Monday, September 28, 2009

2009 CQ World Wide RTTY Contest

2009 CQ World Wide RTTY Contest

RTTY: September 26-27, 2009
Starts 0000 GMT Saturday   Ends 2400 GMT Sunday

What is RTTY? It stands for radioteletype, nowadays a modernized way of communication utilizing a computer to digitize the message and to then send it to the radio for transmission and vice-versa for reception. I can see each signal on my screen, appearing like a waterfall, two lines with separation. In busy times there can be many such lines on my screen and I use the mouse to cursor to the one I want to have decoded. I can also peek at the others simultaneously.  I can also hear each signal, as they each have a distinctive sound and between the visual and the auditory signals, I can time my transmission so it comes out when the other station is not transmitting and hopefully listening. The purpose of the contest is to make as many contacts as possible with stations in other continents, other countries and even other states or provinces. These are called multipliers and they are used to multiply your score by the factor they are given. While it "pays" more to have as many contacts as possible with other countries, it takes more time and amassing more local calls is just as important, as they are easier to make. Well, I hope I did not distort things too much here.

I was mostly at home this weekend and and could spend quite a lot of time contesting.  I did take quite a few breaks, had dinner both on Friday and Saturday night with family, slept well at night, so it certainly was not an all-out effort. Just having fun there. I did not even look at my few previous contesting scores, I just did what I could and was happy with the results. I talked to a few Canadian provinces I've never talked to before on HF, such as Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. I talked to many states, including several QSOs to Alaska and one to Hawaii. I also talked to about 32 different countries among then two new ones, Latvia and Andorra. I was lucky enough to get through to the C37URE DXpedition there and they very graciously took my call. Thank you, this is a rare gem! I also want to thank JJ1ZEJ for taking my call. This is the fist time since May of 2007 that I manage to have a QSO with Japan. Thank you also  to all 181 station that took my calls and/or responded to mine. You all made it fun anad I hope you had fun too. And finally, thank you too to the CQ organization for making this contest possible.

This is my second RTTY contest. When I checked this morning, last year I had 39 calls I logged. So I did much better this year. More experience, better utilization of my logging program, Ham Radio Deluxe v.5.0. This time, I learned to use a separate log for the contest and I also set the other logs I had so there won't be a lookup there, and this way any duplicate call that showed up was from the contest only. By now, I also had good macros pre-programmed and I did modify them a bit to even make them better. As the contest went along, I also used good macros I saw from others to set my own CQ calls and replies. This made things so much simpler. I also started calling CQ several times. I may not have been patient enough as I got only a few calls back, but hopefully next contest, I'll do better in this department too. So now, I already have a new good reason to want participate in next year's contest!

Actually, I had set my goal to achieve at least 150 calls logged in the contest. I ended up with 181, so that by itself is rewarding. But when I checked my contest entries, it turns out that 181 beats my best score which was 165 with was in the 2009 CQ WPX SSB contest. These scores are raw scores, my log entry, not what was formally accepted. Am I earning awards, certificates or plaques? No, not yet, but placing well and doing better each time is what I'm after. I can't complain about my station, but I'm certainly not a "Big Gun", just utilizing my 100 watts as well as my antennas allow me to. So I'm competing against myself mostly, and I'm happy with the progress.

RVing and hamming in Canada.

My wife and I decided to spend our summer vacation RVing in Canada. We did a lot of planning, got books and maps and decided on an itinerary. Our motor home is a 30' Winnebago Sightseer and can comfortably transport both of us and our doggie family, six dogs, 3 Labrador retrievers, a German shepherd malamute cross, a super sized beagle and a border terrier.

I installed a Kenwood D-700A with a Larsen through the glass antenna (I hate making holes in something that expensive and mag mounted antennas don't work too well on fiberglass…). That antenna performed very well for me. At some point, on a Canadian highway, the antenna started hitting the side of the RV, something it had never done before and a quick glance showed it was getting unscrewed from its on-glass base. Fortunately I found a place to stop relatively safely. I could not reach the antenna from the ground, but with my tall step stool, I finally did manage to retighten it with a multi tool. That evening, I took care of the problem, as I set the threads with my wife's crazy glue and that seemed to have solved the problem permanently. I had a Garmin 60CSx GPS attached to the Kenwood and both worked APRS quite happily. Our family could then follow our progress on, that is, if our signals reached an I-gate.

