Part 3: Plan the Work, and Work the Plan

by Dan Levin, K6IF

Ok, so the station is great. The location is great. All we need now is an operator who knows what to do! How do we take a guy with decent operating skills but absolutely no clue about East Coast operating and give him a chance of turning in a decent score?

Well, we will know in a few weeks whether my efforts were successful, but the basic answer was ask lots of questions and read everything you can get your hands on. Once again, I was amazed at the openness and helpfulness of my competitors. Contesters from around the world answered my questions, even sent me their logs to review despite the fact that my goal was to best their score!

I started out by trying to enumerate my key operating assumptions and questions:

Assumptions:

1)      WE9V says that this contest is simple. Point antennas to Europe, call CQ! Ok, I can do that.

2)      Given my location, and antennas I will be loud in EU. See number 1 above.

3)      Given the fact that W QSOs from VE1 are worth 4 points on the low bands, spend a fair bit of time there (more than I might if I was a W).

Questions:

1)      When do the bands open, and to where? In W6, your operating plan is simple. Find the highest band that is open, go there, and run like h*ll. Is that the right strategy from the other coast?

2)      How realistic is it to spend lots of time on 40 and 80? In W6, there isnt much point being on 40 or 80. You can work some 6 point JAs, but most 6s and 7s make less than 150-200 QSOs on the low bands.

3)      If I am going to spend time on the low bands, is the point to work 6 point EUs, or to work 4 point W mults that I wont get on the high bands (esp. W1, W2, W3)? (answer effects antenna direction??)

4)      Where do I point the antennas at various times of the day/night?

5)      When do I take my off-time?

6)      How important are JA multipliers? If they are important, how do I ensure that I work them? In W6-land, working 100 JA mults in this contest is the norm. Last year from N6NF, I worked about 110 JA multipliers (thanks guys!).

To get some answers, I started out by combing through the 3830 postings from last year. I didnt go back to 2001 because I thought that propagation would have been quite different then, but I looked at the postings of every top station in the US and Canada from 2002. I was lucky enough to discover some very valuable stuff in a couple of postings, especially the detailed write-up that WE9V did of his fine effort from K4JA. Chad included not only his rate sheet, but also his points per QSO and mults per band, his continent breakdown, and his top country breakdown. He scored almost 11MM points and placed 4th in the US so this information was invaluable.

I added the information from Chads posting to my biggest prize VF3EJs rate sheet from his Canadian record setting effort in 1999. Since I will likely be competing directly against John this year, it was way above and beyond the call of duty for him to provide me with this info. I asked none-the-less (with the help of my host) and he was gracious enough to send it to us. I studied the rate sheet as if it were the Rosetta Stone itself.

The first thing that I did was to look for high-level similarities between WE9V and VF3EJs results. One thing stood out even with good propagation they both made many more QSOs on 15 meters than on 10. That told me that given the dicey conditions we are likely to have this year I would want to focus my attention on 15 meters even if 10 is open to EU. The other big similarity was in their off-time strategy. Both took a short break around 08:00z on the first night, took another break around 21:00z on Saturday afternoon, and then took most of the second night of the contest off. That gave me a good sense of when I should take my off-time.

The next thing I did was to lay out the rates, primary band and secondary band of the two stations by hour side by side. I was looking to see when band openings happened, which bands they were running on at various times, etc. I used that information to build my first draft operating plan keeping in mind the 1 hour time difference between my QTH and theirs.

Now I had a rough strategy I just needed to validate some key assumptions and work out the rest of the answers.

First, I asked my NCCC club-mate WJ6O (G3WGN) if we could grab lunch and talk about 80 meters. Dave was an 80 meter op at M6T, and knows as much about 80 meters in Europe as anyone. He agreed that VE1JF is loud in EU on 40 and 80, and that EU stations can make quite a few QSOs on the low bands. I had an idea that that was the case, based on postings to 3830 by F6BEE, OT2A and ES9C. Especially the two M/M stations made a bunch of QSOs on the low bands so the stations are there to work. Dave gave me a list of suggested frequencies for 80 meters, and laid out the typical operating model of European stations. That added to the fact that VF3EJ made over 700 low band QSOs in his record setting effort convinced me to spend most of the first night on 40 and 80 rather than on 20 as WE9V had done. It seemed obvious that the combination of the ability to work EU stations simplex and the 4 point advantage for W contacts would make the low bands a much more interesting proposition from VE1 than they would be from W1. Now we will just have to see if I can make it so J

