Friday, June 10, 2016

MO QSO Party 2016 Operating as W9W

Myself, Justin (KE0HXL), Chris (WX5CW) and Kevin (K0KEV) all participated in the MO QSO Party this year (2016).  Here is the write up for the weekend, as we had a blast, learned a ton and will be back next year working as W0W in the expedition multi-OP category.

Planning.  We did a lot of planning.  We planed times, dates, equipment, operating times, you name it, we tried to plan for it.  We shared large Google spreadsheets between the group as everybody had a thought, idea or action plan on the weekend.  This worked out well and will use this system for next years planning as now we have a template.  Justin and I did most of the planning leg work, but this was OK since we had most of the equipment.

Below is my packing time lapse on the Thursday before the contest.

We started by scoping out 2 or 3 county lines on Google Earth for public locations, as that would be the easiest to access and gain permission to camp on.  After obtaining a list of about 3 or 4 locations, we finally settled on a location Northwest of Kirksville MO in Union Ridge Conversation Area where Sullivan, Adar and Putman counties came together.  Union Ridge has small gravel parking lot type camp sites and one is about 100 foot away from a 3 county line, so this was perfect place to setup.  Just to verify location, trees, landscape, etc, Justin and I drove up to the site one day and did some recon work.  We stopped by the Conservation park office in Kirksville and let them know of our camping intentions and filled out a special use permit for our weekend activity.

Panoramic of the site
Now that we had the idea of what the site looked like, we could then go back on Google Earth and start placing antenna locations in the orientations we needed them in.  We went back and forth on where to place antennas, what trees to use, how to orientate to not interfere with each other...etc..finally deciding on one approach.

I would put my 160-6m through the trees on the northwest side, Justin would set up his 80-6m antennas in the field to the south with a tilt up mast, Chris would be off to the northeast and Kevin would be to the southwest with his dipole for digital.

As we got closer to the contest, our lists started to climb with equipment needs.  Backups to backups, misc items, extra this...extra that.  We had a lot of stuff to haul, as we had masts, radios, antennas, tools, food, personal items, the end we brought too much stuff!!!

Getting ready to head out!

Drive time lapse.

Let the setup begin!

We headed out of town early Friday morning and was at the campsite around noon after stopping at the Kirksville Wal-Mart for some last min items.  After scoping out the area and unloading all our equipment, we started putting up antennas around 1pm.  This took us all day, and longer than expected.  We had borrowed a large tilt up aluminum mast, which Justin used for his two homemade Buckmaster antennas.  Raising that tilt up mast proved to be harder than it seemed.  Trying to orientate the antennas correctly on the mast was also a challenge, as we wanted one in a N/S and the other in a E/W configuration.

Raising of the aluminum mast with the Buckmasters

My 160-6m Windom was a challenge too to put up in the trees as the wind kept throwing our slingshot with a weight over the wrong branches.  We knew the wind was going to be an issue, but we had no idea it was going to be such the factor the whole weekend.  After pulling my antenna up into the trees, we started working on running coax to all the antennas.

Down in the weeds stringing the dipole

160-6m Windom with vertical radiator

Before we knew it, it was getting dark, we had not eaten dinner and we didn't have any radios setup in the trailer.  After we ate dinner, we shifted our energy to setting up radios and testing out the equipment.  We got lucky and nobody had any huge radio issues.  No smoke!

Inside the trailer setting up equipment

We used N1MM as our contesting software.  This allowed us to network all the computers together with a wireless access point.  We borrowed a Verizon hotspot which allowed us internet at the site for self spotting.  The N1MM software works great if you can get your machines configured correctly.  One lesson learned was to get all the machines together to ensure they are sharing info correctly before the contest via N1MM as we had some time outs and a Windows firewall issues with one of the laptops.

For power we used 3 gas powered inverters.  One powered the trailer and the other two powered radios.  We plugged misc items into the trailer outlets and pulled extension cables in for radio power.  We positioned these about 100 foot away from the trailer and antennas.  Each inverter was grounded.

Captain, we need more power!

Sat morning we woke up and cooked a big breakfast. It was cold in the morning and I actually think we got sleeted on for a portion as a rain cloud moved over early morning.  The weather was crazy the whole weekend.  We hit all the seasons.  Rain Friday morning, cold sleet Sat morning, wind the whole weekend and hot temps on Sunday.

Nothing like an awesome griddle breakfast - more bacon!

