A Spartan Participant of the CQ WW CW

Many radio-amateurs view the CQ WW CW Contest (http://www.cqww.com) as one of the most important contests of the year. I have been participating in it since 2013: that year, from Ottawa, Ontario, as VE3DTI (Third VE3 SO QRP ALL), in 2014 from Piriápolis, Uruguay, portable as CX7RT (First CX SO QRP ALL) and last year from Uppsala, Sweden, also portable, as SM5/VE3DTI (Second SM SO QRP 20M). This year, back from home, I decided to operate with my primary callsign: VA3PCJ.

After many years the standard speed for CW in this kind of contests has been around 30 words per minutes. This, of course, is faster than many of us can receive with ears and brain alone, and/or transmit just with brain and fingers. Hence, most participants rely on sophisticated computers running no less sophisticated specialized logging software programs. I like to participate in CW contest using as little apparatus as possible. However, I have to concede that, for someone with my current CW abilities, participating in a CQ WW CW with only a straight key and paper and pencil, although it may lead to a very brave personal experience, it may not necessarily contribute to everybody’s enjoyment. Hence, there need to be limits to the “spartanness” in one’s participation. Here are those I have found acceptable given my style, aims and limitations:

  • I operate QRP by limiting the output of the transceiver to a maximum of 5 Watts. I monitor this maximum “real-time” in an Elecraft WII meter and adjust the power of the transceiver in order to never to surpass this maximum.
  • I use a “Small Wire Antenna” (“SWA” as the NAQCC calls them). My antenna for these contests had been a multiband “random” end-fed wire of 50+ feet rigged as a quasi-vertical up in the branches of a maple tree in the yard adjacent to the shack (i.e., the basement of the house).
  • This wire is fed and tuned via an LDG RT-100 tuner and a 4:1 homebrewed toroidal unun, both installed “remote” (1-2 feet away) the base of the antenna wire. The link between the unun and the wires is provided by a short (~1.5 Ft.) piece of RG-58/U coaxial that pierces through the external wall of the shack.
  • Another piece of RG-58/AU coaxial cable, about 12 feet long, links the transceiver to the tuner (via the sensor of the WII and the RC-100 Bias-T controller unit of the RT-100), while at the same time providing DC power to the tuner via its external shield.
  • The antenna is completed by a single set of 1/4 WL wires running horizontally around the fence of the yard at abt. one meter from the ground. They follow the inside of the fence, which means that the longest wires follow a horizontal “L” disposition. The 20-meter long wire for the 80m band, being longer than the fence allows, is ~1/4 folded back onto itself.
  • The transceiver I used inside the shack is a 7-year old ICOM 703-plus (2010 was the last year that it was in production). It includes a DSP filter and a narrow filter (ICOM FL-52A – Center freq.: 455 kHz, Bandwidth: 500Hz/-6 dB). It also has an internal keyer with three programmable memories of up to 50 characters each, suitable for transmitting the exchanges in a contest.
  • A Signalink USB connects the audio of the transceiver to an old laptop, a 2006 IBM T60 ThinkPad running Windows XP (yes, the no-longer supported and very reliable XP).
  • A serial cable (with a Serial to USB converter – Keyspan USA-19HS) connects the ICOM CT-17 CI-V level converter mainly for keeping track of the frequency, band and mode in the transceiver.
  • Two pieces of software are simultaneously run then in the laptop: RCKLog (a free and no longer supported contesting logging program by DL4RCK) and Fldigi, the still supported and magic software by K8JTK… RCKLog is used only for logging (and later formatting ADIF and Cabrillo reports) and Fldigi provides two major functions: a computerized CW decoder and a convenient buffer recording all exchanges. The transfer of callsigns and entries to RCKLog is done manually. RCKLog is loaded before Fldigi so as to keep direct access to the frequency, band and mode in the transceiver.
  • Errors or specific questions require a manual interface. For this, in this contest, I decided to make use of the American Morse single-paddle “Bushwacker” key. The most common error in my callsign was with the reception of the letter “P”. Less frequent ones were an “E” for the “A” or missing the last character “J”.
  • To summarize: no Panadapter, no software macros, no keyboard CW, no QRO amplifiers and, of course, no CW Skimmer or any other kind of cluster assistance.

The longest DX QSO was in 15m with LP1H (a club station in Villa La Bolsa, SE of Córdoba, Argentina). According to the “NØ UK’s Maidenhead Grid Distance & Bearing Calculator” (http://www.chris.org/cgi-bin/showdis) the distance between both our grid squares FN25ej and FF78sg is of 8,650.10 km or 5,375.17 miles. Since I was operating with a power output of 5 Watts, this is another QSO that breaks the 1,000 Miles per Watt mark, which is particularly surprising, given prevailing propagation conditions. This QSO was one that required repeated retransmissions of my suffix, and the entire credit for its successful completion goes to my Argentinian colleagues, not only for their superior equipment but also for not surrendering and staying in the QSO until the final QSL.

Another interesting DX QSO was the one with Walter KH6J in 40m. Hawaii is the last State I still need for completing the “eQSL WAS”. I have contacted other stations in Hawaii in the past and several have since confirmed in LoTW (my ARRL QRP WAS and regular ARRL WAS Awards (Mixed and CW) have long been awarded). However, a Hawai QSO has still to be confirmed in eQSL. This QSO took place on Sunday morning, not much later than noon UTC (i.e., with the Sun still over Africa), which allows the assumption that it must have been a regular “night time” short-path 40m propagation across the Andes and half-way the Pacific Ocean.

As usual in these contests there was a large number of QSO’s with IOTA islands, which in this opportunity had representants from five  IARU continents: NA, SA, EU, AF and OC. Only AS was missed for a complete WAC sweep!

Here is the OK2PBQ map (http://ok2pbq.atesystem.cz/prog/qso_map.php) of most of the QRP QSOs claimed in the contest:


Many THX to all who had the equipment, the skill – and mostly the patience! – for decoding my QRP and SWA signal. 73!