Sunday, December 29, 2013

Reached 44 different WWFF nature reserves

Last week I went out to activate two nature parks in the south of The Netherlands. Both had been activated once before but not by me yet. When I uploaded the logs in the evening I found out that this brought my total number of activated (different) nature reserves on 44. This is a magic number in the flora & fauna program.

Obstacles on the way into PAFF-049
This time the activity was not as straight forward as usually as we had stormy weather with very strong gusts of wind. The picture above shows you what the roads looked like on my way into the reserve.
For some reason though the antenna wires remained on the fiberglass mast even though it was rocking and bending like crazy.

I started out in PAFF-049 (Mortelen) on 40m. There was a lot of activity on that band. Then I went up to 20m for again quite a bit of activity. Around noon it was time to pack up and head for the nearby PAFF-059 (Kampina). There I was active mainly on 20m and 40m again. I tried the higher bands but found (almost) no activity there.

Conditions were poor with almost no DX in the log (except for Bill W1OW who always seems to make it across the pond and a few R9 and 4Z).

In the end I did log 280 calls that day - not a bad result especially considering the lousy propagations. I met a lot of familiar people including a lot of the WWFF team members.

Tomorrow Monday December 30 I will be going out again. This time I plan to head into PAFF-063 (Rijk van Nijmegen). I am going to take my hexbeam with me to hopefully work a bit more DX - if I find a suitable place between the trees to set it up and if the wind is not too strong (they forecast stormy conditions again).

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Time for some /P PAFF activities again

After a period of far too much distraction from work I have planned two days for /P activities during the holidays: Tuesday December 24 and Monday December 30.

This Tuesday I expect to be able to activate two nature reserves that are part of the PAFF program (PAFF-049 and PAFF-059). The weather forecast is not good with stormy wind and rain but I assume I will be able to set up the wire antennas.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

PH0NO's aluminium push up mast

On request of a number of people I added a section about my DIY aluminium push up mast under "PH0NO projects". This mast has allowed me to set up my 4 element 10m yagi and my hexbeam. In this way it is a vital component for my DX fishing.

It is quite heavy and not as practical as a fibreglass pole, but it does allow me to put either (or both) of the beams on considerable height - up to 14m in low wind conditions.

Check out the details here if you are interested.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Results of CQWW 2013

Saturday I went out for an afternoon and evening of DX fishing in the CQWW contest. Setting up my rather elaborate /P station - see previous posts - took more time than during the last test on Wednesday. The wind was to blame.

Windy conditions
Aiming for DX I was a bit too enthusiastic and started with a fully extended mast. With both antenna's on it (yagi and hexbeam). The last section however is not strong enough in windy conditions. With the whole construction up I saw it rocked far too much and no guying was going to help.
So I took the mast down again, removed the yagi and lowered the upper section.
All in all it took me more than an hour to get the station in the air. The mast was a little lower than I hoped (hex at approx 11m and yagi at 9m) but it stayed upright and was still turn-able while guyed.

Double beam /P operation

Starting on the high bands
At 13h local time the hunt started. With my cluster app and two fellow hams - PD7YY and PA3GGI - online via WhatsApp I was able to find quite a number of new band DXCCs and even completely new DXCCs. I hopped around over the bands using the yagi for 10m and the hex for all others. The yagi pointed in the opposite direction from the hex, so I was able to quickly determine SP/LP paths on 10m by switching between the two antennas.

From the ones I actually heard I in the end missed three: VP2M (pileup too large and then gone) and FO4 (faded while calling by number) for new one all band and 7O on 20m for new band (lost in splatter). See the list and map at the end of this post for the total score.

Going down to 40m

Around 22:30h 10m was closing and I did not notice any new ones any more on the other bands so I took down the mast and antennas. At 23:30h however I was still not ready (mentally..) to go home so I set up my inverted V for 40m. This is a challenging band for DX in almost all cases but definitely when you are /P. Before this day my top DX on this band was KP2 (7000km) from home with a shortened dipole abt. 4m above my roof, followed by one US station from NJ (6000km) using my sloping wire and then R9 stations less than 5000km away. I did work some more US stations but only digitally and all at < 6500km.

So I was very happy when I added to W3LPL (6300km) as the first station on 40m this evening and even more happy - not to say ecstatic - when I added B9 (6500km and new DXCC on this band). Then I tried to hunt TF (new one as well on this band) but the pileup was too large as every serious contester was looking for zone 40. When I came back later he was gone but to my total surprise the station that was on his QRG and actually copied me was PJ2T. Brilliant! New max distance on this band with almost 8000km. I added a few more US stations and RW0A to complete the DX hunt on this band. I did manage to log TF later and added new DXCCs on this band from A7, 9K and HZ.

At 1:00am I ended the operation for the day planning to return in the morning to look for some remaining new ones on the higher bands.

