CQ Magazine’s Worldwide VHF contest takes place each July and seems to get mixed reviews. It takes place only on 6m and 2m, or 50 Mhz and 144 MHz. Those who like to work the higher bands often skip this contest. Most activity seems to take place on 6m FT8, a digital mode that hams seem to either love or hate. I roved with 6m and 2m loops by M2Inc during last year’s CQ WW VHF contest and achieved modest results with modest effort, making just 35 contacts from four grid squares. I have my larger Contest Module available in 2023; however, my car was scheduled for a shop visit after the contest to address an air conditioning problem. So, I opted to run with my “Compact Module” (pictured) since it was quick and easy to remove after the contest.
Compared to my Contest Module setup, I was giving up 7 dB of gain on 2m and 3 feet of height on both bands. Still, I felt that was a worthwhile sacrifice for my upcoming maintenance visit as well as this being a “smaller contest.” One change that I’ll point out between the photo above and the one at the right is that I’ve switched to a 6m Moxon by SAL Electronics. I wanted an antenna that would center over the car when I opted to drive it down the road sideways. It also seems like a sturdier antenna than my “stressed Moxon.” My first stop was Afton Mountain. I wanted to stop there during June’s ARRL VHF contest, but ran out of time. This stop in FM08 was first on my list this time! I made just six contacts from this scenic overlook. All contacts were via FT8 instead of voice. Those with a sharp eye might notice that my new 6m Moxon is mounted backwards in this photo. UGH! I wasn’t paying attention when I mounted it! It was too hot to address on the road. So, I continued and planned to fix it at home.
I don’t think it had any effect on the number of contacts made since I was rotating during my CQ sessions. Instead, it just gave me some strange results until I understood what was going on. I continued to work in grids FM07, FM18, and FM17, all with the understanding that 6m was 180° away from 2m. I was in FM18 and working K1RZ on both 6m and 2m SSB when I discovered my mounting error. It’s not customary to give signal reports during a VHF contest, but he had been helping me plan my contesting efforts and was intrigued by the change in my signal strength. I started my drive home and worked him again as I crossed into my home grid, FM17. From there, I just let FT8 run as I drove and made seven more contacts before getting home.
I was awake early Sunday morning to beat the heat and forthcoming rain. I was able to flip my 6m Moxon antenna, all without removing the mast, thanks to my choice to use my Compact Module. My first stop was the southern edge of FM27. Getting there required a $14 crossing of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. I made several contacts from the scenic overlook, shown above; plus, I checked into my club’s daily 9am Coffee and Radio net from 47 miles away. I continued, making stops in grids FM16, FM26, FM15, and FM25. I made a few FT8 contacts in each grid, with the exception of FM25. I had no luck there! Still, some notable contacts include FT8 contacts from four grids with K5VIP and a combination of FT8/SSB on both 6m and 2m from five grids with K1RZ. I took this lighthouse photo near Alligator, NC (FM15) before heading home.
One thing that set this contest apart from others for me, aside from an apparent lack of participation or band openings, is the fact that my air conditioner was in desperate need of servicing. It was barely able to keep the cabin below 100°F. The lack of cooling resulted in everything running hotter, which included my computer, LiFePo4 battery charger, transceivers, and amplifiers. Their hotter operation required continuous ventilation, which expelled more heat into the cabin. It was unpleasant, but tolerable, especially during rain or when operating under tree coverage. This photo shows the difference between the hot weekend and having the air conditioner working normally. Remote sensor #1 is my equipment space, #2 is my refrigerator (set to a cooler temperature during the contest due to food storage), and #3 is in another fridge at home. It’s SO NICE to have a cool cabin again!
Overall, I made 35 contacts from eight grid squares. Oddly enough, my score is 100 points higher than last year, even with the same number of contacts, since I worked from twice the number of grids in 2023. I would prefer to have made more contacts. Still, I’m pleased to have been able to stick to my travel plan, even if the radio activity did not work out as I had hoped. Most of my contacts appear to have been within a couple hundred miles of my operating position, except for one station in Michigan, which was about 600 miles away.
I drove 686 miles and spent $147 on fuel and tolls. That cost was not worth my contest results, but it was still a good experience, even without a strong air conditioner. Thankfully, my plan did not include a hotel expense, too! What will I change next time? In June’s ARRL VHF contest, I lamented being stuck in the traffic of population centers such as Annapolis and Washington, DC. I was able to avoid traffic during this contest, but I was also farther from the population centers that tend to have more contest participants. So, I will plan a rove next time that is both clear of population centers AND within radio range of them. Can it be done? We’ll see!
OH, I learned that Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park, which is highly recommended for its scenic overlooks, is NOT a great place to take a tall tower. My Compact Module’s 8’3″ clearance fit, but I would have hit a lot of trees if I had taken the Contest Module and its 11’6″ clearance on that road. I suspect that RVs need to be careful there, too! Travelers Beware!