Sunday, May 30, 2010

Oh...for a rainy day!

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE good summer weather and we’ve been blessed with A1 weather the past couple of weekends in this neck of the woods. Warm temperatures, sunshine, nary a drop of rain in sight. Perfect weather…especially at this time of start tackling that seemingly endless “to do” list of outdoor projects. Just the type of weekend that keeps the dedicated ham far away from the shack. So…..on such a weekend, when there’s a juicy contest taking place, perhaps a rainy day or two wouldn’t be such a bad thing! “Honey, there’s no way I can get to the gardening in this driving rain….I’ll just take care of a few projects in the basement.” (Purely coincidental the shack’s in the lower level). But, no such luck this time, the sun was high-in-the-sky, the mercury was pushing 28 degrees (that’s about 80 on the Farfenugen scare).

As stated before, I’m not an avid contester in the sense that I seriously try to compete, but there are a few contests that tickle my interest just to make some contacts, perhaps pick up some far- flung DX and, in my case, knock the rust off my CW skills. This weekend was the CQWW WPX CW contest (enough acronyms for ya?!). The object of these WPX contests is to work stations with as many different call sign prefixes as possible. Because of this, you may hear some unconventional call signs on the air. Last year, Canadian amateurs with the VE prefix were allowed to use the special prefix XM to mark the anniversary of the St. Lawrence Seaway. Conveniently, the window of time for this authorization included the WPX contests. I took advantage and signed as XM3CH. This year however, no such special authorizations were available, so it was plain ole’ VE.

No bother, as operating time was very limited thanks to that stinkin’ great weather. So, in between power washing the deck (amazing what it looks like after blasting off ten years worth of wear and tear), and pulling grass and weeds out of a badly neglected garden, I managed to work a grand total of 50 stations over the course of the 48 hour contest. On top of that the bands seemed to, how do I put this delicately…..well suck, much of the time. I see ole’ Sol was somewhat active this weekend, which may have worked out well for the 6 meter folks, but it didn’t help out 20 meters too much, at least while I was tuning around. Most of the stations worked were the garden variety A, K, N, W & VEs, but I did manage a few DX contacts with I (Italy), 9A (Croatia), a couple from EA8 (Canary Islands), F (France) signing with a TM prefix, CT (Portugal) and CE (Chile) using the prefix XQ.
EA8-Land. Can you say time-share? See any Yagis perched on top of those condos?

Once again, I was reminded of how wonderfully efficient CW is as a mode. At times, I can call a station until I’m blue in the face during SSB contests, but it’s a rare occasion in CW that I don’t get a response after one or maybe two calls to a station calling “CQ test”.

Each time I play around with either CW or RTTY contests, I realize my desperate need for a narrower filter, probably 300 Hz, to be able to knock out the heavy QRM and the adjacent loud signals that tend to badly attenuate the signal you’re trying to copy. This time, however I had some moderate success using the Digital Signal Processor (DSP) feature on my Yaesu FT-897. This, after reading a few tips on the Yahoo group dedicated to this radio. By activating the DSP and lowering the RF gain, I was often able to get clear copy of the desired station despite a loud signal a few Hertz away. Maybe not a true replacement for a good CW filter, but quite helpful none-the-less.

I’ll have to check the contest calendar for the next good CW or digital contest. Anyone know a good rain dance?

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