No portable activity on Sunday
Sunday morning the weather had deteriorated however. As I was quite happy with the results of Saturday and not looking forward to getting extremely wet while setting up a large antenna in windy and rainy conditions I decided to stay home and work some more stations with my sloping wire (end fed). With this minimal set-up I just scanned the 10, 20 and 40m bands and called whoever I heard - handing out some points. I added two new band contacts with 7Z on 20m and XP on 20m (PSK).
Most of the contacts were in EU but I did manage to work US into W7 and even KL7 on 10m and 20m.

Pleased with the results
Map of stations logged during CQWW 2013
The map above shows the contacts in this contest. Green dots are 40m contacts, yellow ones 20m, orange 15m and red 10m. There are also three pink ones of WARC contacts. Together with the PSK contact (yellow star) with XP they are the new band contacts I made outside of the contest.

The total score this year is 6 new ones (all band - 5H, 7O, C6, OA, TI & XW) and on top of that 24 new band ones: 7 new on 40m, 9 new on 20m, 2 new on 17m, 7 new on 15m, 1 new on 12m and 8 new on 10m.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Portable set-up with two beams

Yesterday morning I had some time to go out again to do some /P-DX-hunting and some lasts preparations for CQWW.

With 10m open as it is at the moment (yeah!) I decided to bring both my DX antennas: my 4 element yagi for 10m and my 6 band hexbeam. My idea was to try both to decide what I would bring next weekend to my CQWW chase. 

I tried to set up both antennas on my aluminium mast to do some A-B testing. It turns out my home-brew mast is sturdy enough to carry both antennas.  The hexbeam was on top (due to its construction it must be - it inserts into the upper tube of the mast) and the yagi some 2-3 meters below it. I used one guy wire just to be sure the mast would not bend too much, but in fact it was not really a necessary addition - even though it was a bit windy.

Stack: yagi and hexbeam - leafs are an indication of the windy conditions
This gave me a set-up that looks very impressive (to me as the ham-without-a-beam-at-home at least) and turned out to be effective as well. Being limited in time and of course using this opportunity also to catch some DX, I did not do a lot of A-B TX tests - it is quite bold to ask that DXpedition to give two real reports. One JA OM told me there were some 2-3 S-points difference (in favour of the yagi). Closer by a UY OM saw less difference. So there is still some testing to do. On RX however I could test the difference all the time. Here I saw that the yagi even when positioned lower is one S-point stronger. This is especially noticeable on the weaker signals. There you could really hear (as well as see) the difference.

Portable set-up: hex at approx 12m, yagi at approx 9m high
During the short period I was actually on the radio I managed to log DX from TN2 (new band), HS0, B9, JA3, R0 and D4 (new band).

What I learned for the contest this weekend is that it is useful to bring the yagi to catch the weaker DX (assuming 10m is open for a considerable amount of time). I also learned that I can have both beams on my mast at the same time. This gives me another nice opportunity: if I point the yagi and hex in opposite directions I can quickly check short path versus long path propagations on 10m. That is a feature that helps me as I am not used to working with a beam and therefore have too little experience to choose the right path given the direction and time of day.

Looking forward to more fun this weekend.

Monday, October 21, 2013

A few hours fishing DX - catching new ones

After two months in which I had no time at all for any radio-activity (imagine that...), I managed to free up a couple of hours on Wednesday afternoon. With about 4 hours I had just enough time to go out with the hexbeam and look for some DX.

Conditions had been OK in the preceding days, with openings on the higher bands (10-12m), so it looked like a good investment of my time. Taking the hexbeam out does limit the time left for actually being on the air as I have to bring more stuff and need more time to get it all set up (and broken down again). All in all I think I need about 1,5 hours to get all stuff in the car, drive to my favourite location, set up the station, pack everything in again and drive home. This left me with 2,5 hours to be on the air.

Looking through the glass roof of my car at the Hexbeam

DX with a couple of new ones
When I had my station ready I saw Dervin PD9DX was working from YB0 on 15m. I know Dervin from the PAFF program and he put in a very good signal. Enough reason to give him a shout and have a short chat. After that first contact I was scanning the bands and the cluster for DX activities, logging a total of only 12 contacts but interesting ones.

It turned out to be a nice DX afternoon, even though conditions weren't especially good. I worked a couple of new ones: C8, H7, FR and TN (Dutch DXpedition), two OD stations on two new bands (15 and 20), and a new prefix from Canada: CK1.
Noteworthy but not new were TO2 on 10m (already worked that one during WPX earlier this year), VK4 and YI1 on 15m.

One very peculiar thing: I worked TN on 12m long path... I still do not understand it. The signal was S0 sometimes peaking S1 on short path. When I turned the antenna around while looking at the S-meter I saw it peaked S3-4 when the antenna pointed north. I tried turning the antenna around a few more times, with the same result. Go figure.. TN is 6000km due south from here.

