W4AU's Story from the 2001 Edition of the Virginia QSO Party

John Unger, W4AU

I feel that preparation is always an important part of doing well in
any endeavor, and the VAQP is no exception to this rule. I started
getting ready for the QP back in early February. I knew that I
needed better antennas for both 40 and 80 meters, not just for the
VAQP, but in general for domestic contests. I had been making do
with various varieties of Windom antennas for about three years, but
their inherent limitation of needing a tuner on all bands and their
propensity for putting RF in the shack had been a constant problem,
especially when trying to run high power. After some urging from
Charlie, K4LJH, and some modeling with EZNEC, I finally settled on
putting up a Double-extended Zepp for 40 meters. The Zepp is cut for
7050 kHz and covers about 150 kHz at the bottom of 40. Not only does
it load fine with a tuner at the high end of 40, but it also loads
up well on all the HF bands above 40. For 80 meters I just took down
the Windom completely and replaced it with an 80 meter dipole that
was cut for 3525 kHz; it loads fine in the 75 meter phone band with
my tuner. Also, with the help of Craig, N4OHE, I had raised my
KT-34A tribander on a new mast to a bit over 50 feet.

I spent a lot of time tuning TRLog for the VAQP and trying to
minimize the "conflicts" between the various VAQP county and
independent city mults and the normal state and province mults. LARG
was going to have a lot of people on the air trying to use TRLog and
I wanted to make it as easy as possible, especially for the mobile
guys. I knew that I was going to be making a lot of SSB QSO's if
everything was going well, so I hooked up my digital voice keyer
(DVK) card and set it up to do some of the talking for me. I like
this particular DVK card because it is integrated with TRLog and
sends the appropriate messages on SSB like TRLog does on CW whether
you are calling CQ or S&Ping.

I had my main rig, a TenTec Omni VI+ and Alpha 78 amplifier, all
hooked up and tested and set up a backup rig using my Kenwood
TS-850AT and Drake L-4B amp. I had them wired through my "two-radio"
interface box, not because I contemplated using two rigs during the
contest but because this interface allows me to use the computer,
paddles and keyer, and boom mike with either rig. The Omni VI setup
worked flawlessly for the entire contest, and I didn't use the
backup at all during the QP.

However, even after all of this the 2001 edition of the Virginia QSO
Party had an inauspicious start for me. I had gone through my
somewhat elaborate check list prior to the start of the QP, but
Murphy was just waiting for me to start up at 1800Z. After a few
QSO's on 40SSB, my computer running TRLog immediately froze up and
had to be rebooted. After doing this a few times, I suspected that I
was experiencing some sort of conflict with my DVK card. I disabled
this useful device, and all my problems disappeared, but now my
natural vocal chords were going to have to do all the CQing for over
24 hours. I had never had this problem before with the DVK card, but
that's the way Murphy works (N4PD told me later that it was because
I hadn't had any Guiness Stout on St. Patrick's Day...).

I started off the QP by running off eight quick QSO's with fellow
LARGer's on 2 meters and then began serious search and pouncing on
40SSB, working K4NVA for the 500 point bonus for my first QSO on
that band. I soon found a hole (or maybe just a slight depression)
in the QRM and began calling CQ. I knew that I must be loud on 40
because I was able to hold the frequency without any problems and
was rewarded with 40 quick QSO's in the next 25 minutes. Tom,
WB3AKD, found me from Northhampton County as I started out on 40SSB
and again near the end of that run from Accomack County for the
first of eleven contacts with him that I would have as he roamed
eastern and north-central Virginia. Then I went down to the CW
portion of 40 starting about 1900Z and put 50 two-point Q's in the
log, including some 3-point 2-meter mobile contacts. I jumped back
to 40SSB and then down to 40CW again in the 2000Z hour and finally
left 40 to go to 20SSB after making 171 QSO's and 58 mults on 40
meters and 2 meters in the first three hours of the QP.

As you can tell from my rate sheet, 20SSB started off well and got
better and better! The rate meter in TRLog, which shows the average
number of QSO's per hour you have made in the last 10 minutes, was
over 90 a number of times, and my log shows that I was putting 4
QSO's per minute in the log every once in a while. Virtually all of
the stations calling were from the western and central U.S.; my only
DX QSO's during this run were SM, YV, EI, and GM.

About 2300Z I felt like I should really back to 40 and then try 80
so that I could put some more of those valuable CW contacts in the
log. Both 40 and 80CW seemed pretty slow and devoid of activity, so
about 0000Z I moved up to 80SSB where I felt loud, got some
encouraging signal reports, and got a pretty good run going for
about 30 minutes, then the QRM and "Pig Farmers" began to get the
best of me, and I dropped back down to 80CW where I was able to run
stations at a slow, but steady rate for over an hour.

After a short break about 0230Z, I went to 20CW and worked a handful
of watery Russians in the Russian DX contest who were willing to
give me a QSO number, but that got old pretty fast, so I went back
to 40CW and 80CW to work a few more stations there before settling
back in on 20SSB, where I would stay until going QRT for the night
at 0621Z. Again the rates were good, with mostly west coast stations
calling me plus a few Virginia stations on back scatter.

