Monday, December 31, 2012

Out with the hexbeam, having fun

Fixed the hexbeam and worked some "new ones"

Just under 2 weeks ago I damaged my hexbeam: I let it drop off the mast. It fell in such a way that one of the spreaders was broken. Luckily Christian (DL1ELU) was able to ship spare parts quickly - I received them just before Christmas. Yesterday I spend a couple of hours fixing the hexbeam. I also redid all the wiring taking good care to not skew the spreaders. This time I fixed the wire clamps by attaching tape to the spreader just next to the clamp (on one side) to keep the wire clamps from moving inward.

This morning I took all the stuff out to my favourite /P spot and found that all the wires 
were still nicely in place - the tape did the job. No skewed spreaders this time.

Folding Hexbeam
There was quite some wind and I had to cope with a damaged screw in one of my tube clamps (I built my own alu mast using strong tube clamps to secure the different sections). This all meant the mast was no higher than about 9 meter (30ft). I did however work one new DXCC (YI) and several "new band" DXCCs (VU, 9M2, HZ, LU). I also added a new VK area to my log (VK3) and worked Paul VK5PAS again. Paul came by during one of my PAFF activations earlier this month. Maximum distance was towards LU, as I worked him long path.

I tried to work VP8LP on 15m and 17m but it was a zoo with loads of people calling but not listening. So I gave up (as did VP8LP who turned his beam to VK/ZL).

Good fun on the last day of the year.

Happy 2013!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Visit from PA1AT at PAFF-065

Low volume pre-XMas activity

Yesterday afternoon I was over at Zuidlaardermeergebied in the north of The Netherlands to activate a new PAFF reference (PAFF-065). I found a good spot quickly, having prepared this visit using Google Maps.

The weather was rather unpleasant with drizzle and strong winds making the already wet area (lake and surrounding muddy fields) even wetter. I always imagine this makes the vertical end fed perform better, but I have no proof...


I started out on 20m to work quite a few stations with signal levels below average - except for the Moscow area. Amongst the OMs calling in was Gerard PA1AT.
I met Gerard before on the air and know he did some PAFF activities as well. Gerard lives only a few kilometres from PAFF-065 so he decided to pay me a visit.

Before Gerard turned up I logged a very unexpected DX contact with VK5PAS. Paul is my first ever VK5 contact and he extended the maximum QRB for my PAFF activities by a few thousand kilometres. The amazing thing is that he copied me with 56 although conditions did not seem particularly good - with lots of QSB.

After I had been active for about one hour on 20m Gerard turned up. Time for an eyeball QSO and change of operator - new experiences for a PAFF activity that normally consists of yours truly on his own logging calls like there is no tomorrow. 

PA1AT visiting @ PH0NO/P
The amount of calls logged dropped dramatically. Mainly because we chose to go up to 15m and 17m hoping to work some more DX. It turned out that these bands were not in a good shape and rather quiet.I logged 58 calls in the first hour (not too busy) and we logged only 5 calls in the second hour.
In the end going down to 40m might have been a better idea. 


However, PAFF-065 is now "on the map", VK5 in the log and I got to work my first multi op station, as well as exchange experiences with Gerard - all in all a pleasant pre-XMas afternoon.

Merry XMas and a good start of 2013 to all!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Overview Flora and Fauna / Castle Awards

Important Flora and Fauna and Castle Award links
  • For a complete list of my activations as PH0NO/P (WWFF, PAFF, FFF, WCA, COTA-PA) click on "PH0NO activities"
  • More information on the Dutch Flora and Fauna program can be found on the PAFF website
  • More information on the Dutch Castles On The Air program can be found on the COTA-PA website 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Nice cards and post stamps

Confirmations of my CQWW contacts arriving

As blogged before I was able to add quite a few "new ones" to my log during CQWW 2012. The last weeks the QSL replies on the cards I sent out directly to the DX stations or their managers have been coming in one by one. 

I still expect a few new or "new band" ones (8P, 9Y, A7, EX, KP2, XV, V3 and ZF) but the following came in already:




Rather impressive I found the post stamps of Enkhbayar JT1E with the best known Mongolian - Chinggis Khaan - on them. Enkhbayar added the stamps to the back of the envelope (otherwise there would not have been any room for the address..) - for size reference I have scanned the whole envelope:


Post stamps used by JT1E

Sunday, December 16, 2012

New DXCCs on 40m

Ending up in the OK RTTY contest by chance

On the lookout for PAFF
Yesterday I saw a message by Hans PA3FYG that he would go out in the afternoon activating a nature park not too far (50-60km) from where I live. As I had visitors I did not have the time to set up my sloping wire running into the garden. In stead I quickly set up my shortened dipole by Ventenna in the attic. I chose for a 40m configuration as that would be a band I at least had a chance of being copied by Hans. Keeping an eye on the cluster I did not see any activity by Hans. Later I learned Hans had only been active on 20m that afternoon.


