Monday, May 28, 2007

DXpedition contesting class

One of the sessions I was most anticipating during Contest University was DXpedition Contesting. This session was headed by Jeff Steinman (N5TJ) just one hour into the event and he did not disappoint.
I traveled to St. John (pictures here) in 2006 for the ARRL DX contest believing that the proximity to the US and general temperament of the contest would make for a low-stress way to explore this kind of DXpeditioning. Sure enough, Jeff agreed listing the ARRL DX and WPX contests as great "starter" events where you could "have fun and run a lot of guys." Working the ARRL DX contest from the Caribbean means fewer hardware demands than contests like CQ WW since you only need to work US stations. Being right off the coast of the US surrounded by saltwater doesn't hurt, either.
Here is some of what was listed for Ingredients for Success as presented during this class:
  • Pre-contest planning (months ahead of time)
  • Local ham/host/station at location (rental or not)
    • Existing antennas / equipment a big plus
    • Better ability to deal with issues once on site
  • Optimal location
    • Basic propagation / station location and antennas
    • "Demographic" Propagation (e.g., Maximizing points per QSO and multipliers across bands)
  • Operator(s) experience and skill
Let's take a look at these things one-at-a-time. Pre-contest planning corresponds closely to everything I've been saying here. Good planning can help ensure you make your goals and you don't miss opportunities that might present themselves. Most of us need to do some planning in our lives, either at work or for projects at home. Why skimp on planning for this?
Jeff's second point, finding a local ham or host station with existing antennas and equipment is also well taken. My idea of a 100 Pound DXpedition is that you bring the minimum equipment you need with you to accomplish your goals. If you are able to bring nothing and do all you seek to do, then that constitutes a successful trip! There are contest station rentals that are available, and I believe that is a fine alternative to hauling your own gear. I may do that someday, but right now I'm enjoying packing my own stuff and marveling about how much can be done with so little.
The location bullet points relate to particular contest rules. For example, in CQ WW you get more points for a QSO with a different continent than with a QSO to the same continent. Since most stations are in either the US or Europe, one strategy for maximizing your points per QSO is to locate your station in either Africa or South America. That's why you'll find the VooDudes led by Roger Western (G3SXW) operating the CQ WW CW contest from equatorial Africa and the Caribbean Contesting Consortium (PJ2T) group running from South America on the island of Curacao. Just as in real estate, the three most important things are location, location, location!
This isn't to say that you can't do well or have fun from North America in the Caribbean, or on Hawaii, or from Scotland. You can, of course. But, it would be very difficult to win the top slot from one of those places because of the way this contest is scored. That's just a fact, and that is what Jeff is pointing out in his slides.
There are things cited in the talk that seemed obvious but are worth listing. If you want to win or even set a world record you need to have a 3 point location (like Africa or South America), a good (loud) signal to NA/EU on all bands, a great receive antennas on the low bands. For a 100 Pound DXpedition that involves carrying your own equipment, this is probably out of reach. If you were to team up with a multi-multi operation from one of these prime locations, though, it is likely that all of these things are already in place. Now all that is left is to stay in the chair and log accurately (Jeff's emphasis--and mine).

Here is the thing that was a surprise to me: a significant improvement for station operation is a Single Operator 2 Radio setup. The SO2R operations run pile-ups with the first radio while looking for multipliers or S&P with the other. This is the single biggest way to boost your score.
I would have bet money that the "assisted" guys (those who use the packet spotting network) would have beaten unassisted operators, but this is not the case. I would have especially thought that assisted category operators would have beaten the SO2R guys. Statistics show just the opposite. The DX spotting network does not provide a boost to the score as much as adding the second radio. In fact, the second radio (in the hands of an operator capable of using it) can add up to 15% to the score when compare to a single radio operation. That is huge!
I have been recently convinced of the utility of a second full receiver in a radio. I pitched in at the K1TTT and used a Yaesu FT-1000 during the 2007 ARRL DX contest. It isn't quite like having a full second radio, but the additional receiver allowed me to call CQ on the main tuner while doing S&P on the other.
The FT-1000 weighs about the same as a sack of bricks so it isn't a great "portable" radio. The new Elecraft K3, on the other hand, is about 8 pounds (3.6 Kg). I really want one of these!

I cannot relate the full contents on this session here, but I can say that the speaker emphasized some of the things in his discussions that I have mentioned here. Specifically, "Planning + Good QTH + Motivated Team = Results" (right from Jeff's slides). Well said.

My three-day weekend is nearly over and I'm finally starting to feel rejuvenated from my trip. I need to catch up on QSLing and start planning my St. Kitts trip in earnest. I'll drop a note here on the progress I make on both those fronts.


Post a Comment

<< Home