The LARGEST Vermont QSO Party Ever!
It was another year of low sunspot numbers which usually does not help the results. But we had two major factors going for us this time. This was the second year of the State QSO Party Challenge with more people finding out about this event and many other people actively working to bring their listing higher up on the Leader Board. And the second thing, which I’ll term, Ham Radio COVID factor, where the numbers of people getting on for events goes way up. It could be argued that folks don’t have much else to do these days, but we’ll take the results anyway. While we all are looking forward to saying “Sayonara” to COVID, we also hope that the increased participation stays around.
Conditions were pretty much the same as last year at the start. A nice run started things off on 40 meters until it went long, and then a smaller run on 80 meters. The morning brought so-so conditions into Europe on 20 meters, but multipliers were there if you worked at it. The new Eurasia contest made its debut and helped bring more stations on the air. But I have to admit, copying their 6 digit grid squares on HF was a chore! With a lot more people on CW, quick forays to CW kept the rate up when phone conditions sagged. FT8 was the go-to mode for late night operation when phone just didn’t produce. It was also useful to stay on the air while taking breaks for trivial things like eating.
With COVID this year, there was no multiop at Host Station W1NVT – just me, myself and I. Others were invited to put W1NVT on from their locations, but everyone elected to use their own callsigns. I did run FT8 on other bands simultaneously with runs on 20 meter phone, which made Vermont stations on digital more accessible.
Sunday morning started out slowly. Another new contest, the EU Contest, kept the DX coming in. In the afternoon, stateside rates continued at a torrid pace. However, by 2000Z, things were slowing down. I kept seeing cluster spots for 15 meters, so I cautiously gave it a try. The rates weren’t great at first, but I was providing a new band for many stations looking for Vermont. Then, all hell broke loose and the rates jumped way up. After an hour or so, 15 meters was getting worked out. I made the rather strange decision to go back down to 20 meters instead of up to 10 meters which was opening up. It was a good choice – 20 meters was insane. Speaking and typing as fast as I could go, I could barely keep up at the rate jumped well over 300 for a short time. The reason – 20 meters opened to short skip all over the Northeast. This in addition to everywhere else in the country being heard made for some fun times. For the last hour, I got in a small run on 10 meters to finish it all up. Who needs the Stupid Bowl – we got ourselves a tremendous opening.
And this is the point which bears repeating. NEVER turn the radio off in the middle of an event. Many did just that and missed out on the fun. Keep plugging away until the final bell tolls because you never know what propagation will do! Host station W1NVT ended up with over 2600 QSO’s and 200 multipliers on 6 bands and 3 modes. If you didn’t work us, you must have had your radio switched off!
This year, 31 Vermont stations submitted logs up from 23 last year. The number of QSO's these stations made was WAY UP from 9282 to 15122 QSO's. Not every Vermont operator elected to submit logs. Below is a list of other Vermont stations who we knew were active. While many only made a few contacts, there are some call signs in this list which were seen in many logs. With 32 stations submitting logs and another 36 not submitting logs, that results in total of 67 Vermont stations on the air that we know of, which is the highest ever. We always get comments like, "Where were you guys?" The key point is that Vermont IS a RARE state. We only have around 1000 higher class (above Technician) licensees and many of those hams do not have HF stations. The challenge is that you have to look carefully for Vermont stations, whether it is on SSB, CW or FT8. Tune around and also use the DX-Clusters and spotting networks, and you will find those rare Vermont stations!
All of the Vermont multipliers were available, but you had to work hard to find them. Some of the rare counties were activated by N1FS/M and K1IB/M. But most of these QSO's were on CW, so you had to be on that mode to work the rare counties. Unfortunately, we saw minimal activity from Orleans, Franklin and Grand Isle counties as the rovers did not activate these. There were 1-2 stations on very briefly from these counties. This was surprising because Franklin County has a number of active hams. No rover activated Grand Isle county, even though it is only 20 minutes from heavily populated Chittenden county. On FT8, 4 Vermont grid squares, FN32, FN33, FN34 and FN44 were available as multipliers. Three club stations, W1NVT, W1JXN, and N1FS/M were available for extra multiplers on the various modes.
The number of CW contacts increased this year from 2101 up to 3405, a 62% increase. The more CW activity there is, the more folks will go to that mode to make contacts. The Vermont QSO Party does not have mode categories and one of the reasons for this is that we encourage everyone to operate as many bands and modes as they can to put more signals on the air.
Over on the digital side, the number of FT8/FT4 doubled from 986 to 1914 QSO’s mainly because of the SO5B operation of KI1P. However, the number
of outside Vermont stations using FT8 increased dramatically as many stations realized that more contacts and multipliers can be had on this mode.
