Chasing the Chase – Part 4

By Don Hill, AA5AU

October 2018

The October 1st radio day started at the end of the CQ WW RTTY Contest at 7 PM local time Sunday evening . I scheduled the next day off from work so I could get a good start to the month. That first day I worked 362 stations on FT8. On Tuesday I worked 179 stations. On Wednesday I worked 86 stations. On Wednesday night, which is Thursday Zulu, I worked the CWops Test and that days total was 136.  Going into the first weekend, I was fifth for the month behind VK9XT, K3WW, ZD9CW, and S52D.

On Saturday, my focus was bit away from the radio. The National Hurricane Center (NHC) was looking at a broad area of low pressure in the Caribbean Sea which they were forecasting to become a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico for the following week. Although October storms are not common, they do happen. Hurricane Nate forced us to evacuate last October. I decided it was time to repair my generator in case it was needed.

Screenshot 1 – A broad area of low pressure in the Caribbean given an 80% chance of developing in the Gulf of Mexico

That day, I removed, disassembled, cleaned, reassembled and reinstalled the carburetor on the generator. It then started on the first pull. I changed the oil and it ran perfectly. Even though I missed a good bit of operating time with the repair, it was great having it running again.

Video 1 – 13-year-old Coleman PowerMate generator repaired on Saturday at the expense of losing a couple hours of operating

On Sunday, October 7th, I missed several hours of operating in the morning in order to catch up on lawn care since I skipped it the previous weekend while operating CQWW RTTY.

When I finally got to radio room well after lunch, pskreporter was showing FT8 activity on 10, 12 and 15 meters to western Europe, South America and some parts of the United States. I was shocked to find more signals on 12 meters than on 10 & 15, so I concentrated there first. I worked station after station for nearly two hours before I had to quit for the afternoon.

Monday, October 8th, was a special day in New Orleans. Drew Brees, quarterback for the New Orleans Saints, broke the NFL Passing Record on Monday Night Football against the Washington Redskins. I watched the game from the living room while operating 40, 80 and 160-meter FT8 remotely from my smart phone.

Photo 1 – Drew Brees breaks NFL record for passing yards on Monday Night Football October 8, 2018. Photo by Michael DeMocker, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune

The storm in the Caribbean had blown up quickly into Hurricane Michael prompting the NHC to forecast it to be a major storm along the Florida panhandle sometime on Wednesday. It was terrible news for our friends in the Sunshine state. An approaching cold front to Louisiana would steer Michael to the east. It was the cold front all of us here had been looking forward to after a long hot summer.

Hurricane Michael roared ashore on Wednesday, October 10th, as a strong Category 4 storm near Panama City Beach, FL. It was the strongest storm to hit the United States in 50 years and third strongest storm ever. It was devastating.

Screenshot 2 – Category 4 Hurricane Michael coming ashore on Wednesday, October 10, 2018. The 3rd strongest storm to ever hit the U.S.

The cold front brought cooler temperatures and no chance of rain locally. It allowed me to operate FT8 remotely on Thursday, October 11th. I needed more contacts as I had dropped to 8th for the month. I worked the CWOps Test the night the night before and that helped.

The next weekend I made nearly 300 contacts in the Makrothen contest. It’s a RTTY contest that scores each contact by the distance between grid squares. It’s unique because the contest occurs in three 8-hour sessions separated by two 8-hour rest periods. I operated FT8 in between the sessions but overall did not do as well as I normally do on weekends. By Monday I was still 8th for the month.

Also on Monday, I built my first Mortty CW & RTTY Keyer. It was a fun project. On Tuesday, I got it working with MMTTY and WriteLog. I planned on using it during the JARTS RTTY Contest the following weekend.

Photo 2 – Built a Mortty CW & RTTY Keyer on Monday the 15th. Used it for the first time in JARTS the following weekend.

A mild midweek cold front would allow me to operate remotely again without having to worry about thunderstorms. Then the JARTS WW RTTY Contest started the weekend off but it was slow Friday night and I went back to FT8 where I worked new grids on 160 meters. Saturday morning I worked several Japanese stations on 40-meter RTTY in JARTS, then moved to FT8 where I logged 60 contacts before going QRT to take Sharon shopping. We shopped nearly all day and when I got home, it was almost dark. After dinner I operated the Stew Perry “PreStew” contest on 160 meter CW until late into the night but conditions were somewhat hampered by thunderstorms associated with another cold front.

I got up early the next morning and continued in Stew Perry well before sunrise but it was slow. I ended up with 107 contacts which wasn’t that bad considering the weather.

