Field Day 2011

ARRL Field Day is the first "major" contest I've had a chance to operate since getting back on the air earlier this year (no need to discuss whether FD is a contest or not - no matter what ARRL says, as long as they award bonus points and list scores in different categories, it's definitely a contest).

I had never operated FD by myself and initially decided to put in a fairly serious effort in 1B-battery, with a trip out to a friend's farm and multiple goal was to make top-5 in 1B-battery.  Instead, in the weeks prior to FD, the Georgia heat kicked in and I decided to scale back my efforts a bit.  Living in an apartment, all my operations currently are Field Day style anyway.  So, I built a new 50' doublet the morning of FD and hung it up, cleared off a table in the spare room for the rig, computer and batteries - although I did operate from our apartment it really was a portable operation.  My revised goal was to make 400 QSOs.

The antenna ended up as a sloper, at about 45' on the high end and 15' on the low end.  A little less vertical than I've been using similar antennas lately, which have worked pretty well for DX...I figured the more horizontal installation might be better for stateside.

For power, I had charged up a couple of 7Ah SLABs and had an 8-cell D-cell holder for backup.  By my calculations I figured I'd use up both the SLABs and most of the D-cell pack, but figured I could re-load the D-cell holder in case I needed more juice.  The FT817ND is a bit of a power hog for a 5 watt radio.  I'd never used the SLABs, wasn't at all sure about my TX/RX duty cycle, and hadn't run the 817 for an extended period, so I was guessing about the amount of battery reserve I needed.

Putting everything together pre-contest took longer than I thought it would, and I didn't have time to run to the store for D-cells and it was still 15 minutes into the contest before I got going.  The first hour was fairly slow, and I hoped it wasn't a sign of a long contest.  After an hour or so, the rate picked up and I was happy with 30-40 QSOs per hour.  Mostly S&P, at 5 watts, the runs were never very long.  At one point, the last 10 rate on N1MM was over 100 - not bad for 5 watts and a 50' wire!

The 50' antenna predictably wasn't very effective on 40m and wouldn't load up at all on 80m, so I decided to go catch some sleep on the couch (hey this is FD - gotta rough it!) and ended up sleeping for about 6 hours.  I figured if nothing else, I wouldn't have to take a break and run to the store for D-cells with a little luck.

I was using a Watts Up meter to monitor battery voltage and current used and was surprised how low my consumption was - apparently my estimates were fairly conservative.  I ended up getting over 14 hours out of the first SLAB, and total usage for the 18 hours I ended up operating was slightly over 8.6 Ah.  And I never had to buy the D-cells!

Sunday morning started a little slow, and never picked back up to the Saturday rates...which is pretty normal for contests...but it didn't seem like the conditions were quite as good on Sunday as Saturday - especially on 10 meters.

All in all, it was a successful contest.  Happily, there were no thunderstorms, and really very little QRN on 40m - a rarity for FD in Georgia!  The FT817 receiver wasn't nearly as bad in a crowded band as I thought it would be...but I'm still wanting to get a KX3 when they become available.  I discovered 5w and even a small wire antenna can be effective for contesting...but I'm looking forward to putting up some bigger wires once we move into a house later this summer.   I think SS will be fun QRP.

Final totals were:

40:  103
20:  163
15:  106
10:   77
Total:  449 QSOs, all CW

With power multipliers and bonus points, total score of 4,740.