There were two stations I tried but did not reach:
- VP2, he was not very strong and there was quite a considerable pile-up. He did hear me once, asking for "the NO/P" station to come back but he consecutively answered a French station that called over me. I do not understand operators that do not manage their pile-up. It promotes selfish behaviour of chasers.
- V6, was very weak (S0-1) and had a large pile-up. No chance there.

There was also a VK5 station working from an IOTA location. He however had a zoo from "5 to 10 up".. so I skipped that one.

This was a nice exercise in preparation of CQWW - my next radio opportunity. I already booked time off family duties well ahead and have so far still managed to keep the claim on Saturday afternoon and evening and a part of the Sunday morning. So I will have some serious time to go out with the hex and I will probably bring my 4 element yagi for 10m as well.

Looking forward to more DX!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Out with the Hex again logging a lot of "new ones"

Last weekend I booked some time off from family duties. My first idea was to enter the EU HF contest. I missed the IARU HF contest due to other commitments. The EU HF contest was the first possible alternative. Aimed at EU only I considered it an opportunity to increase my DXCC level on the low bands.

The contest ran for from 14:00 local time till 2:00 local time. So I booked the afternoon and evening off and headed over to my favourite /P spot on a (during weekends) desolate industrial zone in Arnhem. I set up my Hexbeam 12m/40ft high and installed my mobile amplifier to boost my power to about 300w PEP.

Fishing DX first
I started around 16h local time, focussing on DX first (no point in using the low bands at that hour). Because of the contest the WARC bands were quite busy and these were the bands where DX was to be found (hiding from the contest activity on 10/15/20). 

Quickly I discovered a positive side effect of the EU contest: EU was busy chasing EU, so chasing DX became easier: pile-ups were noticeably smaller. Also conditions turned out to be rather interesting. The bands were not completely stable - some QSB around - but even 12m opened up a couple of times.

I started working far east stations on 17m, then went down to 15m to collect some contest points and stumbled upon 9M8 and ST2M - both new ones on this band. As no one had spotted ST2M yet we had the opportunity to have a real QSO in stead of only the usual 59 TU.

A lot of "new (band) ones"
I quickly became bored with the contest and went back to 17m where I contacted a lot of JA and North-American stations including West Coast US and XE (new on this band). Then I went up to 12m where I added A61, 4X and PZ to my list for this band. I visited 10m (contest) and 6m (Es opening towards DL/OK/SP/UR). Then I hopped around using the cluster to add V47, A92, CP, FJ (new ones), CE, JW and ZF (new band) to my log.

With the low activity from EU towards DX there was time to have a long chat with a ZL as well as two VKs.

Around midnight I had a chat with my friend PD7YY who was working from a hotel on TF. His mediocre set-up (end fed wire sloping from 4m high only to the ground) still gave him an S9 in the peaks on 20m. So the band was in a good shape.

No low bands
As 17m and 20m remained open there was no time to pick up on my original plan to join the contest on the low bands. There was just too much going on on the higher bands. It was difficult to find a good reason to stop and go home (you need to at one time or another). After logging ZF I turned off the radio at 2 am and began breaking up the station.

End result
In total I logged:
  • 121 calls - 22 in the contest
  • 4 new DXCCs (all band)
  • 4 new ones on 20m
  • 12 new ones on 17m
  • 3 new ones on 15m
  • 7 new ones on 12m
  • 1 new one on 6m 
This has also brought my total on 15m above 100 DXCCs which was sort of my goal for this year (3 bands). Next up is 17m with 75 DXCC entities worked.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Two nature parks on one day

Lousy propagation but nice results

This Saturday featured the GreenParty (organised by YOFF). I knew beforehand I would not be able to go out that day, so when the Friday became available (no work or family obligations) I decided to use the time to go /P.

Scanning the list of most wanted parks I selected two in the northern part of the Netherlands: PAFF-029 De Velden (Drenthe) and PAFF-001 Alde Feanen (Friesland). Both are about 1,5 hours drive from my home and about 1 hour drive distance from each other. A lot of driving, but with a full day available that was quite acceptable.

My plan would depend on the propagation conditions. If they were lousy, I planned to quit after one activity. If they were mediocre to good I would do two activities.

Checking the solar widget in the morning really brought disappointment: all band conditions were predicted to be "poor". With a high A and K and low SSN, I was in for a challenge.
Although I did not know if I would be able to use it, I brought my hexbeam plus alu mast just to be sure I would be able to work at least some stations.

De Velden (PAFF-029)
I started at De Velden (PAFF-029) on 20m with my end fed set up vertically. I did not bother to check the higher bands - my cluster app told me that the prediction was quite accurate: no activity above 20m.

Very sunny operating position @ PAFF-029
The first 90 minutes brought mainly EU contacts between 55-59 with a lot of stations around 57. I would guess most stations were about 2 s-units down from their usual strength. Only three stations outside of Europe came by in that period: UA9, UN and 7X.
Then Rick VO1SA came by, showing at least some opening towards NA (he was in the end the only NA station I copied - and quite close by with only 4100km between us). Surprisingly also FY came by a couple of minutes later. He set the record at PAFF-029.

