Another weekend, another contest. This time it was the ARRL Sweepstakes for CW. I’ve never participated in SS before so it was going to be interesting. Sweepstakes is a US/Canada contest where it’s known for having a long exchange. It consists of a serial number, class, callsign, check (licensed year) and ARRL section. For this contest I would have to send “123 U NT1K 99 WMA”. That is much longer than the “599 5” sent in CQWW. The exchange is so long as it simulating sending traffic.
Going to try this without a decoder
I wanted to see how well I can do so I turned off the decoder in the K3 and I avoided any software aids. I entered using the unlimited class expecting that I was going to use the skimmer to at least help me get the callsign correct. After struggling with the first couple of contacts, I had enough and fired up decoder. It would take 5 or six contacts before I decided to throw my call out. I wanted to make sure that they didn’t have to do any additional work. Sometimes I would wait too long and the operator calling CQ would move on. Once the decoder was running, I would only search for loud stations.
Do not ever trust the skimmer/cluster
Depending on the contest, you can use the skimmer and/or cluster to make contesting a bit easier. It’s basically a network where other operators “spot” the callsigns and frequencies of people they just made contact with. If you are connected, it would alert you where other operators are. If you are configured correctly, you can just click on the callsign, your radio will tune to that station and your logbook is already partially filled out. It’s a great way to increase your score because you will be able to easily find multipliers and hopefully work them. However there is a couple downsides. It will put you into a different class/category where it might be harder to win and the information going over the cluster might not be accurate.
During SSB contests, the cluster is being fed with information provided by the operator. If he/she didn’t hear the callsign correctly, they could easily spot a wrong callsign. Most times it’s an honest mistake but there are times I’ve seen people purposely throw out false spots to laugh at those who blindly follow the cluster. There are some anti-skimmer/cluster contesters who think it’s cheating.
With CW contesting, it’s a different story. There is now software called “skimmers” that will listen to entire CW sections of bands and decode any CW and post it to the network. This almost takes out the human error factor but as I found out this weekend many times, information on skimmer could be just as bad. Things like signal to noise ratio (SNR), QRM, band changes, overdriven signals and even horrible spacing or sending from the operator can confuse the skimmer into giving a bad spot.
There has been many times this weekend where I would see multiple spots on the same frequency with different but similar callsigns. It just goes to show that you should never believe what you see on the cluster! Confirm the call before contacting because it might be wrong call or a dupe.
This wasn’t a serious effort.
I barely know CW and there is no way I can predict the exchange. I guess that’s why some really like this contest. It’s difficult for the new CW operator.
At first I wanted to see what I can do without using the cluster. For every one contact I made, I had to listen to 6 contacts before I know the call and exchange they used. After about a couple contacts, I abandoned using my ear and fired up the decoding software.
I thought I would be relying on the skimmer for the contest but I’ve barely used it. You can’t tell you are working a multiplier until you hear the exchange being sent. What I ended up doing was turning off the skimmer/spotter and clearing out the band map. I would just spin the dial around until I heard a loud CQ. There was so many people on the air that I didn’t have to spin it much. If they acknowledge someone else or I caught it in mid-exchange, I would note the callsign down on my bandmap. If they are a multiplier or a State I needed for Triple play, I would wait. Otherwise I would move on and later go back.
I just spinning until I hear “Dah dit dah dit, dah dah dit dah (CQ) or “dit dit dit, dit dit dit” (SS) or “Dah, dit dit dah” (TU).
Improvements from other CW contests
I have been practicing code more and more and I must say it showed. I didn’t have to depend on the decoder as much but I would like to do a contest where I didn’t have load it up. I would like to run for change.
Claiming 14,616 points. I wish I committed more time. I wanted to do a clean sweep and work multiple needed states for triple play.
It was a great time, the K3 and the serial keying worked without issue and now I can’t wait for CQWW CW contest.
Thanks for reading,
Jeff – NT1K