Ventenna dipole set up in the attic

WSPRing
As my antenna was still set up I decided to do some WSPR later in the evening using my FT-817. I copied stations from Ukraine and the UK (peculiar as both are more or less off the ends of the dipole..) and was only copied by stations in the UK. Nothing really to keep me busy until I looked at the cluster.

Unreachable DX on 40m
Checking the cluster I saw a lot of interesting DX spots posted by EU stations on 40m, including VO1, ZD7, VK7 and D4. Not something I see everyday and something worth to dive into. With a dipole in the attic there was no chance I would hear them, let alone work them. Therefore I set up a push up mast through my attic window and pushed the dipole up about 4m above the roof.
Listening around I did copy Peter ZD7FT but only just above the QRM (S4-5), not enough for a contact. VO1 was (just a bit) stronger but there was no way I could get through the pile up. There was no VK7 as far as I could hear and D4 was also under QRM level if he was still there. Bummer..

At last some success
It seemed that pushing up the antenna had been a waste of time until I noticed a lot of spots about RTTY contacts and remembered there was a OK RTTY contest this weekend. Amongst the spots were EU stations spotting east coast NA. I had never worked NA on 40m, so I quickly turned to RTTY and indeed copied a few NA stations. Strongest of all was K1SFA from Massachusetts and she became my first US station on 40m. After Khrystyne I logged three more US stations (NY, NJ). Looking around I found and logged two more DXCCs I never worked before on 40m: VA2 and 5C. 

So, in the end I was very pleased with the results in the hour I spent on the air.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

HexBeam experiences

More results from working with the portable HexBeam

Apart from the first testing day I have now been out and active with the portable HexBeam by DL1ELU three times. Once during CQWW (when I used the 10m yagi most of the time) and two Wednesday mornings - which are my moments off with both of my kids going to school now.

I am getting quicker in setting up and folding the beam. I still have not completely solved the skewing of the spreaders but that is mainly due to lack of time (I rather get the antenna up and start working with it than work on it).

The antenna has brought a number of new DXCCs and / or new band DXCCs. The first time I worked ZL1 - to my surprise - and JA4 and JA5.  During CQWW I worked the west coast of the US and Canada and some Caribbean Islands (9Y, PJ2, VP5). Then on Nov 21 I worked LU2, JA5 (long path) and ZD7. Two weeks later I worked 5T0 on two bands, ZD7 on a new band and VK2 long path. All with 80-90 watts from my FT-857d.

HexBeam by DL1ELU @ 12m (40ft) on a Wednesday morning
Keeping in mind that I am only active in a short time frame - I only have 3 hours in which I have to load the car, drive to a suitable location, set up all the stuph, do some radio-activity (<2h), break it all up, get it back home and unload the car in time to pick up the kids - I am pleased with the results.

I tried ZL9 last time but with the limited amount of time I have, I am not comfortable spending too much time hunting down one station, especially when there are crazy pile-ups. So I let it be.

Another challenge is the attention I generate with my call sign (including /P) from chasers of the various Flora and Fauna awards. When I call CQ - even when I specify "DX only" - people assume I am working from a nature reserve. If I am not careful I will generate an EU pile-up while chasing new DXCCs...

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Funny search terms

How people find this and other ham blogs

Blogger provides you insight into who is visiting your blog and how they found you. This can be helpful to decide how to improve your blog so it reaches the audience you are aiming at. 

Using Blogger for my own blog as well as the blogs for PAFF, COTA-PA and WWFF I see some interesting and funny ways in how people end up on these blogs. The most funny ones are the Google search terms from people that are very obviously not looking for a ham blog at all.

Writing about flora and fauna of course attracts people looking for info on nature. So I find the odd links from Google where people where looking for information on specific nature parks in The Neherlands. The same applies for blog items on castles in COTA-PA blog.

Today however I saw a real funny one - in the mismatch category: "welke ham plank". This is Dutch for "which ham board" - where board refers to cutting board, I assume. So, here we have an individual trying to figure out what type of cutting board to buy for his ham. Should it be wood? plastic? I don't know.

This is the first link he got in his Google results - http://www.pa-ff.nl/2012/10/tuesday-23-oct-paff-067-planken-wambuis.html - and he clicked it.

Now what was this person thinking when he saw that page. XYL, PAFF, activation, 40m, 20m, bands, 73, PA3FYG - WTF????

It is a shame Blogger doesn't show you how long this person was staring at his screen.


Monday, November 19, 2012

40m antenna test: end fed versus inverted v

The fairy tale of the poor performing end fed vertical

Last Friday I had a bad experience with my tried and trusted end fed vertical on 40m (actually a multi-band end fed for 10-20-40m). 