After 2 hours of operating things started to slow down and I decided to set up my hexbeam - in hindsight probably only to give me the feeling I did not bring the antenna and the mast in vain. I still had some fixing to do after dropping the beam (for a second time...) last Wednesday. After about an hour of working in the hot sun I listened around to find that all bands were really dead. I did work one EA on 6m and I logged an E7FF operation by three OK operators on 20m - bringing the total amount of contacts to 144.

Then I took everything down again leaving just enough time to drive to Alde Feanen (PAFF-001). Results were good enough to try another park.

Alde Feanen (PAFF-001)
Here I found a place in the shadow - convenient as it was one of the first warm days. Being in the shadow does limit the usability of the hexbeam (not fond of trees), so I took my 20m end fed out again.

Operating in the shadow @ PAFF-001
Conditions seemed the same as in the morning, maybe just slightly better. I again logged mostly EU stations the first 90 minutes with the exception of one UA9, UK8 and Malkiel 4X4JU who boomed in with his new beam.

When 20m slowed down I decided to try 15m as the cluster showed at least some activity. In 20 minutes I only logged 7 contacts, bringing the total in this park to 128. There were however three DX stations amongst them: A4 (new band) and 2xYC (max. QRB for the day: 11.300km). I also spoke to a G0 station and found out later that he was the first G station I contacted on 15m. Evidently not a regular skip distance for this band.

Even though conditions were lousy I did log 272 calls and scored three "new band slots", for A4, G and ZB. That does not happen often - not even when conditions are great. So driving the long end home I was pleased with a day well spent.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

PAFF-048 multi op activity by PA3FYG and PH0NO

Windy and chilly conditions, activating on 4 bands with 2 stations

Yesterday Hans PA3FYG and myself went out for our first joint /P activity. We have been working together to develop and promote the PAFF program and met a couple of times on the radio during activities but never in person.

After a short introduction we went into the park to find an operating position. We decided to set up two stations some 150m apart, each on one end of a small lake (Bisonbaai) in the Ooijpolder.

PH0NO/P windy operating position at PAFF-048
Hans brought his multi band end fed for 10-20-40m. As 10m was not open he had 20m and 40m at his disposal. I brought end fed wires for all bands from 6m down to 40m. 15m seemed to be open, so I decided to start there and try 17m after that - spreading our activity over 4 bands.

20m and 40m are the most popular bands for flora and fauna activity. This was noticeable in the amount of calls logged. When we decided to go for a cup of coffee at the nearby Oortjeshekken B&B 2 hours after we started I had only 47 calls in the log. Net operating time was less than 2 hours because the fibreglass pole collapsed three times due to the wind and I had to change the antenna once (from 15m to 17m). Still it made for the most quiet activity I have had so far. Hans had a busier time, logging approx 100 calls on 20m and 40m.

12m pole with end fed antenna and comfy chair
The advantage of the higher bands is that you are more likely to encounter chasers @ DX. This was indeed the case with 25% of all calls logged originating from outside of Europe (4Z, R9, UN, VO, W0/3/4, PT, PJ, JE). Peter PJ4NX that I spoke to before at PAFF-069 on 10m, came by on 15m and 17m for two new PJ band slots and I met two people I had only so far met through e-mail (Andrej RN1CW, from WCA HQ and Carlos PT7ZT, PYFF co-ordinator).

We planned to stay longer but the wind and occasional drop of rain made it rather unpleasant and after two hours a warm cup of coffee was really welcome. By the time we finished our coffee and first proper eye ball QSO, it was almost 18h CET. This left too little time to go back and set up the stations again. So we left a bit earlier than planned. When we went back to our cars the sun came out....

Ooijpolder is a beautiful park so I will return here some day when the weather is more /P friendly.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Busy 3 band activity at PAFF-053

Activated Loenermark WWFF PAFF-053 on three bands for four hours

Although conditions were far from brilliant the activity was a success with a lot of familiar and also a lot (approx 50%) of new callsigns in the log.

Last fall I activated this nature park for the first time, so I knew where to set up my station. Although in between the trees, there was enough room to extend my vertical pole to 12m without getting stuck. I even managed to set up my full size inverted V for 40m.

Vertical end fed in between the trees
I started out on 20m, where conditions seemed okay, although there was only limited DX activity visible on the cluster. I stayed on this band for an hour and logged 83 contacts with most of the familiar calls at least an s-point down from their usual strength.
DX came in from VE, UA9 and 4X.

As HRD Logbook (for which I have a nifty widget on my phone) showed activity on 15m I went up there to find that propagation was open to the USA and Japan. In 40 minutes I logged only 20 calls but half of them DX from JA, W0/2 and 4X.

