VK3ARR's SOTA Blog

Ego loqui ad viros super montes

Month: October, 2013

The One Point Weekend (times two)

For two weeks in a row, I’ve had a slow set of weekends chasing. There seem to have been a lot less activations in the past two weekends, perhaps due to the ending of the seasonal bonus, perhaps just due to the regulars having to spend some time localised. Either way, not a huge amount of targets to go for, and the few that are out there sometimes being just beyond the capabilities of 40m and a (poorly tuned) OCF dipole. JOTA last weekend also kept 40m fairly occupied. I’ve found trying to chase the VK2 activations seem to be a hop too far for 40m, but hopefully I can hit a 30m contact sometime soon with those activations.

Two weekends back, I managed to get a hold of Brian VK3MCD on Mt Ida for a single point, with weak signals both ways (42 and 41). That was later in the day, and 40m was starting to get pretty average by then. I had plenty of work around the house, so I didn’t bother with the JOTA stations calling CQ, although with an ear half tuned to the radio, “CQ JOTA” sounds disturbingly like “CQ SOTA”. A few times I heard people ask for summit details on or around 7090, or ask if someone was up a mountain, so it wasn’t just me.

This weekend I had plenty of things on, and even though conditions promised to be good, a few flares seemed to wipe out HF and I was only able to make contact with Peter VK3ZPF. He was on Dingo Ridge (VK3/VC-028), another one pointer, and we exchanged 51 signal reports. Peter pointed out it was the first time we’d actually made contact. I’ll admit it didn’t feel that way, but a quick check of the log showed it was true. I think I felt that way because Peter follows this blog. So, good to make contact, Peter, hopefully the first of many!

I’ve also solved two things that have probably been hampering my chasing somewhat. The first is the incessant QRM I’ve mentioned, from an SMPS somewhere in my shack. Having purchased a 4S LiFe 8.4Ah battery, I decided to make contact with Peter using that, as I’d noticed the QRM centred on about 7088 kHz (with about 2kHz wide sidebands). Since the frequency of the QRM seemed to tie in a bit with radio usage, I had a suspicion it was the power supply for the radio causing the QRM, and the switch to the battery confirmed it. It’s clearly coming in through the DC line, as the QRM was completely absent even with the supply on – it’s not radiating from the internals per se. Once the battery was on, a crystal clear band, with no QRM anywhere. Problem 1 solved. I’ll still use the supply primarily, but if QRM is getting in the way, switch to the battery.

The second one was rereading the plan for the OCF dipole (the K1POO variant). It’s design SWR for 40m is an unhealthy 3.6:1, with a very narrow bandwidth, and a reputation for being difficult to tune. Even at optimum tuning, the loss is ~30%, and the adding a tuner, which will help the VSWR but won’t necessarily do that much to efficiency. I had tuned for 20m before SOTA had been an interest, and that left my VSWR at 7095kHz at about 7:1 (!), which makes for a fairly inefficient radiator, even once tuned. I’ve proceeded to cut a dipole for 7090kHz, which I’ll string up soon and give a test run. Hopefully the better results that come from using the right tools for the right job will accompany that!

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Frustrations

This week has been quite frustrating for chasing. Conditions have been poor on 40m, and on top of that, the high winds managed to cause a break in my (poorly cable-relieved) feedline. I managed to work Rik VK3KAN on Wednesday around some meetings I had, but completely missed him on the Thursday activations he had (largely due to propagation in the morning). A quick repair job meant I had the antenna back functional in time to talk with Ben VK3FTRV, a first contact for me with him. We had a good chat for about 5 minutes or so, him on Arthur’s Seat, and me on Andrew’s Seat.

Saturday was a bust, almost, as I realised I had not repaired the feedline properly, so down came the antenna again to be fixed. I didn’t manage to put it back up before the tennis match started, but did manage to work Tony VK3CAT with the antenna draped over the shed and the olive trees for a 42 signal from me. Tony was clear enough with his 10 watts and KX3.

I also managed to spill molten solder onto my arm in a masterpiece of stupidity and first-degree burns. There’s that moment where you realise things are about to go very badly and yet you can do nothing to stop it. That happened, and then some solder came flying upwards as a wire separated from a connector. I had the foresight to close my eyes, but I have a nice blistered burn on my arm about the size of a Tic-tac. To paraphrase Nietsche, “Das, was hat dich nicht zerstoert, wird dich wie einen Dickkopf fuehlen machen.” (and with apologies to the entire German race for my poor high-school grammar).

The highlight of the day, for me at least, wasn’t even SOTA related, when I chased my first non-VK signal, Wayne ZL2WL on 20m. It was also my first contact on 20m, but hopefully not my last.

Sunday was the VK2 QSO party with plenty of opportunity to chase, but once again conditions were down, and signals weren’t great. I could hear Ian VK1DI/2, and although I put out a few calls to him, he did not hear me. He was only 4 and 1 in any case, so I am not surprised.