While listing around I stumbled upon Paul MM0ZBH on 40m. He is the one who recommended me the Sirio 4-element CB antenna for use on 10m. I was about to tell him how much I enjoyed the CQWW thanks to that beam. However he did not seem to hear me, even though I copied him with 58. After several attempts he was able to make out my call sign but there was not a chance for a decent QSO (report received: 33).

The multi-band end fed that I use is 12m long and has a coil at 10m from the network to make the wire resonant on 40m. I blamed this shorter wire for the lousy performance on that band. Frustrated I started looking at other possible antenna configurations for /P operations.

Inverted v
From all the available options the inverted v looked the most promising as it requires only one mast (as the end fed does), while you can still operate with a "full size" antenna (1/2L in this case). The inverted v would also be a candidate configuration for an 80m antenna. I do not have an 80m antenna at the moment and although I can get the 40m wire resonant on 80m when I work from my home (using the tuner of my IC-756P3), it is not a performer by any standard, nor does it help me when I am /P.

This weekend I was able to put something together that looked like it could work as an inverted v. I made the legs a bit longer so I could tune it to perfection. Today I was able to set the antenna up. It took me some fiddling to get it up in a way the Spiderbeam mast did not bend too sharply (the coax goes all the way up with this antenna, so you need to find a way that it does not pull the mast down). I decided to not use the last segment of the mast, so the top of the antenna was at about 11m. I roughly measured 11m from the mast to two opposite directions for the anchor points of the legs.
The Spiderbeam mast was fixed to the side of my car. To the other side of the car I fixed my extended Spieth mast (15m) with the multiband end fed on it. A lovely site: a car upgraded with impressive lengths of fibreglass and loads of wires. 

A-B test
Testing with an antenna switch I directly noticed differences in the received signals. I also saw that the inverted v was miraculously resonant on the whole 40m band, dipping around 7.150. How this can be, with the extra wire length I cut, I haven't figured out yet (wrong measurement surely).
The other thing I saw was that the end fed was not resonant by far. The FT-857 warned me for High SWR. This was peculiar... I had this once before when one of the wire ends attached to the coil broke. I took down the end fed to find... that the wire on the other end of the coil had broken (inside the shrink tube, hard to spot). This explains why Paul was unable to copy me: the antenna was 2m short and SWR was sky high.

Would this not have been the case I would not have started with the inverted v. Now however I got both antennas up (I temporarily fixed the end fed on the spot) - so I started testing any way.

19 OMs came to the rescue to provide me with a nice set of signal reports. The reports came in from DL, G, MM, I, HB9 and S5 - roughly from 300km to 1250km.
All OMs agreed on one point: the inverted v resulted in a stronger signal at the receivers end. The difference was not the same though. It varied from 2 s-points to "not a lot". Most of the times it was 6dB or 1 s-point difference. The same difference I saw on rx.

As the inverted v is a little less practical than the vertical end fed, I will test it a bit more before I decide whether to switch antennas for my /P operations. I am especially curious on how the difference in performance is on longer distances - as signal levels within Europe are hardly an issue worth the extra hassle.

Forgot to take pictures of the antenna park I created around my car. Will try to remember to do this next time.

To do
Next project: building the 80m version of the inverted v. With the nice results I got with the 40m version I will definitely add an 80m inverted v to my /P operating set. It will be nice to activate a PAFF or COTA-PA on 80m for the first time (for me).

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Four nature parks in two weeks

Activating three new PAFFs

The list of new PAFF references provides a nice incentive to go out and activate. With my youngest daughter going to school since recently I have some extra spare time.

In the past two weeks I visited four nature parks, logging 560 contacts in total:
  • Loenermark, PAFF-053 - 145 stations, 31 DXCCs, max QRB 8200km (YY) 
  • Buurserzand & Haaksbergseveen, PAFF-056 - 99 stations, 20 DXCCs, max QRB 3600km (UA9)
  • Planken Wambuis, PAFF-067 - 107 stations, 25 DXCCs, max QRB 7300km (K0)
  • Boswachterij Sleenerzand, PAFF-061 - 209 stations, 32 DXCCs, max QRB 9500km (PY1)

I have posted a bit of info on these activities on the PAFF website.

The most pleasant activation by far was the activation of PAFF-061. One of the operation positions I selected using Google Maps turned out to be very beautiful and serene. Just the place to spoil with some EMF ;-)



Operating in the sun - not much wrong with that
Spiderbeam 12m pole attached to the bench
The autumn leafs brought a lot of colour and the sun was out making it a warm 10 degrees Celsius. When I saw that the place was far from crowded I decided to operate from one of the benches overlooking a nice field. The bench was still a bit wet but nothing an old garbage bag could not solve. I stayed outside for almost 2 hours operating on 17m and 20m. Then rain came in (I was warned 15 minutes earlier thanks to a handy Android app) and I went back to the car. From the car I operated on 40m and 20m.


