ARRL November Sweepstakes – A Clean Sweep! (maybe?)

A Clean Sweep!  Contacts with every section in the US and Canada during the contest!!!!  This was about my third or fourth November Sweepstakes, but I finally did it — maybe.  Yes, I know that I made contacts with every section, but will it survive the log checking process?  With about 16 sections having only one contact in my log, there’s a chance that a busted call could rain on my parade.   One year, I lost three sections from busted calls. Another year, no losses.  It all depends on how well the  exchanges were handled by me and by the person on the other end.  Fortunately, the clean sweep mugs are based on submitted logs, not on post-processing.  Since I know that I made solid contacts with all 80 sections, I’m getting my mug! ;-)

After Field Day, this is one of my favorite contests.  Since I operate A-precedence, or Single Op Low Power, I don’t have any illusion of being a top gun in the contest, or even in my section.  My goals are simple – do better than previous years and, most important, get a clean sweep!  Two years ago, I set these goals, figuring that a clean sweep would be easy, so I just need to score high.  Boy, did I have a surprise in store for me.  Hitting 70 sections is fairly easy, but getting them all can be almost impossible!  The big surprise is always which sections are the last to be found.

While some sections are holdouts every year, the last few sections seems to always be different.  From North Carolina, the trend is usually the same – start with everything east of the Mississippi  through the evening hours on the first night. The following morning, take out the western US, Alaska and Hawaii.   Canadian sections will be interspersed throughout, moving from east to west throughout the contest.  So who are the tough sections?  The usual culprits generally include North Dakota, the Western Canadian Sections and Rhode Island, probably as much about population as about location.  But there are always a few strange ones that defy explanation.  One year, it took me forever to get South Carolina – just south of here! The same year, along with Alaska and WCF, I didn’t get West Virginia, just to the north!  Maybe local conditions weren’t meant to be that year.  Almost every year, one of the last sections I get is WCF, West-Central Florida.  Population again?  Maybe.  Last year, I missed 4 Canadian sections (NL, QC, MB, SK) and one US section, MS!  Why couldn’t I get Mississippi? 

This year, at least Murphy stayed away. Last year was a battle, but that’s another story. (See my sidebar article on the ARRL Website.)  Some minor problems with the computer again, but nothing serious.  The hamfest was a week earlier and my antenna stayed in the air.  I started with a quick sweep on 20 meters, making contacts with about a half-dozen stations in CA and zero-land. As expected, the real action started on the lower bands with most of the contacts during the evening on 80 meters, coming in from anywhere east of the Rockies.  Around 2 a.m., I shut it down to get some sleep.  Back on at 1430 z, I started playing on 15 and 20 meters.  This picked up a lot of west coast stations, plus a fair number of stations across the rest of the country.  A few hours later, I picked up Alaska and Hawaii, not too far apart. 

So who were the last few sections? The final ten (see table) took about 6 hours to clear. Only the last six looked like they wouldn’t happen – British Columbia, Southern New Jersey, Santa Barbara, West Central Florida, Alaska and Virgin Islands.  Alaska and Virgin Islands came in close together, on a surprisingly productive 15 meters.  Those two marked the transition from easy pickings to few and far between on the section hunt.

Time Section Band
17:23 LAX 15
18:14 PAC 15
18:43 NT 15
18:50 WTX 15
19:51 VI 15
19:58 AK 15
21:03 WCF 20
22:35 SB 20
22:49 SNJ 80
23:35 BC 20

Of the last four, British Columbia is understandable – western Canada, low population and about as far from me as it could get.  But the other three,  SB, WCF and SNJ, why didn’t I have them a lot earlier?  OK, so Santa Barbara is almost as far away as BC, but I’ve been getting California stations all day!  Where’s SB?  WCF?  That’s about 700 miles and I already had the rest of Florida!  Population issue again?  And the big surprise – Southern New Jersey?  Less than 500 miles?  Why isn’t SNJ in the log?  Whatever the reasons, persistence paid off.

Of all the section chases this year, two had interesting stories – SNJ and BC.  First, SNJ.  Throughout the contest, I was chasing stations.  Occassionally, I tried to start runs on different bands, but the result was the same.  I would call and call on a given frequency, but would get no contacts.  Over an hour of calling cq on three different bands resulted in only one contact.  I’d stop calling and go back to hunt and pounce and would immediately start making contacts again.  This was unusual for me.  Anyways, while chasing contacts, I would frequently tune in a station and prepare to make a contact, only to realize that I was listening to a SNJ station, a teenage (or younger) voice making the contact with the station that had the frequency.  Before I could even think of what to do, he was gone. (Or was it a she? No telling.) So how did I get SNJ? Just for grins, I decided to scan 80 meters.  It was a little early for the band, but what the heck.  The same thing happened again, only it was another SNJ station.  As they ended their contact, I keyed up and threw out “SNJ, up 3!”  To my surprise and delight, he answered, “QSL” and we made our contact!  He was only the second SNJ that I heard all weekend.

That left British Columbia.  BC was a frustration point for me now.  I really should have had it already.  I made a contact with a BC station several hours ago, got all of his exchange info, but he was having trouble hearing me.  After only three attempts, he gave up and threw the exchange out, with nobody waiting to call him.  I wish he hadn’t given up so early.  Now, I’m scanning every band, on a mission to find the last, elusive section.  I was also starting to look for backups for the 16 or so sections where I only had one contact, just in case some of the calls get busted in log checking.  While scanning 20 meters yet again, I stumbled on a strong station.  Let’s find out where he is and put another contact in the log.  Big surprise, it’s BC, and not much of a pileup!  I made the call, put him in the log and thanked him for the sweep!   He told me he was getting close, but still had a ways to go.

With a clean sweep under my belt and over three hours to go, I worked another 54 stations, backing up some sections and adding points to the score. I did notice that during the last hour, the pressure was getting to people.  The tempo of contacts on the air seemed to be picking up. Operators seemed less and less inclined to participate in the occassional “How are you doing in the contest?” chats.  Finally, with 6 minutes to go, I stumbled on a station in a section that I needed to back up.  He was pretty loud, but there was a pile up and he was taking a long time to make contacts.  With each contact taking a full minute, I guess he hadn’t learned the concept of efficiency of words yet. No matter, I had my sweep and was happy with the whole contest!

The result:

The previous two years yielded almost the same results – 253 QSOs reported and 10 busted contacts both years!  In 2007, 77 sections reported, one busted.  In 2008, a little worse with 75 reported and 2 busted sections. That put both years at around 36,000 points.  Still, not a bad performance for about 15 hours each year.

So how did this year end?   80 sections, 327 contacts and 52,320 points claimed.  Let’s see if I do better on busted calls this year.  Woohoo! Time to order that Clean Sweep mug!

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