The 2002 January NAQP Contest
The North American QSO Parties (NAQP) have been my favorite contests for some time now. I liken them to the old ARRL Communications Department (CD) Parties. I'm sure many of you reading this will remember those fun contests. If not, let me provide a bit of info about them. The CD Parties were open only to those who were ARRL officials or who held ARRL appointments. These appointments included such things as Official Observer (OO), Official Relay Station (ORS), and Official Bulletin Station (OBS). The exchange in the contests was appointment (OO, SM, HQ, etc.) and ARRL Section. A nice quick snappy exchange, yet one you really had to copy unlike the automatic exchanges in many contests. Compare that to the simple exchange in the NAQP (name and state) and you'll see the similarity. One other thing is that in both the CD and NAQP, most all of the hams entering were or are quite interested in contesting so the contest really moves along snappily.
With that said, let me now get to a short story about this January's NAQP. My best effort in an NAQP came last January when I made 457 QSO's. This time I set as my goal the making of 500 or more QSO's. Since the NAQP allows a maximum operating time of 10 hours, that would mean sustaining a rate of 50+ QSO's per hour for the whole contest. I figured that I would shoot for getting 60 to 70 per hour the first couple hours of the contest and maybe then again when everyone moved to 40 or 80 meters. Under those conditions there would be plenty of stations I hadn't worked yet and thus more opportunities to make QSO's than when I had worked the bands dry, so to speak.
I should mention here that not too many times in my contesting history had I made 50 or more QSO's per hour. It is very hard to do when you are running minimal QRP as I do. I can't sit there and call CQ and work one station after another as the QRO station (or even a QRP station with a big antenna farm and great location) can do for most of the contest. I must depend on Search and Pounce (S&P) for 95-100 percent of my contacts. S&P is inherently slower than calling CQ and letting the S&P stations find you.
I had set up my TR contesting program for the NAQP early in the week since I knew for sure I would be quite active in this one. When it got close to 1800Z on Saturday I fired up the computer and started TR. The only problem was that I intended to start on 10M, but forgot to switch bands in TR from the default starting band of 20M. I hate it when I do that, and I paid for it about 10-15 minutes into the contest when I noticed I was making QSO's on 10M, but logging them on 20M. I knew that would really mess up my dupe checking if I left them that way. I was already up to 10 or so QSO's and if you're familiar with TR, you'll know you can only directly edit the previous 5 QSO's. That meant I had to take time out to load the log file (log.dat) into my text editor, and make the corrections that way. Doing that took away a few precious minutes of operating time.
As I got started, I noticed that I was working stations very easily with no one needing any repeats from me. Conditions seemed to be really good and they continued that way up until the last hour or so of the contest when I found myself having to repeat some of my info to several stations. Still I would say overall, 90% or more of the QSO's went through without the station having to ask me for repeats. Only once in the contest did I have to ask anyone for a repeat. I like it when things go smoothly like that since I hate to slow up stations by having to repeat my info for them.
My first contact was Derrick, VX4VV on 10M. The contacts came smoothly in that first hour and by 1900Z I had 52 QSO's. Short of the 60-70 I had hoped for, and I started to doubt my chances of making it to 500 since I was sure my rates near the end of the contest would be much lower than at the beginning. That first hour found somewhat rare multipliers like Mexico, ND, VE4, and VE5 in addition to the common mults like CA, CO, TX, etc. I wasn't really going for score, just for number of QSO's, so mults didn't mean all that much to me, although I was thinking it would be nice to get a WAS and/or WAVE in the contest.
After the first 45 minutes on 10M, I started band hopping, and continued that throughout the contest. I'd generally make 3 or 4 sweeps of a band, then move on to another band and do the same there.
The second hour got off to a good start with 4 QSO's in the first 2 minutes. Maybe this was going to be the hour that would help keep up my overall rate when things slowed down later on. However once again it was only in the 50's for the second hour - 58 QSO's to be exact.
One thing that I find interesting and sometimes humorous about the NAQP's is the names that some hams choose to use. Generally about 1-5 percent of the stations don't use their given names and come up with something special for the contest. K4AMC was CW, K4OJ was Veto, KD7AEE was Yo, etc. Come to think of it, there weren't as many strange names in this test as in previous ones. The most strange names came in last January's NAQP when virtually all of the Florida stations used the name Chad or something else referring to the presidential election.