View from the operating position
The field itself was surrounded by wire of an unfriendly kind
I was slightly worried that the electric fence around the field would generate QRM but I did not notice it, apart from S7 QRM on 40m. But that is hardly extraordinary around lunch time.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Great fun @ CQWW 2012

Logging new DXCCs like there is no tomorrow

As blogged before I was planning to use my new HexBeam to hunt some new DXCC during the SSB CQ WW contest. With the station manager I had agreed upon two timeslots: Saturday late afternoon and evening and Sunday morning.

I went out to a deserted large parking lot near where I live, taking both my HexBeam and my 10m 4 element yagi (the converted CB antenna) and of course the alu mast - one that does not need guying.

Checking the conditions Saturday afternoon, I saw that most of the activity was on 10m. So I set up my 4 element yagi at about 10-12m high (33-36ft) and listened around. 

PH0NO - with 4 element yagi @ >10m (>33ft)

At first (around 16:00 CET / 14:00 UTC) I mainly copied NA stations and I worked a couple without any problems. Then I spotted DP0 on the cluster. I turned the antenna southwards and worked my way through the pile-up, logging my first Antarctic contact. Cool!

Not much later I logged another new one: V2. Then I went on to work a number of NA and SA OMs (some new DXCCs on 10m). I maintained an e-mail contact with PD7YY who lives nearby and has a 2 element 10m beam at his QTH. He was also looking for interesting DX on 10m and helped me find some new ones. Although I have a cluster app on my phone it is not as handy as my PC apps, so the extra e-mail spotting was a welcome addition. It also increased the chasing atmosphere ("hey, did you already get V3? he is on 964 now").

The Caribbean and Central America were gaining strength and I worked a lot of new entities in that area. I stayed on 10m until around 19:00 CET. I took a short break, then I started to build my HexBeam. It took me quite some time to change antennas (taking down the yagi and setting up the Hex). I was back on the air around 20:30 CET checking 15m and 20m with the Hex. It was very lively everywhere. Looking for real DX I in the end only worked 9 stations in the next (and last) hour but amongst them 1 new one and 3 "new band ones".

I was thrilled with this experience - accustomed to working from home with a sloping wire (no chance on getting through a pile-up towards DP0 - or even copying him). With the beam I could always work a station if I could hear him. With a bit of patience (only using 90w) I could find my way through every pile-up.


Another day, the same yagi...

The next morning I went out again to the same spot. Again 10m was alive, so I set up the yagi once more. I started around 9:00 CET (8:00 UTC due to winter time) and heard lots of DX. PD7YY was online as before and we exchanged results and spots for the next three hours through e-mail.

It was amazing how easy I could work new ones with the beam, even exotic ones like North Mariana Islands (never heard of them before), Guam and Hawaii. Even VK was "no worries mate - too easy".

One thing I did not manage to do is to rigorously test the HexBeam. There was just no time (and no point) to put it up with 10m going berserk.

All in all I logged 95 calls in 27 zones during the two time slots (7 hours radio time in total). They represent a smashing 24 new DXCCs to me and another 14 new band DXCCs.

DX worked: 6Y, 7Z (HZ), 8P, 9V, 9Y, A7, AH0, AP, B, BM, C5, CN, DP0, DS, E2 (HS), EX, EY, HK, HQ, J3, JA, JT, KG6, KH7, KP2, LU, NH2, NP4, P4, PJ2, PJ4, PU, RW0, T6, TO, TR, UK, UN, V2, V3, VE1/2/3/5/7/9, VK, VP5, VR, VU, W0/1/2/3/4/7/9, XE, XV, YV, ZD, ZF, ZS
The most challenging pile-ups (at least the way I remember them) were towards 9V, V3 and AP.


Stations worked - red = 10m, orange = 15m, yellow = 20m
It sure was fun. I wish I could have an antenna like that at home....

Thanks to PD7YY for the e-mail support!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Finishing and testing portable hexbeam

Folding antenna by DL1ELU  
(links to multiple posts to share my experiences at the bottom of this post)


Okay, so that is what the kit I posted earlier has become: a hexbeam - a 6 band antenna (6-20m) with 2 elements per band. It took me about 2 days to build it using the kit designed and produced by DL1ELU (http://www.foldingantennas.com). He produces custom build plastic parts making this a very well built antenna (much much better than my home brew cobweb).

DL1ELU has an eye for details. This is not only apparent from the antenna parts but also from the manual. Each and every step is described and comes with a tick box - so you know where you left off. This works very well for me as I tend to race things, ending up with making the wrong decisions, not measuring accurately or putting things together in the wrong order. No chance for mistakes here.

