Monday, November 29, 2021

I can't believe I did it!!

The hills are alive with the sound of music....well you get the idea. 

This past weekend, as most of you may have known or seen, the bands were alive with a CW contest, all except the WARC bands. The annual running of the CQWW CW contest was in full swing for the entire weekend.  I try to take part in most of the large CW contests, and this one was not exempt. In this contest, for the first time EVER, I did not operate search and pounce. (search and pounce meaning searching out stations in the contest who are calling CQ and trying to contact them) I was for the first time ever a running station. (run, meaning you sit on a frequency and call "CQ contest" and wait for stations to contact you)  I CAN'T BELIEVE I DID IT.....

For those of you who are not into CW contesting when you are running (for me anyway) it's a big deal, and you have to  be on your CW game. You send out your call sign (for me at 26-28wpm) and wait for the grease to hit the fan and at times it did!  Below is how it feels to be a first-time CW running contester. 

Before I begin with the adventure, just a little background. They say that preparation is the key, and that I worked on. Over time, getting my code speed up to copy around 30wpm.  Every day I practiced with programs such as Morse Runner and RufzXP.  These are both free programs and  excellent tools. I also downloaded the CWops intermediate CW course and worked through that each day.  I worked on my keyboard skills, so I am now able to copy calls without looking at the keyboard. This allowed me to concentrate on the contest program. 

Well here we go......first thing that occurred to me was a contest simulator and the real deal is very different! I was not sending code to a computer program but a real person, it's a hobby and all, but I was very nervous about the whole thing.  Out the code went, "TEST VE9KK VE9KK" I did this about 3 times and then a station came back to didn't turn out as planned. 

I heard the code but my N1MM+ contest software was just met with my blank stare.  I heard the call again, and this time it was a full out fumbling act between reading the call and keyboard stumbling. Eventually the op just moved on to another running station.  Well, that was a bell ringer for sure! I took a deep breath and tried again, and this time it was worse. The next station came back to me in around 35 wpm, and I was clueless. This time I did not even attempt to answer them, they gave their call a few times and moved on. 

I decided it was time to go back to search and pounce and that contest running at this stage in the game was not for me. I took a little break from the contest with a walk, and once I got back to the operating desk, I began to search and pounce. After making a few contacts it occurred to me that  this was the first time I tried running in a contest and for sure there are going to be hiccups. Heck after all I just did not grab my first bike and started riding it, I had training wheels..........wait a minute training wheels! 

I took a deep breath and set my N1MM+ contest program back to running but this time I opened up a program called MRP40  an excellent code reading program. Now just wait a minute, I am not giving up and relying on a code's my training wheels and will be used when needed.  Well off I went again......"TEST VE9KK VE9KK" 

The contest is now in the history books and I did keep running throughout the contest except when I did some search and pounce for needed multiplies for a better score.  Midway through the contest, I started to loosen up and began to get the hang of things. Sure, I had op's get frustrated when I messed up their call and when I asked for repeats, some just moved on. 

Some highlights were: 

-The obvious one being, running for basically the entire contest. 

- Being spotted in the cluster and BOOM I'm not trying to work a pileup, I am the pile up. They were not huge pileups and did not last for long but exciting nonetheless. 

- Having the time fly compared to search and pounce where the time went slowly. 

- My highest number of contacts ever in a contest of 412 and my best score as well of  113,775.

- Depending less and less on MRP40's decodes. 

Some funny moments: 

- With N1MM+ you are able to program macros to send preprogrammed messages.  It's when my fingers press the wrong key and send thanks for the contact before the was made! 

- Finding out the hard way that the code reader is not always correct.  I copied a call in my head and then glanced at the code reader, I may have messed up on a letter. So I change it and low and behold my head was correct and MRP40 was wrong. 

- This has happened more than a few time......forgetting to change N1MM+ from search and pounce to run and send out the incorrect message. 

- Finding myself answering one call after another and sounding  to others that I have really pulled this off to only then totally screw up the next few callers.....the way the contest can humble me.

Finally, I want to apologize to those of you with whom I messed up your call or made your contact with me a bit painful. Then those who just gave up and moved on I hope next time things will be better.  

Saturday, November 6, 2021

The up's and downs of working DXpeditions.


Now you see them now, you don't.... the fun of active solar conditions

Earlier this week and last week the solar conditions have been great, and I have been able to make some nice CW DXpedition contacts. The whole DXpedition thing is new to me, as in the past I have seen the pileups and just passed them by. With the increasing flux number and with the blog reading I have been doing, it occurred to me that the times are a changin!  I did some reading up on my Icom 7610 and operating split with it. Low and behold, I have been able to make contact with some nice DXpeditions. 

Being new to this expedition thing, I have in the past read of those who indulge in this slice of our hobby. I have now come to see firsthand the mayhem of a pileup situation. I don't want to make this post about grinding my axe.....BUT......and you know what they say about a sentence that begins with a "BUT". In my very very short time of hunting out a DXpedition contacts I have come across some odd....... Let's say behaviour. 

1. As you are listening on the DXpeditions transmit frequency they vary between S4 to S8 at my end, and I am trying to get the flow of their operating........... When someone for some reason is tuning up their amp on top of the DXpedition?  To be honest I have never owned an amplifier and am not sure how the whole tune-up thing works........BUT....... I assume it does not have to be done on the DX transmit frequency. Please correct me if I am wrong? 

2. Ahh, then those who I guess who do not do their research with understand the idea of split frequency operation or don't care.......BUT..... they transmit on the DXpeditions frequency. So what happens here is stations like me can't hear who the DXpedition is coming back to as this station just keeps dropping their call on the WRONG frequency. Ok, I get it, and we all screw up thinking our rig is in split when it's not.....BUT..... with my limited time trying to work split this happens a lot. With polite op's from a DXpedition they send "up up up up" hoping the offending station will get the idea. Oh, but wait then there are the clusters such as DX summit and in the comment section, other ops are not so polite about things. 

