This is a report on my single-operator contest effort during the ARRL November Sweepstakes (Phone) HF Contest. Some other potential titles for this article are:
A Slacker's Guide to Working the Sweepstakes How To Almost Work 50 States On a Weekend A Simple Way to Get On the HF Bands
Contests on the HF bands can be a fun way to make a lot of contacts and get some new states or countries. The ARRL Sweepstakes promotes contacts between US and Canadian stations, so it is an opportunity to work those states and provinces.
The Club Challenge
I don’t usually work the Sweepstakes contest but Bill/K0UK put out a challenge to the Grand Mesa Contesters club to get on the air and contribute whatever points you can to the aggregate club score. I thought this was a good idea and decided to join in the effort. I already had committed to teaching a General License class on Saturday, so that limited my operating window to mostly Sunday. No problem, I could still make a significant number of contacts on Sunday.
I read the rules for the contest to make sure I knew the operating times, entry categories, what stations I could work for points, and the contest exchange. Sweepstakes has a complicated contest exchange, that includes a serial number (every contact gets a unique sequential number), precedence (operating class), your callsign, the last two digits of the year you were first licensed, and your ARRL section. Wow. For me, the section is just Colorado (abbreviated CO), but some states have multiple sections. It is a great idea to have the list of ARRL and RAC (Radio Amateurs of Canada) sections available. So the information I gave to the other station was something like this: 105 A K0NR 77 CO. In the example, 105 is the serial number that incremented with each radio contact.
It turned out that my HF antenna at the house fell down some time ago because the rope holding the wire had rotted away. So my first task was to do a quick but effective antenna installation. We have a 30-foot Ponderosa pine in the backyard, which is my preferred antenna support. I have a number of wire antennas stashed away in my basement, including dipoles, end-fed halfwaves, G5RV’s, etc.
For this contest, I decided to use an end-fed antenna from MyAntennas.com, about 44 feet long. This antenna has a 9:1 matching transformer (an “unun”) that matches the high-impedance of the wire to something closer to 50 ohms. An antenna tuner is required to do the final matchup over multiple HF bands. This antenna is long enough to be effective on 40 meters and any higher band, which matches my usual operating habits. I had a Yaesu FT-950 transceiver available which has an internal tuner that was able to match the antenna on 40m, 20m, 15m, and 10m. This is not an end-fed halfwave…it is a “random” length of wire that is not resonant on any ham band but will radiate pretty well using the matching transformer. The advantage of this antenna is its simplicity and ability to handle multiple bands, with the push of the internal antenna tuner.
My main challenge was to get this antenna up into my favorite Ponderosa pine tree. Again, I took a simple approach. I grabbed my spin-cast fishing pole, attached two 5/16-inch hex nuts to the end of the line (to act as a weight), and cast the nuts up over the top of the tree. This may sound difficult, but it only took me three casts to get the fishing line on a limb that I liked. I let the line out and let the weight drop to the ground. Then I attached a 1/8-inch synthetic rope onto the fishing line and pulled it back up over the tree. Soon, I had my antenna support rope passing over the very top of the tree. It was a simple matter to attach and hoist the undriven end of the antenna to the top of the tree. The antenna is longer than the height of the tree, so I sloped the antenna away from the tree.
A length of RG-8 style coax connected the antenna and the transceiver in the ham shack. I did not ground the antenna transformer or add a counterpoise, hoping that the length of coax would be sufficient to act as a counterpoise. This worked out OK and the FT-950 was able to drive the antenna using just the internal antenna tuner on all bands.
You don’t have to have a computer to log your contacts during the contest, but you really should. Even with 50 contacts written on paper, it becomes difficult to remember which stations you’ve already worked. Also, the logging program automatically generates the serial number mentioned above. Very helpful.
For most contests, I use the N1MM Logger+ software, which is arguably the standard in ham radio contest loggers. It is free to use and is available here. I probably use about 10% of the power of this software but it is relatively easy to use, once you get familiar with it. It has templates for all of the contests, so it keeps track of your score and warns you if you’ve already worked a station. It automatically generates the cabrillo format for submitting your log electronically.
With a 100-watt-and-a-wire station, you have to compete with much more capable stations during a contest. These folks may be running 1kW and gain antennas. I used the “search and pounce” technique, tuning around to find strong stations calling CQ. I typed the callsign into the logging program to make sure we have not already worked and then I called them, just saying my callsign. If they hear me, they will call me back, providing their exchange information. I enter that into N1MM and give them my info. It is as simple as that.
I can usually judge how well my station is doing by how quickly I can contact another station. If they answer me on the first call, that’s great. If it takes a few calls, it usually means that someone else is beating me out in the pileup. I was happy with the performance of the station — I was making contacts at a decent rate.
I made 187 QSOs in about 7 hours of operating, which works out to one contact every 2.5 minutes or so. That rate is not going to win the contest but it was good enough to keep me having fun.
The scoring multiplier for the contest is ARRL and RAC sections, with a maximum number of 84 sections. I worked 66 of them, so not too bad but not a clean sweep. I worked 45 of the 50 US states, missing South Dakota, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Utah, and Alaska. Except for Alaska, the missing states are relatively close to Colorado, so a little more time on 40m (or 80m), for shorter skip distance, would probably have gotten them. The point is that you can achieve Worked All States (WAS) on a single Sweepstakes weekend.
This is a good example of how to get an HF station up and running and make some radio contacts. I often encounter hams that are new to HF and not quite sure how to get on the air. It does not have to be complicated…get a basic transceiver, power supply, coax and a wire antenna and give it a try. Doing this on a contest weekend means that you’ll have plenty of stations to contact.
73 Bob K0NR