I then looked for Japan on 40 RTTY at sunrise but the band was not great so I jumped into the Work All Germany (WAG) Contest on 20-meter CW. Despite quiet conditions (SFI=70, A=2, A=0), signals were weak. Later I checked 15 meters for German stations and there were not many but the ones I did work had excellent signals. I switched back to JARTS RTTY with one radio on 20 and the other on 15 and ran nice pileups on both bands for a while. Fifteen meters was as good as I’ve seen it in a long time.

After lunch, Sharon and I ran errands and stopped by the local fair. The weather was great with clear skies and temperatures in the mid-60s.

Photo 3 – My wife Sharon and I showing off our matching Stetson hats at the local fair.

The last weekend of the month was the CQWW SSB contest. I made 375 contacts in a limited effort since the weather was too nice to be inside. I entered the contest “Assisted” and used the Packetcluster to target stations who were LotW users in an attempt to maximize Chase points. On Monday, I was in 12th place for the month and it didn’t seem like working the contest was much help. The rest of the week was slow. On Tuesday, October 30th, I carved a Halloween pumpkin for Sharon.

Photo 4 – Carved a pumpkin for Sharon on Halloween eve

The weather was nice the last week in October. I ended up not operating as much as I would have wanted. The biggest news was the death of Paul Bittner, W0AIH, who fell from one of his towers on October 31st. It was a sad day for all of us.

I was 16th for the month. The only top ten Chasers ahead of me were K3WW and S52D.

November 2018

November was an important month because there were major contests on each of the four weekends. The first weekend was CW Sweepstakes followed by the Work All Europe (WAE) RTTY Contest, SSB Sweepstakes, and CQWW CW. I didn’t think I would be able to operate all four so I had some decisions to make.

Experience told me that more Chase points are made in domestic contests as compared to DX contests. With the Sweepstakes contests being domestic, they were more important. And since most of my digital points for the month would come from FT8, I decided not to put in a full effort in WAE RTTY. I love WAE RTTY but this year it would take a back seat to Sweepstakes.

Photo 5 – Plaque won in 2015 WAE RTTY. It’s one of my favorite contests but there would be no full effort in 2018.

To keep Sharon happy, I made a deal with her that first weekend. We would do anything she wanted to do on Saturday and I would get to operate CW Sweepstakes on Sunday. She elected to go shopping Saturday so that’s what we did. We shopped all day.

The change from daylight savings to standard time occurred at 2 AM Sunday morning, November 4th, so that’s when I got up to start the contest. Unfortunately, static crashes from thunderstorms in north Louisiana made copying CW signals on 80 meters quite difficult. There were very few signals on 40 meters, so I switched to FT8 on 80 and 160 meters. An hour before sunrise, I moved from 160 to 40-meter FT8 and as signals started picking up, I went back to Sweepstakes. I then operated Sweepstakes until those thunderstorms reached us in the late afternoon.

Screenshot 3 – Thunderstorms associated with a weak cold front caused me to shut down during CW Sweepstakes late Sunday afternoon.

When I started hearing thunder, I shut down the station and disconnected all outside cabling. I then monitored the lightning on LightningMaps.org. As you can see in Screenshot 4, there wasn’t much lightning associated with the storms but I didn’t want to take any chances.

Screenshot 4 – Real time lightning monitoring showed very little lightning from the storms Sunday evening.

The storms passed quickly and when I saw the lightning was well to the east, I fired the station back up. I ended up with 775 contacts and was extremely pleased with that.

Screenshot 5 – ARRL CW Sweepstakes claimed score.

With the threat of more storms for the entire week as the front stalled near us, I was unable to operate remotely. I did operate FT8 in the evenings except for Wednesday the 7th when it stormed the entire evening.

Photo 6 – Storm clouds approaching downtown New Orleans November 7th while sitting in traffic on my way home from work (Superdome on left, Smoothie King Center in the middle)

I was still comfortably in 3rd place overall and more than 2700 points ahead of N2BJ in 4th. AA3B was 5th and more than 3500 points behind me. Barring a major catastrophe, I felt I could slow down a bit and still maintain my position. The holidays were coming and they would take away from my operating time.

Screenshot 6 – Top 5 on November 7th, 2018

On Friday evening, the 9th, I was able to operate a couple hours in the WAE RTTY Contest. On Saturday, Sharon and I spent the day shopping and running errands so I didn’t operate. On Sunday, I was able to operate more WAE RTTY and surprisingly ended up with 500 QSOs and 500 QTCs in the contest. I also made just over 100 FT8 contacts that weekend and by Monday the 12th, I had moved from 13th to 10th for the month. The only top ten Chasers ahead of me for the month were K3WW and S52D so I was doing well.

