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Low Power Contesting in CQ WW CW 2002

Edward Sawyer (N1UR) on November 27, 2002
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Ed Sawyer N1UR (ex K8EP)

There is no question. Serious contesting, at any power level or location, starts with planning and preparation. No one does well in a contest by just sitting down that evening and not being prepared for it. So in that spirit, my planning really started a couple of months in advance of the contest in antenna improvement here at the house I am renting right now in Vermont.

Last CQ WW CW, I was at C6 and had a blast being DX on the other end. My first contests from here in Vermont were ARRL DX and I did pretty well (11th CW, 6th SSB Low Power). My goal, right now is always at least top 10, really shooting for top 5, Low Power, so those scores needed some shoring up in my opinion. What to do? Can't be the operator, right? Hi, Hi.

For those efforts, I had the following antennas at my location:

10M: 3el Mono at 25 ft

15M: 3el Mono at 30 ft

20M: Dipole to EU at 55 ft

40M: Dipole to EU at 55ft

80M: Dipole to EU at 55ft

160M: Inverted L with top at (you guessed it) 55ft

I use 2 radios, and at that time was using a Kenwood TS-530S as Radio 1, and an Icom 706 as Radio 2. They are completely interfaced with a Top Ten Devices DXDoubler and a WX0B 2x6 antenna switch. Logging software is TR Log. The 10 and 15 M yagiis are mounted on a 25 foot heavy duty aluminum extension ladder set up Field Day style and using ropes to turn. I decided on the ropes for 2 reasons: I didn't want the torque from the twisting moment of the wind when a rotor is the connection to the mast and I didn't want to buy a rotor for this “temporary” set up. Save the money for the Tailtwister in the Tower later.

What to upgrade? Well, the radios for one. I finally decided that I needed balanced listening and transmitting ability on both radios and needed to switch “fast” to other bands. I have now changed that to an FT990 and a FT1000MP, both bought very reasonably, used. Admittedly, they are a piece of change but you really need “something” decent to be competitive. In my opinion, the FT990 with filters, is the best contest radio for the money out there. Less than a grand, quite often, on the used market and it can hear most anything and puts a good, clean, “punchy” signal out. I'm sure others have their favorites but if you are going to start your objection with “for a few hundred more” than you are not really comparing with my assessment. Put the few extra hundred into other parts of your station.

Antennas: Really, with the current sunspots, the 2 yagiis do surprisingly well into Europe, Carib, Africa, and South America. So, nothing more to do there. But I did decide I need a quick “go to” antenna on 10/15 to work a mult while the beams are pointed somewhere else. Turning the beam, means I am out of the chair for 7 minutes: Throw on a coat, walk the 200 ft in snow out to the beams, turn them by hand, re-secure ropes, walk back in, and go. I don't want to do it more than 4 - 5 times a day in the contest.

So I installed an inverted vee on 10/15 to work other directions for all but BIG pile-ups.

On 20, I was puny into EU with a dipole, so I upgraded to a 2 el delta loop beam made with wires in the trees, fixed EU. It has excellent gain and front to back but its really too low, so for ARRL I may try and raise it up a little. The bottom wires of the triangle are at 8 feet and really should be up around 20 for a good takeoff to EU.

For 40M, I put up a standard delta loop, orientated to EU with the bottom wire around 8 ft, again it should be higher, but it can't go any higher, so there it sits. This allowed me to take my 20/40 dipole and make it a vertical dipole for a “go to” antenna for those bands and have more efficiency to other places other than EU. I left 80 and 160 alone although I have added a beverage wire going ne/sw bi-directional (unterminated).

So, my new configuration is:

10/15M: 3 el monos at 25/30ft and inverted vee at 40 ft.

20M: 2 el delta beam to EU (top 40ft) and vert dipole

40M: delta loop EU/Pacific (top 50ft) and vert dipole

80M: dipole NE/SW at 55ft

160M: inverted L (top at 55ft)

Beverage - 1000ft NE/SW

Total upgrade investment was about $250 in wire, coax, rope, and beverage transformer. It took 3 solid weekends to do. If you don't start a few months before the contest, you'll never get there.

With this set-up, I feel I am as about as good as you can get without a tower and that will have to wait until I build my house up here (next year??). So on to the planning stages….

I must say, we have no excuse not to plan our operating strategy. So much is written by world class contesters to emulate (thanks K1AR, K5ZD especially, but there are plenty of others). I decided that for the first time in a long time, I was not going to try and run in the first 90 mins of the contest. I always try and get right out of the gate running, especially into JA on 15M or EU on 40. I am always frustrated because so many people are CQing and they are much louder than my station. So instead, I decided on a “fast S & P” strategy to build mults and probably do even better than my past frustrating rates and see where I am loud before I CQ. I also planned where I should be every hour based on “where the winners are” but also, where I should be if I am not running a KW into a much bigger array at 70 to 120 ft. These 2 places are not always the same. “Work the fringes” is a good strategy for some of the contest when you are Low Power and not world class on the antennas. Other times, get right in there, works when propagation is favoring your location, like morning into EU on 10/15 from the Northeast US.

