I have been operating in the ARRL CW November Sweepstakes for several years. It is the ultimate contest – long exchange, many stations active, and a fast pace. If you like contesting, there are many enjoyable contests, but this one is special in my book.
One thing that continues to elude me in ARRL CWSS is the “Clean Sweep.” That means a confirmed QSO with every Section in the US and Canada. I have come up a couple short every year. Maybe I will finally get them all this year. I will be going for a personal high score but will be looking to finally get the Sweep.
My station for this year’s Contest:
SO2R (single operator, two radio) with an Icom IC-7600 and an Elecraft K2
Antennas – Two ZS6BKW antennas in orthogonal orientation (one hung East-to-West and one North-to-South), and an all-Band dipole/doublet
SO2R Controller – DX Doubler by TopTen – this is a great station controller for contest and casual use
Contesting software – N1MM – just the best Contesting software you can get, and also the best free software I have seen for any application
Hope to C U in ARRL CWSS this weekend
I see the ARRL really is serious about making LOTW a user-friendly, main-stream QSO confirmation tool. Recent delays have been disconcerting, and the infrequent status reports have made it difficult to know what is happening when you submit a Log. As I recently asked (and I am sure many others did too), they are now making frequent LOTW queue status reports available. I see mention of hourly updates on the Site. This is great, as we will no longer have to wonder what is happening with our submitted QSLs.
ARRL also reports that they are employing more developers to make LOTW a much faster service overall. We have seen recently that LOTW really needs a step up to a higher class of hardware and/or software (probably the latter) to sustain the growing numbers of QSL submissions by Amateurs worldwide. If you are a C Language developer, ARRL is also looking for more volunteers to help with the LOTW Programming efforts.
Well I kept up the time-honored tradition of missing 1 or 2 Sections in the CW SS contest this year. Had about 575 QSOs (a personal best) and all but 2 Sections – MB and NNY. I never had trouble with a New York section before. I guess the monster storm Sandy may have been the reason, as they were all trying to get their lives back together and probably had little time for playing with radios.
I did not make any further adjustments of my ZS6BKW (ref: earlier posts on this subject). The SWR was well within usable range for the CW Band segments and I did not want to jeopardize that just before the Contest. Now that CWSS is over, I may get back to some final tweaking of this antenna to see if I can get 80m Phone in the 3:1 range needed by the IC-7600′s internal tuner.
I did try the 20m 4-element colinear antenna this year. I can’t say I was real impressed. I guess a fixed antenna with higher gain is not really what I want. Next year I may go to something rotatable. I did pickup a couple sections with the colinear that I could not get with my other wire antennas, but overall I am not sure it was worth the trouble.
I have been using the ARRL Logbook of the World (LOTW) recently for confirmation of my radio contacts. I like the basic idea very much but I have been having some issues. After a recent contest, I uploaded a Log File. I waited 3 or 4 days and nothing happened. I uploaded again, waited a few days (actually over a week now), and still nothing. The contacts have not been added to my LOTW account.
I see that the ARRL LOTW Site says that LOTW is about 4 days behind but is processing files. When I hit “refresh” on my browser, it appears that they are only adding a few contacts per second to the LOTW database. If this is the case, I just do not see how this can be a tool that is used by tens-of-thousands of Hams around the world. I would expect a total meltdown of this system after the upcoming ARRL SSB Sweepstakes this weekend.
I have been trying to get my recent log file uploaded for about 2 weeks now, with no luck. This is really not a critical thing to me. I can wait. But I have to wonder if it is not time for a major upgrade of the LOTW system, if it is to really be used as a primary tool for confirming QSOs by the Ham community at large.
I did some tuning of my ZS6BKW antenna just before the 2012 ARRL CW Sweepstakes contest. My goal was to get the SWR in the CW Bands down to 3:1 or better. The reason I wanted this was that the internal tuner on my IC-7600 can quickly tune that range, without the need for my external LDG tuner. The 7600 also can automatically retune the antenna when needed once the CW key is pressed. With this function and the internal tuner memory, I was able to move very quickly between Bands during the contest. The antenna did a great job for a basic wire antenna. I will surely be using it in the future and may put up another one at a different angle.
If you want to see the data, here is a file with the SWR data tabulated over all the HF ham Bands. Remember, this antenna does not cover 15 meters or 30 meters. Here is the file – SWR Data File
I still plan to do a little more tuning of the antenna to try and cover more Phone Bands within the 3:1 SWR region, but only if I can do so without knocking any of the CW Bands out of the range.
Well, hurricane Sandy did no damage to my Chesapeake Bayside QTH. I am thankful for that and I wish a quick recovery to those that were ravaged by this nasty storm. The winds did leave one of my antennas needing attention. The winds pulled my anchor for the center of my ZS6BKW antenna out of the ground and it is now hanging in mid air. This should not be difficult to fix.
I see from last year that we also had high winds just before SS in 2011. Guess I should expect more of that in the future. It is calm now but they are expecting fairly high winds all weekend. I will need to clean up my two existing antennas and I hope to hang the 4 element 20m colinear array on my Penninger Tilt-up mast.
