CQ WW SSB, in my mind, rings the opening bell of contest season. As I write this article, a week a half before the contest, my thoughts turn to entry categories, strategy, maximizing the score, and having fun.
As the current sunspot cycle plummets to rock bottom levels, I feel torn with the dilemma of which category to enter. Phone contests are notorious for ear splitting QRM, that over the course of an entire weekend, can grind down even the most well-mannered radio operator into a fire breathing dragon.
Personally, I find my emotions go through cycles when the bands are crazy and everyone in the world is squeezed into 20m and 40m all weekend long. Early on, there is frustration as guys I can’t hear steal my frequency; or the endless QRM by someone 1.5 KC away; or the guy that jumps on your frequency and says, “My group meets here at this time everyday on this exact frequency, can you QSY somewhere else?”
My immediate thoughts are, “Say what? Are you kidding me? Have you tuned across the band?” My reply to these individuals is usually, “Well, if it’s not me on this frequency, it’ll be someone else, so best of luck!”
If you’ve been contesting long enough, you’ve probably run into that ridiculous request, and some of the shenanigans that follow from a few ill tempered folks that try to chase you away.
It’s all part of the game, and I accept it, and even find it a challenge. But there’s a tipping point where sleep deprivation, fatigue, and sitting for hours on end transforms frustration into a machine-like state, where accepting conditions, QRM, maximizing the score, and getting to the finish line become the only goals that matter.
I mention all of the above because it matters when deciding which category to enter, and which strategy to pursue.
What category am I entering? Tough call right now, but either the Classic SOAB HP, SOAB HP, or SOAB(A) HP. Probably a game time decision based on conditions.
When will I take my breaks? How much sleep will I get? What bands will I operate on and when?
All important questions when pondering an entry selection. However, these questions are best answered by letting band conditions dictate your actions for the category you’ve entered. A single band entry will differ substantially from an all band entry.
For example, if I enter SOAB HP and my rate slows to a crawl in the middle of the night on the low bands, this is probably a good time to get some sleep until the bands open again towards sunrise, or 20m opens in the morning. In my case, if 40m closes and I’ve worked 80m and 160m, I’ll get some sleep, and be ready to hit 20m when it opens.
If you’ve entered a single band category, you’ll want to operate on the band from open to close. Period.
Here are some additional thoughts for the individual categories I’m considering.
SOAB HP Classic
This is a 24 hour SO1R category. If I enter this one, I’ll only want to operate when the bands are wide open to certain areas of the world, like EU or JA. Mults and Q’s must be maximized in a condensed period of time, making when and where to operate very important.
Minimum breaks are 60 minutes, and even with the shortened format, getting eight hours of sleep every night probably won’t happen. I need to be ready to take advantage of various openings on multiple bands, whether it’s 1:00 AM on 40m, or 9:00 AM on 20m.
Of equal importance is working what ever 10m and 15m have to offer. Although these bands suffer tremendously from low sunspots, I’ve got to be ready to work any openings. Time to do my homework and listen to the bands a week before the contest so I know when and where these occur. It also helps to use VOCAP (http://www.voacap.com/) for additional data.
The unassisted iron man category! In low sunspots, bands close early, open late, or never open at all. This makes for a more civilized operating schedule where it’s possible to get 5 hours of sleep per night, at least here in Washington State. If you’re operating from an exotic location down south, you probably have 24 hour propagation to somewhere, so no rest for you!
SO2R is very much in play, as is milking the bands for every last mult and Q. For SSB contests, I like to run on Radio 1, while searching for mults on radio 2. This also keeps me on top of band openings so nothing gets missed.
The assisted iron man category! Same strategy as the SOAB HP, except I can point and click my way to new mults with radio 2, while running on radio 1.
I really enjoy this category and the ability to maximize multipliers. My scores are always bigger, and I find mults I would not have found with the time it takes to tune up and down the band in the unassisted category. Fighting the “point and click” pile-up isn’t fun, but fortunately, that doesn’t happen too often.
One of the most frustrating parts of assisted is seeing all of those wonderful green, EU double mults on 80m and 160m, and hearing only a small fraction of them. That’s the east coast advantage and always will be. Maybe with our current solar cycle hitting bottom, we’ll be able to hear more of them out west? I hope so! Stay tuned!
Sometimes this gets overlooked in the heat of battle, but having fun is the name of the game. What ever category you select, be sure to have fun and enjoy the ride.
Having fun for me is staying busy adding new stations and multipliers to the log. That’s why I like all band categories. As long as the rate meter keeps moving, I’m happy.
As sunspots come and go, every year brings something different to the bands that wasn’t there the year before. This makes it new, interesting, and challenging all at once.
If you’ve added a new antenna, or some other piece of hardware to help your score, that increases the excitement factor as you try to milk it for every possible advantage, or to improve your skill.
Speaking of skill, CQ WW is another great opportunity for any contester to be a better operator, or hone a particular skill set. This is one of the biggest contests on the planet that will put any new hardware, software, or skill set to the ultimate test!
If you hear me in the contest, please stop by for a Q! I will be looking for you!
Thanks for reading and GL in the test!
73, Mitch, K7RL