From the manual of DL1ELU
To give you an example of Christian's approach: he knows that it is difficult to measure a long piece of wire accurately. He thinks it might be a good idea to put a small plastic pin in the ground, use some copper wire and attach both your measuring tape and the wire to this pin. To support this idea he actually put a small piece of fibreglass and a piece of extra copper wire in the kit and shows you in pictures how to use them.
Brilliant.

Note that the kit really is a kit: everything needs to be handled, prepared, put together, etc. The plastic parts are still connected together, the way they came out of the mould. Reminds me of those little toy plane kits I had as a kid. 
That kept me busy for two days but without the normal frustration (thanks to the manual). It was a pleasant pass-time.

I am aiming to use the antenna in the CQ WW contest this weekend. Before today I was able to put the whole antenna together except for the elements. I did already add the support wires and the element clamps and I prepared all the elements (collection of wires of the right length combined into drivers and reflectors per band).

This morning was my only time slot for testing this antenna this week. So I started this morning with unpacking the folded antenna, adding the elements and getting the whole thing up in the air (using my home brew alu mast).
Alu mast attached to the car - pushed out to abt 9m (30ft)
Using my FT-817 as analyzer I quickly checked the SWR on all bands. It was really acceptable, <1.5 on all bands. I think the antenna can still be improved on a few bands (the dip is now outside the phone segment on several bands) but I did not have the time now to tweak the antenna - I wanted to do some on the air testing.

The first test I did is one to bring a smile to a ham's face: I fired up the FT-857 (abt 90W output) and listened around. I heard a couple of stations from Asia and Oceania. So I pointed the beam north-east and started calling DX on 15m. The first station to answer was Ben, ZL1CAH. 

Imagine that!

I have never worked ZL using phone before (not counting an old 11m QSO 20 years ago). Ben was not very strong - an indication conditions were not super - but he gave me a 55 anyway.

Then I worked 2 JA's before I had to pack everything together and get back to my normal duties.

Nice sight: the result of hard work and a good kit

One test is not really statistically significant so I will have to do some more tests and probably some A-B with my tried and trusted HyEndFeds. Theory and gut feeling tell me however that this antenna is worth the hassle of bringing a larger mast and the folding and unfolding process if I want to hunt DX.

About the folding: I still have to figure out how to get the unfolding done efficiently. Today was my first try with the folded antenna - without the elements but with the support wires. It took me 30 minutes to get the thing untangled. I am not looking forward to doing the same again now the antenna has an extra 80 meters of wires attached to it.

UPDATE: Being more experienced with the folding process I am now quicker in setting up the antenna. Description of how I do the folding is here.

Will post more in the future when I have more experience with this antenna.
Like this post: more experiences with the portable hexbeam (December 2012) 
or this one: out with the hexbeam, having fun (December 2012) 
or this one: more hexbeam activity in the sun (March 2013)
or this one: out with the "hex" again - logging a lot "new ones" (August 2013)
or this one: a few hours fishing DX - catching new ones (October 2013)

-- I have become a very enthusiastic user of this DX-chasing-yet-portable-antenna.

Friday, October 19, 2012

New project @ PH0NO

A few weeks ago I got myself some new HAM material. 

Now I have found the time to work on it. Let's see if it turns out to be as good as it looks on paper. 

Okay, bets are on.. what is this:


Saturday, October 13, 2012

Third new one: PAFF-069

Four band activation of Ugchelen Hoenderloo

Knowing I had some time to spare at the end of the day yesterday I studied the map of PAFF-069 and found an operating spot that would allow enough room for setting up an extended fibreglass pole (for 40m). PAFF-069 is a forest, hence not the most friendly environment for setting up antennas.


Ugchelen Hoenderloo - PAFF-069
The weather was not very pleasant with rain and gusty winds. This makes operating from a park less attractive. On the other hand there are not a lot of people in the park with this kind of weather, assuring that there is at least some room left in the few open spots (free of trees) of the park.

The spot I selected on the map was very suitable so I was able to operate all bands including 40m. This time the antenna wire stayed in place even though the wind did its best to blow it of the extended pole (see picture).


Strong winds


I started out on 10m. Although I heard a couple of stations I did not work any. Going down to 15m activity level started to increase. It still was not very busy - logging 24 OMs in 20 minutes and DX was sparse. Bob WX4QN in Tennessee set the maximum QRB to 6900km.

On 20m activity was plenty as always. Signal levels were good although there was also little DX on this band. I logged 93 calls in about 50 minutes before going down to 40m. 40m was 200khz of QRM. Using two different frequencies - trying to get away from the QRM - I was able to log 25 calls in about half an hour. When I had enough of the QRM there was still some time left. So I tried 10m once again and logged one call from CN. Then I finished the actvity on 20m with another 30 contacts.

