Sunday, June 15, 2008

The 2008 ARRL VHF QSO Party - Part I

This past weekend was the 2008 ARRL VHF QSO Party. (I don't know why it's called a QSO Party, it's a contest.) This is one of my favorite contests, since while I am far from a "big gun" station, I can still do decently for what I'm using, which makes it fun. When I can, I like to work at least some time on both days of the contest, since band conditions can (and do) change significantly between the two days of that contest. (Of course, since the "main" band for this contest is 6 meters, the conditions can change on a minute by minute basis too, but there are often significant variations between the two days.)

This year, I did things a bit differently. On the first day, I went to High Point State Park in Sussex, NJ, to operate with a group from my club, the 10-70 Repeater Association as N2SE. They've been
going up there for the past few years, and this is the first time that I had a chance to get up there with them. They do a very nice configuration, and this year they had a van set up for the 432Mhz and the 1.296 Ghz bands, and a really nice pop-up camper (courtesy of W2MLS) for 6m and 2m. The 5500 watt generator (just for the pop-up; the van had it's own 2000w generator) provided not only enough electricity for the radios and computers, but also enough to keep the air conditioner going! Hey, you might as well be comfortable. If you click on the picture you'll be taken to my photo gallery from the trip which has some descriptions of what was up there.

I got to spend some time operating on 6m. My first shift (we didn't have organized shifts, we just operated) was right at the beginning of the contest, and I was lucky enough to be able to grab a frequency right at the start of the contest and start calling CQ. For those not familiar with why this is A Good Thing, there are
basically two ways to make contacts in a contest. The way that I usually wind up doing it for many contests is called "Search and Pounce" (or S&P for short). What you do is to tune up and down the band, find someone calling CQ, and calling them. In many contests, this is pretty much the only way that a small station (like mine at home) can make contacts, since it can be tough to "hold" a frequency in a highly contested contest when there are lots of strong stations on the air. This brings me to the better way to make contacts in a contest, which is to call CQ and "run" stations.

It should be pretty obvious that if some stations are S&P'ing, others have to be sitting in one place calling CQ. Stations who make one contact right after another, with a minimal delay between the contacts are said to be "running" stations. This is what you want to to do in a contest, because it allows you to make contacts much more quickly. The speed with which you make contacts is called your "rate", and the higher your rate, generally speaking, the higher your score in a contest. So, back to how I started off during the contest.

As I said, I was lucky enough to be able to hold onto a frequency at the beginning of the contest. I started calling CQ, and very soon after the contest started, one station after another answered my call. According to the computer log, at one point, I was actually running stations at the rate of about 150 per hour, although that was for a relatively short period of time. I worked stations for around 90 minutes and had around 65 or so contacts in the log before turning the microphone over to Bob, N2SU, for a while. From what I've read, that kind of rate is excellent for a VHF contest, especially when there is no enhanced propagation. Basically, it means that most of the contacts aren't being made by bouncing signals off of the E or F layers of the atmosphere, but rather are made by "ground wave", which is sort of line of sight. (I say sort of because it's a lot more complex than that, and many of the stations contacted certainly aren't line of sight; I've contacted stations in Maine from home on ground wave signals and I don't think I can "see" Maine from here.) That's me CQing in the video above, which, as luck would have it, was shot right at one of the first lulls. Most of what you hear is Tim, KA2A, making a contact on 2m at the station just behind where the video was taken.

I had a great time operating, and after a break, I operated for around another hour later in the afternoon ... until the generator died.

Stay tuned for part II.

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