Top VT Stations
Zach W1JXN (Chittenden / FN34) moved up from 2nd place to a great 1st place of 227k using low power on phone, CW, FT8 and RTTY. He reports only using wire antennas, as his antenna farm is still being approved by zoning. He did not score an impressive amount on any band or mode, but was active on ALL of them, proving that a modest station with a great operating ethic can indeed win events.
Ron KK1L (Chittenden / FN34) went full time in this year’s event and turned in a very impressive 207k on phone with a bit of FT8 all while running low power. His phone numbers were the highest of any single op station.
Paul AA1SU (Chittenden / FN34) repeats with a third place finish, improving this year to152k, running high power on phone, CW and FT8
Joe K1VMT (Lamoille) repeats with a fourth place finish of 129k, this year running low power CW only. His CW QSO’s nearly doubled everyone else’s.
Randy N1SP (Bennington) is a newcomer to the top five with 120k, running low power phone and CW.
The rest of the top ten included a number of “horses” who ran up big totals, mostly on 20 meter phone, N1JEZ, KB1FRW and WX1O, in addition to N1SFR on CW. It was partially through their efforts that Vermont was a lot easier to work this year.
In the multiop competition, NS1DX (Bennington) was the air from K2LE’s super station in southern Vermont, piloted remotely by Gerry W1VE and Ed K1EP . They combined for 323k points running tremendous numbers on phone and a good number of CW as well.
Chris KI1P (Washington / FN34) set up and successfully ran a SO5R operation (single-op, FIVE radios) on FT8. This is in addition to 5 computers and 5 antennas. The radios were set to all transmit at the same time, eliminating any interference. He worked an incredible 1026 FT8 QSO’s for a score of 172k. Initially, I did not know what category to consider this. However, a single operator station can only transmit on one band at a time, which ultimately put this operation into the multioperator category.
The true heroes of the QSO Party are the rovers who deal with winter weather to put all those rare counties on the air. N1FS/M was piloted by Kevin KE1VT, Rob N1TRK and Brett K1VYS from the back of a box ambulance. They report that sitting in the back of moving ambulance made them sick! But they still managed to visit 10 counties and rack up 40k points. There were also rover activations by Mark NN1R, and Mill K1IB/M.
All submitted logs were required to be uploaded to the WA7BNM robot which does some basic checks to make sure that the log is in the correct Cabrillo format. When all the logs are received, they are processed through a program which compares QSO’s. In other words, if W1YYY shows a QSO with W6ZZZ on 20 meter SSB at 1800 on February 6, W6ZZZ’s log should show the same. If the contact is missing from the other log, it is called a NIL (Not In Log). Or else, if the callsign is copied wrong, or the band or the mode or date is wrong, the QSO is flagged. Virtually all contest sponsors check QSO’s in this manner. Unlike the ARRL and CQ, we do not assess a penalty – just the bad QSO is not counted. And unlike other sponsors, all flagged QSO’s are checked by a human (uh, that would be me), to accurately assess who made the error.
With more logs submitted and more QSO’s made, a LOT more errors were made. Besides the busted callsigns, many QSO’s showed the wrong band or mode. Some of our Vermont counties bedevil operators. In particular Windham (WNH) and Windsor (WNS) drive everyone crazy, especially on CW, where 1 dit is the difference. A few mix up Orange County (ORA) with the ARRL Orange Section (ORG). And some ops get confused with the NE QSO Party multipliers which add "VT" to the country abbreviation, using RUTVT instead of just RUT. We allowed that for this year, but in future QSO parties, please use the correct abbreviation. In some cases, only 1 or 2 QSO’s were made and all had miscopied information, meaning that there were no valid QSO’s made. This is unfortunate. An alarming number of NIL’s were found. In some cases, stations claimed credit but the other guy didn’t copy you and you were not logged. This happens a lot. When operating, I will go back to one station and two stations are talking back to me, even though I am clear who I am responding to. That will result in one station being a NIL. In other cases, it was determined that a few Vermont stations (all experienced ops) had logging issues where groups of QSO’s were somehow missing or the times were over 30 minutes off. In cases like this we term it an ”unstable log” and do not remove the NIL’s.
The ultimate goal is to strive to get more accurate in our operating. That is the paramount of being a good operator. As a contester who loses hundreds of busted QSO’s each year or NILs which I know were good, I definitely feel your pain!
We received 367 logs representing 3922 QSO’s from stations outside of Vermont, another big improvement.
This improved on the 253 logs with 2167 QSO's we observed last year.