Monday was forecast to be a washout as an area of low pressure would move up from the Gulf of Mexico and interact with a cold front. However, when I woke up Monday morning the radar showed we were in between storms and I was able to work a few stations on 30 meters before shutting down, disconnecting everything, and heading to work.

On Tuesday the 13th, a new beta version of WSJT-X was released (version 2.0.0-rc4).

Screenshot 7 – A new beta version of WSJT-X was released on November 13th.

Bad news came on Wednesday, the 14th, when it was announced that well known contester, Terry Gerdes, AB5K, had passed away of an apparent heart attack in Belize. Terry had just gotten married a few days before. It was a shock. My log showed 70 contacts with Terry throughout the years.

Also on the 14th, Ed Muns, W0YK, and I announced that we would be putting the Ten-Meter RTTY Contest on hold and replacing it with an all-FT8 HF contest called the FT8 Roundup. The FT8 Roundup would take place December 1-2.

Screenshot 8 – The FT8 Roundup contest was created by Ed, W0YK, and myself to replace the Ten-Meter RTTY Contest at least for this year.

The following weekend I operated SSB Sweepstakes to the tune of 414 contacts. It was fun but the weather was nice and there was no way Sharon was going to let me pass up JC Penney giving away $10 coupons.

On Monday, the 19th, there was a one-hour test of the new WSJT-X RC4 software in the RTTY Roundup mode. A few bugs were found and the development team began working hard to get them fixed before the FT8 Roundup in less than two weeks.

On Tuesday, I took Sharon to the Stage department store after work so we could stand in line for a $10 coupon. It’s become somewhat of a tradition for us. Plus they give away a giant teddy bear and one $100 gift card per store. Last year I won the teddy bear. Guess what I won this year?

Photo 7 – November 20th is my lucky day. I win a $100 gift card at Stage.

On Thanksgiving Day, we hit the stores again and while Sharon shopped, I worked FT8 remotely from my phone and made about 60 contacts – all new grids. On Black Friday, the 23rd, we hit the stores early at 6 AM to get coupons from Shoe Carnival, Lowes, Stage and World Mart. Again I made several contacts remotely. Friday evening was the start of CQWW CW.

We shopped again on Saturday and by Sunday we were shopped-out. After putting up Christmas lights in the morning, I was able to jump into the CQWW CW contest on Sunday and made 450 contacts.

Photo 8 – Put up Christmas Lights Sunday morning before jumping into CQWW CW.

During the last week of the month, I wasn’t able to operate much. My monthly ranking dropped to 38th. Nearly every top-ten station was ahead of me for the month, but not by much. I was still comfortably in 3rd place overall. And thankfully, Hurricane Season came to end.

December 2018

It was hard to believe we had reached the final month. It seemed like it flew by, but in way, it now seemed like it was taking forever to end. I took my foot off the gas toward the end of November and knew December would be the same.

Both the FT8 Roundup and the ARRL 160 Meter Contest took place the first weekend. I was unable to operate much of the 160 contest Friday night due to the weather. Not only was the weather bad here, it was bad across a wide stretch of the center of the country. The static crashes were too much to take. It was very hard to copy CW despite most signals being decent. My Pixel loop had been down since May and I never got around to putting it back up. I don’t know that it would have helped.

Screenshot 9 – Thunderstorms in the central part of the country caused terrible static crashes on 160 meters on both nights of the contest.

I was extremely disappointed to only make 125 contacts in the 160 contest. But I made up for it by making 548 contacts in the FT8 Roundup despite taking time out Saturday night to take Sharon to see a Christmas light display. The FT8 Roundup appeared to have been a huge success as activity was quite high. Read about the contest here.

On Sunday I took a couple hours off from the FT8 Roundup to start a refurbishment of some old Christmas reindeer decorations we found on the side of the road back in October. I took three of them apart, sanded the rusty spots and put a coat of primer on them. On each of the next four days I painted them as the weather was cold but dry.

Photo 9 – Refurbishing old reindeer decorations

During the week I kept up a daily dose of FT8 to keep pace. Although it was safe to say the top 9 spots in the Chase were probably secured, there was a dog fight for 10th place. Only about 500 points separated 10th through 18th place. With only 3 weeks to go there was a lot of action from the top 20 overall.

The ARRL 10 Meter Contest took place the following weekend, December 8th & 9th. I wasn’t expected much but when I went to ten meters early Saturday about an hour after sunrise, I was surprised to find the band open to the Midwest – mainly Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and Illinois. I also worked stations in Virginia and North Carolina. After working over 150 stations on CW, I went to SSB and ran 100 contacts there as the skip moved to the west. At about this time, I decided to set the second radio up for FT8 on 15 meters. That worked out well as 15 was open too. I couldn’t remember if I had ever operated FT8 and CW or FT8 and SSB at the same time. It was interesting and fun.