Next, I shot off an email to NB1B the 40 meter op at VE1JF for CQ WW and asked him what he thought about 40 meters to EU. He not only shared his thoughts on the topic in great detail (go for it), but he also sent me his logs from WPX SSB for 2001 and 2002! Again, way above and beyond any reasonable expectation on my part, and very valuable! The big win here was the ability to look at exactly when Dennis was working, e.g. Japanese stations, on 15 meters. He also shared some great tidbits about operating from VE listen up on 80 meters e.g. which I really appreciated.

One important thing that I gleaned from Dennis logs and from Chads posting was that 80 meters was the place to work close-in W multipliers. This contributed to my desire to spend time on 80 meters but also reminded me to point an antenna stateside and listen up in the band not just to focus on working Europeans.

At the last minute, in response to my posting of chapter 2 of this article, I got an email from Scott, VE1OP. Scott was an op at VE1JF for ARRL DX, and he was able to tell me that JA stations were loud at Jims place much louder than Scott was used to from his place. That gave me some confidence that I could pick up JA mults while running on 15 meters (assuming decent conditions), and that I wouldnt have to rely on early morning 40 meter openings.

Finally, I asked Jim to send me the logs for VE1JFs efforts in CQ WW and ARRL DX this year. I was able to compare them to NB1bs logs from WPX to check the time of openings. Remember, JF is about an hour east of the W3 stations so the band opening times will be quite a bit different than they were for either WE9V or VF3EJ.

All that stuff gave me a pretty clear idea of what I should be doing. There was just one more thing to do.

I opened up my laptop on a long cross-country flight, and spent about 3 hours pouring over propagation predictions using W6ELProp. This isnt the best prediction software out there, but it is easy to use, and fast. I needed to understand when the bands were going to be open, and what the effect of various flux levels might be. I looked at eastern and western EU, and Japan, in detail. I noted in my operating plan when bands would be open to various places, especially what I expected to be key openings (JA on 15 meters, e.g.). I also used AZMap to get a sense of when the sun would rise and set in various target locations and how that mapped onto the openings that W6ELProp was predicting. All this in a vain attempt to use facts in the place of experience and accumulated wisdom but I had no choice.

In early March, I locked down my tentative plan. I based it on my estimate that the flux would be around 140-145 during the contest, and that the K would be around 3. My draft plan, including the data that I based it on, is shown below. You will have to scroll right to see all the columns unless you have a very wide monitor. My goal is to exceed 10MM points and have a great time doing it. If I make the plan, I will score around 11MM points. That wont come close to EJs record but it would be a score I could be very proud of. I will post my actual results compared to my final (pre-contest) operating plan after the contest is over.

Time

80

40

20

15

10

Rate

Points

Ant Low

Ant Mid

Ant Top

Notes

Notes 2

WE9V Run

WE9V 2nd

WE9V Rate

VF3EJ Run

VF3EJ 2nd

VF3EJ Rate

0:00

 

 

 

125

 

125

337.5

US

EU

JA

 

EU on 40

15

10

143

15

20

148

1:00

 

 

100

 

 

100

270

US

EU

EU

E- EU on 80

EU on 40

15

10

101

15

20

122

2:00

 

90

 

 

 

90

495

US

EU

EU

E-EU on 80

EU on 40

10

40

99

40

80

95

3:00

55

20

5

 

 

80

426

US

EU

EU

EU on 80

EU on 40

20

80

89

160

80

104

4:00

55

20

5

 

 

80

426

US

EU

EU

EU on 80

EU on 40

80

20

77

40

20

98

5:00

25

50

5

 

 

80

426

US

EU

EU

W-EU on 80

EU on 40

20

80

64

40

80

80

6:00

25

50

5

 

 

80

426

US

EU

EU

W-EU on 80

W-EU on 40

20

20

122

40

80

102

7:00

25

50

5

 

 

80

426

US

EU

EU

 

W-EU on 40

20

20

141

40

160

90

8:00

 

 

 

 

 

0

0

US

EU

EU

 

 

20

20

132

80

80

22

9:00

 

 

 

 

 

0

0

US

EU

EU

JA on 20/40

 

20

Off

37

Off

Off

 