The 60CSx was also my back-up navigation GPS. I used a more advanced Garmin Oregon for daily navigation, as it had a better display and the touch screen was easier to program, or re-program when we made last minute changes in our plans.

Our trip took us from Syracuse NY to Vermont, New Hampshire, where I had planned to stop at Ham Radio Outlet in Salem, but I realized then that it was a Sunday and they were closed! So we did stop at Cabelas, an outdoors equipment store that dwarfs anything in Central NY including Bass Pro Shop or Gander Mountain and we also stopped at LL Bean in Freeport Maine. From there, we entered Canada via Calais ME. We continued through New Brunswick to Nova Scotia and Cape Breton.

My wife, who does not drive the RV is a wonderful co-pilot. While I did the navigation, as I was very familiar with the GPS (from my SAR experience), she worked her magic on the Blackberry and found many answers to all kind of trivia questions that we had about the places we saw or passed through, their history, etc. And since our plan had some flexibility built-in, we managed to make changes along the way, as we discovered new interesting places to go, see and do.

I had packed my portable HF station, an Icom 706MKIIG and a TransWorld Backpacker antenna. That antenna came just a couple of days before our trip and I only had a single opportunity to make sure it worked at all, right from our front lawn and not for very long as I was busy with preparations for the trip. But the single trial convinced me to take that antenna and leave my Buddipole at home, not even take it as a spare.

To do justice to the Buddipole, it is not a bad antenna, it does perform quite well but I found it tedious to set up and tune and I knew I would not have much time to play around with my radios and wanted to maximize the fun. The Transworld antenna is so easy to setup even a caveman can do it (thank you, Geico). Actually, with a little practice, I can set up my entire station in 5-7 minutes or less, as I now no longer need to use an antenna analyzer or a tuner. I took both with me and never used them!

I had fun making contacts from every Province we visited, each time with a different call sign, K9CHP/VE9 (New Brunswick), K9CHP/VE1 (Nova Scotia), K9CHP/VE2 (Quebec) and K9CHP/VY2 (Prince Edward Island).

My wife found out about one jewel that really made this trip worth while ham-wise. Kathy discovered, via her Blackberry, that Marconi had built his second trans-Atlantic transmitting station in Glace Bay NS. Having just toured Cape Breton and the Cabot Trail, we made a little detour that got us to Glace Bay and the Marconi National Historic Site. It has a small museum and is located right where Marconi erected his station after having been ejected from Newfoundland by the local power company who claimed excusive rights. Anyhow, while this station was never perfect and Marconi later on built yet another one south of Glace Bay, it still was working for quite some time. All that is left today is the masonry base of the wooden antenna towers. That is where I planted my TransWorld Antenna, well close enough but not on the very base and tried working my own station. There is a ham station on location and I was invited to use their station, but I preferred trying with my own. Perhaps it was a mistake, as I got a lot of QRM from that station operating on CW with a large Yagi and amplifier, but I nevertheless made a single contact with a station in Lithuania. I heard an Italian station too, but he went QRT, too bad as I'm sure he would have appreciated that call, but I made it from there to Europe, with my tiny station, using the built-in generator of the RV as power source.

I made more contacts, one to Greenland from Prince Edward Island as K9CHP/VY2. Too bad I can't use that one for my DXCC count as it is a new one and not a very common one either.

And it was all made possible due to the TransWorld Backpacker antenna, as its setup is simple and easy and it performs quite well, for standing a mere 8 feet off the ground at its highest point.

From Nova Scotia, we went back through New Brunswick to Quebec. The latter is a wonderful province, and they were extra friendly to us, as for once they dealt with an American that spoke fluent French. We finally made it home through Ottawa and Ontario.