I had more success with Andrew VK1DA, who was on Mt Lowden with Andrew VK1NAM. I had no problem working Andrew DA, but when he kindly handed over to Andrew NAM to work after UTC, the frequency was swamped with QRM. It was S5-6, but with their signals only 4 or 5 and 1, Andrew NAM kept getting drowned out. It was highly frustrating, particularly as they’d gone to the effort to hand over and humour me, and local conditions got in the way. So, sorry, Andrew(s). I will work you both next time, I promise. For the record, I didn’t need to wait for the results of your experiment: the second antenna was way better into VK3 than the first one. Now I just need to find out what that was 🙂

I also heard Al VK1RX, but couldn’t work him either, nor could I work VK2YW, who both faded right out an hour or so after UTC as band conditions deteriorated further. I heard nothing but local signals for the rest of the day. I am now on 365 chaser points, and this week marked an interesting inflection, where I have now worked more chaser points QRP (<= 5W) than I have non-QRP.

Lessons learnt:

  • The sun is a strange and weird beast, as too is the ionosphere.
  • Repair things properly, and you are a happy man. Repair things poorly and you are an idiot.
  • Hot solder hurts. I’m kind of grateful it’s taken me as long as it has to learn that the hard way.

SOTA Dinner and the start of busy weekends

On Tuesday I made the trek down to Oakleigh for the VK3 SOTA dinner. I had a great time putting faces to names (and callsigns). It was great to meet Andrew VK1NAM too, who was in Victoria courtesy of a family occasion. I also had a good long chat with Allen VK3HRA, who, thanks to the incestuous nature of the IT industry, knew a lot of people I knew: we were already second-order friends.

Andrew worked a number of summits during the week, but I had a bit of a complaint in that he always activated a bit late. I was never able to work my schedule in the early part of the week to catch him. He took the complaint in the good-natured fashion it was intended (I hope 🙂 ). This past week has been a very windy one and frankly, I don’t blame him for starting a bit later. In addition, some of the summits were harder to get to with trees down and roads in less-than-normal condition.

On Friday, I was repairing a bit of storm damage myself before heading into work when by chance I heard Andrew’s voice coming out of my 2m handheld calling CQ from Mt Disappointment (named by Hume and Hovell for their wives, I believe). He was just jumping above the squelch with the 1/8 wave default antenna, but I was still surprised at how clear he was coming. I rushed around to grab my 2m slim jim antenna, and threw it up the apple tree in the backyard. I put a call out to him and he answered; I was third in the log. My report was low, a 51, probably as much due to the ‘poor man’s’ 5W output on the Baofeng UV-5R (closer to 3W apparently), but Andrew’s voice was booming in. I looked at the S-meter, and called the 59, much to Andrew’s surprise. It was later I realised the S-meter is boolean, so it was probably a little lower than that in practice, but, technically, according the meter, it was full-strength S9.

I am now about to head into the busy part of the year, with the tennis season starting up again taking most of Saturday afternoons, and a bit of travel for work too, so my chasing will slow down. I had hoped to get a good score out of the weekend to set me up, but I really didn’t have much of a chance, compared to what was on offer.

My first attempt at a contact was with Ray, VK3YAR on VN-016. We exchanged signal reports, Ray was a 41, I was 51, but he couldn’t make out my reply, so I never received a QSL for it. I notice Ray has it in his log on SotaWatch, but I don’t feel comfortable claiming it myself as a chaser. It wasn’t necessary for him to qualify the summit, so I don’t feel obliged to claim it either.

I heard Perrin VK3XPT at 4 and 1, but couldn’t work him in the short time available, and VK2BQ never came out of the noise enough to be able to be worked. 0 from 3 for Saturday. An illustrious start.

Sunday was the VK5 SOTA anniversary, so I was much more confident of finding people about. I had a commitment from 9:30 local through to about midday though, which might have got in the way, and the wife had plans to head down to Barwon Heads to keep the kids amused on the last day of the holidays. I worked Ian VK5CZ on VK5/SE-012. Ian was very clear, I heard him at 5 and 7, and my signal made it through at 5 and 2. I also worked Andrew again on Mt Strathbogie (VK3/VE-132) before my first commitment, but missed Al VK1RX due to running out of time.

Around lunch, I contacted the Trev-n-Kev expedition (VK3ATB and VK3KAB) on VE-067. Good signals all around, 57 from me and 58 from them, although I did put my foot in it a little by remembering that Kevin was at the SOTA dinner, but not Trevor. My apologies Trevor!

In continuing with the VK5 party, I worked Col VK5HCF on Mt Burr VK5/SE-019. He was clear at 52, but my signal was a little unreadable at 33. Col needs a medal for the time he spent on top of Mt Burr. The number of times I scanned the dial after a period of inactivity to find him still calling CQ from the top was incredible. He must have been up there for hours, waiting for S2S and chaser contacts.

