(written for NCJ Nov/Dec 1993)
If you read the NCJ, you certainly know about the North American Sprints, commonly called "the Sprints". Or maybe you happened to hear on the bands lots of North American stations yelling "CQ SPRINT" and making QSOs among themselves.
In the popular magazines like CQ and QST, not much space is devoted to these contests, but it is also true that if contests in general are a subject followed by a relatively small community, the Sprints are really for very few people.
As a contest enthusiast, I had looked around for information about the Sprints, but after reading the rules I had labeled them with the words in the title above, and did not give any more attention to them, except for reading comments in the NCJ twice a year.
Last year I was preparing for my third trip to the US and was often on the air with ZD8Z/N6TJ, at whose place I was planning to spend some time at the end of my trip. While talking with him about the plans for those days and whom to meet, etc, he suddenly stopped and, hesitating, he said there was indeed a problem, due to the coincidence with the Sprint CW, so that he and most of the people I planned to see would be engaged with it and would not be able to see me This gave me a warning about the importance of the Sprints to the North American contesters.
Our American colleagues have analyzed the contest results over the years to obtain ideas for optimizing operating techniques and improving their results, but their opinions are not always in agreement. Some prefer computer programs (those by K8CC and N6TR can handle the Sprints). and others think that with so short a competition, only paper and pencil can do. For the sake of speeding it up and rationalizing, some operating strategies have been developed.
A typical CW QSO might go like this:
- (calling) = N7PMC N7PMC NA
- (answering) = N7PLY
- (message) = N7PLY DE N7PMC 185 WA PAOLO K
- (message) = N7PMC 224 WA IVAN DE N7PLY
Note that there is no CQ After the QSO, the frequency will be left to N7PLY, who is also the second to send the contest exchange. That's why he sends his call at the end of his message. If another station is listening on the frequency, the operator will know immediately whom to call, and N7PLY will not need to send a CQ or QRZ.
This and other tricks are absolutely needed if 375 QSOs or more in 4 hours are to be made. Somebody might object that with the large number of US operators, it is not difficult to make 400 QSOs. Wrong! The NA operators are numerous in the ARRL and in the CQWW contests, but not so in the Sprints, where many find the thing too difficult.
Some operators use two VFOs about 5 or 10 kHz apart. A CQ is sent on the first, and after the QSO, the operator jumps on the second VFO for another CQ or for coming back to a station sending a CQ there. Then the operator goes back to the first VFO, where he will find new stations, since the other station previously left there will have meanwhile QSYed after a QSO
Some operators always call CQ, while others follow the opposite strategy and only come back to stations sending CQ.
There is no 10-minute rule, so band changes are not restricted. With particularly well equipped stations, some operators call CQ on two bands at the same time, but the guy at the operating position must really have a 33-MHz CPU in his brain to take full advantage of this operating technique. In 1991 KW8N changed band 59 times in 4 hours, totaling 301 QSOs and finishing in third place.
Since the rules provide for the exchange of operator names, the late K7RA studied the them. He found that the shortest ones are Ed and Al. But in CW, Al is longer to send, so he chose Ed as his nickname for this contest. His real name was Homer, and when he passed away all his friends of the Western Washington DX Club took part in the Sprint using the same name: Homer. There is also the team competition: each team or group of friends intending to participate gives the call signs of the members of the team to the Contest Manager before the contest. Their scores are then added to get the Team Score.
Some groups participate with more than one team, each team having no more than 10 members The long established clubs give their name to the competing teams (Northern California Contest Club, Texas DX Society, SCCC, Willamette Valley DX Club, etc), while often groups choose funny names, like MUF Divers, The Code Coup. The Maryland Morse Mafia, Mad River Home Team, Mad River Picnic Team, GatorAid, Lunatic Fringe, Upper Midwest RF Freezer Company, Nuclear Powered Riding Mowers, The Three Stooges Meet Abbott & Costello, and Roasted Penguins for Breakfast. There was one famous Sprint where K7SS and six other characters in Seattle operated with the names of the seven dwarves, forcing KS7L (YL Patty) to use the nickname of Snow White.
Among the non-North American operators who joined the Sprints, there is of course Martti, OH2BH, and yes, also I2UIY.
The 1992 Spring CW Sprint was scheduled for the last day of my last trip to the US. I was the guest of N6ZZ, and during a meeting of the South California Contest Club on the day before, it was clear that everybody would be in the Sprint and my presence was a problem (ZD8Z was right!). So they decided to look for a station where I could be "parked" during the contest, trying at the same time to work some QSOs. After many phone calls, my new host was found: WB6OKK would let me use his shack for the contest He has a TS-940S, legal-power amplifier, fine antennas, and a wonderful house on the outskirts of LA. Unfortunately (nobody is perfect) the keyer was a MorseMatic, and there was a nice noisy fountain in the garden right outside the shack window.
Being my first experience with the Sprint, I judged it more important to look for QSOs rather than chasing multipliers, and I decided to operate with the two-VFO technique. N6AA told me that Martti had made 200 QSOs on his first time in the Sprint, and suggested that I try to beat this record.
For the first half hour, I found it extremely difficult I had to make a big effort not to send the RST, just QSO number. I wasted some time greeting friends who could not recognize me with my US call, and I learned to deeply hate the MorseMatic keyer, a thing where to change speed you have to push four buttons instead of turning a knob. The speed needed to be around 40 WPM because I got many answers to my CQs and I could not waste too much time. This made things more challenging and also much more difficult.
I remember a WB8 whose name was "Gumby". If he had chosen a shorter handle he would probably have made twice as many QSOs. Also, I remember when I was called by my friend N0AX/7. I immediately wrote down his name, Ward, but then his exchange contained a shorter one: "Ed".
I finished with 225 QSOs and 41 multipliers, only 13 QSOs less than N6ZZ, who is a regular in the Sprint, but significantly 104 QSOs less than KR0Y/5, who won again operating at the station of Jim, WM5G
After this experience, I changed my opinion on the "stupid contest". It is indeed one of the most difficult ones, where the propagation influence is relatively marginal, and where power and antennas are absolutely non decisive. What counts all the more is the operator. Who wins the Sprint is never just another operator, but always one of the best, one of those whom, when we hear him operating from the Caribbean for the CQWW DX Contest, leaves us in admiration of his sharpness, cleanliness and speed in handling the pile-ups.
The bottom line if at all possible, if you happen to travel to North America, try a Sprint. Then let me know what you think.
(by I2UIY - 1993)
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