A QRP Shouting Weekend at the Shack: the CQ WW SSB

Lately, I have been avoiding SSB contests, but this weekend there was hardly anything else to do in the bands. It was also an opportunity to make use of my primary callsign: VA3PCJ, which I have lately been leaving aside in favour of the much shorter (in CW) VE3DTI. Hence, I fired up the ICOM-703-Plus for a show-up at the CQ WW SSB.

I make use of the 703 DSP filter, but do not have a wide filter with which to limit the bandwidth in SSB. The IF-Shift and reducing the RF Gain are the only means at my disposal to deal with background noise and tame overlapping signals. I also use the internal speaker of the 703 and its original HM-103 microphone. The Watts are zealously measured and displayed at all times by an Elecraft WII Wattmeter, also responsible for showing the SWR.

The antenna is a 43-ft wire up a maple tree and endfed via a remote tuner and a homebrewed 4:1 unun. Its counterpoise is a single set of 1/4 WL wires running along the inside of the small wooden fence at abt. one meter from the ground. The idea of using a single elevated counterpoised pleased the XYL who did not want to have wires on her flower “plattebandes”. It is also based on a single counterpoise analysis in Jean Devoldere ON4UN book on “Low Band DXing”.

Though I only operate QRP I do not make use of the “/QRP” suffix. I prefer to operate S&P as being QRP my signal would be too weak to keep a frequency by calling CQ. I do not use any kind of computer assistance other than my faithful logging software: the very old RCKLog program installed in a Thinkpad T60 laptop running Windows XP (I registered my copy of RCKLog years ago, though now it is Freeware). RCKLog reads the VFO from the 703 and the UTC from the computer, so I only need to focus on the callsign being contacted and the CQ zone being reported. I tried to operate both days from 00:30z to 02:30z and 14:30z to 22:30z but had to interrupt a few times. I estimate my total time at the shack at about 12 Hrs. I also tried to scan every band on the hour and work every station with a signal loud enough that I thought it could hear mine. I did not have any hopes of breaking any pile-up. However, to my surprise, I did sneak through on several occasions. My estimate is that I was not heard by about one quarter of the stations I tried to contact. I usually had to repeat parts of my callsign, and “Victor – Alpha -Three – Papa – Charlie – Juliette” often ended as “Vittóoria – Améerica – Three (One – Two – Three) – Perúouh – Canadáah – Japáan”. Lowering the voice and articulating well seemed to help. However, some contacts were dropped because there is always the impatient operator going for a quick and dirty contact rather than aiming at accuracy in the exchange. However most operators are very courteous and I even got a couple of SRI’s when they realized they were not going to be able to copy my transmission.

Interestingly, several stations in the lower bands were operating split. This is not a problem for the 703. However I noticed that the frequency at which they were listening was often outside the recommended range for SSB (perhaps aiming at DX contacts with countries with different band plans?).

At the end of the contest I had logged 112 Contacts in 5 bands. Here is the summary:

BAND         QSOs            Points             DXCCs          Zones
——————————————————————————–
10m              23                   61                   17                   7
15m              38                   107                 19                   8
20m              31                   72                   14                   7
40m              17                   35                    5                     4
80m              3                      6                     1                     1
———————————————————————————
—–             112                  281                  56                  27

Final Score: 281 * (56+27) = 23,323

The furthest contacts were R7AB in Krasnodar, Russia (in 15m) and PX2A in Sao Paulo, Brasil (in 10m). Here is a picture depicting the contacts in the 10 to 40 meter bands, in maps produced online at http://ok2pbq.host.sk:

Each Band

I wanted to see how the contacts in each band distributed themselves across time and distance. QRP communications are likely to be more sensitive to small variation in propagation, particularly given current conditions, and the data collected could reveal some of the characteristics described for each band and perhaps some surprises as well.

The time graph is plotted using the EDT time at the station. On October 24-25 sunset was almost exactly at 18:00 EDT (22:00z) and the contacts obtained in either of the two days of the contest are considered together within the same clock-day. Even with this relatively small set of data it is clear how propagation shifts from one band to the next as time progresses, with the higher bands opening early in the afternoon and the lower bands being more prominent early in the evening. Interestingly albeit not surprisingly given current conditions, the 15m band seemed to outperform the 10m band.

Time

The distance graph used distances in Km as determined by the algorithm in the “Dist/Bear Tool” by Rex Allers, KK6MK
(http://www.xertech.net/Projects/DistBear.html). These estimates are approximations and do not totally agree with estimates from other sources, but relative to each other the differences in distance among the QSOs should remain valid. The graph also shows how the distance increases for the lower bands with also showing in all cases bi-modal distributions, likely reflecting the first two skips of the waves in those bands. Again the 15m band seemed to perform better than the 10m band. The 80m band was not graphed because only 3 contacts were possible, all at relatively close distance.

Distance

Last I wanted to see if there was any possible relation between the time of the day and the bearing of the favoured contacts. In past years, while operating from Uruguay in the 10m band, it was very clear how the bearing of the contacts shifted from east to west as the day progressed, following the Sun azimuth from that location. The graph plots the bearing angle respect to the true North in the ordinates vs. the time of the day, again for a single clock-day and in EDT time. One can guess how the NE is favoured early in the afternoon in the higher bands, gradually shifting to higher latitudes, while later in the day the higher bands show a lesser preference for a given bearing:

Bearings

In the end: a fun weekend at the shack and one not entirely lacking some physical exertion. All QSOs have been uploaded to eQSL and LoTW and the Cabrillo has been submitted. With some luck I may even get a little certificate of participation. As I indicated in the “SOAPBOX” of the Cabrillo: “I never cease to be amazed at what is possible with only 5W and a piece of wire… when big antennas are listening on the other end”.

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