On Sunday, ten meters opened up to the East Coast just past sunrise but only for about an hour or so. After that, there were short openings to Florida and later Arizona but for the most part the band was shut down. I worked nearly 400 stations in the 10 Meter Contest and over 200 stations on FT8 during the weekend. Sunday night my Chase score surpassed the 20,000 point mark. It was a good weekend.

Screenshot 10 – 2018 ARRL 10 Meter Contest claimed score.

Things slowed down the next week. I didn’t operate much. The following weekend was the OKDX RTTY Contest on Saturday but it was slow. I only made a handful of contacts Saturday morning before going back to FT8. JC Penney was giving out $10 coupons so Sharon and I went shopping the rest of the day.

On Sunday I took time out from the radio to put 200 lights on one of the newly painted reindeer decorations and when I was finished, I put it in the garden. Even though it took over 3 hours, it was worth it. Looks like I have a new hobby now – refurbishing old Christmas decorations.

Photo 10 – Refurbished reindeer placed in the garden

As the month wound down, so did my operating.  I spent a good amount of time compiling the FT8 Roundup results and writing the results article.

On Christmas Day, Sharon surprised me with my very first tablet. I immediately put it to use by operating FT8 remotely from the living room couch.

Photo 11 – Operating FT8 remotely from my new Samsung Galaxy Tablet.

As I looked over my numbers on Saturday, December 29th, I saw that I was only about 200 away from 21,000 points. I decided to try to achieve that mark. I didn’t think there was any way possible to get there until 10, 12 & 15 meters opened up nicely via E-skip that afternoon. These types of openings are rare in December.

Screenshot 11 – A nice E-skip opening on 10 meters on December 29th as shown by pskreporter.info

And I had forgotten all about the Stew Perry contest later that day. Luckily Craig, K0CF, reminded me when he posted a link for a pre-fill file to the WriteLog reflector . I was then able to make 201 contacts in the “Big Stew” to make up for lost contacts earlier in the month when weather affected my ARRL 160 Meter Contest effort.

On Monday morning, December 31st, I was 64 away from 21,000 points. That last day I made 104 FT8 contacts while targeting new grids. At 23:57 I logged JM7UBI on 20 meters and the Grid Chase was over. The next morning my grid total was 21,019 points but I had to wait ten more days to know what my official final point total would be. The official score is 21,093 points. I finished in third place overall behind K3WW and S52D.

In 2018, I made 43,284 QSOs using CW, FT8, RTTY and SSB. More than half of all QSOs were made using FT8 as shown in Chart 1. I averaged 3607 QSOs and 1758 points per month. My average QSO rate per day was 118.5.

Chart 1 – QSOs made by Mode
Chart 2 – Total QSOs vs. Grid Chase Points by month for 2018

 

The Year in Review

January – A great start in January with the ARRL RTTY Roundup was soon dampened when the driven element to the main 3 element SteppIR yagi failed during NAQP SSB. The antenna was repaired within a few days but I finished 46th for the month. Contests worked were the ARRL RTTY Roundup, NAQP CW, and CQ 160 CW.

February – February was an excellent month. The WPX RTTY, ARRL CW, and NAQP RTTY contests, along with 683 FT8 contacts, helped me finish the month in 17th place overall despite my 2-element SteppIR failing. Contests worked were XE RTTY, WPX RTTY, ARRL CW, NAQP RTTY, and CQ 160 SSB.

March – Interesting month as I made 233 less total QSOs than February but had 152 more Chase points. The CQ WPX SSB was a major contributor along with 1,087 FT8 QSOs. Ended the month in 11th place overall. Contests worked were ARRL Phone, NA RTTY Sprint, Stew Perry Spring Stew, Russian DX, BARTG RTTY, and CQ WPX SSB.

April – April was my worst month for total QSOs (2,125), yet I had 18 more points than in January. There were no major contests that month but I did have 1,444 FT8 contacts. I spent a lot of time converting the 2-element SteppIR yagi back to 3 elements and preparing the tower for the installation. Contests worked were NA SSB Sprint, EA RTTY, JIDX CW, CQMM, and SP RTTY.

