This past weekend the CQWW DX CW contest was touted to be the biggest contest of its type. CW operators from all over the world participate mainly on the non-WARC bands of 160, 80, 40, 20, 15, and 10 meters. In the mid 90’s, when I was first licensed, I enjoyed CW. It was required. Tech + and novice required 5 words per minute (wpm), general and advanced required 13 wpm, and Extra required 20 wpm. When I upgraded from advanced to extra the code requirement was still 5 wpm. Back in the day before life took over I was pretty comfortable at about 18 wpm.
In my early years, I was drawn to contesting and DX’ing. Back then as it is today, these pursuits are the home of the serious CW ops. Code speeds are often in the 30-35 wpm range. Far above my meager 18 wpm. I did some contesting using SSB and was moderately successful. Here is an award from the CQWW DX SSB contest.
KM5AV was my Advanced License call sign. By the turn of the century, I had grown weary of the rude and impolite behavior of some of the operators on SSB. For many years, I turned my interests to EmComm and local ragchewing occasionally chasing a little DX. In 2003 I upgraded to extra and changed my call to KK4Z.
In 2021, I decided to get back into CW. The kids were grown, education is complete, and I am in a semi-retired state. I started practicing CW and got myself back up to 16 wpm. I was now looking for a venue to increase my skills. I discovered Parks on the Air (POTA). After a bout with paddle fright, I made my first CW contact in over 20 years with Steve K5SJC. Steve was and is very friendly and helpful. Since that time I have made almost 1,800 CW contacts.
After hovering in the 16-20 wpm range, I decided it was time to increase my speed. CW or Morse Code has some mental hurdles for some. Typically, they are at 10 wpm and 20 wpm. I am at the latter, with my goal being 25 wpm. I am using a combination of CWops (cwops.org) and Learn CW Online (lcwo.net) to help me increase my speed. POTA is on Facebook and one of their pages is POTA CW for new Ops https://www.facebook.com/groups/potacw. The admin for the page Jess W6LEN, recommended that we take advantage of the CQWW DX CW contest to help improve our skills. At least listen. What a brilliant idea! The contest is a challenge for us slow pokes. They run at about 30-35 wpm and do not QRS (slow down). I started listening, first for the format. The opening salvo was CQ TEST <Call Sign>. The response is your call sign and they reply with 5NN <CQ zone>, followed by you with 5NN <CQ zone. That’s it. The word test at speed is very melodic dah-dit-dididit-dah.
The hard part is picking out the call sign. I normally run at 16-20 wpm. First I tune around to find one of the slower guys (30 wpm). I then decode his call sign, one figure at a time until I get the whole thing. My decoder is between my ears. This can take time but it helps to acclimate to the new speed. I like to say that I dabble or putter about and try to make a few contacts. I’m not going to win any awards for most Q’s, but I am going to get better at receiving code. I started my sending at 20 wpm, but that sounded like I was standing still. So I upped it to 22 and then again to 25 wpm. My first goal was to work one station on each band. I then changed it to making 1,000 points. I made over 20 contacts in the course of several hours. It was slow and it was difficult. It showed me that I can copy code at 30+ wpm, not well, but well enough. Here is a map.
I was running 100 watts into a 270′ OCF dipole. Hawaii was on 10 meters.
Did I have fun? You bet I did. Just being able to pick out the call signs at that speed was a thrill. Going into the contest to dabble takes the expectation of having to do well and allows you to focus on improving your CW skills. will I do it again? You betcha!