So my band plan looked like this:

00 - 02Z start off fast S & Ping on 15 down to 40 for at least an hour maybe 2 and decide whether to CQ on 20, 40, or 80 depending on “loudness factor”. 10/15 beams NW.

02 - 07Z CQ radio 1 and S & P radio 2. Focus on EU until their sunrise but work any mult that is loud enough for a quick exchange on radio 2.

07 - 1030Z mult hunts, S & P, anyone you can work on 40, 80, 160. Look for the sunrise opening on 20 into EU if it happens. Look for Asia on 40 as they see sunsets out there.

Get in a 90 min nap when the rate really drops but need to be in the chair by 1030Z for sure. Oh ya, turn the beams to EU before 1030Z (did I mention a flashlight in hand on those beam turns?).

1030Z - 18Z Run EU on Radio 1, S & P for mults on radio 2. Back and forth on 10/15 as rates drop (switch).

18Z - 21Z try and run EU on 20M. S & P mults on radio 2 10/15M carib/SA/pacific. Turn beams that way. 30 - 45 min nap if needed.

21Z - 00Z Asia S & P on 10, 15, 20. Pacific the same. Try and run 40M around 23Z on 40M. S & P 80 and 160M from 23Z on…

Day 2: Much like Day 1 except try and run 40 into EU periodically until their sunrise. Stick with it on radio 1, especially as mults are getting more scarce and you can do both effectively.

I usually do 42 hours on these efforts. I'm going to try and push to 44/45 hours but I plan for at least 42 and don't want to be nodding off at the wrong time.

So how did I actually do:

Well, for one thing, 15M was basically dead other than South America/Carib when the contest started so I didn't touch 15/10M until the next morning because I knew it would all still be there to find. I would have only chased Asia if it was open (it may not be again, you never know).

20M didn't sound that great, so I ended up on 40M S & Ping and had 40Q hour on 40/80, basically all mults. Qs were low, but mults were good, so I was okay with it. I basically had the same 2nd hour and unfortunately didn't feel “loud” anywhere. But, I started CQing high in the band on 40M hoping for “clear air” more than loudness. I just couldn't get a run going but kept S & Ping on radio 2 on 80/160. Too be honest, I felt louder on 80 than 40 but short attempts at CQing there resulted in very few returns so I abandoned that strategy. By 0733Z, I decided that I had worked everything I could hear, the CQing wasn't working right now and I would get my 90 min sleep in early and hope for an early 20 EU opening or decent Asia on 40 a little later. I had 190Qs and 126 total Mults by that time. Doesn't sound like much at this point, but as a Low Power SOAB you'll find that it is quite typical as you get started unless you really got a run going before EU sunrise or got luck with a JA opening.

Wake up and bands really sound cruddy, but don't need more sleep. My 09 and 10Z hours only produce 19Qs and 19mults. 209Qs and 145 Mults going into EU “show time”. Finally, some action starts happening and I start off fast S & Ping 15 and then 10. Have a 76 hour and then a 60 hour before I starting CQing because I find that you just don't cut through on CQ WW just as the band opens with smaller antennas. Too much QRM from the explosion of ham humanity that happens every CQ WW. CQ the next few hours and S & P radio 2 nicely. Have 3 straight 70 + hours and it feels good. By 18Z, I am at 700Qs and 322 Mults and the “transition” begins as the sun is setting in EU.

Stayed right with the band plan for the next number of hours even though the rates are “a lot” slower now. I see rates in the 20s and 30s for the next few hours but the mult total continues to climb nicely. I band mapped my own list of South America and Carib stations I couldn't work on 10/15 and went outside to turn the beams south for a once a day mult run south with the beams. 20M CQing is not productive but I keep at it. I'm just about to give up, when a ZS calls in for a nice double mult on 20M. He hears me but Europe doesn't, go figure…

My early sleep catches up with me and I catch a 30 min nap at 23Z which normally would have been devastating for mults into Asia and the Pacific, but quite frankly, the bands weren't that good. The first 24 hours end with 827 Qs, 413 Mults, and 960,000 points. Despite being disappointed with conditions, the high mult total means that I'm really not that bad off as I cross into the second day. It should take 1.6 - 1.8MM to get into the top 10 based on last year. I am right on track despite taking kind of a skew'd path to be here, in my opinion.

Ed, N1UR, operating as PJ2E SOAB from the PJ2T super station in IARU 2002.