May – This was a huge month for both total QSOs and Chase points for many reasons. On May 2nd, I connected a second radio for FT8. The next day I configured the station to operate FT8 remotely from my smartphone or a laptop when away from the QTH. This allowed allowed me to work 2,880 FT8 contacts that month which was my highest FT8 total for the year. E-skip openings started which allowed QSOs on 6, 10 and 12 meters. The refurbished 3-element SteppIR was installed which gave me two excellent high band antennas when operating two radios. The CQ WPX CW contest yielded 1868 contacts. I ended the month in 6th place overall despite working only two contests  – ARI International DX and CQ WPX CW.

June – Despite June having the 2nd lowest QSO total (2873) behind only April, it still had the 2nd highest Chase point total to date (1622). I had to work 3 of the 5 Saturdays at my job and that didn’t help. I did make 2,138  FT8 contacts, which did help. June was also my most efficient month. 56% of my QSOs resulted in Chase points. Contests worked were DRCG WW RTTY, ARRL VHF, All Asian DX, and ARRL Field Day.

July – July was my best month overall. It was fueled by big E-skip openings on 6, 10 and 12 meters and included good results from the NAQP RTTY and CQ VHF contests. I made 4,865 QSOs and 2,478 Chase points for the month. I had 2,545 FT8 contacts. Contests worked were DLDX RTTY, IARU, NAQP RTTY, CQ VHF, and IOTA.

August – August was the 3rd best month for points. The month was helped by NAQP CW and SSB points to go along with 2,412 FT8 QSOs. E-skip openings in the first part of the month helped. Contests operated were NAQP CW, WAE CW, NAQP SSB, SARTG, YO DX HF, SCC RTTY, and Ohio, Hawaii & Kansas QSO Parties.

September – There were more total QSOs in September than August but less points. This was mainly because of the 1536 QSOs made during the CQWW RTTY Contest and losing 40 hours of FT8 due to evacuating for Tropical Storm Gordon. Contests worked this month were Russian RTTY, NA CW Sprint, CWT 9/13, NA RTTY Sprint, BARTG Sprint 75, CWT 9/20, FOC QSO Party, and CQWW RTTY.

October – The QSO total dropped by more than 450 as compared to September but my point total was only down 16. This is a result of less time spent on the radio and more time outdoors enjoying the nice weather and cooler temperatures. Despite low numbers, October was the 2nd most efficient month. 54% of QSOs resulted in points. Contests worked were CWT 10/3, CWT 10/10, Makrothen, Stew Perry “Pre-Stew”, Work All Germany, JARTS WW, and CQWW SSB.

November – QSO totals were about 100 more than October but only slightly less points. There were only 1550 FT8 QSOs this month which was the lowest total since May when I connected a second radio. Less time was spent on the radio during the month. Major CW, RTTY and SSB contests allowed for a decent point total. Contests worked were CW Sweepstakes, WAE RTTY, Phone Sweepstakes, and CQWW CW.

December – Seat time continued to decline as I spent more time shopping with Sharon. QSO and point totals were the lowest since June. FT8 QSOs (2742) were second highest of the year because of the FT8 Roundup. Despite low numbers, the month was the 5th best in efficiency. 52% of QSO resulted in points. Contests worked were ARRL 160, FT8 Roundup, ARRL 10, OK DX RTTY, and Stew Perry “Big Stew”.

Contests Worked in 2018

January (3) – ARRL RTTY Roundup, NAQP CW, CQ 160 CW
February (5) – XE RTTY, WPX RTTY, ARRL CW, NAQP RTTY, CQ 160 SSB
March (6) – ARRL DX Phone, NA RTTY Sprint, Stew Perry Spring Stew, Russian DX, BARTG RTTY, CQ WPX SSB
April (5) – NA SSB Sprint, EA RTTY, JIDX CW, CQMM, SP RTTY
May (2) –  ARI International DX, CQ WPX CW
June (4) –  DRCG WW RTTY, ARRL VHF, All Asian DX, ARRL Field Day
July (5) – DLDX RTTY, IARU, NAQP RTTY, CQ VHF, IOTA
August (9) – NAQP CW, WAE CW, NAQP SSB, SARTG, YO DX HF, SCC RTTY, Ohio QP, Hawaii QP, Kansas QP
September (8) – Russian RTTY, NA CW Sprint, CWT 9/13, NA RTTY Sprint, BARTG Sprint 75, CWT 9/20, FOC QP, CQWW RTTY
October (8) – CWT 10/3, CWT 10/10, Makrothen, Stew Perry “Pre-Stew”, Work All Germany, JARTS WW, CQWW SSB
November (4) – CW Sweepstakes, WAE RTTY, Phone Sweepstakes, CQWW CW
December (5) – ARRL 160, FT8 Roundup, ARRL 10, OK RTTY, Stew Perry “Big Stew”

73, Don AA5AU