Then I went down to 40m where I quickly found a free frequency (not always so simple). Conditions were great for the shorter distance between roughly 200-700km. A high number of DL and G operators ended up in the log. 
I received a lot of +10/+20 reports and handed out a lot as well. I was cheating a bit though with my already proven inverted V (full size for 40m, apex at 11m) in combination with a small amp that pushes out somewhere between 200-300w PEP.
In total I logged 169 contacts in under 2 hours on this band.

Discounting time for changing the antennas I was active for just under 3.5 hours, logging 272 calls from 40 different DXCCs. 

In between some showers there was plenty of sunshine allowing me to open my sun roof and pretend summer has arrived.
Amongst the many OMs I spoke and I have got familiar with after meeting them at several activities were 10 fellow WWFF country representatives. A busy lot.
...and I met an OM I so far only knew through Twitter. A new experience altogether.

Thanks all for stopping by.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Short /P activity with a lot of far east contacts

Unexpected DX visits

Wednesday morning is my morning off with the kids at school and usually no pressing work issues (if I plan well). This week Wednesday I did not plan to go out as it was supposed to be windy and as I already had a fair share of DX last weekend.

When I came home from doing the groceries however I saw interesting spots including E5 and FO5 on 20m. So I decided to pack all my stuff and see if I could catch one of those. Of course because of the lousy planning I forgot one item - a support pole that keeps the mast in place. Using some ropes I was able to steady the mast holding my hexbeam just enough (although it rocked heavily).

About an hour after deciding to go out I was listening to the FO5 station. The frequency turned out to be a complete zoo. I tried a few times to get through but it was just to frustrating with people not listening - even calling over the DX station...
So I gave up on this DXCC for today.

Then I tried to find the E5 station. I found it quite strong on 15m just finishing a QSO with a G* station only using 40 watts. So that meant I had a very reasonable chance to work the DX.
Unfortunately the DX station informed all listening that this was his last QSO and he was going QRT. A couple of stations kept on calling but to no avail...

Well. Not a very good outcome for all the hassle.

To cheer myself up I called a VK2 and had a short QSO with him. Then I started calling CQ on 20m with the antenna pointing to VK/ZL long path. Maurizio IZ0ARL came by while he was activating a WWFF location. Very kind of him to give me a call (usual procedure would be the other way around). I did not get any other replies so I went up to 15m and pointed the antenna towards JA - as I saw a couple of spots indicating the band was open to JA.

I stayed on my frequency for 45 minutes greeting 14 OMs from JA and 3 from UA9. To my surprise I was also visited by DS (new band) and.. FK8.
When I heard the FK8 call I knew it was a new DXCC and an island somewhere, but had no clue where. Even when the OM told me he was in New Caledonia I had only a vague notion of where he was. Google Maps helped to increase my topographical knowledge.

Quite cool. There are only a handful of Pacific Islands I have reached so far (HK0, KH0, KH2, KH6, ZL and now FK8).

Sunday, March 31, 2013

WPX results

Time well spent in contest weekend

As blogged before I booked some time off from duties @ home on Saturday (afternoon, evening) and Sunday (morning), allowing me to basically be on the air on all parts of the day.

On both days I worked mainly using my hexbeam at about 36-40ft. On Saturday I changed the antenna once (to my 4 element yagi for 10m) to try and work RI1ANU on 10m. By the time I changed the antenna though RI1ANU was gone.. 1 hour completely lost. Luckily I managed to log RI1ANU in the evening on 20m.

On Saturday the wind was just a bit too strong for the mast height I chose (extending all parts to a height of 40ft), resulting in a strong bend. 

Mast bending due to the wind
This was not noticeable in the results however as I managed to work almost all stations I wanted to work. On Sunday I extended all but the last part and guyed the mast in the direction of the wind (see picture below). This worked very well and kept the antenna nicely parallel to the ground.

Less wind, less height and a guy line
On Saturday I started at 14h local time. I hopped around over the bands using the DX cluster on my phone and the occasional hints from PD7YY via Whatsapp. I logged 60 contacts in about 5,5 hours actually spent behind the radio. During a flora and fauna activity that would take about half an hour but looking for specific stations only, the logging speed is "slightly" lower. I logged 9 new DXCCs and 14 "new band DXCCs".

With the change to summer time there was one hour of sleep less to get. I decided not to extend my Saturday evening hunting for some new DXCCs on 40m (there were some) but to get up in time so as to pick up the signals from VK and ZL in the morning.

On Sunday I was operational again at 9 am local summer time and stayed on the air for less than three hours. I logged only 17 contacts this time, including 1 new DXCC and 8 "new band DXCCs". 10m was mostly dead (probably still too early) and 15m not too strong. As I expected Oceania was reachable - strong on 20m - and I added ZL as a new band contact on 20m, as well as working almost all VK regions (with VK1 and VK7 being new ones for me). I started working short path - not being familiar with beams just yet. So I had some trouble working Paul VK5PAS, who I worked before and who was not particularly strong. Only after I worked him it dawned upon me that conditions were probably better long path. This was indeed the case and soon after I added the other VKs and ZL to my log.  Noteworthy was VK7ZX who was a steady 9+10dB in my humble station.

