Sunday, March 23, 2014

A long activity from PAFF-056

Last Friday afternoon I went to PAFF-056 as planned. Weather turned out okay so I brought a couple of antennas, including my hexbeam. The plan was to activate the park and catch some DX in the process.

Long setup time
Setting up took more time than usual. This was caused by a bit of damage control I still had to do after the mast crashed down during the PACC contest.  Of course there was a new mast support to install and I brought my C-Pole for 40m for the first time.

I arrived in the reserve at 15h local time but logged the first contact only at 16h - J8 on 20m for a new band DXCC. After listening around for other DX I only encountered VU4 but the zoo was enormous - not something I was going to waste my time on.

Just before 16:30 I started calling CQ on 20m using my mono band End Fed (vertically on a fibreglass pole) and my Hexbeam pointing towards NA. After about one hour things started to quiet down and I scanned the bands for new DX to catch. I found 3B8 on 10m and added that one to the log to reach 200 DXCCs. One of the targets for this year but clearly not very a very ambitious one.

Setup with hexbeam @10m and end fed
Weather was improving during the afternoon

Tuning my new C-Pole for 40m
Then it was time to go down to 40m. This was a time consuming switch as the new C-Pole antenna I brought turned out to be a bit too short. I tried it above my roof at home one night after constructing it and there it was okay, but having it in the field and on a different height clearly has a lot of effect on the resonance frequency. I do not take any tuning devices with me when I go /P as I am careful to always take resonant antennas (I do not like the idea of wasting valuable radiation energy when /P) so I had to fix this - it was resonant around 7.4Mhz, "slightly" off.
Fortunately I brought extra wire and randomly added some lengths to both legs of the folded dipole. With some luck I got it to resonate in the relevant portion of the band.

With a resonant antenna I was ready for some serious WWFF activity again - 40m is always a popular band for WWFF chasers in EU. However it turned out the band was a terrible mess. It was crowded and QRM was S8-9 all over the band with a spiking signal (electric fence?) every second of 9+10. Great!
I logged 5 contacts before giving up and returning to a higher band - 15m this time using only the hexbeam.

15m was not particularly busy and was slowly closing while it was getting dark outside. I was planning to go back to 40m hoping the QRM would die out a bit. Before that however I packed up the hexbeam and all other stuff I was not going to use and definitely would have a hard time finding in the dark.

Trying 40m for a second time with a nice surprise
Around 20:20 local time I was back on 40m but to my disappointment it was still one big sea of QRM all over the place. However there were quite a number of strong signals (above QRM level) around so I gave it a try anyway and logged 56 contacts in the following 40 minutes.

Half way during this session on 40m a very peculiar thing happened. I got a call from a station that I heard to be something like ?K7AC. Now you have to imagine that it was a terrible QRM mess and that I had been logging EU contacts only. So I initially thought it was IK7AC - although the OM was definitely not Italian. When he repeated his call a couple of times I could only conclude that it was VK7AC - peaking S9 with me. He gave me 57.

Before this contact my ODX on 40m was TG - just a bit over half the distance - that I worked using my full size inverted V (my favourite DX antenna on 40m until this day) and more power - 300 in stead of the 90W I was using now. A nice surprise that completely wiped out my frustration about the band condition.

At 21h I called it a day - completely exhausted from pulling stations through the constant noise. I packed up the last bits and went back home.

All in all I logged 175 contacts from 40 DXCCs, including a lot of familiar call signs and some fellow FF national coordinators. Noteworthy DX included - VK7 (duh!), 3B8, 5R8, J8, ZS6 (on the side of the hexbeam) and a couple of stations in central USA. Not as much as I hoped to catch with the extra hassle of installing the hexbeam but enough highlights to travel home satisfied.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Time to go /P again - this Friday

Quite unexpectedly I am faced with a nice gap in my schedule this Friday afternoon that allows me to play radio again for a few hours. The gap is large enough to go out and combine a bit of DX fishing with the activation of a nature reserve in the area. 

Checking the activation list of PAFF I found that Haaksbergseveen (PAFF-056) is in need of activation as it has only been reached by just about 100 chasers. I have been there before - so it is not a new one for me as FF activator. The last time I was there I was only able to find an operating spot in between a lot of trees. Using Google Maps I have now spotted an open area that seems to be reachable.

I just managed to build a new mast support in time after losing the previous one in the storm during PACC (wood again, as I did not find the time to sit down and design a alu drive-on version yet), so I am thinking of taking my aluminium mast and folding hexbeam. It may give DX FF chasers a better chance to reach me and it should help me to maybe find some new DX.

Monday, March 10, 2014

PACC statistics

During PACC we used N1MM to log our contacts. Afterwards I imported the data into my HRD Logbook and added the QRZ data to get a better idea of our results.

The simple facts are as follows:
10SSB632311.930 (LU)
8.000 (W5)
15SSB1173411.340 (YB)
8.700 (W6)
20SSB914016.600 (VK2)
8.160 (W5)
40SSB42367.200 (WP)
6.260 (W3)
80SSB53285.640 (W1)
2.110 (R3)
160SSB62172.120 (R3)

We logged 52 DXCCs and 12 US states.

As I am visually oriented I like to see what the data means. This is the total log plotted on our planet (click to enlarge):

  • Red = 10m, Orange = 15m, Yellow = 20m, Green = 40m, Purple = 80m, Blue = 160m 
  • Circle = SSB, Star = CW

10, 15 and 20m contacts are as expected scattered around the planet with 10m getting us in to South America (an easy route on 10m from our location) & South Africa (and Mayotte.. of all places); 15m into Japan and 20m into Australia. All quite familiar results from my earlier activities with the hexbeam. On 40m we got well into the US and Caribbean (PJ & WP). 

