January ARRL contest rant

The contest is over and bottom line.. I had lots of FUN. Well, not all the time but when it came to an end 0400 I was happy I stuck with it. Let me begin at the beginning… (contest stuff at end) W3XTT FN01 is only a single band  2 meter station.

 

Living in Florida has it problems. A 20 hour one way drive to look after the station. I had plenty of redundancy built in to help keep me on the air. I headed SOUTH from Connecticut with 4 operational antenna systems. 3 were on top of rotators that would direct my signal into the northeast activity areas. One by one they stopped working and early in 2019 the station was off the air.

 

Chris NG3W, made every attempt to help keep me active but after seeing the station fall apart in front of me, my drive dwindled. Life got in the way and my high hopes of making a trip to cloudy (they say the sun is in the sky) FN01 to work on the antennas in warm weather (July 3, 4, 5) did not happen. Fast forward to November 2019. Chris solved the problem with my last antenna. The symptoms that kept be silent was a RX that would loose sensitivity sporadically going from TX to RX. I knew I had a relay problem but not sure of what relay. There were many.. The station uses a TS2000 for a transmitter and a SDR with Linrad software for the RX. I needed to get the antenna directed back to the RX after TX. If you remember… I had 4 antenna systems that all have separate preamps and needed to be sent to 2 channels of the RX. My own software would give me the option of feeding any antenna system into either RX channel. (This all worked great. I was able to listen to any antenna in either ear making it possible to play man in the middle and help line up stations on 144.205 during our morning chats). Although I was down to one antenna the RX matrix was still in line. The matrix switching board had control relays to replace. Chris also mentioned we had changed a Tohtsu relay next to the Beko in the past. We thought perhaps the not climate controlled shack might make the relay less reliable. I ordered a vacuum relay from DEMI to replace it and wunderbar.. I was back on the air. I drove to the station to update the computers, 20 hours driving to FN01, 1 day in the shack, and 20 hours driving back to Florida I had rejuvenated energy.

 

I had a working system minus a stodgy rotator. The working system (4 X 13 el vertically stacked, top at 160 ft) made noise in any direction pointed… Problem, I was unable to reliably move it. This is a warm WX problem. I have previously reported great success in an earlier blog.. so nuf said, it works. Bring on the January ARRL Test…….

I’m ready….. A good strategy for me is to start with the antenna to my northeast. (no mans land.. middle of the Adirondack Mountains.. and Montreal, Quebec City on the other side. Northern VT and NH also that way.) Basically not many active hams but in sometime difficult GRIDS. The GRIDS made it in my log and now time for the HIGH rate Boston to Washington DC corridor. oops… not a good time to have antenna not moving… rocking, rocking nada… more rocking  nada… 1900 to 2300 CQing for black bears not so much fun. Well, FT8 works great, I still worked a few station who made it on the sides and back of antenna. The FT8 screen shows you little about if the station is weak or loud. So I thought when around 2200, I started to see many lines in the waterfall but few decodes , it was odd. Some decodes I called many times with no answer, I suspected other problems. Now it was time to put the headphones on and have a listen. Hey pretty choppy.. Well remoting the audio from FN01 to EL87 through the interned had worked great for many years .. clearly there was a problem.. testing the connection proved my fears, I had lots of lost packets. A phone call to my internet provider confirmed my fear. They recognized something was wrong and wanted to set up an appointment for me to be there to let them in and test my system… !@#$% well, !@#$%. I hung up the phone and decided to watch TV….. periodically testing and around 0300 I was starting to get audio back. All of the heavy hitting remote desktop programs remained off in order to let the audio through.  By 0330 I began testing the connection and suddenly the rotator began moving…… I moved to to the SOUTHWEST in hopes of logging M/S stations. The internet was back and I was smiling. I would not move the antenna to the corridor until later Sunday. My effort was concentrating on GRIDS.

 

The contest ended 0400.. after contest thoughts..

FT8 works great!

1. Many new callsigns were entered in my log. This indicates it is bringing new blood to our aging population.

2. When operating SSB, CW tweaking antenna was very important to hearing the weak ones. A huge number of my QSOs were logged with my antenna in the wrong direction.

Conditions were pretty poor. I judge this by the extended periods of CQing in hopes of logging previously worked distant stations. Stations over 400 miles were rarely worked. Tropo must have been very bad.

 

Bad stuff about FT8.

1. Many have already pointed to the obvious difficulty moving stations through the bands. I’m sure the microwaves suffer…

2. The main reason for my love of VHF is trying to work weak stations. The thrill of not knowing who you might hear answering a CQ and finally getting enough information to log the station. The thrill of digging out the weak one was gone! The software is very CLEAR, so much so, that unless you look at the dB column you don’t know if it was a weak or strong station.

 

Plans…

1. Travel to FN01 and get my antennas and rotators working again.

2. With more stations stuffed into the narrow FT8 window this gives should give me more opportunity to listen for weak stations on a quiet QRM free band.. This is a new skill to develope. A better CONTEST strategy will be needed to produce better results

 

Stan, KA1ZE