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2010 ARRL September VHF Contest

09/22/2010 | K2QO/r

The two weeks leading up to this contest were an absolute disaster. Everything broke. Murphy  was everywhere and living large. The laundry list of issues spanned  charts. Broken antennas, computer logging problems, vehicle setup issues, an amp that would not key properly, and broken cables of all sorts. The number one issue  though was mostly my fault and it was finally resolved by the unbelievable customer service at Elecraft. I’ll get this one out of the way up front.

I could not get my newly built Elecraft XV432 to align after the initial build which was just 8 days before the contest. A flurry of emails on the Elecraft reflector brought lots of great ideas, none of which panned out. But one respondent was very helpful. The designer of the XV432 and member of the Elecraft team was on board. Forty emails with Bob had narrowed it down to a couple of options. So three days before the contest he overnighted me an SMT MMIC which did not fix the transverter. At this point, I thought that Murphy and the fat lady were warming up for victory. But not so fast! Bob then told me he was going overnight his own XV432 from CA to WNY for contest. WOW! Now that is Elecraft-style customer service to the MAX. I received the package on Thursday, got it integrated and my rover partner and I left for western CT on Friday as planned. Elecraft saved the day! I should mention that the XV432 was needed because of band distribution and operational redesign. 432 and 222 were slated for duty with my K2 from the uW position in the rear of the rover while the front seat commanded 6M and 2M.

September is the month that my normal rover partner takes vacation and my substitute partner steps up. Dick, K2ZR (the cZaR of CW as we call him) told me he would go, but changes were necessary. ZR wanted to operate from new locations, see different sites and make this more of an adventure. I reluctantly agreed to go along because operating from known locations is a guarantee of similar results and I did not want to risk a lower score than previous September efforts. Turns out I had nothing to worry about.

On Friday around lunch we left my Clarence QTH and headed to ZR’s friend’s country estate in Norfolk, CT which is next door to our first operating site, Dennis Hill. We stopped to check out a location in FN23, some overlooks on the Teconic State Parkway and arrived for dinner in CT at sunset. The deluxe accommodations were at ZR’s Key West friend’s country estate featuring  multiple gourmet meals that were simply outstanding. Friday evening’s meal was a delicious roast pork loin, with home grown mashed sweet potatoes, homegrown Swiss chard, and delicately prepared wild puffball cakes that were grilled to perfection. Add a couple bottles of red wine followed by a homemade fruit desert and vavavoom, we were happy hammies. For breakfast we had Cuban bean café con leche, fresh squeezed grapefruit/orange juice, Finnish pancakes with fresh maple syrup and bacon; wow! After a super productive afternoon of Q’s on Dennis Hill we headed back to our amigo’s country estate for another fine dinner. We started with an appetizer homemade crab cakes/tartar sauce, homemade Key West Pink Schrimp soup, homemade breads and another outstanding desert. Man were we ready for FN 32 or what!

Remember Murphy? One of his success stories was the destruction of the feedpoint on my 8-el rover beam which I discovered on Monday before the contest. A call to a ham dealer in OH bought me a new 2M7 which I assembled and installed in leisurely fashion Saturday morning. What a treat being 5 minutes from the first grid assault. After a trip to the hardware store 2 U-bolts of the correct size, the rover was ready to go.

Dennis Hill in western CT was awesome. True, it is blocked in many direction on the uW bands, but we were only carrying the lower 8 on this trip so I was not too concerned. And the results spoke for themselves. With a bit under 4 hours spent on the hill, the QO rover team set a personal best for QSOs at one rover stop. The activity was off the charts! These guys in New England really know how to show a rover from WNY a good time. Then it was on to another gourmet meal at our host’s estate. By this point, I was wondering if we should simply park on Dennis Hill, change our call to /1, and enjoy gourmet dining for the balance of the weekend. But FN32 was calling so on to a Teconic Parkway overlook to make a few QSOs.  

The next spot to be conquered was FN23. Our “secret” spot near Little Falls produced some good Qs but it was getting late. Our host for the evening was running the contest, and being a night owl, he really didn’t care what time we showed up. The hospitality at the 1842 hamshack/farmhouse/cottage was fantastic and after a super bacon and eggs breakfast we were off to try the “secret” spot again. It was here that I realized that propagation was funky. Signals were up and down and we had trouble anyone on the microwaves. By this time, we were running super late and it was clear that would not be able to make normal length stops in the remaining 5 grids. So we hashed out a new schedule and off we went.

FN22 is usually one of our best grids but this time out is was just OK. So, on to FN12 and the biggest blunder of the contest. The GPS wanted us to take the NYS Thruway but somehow we took the slow roads to our proposed next stop. Along the way we studied the map and discussed where not to stop to save time. While this discussion was taking place we ran across  the rover team of K2LDT and K2LDU in FN12. They were parked making some Qs to the south. A quick chat and run of the bands infused us with new enthusiasm to forge ahead. After what seemed like hours we arrived at FN03 to make a few Qs and claim the grid.

There was simply no time to mount a real effort in FN12, a grid that is traditionally very good. Instead we got a pizza to go at the usual place in Leroy, NY and headed to our favorite FN02 location. As we approached the stop in FN02, we made some Qs and this snowballed into loads of stations trying to work us prior to setting up. What a fire drill trying to setup the rover, get bite of pizza and work a pileup 10 guys deep while waiting for the computer to fire up. But it was fun and we got most everyone in the log. FN02 was also good for some very good long range contacts to the west in OH, MI, and IL on 2M and 222.

We ran right up until 11 p.m. local time, the official end of the contest. At the time, I knew that this was going to be our best September effort to date. What we did not know was that this was all done in conditions that most contest reporters have deemed to be below normal to normal.

After having a week to think about the events of the contest weekend a few items come to mind.

  1. When travelling to FN32/31, take along 5 and 10GHz! It is generally not worth the effort here in the Buffalo/Rochester area, but once you get to NEWS Group territory, it would be used.
  2. Build new equipment MONTHS in advance, not a week or two. The whole 432 transverter snafu could have been avoided.
  3. Continue to work on inter-station QRM. Despite filters on every band, you simply cannot get away from interference when you run 150W on 2M and uW bands fed with 2M IF.
  4. Build a new mast for the low band loop antennas. When the 2M omni is the same height above the vehicle as the other bands, bad QRM results.
-- K2QO





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