Operating spot @ PAFF-069
In total I logged 173 calls from 31 DXCCs in about 2 hours radio time. A lot of familiar OMs passed by. Sandro I0SSW and Luciano I5FLN came by on 3 bands. DX came in from W4, W1, UA9, UN, 4X and CN.

See you all next time.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Second new one: PAFF-060

A bit more time in Bergherbos: 4 band activation

With a bit more time available than yesterday I went over to a nature park that borders on Germany: Bergherbos PAFF-060.


Bergherbos, PAFF-060

I did not know the area but found an acceptable operating position using Google Maps. Bergherbos is almost completely covered with trees (hence the name "Bos", meaning forest). The spot I found was not perfect as I was partly under a line of trees but it was the best I could find. The wire did get stuck in some tree branches at one point, but luckily everything stayed in one piece.


Tip of the antenna in between the branches
I planned to operate for about 2 hours, so I had some time to try different bands. I started on 15m as the cluster showed some activity there and it is a band that allows for DX to the west around the time I was active. It was busier than yesterday. I worked 34 stations in just over half an hour. Amongst them DX from UA9, W4 and W6. The last one was a pleasant surprise. It was Wayne NN6R that I worked once before about a year ago on 17m. I don't work stations in CA that often and 9100km is quite a distance to cover when /P. The band was just opening over there so propagations weren't really stable but a QSO was possible anyway.

When 15m slowed down I went down to 20m. It was very lively there with some QSB but still very strong conditions to some parts of Europe, like Russia, Poland and Hungary (a lot of 59+). I worked 84 stations in 45 minutes. DX came in from the east: JA, UA9, UN and 4Z. JA7AYE again set the maximum QRB to 9200km.

To enable contacts on the shorter distance (150-600km) I set up my extended mast and my end fed for 40m. I worked 34 stations in 20 minutes there. Conditions on 40m weren't very strong but good enough for the short / medium distance.
Before heading home I tried 10m as I saw some activity on the cluster. Listening around on the band I noticed signals were very low (S1) but I did give it a try for a couple of minutes. In the end only one OM from Pennsylvania came back to me - but I did activate PAFF-060 on four bands. Not bad.

In the end I logged 154 calls in just under 2 hours radio time. A couple of OMs came by on two bands but only Luciano I5FLN and Sandro I0SSW came by on three.

Thanks all for passing by.

Activating a new one: PAFF-055

Short first visit of Deelerwoud - two bands activation

With the new list of reference published there are a lot of PAFF regions that are screaming to be activated. With an unexpected but small gap in my schedule I headed over to an area yesterday that was along my route and that I knew, so I did not have to look for an operating position (losing precious time).


Deelerwoud - PAFF-055
Deelerwoud is an area that is part of a large nature area in The Netherlands called De Veluwe. A number of PAFF references are located in this area, e.g. PAFF-042 is bordering this park.


Operating position at PAFF-055
Seeing activity on the higher bands I set up an end fed wire for 15m. On that band I worked 26 stations in less than half an hour. Amongst them DX from VE3, UA9 and 4Z.
When 15m started to slow down I quickly changed the end fed for a 20m version. On that band things were busier and I worked 62 stations in 40 minutes. DX came in from the east only with JA7, UA9, UN and 4Z.

I did not have the time to go down to 40m, so there are less short distance contacts in the log.

A lot of familiar calls are in the log again. Alexander RV9UCN and Michael 4Z5AV came by on both bands. Nobuyasu JA7AYE set the maximum QRB to 9200km.

Thanks all for your calls.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Visiting Slot Zuylen

Three bands and moderate activity

With a gap in my schedule I headed over to one of the castles in the new reference list of COTA-PA: Slot Zuylen - a castle located in the small village of Oud Zuilen, bordering on the city of Utrecht.


Slot Zuylen - PA-00114
The first donjon on this location was built in the 13th century. The current castle was built in 1510. It was a "Ridderhofstad" meaning that ownership of the castle would give entrance into knighthood / nobility for the owner. More info on this castle (in Dutch) can be found here.

Slot Zuylen (Source: wikipedia)
I started on 20m working more than 50 OMs in one hour. When 20m started to slow down I went up to 15m as I saw some interesting spots on the cluster. Checking these frequencies I found that most of the DX was too weak to pick up with my modest /P setup. I did try 15m for a while and worked 6 stations in about 15 minutes. Before breaking up I went to check out 10m and worked only 2 Russian stations before I had to pack up and move on.


Operating position with view of the castle

Normally I would also use 40m, as there usually is quite a bit of traffic on there and it allows chasers that live closer by a chance to add a reference to their list. However, this time there was a lot of wind and I was operating in between trees. That combination is not very inviting. For the higher bands I can push out the mast but for 40m I use extensions, so I have to set up the sweeping 14m long fiberglass pole without getting stuck in the tree branches.