Day 2:

Its rough sledding on 40/80/160. Its taking multiple calls to work mults, I'm not hearing good signals on 160, and start questioning my antenna. I think a combination of poor conditions on 40/80/160 as well as early shut downs of 10/15/20 has everyone crammed into this space and it is tougher to get through. I get fatigued easier because the rate is slow and you really feel like you are getting banged up in the mess. I catch my second sleep at 0630Z with 887 Qs, 431 Mults, 1.1 Million points. Catch 2 hours and get up hoping that a fresh set of mults is on and 40/80 will be Pacific rich with JA finally coming through on 40. Nothing doing. I tune every band 10 -160 and I've either worked it, or its low signal strength and pile-ups calling. After 30 mins without a Q, I decide to catch another hour of sleep and run the rest of it out. Essentially, I was bored back to sleep rather than fatigued back to sleep.

Its outside at 0950Z to turn the antennas to Europe. I still hope for JA on 40 and an earlier 20M opening to Europe before sunrise. I actually end up spending the next 45 mins on 80 grabbing mults (don't forget zone 3 on 80). Can't hear it on 160M, what the heck is wrong with that antenna, hi, hi. My only hope for a good finish is another great run into Europe on 10/15 as the sun starts to help out. And I get it!! Start CQing early now, because a lot of people have worked the big boys and they are searching for the next layer. Hey, I am the next layer! So I have a very productive morning. 12Z - 17Z have 50 - 80 Qs per hour with my 12Z hour being 89 and my 14Z hour being 85. Those are pretty decent rates for Sunday morning using 3 elements at 30 feet and below and 100 Watts. The rate meter peaks at 130 + a number of times. Hey it's not the 240 I saw more than once doing low power from C6 but I'll take it.

Then, BAM!, my FT990, decides its done for the event. (I'm still evaluating the issue). So, I'm 1 radio for the last 6 hours of the contest. But with 6 hours to go, I'm sitting at 1276 Qs, 470 mults and 1.7Million points. I definitely have a top 10 spot in my sights so I am re-energized despite the FT990 failure.

At this point, I usually gather up my “easy mult” hit list. Wow, where the heck is KL7, KH6, and VK. I end up finishing the contest without all 3 on 15 Meters. Can you believe it? KL7Y, I miss you, man, RIP…. It was the surprise of the contest to me that I worked ZA on 3 bands (never done that in a contest) and still needing those 3 common countries for double mults on 15M. Very, very weird. I decide to CQ on 15M was the beams pointed west to “troll for mults”. I get some Qs but the mults are elusive. I end up the contest with a surprise JA run on 15 Meters which pushes my final score to just over 2.0 Million points, 1418 Qs and 498 Mults.


  1. Keep pushing. Despite a very, very slow start, I busted 2.0 Million points and a very viable chance at top 10. Decent mults from S & Ping combined with reasonable Europe Runs on both mornings can produce a very respectable score even if the rest of the contest is quite slow from a rate perspective.

  2. You don't need “heavy iron” or tall towers to be competitive and have fun, but you do need to plan, put time (and some money) into the antennas, and “stay in the chair”.

  3. You really need either huge antennas or 2 radios to be competitive in SOAB Low Power, from my experience anyway. With neither, it is quite a challenge. With both, the results are amazing. Nice job, NT1N!!!

For me, I set my sights now on ARRL DX, both modes. I may log some time on the 10 and 160 contests in between, but I'll be all out for those as well as activating the call NN5P for the WPX contests. I am definitely going to check out my 160 antenna and see about raising my 20M Delta Loop beam higher. Also, the FT990 will be back on line. Other than that, I'll be testing out the Voice Keyer now and then and keeping up with current propagation as we get closer to mid February (a great value of the CQ 160 contest by the way). Lastly, I'm going to spend time on learning about things which will help me stay up for the 44/45 hour range (I don't think I'll ever see 47 Randy, and I run 5Ks a lot too…).

I hope that some of the “little to medium” guys found this write-up a little closer to home than the Big Gun story. Both are extremely educational for me.

73 and Good DX,

de N1UR (ex K8EP)

Member Comments: Add A Comment
Low Power Contesting in CQ WW CW 2002 Reply
by ae9b on December 5, 2002 Mail this to a friend!
Nice write up . These are the kinds of articles that help everyone.

Low Power Contesting in CQ WW CW 2002 Reply
by ka1is on December 7, 2002 Mail this to a friend!
Really enjoyed reading this and hearing your strategies and assessment of band conditions that we were all dealing with. One reason that dx contests will always be fun is that skill, strategy, endurance, and a few modest antennas is all you need to be competitive. Your story is proof of that.

Low Power Contesting in CQ WW CW 2002 Reply
by ON4ADZ on December 7, 2002 Mail this to a friend!
I have been reading the low power contest experience with great intrest.
I agree with the keep going skill.

I have been running wpx and cq in rtty mode in SOAB LP for the last two years and the operator persistency is a major factor in succes.

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