Sunday, November 30, 2014

CQ World wide CW contest and my station

You can see where the 15m band starts! 
This weekend I dipped my toes into the CQ world wide DX CW contest and by dipping my toes I mean very casual contesting. With my station being a QRP setup I rarely ever jump in the contest on the Friday evening. I find the CW speed is fast and very rare is a QRP station ever heard in the pile ups, so rather getting frustrated I relax and do other things on the Friday evening.  I was on for a few hours on Saturday morning and afternoon. The propagation conditions looked good and I was hearing lots of
20m action Saturday afternoon

European stations booming in…..BUT……it was hard to raise a contact either on 15m or 20m. I have the MFJ 1788 loop antenna so 10m is not an option, I did hear that 10m was booming with great signals and propagation. I took Saturday evening off from the contest and decided to give things a go on Sunday. I had some running around to do Sunday morning so the contest time came early afternoon and I must say the conditions were still good and I was delighted my signal was being heard in Europe with some repeats but it was being heard. Some of the highlights were contacts into Hawaii, Canary island's off Africa and Jersey island.  I was able to net 25 contacts in the contest so as you can tell I was not on all that much but I did enjoy the time. More important was the way I was able to set the station up for contesting. I plan on doing more contesting both local and DX so to get the software and hardware working well together was one of my plans for this contest. As you can see from the picture all my radio gear is nicely tucked away in a roll top desk. For me it's a great setup I only have to roll the top up, pull out a keyboard, pull out some side shelves, moves some accessories onto the shelves and presto Im on the air! Lets get back to my contesting setup….
The contest desk
Below are the programs and hardware I use and why they are great for my setup.
The software programs:
N4PY's radio control program. This program allows me to control my K3 and KX3 with very fast and convenient mouse clicks. As an added bonus the program has virtual com ports and it's simple to incorporate other programs and hardware. Also the support that is offered with N4PY is great and most questions I have had are dealt with same day.

N1MM contest software There are other software programs out there for contesting but this is the only one I have used from day one of my contesting. N1MM has come out with a new program called N1MM Plus, I have not tried it as of yet and a rule I have is to not try new programs or upgraded programs just before a contest. N1MM supports most if not all contests, it's very easy to use
 works great and that's good enough for me.  N4PY's program has virtual com ports and it allow me to setup N1MM so it seamlessly works with N4PY's program.

MRP40 CW decoder Yes you read it correctly I have a CW decoder program, this is not a free program but I have found it works the best of any I have ever tried out. So why do I use a decoder…..well I have found that in contests there are op's who for some reason send at speeds that only a decoder program can read. This program has helped me with making a contact that never would had happened if I was decoding by ear. 

The hardware I use for contesting:
Elecraft P3 This is one of the best investments I have made it's a stand alone pan adapter that uses no PC memory. I have found it's nice to see how the band is doing and this piece of equipment does just that. For contests  I can tuned from contact to contact. I am able to see 100, 50, 10 or 3 hz segments of the band. With my narrow band width MFJ 1788 I set the P3 to 10 hz and I can see a detailed segment of the band I can work before having to retune the loop.

Elecraft K3 What can I say it's a great contest and general QSO rig and to not get into boring details about the rig…..for contesting I have installed the following Inrad 8 pole filters 500 Hz, 400 Hz and 250 Hz and with the width control on the K3 I can narrow the filtering to 10 Hz!!

Winkeyer USB This unit came as a kit and was fun to build and is great for contesting. I have the keyer directly hooked into the K3. You can control it with N1MM software but as far as I know there is a latency issue with the keyer being used with N1MM, for that reason I hook it up directly to the K3. There are 4 programable buttons on the top (very easy to program via PC software) I program in my call, contest exchange, TU and the last button has a repeat of the exchange only less the 599. I place the Winkeyer beside my keyboard for very easy access to send my call and exchange, my hands are never to far away from the keyboard.

Flex Radio's Flexcontrol In the picture it's located in the white paper. N4PY's program again through a virtual port allows me to have VFO control of the K3. There are also 3 programable buttons as well to control the K3. I have programmed one of the buttons to the K3's spot function and in CW contests it's a great option to have.

Begali Contour Key I find with all the software ways to send CW it's very important to also have to old fashion key handy. Many times I have had a station asking for a repeat of my call or report, to send it with the key allows me to leave a longer spaces between letters of my call. This method has had my call or report get through to finalize the contact.

4 comments:

  1. Hello Mike, very nice to see you did spend some time at the contest as well. I used the MRP40 software as well but didn't have the results expected. Though I don't have any CW filter or narrow filter in my FT-817. I was also using QRP 5W but actually didn't have much problems to get through pile-ups. Actually all the stations I heard from USA/Canada were easily worked. I was only doing 80m this time. 73, Bas

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    1. Bas as always great to hear from you, I have set up MRP40 on the fly and have really had no problems with it at all. It's the best decode program I have used thus far. Now having said that during a contest my filter on the K3 is set at 200 hz and sometimes as narrow as 150 hz. I do agree that if your filter is wide and with all the very close CW during a contest the MRP40 will pick up more than one CW signal and have problems decoding. It's great your QRP signal was making it into Canada.
      Mike

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  2. Very nice, Mike! Contesting is tough QRP but I think that's the fun part. I know many stations won't take the time to pull out a weak one as time is points but many of the BIG GUNS have ears to pull us QRP'ers out. I've been on both sides of the fence. The last day of the contest is a great time to get on as many of the power stations have worked all they can easily hear and will then take a few extra seconds to listen up for us little guys. It then becomes worth it to take a few extra seconds to listen for any points they can get.

    I love how organized your station is! I'm not sure if I will ever have a full blown station again but if I do, the Elecraft is certainly a rig I will be looking at. My budget will probably dictate my next HF rig but it's always fun to dream. Until then, I have my QRP and portable set up which will do just fine.

    Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and good DX'ing in 2015!

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    1. And a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment.
      Mike

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