The final weekend of February brought three pretty active contests — CQ 160M SSB, FT4 DX contest, and the NAQP RTTY. I skipped the 160M contest as sideband contesting is not my forte and I couldn’t see myself sitting up all night trying to be heard on 160M.
Rather, I fiddled around for a couple of hours in the FT4 DX contest, making a few dozen contacts on 40M then 20M on Saturday morning before the big target activity — the North American QSO Party February RTTY contest — started at 1800z Saturday.
The FT4 contest was a disappointment for two reasons: there wasn’t a lot of participation, making contacts harder to come by, and the band conditions were kind of lousy which made it difficult to complete contacts even if you managed to find a partner.
Couple all of that with the general newness of FT-mode contesting — and the number of people perhaps dabbling in a contest for the first time — and you have a recipe for frustration.
At least a third of the contacts I tried to make ended up dying before they were complete. Some stations didn’t seem to understand the QSO sequencing and moved on to answer other callers before finishing, and others just didn’t have the signal or path to complete the sequence. Not in log.
The WSJT-X software (I ran the 2.4 RC1 beta version) running from inside N1MM Logger Plus worked very well with no crashing. After the contest, I understand from others that they experienced problems with WSJT-X not following the QSO auto-sequence properly (moving to CQ when it shouldn’t, etc.) and occasional crashes.
These reports were similar to what some saw using version 2.2.x in the RTTY Roundup in January. Your mileage may vary, but I recommend running the latest possible version as that’s where any recent fixes and improvements will be found (though new features in experimental stage could also introduce new issues).
Bottom line: the FT4 DX Contest was fun as a casual outing but not a serious contesting experience. It should be a useful entre for newcomers to get a taste of a low-pressure contest, but I don’t think it will attract the masses or die-hard contesters looking for a good competitive fix. Especially when the CQ 150M SSB contest and NAQP RTTY are running in parallel.
I’ve read complaints that the FT4 DX contest sponsor — the non-descript European FT8 Club, which openly promotes MSHV software as “preferred” — hasn’t published final results from the 2020 contest. Not publishing results will surely convince many contesters to skip this one in future. That’s too bad, as FT4 was created for contesting and this event — if people particpated — could help it thrive.
Now, on to the main event for me. I went into the NAQP RTTY contest with modest expectations, figuring to make a few hundred contacts and play fairly casually.
But 20M was so hopping hot, I racked up a lot of contacts and 49 multipliers. Then I layered on a few dozen QSOs and 13 multipliers on 15M — which was more than many of the eastern and mid-western stations were reporting on contestscoresonline.com.
By the time I took my two hours of off-time at about 2:30 p.m. local time, I was ahead of my previous personal best performances going back many years.
When I returned at 4:30 p.m. local, 40M was the natural go-to band. Things were slow at first but picked up by 5 p.m. (0100z) and got even better before all those eastern stations shifted to 80M.
I hit 80M expecting to make substantial gains, as the new receiving antenna (a loop-on-ground) lets me hear so many more stations than I used to hear. But as luck would have it, something was wrong with my transmit antenna. SWR was very good, but after calling CQ for 10 minutes with no takers I knew I had a problem.
I kept at it and made a few dozen contacts on 80M, but I had been expecting to make 200 or more. Not this time, alas.
I took an extra hour off, thinking the band might shift and favor my region, but that didn’t happen. I didn’t make a QSO east of the Rockies until the final hour of the contest, and didn’t work anyone east of the Mississippi until the final half hour.
In the light of day Sunday morning, I discovered that a wind storm some time over the previous weeks had downed a large elm branch on the lower back lawn. That branch came down directly over two of my four elevated radials, dragging them to the ground a few feet from the feedpoint. My wire vertical was probably acting like a cloud-warmer instead of a low-angle antenna.
The branch will be cleared and the radials repaired in time for the next contest.
And that, I expect, will be the ARRL DX SSB contest this weekend. I won’t be very competitive in this one — I never am, especially when the polar path is compromised or in a low-sunspot year. But I will get in there and see what can be done with what I have.
Let’s go get ’em! I’ll see you out there.