It was now 2000Z and I was thinking about when I was going to take my first break to eat some supper. I thought I'd do one more hour, then take a half hour break. The 20Z hour gave me another 52 QSO's to bring me to 162 in 3 hours. To make my 500, I'd have to keep going at the same rate for my last 7 hours of operating time and I had serious doubts about being able to do that.
I got back in the contest at 2135Z. My last 10M contact came at 2013Z so I now had only 15 and 20M to work with until something started happening on 40M. My first hour this time gave me 51 QSO's in the actual 55 minutes of operating time.
I was now at 213 QSO's and decided to see if anyone was on 40M yet. Action was starting to pick up there and I added 6 QSO's to my total in 5 minutes, then went back to 20M. All of my QSO's in this next hour 2230-2330Z came on 40 and 20M. At 2330 I was at 261 QSO's and subtracting correctly that means my rate was now slipping since that made only 48 QSO's for that hour.
40M was really heating up now though, and the 2330-0030Z hour brought me 59 QSO's. I was back on track for 500 now, but with the expected big slowdown still to come as I ran out of new band-stations to work.
I was wondering what happened to the NA DX stations. Only working XE2MX on two bands and hearing ZF2NT briefly represented any DX activity to my personal knowledge. I don't often work too much DX in this contest, but this was perhaps near an all time low for me. Well, I did work KH6ND on 3 bands which would normally be considered DX also, but counts just as another state in the NAQP's.
At 0030Z I decided to check 15M for the last time. That short check provided me with my only dupe of the contest. I worked K5RC who said I was a dupe, but TR indicated I hadn't worked him yet on 15M. So we exchanged info. However after the contest when I was checking my log, I found I had logged Tom as N5RC the first time we worked on 15M. Being a perfectionist, I really hated finding that little stupidity on my part, but I guess those things happen in the heat of a contest.
That 0030-0130Z hour gave me another 59 QSO's to bring me to 379. I decided to go until 0200Z, then take another break. That is the time I take my daily weather observations, so that fit nicely all around. At 0200 I had 406 QSO's, and was feeling fairly confident now of making my 500 since I still had two and a half hours operating time left. Even with things winding down now, 80, 40, and perhaps 160M should give me 94 QSO's in 150 minutes.
At 0230Z I got a phone call which delayed my return by 10 minutes or so. When I did get back, 80M was really active and I racked up a lot of QSO's there, dropping back to 40 from time to time to add more QSO's there. By 0305, the last split hour gave me 50 QSO's to bring me to 429.
From 0305 to 0405Z there were 44 more entries in my log. A phone call for 5-10 minutes interrupted that hour or I might have again made it to the 50's. Even so, the slowdown was really here now, but at 473 with one hour left, 500 was a virtual lock. The 500th QSO did come at 0435Z when I worked N9FH on 80M. Although now, it turns out with my one dupe, that was actually only # 499. Still I rejoiced when that QSO came, and I decided to see how many more I could add in the half hour I had left. That would give me insurance in case dupes did turn up. I decided to see what was happening on 160M, but only K8JM was strong enough to warrant a call from me, and I did work him easily for my only 160M contact. When I worked W7LPF at 0405Z, I called it quits at 515 (514) QSO's.
That made this my 3rd best ever contest as far as number of QSO's. The 51.5 hourly rate was the best ever. I had a total of 162 multipliers which made my score 83,268 points.
I was amazed and pleased how consistent my hourly totals were throughout the contest. The last hour was the worst hour with 42 QSO's. The 6th and 7th hours gave me the maximum of 59 QSO's. The actual 10 hourly totals were 52-58-52-51-48-59-59-50-44-42.
Once again remember my point of giving these contest stories to you. That is to show that you can do the same in a contest and have a lot of fun doing so. You don't need QRO or big antennas to have fun in contesting. Hey, if you are a QRPer and have a big antenna farm and live on a hill, you can probably multiply my results by 1.5 or 2 to get an idea of what you can do without my limitations of small antennas and a valley location. Why not plan now to enter the NAQP in August and see what you can do. I guarantee you will have fun, and if you're working for WAS, you might just pick up a new state or two. If you are working on USA-CA or WPX, it's fairly certain you'll add to your totals.