The making of a (claimed) 160m QRP World Record.
by Kenny K2KW/6Y5 (a.k.a. 6Y0A)
November 29-30, 2003
Some (many) people had a hard time believing I was running QRP - 5 watts - on 160m the first night I fired up (11/25/03) before the 2003 CQ WW CW Contest. My goal in the CQ WW CW contest was to try and break the 160m QRP single band record, so all pre-contest operations were using 5w to help me define my contest strategy.
To some, QRP means using a 2m tall mobile antenna in their basement. Team Vertical simply views QRP as very low power using our traditional verticals on the beach. On previous High Power operations, we have often been told we are 30 over S9 on Top Band into the USA. So by reducing our power from 1500w to 5w, we should still be S9 to many stations in the USA.
If you had told me 3 years ago that we would be operating QRP, let alone 160m QRP, I would have thought you were crazy. But the security aspects of 9/11 got the guys from Team Vertical thinking that it might be difficult to bring all of the amplifiers we typically would bring on previous operations. Our first thought was to go low power in 2001, and leave the amplifiers at home. But after careful analysis of past QRO, Low Power, and QRP single band records in the CQ WW CW, we realized that the single band QRP records were probably the easiest to beat. In 2001, QRP record attempts on 10-80m brought home the QRP world records for 10, 15, and 40m. In 2002, QRP record attempts on 15-160m brought home world records on 20, 40, and 80m. Larry, W7CB, manned 160m QRP in 2002, but he missed the 160m QRP world record by 3 QSOs. Oh so close! The clean sweep of QRP single band records would have to wait another year.
So here we are in 2003, and I had a mission: Break the 160m QRP record to give Team Vertical a clean sweep of the World QRP records. In 2003 we used the same antenna as in 2002, though in 2003, we were able to put it in a better location. Last year we had monster 4-5m high waves hitting the peninsula, resulting in sea spray reaching ~ 13m above the cliffs, which meant we could not put the antenna in the best location.
Below is a typical view of the waves in 2002. Somewhere in that huge wave was one element of a what should have been a two element 160m array. Luckily, only the driven element was installed at the time, and it got destroyed. The reflector was turned into a driven element, and is the antenna we used for both the 2002 and 2003 160m QRP efforts.
Here's what the bottom half of the 160m vertical looked like in 2002 after being hit by 13m high waves. Note the remains of the loading coil in the lower right of the picture... the top half of the vertical was lost to the sea.
With calmer seas in 2003, we found the perfect location for the 160m 6Y0A Antenna:
The 160m antenna (in the photo) is a 17m (56') tall Force 12 DXpedition vertical sitting out at the end of a small point that sticks out about 32m (100') into the blue Caribbean Sea. The photo is shot from a similar point about 61m (200') away, and photo is looking towards 280 degrees (nearly due west). There is nothing but salt water for a 200-400 km towards EU, USA, JA, and much of Africa and Oceania. As you can see in the picture, the vertical has a (far field) salt-water path from ~250 degrees through north, to 70 degrees. But the near-field ground is mostly salt water.
The DXpedition vertical employs both linear loading (21m (70') of linear loading wire), and high-Q coil base loading (Q=600). While the base loading is less efficient than the linear loading we used, the high-Q base loading coil makes the antenna much easier to tune up. On a DXpedition, time is valuable, so we opted for the easier to install but slightly less efficient tuning method.
The vertical was installed with 2 elevated radials, of which 64m (210') of the 79m (260') length of the radials is directly over salt water (elevated 4-5m (12-16') over the salt water). The radials were completely floating, and were not connected to ground or the water (unless a big wave broke over the radial, which did occur, even on this trip).
The antenna is constructed with light-weight aluminum tubing, and was not made to be a permanent installation. The bottom 10m (32') of the antenna is 2" thin-wall tubing (painted white), and the top 7m (23') are smaller diameter tubing. The entire antenna weighs 7 kg. (16 lbs)!
