After two serious full time CW contests (ARRL DX CW and UBA DX CW), this was the third weekend in a row with a major contest scheduled. I’ve never done this one seriously, except for a few hundred QSO mostly SB efforts. The reason is simple: after two weekends I’m really tired and the work piles up. And for a CW contest I’d say ‘so what?’ but SSB…

Anyway the plan was to do SOAB seriously this year. But I quickly changed my mind to SB15 after the two previous weekends and the fall out of getting no sleep and ignoring urgent jobs. But when seeing the SFI/A/K values, I changed my mind back again to: ‘just mess around and have some fun’. It would be without 80/160 since I already took these down. I didn’t want to play radio at night. I wanted to sleep when normal people sleep. So knowing myself, I just took the wires down.

I worked some W/VE on 40 around Saturday’s sunrise, just to give my points to The Deserving, along with aiming my RF at TX5K. A day and night contrast with the CW part. Not many signals around and running in this mess on 7 MHz is impossible for me on phone. After lunch and some relaxing, I started what was still planned a SB15 effort. Pretty late, around 1300 utc. I was not in a combative mood. The signals were so-so and rate was absent. I thought it would pick up but it didn’t. There were spots on ten meters but the signals there were so weak I realized running there for fun would be useless so I’d focus on 15. But things were so sloooow I cracked and tried a run on twenty meters. It’s safe to say that if you don’t get spotted on the cluster, the rate is very low. A packet spot makes for a few hot minutes, and the rate can peak for a quarter of an hour, but then it slides back to low numbers when you’re a simple ON.

Since I was doing a casual effort I had time to halt and think/listen things over. I observed the following: two fresh spots in the bandmap for station A and station B, plenty far apart. Both are American calls spotted by EU. The whole continent lands on the spots, and it slows the rate down. In between A and B there is station C, again plenty of space between and in the clear. C too is another casual K from an easy state, nothing rare. C is unspotted and calls CQ. He gets called by some Europeans but in between contacts he launches a few unanswered CQ’s. For a few minutes I jumped back and forth A-C-B-C-A-C-B to see how their situation evolves. A and B get a lot of callers for a few minutes on end, C far less. My conclusion: people really jump from spot to spot in the bandmap and don’t spin the dial and listen what treasures might be hidden in between.

I have operated assisted most of the time since 2001. I don’t jump from spot to spot, except when using the second radio. And even then I turn the VFO knob most of the time. I know that fresh spots are to be avoided during the first minutes. Especially for juicy doubles in CQ WW. I have used the DX cluster as an assistant, telling me what’s up on other bands etc. I have never let the cluster lead me or command my operating strategy. Heck, if you’d see my CQ WW logs with 3000-4000 QSO as assisted and monitor the exact frequencies, you’d think I don’t even use the spots since I run most of the time and sweep the band from bottom to top when S&P. But now there seems to be a number of operators who don’t use the cluster as an assistant but rather as a guide. Not only is this thesis supported by the example I observed but also by my own experience when running. No spot makes for low rates, a spot makes the rate explode. Sometimes the spot effect wears out pretty fast, sometimes you get a new spot before the effect fades. And don’t get me started on busted calls, even on phone!

This is all just a personal observation, of course the Devine Assisted Bashers over at CQ-Contest would more than happy reiterate their views on us lesser god contesters who don’t have to do anything (which is good because they think we actually can’t do anything) because the cluster spots fill our logs with 150 DXCC and 40 zones on each band, just with a click of the mouse. While they move heaven and earth with blood sweat and tears to find a multiplier. I think they forget that these spot-hoppers make the difference between 80/hr and 150/hr rates when the boys are playing with just their radio. And it’s not the cluster that’s the problem, it’s how the cluster is used. Sartre already told us that “L’enfer, c’est les autres”. If he had been a ham, he surely would have come up with that line after hearing some of the East-EU modulation techniques used for SSB contesting.

Back to the contest at hand. I stuck to fifteen meters and went to twenty again on Saturday late afternoon but really, it wasn’t fun since I couldn’t get a run going. To quote W4PA in one of his postings when he was still reporting online: “I’m a rate hog”. The bands closed early for me and I called it a day.

Sunday morning I repeated the 40m routine, but there wasn’t much to work. Rather: there wasn’t much to hear except for the W/VE stations that can top the EU QRM-splatter level. I tried to run again but as much as I can pull that off in CW, it just doesn’t work in SSB. In the afternoon I decided to stick on 15 again because a brief excursion to ten meters didn’t produce anything decent. But later on Ten opened up pretty good as far as Texas and Arizona and I had a ball. I repeated that on 15 meters and late in the afternoon, with only 60-70 contacts on twenty, I decided it was time for my Fifteen Minutes of Fame, and even longer if I could do anything about it. After the rate fest on Ten Meters I officially had given up SB15 so it was time to present myself on a plate as Fresh Meat. Sure enough, the rate on twenty picked up and I was able to keep it high thanks to… *drum roll* packet cluster spots! I decided I had enough though. A competitive score it wasn’t, but there had been some fun in a few fast hours. I can’t remember the last contest I did part time, casual, not competitive and ‘only in it for the fun’. It seemed just like in the early days where I was not trying to be competitive nor serious.

I had a ball hearing the QRO-deprived EU’s give their power. Like Big Italian Multis giving ‘500’. *ON5ZO chuckles* Insertion loss between amp and exchange is about 10dB? Same with Balkan stations. That reminds me of a series of pictures I saw on an Italian multi op website after last year’s CQ WW. I forgot the call, honestly – but there were a dozen pictures of the complete shack: rigs, interfaces, rotator control, antenna switching, the lot. But there was not a single amplifier to be spotted. It seemed to me that the photographer took extreme care in keeping those devices out of the frame. Yes I know, I have too much fantasy and a lack of trust.

ON5ZO’s Seal of Approval goes to DK6XZ who suddenly started CQing darn close to me but boiling over with ham spirit he kindly agreed to move when I politely told him he was jamming me as he just popped up. No harsh words, no hassle, just an ‘OK’ and off he went. Thanks OM!

One reply on “ARRL DX SSB 2013”

Dial spinning vs. clicking when assisted:

Having a modest home station means I don’t plan on having a competitive score, and since I am in W3 land with hundreds of fellow PVRC and FRC contesters, I can’t even really try for some W3 wallpaper. So, I usually will enter DX contests in the Assisted mode and compete with myself – how high can I get my total Qs/total hours number.

On CW, by far the highest overall rate comes from clicking on the top spots in the N1MM available mult/Q window with the Reverse Beacon Network skimmers feeding spots – especially in SO2V mode with my K3, where I can have two spots loaded at once and call whichever is ready first. Ctrl-arrow going up and down the band map is next and VFO spinning is a distant third! Those skimmers don’t miss much and often the CQ isn’t even finished when I get there.

Of course, here in the US when I do that I will start to run into AA3B and some of the other big guns in Assisted mode who are doing the same thing, along with some of the multis on the first day. That’s when the SO2V really pays off – work something else while they are getting through.

On SSB, different story – no skimmers, fewer spots, lower quality spots. I’m not a great SSB op in any event, and SO2V doesn’t work so well for me so VFO spinning still wins the day.

There is definitely an enormous amount of skill needed in assisted mode, but I do still marvel over the “classic” ops like K3ZO who just have a built in spotting network/propagation analyser/callsign skimmer built in between their ears!

73 John K3TN

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