RAC Winter Contest

Radio Amateurs of Canada (RAC) Winter Contest

By Dave Green, VE3TLY. Member, OARC, DARC

Amateur radio has many aspects and one of the most exciting is contesting. Most contests challenge the radio operator to make a long series of contacts, accurately and as quickly as possible. A busy contest brings together operating skills, technical savvy, and an awareness of contesting strategy.

Contests are sponsored by various groups throughout the world. In Canada, our national association for amateur radio, Radio Amateurs of Canada (RAC) sponsors two contests each year: the Canada Day Contest on July 1 and the Winter Contest held close to Christmas each year.

For the past 12 years, the Ottawa Amateur Radio Club (OARC) in conjunction with the Diefenbunker Amateur Radio Club (DARC), A.K.A the Volunteer Radio Group (VRG), has been activating the station at VE3CWM, 25 ft underground in the former Cold War bunker, now a Museum in Carp, on the western outskirts of Ottawa. In some years we operate under the museum’s call sign VE3CWM, and in others we have been granted the official RAC call sign for Ontario, VA3RAC. The official call sign means that we are highly sought after during the contest. This is because each contact with a Canadian station normally earns 10 points, whereas a contact with an official RAC station earns 20 points. Contacts with non-Canadian stations (DX stations) earn 2 points each.

A great deal of preparation is required before each contest begins. While radio equipment and computers used for logging are updated and checked out well before the start of the contest, much of the preparation concerns the antennas. We operate a CW station and a phone station concurrently. This can lead to significant interference between the two unless the antennas are correctly configured. We have found that using an assortment of  vertical and horizontal antennas, and by using a multi-band antenna physically removed from the others by about 100m that we have been able to mitigate this problem. Major improvements have recently been made at VE3CWM with the installation of a tower and a tri-band beam with a rotator. We look forward to putting this to work in the next contest.

The contest always starts on Friday evening and runs for 24 hrs. In recent years, a few of us have set up the station on Friday afternoon and then go on the air as soon as the event begins that evening. We operate for a few hours to check out the systems and to work the low bands that are only active in the evenings, On Saturday morning the real fun starts. Typically, we have from 10 to 16 operators from both clubs stopping by throughout the day to help. At all times we have two teams at work: a radio operator and a logger team for the CW stations, and another team for the phone station.

During the contest we usually make contact with all Canadian provinces, occasionally one of the northern territories and many American states. We occasionally contact some European, South American, Central American and Caribbean countries as well.

Over the past few years, we have logged about 1000 to 1300 contacts (QSOs) in the contest. In 2018 we won the certificate for the highest score in our category in Ontario (mult-operator, multi-transmitter) with a total score of 301,056 points. We brought that score up to 361,728 in 2019.

The successful operation in the contest is very much a team effort. The OARC receives excellent help from members of the Diefenbunker Amateur Radio Club and is enthusiastically supported by the museum management who provide the necessary staffing for after-hours operation. Much of the activation of the station occurs while the museum is open to visitors which gives us an excellent opportunity to chat with visitors about amateur radio, the historic role of radio at the bunker, and of course about contesting itself. The event is a win-win. Visitors get to experience a live demonstration, and we get to operate a contest from a unique station location in Canada.

Editor’s note: It would have been too cumbersome to name all the many volunteers from both the OARC and DARC who made these events possible, so the article is devoid of participant names to avoid offending anyone.
Brian Jeffrey, VE3UU/VE3CWM. Member DARC.