All in all I worked 10 new DXCCs (3DA, 5R8, 5Z, D3, DU, FH, FR, KL, RI1ANU and 4U1ITU) and 22 new band DXCCs. Most new ones were in Africa (6). There were only a few stations I missed due to changing conditions or lack of time (or because they simply could not be copied through the QRM). The outcome of my operation this weekend can be seen on the map below. Dots are "regular" contacts, stars are "new band DXCC" contacts and the larger place marks indicate new DXCCs worked. Yellow indicates 20m, orange 15m, red 10m and purple 17m (contacts outside of the contest).

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Preparing for WPX

Ready for a couple of hours in WPX 2013

A negotiation process with the station manager has resulted in two time slots for me to go out with all my /P gear and try to get some new (band) DXCCs during the WPX contest today (afternoon and evening) and tomorrow (morning).

Preparing for this I had a little issue to solve: my microphone audio failed during my last day out. I already had had problems before with the connector for the Heil to the FT-857. It is a rather larger connector with thin wire (refer to picture below). 

Original Heil connector for the FT-857
Especially the connector for the PTT connection is large and heavy compared to the wire it is connected to. During CQWW last year this resulted in a broken wire inside the PTT line. Remembering how to set the FT-857 to Vox I was able to continue. Now however the audio line also seemed to fail.

I suspected the connector again. After taking it apart however it turned out I had a broken wire near the headphones :-(

I fixed that but now also needed a new connector to the FT-857. I ordered a replacement for the original connector - just to be safe for the contest - but also contemplated on making a cable myself that would solve another issue: the large RJ45 connector (the yellow one). The RJ45 goes inside the FT-857 behind the detachable front but is in this Heil cable so large that the front of the FT-857 cannot be reattached. This is not a major issue as it can be practical to have a loose front that you can place in a visible position but it would be convenient if I could choose to leave it on.

So I made a cable myself with a smaller RJ45 and only the audio connector (vox works perfectly). I made this cable rather short and attached it with tie wraps to the bottom of the FT-857 (see picture). In this way I expect the cable will last longer as there will be almost no strain on it.

Audio connector attached to the bottom of the FT-857
Today I will put this to the test with the original connector and the original hand microphone as backup.. 

UPDATE 23:48 local time on Saturday:
Active from about 14h local time, for 8 hours with some gaps to (1) discuss my set-up with Wilko PA1WBU who visited me shortly and (2) switch from the hexbeam to the yagi and back soon after (stupid decision as 10m was already closing). In the 5-6 hours radio time - mainly using the hexbeam, I logged 60 calls of which 55 were contest QSOs.
In the log are now 9 new DXCCs (3DA, 5Z, D3, DU, FH, FR, KL, RI1ANU and 4U1ITU) on top of that 14 new band DXCCs. Worth mentioning is my second Antarctic station RI1ANU (actually a separate DXCC). I was also thrilled with ZL3 on 20m (new band).
Tomorrow morning I will have a look if there are more interesting calls active. I have time until about lunch time. Of course this weekend is one hour shorter so it is off to bed to get some sleep before going out again.
BTW, the mic connector worked brilliantly..

Friday, March 8, 2013

More Hexbeam activity in the sun

Hunting rare DX on my Wednesday morning off

Last Wednesday conditions for a /P operation were good: not too much to do around the house and good weather. So when I got the kids in school I collected and loaded all my /P stuff in my car to drive to my favourite low profile /P location just north of Arnhem.

It has been a long time since we had weather like we had on Wednesday. It was 16 degrees Celsius and standing in the sun I did not need to wear a jacket to stay comfortably warm. Quite a change from the last time I was out and almost froze my feet from standing outside in the cold for 1,5 hours.

The hexbeam needed a bit of time to unfold as the wires got a bit entangled but once unfolded all wires were still in place and kept the spreaders in the right shape (thanks to the tape I placed on the spreaders). Due to the extra time spent on the beam it took me about 45 minutes to get the station installed.

Hextbeam at about 12m (40ft)
I started out calling CQ on 15m. There I was greeted by OMs from TA and JA. Apart from those OMs it remained rather quiet. Then Marcel PD7YY (my human DX cluster) sent me a Whatsapp message to inform me about a DXpedition @ XT. At that moment they were active on 12m CW (so they had not appeared on my phone's DX cluster app as I filter on phone only) but not much later they appeared on 17m. First they focused on JA long path but half an hour later I was in their log.

