actually it worked better to run on 80 and let stations come to me and go S&P on 40M. For the 28 minutes after my break, from 0133-0200Z, I worked only 38 stations. After 0200Z, the rate jumped back up to over 100/hr. From 0200-0300Z I made 115 contacts, all on 40 and 80M. My S&P on 40 was working fast and the contacts were piling up. I went over 600 contacts and I had just over two hours to go before I had to QRT at 0444Z. With two hours to go I started getting a good run on 40 meters and the run on 80 was going well too. So I ran both bands at the same time and the stations kept calling and calling and I was really pumped up. This is low power NAQP RTTY contesting at it’s best. Contact after contact with rates over 100/hr. Bing-Bam! As I watched the score climb higher and higher I began to think about what the NAQP RTTY record was. I didn’t know so I took a couple of seconds to jump online and see Tyler’s score from 2005. I looked at my score and I had already surpassed the record with just less than two hours to go. Man, what a cool feeling that was and it created a big-time adrenalin rush. The only thought that came into my mind was what a shame it would be to break the record and not win. Okay, okay, I know I’ve always said I’m in it for the fun but when setting a new record and getting a win is at hand, I’m all in. From 0300-0400Z I made 105 contacts. I was on fire.
I’m not a big fan of trying to move stations early, but when it gets late I try to move anyone I hadn’t worked on 40 to 80 and vice versa. I had two special confirmation messages set. When I needed to move a station that was not a multiplier on the other band, I used “QRV (other radio’s frequency) TU AA5AU CQ”. When the station I was working on one band would be a multiplier on the other band, I sent “I NEED U ON (other radio’s frequency twice) TU AA5AU CQ”. It seemed to work well as several stations moved from 40 to 80 and vice versa for me. The last two hours of this contest were unbelievable. The rate from 0400Z until I stopped at 0444Z was only 66 so it was slowing down when I had to pull the plug. When I stopped at 0444Z, I was disappointed I couldn’t continue on. I was having so much fun I didn’t want it to end but it had to. I was still really pumped up and knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep so I did a quick check of the log, sent it off to NCJ, sent my summary to 3830, created an ADIF file of my log and uploaded it to LoTW. I was cautiously optimistic that I might have the winning score and celebrated with a few hard ciders. I still don’t know if I won, but I know I had the best NAQP of my life. Can’t wait to do it again in July!
North American QSO Party, RTTY – February 2011
Class: Single Op LP
Operating Time (hrs): 10
Band QSOs Mults
80: 172 44
40: 344 54
20: 349 48
15: 108 25
10: 10 2
Total: 983 171 Total Score = 170,059
Club: Louisiana Contest Club
Team: LCC #1
Best NAQP score ever by me or anyone else. Killed the record but not feeling
good about the west coast having their way on 15 and 10 meters. Unbelievable
activity. My new antennas worked well!
I’ve been doing NAQP RTTY ever since it started and cannot recall there being
a better one than this one. I want to thank my wife Sharon for the wonderful
meal she cooked for me when I took a 45 minute break. I was so jacked up I
couldn’t stop moving. I ended up washing and drying all the dishes. Forget
the dishwasher. I wanted to take a full hour but just had to get back to the
radio so only took 45 minutes and ended at 0444Z. It was too good.
Thanks to everyone who moved bands for me. Too bad I didn’t have the Midwest
on 15 meters or anything other than west coast on 10 or the damage could have
been worse. Averaging 98 Q’s an hour for the ten hours is amazing even to me.
The only thing I can do now is sit and watch the scores and see how badly W0YK
beats me. hi Hopefully not because I put everything I had into this one. I
have dreamed of this for a long time. Nonetheless, it was the best NAQP RTTY
contest I’ve ever operated. I won’t remember it tomorrow but I remember it
Long live RTTY contesting.
Icom IC-756 PRO III 100 watts output
Dell Dimention 4600 XP Pro running WriteLog 10.83C
Internal Creative SB Live! Soundcard
MMTTY plug-in for WriteLog
HAL DXP-38 in a cloned Rttyrite window
JPS NIR-12 Dual DSP Audio Filter
Homebrew FSK interface
Dunestar 600 band filter w/800-BPF switch
Icom PS-60 power supply
Kenwood TS-870 100 watts output
Dell Inspiron E1505 XP Media Edition running WriteLog 10.83C
Outboard Encore ENMAB-8CM USB soundcard
Siig JU-HS4011-S2 4-port USB-to-serial adapater
Homebrew FSK interface
JPS NIR-12 Dual DSP Audio Filter
Dunestar 600 band filter w/800-BPF switch
Astron RS-35A power supply
3 element SteppIR with 30/40 loop dipole @ 58′ / Ham IV rotor
4 element KT34M2 @ 40′ / M2 RC2800PX rotor/controller
80 meter inverted vee apex @ 55′