QRP Hours Contest 2011

Last night was the night for the CW Operators’ QRP Club QRP Hours Contest 2011. This contest is really two 80 m contests in one. The first hour is for CW, PSK31 or RTTY and the second hour is for SSB. This year is my first attempt at this contest.
The aim of the contest is to promote QRP, or reduced power, operation and stations are encouraged to run 5 Watts or a maximum of 10 Watts.
I decided that I would have a go at  just the SSB section and, knowing how bad the noise on 80 m is at home, looked around for a suitable place to operate from. My initial thoughts were to work from a National Park such as Churchill or Dandenong Ranges so others could claim contacts for the Keith Roget Memorial National Parks Award but my time available was restricted due to transport duties for my daughter, again.
I settled on a hill close to home in Dewhurst known locally as Elephant Rock. It’s called Elephant Rock as there is a rock there that, with some imagination or creative painting, looks like an elephant. For many years the locals have painted this rock to advertise events and such. On this occasion it is announcing the nuptials of Katie and Will Bodsworth who happened to have been married on the same day as the contest. I have no idea who Katie and Will are but for a while the rock will bear their names.
I arrived at the site with about 15 minutes to set up before the start. I placed my 10m squid pole, inside a length of PVC pipe, against a bollard and used two ratchet straps to hold it in position. Ratchet straps are used for securing loads to trucks and trailers but they are much quicker and better for this application than lashings with rope.
I attached the antenna, an inverted Vee suitable for 20 m and 80 m and extended the pole up to full height. This took the apex of the inverted Vee to about 9 metres. A ran the ends of the antenna out to a tree and an abandoned trampoline frame and tied them off. I ran the coax to the car and attached my MKARS80 home brew QRP rig. I was powering the rig from a 7 Ah gel cell battery. This was the first real contest effort for this rig and I must say it performed well.
The contest started at 1100 UTC and I sat on 3.575 MHz for the first 10 minutes and the rig held there no problems at all. I was working one station per minute and things were going well. Ian, VK3FIDC, came up and asked if I could moved as he was in a conversation with somebody a couple of kHz up and I was causing him problems. Now I’m not too fussed with protocol for who uses what frequency when and since I had been on 3.575 MHz for 10 minutes I took a look around and see who else I could work.
It was then that one of the idiosyncrasies on the MKARS80 started to work against me. The radio has a locking system that takes 3 or 4 seconds to lock the VFO. It is also tuned by a knob that covers about 300 kHz in 180 degrees of turning. Compare that to my FT 757 that tunes 10 kHz per dial revolution and you can see why it would be difficult to tune around and find stations to work. I seemed to always be moving over them too quickly to hear them and when I did hear them by the time my brain had told my fingers to stop turning the VFO was 20 kHz past them. 
This is not meant as a criticism of the rig, for what it cost and what it does is fantastic but it is a limitation of the design in use. After I make the 10 turn pot and varactor mod to my BITX20 I may do the same to this rig.
My contact rate slowed significantly as I found most of the station I came across I had already worked. This is not unusual for small short duration contests in Australia. In the second 10 minutes I added only five contacts to my log and then the last forty minutes saw only 3 more marks on the page.
It took about 6 minutes to pack up the antenna and I was on my way.
I went back up to the site this morning and set the antenna again so I could get some photos of it during the daylight. With no wind it stands quite well with just the two elements holding it in place. If the wind were to increase then a rope from the apex out to the ground away from the elements would help. I also need to add something at about the 7 metre height to take the weight of the coax off the top section as that too is causing the the top to bend.
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