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CQWW WPX Contest, CW   2008   May 24   Claimed Score

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Call: WC1M
Operator(s): WC1M
Station: WC1M

Class: SOAB HP
Operating Time (hrs): 36
Location: USA
Radios: SO2R  

Summary:   Compare Scores
Total:2640Prefixes871Total Score7,546,344


Club: Yankee Clipper Contest Club

Comments:     [email]     2008-05-26 19:28:25
Antennas: 160M - trapped vee @90', trapped vee @65' 80M - delta loop @75', trapped vee @90', trapped vee @65' 40M - Cal-Av 2D-40A @110', 4-square 20M - 4/4/4 SteppIRs @96'/64'/34' on TICs, C3E @50', 4-el @72' 15M - 4/4/4 SteppIRs @96'/64'/34' on TICs, C3E @50', 5-el @50' 10M - 4/4/4 SteppIRs @96'/64'/34' on TICs, C3E @50' Tower#1: Cal-AV 2D-40A, 4-el SteppIRs, 160/80 trapped vee 770-MDP: Force-12 EF-420 AB-577 #1: Force-12 EF-515 AB-577 #2: Force-12 C3E Delta loop and trapped vee hung from trees 580' beverage aimed 20-degrees Equipment: Elecraft K3 + Alpha 87A, Ten-Tec Orion + Acom 2000A, Writelog, W5XD+ keyer/switcher, homebrew Windows antenna switching/tuning software ("AntennaMaster"), Hamation Relay Drivers, TopTen and KK1L SO2R switches, Green Heron and Hy-Gain rotor controllers, microHam Stack Switch and StackMax Thought I'd better post this so I can luxuriate in second place before K1ZM pushes me down. Jeff had higher serial numbers than me every time I heard him. So did K1LZ, though I don't know if Krassy was SO or multi this time. Could be other higher SO scores, too -- you never know who is running in what category in this contest. Looks like I just barely edged out NY4A, so that one will comes down to UBNs. Congrats to Dan (NE1AA, aka K1TO) for another fine job, and to Jeff whether he beat Dan or not. I was actually happy to see Dan's score, because he "only" beat me by 600K points instead of the usual 2 million! (CQ said he "crushed" me one year.) This is the highest WPX CW score I've posted from my home station since I've been a serious participant (not quite 10 years.) My improvement had a little to do with conditions, and a lot to do with new antennas. I didn't have the SteppIR stack last year (only the one at 96'), and now have a better 40m beam (see contest preparation below.) Things went so well for me that I thought Dan or Jeff would break K5ZD's record this year. But unless Jeff pulled it off, I guess that's not going to be possible until 15 meters comes back. I came pretty close in 2006 from KT1V, but it's going to take a better op than I am to set a new record. I think the record is destined to fall because there seem to be more and more stations with rare or unique prefixes every year. It won't be long before someone breaks the 1000 mult barrier in SOAB HP. The Contest As Dan said, the opinions on propagation are mixed. NV1N (N1UR) said he thought the conditions were only a little better than last year. Others said they were great. I thought they were somewhat mixed, but mostly much better. I started out with four straight 100+ hours on 40m, so I'd say propagation on that band was quite good (and so was my new antenna.) I was amazed to hear 20m open to Europe after 0500z, a sunrise opening I haven't heard for years. Couldn't quite run EU (maybe nobody there noticed the band was open to the US), but was able to pick off quite a few mults and extra Qs while running 40. I was really blown away when HL2AEJ called me on 20m at 0800z! This was followed by a string of JAs, some Russians, and VK6HD. The best was B7P, worked at 0825z. Wow. It reminded me of 15m opening to EU at 3 AM local during the last sunspot peak. Had to tear myself away from the radio to take my first break, from 0830z-1130z. The rate was pretty low, but I was still picking up Asian mults. In retrospect, I should have operated straight through and taken a break Sunday morning after 20m petered out. Of course, I had no way of knowing that would happen, and thought propagation was going to improve instead of the opposite. Besides, I was feeling quite tired and wanted to be fresh for the morning run on 20. I can't be sure, but I think 20 opened early Saturday morning. Starting at 1120z, I had about 70 Qs in 40 minutes, probably indicating that the band had opened earlier. Yet another reason I should have operated straight through the night. After 1200z, the rate on 20 plunged and was pretty poor until about 1300z, when I finally had a 100+ hour (thanks to some 15m Qs on the second radio.) I jumped