Dick (N4HAY/ZS6RSH) and I decided to enter the CQWW160M CW Contest as a multi-op, meaning two or more operators share a single transmitter and callsign. As there is no QRP multi-op category for this contest, we would be competing with stations running KW amplifiers.
The advantages of running QRP multi-op is that we could both plan on getting some sleep during the long 5PM-8AM nite time shifts, we were working toward a common goal, and we could operate assisted mode.
Our main goal was to have fun and to see how our newly constructed Excalibur 160M vertical would play.
Station WQ4RP consisted of a Ten Tec Argonaut VI, running 5W output into the Excalibur vertical loop. We used N1MM+ logger with a WinKeyer.
Our station was set up for assisted mode, which was a new paradigm for us. Assisted mode means that a separate system is used to feed new callsigns to the logging program, so the operator no longer has to scan up and down the band to find new stations.
The assisted system knows which stations you have already worked, and it posts the new callsigns directly into the logging program. In the following screenshot, every one of the callsigns in the left vertical column represent stations that have not yet been worked. By mousing over to one of those listed calls and clicking on it, our Argonaut VI will be set to that station’s frequency, and the callsign of that station will be imported into our logging program.
So how does this work?
(Click on image to enlarge)
It takes specific software and hardware to make this magic happen. In our case, we used:
- N1MM+ Logging Program
- CW Skimmer Software
- Argonaut VI Transceiver
- DXE RTR-1A Receive Antenna Interface
- DXE RSC-2 Two Port RX Signal Splitter
- SDR Receiver
The CW Skimmer program, by VE3NEA is a remarkable piece of software which collects callsigns from a dedicated SDR (software defined receiver) and shares them with the N1MM+ logging program. N1MM+ communicates directly with the Argonaut VI, running under rig control. This means that N1MM+ can control the frequency of the Argonaut VI, as well as key the radio via the WinKeyer.
The SDR used at WQ4RP is the QS1R, and it sits behind our laptop, quietly listening during the times we are not transmitting. The QS1R uses the same antenna as the Argonaut VI transceiver.
QS1R SDR on Right
A DX Engineering RTR-1A Receive Antenna Interface provides an additional RX port for the SDR while also providing muting for the SDR during the times we are transmitting. This extremely useful and versatile interface allows our SDR to utilize the same antenna the Argonaut VI is using.
DXE RTR-1A Front
DXE RTR-1A Rear
One additional piece of hardware is needed to complete the setup. A DX Engineering RSC-2 Two port RX Signal Splitter connects between the RTR-1A and the SDR. Thus, the main station antenna is available for use by two separate receivers–the Argonaut VI and the SDR. Yeah, that’s a lot of cables and wires, isn’t it?
DXE RSC-2 Two port RX Splitter
One huge benefit of this setup is that we can be assured that any callsigns that show up on the N1MM+ bandmap list via our skimming SDR are signals that were heard with our own local antenna. BTW, the SDR hears signals right down to the noise level.
At WQ4RP, no internet connection is available and none is needed in order to implement this full featured assisted mode. Everything happens at the local level.
With the contest starting Friday afternoon at 5PM local time, there were a couple housekeeping items that had to be completed in addition to the antenna work. An electrical entry box was installed on the exterior wall, along with a ground rod. Preliminary interior wiring was completed, with a master AC power kill switch and a ground fault receptacle.
Next, a small propane heater was installed inside the shack, with a propane tank installed outside.
Fortunately, we were presented with a lovely sunny day to complete these tasks.
CQWW160M CW 2016 Contest Begins
N4HAY and I were eager to test the new 160M vertical, as we had just finished getting the radio shack habitable and tuning the antenna that same afternoon.
We verified that all the gear was working properly, and we were most gratified to note that there was zero RF interference. There was absolutely no trace of generator noise from our little 1KW Honda generator. The Argonaut VI has a very quiet receiver, and the 160M band was full of loud CW signals with no QRN. Things were looking promising.
Dick immediately went into search and pounce mode, easily picking off local stations within two or three hundred miles. We knew conditions would improve as more stations fell under the umbrella of darkness, as 160M is primarily a night time band.
Dick, N4HAY QRV for CQWW160 CW 2016
By 0100z (8PM local time) Friday night, conditions were quite good, and we worked HK1 (Columbia), PJ2 (Curacao), and C6A (Bahamas) to our East, along with a good number of US and Canadian stations . During the next hour, we added XE2 (Mexico) and UT to our log.
The skimmer was adding quite a few EU stations to our bandmap, and we spent a good bit of time calling the louder Europeans. We got a lot of W??? responses, but no EU stations were going to make it into our log Friday night.
Dick continued to add new DXCC and domestic calls to the WQ4RP log as I walked back to my house to get some rest. Upon returning to the site around 4:30AM local time (0930z), I smiled when I heard CW emanating from the radio shack. The band was in stellar condition, and several western states were added to the log, including CA and OR. VE6, VE5, and VE4 stations knew WQ4?? was calling them, but we didn’t get to add those western Canadian provinces to the log this year.
We have worked KH6 (Hawaii) from this site on Top Band with our previous antenna, and one of our major goals was to work KH6 with the new antenna. We knew from previous experience that our window of opportunity would be from roughly two hours before our local sunrise to actual sunrise (1000-1200z).
The background noise was still extremely low, and at 1115z our skimmer displayed Hawaiian station KH7M on our bandmap. He was very weak, but at 1133z he copied WQ4RP 599 NC with no problem, after which Dick and I exchanged high fives. HI was in the log! We were hearing the Caribbean, most of the US and Canada, Central and South America, and the Pacific area at the same time, which is quite common during this time period on Top Band.
The next and final night of the contest, our goal was to see if we could add a EU station to our log. EU is a long haul from NC when you’re running QRP. We were hearing even more EU stations than the previous night, and our N1MM Bandmap was getting heavily populated with spots from EU stations.
Around 9PM local time (0200z) , we were working a good number of East Coast US stations, and we decided to go after the loudest EU station we were hearing. We started calling CS2C (Portugal), and we found that our quarry was not going to give up until he had our full call. Dick and I had our second high five moment when CS2C, our first EU, made it into our log. At 3AM local time (0800z), we set our sights on CR2X (Azores), and shortly thereafter our second EU station was in the log.
Two more Hawaiian stations made it into our log Sunday morning, KH6LC (1006z) and KH6RS (1212z). A YouTube capture of our contact with KH6RS can be found here.
CQWW160 CW Contest Results
We were very pleased with the performance of the new Excalibur 160M Vertical. The map below provides a visual statement of the antenna’s omnidirectional pattern.
WQ4RP worked the following entities:
DX: YV1 (Venezuela), HK1 (Columbia), PJ2 (Curacao), C6A (Bahamas), XE2 (Mexico), V31 (Belize), KV4 (Virgin Islands), 4V1 (Haiti), ZF2 (Cayman Islands), CS2 (Portugal), CO8 (Cuba), and CR2 (Azores)
Canadian Provinces: ON, QC, PEI, and NS
Number of US States: 42, including CA, OR, and HI
Thanks to all the stations who displayed exceptional listening skills during CQWW160M CW 2016.
CU next time!
73, N4HAY es AA4XX