The antenna has an extremely high Q, and the 2:1 operating bandwidth was only 16 kHz. BTW, a narrow bandwidth makes a great receiving antenna - it was VERY quite. If you are outside my operating bandwidth, I probably didn't hear you! We had to add a relay & additional loading to increase operating range due to the high Q. With the relay and additional loading, we were able to get two operating segments, with a usable range of 30 kHz from 1810 to 1840.
Tuesday night (local) November 24th (Nov 25th GMT) conditions were fairly suppressed (no EU), but USA was quite strong. Most people simply did not believe I was running 5w.
On Wednesday night (local), we had a VSWR problem. We made one trip out to the point to try and solve the problem, but it was pouring rain, and even in dry sunny weather, the ironshore (deeply pitted lava flows) is very dangerous. We temporarily fixed the problem, and I was rewarded with a KH6 QSO running 5w. I was sooo excited! Shortly after fixing the antenna, it broke again, so I went to sleep (the problem was later found: a dirty PL259 connector at the antenna balun)
Thursday evening (local) 160m still had suppressed conditions. But at local sunrise on Friday morning, I heard 9V1GO at about an S7! In the 7 years of operation from Jamaica, 9V1GO is the deepest Asian station ever heard - and boy was he loud! 9V1GO was calling HC8N on a schedule, but I gave him a call with 100w (QRO on this trip). He gave me a 449, thinking I was HC8N, but I knew he didn't have my call correct. I later learned he had actually written K2/6Y on his note pad, but still seemed to think it was HC8N calling! Oh well. After I partially worked 9V1GO, both JH0BBE and JF7DZA made it into the log. This might seem trivial, but in the past 7 years we've only worked about 25 JA stations, all with 1.5 KW, and a 2 element array. Working JA with 100w and a single vertical was a big accomplishment.
All in all, I only made about 250 QSOs outside of the contest on 160m. But my Top Band pre-contest QRP operating helped me define my operating strategy for the contest.
The first 2-3 minutes of the contest made me think that I was contesting with a KW on 20m. I had a decent size pileup, and was logging 4-5 QSOs a minute. Then at the 4th minute into the contest, reality sunk in – the packet pileup was gone, and this is going to be S-L-O-W. Minute 4 was also the first of many times I was forced to move my frequency. There was not a lot of activity on the band, which is what I was expecting. While I'm not a 160m expert, I was assuming that USA and Caribbean activity would pick up after 0400, when EU should be peaking. This was confirmed when I had my high rate clock-hour of 56/hr at around 0430 GMT.
Only a few DX stations were heard the first night into EU/AF: EA8EW, TS7N, D4B, and not much else. That said, I seemed to be hearing them much better than the mainland USA guys, as not many USA stations were calling the DX.
So far, my plan to call CQ as much as possible was working. Upon post-contest analysis of the spots on DX Summit, I was surprised at the quantity of spots, especially from W3LPL. Thanks Frank & team! I guess I was heavily spotted since there wasn't much DX, and I was constantly changing CQ frequencies.
After EU closes, it's usually a good time in the Americas to work the Caribbean, Central and South American multipliers. That said, I was surprised at how few NA/SA mults called me. Mostly I had to fight the pileups for many "easy" mults. Around 08:49z, I was able to make it through the KH7X pileup for a nice double mult. Shortly after, I called CQ and was called by XQ6ET for another double mult at 08:59z – nice!
Shortly before sunrise on the first day, I could clearly copy ZL6QH, T32WW, a VK3, and even a few weak JA stations. The ZL, T32, and VK3 station "should" have been workable, but they would just CQ in my face. Oh well.
My target for the first night of the contest was 400 QSOs and 30 countries. But I actually finished the first night with about 300 QSOs, and 20 countries, much lower than expected.
The 2nd night was even slower than the first. But the good news was I was hearing the first signs of AF and EU just after sunset. This was going to be a fun night! Somehow at around 23:30z D4B heard my signal - I was surprised as he was quite weak at the time. EA8EW was just a few kc away, and was easily 20 dB stronger than D4B at the time, but EA8EW never heard me. EU was building quickly, and I had high hopes of working most of the big EU stations who had beverage antennas.
