Monday, January 19, 2009

KC9JTL in the 2009 VHF Sweepstakes

Well this past Saturday/ Sunday was the ARRL VHF Sweepstakes for 2009 and my son Christopher and I participated. This event was promoted locally by a gung-ho ham Todd Sprinkmann, KC9BQA and he succeeded in mobilizing quite a few locals to participate. It ended up being a real blast.

Of course, lots of obstacles had to get between us and the contest. Just about an hour before it started, a frozen water pipe burst in our house (thank goodness I was sitting in the shack and heard the snap! and then water gushing down into the basement!) But I got the water shut off, the mess cleaned up, ran to the hardware store, got what I needed to fix the pipe, and we got on the air a mere twenty minutes late. The problem was, the pipe had thwarted my intention to get our 10 element, 2 meter beam on a rotor prior to the start of the contest. We started without it, but it became apparent quickly that rotating that dude was going to be essential.

So in true ham spirit, Christopher and I got out there and did what needed to be done. Then we scampered back into the shack and started making more contacts. Now notice that this antenna is sitting just 15 feet off the ground. We have a ridgetop location, sure, but you can definitely play with a very modest antenna and it doesn't have to be miles in the air.

It was extremely great to hear so many local stations on. I really hope that this is a sign of good things to come in our area. The June contest should be even better, so mark it on your calendar (June 13-14, 2009). As KC9BQA has said, contests aren't any fun if nobody's on the bands.

This was my first VHF contest. We used Christopher's callsign, KC9JTL, throughout the contest, so we'll be entering our score as a multi-operator limited station. The "limited" means we could use no more than four bands. I had only intended to use three: 6 meters, 2 meters, and 70 cm. I don't have a rig for 1.25 meters......or do I? (More on that below.)

The highlights were:

  • We caught a short opening on 6 meters Sunday morning that netted us one distant grid, FN42 in New Hampshire. It really surprised me that we didn't get any other contacts during this opening. K1TR was really strong into Wisconsin and I thought maybe we'd get a flood of signals from out east, but we called and called on 50.125 and didn't hear anybody else. Oh well, we were happy for any opening at all.
  • On Sunday night we heard KB9C/R (a club call being operated by Bruce, W9FZ) booming into our place from his home QTH in Hillsboro, WI. We worked him first on 2 meters, then on 440, then on 6 meters. Suddenly it occurred to me that my Yaesu VX-6R HT has 220 MHz capability at 1.5 watts. KB9C/R was so loud that I thought we could probably make it, even with that low power. So I had my son coordinate the freqs and then, standing outside in the snow holding the VX-6R sideways (to get the horizontal polarization), worked him on 223.5 for our only 1.25 meter contact. So we got Bruce on four bands and gave him a unique grid on 1.25 meters. That's nice teamwork. Thanks Bruce for your patience!
  • I worked seven CW contacts (that's Morse code, for you non-hams) and I got a unique grid on each one; so CW was our key to accumulating grids. The best distance on 2 meters was a 210 mile QSO with WO9S in Chicago. No way we'd have made that one on SSB.

The lowlights were:

  • Not being able to be on the air as much as we would have liked throughout the contest. Maybe in June my wife and the girls can go visit someone and Christopher and I can do a marathon session.
  • Hearing N9UHF in Illinois constantly throughout the contest, calling him about a hundred times, but never working him. I also heard K8EB nice and strong at one point, tried calling several times with no success, and then heard him fade away as he turned his beams away from me. Ahhh! That would have been a new grid and a 250 mile contact. Would have been.......
  • Hearing N0IRS and WB0NQD in EM29 during the last few minutes of the contest, calling and having N0IRS say "I've got Kilo Charlie Nine.....what's the rest?", then QSB blew us away and we didn't finish the contact before the contest ended. Rats! One more grid square lost. Better luck next time. ;o) Our final tally looks to be as follows:

10 QSOs on 6 meters, 3 grids
33 QSOs on 2 meters, 15 grids
1 QSO on 1.25 meters, 1 grid
4 QSOs on 70 cm, 1 grid

So we had 48 contacts spanning 16 grids. I guess that's not too bad for the first time out of the chute.

Contesting is not everybody's cup of tea—in fact, some hams get downright surly about it—but I think it has some real upsides, especially on VHF/UHF. For one thing, you get to sharpen your operator skills and that's always a good thing. For another, with a lot of stations on the air from diverse areas, one starts to get a feel for just what is possible with a given rig/antenna combination on these frequencies. Finally, it's just plain good fun. And ultimately that's what ham radio is supposed to be about--enjoying radio and the people that you meet on the air.

Bottom line is that the activity levels locally were awesome and I do hope that this could start a trend for our area. I actually never knew how much fun VHF stuff could be. The propagation in June should be much better and I'm already thinking of how to improve the score.

73 DE W9HQ

1 comment:

  1. Nice work putting out the recent posts on the local reflector. It has given me the incentive to get on some during this contest! I am putting up a small beam on a portable mast for 2m/440 and already have 6m available, so, I will try to work you on a few bands this contest. Good luck to you and your son.
    Rich KB9RNO