Nick, K1NZ and I decided to make a serious multi-one effort in the SP DX Contest from the fine station of Dave, K1TTT. Little did we know just how much of an effort that would become. A combination of local WX and space WX made things a real mess. The station performed flawlessly, as is the hallmark of most operations at K1TTT, but it was a real struggle.

Dave had arranged, per our request, a somewhat experimental setup: configuring the station for SO2R but with the two-keyboard option in N1MM+. This would allow for two operators at any time while retaining the interlock features of SO2R. The left position could listen to left radio audio OR right radio audio OR both (one side in each ear), while the right position could only listen to the right radio audio and could only work CW. We couldn’t do any in-band work, so each radio was relegated to separate bands.

The journey to Dave’s place started early Saturday morning. I woke up around 6 local, looked out the window, and found that overnight a whole bunch of wet, slushy, heavy crap had fallen from the sky and coated everything. My own municipality hadn’t bothered to plow the roads — the thought of Dave’s wilderness QTH being accessible seemed in doubt. But I headed off anyway, and my first stop was just east to pick up K1NZ.

I drove through Springfield and Wilbraham — two larger cities here in WMA that should, by all right, have been plowed and sanded. They were not. There were several hairy maneuvers, especially one after leaving the K1NZ QTH that found us headed toward the shoulder with absolutely no control over the vehicle. I can’t believe it’s going to be the SP DX contest that kills me.

We made two necessary stops: the package store for Polish vodka (finding none, we settled on Mr. Boston and we were willing to pretend) and the Williamsburg General Store for Moxie, my contesting beverage of choice. These days, I can only find Moxie at that old general store, and the stop is now mandatory on our way to Dave’s.

It tastes like burnt root beer and dirt.

The roads were actually better when we finally reached the Berkshires. I attributed this to the elevation; at about 1000′ ASL, the conditions changed from ice/slush to fluffy snow, which is actually easier to drive in. We made it down Dave’s street with only minor slippage and had finally arrived.

Dave gave us a tutorial on the dual-keyboard setup, a configuration I’ve taken to calling Two Men One Mouse. He cautioned us that the right radio was really only useful for spotting on other bands, since transmitting required changing focus — an easy task when SO2R, but one requiring some coordination with two operators involved. We decided to ignore that recommendation and attempt dual CQ’s at several points during the contest. Did it work? We’re not sure. More on that later…

K1NZ prepares for a strange weekend

Immediately, 20 was wide open. 10 and 15, on the other hand, didn’t even qualify as existing. I managed a good run of SP’s on CW while Nick thumbed around a mostly-dead 15m band. Everything is OK; 40 will open soon and we can use both radios!

Shortly before local sunset, having heard nothing (literally nothing) on 10 or 15 but working all mults on 20, I started sweeping 40. Europe began slowly creeping in shortly thereafter, and I snagged a good run frequency and used the second VFO for the freshly renewed mult hunt. It was at this point we initially tried dueling CQ: Nick on 20 phone and me on 40 CW. We found that 20 had already died, despite our best efforts, and Europe was little more than a whisper. He worked a few MS and MO QSO Party participants just to try out the operating arrangement. We eventually got up to rhythm, but it was all for not, as yet again, we were down to one workable band.

K1NZ made pierogi in keeping with the SP -theme

Suddenly, it was as if someone had unplugged every antenna. I actually stopped my auto CQ and started checking SWR! I had heard the band go totally silent in a matter of minutes. Dave came down, saw the painful rate, and glanced over at another monitor in the shack.

“There’s your problem,” he said, “M-class flare!” Lo and behold, the SFI was way up and we finally had sunspots, but they came with an awful price tag: radio blackout from the flare. Since we were headed into the dark side, we knew the effects would be mitigated. We weren’t counting on another flare striking the SP’s in sunlight shortly thereafter, and a third slamming into us Sunday morning!

It’s not always a good thing when the numbers go up!

Rates plummeted. 40 never fully opened. The entire contest took place on 80, where we again managed to work all 16 multipliers. I threw out a few CQ’s on 160 but didn’t even get spotted by a single skimmer, an impressive feat from a station like K1TTT. Nick and I headed for bed just after EU sunrise, having exhausted 80. I’ll run EU on 15 in the morning!

My view from the bedroom window

Morning cracked early and I went back into the shack to scour 15 and 10 (insert laughing). The weather outside had drastically improved from the day before. The sun was out and the snow was even melting. The memo did not reach the propagation gods, however, and 15 never came around. I barely heard a PY working inaudible SP’s, but after a while even he admitted defeat.

We finished the contest short of 300 QSO’s. The two-keyboard SO2R feature is pretty slick for a single operator with a certain style, but not terribly useful for two operators. We never had much of a chance to really dig into it, since only one band was ever open at a time. It was handy to run on the left radio while Nick did S&P on the right, as I could listen to both radios in the left chair, I was able to help Nick pull out a few very weak multipliers on the right radio without leaving my run. I’d like to try it again on a much busier weekend.

Special thanks to Dave, K1TTT for the use of his FB station, and Nick, K1NZ, for making pierogi when things got slow. A very special thanks to Mr. Boston himself, who managed to help us through a 10 QSO hour on 40 — he’s the real MVP.

Call: WA1J
Operator(s): K1NZ N1TA
Station: K1TTT

Class: M/S HP
Operating Time (hrs):
Location: USA

Summary:   Compare Scores
Band CW Qs Ph Qs Mults
80: 37 9 16
40: 26 1 14
20: 150 62 16
Total: 213 72 46 Total Score 39,330

Worst conditions ever? Maybe…but it was fun anyway.

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