over to 15m during the 1400z hour, for my first EU run on 15m in two years. It was only 63 Qs, but I was thrilled to see 15 finally open to someplace besides South. Split the 1500z hour between 15 and 20, then went back to 20 for part of the 1600z hour. Took my second break from 1630z-1830z. When I got back on, the rate was high again, so that break probably should have been 1600z-1700z or even 1500z-1700z. The band really picked up at 1900z, and stayed good through the 2200z hour. I moved down to 40 at about 2230z, and had very decent rate for about six and a half hours. Tried a little running on 80m at the beginning of the 0500z hour, but that's sort of a trap (or a sucker-punch, as NN1N once told me.) There was no 20m sunrise opening the second night, so I packed it in and took break #3 from 0530z-1045z. 20 was pretty active when I got back on, so once again it's possible I should have started a little earlier. It's so tough to tell in WPX. You don't want to start too early and waste potential break time CQing into a dead band. The rate on 20 was steady all morning, but rather low. Not unusual for the second day of WPX, but there were no big hours and the band declined precipitously from 1300z on. 15 didn't open to EU like it did on the first day, so I had to be content with second radio S&P for mults and Qs. Picked up a few more Qs CQing 15 during the 1600z hour, but did mostly S&P My final break was 1700z-1900z. Once again, I probably would have been a little better off taking 1600z-1800z, but might have missed those 15m Qs. The rate was good when I got back on 20 at 1900z, and I suspect it had been good from 1800z on. It stayed good until 2200z, when I took a chance and went down to 40. Good decision -- the band was wide open and I was able to run EU easily. That's pretty early for 40 in the summertime here, but I think either conditions were particularly favorable or my new 40m antenna plays really well (or both.) Wrapped up the contest running 40 and S&Ping 20 on the second radio. I have to say the end of the contest is one of my favorite parts. Seems like everyone gets in a hurry and the new mults start flying. I guess the sprint to the finish is when my competitive juices really get flowing. One thing I love about WPX is that if you have a good first night, the score gets high quite early, and it's really fun to watch it get higher and higher as you pile on new mults and 6-pointers. It took less and less time to push the score up by 100K, 200K and 500K. By the end of the contest, a new mult is worth 10K-15K points. That makes the last 2-3 hours really fun. I fell slightly short of where I thought I would end up, considering my halfway score of 3.5 million. K5ZD says you double the score and add 10% (not sure if that applies to WPX, or only to WW.) I had 3.5 million, so should have ended up at 7.7 million instead of 7.5 million. Pretty close, though. Would have liked to break the 8 million barrier, but it's going to take 15 meters opening to EU for that. All in all, a great contest, and lots of fun. As usual, I had some pretty tough moments the first day, when I felt very tired. Might have been fallout from so much preparation work (see below.) But also as usual, my spirits picked up considerably the second day and I felt great in the home stretch. This has become my pattern, and I've got to find a way to feel as good on the first day as I do on the second. I would imagine for most people it's the other way around. My theory is that most contests are won on the first day, so I think it's best to be in peak form early. As usual, I had a high pts/QSO ratio: 3.28. Got that by pounding EU. That's how I've been able to do pretty well in this contest, despite somewhat lower Qs and mults than others. I always wonder if I'm making a strategic error tying to work EU, EU, EU instead of turning the beams and working USA for prefixes. N1UR (NV1N) and I have a running debate about that. He deliberately runs USA when the EU rate drops on the low bands, while I just keep running those 6-pointers. He's low power, which is probably why he needs to run USA. The EU strategy worked for me in '06 from KT1V, but his big antennas were key, too. I recall never turning the beams off EU and working US off the back of the beams. That's generally what I do from home, too. This year I only turned the beams West a couple of times, and not for long. Never had any USA runs. Maybe one of these years I'll try that. As for