ARRL November SS CW - 2011

CW SS has to be my favorite contest.  You can do reasonably well with smaller antennas, in fact, if your antennas are all *too* high, it can be a detriment.  The exchange requires some skill to copy - it's not just 5914 auto-fill CQWW exchange - that's no exchange at all!  It's not a full 48 hours, but in order to be competitive, you need to work the full 24 hours allowable, and on Sunday, the rates drop off so low it becomes a form of torture - but you have to endure it if you want to win.

I had decided in the weeks leading up to SS that I wasn't going to be able to shoot for top-10, and my goal was simply to do as well as I could and try to operate at least 18 hours.  I only had up a sloping Par 10/20/40 and a 30m delta loop that I fed as a 20m and up multiband antenna.  I really needed some more wire in the air, but other things kept getting in the way of me putting up an antenna.

Finally, on SS Saturday, I started working on an 80m doublet fed with 300 ohm window line.  I had found a couple of high trees in the back yard that looked like they'd be good for this antenna and would put the highest end up around 80' or so.  Unfortunately, because of the way they are situated, I couldn't get a line over them with my saltwater spinning rod, so I had to go with plan B in the front yard.  The high end of the antenna is at about 55' or so now I'd guess, and the feedpoint droops to about 45' - not bad, especially for SS!

I had also picked up a new LDG Z-11 ProII tuner for the home station - the attractive features of this tuner were the fact that it will automatically retune for high SWR, meaning, if I switch from one antenna to another on the same frequency, the tuner will automatically adjust.  Also, in addition to being able to tune at QRP levels it will handle up to 125 watts...that will come in handy when I start to use the DX40...I may even fix my old TS440 that has the dreaded dots display...but I digress...

So, I got the antenna up with about 15 minutes left to go before the contest.  I came inside the shack and dug out a DPDT knife switch so I could switch between the loop and the doublet.  I also found a Daiwa 2-position coax switch which I hooked up to swap between the tuner and the Par.  So, I was set up with three antenna choices for 10, 20 and 40 meters and two choices for 80 and 15.  Five minutes to go and I started up N1MM and configured the program for the SS exchange.  Had enough time for one or two quick warmup QSOs and then the contest started.

I was actually pretty happy with the start - my rates weren't super, but I wasn't expecting them to be with my setup.  I ended up with 33 QSOs, on 15, 10, and 40 the first hour.  I had a bit of noise on 10 I hadn't noticed before that bothered me a bit considering how good condx were there this weekend...I ended up not using 10 much at all because I knew the noise was there and found I could do just fine on 15.  But unfortunately, I just couldn't get much in the way of a run started on any of the bands (including 10) so I operated mostly S&P.  The rate stayed fairly flat through most of the contest, but my high 10 minutes was when I went to 40m the second time around 23Z on Saturday, with a high 10 minutes of 72/hour.  This was also my best hour, when I logged 43 Qs.  But the best run didn't occur until late on Sunday, when I was able to run 16 stations in 30 minutes on 3532 kHz, which was no better than my S&P rates really.  I ended up S&P about 95% of the contest.

These are pretty poor rates compared to what I'm used to running more power, but overall I was fairly pleased considering the station.  The doublet worked very well on all bands - so well I think I'll leave it where it is and put a second one up in the back yard - it just so happens the two antennas will be perpendicular, which will give me some direction choices, especially on the higher bands.  I did learn that I liked to have the antenna choices.  Often one antenna would be significantly stronger than another, especially on 40 and 20, switching from the doublet to the Par sloper.  In addition to the second doublet, I think I'll make the sloper more vertical, and possibly add some vertical antennas for 10 and 15.  I'm still thinking about some directive antennas on 20-10, as well as verticals/inverted-Ls for 80 and 160.

Other changes will include trying to CQ more - one thing I did notice about the QRP operation is that the rate didn't fall off as much near the end of the contest like it does when running higher power - I suppose the QSO totals are low enough that there are still folks out there to find that the higher-rate A and B stations have already worked through.

As far as multipliers go, I had no idea of making a sweep before I started, but pretty early I heard VY1EI(?) work someone, and he was plenty strong enough to work.  I went up a few kHz and called him and called CQ, but never heard another peep out of him.  I did a bit of looking on 15 on Sunday afternoon, and it got down to needing the VY1 and VE4 when I heard a VE4 calling CQ.  Again, I thought he was workable, and think he may have heard me call, but couldn't dig me out of the noise, so I ended up missing two mults.

At the end of the contest, I'd put in about 19 hours, making 493 QSOs in 78 sections for a score of 76,908. Not a killer score, but I'm not at all ashamed of it for my first QRP/wires effort, and I've learned several areas where I can improve.  Here are the band breakdowns FWIW:

Band QSOs
80: 123
40: 133
20: 134
15: 90
10: 13
Total: 493

Yes, SS is the best!