The next successful chase was with Marshall VK3MRG on VK3/VE-082. Marshall made me feel better about forgetting Trevor by completely forgetting my name, despite us spending quite some time talking about his and Allen’s activation plans at the SOTA dinner, and despite Andrew being one of the most common names in VK SOTA. His embarrassed reply was a 55 to my 53, but I clearly wasn’t in any position to take offence 🙂

I heard VK1MA on VK2/ST-003 as well, but with a lot of QSB and he continued to disappear into the noise. With no idea of when he was transmitting or not, I didn’t dare try to make contact. I also missed Paul VK5PAS on 20m. I could hear a VK4 station working him, but I was clearly in the skip zone for 20m and heard nothing of Paul.

I missed a few of the other activations in the interim, watching my kids splash around at Barwon Heads instead. I deliberately turned off data on my phone to avoid the distraction.

The final contact for the day was the other side of the Trev-n-Kev expedition, Kevin VK3KAB on Federation Range VK3/VN-003. Again, strong reports from the guys, 55 for my signal to them, and 57 from them. Whatever they use for equipment works. They were very strong all day.

All up, I chased 33 points for the weekend, all of them at QRP levels. This was about a normal weekend for me when I started a few months back, so I will be travelling at that level for the next few months until the summer holidays come upon us. I will probably take most of January off for work, so if anyone is planning weekday activations, slot them in there 😉

Lessons learnt:

  • Family is more important than SOTA. Turn off the phone and enjoy the time. (I knew that already, but worth reiterating)

Chasing of multiple varieties

The family trip up to Goulburn was a bust, the Spare Child deciding to contract some form of viral gastro and using up the Qantas spew bags and a few cups from McDonalds drafted into action. We made it, but spent most of the time wondering when the next spewplosion was coming. We made the trip back through Beechworth to break up the journey, and it sounds like I just missed Andrew VK1NAM at the Beechworth Bakery.

We arrived home Saturday afternoon, tired and needing a new holiday. Hawthorn, too, had won the Grand Final, which meant I felt the need to keep the news off for the evening, until the painful image of Hawks supporters being happy cleared the screen.

The next day, we had a bunch of things to do in the morning to restock and replenish after our week away. I managed to hear Andrew VK1NAM portable in Victoria at 5 and 7, but had to run before I could manage to work him. This started a bit of a frustrating period. I heard VK2WU on Feathertop VK3/VE-002, but he was stuck in the snow and only activated for a brief time. My QRP signal was drowned out by other chasers, and he packed up before I got a chance to work him.

The second chasing frustration was in the form of our chickens, who had managed to work out a way to get out of their run and were taking every chance possible. I spent a large portion of the afternoon chasing chickens rather than SOTA, trying to save the vegie gardens in the back.

wpid-20130929_174700.jpgChickens where they should be

After a chicken catching exercise, I worked Allen VK3HRA on VT-026 with a 54 signal to go with his 53, and then Glenn VK3YY on VT-006. We exchanged 52s, but the local QRM was back and getting in the way. I also worked Peter VK3PF on VT-046 for a 57 signal from me and a 56 from him. This was clearly a better signal than Peter and I normally exchange, so something good was up.

I missed Ian VK1DI. I could hear him at 41 but with QSB and a wood oven to fire up, I lacked the patience to try to work him. I was trying to get a lot of heat into the oven so we could cook a lamb roast. It worked and it was great.

wpid-20130929_142254.jpgFire!

After the fire was going, I managed to work Andrew VK1NAM/3 on VC-009, exchanging a 53 from him, and a 51 sent by me. The QRM was still around, but we managed to complete the contact.

I heard Marshall on VT-010 at 41, and Andrew VK1DA 5 and 3, but couldn’t chase them because of the chickens. After 30 minutes of chasing them, I wondered if roast chicken were a better option for the evening meal.

Later in the afternoon, I worked Andrew VK1NAM/3 again, now on VC-011. He had a much stronger signal, 5 and 7, and I had managed to double the strength to a 5 and 2. My reports were still down, but the main thing was I was in the log. Despite that, I was wondering if I had something wrong my end.

I think it turned out to be band conditions with the skip zone on 40m extending out a bit. I worked Allen on Mt Dandenong for a 33 signal from me, and Brian on Flinders Peak for a 45 signal. Flinders Peak is very close to me, and Mt Dandenong would be less than 100km line of sight. I suspect both of these contacts were ground wave, because after that I worked Ian VK1DI with 57s both ways no problem on VK2/ST-034, a distance of around 600km, so 40m was still working somewhat, just not locally.

Lessons learnt for this week:

  • Chickens are the antichrist
  • Spewing children aren’t much better