In the mean time I came across two other interesting DX stations: 3B9 on 12m and Z81 on 10m. Z81 was working by number but I did not get through on the first and rather short "0" slot. The 3B9 DXpedition was working JA exclusively every time I came back to their frequency. I kept going back and forth making a contact with JX on 15m in the mean time (new band). The next time Z81 came back to "0" I was ready and managed to get through after two or three calls. Another new one.

FT-857, Heil head set, LiFePo batteries and paper log - not on the picture is my mobile amp + car batt.
3B9 was still focussing on JA and Asia, so time to look around for other DX. Then ET3AA appeared on 15m. I must say that having an all band antenna really is brilliant - nothing else to do then just change the frequency on the radio and I am set to go (keep in mind I am used to work with EFHW antennas where I have to change the wire to change bands). After some calling I was in the log of ET3AA as well.

Time was running out and 3B9 was no where to be found any more.  I did see XT spots on 20m. So I gave that a try and was in their log on this band as well without much trouble. Then it was time to break up the /P station to be back at school in time to pick up the kids. Timing this I found it takes me just under half an hour to get everything nicely packed & in the car.

All in all a very nice /P morning. Perfect weather, three new DXCCs and two new band DXCCs.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Results from the PACC contest

Upgrading my 80m "DXCC worked" status

Today I finished entering all my log entries for the 2,5 hours that I joined the PACC contest more than a week ago (see previous post). I found out an efficient way using Fast Log Entry to do this. I blogged about FLE before. Now it turns out that entering a contest log is a bit more cumbersome than I expected. In FLE you can create a simple text file with only the bare minimum of data (check this post). In the case of a contest log there are exchanged codes to process. It turns out you can only add these if you also add the 59 and @59 in your text file for each log line (otherwise the FLE program does not understand what the codes mean).
That is why this time I entered the data in Excel. You can easily copy the 59, @59 and GD (exchange from my end in the PACC contest) to all fields. If you then save the file as CSV and in notepad replace the comma by a space, you can load it in FLE and save it as a full-blown ADIF. Bob's yer uncle.

Okay, back to the results. As I wrote before I was just going to check whether my 80m inverted V worked okay. I started out with 24 DXCCs worked on 80m since I started on HF (80m license since June 2011), of which 3 only just worked in the week before the contest - so my 80m activity had been rather modest to say the least.

Counting the results of the PACC activity I logged - to my surprise - 31 DXCCs in the 2,5 hours I was out in the snow. One contact (NP4) was outside the contest. This has brought my DXCCs worked on 80m up to 32. So that's 8 new band ones. Not bad for 2,5 hours. And what's even better is that there was one new DXCC (all band) hidden in there: HB0. I hadn't even noticed it when I wrote down the call.

There were four dupes in my list (I suspected two but when you are logging on paper it is hard to check) so my score turns out to be 166x30 = 4980.

I should get out more with contests to work the low bands in the late and early hours. There is a lot more DXCC fishing to do on these bands. 
Now there is just the station manager to convince..

Sunday, February 10, 2013

A lot of activity on 80m in PACC

Testing my 80m inverted V during PACC and logging loads of contacts

My agenda did not leave any time for PACC. There were plans to activate PI4ANH (the local club station) but in the end I could not join this nice initiative.

However my appointment on Saturday ended sooner than I expected, which left some time in the late evening (22h CET) to go out and try my 80m inverted V, joining the busy band.

I hoped to work some new DXCCs. I had never really focused on this band as I did not have an effective antenna.  Up till the beginning of this year I had 21 DXCCs worked. I added three to this list last week with my new Ventenna dipole. I bought an extension and coil to use this dipole on 80m. Just last week the parts came in and I tried them at night (pushing my antenna out of my attic window).

I did not know PACC was this popular. There was no quiet place on the whole contest segment of the 80m band. Signals from 9+ to 9++ everywhere. Having a reasonable antenna (as I already suspected the inverted V to be) combined with a mobile radio that does not seem to have very narrow filters, has its downsides.

After a while I found a spot with QRM at only an S9 level. I did have to move a couple of times to get away from incredible splatter. I got so many replies when I started calling that I stayed put (slowly getting snowed in) for 2,5 hours - 1,5 hours more than I planned. In total I handed out points to 173 OMs. As I had not really planned to stay long or log more than a handful of calls I did not bring my laptop. At this moment I wish I had... 

PH0NO contest station in the snow with 80m inverted V (supported by fibreglass pole)
I will have to type my paper logs in to see how many new DXCCs are amongst them. Most of the contacts logged were from PA, DL, ON, OK, OM and YO. There are however two DX contacts in the log from R9, setting the maximum QRB on 80m to 3600km. My first DX contacts on 80m.

The bonus came at the end of the activity when I was ready to pack my stuff. On the cluster I saw a lot of spots for NP4A. He seemed to be very strong in EU (a glance at his towers gives you an idea why). In my modest station he put in a 9+10dB. To my complete amazement he picked me up after calling once. So, the end of the day (actually the early morning of the next day) brought a new record distance on 80m: 7300km.