operating quality, for some reason this contest produced a little less frustration than past contests. I had fewer dupes, and most people sent fills only once, unless I requested more. Seemed like very few ops unnecessarily repeated my call when giving the exchange. There were the usual terrible fists and chirpy radios, but it seemed like fewer than usual. I didn't have anyone camp on my frequency calling some other station for a scheduled QSO, nor did I get the usual guy who just can't understand what I'm doing and wants to get into a QSO ("WX HR CLOUDY…") Sure, a number of people just plopped down on my frequency without asking QRL?, but fewer than usual. Only had to chase people off a few times. Actually, I had quite a few more ask QRL? than in past contests. Could it be that overall operating quality is improving? Hope so. Contest Preparation A lot of preparation work was necessary this year. Beginning in April, the first task was to build a master patch panel in the basement so I can quickly disconnect every wire entering the house from the towers. Last August we took a big lightning hit that caused $10,000 worth of damage, mostly to my station equipment but also to some stereo stuff. Although I have an extensive ground and lightning suppression system, some delicate semiconductors were connected to the tower at the time, and the suppressors couldn’t save them. Also, they provided a path via RS-232 through the computer (killed) to quite a few other devices. I resolved not to let this happen again, hence the patch panel. I had already relocated both autotune amps and much of my switching equipment to the basement, and had a closet built around it, so it was a pretty simple matter to locate the patch panel there. I also added disconnects for the satellite TV dish, phone lines and even a couple of AC disconnect panels to completely cut off the shack. This project took much longer than I expected, with something like 40 cables and 80 connectors to prepare. It's all done now. The second task was to replace the 40-2CD at 110'. Over the winter, the antenna had developed intermittent high SWR. At first, it could be corrected with a little shot of high power. The high SWR would come back in a few hours, or sometimes even in a few minutes. I was able to "burn off" whatever it was during ARRL DX CW and got through the whole contest, but not long after the problem got worse and worse. It took more and more power to burn through whatever it was, and the time between failures got shorter and shorter. Eventually, full power wouldn't break through and the antenna became unusable. Some speculated that it was a bad relay, bad lightning suppressor, bad feedline, bad connector, bad balun, or possibly a bad tubing joint. My own theory was that some gunk somehow formed inside the driven element insulator between the feedline connection screws. It seemed like cold weather played a part. I had a feeling the gunk would freeze, then melt when I hit it with high power. When winter finally melted away, I verified that the problem had nothing to do with the switches, relays and lightning suppressors. I found that the coax past the DC-blocking capacitors showed about 12 megohms of continuity between the center conductor and shield when it should be an open circuit between the two halves of the driven element. I climbed the tower and verified that the feedline to the rotor loop connection point was good. I clipped off the connector on the rotor loop, but the megohm-level continuity persisted. I cut as much feedline off the rotor loop as I could reach, but still no help. That meant it was a part of the feedline I couldn't reach, or a bad balun, or something wrong with the driven element insulator. It also meant the antenna had to come down. I'm sure I could have fixed the antenna, but given the work involved to take it down and raise it again, I started considering a replacement. The 40-2CD is a venerable antenna, and a heck of a lot better than my 40m 4-square on transmit, but it has some shortcomings. The one I own was #3 off the CushCraft production line (according to the original owner, K1KI), and had not been reinforced. Tom replaced the traps and capacitive hats, and I replaced all the hardware with stainless. After a year or two on my tubular crankup tower, the elements had started to droop quite a bit. so before moving it to the top of the 110' Rohn 55 tower, I replaced the center sections of both elements and inserted