10:00

 

 

 

 

 

0

0

US

EU

EU

JA on 20/40

 

15

Off

14

Off

Off

 

11:00

 

 

 

100

 

100

270

US

EU

EU

EU on 15

 

15

20

119

15

20

60

12:00

 

 

 

80

70

150

405

US

EU

EU

 

 

15

15

175

15

15

225

13:00

 

 

 

70

70

140

378

US

EU

EU

 

 

15

10

137

15

15

206

14:00

 

 

 

40

90

130

351

US

EU

EU

 

 

15

10

119

10

15

160

15:00

 

 

 

40

90

130

351

US

EU

EU

 

 

10

10

158

10

10

177

16:00

 

 

 

50

50

100

270

US

EU

EU

 

 

10

10

136

10

10

170

17:00

 

 

 

50

50

100

270

US

EU

EU

 

 

10

15

115

15

10

110

18:00

 

 

 

50

40

90

243

US

EU

EU

 

 

10

15

99

15

15

60

19:00

 

 

 

 

 

0

0

US

EU

EU

 

 

15

10

96

Off

Off

 

20:00

 

 

 

100

 

100

270

US

EU

JA

JA on 15

 

Off

Off

1

15

10

96

21:00

 

 

 

100

 

100

270

US

EU

JA

JA on 15

 

Off

Off

 

20

10

146

22:00

 

 

25

75

 

100

270

US

EU

EU

 

 

20

Off

34

15

20

133

23:00

 

 

25

75

 

100

270

US

EU

EU

E-EU on 40

 

20

10

102

15

40

103

0:00

 

 

75

25

 

100

270

US

EU

EU

EU on 40

 

20

15

94

15

20

97

1:00

 

 

75

 

 

75

202.5

US

EU

EU

EU on 40

 

40

20

53

20

80

100

2:00

 

 

70

 

 

70

189

US

EU

EU

EU on 40

 

20

40

80

20

80

54

3:00

 

 

 

 

 

0

0

US

EU

EU

EU on 40

 

20

Off

24

40

80

55

4:00

 

 

 

 

 

0

0

US

EU

EU

EU on 40

 

80

Off

52

Off

Off

 

5:00

 

 

 

 

 

0

0

US

EU

EU

EU on 40

 

80

Off

44

Off

Off

 

6:00

 

 

 

 

 

0

0

US

EU

EU

W-EU on 40

 

Off

Off

 

Off

Off

 

7:00

 

 

 

 

 

0

0

US

EU

EU

W-EU on 40

 

Off

Off

 

Off

Off

 

8:00

 

 

 

 

 

0

0

US

EU

EU

 

 

Off

Off

 

Off

Off

 

9:00

 

 

 

 

 

0

0

US

EU

EU

 

 

Off

Off

 

80

20

15

10:00

 

 

 

 

 

0

0

US

EU

EU

 

 

Off

Off

 

40

20

39

11:00

 

 

 

100

 

100

270

US

EU

EU

 

 

15

10

134

20

15

64

12:00

 

 

 

50

50

100

270

US

EU

EU

 

 

15

10

126

15

20

100

13:00

 

 

 

50

50

100

270

US

EU

EU

 

 

15

10

117

15

15

158

14:00

 

 

 

25

75

100

270

US

EU

EU

 

 

15

10

119

15

15

153

15:00

 

 

 

50

50

100

270

US

EU

EU

 

 

15

10

84

15

10

128

16:00

 

 

 

50

50

100

270

US

EU

EU

 

 

10

15

144

15

15

125

17:00

 

 

 

50

50

100

270

US

EU

EU

 

 

10

 

127

10

15

81

18:00

 

 

 

50

50

100

270

US

EU

EU

 

 

10

15

106

15

15

66

19:00

 

 

 

50

50

100

270

US

EU

EU

 

 

15

10

43

15

15

10

20:00

 

 

 

50

50

100

270

US

EU

EU

 

 

Off

Off

 

15

15

139

21:00

 

 

 

50

50

100

270

US

EU

EU

 

 

15

10

47

15

20

118

22:00

 

 

 

100

 

100

270

US

EU

JA

 

 

15

20

94

15

20

131

23:00

 

 

 

100

 

100

270

US

EU

JA

 

 

40

20

106

20

20

123

 

185

280

395

1755

985

3600

11022