3. Often I have heard the DXpedition station sending "VE3?" meaning he wants the VE3 to come back to him as he needs the rest of the call.  As they listen for the VE3 there are also a few op's sending their call that is not even close to "VE3". It really messes things up for both the VE3 station the DXpedition. 

Now, there is some other behaviour that I come across that make DXpeditions a pleasure.

1. While the op is calling on the DXpeditions calling frequency they politely answer them with a 599 and TU. 

2.  Operators who, while sending out their call, can hear the DXpedition station answering someone other than them, and they stop calling right away. They can achieve this as they have their radio set to full break-in mode. This will allow you to hear  between your own dits and dahs, I will admit it takes some getting used to, but it's a great operating skill. 

3. Operators who politely post on the cluster the operators call sign and leave a message that they have to transmit up and not on the calling frequency.  Having said that, I have also seen some messages that are not polite at all. I understand folks get frustrated, but there is no reason to be rude, after all it is a hobby. 

Well, we are going away on vacation this week, so the DXpeditions will have to wait for another week. But I sure have been having fun working them. 

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Zeroed in on another DXpedition........


Yesterday I had a nice relaxing afternoon sitting at the 7610 checking out the bands. Solar conditions have been great the past while and that is a nice change to see.  I was able to work 7P8RU again, and I did see the DXpedition HD8R from Gal├ípagos spotted on DX summit . I was not able to hear them on 20m and barely on 40m, but then I saw them spotted on 17m. I found 17m to be very quiet, and I definitely saw HD8R on the waterfall but no pile up was being shown.  I placed the Icom 7610 in Dual watch and split mode and found HD8R was working many stations, but most if not all I could not hear. The DX stations they were answering were mainly U.S. stations, so I realized the band was open in my direction.  As I listened and I emphasize "listening".  Now and then some U.S. stations were heard at my end working HD8R and this allowed me to get the team's strategy for working DX. 

I blindly threw my call-out a few times, and very soon after I heard VE9KE 599....I came back with VE9KK KK KK and low and behold the call was corrected, and I was in their log. Once again 100 watts and my Endfed antenna came through for me. 

This weekend is the CQWW SSB contest and for the SSB folks this is a big one. There is going to be lots of rare DX to be had for sure. For me I am a CW guy and not because I snub SSB but because in the past when operating SSB I have caused issues with neighbours. I am going to see if the rare CW stations have less of a pileup this weekend because of the SSB contest and many will be operating in that. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

The art of working split to contact a DXpedition.


Contacting 7P8RU

Yesterday afternoon while on 20m I noticed a large gathering around 14.040.  After a little investigating, I found it to be the 7P8RU DXpedition from Lesotho located in South Africa. The team were excellent CW operators and this made for a very organized pileup. As I listened to find out how they were working the pileup I found that as always operators trying to contact 7P8RU on their calling frequency.  With most if not all DXpeditions they operate split, meaning they call CQ on one frequency and listen on another. Their listening frequency can vary from 1kHz to 5kHz span. 

I find it best to listen to the DX station and also those trying to contact the DX station. This is done to learn how the DX station is working "the pileup"..... those who are trying to make contact. Most if not always the DX station has a pattern on how they contact calling stations. Other times they indicate specific regions they only want to contact.  It's best to listen first and find out the DX's rhythm, and also if they are working a region of the world that you are not in. This avoids you calling not getting answered and the DX station wondering why you're not listening to instructions.  This just brings about frustrations at both ends. 

Now down to the nitty-gritty of making contact! Once you have listened and found out the DX rhythm and that he is working stations in your part of the world, it's time to jump in the fray. But wait, how does one listen to both the DXpedition and perspective contact stations, who are 1-4 kHz away? This is where rigs with 2 independent receivers come in very handy. The 2 independent receivers allows you to hear VFO A and VFO B at the same time or the DX and those who are trying to contact them.  In my case I use headphones with VFO A in my left ear and VFO B in my right ear. 

They do say that a picture is worth a thousand words....and with DXpeditions this is also very true.  It's great to hear both sides but adding a visual representation is fantastic!  This is done with a radio that has a spectrum scope. Now you are able to hear and see each station the DX is working. As the DX either moves up or down the band, you can fit your signal in the pathway and toss out your call and see if you are heard. 

The Icom 7610 has all the above-mentioned bells and whistles, as do many other HF and SDR rigs. The picture above is a screenshot of my 7610 setup to work 7P8RU. I have turned on "Dual watch" this allows me to hear both VFO A (main) and B (sub) Split has been turned on, so I transmit on VFO B and not on top of 7P8RU on VFO A. 

On the spectrum scope, the red M is the main VFO A, and it is set on 7P8RU's calling frequency. The crowd of signals to the right (between M and S) are those calling the DXpedition station. The green "S" is my sub VFO marker and tells me where my transmit signal will be. 

One nice thing about the scope, once 7P8RU has contacted a station, most times you can see this station visually answering the DX station. By watching this interaction you get an idea of how the DX station is working the pileup.  The above picture shows the scope giving a band slice of 100 kHz and you can see t FT8 to the far right and toward the bottom of the band other CW signals. When working the DXpedition I have the scope set to a narrow slice of the band, so I can get a better picture of the pileup and who is being worked by the DX. 

It's great fun to work these stations when you can hear them, and it gives you a good workout on learning your radio and what it can do. In my case 7P8RU was contacted and is in the log!