After finding a clear spot in EU, I called CQ and SP3BQ was the first EU in the log at 02:06. Wow!! That really woke me up. But just a minute after that QSO, a weak EU station fired up underneath me, forcing me to QSY since other EU stations would not hear me.
The next hour was slow going, and while many EU stations were head, none were worked. S&Ping for the loud EU stations was worthless – none of them were hearing me. I needed to find another clear frequency in EU and call CQ again. At 03:41z, DJ4AX found me. Then LY3UM found me 4 minutes later. YES! But in the next few minutes, another weak EU station fired up underneath me. This time I decided to stay put, since I had a decent rate of US/VE and Caribbean stations calling me.
At 04:24z, I was still on the same frequency, but all of a sudden the weak EU station wasn't there any more! I had a big smile on my face, since I knew there was a good chance EU would find me. About 2 minutes after the weak EU station QSYed, UA6LV called me! I nearly fell out of my chair. (UA6LV is now the first station outside NA to work the 6Y QRP stations on 6 bands). Just after I signed with UA6LV, ON4WW called in. Two minutes later, I4AVG and IK4WMA called in for back-to-back QSOs. Then my worst fear happened again: a weak EU stole my frequency. I was forced to QSY during a very productive period.
In the following hour, I found many clear frequencies in EU, but within a few minutes a weak EU station would take the frequency. Every 5-10 minutes I had to QSY. On the plus side, it was obvious I could hear EU well enough to find the occasionally clear spots. Other than US stations, no EU went into the log during that hour.
At around 05:21z, I again found a clear frequency in EU. After a few CQ's, I got a quick packet pileup of USA stations, and I was hoping for the best. Five minutes later, RL3A found me. OK, bring them on! Seven minutes later, OK5W found me too. But tragedy struck again: a weak EU station started to call CQ on my frequency. Since sunrise was sweeping across EU, I again tried (in vain) to find a clear frequency in EU to call CQ. RL3A was the last EU station who called me on my run frequency. About an hour later, GM5A peaked at his sunrise, and after many tries, he finally got my callsign. He was the last EU in the log, and the only EU station who heard me while S&Ping.
Every contest is always an educational experience, and this was no different. I built upon my previous QRP strategy, with only minor changes on 160m. Conditions were rather poor compared to other 6Y 160m efforts we have done, so it's my belief that under more normal conditions, I could just about double this year's claimed score. My score was 501 QSOs (including +50 dupes), 14 Zones, and 31 Countries, for a claimed score of 41,760. The old 160 QRP record held by ES1CW (1996) was 28,670.
With a good EU opening, I was assuming I would work over 50 countries (total), but I ended up with 31. Part of my poor multiplier count was due to missing about 6 rather easy Caribbean mults who never found me, or I could not break the pileup. It was clear that EU stations could hear me on a clear frequency in EU, but finding and keeping a frequency proved to be harder than I thought, and cost me many mults. The issue was not the lack of signal strength to make a QSO, but the lack of signal strength to be heard through the local EU QRM.
My claimed score is actually lower than last year when Larry, W7CB, manned 6Y0A in 2002. Larry had more QSOs, similar countries, but fewer zones. While Larry's claimed score was higher, he had 20-30 over S9 QRN the entire weekend, so he missed the record by 3 QSOs due to QRN-induced logging errors. This year I could out-hear almost every station, so I expect my UBN reductions will be low enough for me to hold onto the world record.
Should this world record hold, Team Vertical will hold every QRP single band record. With both QRO, Low Power, and QRP operating experience, the delta between QRO and QRP is much smaller than we expected. Some of that difference was explored in an NCJ article I wrote a year or two ago.
Many thanks to everyone who worked me, and more importantly spotted me! A special thanks to the EU stations who called me and brought some excitement to the contest.
73, Kenny K2KW/6Y5 a.k.a 6Y0A