smaller tubing inside those sections for reinforcement. This may have proven to be the antenna's downfall. Read on. Anyway, a big windstorm did some damage to the 40-2CD last year: the outer boom sections turned, which made the elements cockeyed and one of the support struts came off the boom. With difficulty, I was able to fix those problems on the tower without taking the antenna down, but wasn't happy about the boom hose clamps failing to hold. In general, I felt the antenna construction wasn't robust enough for our New England weather (others may disagree.) Performance-wise, the 40-2CD is a good antenna, but the F/B is pretty poor. I almost never had to turn it away from Europe, with US stations being easy to work off the back. In many respects, the antenna plays more like a dipole than a yagi. I'm sure some of that has to do with the non-optimal height: previously, I had the 40-2CD at about 70 feet, which produces a cleaner pattern than 110'. At non-optimal heights, the secondary lobe is almost straight up, and tends to mess up the F/B on high-angle signals (just the signals you want to attenuate in a contest.) It's also a noisy antenna. Used to use my Beverage to listen on 40, but a different transformer made it not work on that band. I was thinking about to rewiring my switching system so I could use the 4-square on receive. My contest scores have been respectable on 40, but my numbers were still consistently lower than the top SO stations after I moved the 40-2CD to the new tower. Bottom line, I never felt quite satisfied with the antenna. An interesting alternative to the 40-2CD is a W6NL's Moxon modification to the XM-240. The gain is better, the F/B is comparable to a full-size yagi, and the bandwidth easily covers all of 40m. Unfortunately, the mod is only available for the beefier XM-240; no one has worked out the sizes needed for the 40-2CD yet. Undoubtedly, mine would have required reinforcement prior to modification. With unknown mod requirements and probable reinforcement, I thought it would be tough to get the project done by WPX CW, even if I bought a new XM-240 ($1000) and modified it. Also, I had some concern about being able to tram the odd-shaped elements past the various obstructions on my tower. Finally, the performance figures looked good, but I noted that the F/B varied considerably across the band, dropping as low as 15 dB at the bottom. When I designed the new tower, I contemplated someday putting up a larger 40m antenna. As most of you know, beyond the short-forty class the cost and engineering factors become rather daunting. My favorite 40m antenna has been KT1V's full-size M2 3-el yagi at 140'. That proved to be a winner for me in '06. But it's 26 sq ft and 350 lbs. A 4-el OWA would be a similar choice. My tower can take that kind of load, but I'd probably have to replace the top bracket with a star guy and probably go up a size for the top guys. Heck, with that much work I'd probably opt to extend the tower another 30 feet to put the 40m beam at the more optimal 140' height. There's no way I'd attempt to raise a monster antenna like that by myself, so add a lot of money to have a professional rigger do it. Maybe I'll do it someday, but not unless I can convince myself it's the only way to win. The linear-loaded 3-el and 4-el antennas are another choice, but some have questioned the performance of certain models, and I'm just not comfortable with the potential maintenance issues of linear loading wires in New England (K1TTT has some nice pictures of ice damage that required his 4-el to come down.) To me, the best compromise I've seen between size and performance (of antennas, I mean :-) is the Cal-Av 2D-40A. I helped build one at NT1Y back in 2003, and Bill's 2-stack at 140'/70' helped W4PA dominate the band in his 2003 CQ WW WPX SOAB HP USA win. I was impressed with the design of the antenna, and its beefy construction. It's not a yagi. It's a closely-spaced, dual-driven 2-element array with full-size elements (66 and 70 feet.) The boom is only 16 feet, but the gain is over 2 dB better than a 40-2CD. The F/B is 20 dB or better across the band. It's not the broadest antenna, with 2:1 points of about 150-200 KHz, but that's more than adequate for my needs, operating mostly CW from home. The two hairpin matching sections are adjustable from the tower, and the feedpoint can be reached as well (how many antennas can we say that about?) The construction is excellent: the