Our goal in the November Sweepstakes was to get a clean sweep - at least one contact with stations in every one of the 80 ARRL/RAC sections in the US and Canada. For the most part, these are divided by state or province, but some states are subdivided. PA, for example, is broken into two sections: WPA (Western PA) and EPA (Eastern PA). The section list is here.
This is the post on my 2008 November Sweepstakes CW experience.
"Do you see it yet?"
I looked out the windows to the front, the side, the other side.
"Where am I supposed to look - is it on the right or the left side of the street?"
"You still don't see it?"
There loomed two tall towers loaded with beam antennas. Wow, look at the yagis... And there's even wire antennas crossing the yard! I tried to hold back a beaming grin as we approached.
We pulled up to the contest station slowly, driving under a colonnade of red maple trees in the fullness of their color. It was November 1, 2008, and time for the fall CW Sweepstakes contest. We had graciously been offered the chance to come operate from an amateur radio contesting station. It was extremely impressive and quite thrilling. I think I walked with a bit more skip in my step than usual as we started inside.
Bill was our operator. He made the contacts, exchanged the information, and kept us running. He had the hard work! Dave became the primary overseer of the station equipment. His responsibility was to adjust the amplifiers, antenna tuners, and radios when we changed bands or switched to another antenna. My role was to act as a scanner. I was charged with monitoring for new sections. I did this by listening to the contest on a second radio in a different part of the band and by watching a computer output of "spots." These were notes on the frequency locations of interesting stations that people reported in real time. (Like this) This was quite exciting, I must say! Whenever I saw a rare section pop up on the computer, all I needed to do was point a finger at it and the team would leap into action. We adjusted the equipment to get us into the right part of the band and then made the contact. I think we worked well as a team.
The best part about my role was that it gave me the opportunity to sit in on real-time CW contest operation. I had 24-hours of hearty CW receiving practice! I better have improved after that :)
The contest started at 5:00 pm, Eastern Daylight Savings time. We actually got delayed a little bit due to set-up time, but hopped in shortly after 5:00.
We quickly worked some of the rare sections like SK (Saskatchewan), Nevada (NV), and Alaska (AK). No problems there. We got region 7 down to one section - UT (Utah) early on, too. But UT was tricky and we had some trouble finding a station there. The first region that we finished off completely was 6 when we contacted SDG (San Diego) - or at least, I am pretty sure that is correct. Shortly after this, we found a UT station and completed region 7. The computer displayed an updated list of sections that turned blue as we contacted them. I enjoyed watching the color of the text gradually become more and more blue...
We managed to pick up VI (the Virgin Islands) and PR (Puerto Rico) Saturday evening, so we didn't have to worry too much about looking for those. KS (Kansas) and NE (Nebraska) gave us some difficulty, but eventually we found them, too. When we finally got the second of the two, we sent out a spot to inform all the other contest participants about the whereabouts of the rare section. That Midwest op had his/her hands full trying to sort through the pile-up of calling stations!
By midnight, we had already worked about 60 of the 80 sections. We were making good progress. Still, we were missing a bunch of local sections like DE (Delaware), NLI (NY Long Island), and WPA (Western PA). Surprisingly, a WPA station answered a CQ we sent out in the middle of the night and a few moments later, a MS (Mississippi) station also answered us. That was two more down! I found DE out on the other computer and Bill found him at about the same time on the air. Turns out that it was a friend of his! I also recognized a friend of mine on the air Sunday, which was very fun.
We heard a lot of OH (Ohio), IL (Illinois), CO (Colorado), and WWA (Western Washington) stations. I think that's because we had the beam antennas pointed West most of the time. We also made good use of the various wire antennas in order to reach out in all directions around us, working up and down the Eastern coastline. We had no trouble finding South Carolina or Hew Hampshire. We also worked a couple Pacific island stations on both Saturday and Sunday.
By 1:30 am Sunday morning, we only had 3 sections left: NLI (NY Long Island), Alberta (AB with the callsign prefix VE6), and Newfoundland/Labrador (NL with the prefix VO1 and VO2). We decided to take a break to sleep. I got the radio shack room sofa, so I had the shack all to myself. I found that I was wide awake, thinking about those last three mults... But eventually, I fell asleep to the loud hum of the amplifiers. When the alarm went off three hours later, we dutifully got up, grabbed a quick bite of food, and got back to work. I must say, I was eager to get started again.
The first station that we tuned in to was a VE6 - Alberta! No way, it's too good to be true! We worked him easily and got the multiplier. The timing couldn't have been more perfect.
Only two to go now.
We ran on 80 meters, trying to pick up the NLI station. We heard NNY (Northern NY), EMA (Eastern Massachusetts), and a number of other fairly local sections, but we still had trouble finding NLI. Finally, an NLI station called in answer to our CQ right around dawn. Half an hour later, another NLI called us.
One down, one to go!
It was just about 8:00 am when we saw the VO1 station appear on the band map. Everyone else saw him too, it seems, because the pile up was wild. Somehow, Bill made it through, and got the clean sweep!
We celebrated with bagels and coffee thanks to our friend Dennis, who stopped by to chat and check out our operation.
Well, just because we got the clean sweep didn't mean that things were finished. No, we still had to get a high score for the club. So we went back to work around 9 am and starting working whoever we could find - any and all of the 80 US/Canadian sections. In the end, we had a total of 746 contacts.
We concluded our efforts at about 5:00 pm. We were all exhausted and there were not too many new and exciting things to work. The contest continued on until 11 pm, however. In fact...
Once I got home, I dashed off to my desk and fired up the Yaesu rig to see if I could work anything. I heard some loud stations in IA and IL, but they didn't hear me when I called. I suppose I will need to take advantages of opportunities like this where I can work in a real contest station with tall, uncompromised antennas. I need to get my receiving skills fine-tuned before this, though.
Of course, my Yaesu rig still works wonderfully for local QSOs from the apartment. I think it can do more, too, but I have yet to systematically test this. I plan to try answering some casual CW CQ calls over the holiday next Tuesday, if not sooner. I was eager to do more tonight, but I am beat!
Well, that was my weekend.
It leaves me here, thrilled and exhausted.
We won the broom, after all!
And I am one step closer to becoming a skillful CW contester.