Monday, August 8, 2016

Last Kick at a QRP Contest

For the fun of it I organized a team for NAQP CW this past weekend comprised of members of the local Ottawa Valley QRP club. On short notice we could only rustle up 4 entrants, one short of a full team. I expect we'll do better in future.

I discovered the club soon after returning to the air in 2013, while operating QRP for the first time in my ham career with my newly purchased KX3. I was invited to get involved by Bob VA3RKM, also a QRP contester, who I met at a local hamfest/flea market. The main attraction of this club for me is that the monthly meetings are held in a pizza restaurant! Seriously though, they are a fun group with a variety of operating activities and enjoyment of building small QRP kits and seeing what they can do with modest antennas. There's a lot to like about this approach to the hobby.

Nevertheless, as I've already signalled, my time as a regular QRP operator and QRP contester is coming to an end. I am more likely to be QRO when I build my next station with the objective of being more competitive in contests and all of my other operating interests, along with a more serious pursuit of high-performance antennas.

I hadn't planned to be serious about my NAQP entry so gathering a bunch of QRPers together to a joint effort was a great way to rekindle the QRP flame, if only for  a last fling.

My task before the contest was to reconnect the KX3. It has been sitting lonely and ignored on an upper shelf of the shack operating desk since it was used in several of the major contests last winter. For this contest I created a rats nest of cables to temporarily splice the KX3 into the rest of the station to minimally disrupt my usual setup with the FT950. This included the WinKeyer, antenna switching, computer interconnect, headphones and power.

One thing I did as part of this exercise was to stick labels on all the cables. All those USB and phono cables look alike and I've gotten tired of tracing them back to both ends every time I do this before and after contests.

Luckily the KX3 is small enough that I could sit it in front of the FT950 and still have plenty of room to operate. After the contest I was able to remove the rats nest and reintegrate the FT950 in under 10 minutes. The KX3, looking pretty after I carefully cleaned it with a small brush, is back to its place on the upper shelf. Which is a shame because it is such a fantastic rig. It has its deficits when pitted against the challenges of a contest and the DX pile-up, but the modern SDR design is a joy to use most of the time.

The contest itself did not produce the personal result I would have liked: 342 QSOs and 110 multipliers, before log checking. This was good enough for fourth in the QRP category as of the last time I checked the reports on 3830. Conditions were poor: 10 was dead while 15 and 160 were disappointing, and the disturbed geomagnetic field attenuated my puny signal. On top of which I became ill during the contest. By the next day I was healthy but it cost me about 2 hours of operating time. That's contesting for you.

There's always next time, though in my case it may not be QRP. Exactly what my situation will be this fall is difficult to predict at this point. Change is coming at the home of VE3VN.

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