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)
HyEndFed matchbox with several half wave wires for different bands
Antenna supportWalking stick and some rope for the Alexloop
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).

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.

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.

Lars / PH0NO

Thursday, August 2, 2012

My first castle activation: Wageningen

Nice first experience with WCA/COTA-NL

With all sorts of ineffective discussions going on in the WFF program I decided to try something else today: activation of a castle. I know from Hans PA3FYG that castle activation from the Netherlands is rare (Hans activated Twickel this year and found out it was the first PA castle activation). I guess that would make this activity the second ever castle activation in PA land.

A lot of castles lie in crowded areas where /P activity is not feasible or are only accessible by foot / bicycle (and I did not bring my batteries). Looking at the map I compiled so far (check out my Google Maps file - still under construction) I guessed that Wageningen Castle would be suitable for a /P activity from my car.  The castle itself has disappeared, but it looked like this:
Wageningen Castle - PA-01793
Nowadays a museum "Casteelse Poort" is on the site of the old ruins.
Museum Casteelse Poort, on the site of PA-01793

I found a good operating spot just south of the castle ruins (within 1km distance) and decided to give 17m a chance first (higher bands seemed rather quiet on the cluster). I had no idea what to expect regarding the activity level. Would it be comparable to Flora and Fauna activations?

The first one to respond was the familiar voice of Luciano, I5FLN. After him followed another 19 OMs in about 25 minutes with a KB1 station from Maine and Alexander RV9UCN - who I met about 10 times before during Flora and Fauna activities - as the two DX stations on this band. The KB1 OM set the maximum QRB for this activity to 5100km.

Operating spot near PA-01793
I then changed the antenna to operate on the 20m band. There I met 53 OMs in about one hour. Activity level was just a bit lower than on a Flora and Fauna activation. Four DX stations came by on this band (UA9 and UN). Amongst them RV9UCN for the second time.

As activity slowed down I then changed to 40m - as I am used to when activating Flora and Fauna locations. The strange thing was that I got absolutely NO reply on this band. It might have been due to the high QRM level at the location (S7), but I did not copy a single soul replying my calls. Listening around I did hear a few stations - none of them with very strong signals though.

After trying some time I was ready to pack up when I saw there was some activity on 6m. I changed the antenna for the last time and tried 6m. There I worked another 7 stations (6 new grids for me).

In 90 minutes I worked 80 stations from 25 DXCCs. Igor RW3XW and Alexander RV9UCN came by on two bands.

My first castle activation was a nice experience. There were some familiar calls - OMs that also hunt for Flora and Fauna references - and quite a few new ones (more than 50% new callsigns). I will definitely activate other castles in the future.

Lars / PH0NO