Recap: 2021 ARRL DX CW worst-ever outing

Nothing deflates a contester more quickly than a whole weekend of poor conditions. That’s what we faced going into the 2021 ARRL DX CW contest Feb. 20-21.

From the outset, Aurora levels were elevated and the K-index was bobbing around 3 or 4, forcing the A-index into the 20s. The combination essentially destroyed the radio path over the pole, which is how west-coast stations work Europe.

The image on left is what conditions looked like at 12:30 a.m. local time Sunday morning.

With Europe pretty much out of the picture, western stations had to work hard to find any multipliers (DXCC entities) to fill the void. For most of the weekend, the only viable pool of countries was Caribbean and South America, and that’s not a very deep pool.

From my station, I knew 15M wouldn’t be open very well to anywhere except the southeast (Caribbean and South America), so that’s where I spent my daylight hours if I wasn’t on 20M. Tried to work some Japanese stations on 15M but the band just wasn’t strong enough across the Pacific — soon, but not this weekend.

I ended up sitting out part of Sunday afternoon, and got back on the for the final hour and a half pointing at Asia. It was a good call, as I ended up with a nice run of 50 or so JA/YB stations with a few much-needed Caribbean multipliers that I had missed earlier calling me off the back of the beam.

The Steppir 3-element yagi is great for those times when Asia and South America are both open — I can run bi-directional mode to work both, or easily flip back and forth with a 2-second delay while the antenna elements retune. This time, I just kept the yagi on Japan and worked other callers off the back, as the band was pretty strong in both bearings.

Aurora and signals over the pole

Want to hear what Aurora effects sound like on 20M? Here’s a recording of the band — tuning across a few signals and working EA (Spain) and OX (Greenland) stations in the height of the auroral bloom over the Arctic. Keep in mind, EA (Spain) is actually on a bearing just to the south of the auroral oval. The auroral effect is pronounced on all the signals heard anywhere north of 90 degrees at the time.

Imagine spending a weekend working in those conditions! At least signals from South America were crisp and clear when I turned the beam back to the southeast.

Summing up

I ended up with just 12.5 hours on the air — a lot less time than usual, as conditions just couldn’t hold my attention.

This was a personal-worst high-power entry for this contest, and second-worst-ever regardless of power (I had one lower score running low power in 2003 before I had any antennas other than a low G5RV).

Band QSOs Pts Cty Pt/Q
3.5   18   54  12  3.0
7     38  114  24  3.0
14   206  618  41  3.0
21    41  123  19  3.0
Total 303 909  96  3.0
Claimed score : 87,264

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