To get a better idea of what we did on the top bands I have a map showing only those contacts:

80m got us into the US - East Coast and Asiatic Russia. On 160m we did not get outside of Europe but we reached the Moscow region both in phone and CW, which is quite a bit further than we expected to get.

Monday, March 3, 2014

PACC contest experiences

As blogged before February featured my first contest as a serious contender: the PACC contest that runs from Saturday 12 UTC to Sunday 12 UTC.

A small team from the Arnhem region (PG8M, PD7YY and myself) set out to activate our club call PI4ANH and try to achieve an acceptable score. We used a single radio multi op set up. PG8M did some CW while PD7YY and myself handled the phone contacts. Two club members that are avid CW OPs (PA3GWC & PA3DCX) came by late on Saturday to boost our CW performance for a couple of hours.

The weekend featured typical autumn weather (even though it is winter in February on this part of the planet): rain and strong winds. The heating of the cabin we were in was limited so we were happy it was not freezing but the grounds were soaked after days of rain, causing everything to end up covered in mud (clothing, wires, masts, etc.). The wind posed a challenge both while setting up the antennas as well as in keeping them up (more on that later) and it made for a lot of alarming noises shaking the cabin we were in.

Set-up with 5 antennas in a rare moment of low winds Saturday evening

On Saturday morning we arrived on the camp site and started to set up the station consisting of my IC-756ProIII, various microphones, a mobile amp and 5 different antennas: hexbeam (10-20m), yagi (10m), inverted V for 40m, inverted V for 80m and an end fed half wave wire antenna for 160m. Setting up the two HF beams was familiar territory - as I have used them more than once in /P operations. The inverted V for 40 and for 80m was a bit more work than expected. I acquired a new 17m long pole from Spiderbeam that I had not used before. Putting that up, with all the guy lines and two inverted V's in very windy conditions took quite some time. PG8M was in the mean time busy tuning the 160m antenna - a new end fed wire antenna he prepared specifically for this contest. We set that last antenna up using two 12m poles attached to the goal posts on the sports field next to our shack. The 160m was very low (around 10m high in the centre) relative to the wave length. The wire was however running across a very very wet field. Maybe that helped us a bit..

In action
We had the hex and yagi up well before the contest began. PD7YY reminded us of the DX-pedition on Amsterdam Isl. and we could indeed copy them on 10m. Both PG8M and myself lack a good antenna at home so we used the opportunity with the 4 element to get into the log of FT5ZM. A nice start of the day.

At noon UTC PD7YY started things off behind the microphone while PG8M and myself completed the low band antennas during the first part of the afternoon.  We took shifts sleeping, making sure we were on the air 24h. Apart from the fact that you still end up exhausted, this worked as planned. We had a second cabin for sleeping, a short walking distance from our temporary shack.

Our CW support: PA3GWC & PA3DCX
PD7YY and PG8M after a long night...

Conditions on the higher bands were not very good. They had been excellent in the days preceding the contest but with Aurora that very morning 10m was almost killed and DX was sparse all together. We did use all the bands but logged only around 60 contacts on 10m - for which we brought a separate mono band yagi. My impression was that there was a considerable group of OMs active in the contest - allowing for a nice steady flow of contacts now and again and even some pile-ups. 

Strong winds - check out the inv. v pole
The wind kept on pounding our set-up but we were fine until 20 minutes before the end of the contest on Sunday early afternoon. PD7YY was on the radio and we copied EK for a new multiplier on 20m. His signal was quite al-right but he did not seem to hear us. My gut feeling told me something was wrong and indeed it was. When I came out of the cabin I saw the main mast had collapsed taking down the hex and the yagi. The hex had luckily folded upwards without sustaining any structural impact as far as I have been able to assess slightly helped by the yagi breaking the impact. This does mean that the yagi lost 4 elements (one side of the yagi) as they are all bent beyond repair. Nothing else had been hit and the elements are replaceable - so nothing too dramatic.

Just 20 minutes before the end of the contest we lost our beams - hex looks dramatic but turns out OK

It is definitely time for a better support - I am thinking about a drive-on support like the one developed by M0UOO (but that is something for a future post).

Funny thing is that we could copy EK well with just a bunch of wires on the ground (the collapsed hex)... incredible.

After looking at the mess PD7YY completed the last minutes on 40m (no time to waste.. we were in a contest, remember) and PG8M and myself started to clean up the muddy mess.

We managed to log 803 contacts, 5 of which were dupes and 3 were contacts with PJ4NX who was using "CN" as exchange - an exchange not officially accepted it seems. This leaves 795 points. We scored 178 multipliers bringing us to a total of 141.510 points.

This is of course before the organization filters out our many typos....

We scored most of our points on 20m (204 x 40), followed by 40m (164 x 36), 15m (142 x 34) and 80m (136 x 28). The "edges" 160m and 10m are close - with 160m (87 x 17) beating 10m (62 x 23).. that is completely against what we expected (we expected far more points on 10m and far less on 160m).

Lessons learned

  • We have learned that setting up all antennas takes more time than expected. This was partly due to the new components used (new pole, new wire antenna) and the weather.
  • We have learned some operating efficiencies regarding the switching between modes and operators.
  • We think we now know a bit better what band and mode to use at what moment in the contest.
  • We have learned that for working local / regional stations it is useful to have a vertical in place at least for 20m - in addition to the hex. 
  • The yagi did not bring a lot of benefit, so we will skip it next time.
  • Investing in a 160m antenna does pay out.
I expect we will be back next year to see if we can beat the 2014 score.