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.  


PE4BAS, Bas said...

Respect Mike, you obviously did a nice job given your score. It will take a long time before I dare to run in CW. As a matter of fact I'm unable to decode CW calls in my head. Sure I do copy my own call and 5NN, TU, CQ TEST. Zone numbers are confusing as well using letters instead of numbers like N, T, A...Anyway, I noticed not many are able to copy 35wpm or even anything above 26wpm at all. Even not when they call at 35wpm theirselves (stupid?). I was looking for DX this time and actually called all stations with 24wpm which is mostly copied correctly. Well, you had a lot of fun that's for shure. And most important you improved and tried to do a next step in contesting. 73, Bas

John AE5X said...

Hi Mike,

Going from S&P to Run is a big step and very intimidating. Every time I've ever done it (in short bursts) I gain new respect for those who do it routinely. I saw you spoteted and tuned to your freq (on 20m) but by the time I was ready to call, you had gone QRT or changed frequency. You have a great score - congrats!


VE9KK said...

Good evening Bas very nice to hear from you, yes once I calmed down I started to enjoy the contest and the hiccups I did have I started not to worry about it. I did notice now and then stations calling me at very high speed. The decode program looked after it, but I thought why do that as they may end up missing out on contacts as the running station were not able to copy at their fast speed.
Enjoy your week.

VE9KK said...

Good evening John, very nice to hear from you, I figured it was about time to jump from the frying pan and into the fire. The WWCQ CW test is fairly straight forward with the exchange. You really only have to get the call as the program fills in the zone. But having said that, some prepopulated zones were not correct and had to be corrected on the fly. The real test will be when I am coping a call sign and then a serial number! The Canada Winter contest will be just that, and I am going to be practicing.
Sorry you missed me, but I was taking a 10-min break every hour. (to decompress) also I found at times big high power guns would park beside me and call CQ TEST. That caused me to move from the spotted frequency.
Have a good week.

MadDogMcQ said...

Well done Mike. I felt nervous just READING that lot! I can well imagine how stressful it was to start off and fully understand how easy it is to make beginner-errors in that situation. I'm sure no one was really bothered much by your early hiccups - they'd just be eager to move onto the next contact.

Absolute respect for all your hard work preparing for it. No doubt it'll get easier everytime.

73, Tom, M7MCQ

VE9KK said...

Good morning Tom, it was very stressful at the start and I ended up taking a 10-min break each hour just to regroup. After a while, the nerves seemed to settle I was still making some mistakes but at that point my view was Sh%t happens. Once thing for sure it has spurred me on to improve.

Paul Stam PAØK said...

Good Job Mike. You are a real contester now. I use always search and pounce, because as a QRP man I have more success with this method. When calling CQ it can happen that I have to wait a long time. I do not contest very often. I did participate a few hours in the CQ WW Contest and I use CW skimmer as a help. No shame about it. The purist will condemn me. Bur when the speed is higher than 25 wpm I need extern help. 73 Paul

VE9KK said...

Good afternoon Paul, when I was living in a condo and QRP I too never even attempted to run in a contest. It has been a long time of procrastinating and I finally just said to myself what is the worse thing that can happen. I very much enjoyed it and want to keep improving.
73 and have a great week.

ON5ZO said...

What you describe here Mike, is EXACTLY what happened to me twenty years ago in my first CW contest. I didn't even practice before. That's what I started doing AFTER I shamefully threw the towel that Saturday.

Just hang in there, it gets better soon, trust me. The learning curve is steep but flattens fast too.
Even if the worst thing happens (whatever that may be): nothing breaks, no one loses arms or legs, no eyes poked out, no money lost. Dents in ego wear out over time.

You'll soon find yourself coming back for more, just like thousands of others. The-mode-whose-name-I-shall-not-mention drove many people away during the week, either from CW or from the bands.
But every single CW contest there is A LOT OF ACTIVITY. It seems like 'we' (=CW lovers) gather because we're sure to work tons of CW DX and meet our friends on the bands.

Thanks for our 15m QSO (OQ5M).

Franki ON5ZO = OQ5M

VE9KK said...

Good evening Franki and very nice to hear from you, thanks very much for the encouraging words. My next contest is going to be the RAC Winter contest on Dec 18. It's going to be an extra challenge as this contest includes the serial number as well. But as you said, and you have the experience to say it.... as time goes on the learning curve gets flatter.
Thanks for the contact in the contest and for taking the time to leave a comment on the blog.

VE9KK said...

Good morning Bill, very nice to hear from you. Thanks for the encouragement and I am going to keep plugging away at it.