About 0300Z Jinx (the cat) came marching into the shack trying to
tell me in his best cat language that it was now his bed time and
that he should get his kitty treats and that I should leave his room
so that he could get some sleep. You see, I think of the back room
of the house as my ham shack, while Jinx considers it his room.
Well, that night we compromised by me giving him his treats and
closing the door like I do every night, and he graciously consented
to allow me to continue to operate in the QP.

As the hour grew late, things began to open up over the Pacific and
I logged Hawaii and V73JK (Marshall Islands) about 0415Z. 3D2ER from
Fiji and an 8R1WD (Guyana) called me shortly after that. An hour or
so later three VK's called in, and right before I turned off the rig
for the night, ZL1AD called in from Auckland with a FB signal. A
great way to end the first "half" of the VAQP: 593 Q's in the log
for the first 12 hours of the QP and 26 hours left for me to operate
if I could pry my tired body out of bed by 1200Z in the morning! I
felt good except for being extremely tired and having a very dry
throat. I had been sucking on hard candy and cough drops, which
seemed to help, but I wasn't sure I was going to be able to keep up
with the SSB rates the next day.

I had set the alarm for 1100Z (actually for 6:00 a.m., but we're
serious radio operators here who talk in UTC...). I had gotten the
coffee all ready to brew the night before, so I went downstairs and
put that on and turned on the computer, rig, and amplifier and then
went back upstairs to have a nice hot shower. It might sound like a
waste of time, but it is something that really helps my body and
mind wake up and get ready for the long day in front of the radio
that I knew was lying ahead. I also had a somewhat leisurely
breakfast and at 1215Z walked into the shack with my second cup of
coffee to enter fray.

I went right to 40SSB and CW where rates were slow but steady; it
seemed like people were just starting to wake up. Just before 1400Z
I noticed that 15 meters was beginning to sound lively so I went up
there with my beam pointed to the northeast for the first time and
began to put some European mults in the log. 15 seemed to dry up
pretty quickly, and the rates were not all that good, so I went to
10SSB where I found a few more Europeans and some locals. For these
first three hours I was putting QSO's in the log but was having to
work pretty hard and was moving around the bands a lot to make those

I took a short break about 1500Z and went outside and walked around
for about 15 minutes in the bright, clear, cold morning air. I came
back inside and settled down on 40SSB where I worked about 60
stations in 45 minutes and began to feel like I was getting back
into the "groove" again.

At 1547Z I logged my 703rd QSO, which had been my highest previous
number of QSO's in the VAQP (1999). I began thinking that 1000 QSO's
were a real possibility and started doing mental calculations about
what it would take to break the All Time high single operator score
of ~175,000 points. (However, after being in front of the rig for so
long my mental capabilities were not too hot; I don't think I was
able to figure out how many Q's I would need at that point!)

About 1630Z I went up to what was to be my "money" band, 20SSB,
turned the beam northeast again and began to run... U.S. stations;
couldn't seem to find anything going to Europe. So the beam goes
back west, and I'm off to the races, putting ~100 Q's in the log in
the next hour and 15 minutes.

About 1800Z my brother and niece stopped by on their way back to
Pennsylvania from visiting a friend in Fairfax. So I took a 30
minute break, which I needed, to visit with them and get a bite to
eat for lunch. The break seemed to help a lot, and I was able to get
back into the swing of things pretty easily on 20SSB after they

Remembering how well 40 had played at this time the day before, I
went to 40SSB about 1940Z and right away received a good omen, I
worked WB3AKD for two new county mults. However, I had been looking
at my CW QSO total and realized that it was quite low compared to
previous years so I spent an hour on 40CW putting 27 more two-point
Q's in the log.

At 2128Z I made the last big band change, went to 20SSB (I had been
sucking on throat lozenges all the time I had been on CW), tweaked
up the beam and amp, settled down in chair and "went to work". I
know I would be on the air continuously for the next 4 hours
straight, when I would have to leave to pick up Carolyn at the
airport. At 2153Z N4GJ gave me my 1000th QSO from SC, and I felt on
top of the world!

The rest of the QP is sort of a blur. I did go to 80 briefly for a
few Q's on SSB and CW, and, like all the rest of the time, when a
run would slow down I would turn up the volume on the 2-meter rig
and see about working some FM. As the QP wound down, I had both KP2
and KP4 call me from the Caribbean as well as a maritime mobile from
VP2V (British Virgin Islands). The bell rang for me at 0127Z with
QSO 1174 and a big grin on my face. I could hardly speak above a
quiet conversational voice and felt like I had a golf ball in my
throat, but it was over and I had done better than I had ever
envisioned I could. What a feeling!

Right now my preliminary numbers look something like this:

896 Phone QSO's
171 CW QSO's
94 VA Mobile QSO's
13 dupes

34 DX mults
48 State mults (missed VT)
62 VA county/cities
8 Canadian Prov.

TOTAL SCORE: 231,040 points