boom is 3" in diameter and does not require a support. The center tubing of the elements begins at 3" diameter, so the full-size elements don't require supports either. Simple and rugged, perfect for New England. I knew NT1Y had acquired a couple of 40m OWAs, and asked if he'd sell me one of his Cal-Av antennas (one was still in the air, the other on the ground.) Bill and I struck a deal, and W1ECT and I drove up to Bill's farm 40 minutes north of here to get the antenna. We were able to disassemble it much more easily than expected (the elements are riveted), with only one u-bolt being so badly galled we had to break it. They all galled to some extent, so I had to us a tap and die to rehab almost all u-bolts. I used anti-seize on all of them prior to reassembly. Bill didn't have the boom-to-mast plates, probably because he had special mounts made for his rotating Big Bertha tower. Also, the rivets aren't your typical hardware store variety. Long story short, I was able to acquire replacement parts from Cal-Av and got the antenna rebuilt about two weeks before WPX. I had been using a Tailtwister to turn the 40-2CD, but after much thought decided it was asking for trouble to use that rotor with the Cal-Av. I had little doubt the brake wedge would be ground to bits eventually. So, up went an Orion OR2800PX. Fine rotor, especially with the Green Heron controller. Tramming was another story, which I'll probably tell on Tower Talk at some point. The 2D-40A is by far the largest antenna I've handled on the tower. Things went well, thanks to an improved tiller system, but I certainly did my share of worrying. Also spent about 20 hours on the tower. The antenna was up a week before WPX. I don't have to tell serious contesters how stressful and exhausting a major project like that can be just before a contest. I'll need more time with it, but so far the antenna is living up to expectations. Comparing the gain with my 4-square, the 2D-40A appears to be half an S-unit or more louder than the 40-2CD, and the F/B is 20+ dB across the band. It's about as quiet as the 4-square, which is a real pleasure. I'm sure that will help when it snows during WW or ARRL. I need to use it in a few more contests to be sure, but I felt pretty loud on 40m this weekend. Maybe not quite as dominant as I was with KT1V's full-size 3-el, but I never felt the kind of struggle to copy that I did with the 40-2CD. I also worked over 300 Qs more on 40 than last year, which is perhaps some indication of an improved antenna. Oh yeah. What was wrong with the 40-2CD? When I got it on the ground, the continuity between the elements had increased to 77 megohms. I removed the feedline and balun, and verified that they were OK. It had to be something inside the insulator. By the time I got the driven element into the garage, it was over 100 megohms. I managed to pull the tubing out of the insulator and found that there was a wavy thick line of black gunk between the two screws used to attach the feedline. It was only on the very bottom part of the insulator, suggesting that water had seeped into the insulator and pooled between the screws. I think the water may have mixed with aluminum oxide powder, which was evident at the ends of the tubing, or NoAlox, which I had used when slipping in the inner reinforcement tubing. In looking at the tubing, I remembered that I had gotten it gratis from a club member. The ends were cross-cut, and there were numerous holes drilled along the length. That's probably how the water penetrated the insulator. Either that, or it managed to get under the screw heads and washers on the top side of the insulator. BTW, I found a loose hose clamp at one of the DE joints too. I was able to simply pull the tubing out. Guess part of that element would have ended up on the ground eventually. Other station prep included building a K3 Kit a few weeks before WPX (it was a busy month of May.) I have to use it in a few more contests to be sure, but right now I'm thinking the K3 is the best contest radio I've used. The receiver is every bit as good as or better than the Orion, without the annoying glitches and shortcomings. The user interface is a lot more intuitive. Elecraft's support is nothing short of amazing. No question the small package will make this the DXpedition radio of choice, but it may turn out to be "the" radio for domestic contesting as well. Thanks for all the QSOs, and hope to see you again next year. 73, Dick WC1M