Sprinting with a Straight Key - QRP Style
So far in my CW/QRP trek I had not entered a contest nor tried to work so-called "sprints" other than making a few casual contacts. My copy skills and knowledge of what was going on just was not up to the task. But after getting my SKCC Centurion certificate last week I was motivated to accelerate my timeline for making the SKCC Tribune level and for that I needed 50 new Centurion contacts. This weekend was the December SKCC WES (weekend sprintathon) and I determined to make an effort to see how this sprint stuff worked.
I operated 5 watts QRP and used my Vibroplex Bug for most contacts but switched to my Kent Straight key for stations that were sending slower than 13 wpm.
SKCC operators only use manual keys; straight keys, bugs and cooties during SKCC contacts. So, in general, the operating speed is quite sedate compared to other sprints or contests. I'd guess most exchanges were below 20 wpm. That is a good thing for a new CW operator. The flip side to that is that the operators are all using manual keys and thus the precision of the Morse Code that would be lent by an electronic keyer is let's say, missing. While most stations I worked had great sounding FISTs I was challenged on a few occasions to copy some very non-standard sounding code so, as they say; YMMV.
For the most part I called CQ rather than tuning around for contacts. There were a few times where multiple stations answered at once and I admit that I couldn't make heads or tales of what I heard and just sent AGN? until I could hear part of one call separated from the others. I have a greater respect now for contest operators who can pick a call out of the cacophony of multiple stations calling on the same frequency.
My "Weekend" Sprintathon was actually only 3 hours
I only had the opportunity to operate for about 45 minutes Saturday morning when there were a lot of stations looking for contacts, then I had to break until around noon and the bands were not as lively. I then had another break until late afternoon before I had a Christmas party to attend, so in total I only had about 3 hours. The WES is actually still running but you can only operate for 24 hours of the 36 hour sprint so my 24 hour window is over.
In my 3 hours had a rather poor showing of 41 contacts but I recognize that if I could have operated longer during the morning and some Saturday evening I certainly could have logged more contacts. Nonetheless, it was a good experience. I realize I need to work on copying call signs. I'm used to listening to them at least a couple of times to copy them but often in a sprint or contest they are only sent once so you need to be listening carefully. After maybe a dozen more such sprints I might think about entering an actual contest.
My goal was to get 50 new Centurion contacts but as you can see from my log summary above there were only 3 "Cs" logged. Centurions appear to be the rarest of the breed so getting to Tribune is going to take longer than I thought.
Correction: I was contacted by a couple of SKCC members to tell me that any new contacts since my Centurion award with Cs, Ts or Ss count toward the Tribune. Also they told me the 24 hours is operating time rather than a window... so I should have hung in there but I already submitted my log so I'll know better next month.
So if you are a new(ish) CW operator and want a low stress, slow speed introduction to a contest "type" event, I can highly recommend the SKCC WES. I think it's also ideal for QRP operators because these don't seem to be zillowatt station operators or big-gun contester types working these events and your modest power should be sufficient. One suggestion is that if you're calling CQ rather than chasing stations you will only be getting called by stations who can hear you well enough to copy and likely their signal to you will be better than yours to them so that makes it even easier.
That's all for now
So lower your power and raise your expectations