Contesting with Stealth Antenna Limitations - Defining Your Own Rules for Winning
A buddy of mine W9SN has a receive 4-square and a set of full-sized phased array verticals for 160M. A 80m full size 4-square. A 40m full size 4-square. And a bunch of beams for the high bands. And as big-guns go, even this set of antennas would be considered a "minimum acceptable" level of hardware!
There is no way on earth I am ever going to be able to outscore that guy unless the terms of battle are set in a way that I would have an advantage.
For me, fun with contesting is not about a misguided dream of knocking off W9SN, K3LR, K5GO or N0NI, to name a few. It's about changing the terms of the battle so that I can win.
These ideas are not new and have been published many times before elsewhere but I think they are important especially for guys like me - operating from the typical restricted QTH with any sort of stealth antenna.
Set Your Own Rules
Just like James Kirk at the Star Fleet Academy, the solution here is to refuse the no-win situation and change the rules so that we can prevail. Here are some ideas of how the terms of battle can be redefined to your favor.
Contest Participation as a Tool for Hardware/Antenna Evaluation
I typically will make 100-200 QSO in just about any contest of interest specifically for the purpose of seeing how my antennas or rig or amp or whatever hardware is working. Contests are especially great for this purpose because you can see which directions the antenna seems to work after your last adjustment session.
And for the stealth antenna contester, nothing beats actual performance from a large number of QSO to let you know how you are doing - because of the compromises inherent in a stealth antenna, modeling and trimming to our best ability will never fully reveal the antenna's performance in the same way the same antenna "in free space" would...
Better Your Prior Score
It's said that Olympic athletes are competing against their prior best effort. For the upcoming 2011 ARRL RTTY RU, this is the criteria that I will be using to gage my performance.
Chasing DXCC? Contests are DXCC Fish-in-a-Barrel
In the recent CQ WW DX CW contest, I operated on 80 and 40m primarily, with a bit of 20/15m. Just two hours of op time total. The goal was to get feel for how the antennas were working with the DX available.
Results? 110 QSO, 51 countries worked. 23 countries on 80m, 30 countries on 40m.
Chasing WAS or Other Paper? Same.
Limit the Competition
Most contests have regional and single band categories.
AK0A took 1st place in the US at the 2010 RTTY RU running just an LPDA antenna at 40'. How did he do it? Single Operator, Single Band - and a long history of good operating skills brought to the battle.
Bandwidth as the Great Equalizer
For the little pistol, SSB contesting is a lot more difficult than other modes because of the sideband width. The best filtering on earth cannot keep a big gun's sidebands from over-running your operation frequency.
On the other hand, naturally narrow bands like CW, RTTY and PSK generally can be sorted out even if you have some strong guys next to you.
I realize CW is considered "old school" by many in our no-code license world. But with a 100-200 hz bandwidth needed for CW or RTTY, narrow bandwidth modes like CW offer many more "clear frequency" opportunities than SSB.
RTTY with it's 100% duty cycle nature is a tough mode - especially when it seems like the universe of RTTY contests are primarily high power. The great thing about RTTY is that the computer does most of the hard work - allowing the operator to focus more on operation choices (what band would give me the best rates now?) than any other mode. If you've not tried RTTY before, it's worth looking into. RTTY is my favorite mode for these reasons - especially when I'm 30 hours into a contest where my "CW ears" would have died long ago....
Power vs. Receive Noise Level - Something to Consider
Stealth antenna equipped contesters are, by definition, in higher noise environments than those with seperation between household QRN/QRM generators.
If you are running power, you may being called by many guys that you cannot hear - especially if we are talking about lower bands. You may event be spotted as "strong but deaf!"
Running power puts you in a more difficult categroy of competition. So is there a case to be made for running in the low power category (100w?) that most contests offer.
You would avoid the "strong, but deaf" problem. But then you may just improve to a more balanced "cannot hear, and cannot be heard."
So what's the answer? Take greater steps to quiet down the domestic noise level. You are likly to be at an antenna disadvantage already, so running power is the remaning way to offset that. Clean out your ears - to the limit possible - and seek/destroy all the QRM/QRN noise sources within your domicile. There's a few comments on the Stealth Antennas page on the subject of noise elimination - CLICK HERE.