One of my favorite ham radio contests (and the very first one I ever tried) is the ARRL November Sweepstakes. Whenever I can take the opportunity, I like to work the Sweepstakes on CW running QRP levels. I hadn’t managed to participate during the past couple of years, and this year I wanted to resume the tradition.

I had to cobble together an antenna on Saturday morning before I could even try to work the sweepstakes. So, I pulled out the trusty SD-20 fiberglass telescoping fishing pole and used it to support a 1/4-wave vertical for 20m. I strapped it to the side of my wooden gazebo (although calling it a gazebo is being fairly generous), laid down four radials of indeterminate length, and found that it gave me an SWR of better than 2:1 without benefit of tuner. Seemed to hear decently, too. Good enough. (In case you’re wondering, the answer is no–I don’t have a permanent antenna for HF installed. I’d offer various excuses for that, but I won’t waste your time…)

It was Sunday morning, though, before I actually got a chance to fire up the rig and work some contacts. My “contest station” consists of my ICOM IC706MKIIG and the aforementioned antenna, a Rigblaster Plug & Play interface, and my computer running N1MM’s logging software. The hardware and software worked fabulously; the same could not always be said for the operator, of course. I was breaking a number of good operating and constesting “rules,” like “know your logging software” (I’d hardly ever used N1MM logger and practically had to learn it all over again), and “get your station in tip-top shape” (see the paragraph above regarding my antenna). Luckily, Murphy never visited my station during the contest, and things went fairly smoothly.

Having not done much operating for the past year, my CW copying was a bit rusty, but as the morning progressed I got more comfortable with the higher speeds you usually encounter during Sweepstakes. I operated “search & pounce” at 5 watts for seven or eight hours on Sunday morning and early afternoon, and I bagged a grand total of 97 contacts in 40 ARRL sections on 20m. This vastly exceeded my expectations–I had no idea if anyone would hear me on the antenna I threw together. And, having a wife and an active weekend schedule, I didn’t expect to be able to operate more than a few hours. So it was a great success as far as I was concerned.

As usual, most of the stations I worked were in the B and U classes. I worked a small number of A and M stations, and only 1 Q station. The Q station was (I believe) KC5R, and he had over 500 contacts when I worked him. I was able to work most stations that I called, although I stuck mainly to the stronger stations that I heard. I wasn’t able to get the attention of the PR or VI stations I heard, though. Pretty-much everyone I worked sent me a serial number with at least three digits (some with four!), so I have no illusions about how my measly 97 contacts will measure up. But, for a guy who’s been on the air as little as me over the past year, it was a fabulous time!

So, what about the rest of youse guys?

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