Saturday morning 9am....It's go time!  The QSO party started out awesome, lots of stations, we were running around 60 to 70 SSB QSO's an hour, which isn't great, but it wasn't zero!  The wind was gusty in the morning, but not horrible.  Little did we know, the wind was going to be our biggest enemy during the weekend.  Union Ridge is positioned on a...well a RDIGE!  Our elevation was around 1100 feet with very little trees blocking us.  As the day progressed, the wind got worse and worse.  At times it would gust to 40 to 50 mph rocking the trailer back and forth.  We felt like there was a constant earthquake happening in the trailer, as our monitors would do a little jiggle dance.

Saturday operating in the trailer

As Sat moved along, the bands started to decline.  Our QSO count came down, but we kept at it.  At one time Justin had a run rate of around 95 QSO's an hour, but that didn't last long.  I ran 40m the whole day with very little search and pounce.  I worked a lot of counties, quite a few of the mobile stations and neighboring states.  20m was quiet for us as we didn't reach the west coast.  We worked a lot of stations in the plains and east coast, but nothing over the Rockies.

40m was hot, 20m not so much

Sat late afternoon we had our first antenna failure due to the wind.  Justin's PVC tubing on top of the aluminum mast gave way and just could not survive the 50Mph gusts.  I actually saw it snap in half, but didn't get it on video.  Both of his Buckmasters came tumbling down.  It took us about an hour and half to get the tilt up mast down and the back up with the dipoles secured in a new location.

The 40ft mast is about ready to snap!

The second antenna to go was Kevin's dipole he was using for digital later in the afternoon.  His fiberglass mast snapped in two.  With the mast he had left, he raised his dipole, anchoring it to the back of his car.  Kevin's tent didn't even make it through Sat night, as the wind was too much for it.

Kevin's tent and dipole

Chris operated with his Buddipole for all of the contest.  It was raised to around 15 foot in the air and it flopped in the wind all weekend.  He really didn't have the best orientation as it would swing north to south, then back to east/west as the wind blew.  Every couple of mins he would peek out the window to see if it was still alive and standing...

Chris operating CW

On Sat we made 669 contacts (with our 3 county multiplier) for a total of 223 contacts.  We spent probably 3 hours total working with antenna issues, we took an hour off to eat dinner and quit operating around 9pm on Sat.  The contest stopped at 11pm local time.  If you remove the non-operating time and use the 80% efficiency rule,  I think BIC (butt in chair) time was around 7 hours on Sat for one person.

Sleeping arrangements

Sunday started off slow for us, both on the air and physically as we were tired from the night before.  I think Chris got the least amount of sleep out of all of us, as Kevin's snoring kept him up all night.  I didn't hear any of it as I had ear plugs in, but I did hear when Chris would yell "Kevin, your snoring again!".  Oh the magic of earplugs...

Sunday operating
Sunday morning the bands were dead.  We called CQ hundreds of times with nobody coming back to us.  I even switched over to digital for a time period and made around 3 contacts.  Everybody was struggling as we could see the anger on the spotting page, so I knew it wasn't us.  In talking with others after the contest, all the bands were dead in the morning but improved as the day went on.

Sunday around 11am we had our 3rd antenna failure, my 160m Windom.  The trees swaying in the wind were no match for a 14awg wire and some rope, as the insulator gave way and brought the antenna down.  After that we called it quits for the weekend.  We were tired, wind blown and beat up from the contest as a whole.

The point when we realized the Windom was gone!

No more support rope or insulator

Sunday the BIC time was around 3 hours.  During those three hours we made around 225 total contacts with our multiplier, 75 total.  I think Chris had the majority of those contacts on CW, as SSB and digital band portions were degraded.

Here are some stats from the weekend.

Claimed multipliers

Contacts by band

Lessons learned for the weekend.

1) Need quicker antenna setup time.  We are working towards quicker antenna deployment and also mast deployment.  A huge purchase at Dayton is going to solve one of these to tackle the next!

2) Need quicker contest radio setup time.  Again, working on a solution.  Everything radio/power supply/ant tuner/etc will be in one box ready to go.  No putting together components, everything will be ready to go.  Only three things to connect.  Monitor cable, monitor power and antenna leads.  

3) Rate!  It's all about K9CT said over and over at Dayton.

4) Need to learn more N1MM tips to get more efficient at keyboard shortcuts to automate simple tasks.

5) Bring less stuff!

6) Food makes everybody happy and gets people motivated.  Start meals early and feed for maximum performance!

...the results are out and we placed 2nd in MO Expedition Multi-Op.  Our claimed score was 116K,  the organizers gave us 95K.  This is a reduction of 18%.  I think 18% is a little high with busted calls, so I'll be asking for some clarification.

Below is a video recap of the weekend.

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