Inside, my station is all ready to go for the contest. I have an SO2R setup using the Icom IC-7600 and an Elecraft K2. This year I will also be using some ICE Bandpass filters to try and reduce the Band-to-Band interference I had in past years. I tested the station, including the DX Doubler, last weekend when I operated a couple hours in the CQWWDX SSB contest. I got about 48 Contacts and added a good number of new Countries in the Log.
I really like the SO2R setup with the DX Doubler and N1MM software. I think I have all the technology pieces in place now. Hopefully I can ramp-up the Sweepstakes operation this year. I will be looking once again for that elusive (for me anyway) Clean Sweep. 83 Sections are needed this year for the Broom.
The ZS6BKW Antenna is one of many HF multi-band wire antennas. It is similar to the famous G5RV antenna, which can cover multiple HF Bands but requires an antenna tuner on most bands. The ZS6BKW follows the design of the G5RV, but makes improvements. These improvements allow it to be used on more bands, and to exhibit better SWR on several Bands. There is an excellent article that compares these two antennas, and it shows me that this is a better bet for my station than the G5RV.
I built the ZS6BKW and am now starting the tuning process for my location. I have many trees, so any wire antenna I build needs some pruning, no matter how I model it. I used standard household 14 gauge wire for my antenna and fed it with 450 ohm ladder line. I used the “fat” 450 ohm ladder-line (about 1.5 inches wide), because that is what I have available. My ladder-line uses solid number 14 conductors. That makes it a bit hard to work with, but it holds up very well to the elements at my Bayside QTH.
The one thing I dislike about this antenna is that it is not expected to work on 15 meters, where it has a very high SWR. I can use my 135′ dipole on all bands with my antenna tuner, so I am wondering if this antenna gives me any advantage over that. It is shorter, but I have room for the 135′ wire, so maybe this is a compromise I do not need.
I will be trying it and tweaking the dimensions. I’ll post my results for anyone that may be interested in the ZS6BKW.
There has been a bit of discussion on the IC-7600 newsgroup about using FSK vs. AFSK when connecting a computer to the radio. Here is a summary that I posted in that group. Hopefully it will help some others get a kick-start on the process:
I found what I think is a good summary of the options for using the 7600 on RTTY. Since I am not sure if it is appropriate to repost it here in its entirety, here is a link:
Bottom-line, you can use the radio in AFSK or FSK mode, but the interfaces differ (as others have mentioned here). If you want true FSK using an external computer, you need a cable to provide the keying input to the rig. Since that allows you to use the great filters in the radio, that is a good idea. But for getting started quickly, all you need is a USB interface and some software like MMTTY, to run in AFSK (which works quite well for me using an XP PC).
For verifying your USB drivers work, why not just install one of the basic rig-control programs and confirm that you can tune and access various functions from the computer?
After looking at articles in the ARRL Antenna Book and on L.B. Cebick’s web site, I thought a 4-element colinear wire antenna might be useful for my station. I currently use only wire antennas which work fine on 40 and 80 meters, but on the higher Bands, I need some gain. My main goal is to be able to improve my ability to reach Stations in the Northwestern US and Canada. Since this is a bi-directional antenna, it will also help with my DX contacts.
This is a classic antenna design that has been used by many people. I am not claiming to be doing anything unique here. I am just keeping some notes to track my attempts to make this antenna work at my QTH. There is an excellent description of HF Colinear antennas in the ARRL Antenna Book.
Here is the basic design of the antenna
The picture of the antenna above is a little hard to see. It consists of 4 half-wave elements in a line, with two quarter-wave stubs between the pairs of elements. Each stub is a piece of ladder line, with the end shorted. This provides the necessary phase shifting to align the half-wave sections to provide gain. The antenna is fed at the center and the feedpoint impedence is near 450 ohms.
In case anyone is interested in experimenting with the EZNEC model, here is the listing of the wires for this antenna.
Note – this is just one trial set of element lengths. It may not be ideal for any particular location, and may not even be the actual dimensions I use in the final antenna. But if you have EZNEC, you can take it from here and see what works for you.
I like to try a new antenna every year for one of my favorite contests. A year or two ago I had great hopes for a 20 meter Colinear wire antenna in the ARRL CW Sweepstakes. I ran out of time and threw one together quickly. It did not do much for me, but I think the implementation was really poor.
So I am going to give it another try. This time I am modeling it with EZNEC. I started a model last go-round, but never really got to the point that the dimensions were very good. I suspect I was not getting nearly the gain it promises.
There is a good write-up in the ARRL Antenna Handbook about this antenna. If you have any interest in HF antennas, and you do not have this book, what are you waiting for? This is the definitive practical reference book for HF (and VHF/UHF) antennas. My other favorite antenna reference is the LB Cebick (Silent Key) Web Site. LB was a prolific author and antenna enthusiast. I have purchased several of his antenna models and some of his books. This is very practical stuff, and extremely easy to read.
My 20 meter colinear will use four half-wave elements. The goal is to get a decent signal into the far Northwest of the US and Canada. That has always been my biggest difficulty in trying to work all Sections in the Sweepstakes.