My CW Sucks

Might as well get right down to essence of the matter. If you don’t use a skill regularly, it degrades. In my case, I haven’t done much operating at all lately, but I have made some sporadic SSB and digimode QSOs. However, I haven’t done any CW in years, which was really stupid on my part. I’ve never been super great at it, but at my best I think I got pretty close to “almost comfortable” with making CW QSOs. Never to the point where I wanted to ragchew for a long time, but I could easily make a contest-style QSO and could do a bit of conversation without too much trouble. The few times over the last few years that I have launched some RF, it was easy for me to slip into the mode of bypassing CW because it felt like it was harder than just trying to speak in a mic or click around on WSJT-X. Bad move on my part.

The great (and constantly improving) solar flux numbers and the little bit of free time that I’ve clawed back have inspired me to get back to my ham radio roots and just try enjoying operating like I used to do. Even though I don’t limit myself to QRP, QRP is my first and most favorite sub-genre of ham radio and it always has a draw for me. QRP was a slog for years because of the mediocre-at-best peak of Cycle 24 and the abysmal trough that followed. Now that we’re facing better conditions, what better time could there be to revive my QRP ops? And while SSB QRP can be a fun challenge, everyone knows that CW and QRP go together like peanut butter and jelly. The effectiveness compared to the power output and the simplicity of the gear is simply unbeatable.

Op position in temp QTH

So now is the perfect time to get back into the CW game. Because of my skill degradation and often having to jump up at a moment’s notice to take care of kids or animals, I’m in no position to start making ragchew QSOs, but the quick exchanges of a POTA QSO are perfect for me to use as a re-entry point. This afternoon, I set up the IC-705 and busted out my new CWMorse mini paddles (purchased based on seeing them on K4SWL videos) so that I could give it a go with my trailer-mounted Cobweb antenna on 20 meters.

Holy cow, was my sending terrible. My receiving isn’t great either but with most POTA ops running around 20 WPM that wasn’t too difficult for me. However my brain just kind of went into lockup trying to send some basic QSO info like signal report and state. The fault was definitely not with my paddle. Even though the exterior components were made with 3D printed (PLA?) material, the action was quite good considering the money I spend on it. The problem is just that I’m that much out of practice and I was nervous. Sorry to the two OMs that I inflicted my awful Morse Code onto.

I still did have a good time getting back on QRP CW. I’m going to do my best to do some CW ops at least a few times a week, hopefully even more than that. My short-term goal is to get comfortable enough to be able to do a CW POTA (and maybe SOTA!) activation of my own in the near future. Also, I’d really like to get hold of the machined aluminum CWMorse paddles, now that I know they make quality keys. I’ve got some other ideas about QRP brewing in my head, but that will have to wait for another post. If I can get some kind of basic workshop set up here on our new property, I might be able to really start doing some fun stuff again.

7 thoughts on “My CW Sucks

  1. Great to see you blogging again Jason. I did a terrible thing recently – I had to resort to buying someone else’s Si5351 breakout board. I sure do miss yours! I still have one waiting in the wings, but I don’t want to use it now, as it feels like a collectors piece! Interesting to see the changes in your life, and I envy your new, and much more radio-friendly environment.

    If you have the time, might I suggest a course with CW Ops CW Academy? You do need to be able to commit to an hour of practice a day (not all at one time), 6 days a week, and a couple of Zoom classes each week, but it’s a great way to learn. Like you, my CW is a bit dodgy, and I really want to get better at it. It’s the one digital mode that tickles my brain – like doing a crossword puzzle.

    Anyway, great to see you back!

  2. You’re not the only one! I am working toward the same goal; I want to be ready for Spring and outdoor operating!
    Pretty good with a straight key, but my timing is still so off with paddles!

  3. Nice to see you blogging again, Jason. I’ve also recently dusted off the paddles with the intention of getting on the air some more. Good luck, and how we can connect on air!

  4. Thanks for the comment, Dave! Great to hear from you.

    Regarding the Si5351A Breakout Board, there’s a chance it may be coming back. I’m looking into a way to get my business equipment set up in a temporary structure in order to be able to relaunch it. The supply chain issues were so bad in 2021 that it was nearly impossible for me to compete for the limited supplies available, as a tiny fish in a big pond. It seems that things have now eased up a bit in that regard, even if things aren’t totally back to normal. We’re almost at the end of our first phase in establishing our homestead, so I’m finally able to put more attention into radio and business. Stay tuned for further updates.

  5. Seriously! It’s kind of like neglecting to riding a bike for a long time. You don’t start over at zero, but things are kind of ugly for a while as you retrain yourself.

  6. Hey Brian!

    I definitely want to make some connections with old friends on the air, so I’ll watch out for you! Hope to catch you on the air soon.

Leave a Reply