All in all great fun. I had some time for short QSOs with the guys at my club station. They had started in the afternoon and were at 300 contacts. We agreed to find a way to participate again next year and with a slightly better set up than the club station can provide (long wire on the roof line). I also had a nice chat with Bas PE4BAS that I so far had only met through email and JT65. He was seriously contesting the whole weekend, as you can read on his blog.

Busy activation in Deelerwoud

Second activation of PAFF-055 on two bands

A last minute opportunity brought me to PAFF-055 Deelerwoud. It was snowing lightly - nothing to really spoil the late afternoon. I had been to this nature park before in the autumn but activity level was not very high at that time. A good reason for a revisit.

PH0NO / P with an end fed for 20m in the snow
With 2,5 hours of radio time I focused on 20m and 40m. On 20m the first OM to respond was in VE1. So, there were at least some conditions into NA. This was confirmed by another VE OM (this time VE2) and four USA OMs (W1/3/8). In total I logged more than 100 calls in over an hour of radio time on 20m.

When I felt that 20m was slowing down I got out and set up my 40m inverted V.

Full size inverted V for 40m - works very effectively in EU

In the next 70 minutes I logged another 90 calls from all over EU. 

In the more than 2 hours I was on the radio I logged a total of 196 calls from 38 DXCCs. Luciano I5FLN, Max IK1GPG, Jakob OZ7AEI and Vadim R7GA and Alex UR7ET came by on both bands.
DX came in from VE, W, 4X, 7X, and R9.

Thanks all for stopping by.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Activating castle Kinkelenburg (PA-00130)

I was out near a castle (reference PA-00130 - part of the COTA-PA and WCA programs) yesterday, enjoying contacts and QSOs with more than 100 OMs on 20m and 40m.

A full report of the activity can be found on the COTA-PA website.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Some 10m fun on a Sunday morning

Out with the beam once again
Last week Marcel PD7YY - a 10 metre enthusiast like me - put the high SFI to my attention. When I then read the Tony 10 metre report mentioning a short 10m contest on Sunday morning I started building support with the station manager for a few hours off on Sunday morning. I was successful and went out with a whole collection of radio stuff to an empty parking lot in Arnhem, just 10 minutes from where I live.

It was from this spot that I was active in CQWW last year. The good thing about the location is that it is completely desolate in the weekends and has a clear path to all directions (from a 15 degrees take off angle point of view). 

PH0NO/P portable, beaming VK short path
I had some difficulty getting my alu mast up as there was ice between the different segments (it was kind of cold that day). In the end I managed to set up my 4 element beam again at about 12m (40 ft) high. 

This time I brought a small amplifier I bought recently through ebay. It should be capable of putting out 400w PEP but I could not get it past 250w. This increase from the 100w the radio can provide is probably not worth the hassle of bringing an extra car battery.

The DARC contest did bring quite a bit of activity on 10m. Unfortunately there was not a lot of DX amongst the stations I heard. Not surprisingly I did copy a lot of DL stations...
I handed out a couple of points and managed to contact R9, 9W2 and three VKs (VK3 and VK4).  VK3XPT commented that I was the strongest station on the band. Now that is a first.. Of course it might have helped that all beams were pointing towards DL in stead of VK.

Even taking into account the amount of time to set up and break down the station (about half of the total time I was out) it was a morning well spent. 

In the mean time the world has turned white over here. The layer of snow will probably spoil my weekly DX /P activity on Wednesday morning. Glad I took my shot of DX on Sunday.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Antenna projects in 2013

Portable beams for maximum fun

Triggered by the amount of fun I got from my 4 element 10m beam during CQWW last year and the results I now get with my portable hexbeam I am thinking about building more beams. Building a Cobweb(b) and putting together the DL1ELU folding hexbeam turned out to be feasible, so I am quite confident I can build other beams that will actually radiate.

What I am thinking about is building a 4 element 15m beam for portable use. I found a very interesting compact design by G0KSC - the OM who developed the LFA beams. Mechanically I will have to implement some changes to the design to make it into a portable version.

The reason for choosing a 15m beam is that the 10m band is closed most of the time (especially this time of the year) and I only have a few opportunities to go out and be radio-active (mainly Wednesday mornings). The chances of finding a lively 10m band at that specific moment are slim.
The same cannot be said of the 15m band. It is far more often open for DX. In that respect 20m might be an even better choice but I also have to take dimensions into account.

As we are moving towards a sun spot minimum I am also considering a Moxon for 40m. My hexbeam covers 6m down to 20m. For 40m I now have the choice of a (shortened) vertical end fed or a full size inverted V. Both are not extremely effective for DX. 
More effective is my shortened dipole by Ventenna. That recently got me across the Atlantic (RTTY contest). But it would be great to have a 2 element beam for this band.
The challenge of course is how to design it in such a way that it becomes a truly portable antenna... something to think about this year..