Overall, we received logs from 46 states, 8 provinces and 3 countries.
Top Outside of VT Stations
Bob W9IZ from Indiana is this year’s winner. who ran away from the pack and set a new record.. Bob combined a tremendous CW effort, good phone effort and an amazing FT8 total of 18 Vermont QSO’s. Excellent job!
Dave WN4AFP from South Carolina takes 2nd place with excellent efforts on phone and CW. Dave is one of the major QSO Party players and took the top spot in 2018. It is good to see him in the top ten again!
For 3rd place, things get interesting!
Carl NX3A from Virginia winds up with 2775 points and Jeff N8II from West Virginia ends up with 2772 points. This will be judged to be a statistical tie for 3rd and both will get the maple syrup. Carl was the leader in CW contacts and ran high power, while Jeff was the leader in phone contacts and ran low power. Jeff is a regular in the top ten. who also finished 3rd last year. The rather complicated scoring of the Vermont QSO Party means that one cannot make any assumptions about score until all the math is complete!
Axel KI6RRN from California takes the 5th spot with 2208 points, moving up from 8th place last year.
In the top 20 spots, 8 out of 10 call areas, plus a VE and a DX are represented. There is little advantage for location in this event! We do not get a high number of DX participants, but Laci OM2VL finished 9th (up from 10th last year) even though his signal has 4100 miles to travel to get to Vermont. And while operators in the Northeast mention that it is hard to work Vermont due to the skip zone on 20 and 40 meters, last years' winner was Mark K1RO from New Hampshire.
Last year 76, stations outside of Vermont earned certificates by placing in the top 10 or working 10 Vermont stations. This year 147 stations outside of Vermont will receive certificates. I have a full time job! Next year, we will definitely raise the bar!
In the Vermont competition, certificates will go out to the top 5 single op finishers, top multi op finisher and top rover finisher. In addition, all Vermont stations making over 100 QSO’s will also get a certificate.
In the Outside Vermont competition, the “grand prize” for the 2021 Vermont QSO Party is a souvenir 3.4 oz jug of genuine Vermont Maple Syrup which goes to the top 3 Outside Vermont Single Op finishers who are within the U.S. You guys worked hard for those contacts and we recognize you with a product which is uniquely Vermont. If you’ve never had Maple Syrup before, it is very sweet and very concentrated, so a little goes a long way! Here in Vermont it is the breakfast topping of choice on pancakes, waffles or jacked deer steak (!?). Enjoy!
Certificates will also go out to the top 10 stations outside Vermont and stations outside Vermont working 10 or more QSO’s.
Operating events like QSO Parties are living things. As such, we have to consider changes which will make the event better and attract more participants. We always like to hear from everyone to consider appropriate changes.
Digital FT8 and FT4 operation. More participants are embracing these modes and this is good. However, since these modes use grid squares and not states or counties, multipliers are very different. Stations outside Vermont can only pick up 5 grids in Vermont vs. 14 counties, so multipliers are fewer on digital. Stations in Vermont can work a ton of grid squares all over the world. To not give FT8 an advantage, the total number of grids is divided by 4. Perhaps we need to divide by 3 to make it fairer.
Vermont County abbreviations. Vermont counties are abbreviated with the first 3 letters of the county, EXCEPT for Windsor and Windham, which are WNS and WNH and these are difficult to distinguish on CW. We have heard many suggestions, and many of these might even make the situation worse. Ideas? Maybe we leave it alone?
Operating Period. Vermont QSO Party is unique in that it is a 48 operating period. Too long? Then operate less. The full weekend allows a lot of different propagation possibilities. For example, if we were just on Saturday (like many QSO Parties), everyone would have missed the super 15-10-6 meter opening on Sunday. And while little activity takes place in the late evening, some of the FT8 operators love this period.
More categories. We have resisted this for a very important reason. If we had categories by mode, operators would stay on that particular mode. However, to do well in this event, you have to embrace as many modes as possible, which helps build activity on modes like CW and digital. With certificates issued for QSO's, most participants are competing against themselves and not other participants who have larger stations.
Certificates for QSO's. It is time to raise the bar on this, as stations are making a lot more QSOs. With 147 certificates issued for Outside Vermont stations and another 23 for Vermont stations, the work is getting prohibitive. And we want to challenge operators to do better. Look for certificate level to jump to 15 or 20 for Outside Vermont stations.
Other comments? We're always listening!
We had a tremendous turnout in the Vermont QSO Party for 2021, bolstered by the State QSO Party Challenge.
And most everyone tells me they had a load of fun.
We look forward to upcoming years of great participation.