AC0GI -- 2008 ARRL November HF Phone Sweepstakes

HF conesting is a newer beast for us. The ARRL was doing quite a bit of hype for their 75th SS. We normally can't compete with stateside HF stations for DX because of our "little pistol" station, which meant that the stateside "only" contest was perfect for us. We used N3FJP logger which we are feeling like we are outgrowing. Per contest rules Multi-op stations are allowed to use packet clusters, which we've not used to any success before. This contest we finally figured out how they are supposed to be used and how valuable they can be.

-Shack improvements. John's shack is getting more and more comfortable. In the past we tried heating with a Kerosene heater, which created fumes and headaches. This time John had a dedicated power drop run for two electric heaters so we were able to keep the door closed and the heaters on.
-Domestic DX. While I'm sure diehard HF farts don't consider the Santa Barbra section true DX, this contest made it so. Several other "rare" sections were super hard to obtain and required being on the ball to bust the pileup. Strong domestic signals meant that headphones were often not needed.
-Going for the clean sweep. While we didn't obtain this goal it was fun to try for and I don't see why we couldn't reach this goal next year now that we have some idea what to do.
-Working some of the greats. Getting w1aw in the log was new. I'm sure that's not a big deal for the HF greats but coming from VHF land it was pretty novel.
-Working a robot. Two of the stations worked were super automated. The audio was pre-recorded and even the reply/exchange was made up of recorded numeric audio. Somehow this worked and didn't feel too odd, but after it happened I spent a few seconds thinking, "That guy just worked me and never opened his mouth.." The audio was super easy to understand. Is this the future of contesting?
-Weather. Not freezing during a November contest was novel. If this great weather continues into January, I'm going to feel obliged to rove in the VHF test, even though I've planned on being stationary. Be sure to check out the pictures to see how nice it was.

Lessons Learned:
-Some sort of human time rotation system, to maximise ops seems in order. Better coverage of the full 24 hours would seem like a good thing. This also may mean fresher ops and no gaps in greyline coverage.
-Maximise greyline coverage. Eat dinner early and ensure we are on deck for sun-down and sun-up events.
-Have good antennas for each band. The longwire dipole worked superb on 80m,40m and ok on 20m. It didn't perform well at all on 15m which is where almost all of the daytime DX is. Because daytime isn't a huge tonnage time, being able to work DX via 15m is critical to keeping up good rates. Otherwise daytime might be good off/downtime for sleep.
-Radio computer integration was huge. Being able to integrate packet spotting and have the radio switched to the correct freq saved loads of time.
-ATU. The ATU used with a packet cluster needs to be automatic. Taking the time to re-adjust a manual tuner from contact to contact, when the radio is flying from one band to the next, costs time. I'm not super happy with the current auto tuner we have (ldg z-100) but having some sort of auto tuner ended up being key to getting the rate up once we decided to run tonnage.
-Focus on the hard DX at the correct times. Spending time trying to work VI and/or PR during the day, when they come in solid at night may be a lost cause. Attempt to work the rare DX but refocus on tonnage if it isn't working. The DX will come in later provided we're around for it to happen and not so focused on tonnage that we aren't looking for DX.
-Audio processing. On VHF people are so desperate to work "anyone anywhere" that once you have a signal on the air, they will take the time to work you no matter who/what you are. On HF in the middle of a pileup, it may be of value to have an audio equalizer. This may be overkill, but it'd be nice to have some more "punchy" audio for busting thru the pile.

Pictures of the event are here