In total I worked 60 stations in 90 minutes radio time. DX came in from the east (UA9) and the west (K/VE). The maximum QRB was set to 6100km by an OM from New Jersey.
Alexander RV9UCN came by on two bands.

Thanks for stopping by.

Lars - PH0NO/P

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Interesting tool for quick logging

How to digitize your paper log with as little effort as possible?

If you like portable operations as I do, you will find yourself more than once typing in info from a paper log you made during that particular trip you could not take a laptop (or the battery died, or..).

If you are like me you do want to get the info logged accurately in your digital logbook but you also really hate this job. 

Complaining about it the other day to the WCA coordinator Andrew RN1CW he pointed me to an interesting piece of software: FLE - Fast Log Entry.

This simple little program lets you create a complete ADIF from a text file with the minimum amount of data you can imagine. DF3CB who wrote this application must have been a logging fan like me. He considered what data actually changes between the lines of your paper log. Only these changes are information relevant for the logging software.

For example, a piece of your paper log might look like:
13/09/2012
14.244
13:12 PH0NO 57 59
13:13 NO0PH 59 59
13:20 HP0ON 59 56
13:22 ON0HP 56 58

If you want to enter this directly in HRD Logbook (the program I use), it takes you quite a few keystrokes / mouse clicks to get the job done. Even if you tell the program not to update the time stamp automatically (a feature that is very nice when logging live, but not so much when logging offline), it still takes an effort logging 150 calls.

This nifty little program lets you type the following in a simple text file (e.g. Notepad):
DATE 13/09/2012 (you define this once)
BAND 14 (you define this once, unless you changed bands somewhere of course)
13:12 PH0NO 57  (you only add reports <> 59)
3 NO0PH (you only add time info that has changed: in this case the minutes)
20 HP0ON @56 (again only the <>59 is added, the @ specifies this as a report received)
2 ON0HP 56 @58

At the end you have a text file containing less than the info on your paper log (incomplete timestamps, not all reports) and the program creates a complete ADIF file from it. In stead of clicking/typing more you click/type less than you wrote.

Not rocket science by any means but I found that it saved me quite a bit of time entering my last paper log.

Thanks to Andrew for the tip.

73,
Lars / PH0NO

Thursday, September 6, 2012

French nature park FFF-049 and castle in dept. 37

Activating Langeais on four bands

On a short holiday trip to the Loire region I ended up near the town of Langeais. This town is situated within the nature park Loire Anjou Touraine. This town also features a nice medieval castle. I could not find the castle on the DFCF (national French castle program) list nor on the WCA list. Checking with the DFCF coordinator F6FNA I learned the castle had not been activated before. Jean Pierre gave me a new reference number as did Andrew RN1CW for the WCA program.

Castle of Langeais (F-05272 and DFCF 37-095)

Thursday afternoon / early evening turned out to be the time slot I could spend some time on the radio. I went over to Langeais and found a nice spot along the Loire river, less than 500m from the castle. This is an important distance as I was planning to activate the castle both under the WCA rules as well as under the DFCF rules. The latter states that one needs to be within 500m from the castle.
View from the operating spot towards the castle of Langeais

The conditions were rather peculiar. QSB was strong and there was not a lot of activity on the bands. There were some stations from the east that came in rather strong though, from Japan and all the way from Indonesia.

I started out on 15m, went down to 17m, 20m and 40m, to end on 20m again. I logged 154 calls, 105 of them on 20m. 40m was quieter than I expected it to be with only 25 calls logged. This might have been due to strong QRM/QRN that went up to S7.

Operating spot @ Langeais

DX came in from 4Z, EA8, W1, JA, UA9 and YB. YB1HK set the max QRB to 11900km - a new record during a WFF/WCA activation for me.
Alexander UR7ET came by on three different bands, Alexander RV9UCN on two.

Thanks all for stopping by.

Lars, F/PH0NO/P

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Portable set up

What does a ham need when working portable?

After quite some portable ham radio activities I have put together a set of things I always take with me. The stuff I take fits nicely into one small but sturdy and padded backpack (except for the masts). 

I thought it might be a good thing to share my experiences in case somebody out there is entering the realm of /P for the first time.

There are some differences in the stuff I take with me, depending on the amount of walking I expect to do and whether I will use my car as temporary shack or whether I will be outside somewhere.

Portable set 1 - all-round
The stuff I always take with me when weight is not a real issue (i.e. when I am not walking for hours).

RadioYaesu FT-857d
AntennaHyEndFed matchbox with several half wave wires for different bands
Antenna supportSpieth or Spiderbeam fibreglass mast with 3-4 extensions
Guy ring, 3 guy lines of abt 20m each, 3 pegs and a rubber hammer
PowerLiFePo 8700mAh battery (2x)
MicrophoneHeil Elite Pro headset
LoggingLaptop (pen and paper as backup)
MiscMicroHAM interface
Coax (approx. 6m)

I take this set with me when I am on my mountain bike or when I am walking only for a short distance (from a car park into a nature park for example). 

