This past weekend, I operated in the 2013 BARTG HF RTTY Contest. I had previously learned some things during our multi-single operation in the 2013 CQ WPX RTTY contest and made some enhancements to our contesting setup. As a result of this experience, I set a goal of making a serious effort in a RTTY contest. The 2013 BARTG HF RTTY contest ran from 0200z Saturday March 16 – 0200z on Monday March 18. I operated in the Single Operator All Band category, which allowed me to operate for 30 hours out of the total contest period of 48 hours (each break had to be at least 3 hours).
I used the N1MM logger again in the SO2V configuration with our Icom IC-7800 transceiver. We added the 2Tone decoder, which when used along with MMTTY, made a huge difference in being able to pick the call signs and exchange information out of the sometimes garbled exchanges. I kept a window up with each decoder, which gave me two different interpretations of the RTTY signals. When I couldn’t make sense of what I saw in one window, I could almost always pick out a call sign or exchange from the other. This improved my QSO rate as I did not have to ask the station to repeat the exchange. As conditions deteriorated on Sunday due to a Solar Flare, using 2 decoders made a big difference.
The N1MM screen shot above shows the SO2V configuration that I used with 2 decoders associated with each VFO. SO2V was helpful in speeding up the search and pounce. You can tune one signal in on one VFO, and while you are waiting for your chance to call, you can be finding the next signal in the other VFO. Each VFO has its own call sign entry window on the left, and then 2 digital interface windows (with the decoded RTTY text) and 2 tuning windows per VFO – one with 2Tone and one with MMTTY. The upper left window has the spotting network, which was useful, but in a RTTY contest, I can find far more stations in search in search and pounce mode by manually tuning through the band. I also used the Check window, which looks up call signs in the Super Check Partial database. This was also a big help in determining whether I got a call sign correct – if it cannot find a match, it suggests other similar call signs, also speeding up my QSO rate.
The lower right hand window shows my QSO rate – if this gets too low, it could indicate that its time to change bands. Also it has a band timer – there is a rule for my category that I must stay on a band at least 5 minutes – the timer tells me when I can change bands again.
Here is the N1MM setup on my right monitor. The multiplier window shows which multipliers I worked on each band. For this contest, the multipliers were DXCC countries and W, VE, VK and JA call areas. The two windows on the left are the band map windows – one for each VFO. It shows spots and stations that I have worked. If I click on one, it tunes the VFO right to the station – useful in search and pounce mode. The right monitor also has my QSO log, the spotting cluster access window, and the score window. Below are the graphical statistics showing my progress during the contest which are provided via an analysis program called Athena. You can see that once the Solar Flare hit during the day on Sunday, 20m was practically the only band with steady traffic. 15m and even 10m opened up again later in the afternoon.
Since this was a European hosted contest, I started out on Friday at 10pm Eastern Time on 40m, pointing our two SteppIRs toward Europe, which was very productive. I spent some time on 80m but by 3am Eastern Time, the traffic slowed down so I took a break to sleep. I started up again Saturday morning around 9 AM, and was able to run on 20m for some time. The SteppIR beams have a Bi-directional mode which was very useful. This configuration of the SteppIRs worked really well since most of the stations in the contest were either in Europe or the US and I could point the SteppIRs in both of these directions at the same time using the bi-directional mode. By afternoon, 15m had opened up and I had good runs on both 20m and 15m. I was able to make some calls on 10m as well, but that band was not as productive. After dark, I worked 40m toward Europe, but took my break at midnight, since I learned on Friday that the late hours are not so productive. Before going to bed, I checked my email and saw a message from my local PART club that a Solar Flare was heading toward Earth and would hit by Sunday.
Sure enough, when I woke up Sunday morning, the solar storm had hit, the K-Index was 6 and all of the bands were rated as poor. I was going to give up… but AB1OC convinced me to go down to the shack and keep operating as I could still reach the closer US stations. Surprisingly, when I turned on the IC-7800, I was hearing stations from Europe on 20m. So I did some search and pounce until I found a run frequency. QSOs were not coming as quickly as they did on Saturday but I was still making them at a good pace. 20m was the only band that was really open for most of the day. Later in the day I turned toward the southwest and received many calls from the US, and surprisingly quite a few from Japan and New Zealand as well. The SteppIRs are amazing antennas!!
My goal was a score of 1 Million and I probably would have hit it if not for the Solar Storm. Even so, I came pretty close as you can see my score data below. I worked close to 60 countries, all of the US areas on most bands, and many VE areas and even a few JA areas.
I posted my score to the 3830 website and as of this morning’s report my claimed score ranked at the top of my category – I am hoping that this will hold up. Each time I operate, I learn more about N1MM and I’m looking forward to the next contest to learn even more about its capabilities and to be able to better take advantage of SO2V.