Set 1 (all-round): one backpack and several fibreglass tubes - transportable by bike

Portable set 2 - QRP / minimal
When going on foot for a longer trip, weight is an issue. In those cases I skip and change quite a few of the items in my allround set. I take a lighter radio with lighter batteries and I skip the fibreglass mast. The only downside to this is that you end up with less range (lower power and less effective antenna).

The minimal set boils down to:

RadioYaesu FT-817ND
AntennaAlexLoop Walkham (small magnetic loop 7-30Mhz)
or:
HyEndFed matchbox with several half wave wires for different bands
Antenna supportWalking stick and some rope for the Alexloop
or:
One ball and a lot of fish line for the HyEndFed (using a tree)
PowerLipo 2200mAh battery (2x)
MicrophoneYaesu stock mic (I am not a CW practitioner)
LoggingPen and paper
MiscCoax for the HyEndFed (AlexLoop has coax attached)

Note that I either take a magnetic loop or the HyEndFed wires with me. The magnetic loop is the best option if I will end up in places where I cannot easily put up an endfed wire (e.g. higher up in the mountains or protected places where I might run into trouble if I use a tree). I do expect the endfeds to perform better - so if I can, I take those.

Set 2 (minimal): acceptable weight for a hiking trip in the mountains

Portable set 3 - car
The all-round set is all I need really, so there is not much more to take with me. However, when I know I can get to where I want to go by car all the way I sometimes choose to take a different antenna with me. At this moment this can either be my homebrew Cobweb antenna or my refurbished 10m yagi. They both require a more sturdy mast - so I take my homebrew alu mast.
I might even decide to put up two antennas (the HyEndFed on a fibreglass mast being one of them). In that case I also take my antenna switch and some extra coax with me.

Set 3 (car): room for other (heavier) antennas

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Castle number three: Heemstede II

Acceptable conditions on 17m and 20m on a nice location

Last week I had the opportunity to visit another castle before heading home. This time it was a castle just south of Utrecht. It is know as "Heemstede II" with the WCA and COTA-NL reference PA-00742. It was built in 1645 to replace a medieval castle in its vicinity (Heemstede), that has since disappeared. This is what the castle looks like today:

Heemstede II - PA-00742

And this is what it looked like in 1698:
Heemstede II in 1698
I found an operating spot next to the canal that runs from the river Rhine up to Amsterdam and passes the castle. I was hoping that little bit of water would help my antenna (even if the effect is only psychological). The view was very pleasant anyways and the weather was good with sun and moderate temperatures (22C).

PH0NO/P
Radio conditions weren't too good. The higher bands were quiet so I started on 17m. I worked 18 stations in about 45 minutes. It was never busy but the contacts included most of the DX of this afternoon with W2, W4, RV9 and JL1.
I changed down to 20m and worked another 55 OMs in one and a half hours. Again not very busy but that leaves time to have some longer QSO's. The DX on this band consisted of KA2, VE4 and RV9. 

In total I logged 73 calls from 25 DXCCs. The maximum QRB of this activity was set by a JL1 station to 9300 km. Roberto IK1DFH, Mario IW1QEA and Alexander RV9UCN came by on both bands.

About two thirds of the callsigns logged were new to me. This shows me that the chasers of the WCA award only partily overlap with the chasers of flora and fauna references (where usually only one third of the callsigns are new).

Thanks all for giving me a call.

73,
Lars / PH0NO/P

Friday, August 3, 2012

Another day, another castle: Rosendael

Lousy conditions on second castle activation

With the nice experience yesterday and some time at the end of the day today I went over to the castle that is closest to where I live: kasteel Roosendael (PA-01487). A castle that still exists today.

This is a picture of the castle I took last fall:
Kasteel Roosendael aka PA-01487
The castle is surrounded by lots of trees, so finding an operating spot was not easy. I found one where I could just push the mast in between the branches of various trees, about 500m from the castle.

Operating position in between the trees
The conditions did not look very promising judging from the various propagation sources and the DX cluster. 17m seemed to have some openings to the east, so I tried this band first. The results were quite different from yesterday: I got only one reply from an Italian OM who was barely readable.

I changed to 20m to find that this band was suffering from strong QSB. It was never busy but I did meet quite a few new OMs and a couple of old friends. After less than an hour I decided to give 40m a try. The band was rather quiet and just like yesterday I got no answer at all. I now start to suspect the antenna - I will check it before the next activation.

I went back to 20m for another 20 minutes before breaking up and heading home.


In 90 minutes radio time I worked 63 stations from 22 DXCCs. Only four DX stations came by from UA9, VO1 and CN8. RV9UCN set the maximum QRB to 5100km.

73,
Lars / PH0NO